Do you remember that show, the Addams Family? Remember the Thing? The creepy, crawly hand with a mind of its own. There is a comical, surreal, and uncanny feel to this character. Broken and corporeal, it is nearly human, yet not. Its personal identity is missing making it a universal stand in for all people. And, because it was missing some of those markers of a specific person, it was somehow more relatable than other characters. The work in this exhibit, “Archive of Phantom Limbs”, by Finnish artist Utu-Tuuli Jussila embodies this series of strange contradictions.
Utu-Tuuli created this series of photos by culling through google street view images online and looking for severed limbs. Other than cropping, the artist did not manipulate the photos. The creation of these mysteriously inhabited places was a collaboration between the artist and technology; the automated, omnipresent camera meets an artist’s discerning eye. When the images tech creates are glitchy and uncanny and ultimately point to a dystopia future where humans lose control, think the 1968 movie “2001 A Space Odyssey” or 1983’s sci-fi, “Videodrome”, by David Cronenberg. In Utu-Tuuli’s work, as in these movies, the figure is lonely in a vast space.
Utu-Tuuli chose images with varied backgrounds each of which hint to a narrative. They edited out images with too much of the individual person or images with too busy or specific of a background. The goal was to show universal places, as though they could be any street or any garden or any rock or any hike. In this respect, this work reminds me of photos by surrealist fashion photographer Guy Bourdin or paintings by artists like Gertrude Abercrombie or Remedios Varo. Part of the strength lies in their timelessness.
Limbs are not people, but they personify certain things in their poses. Hands are expressive and often speak to the type of work they are used for. For instance, a flexing wrist implies strain where a bare foot implies causal relaxation. A painted nail is very different from a callused finger. The hands and feet in this work have a body language that speaks volumes.
Jussila embraces the corporeal oddness in severed limbs and gives these images a new context. The artist asks us, the viewer, to see them as a group, comparing, contrasting, and connecting the images in into stories. This searching out and reframing is an approach that reminds me of John Baldassari, another artist whose work asks more questions than it answers.
Archive of Phantom Limbs: Artwork by Utu-Tuuli Jussila leaves me feeling gitty with it’s odd humor and playful narratives. It also makes me curious about the figures, forever missing their limbs. It’s eerie in the best way possible. It also makes me see technology in a new light: just as flawed and broken as us humans.
Utu-Tuuli Jussila (they/she) is a photographer, gender studies scholar, writer and musician based in Helsinki, Finland. They are also known as Jussi Lautu, Blackie Loveless, and Utu Lele.
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This is a collection of severed limbs captured from Google Street View. These residues of human bodies haunt the 360-degree images downloaded by Google users.
What constitutes a human in the camera’s eye? The glitches blur the boundary between a body and its surroundings. Sometimes the body parts become independent entities. They are not bodies without organs but limbs without bodies. They are free – or should I say – footloose.
The entire expansive archive can be found on Instagram @limb_o_rama
Utu-Tuuli Jussila (they/she) is a photographer, gender studies scholar and musician based in Helsinki, Finland. The main themes of their artistic practice include, but are not limited to, non-binary genders, politics of visibility, glitch, queer abstraction and utopias. Jussila had their first solo exhibition in 2016 and has participated in group exhibitions in Finland and abroad.