elina tuhkanen

Elina Tuhkanen. ELOA, 2009. C-print, mounted on aluminum and laminated, 34.75” X 43.” Edition of 5 + 1 Artist’s Proof .


“Covered with soft, fine hair.” Like a mink or a rabbit or the head of a beautiful woman. Or a baby. Or any number of mammals, really. That’s the definition of “pilose.” And it’s a symbol of our closeness to and our distance from not only other mammals, but the natural world in general.

Pilose Crux: Performative Sculptures from Finland, an exhibition of quiet and beautiful photographs by Finnish artist Elina Tuhkanen, focuses on this adjective as point of difference and not-so-very-difference. In most of her photos, the long hair of a woman is draped over the fur of an animal in a complimentary shade. In “ELOA,” pictured above, the women’s hair is draped over fur coats set out of doors in a field as the snow melts around them. The presence of the fur coats emphasizes the difference on which the homo sapien-centric, Christian Bible-supported view of the world as for use of man is founded.  “Pilose Crux (Front),” by bringing the fur and the model into the photographer’s studio furthers this un-natural reading of the gesture, the sensuousness of the hair and the fur familiar in their seductive, commodified way, appearing as we might expect to see them in the pages of a fashion rag.

It’s worth noting the contrast between lushness and warmth and life of the fur and the hair (yes, even the dead fur) and the barren late winter landscapes (or grey studio) in which they’re situated.

Elina Tuhkanen. PILOSE CRUX (FRONT) 2009 C-print, mounted on aluminum and laminated 34.75” X 46.25” Edition of 5 + 1 Artist’s Proof


But in “Cold Morning,” something different is going on. On a snowy day, a girl stands behind a horse, her dark hair draped over its mane. The fact that the horse is living transforms the gesture to one of an attempt to bridge a divide, to emphasize the closeness of two mammals. And yet, the animal is tethered and thus domesticated. And this, for me, was the crux, that for most humans, the gesture of closeness to nature will only ever be an experience with a domesticated animal, a visit to a zoo, the embrace of a fur that nostalgically references a hunting-gathering past when the relationship with the animal whose meat and bone and skin man used was far more, if not  symbiotic than at least reverent and certainly not commodified.

Elina Tuhkanen. COLD MORNING 2009 C-print, mounted on aluminum and laminated 34.75” X 43” Edition of 5 + 1 Artist’s Proof


The welcome presence of “Cold Morning” alters the landscape of the exhibition, tilting it toward a more melancholy meditation on difference, on distance, and bridges that may not be able to span the divide.

Curated by Emily Henderson, Pilose Crux is at NATIONALE (811 E Burnside) through Sunday.