The Great Escape, an exhibition of works by the Oulu-based artist Anni Kinnunen (1978–) is a critical comment on an era where altered reality is true and nothing can be trusted.

Anni Kinnunen is a visual artist whose most important instrument is the photograph, but she also works with video art and installations. Photographs have lied for as long as photography has existed. Despite of this, photographs are often considered documentary, true and genuine. They are often felt to be an honest and direct way of portraying landscapes, people, events and incidents. What is fascinating is that also photographs that expressly do not portray reality often appear as if they did. They deceive the spectator to believe in their stories in a manner not unlike the altered truth of fake media.

In her works, Anni Kinnunen reveals the true nature of photographs. Her photographs do not look documentary, yet they are also far from glossy advertisement photography. Kinnunen’s photographs are shot in actual situations. They are, in the end, very true, although they often look like surrealistic games. Their use of light and colour is wild, and relies on contrasts.

The exhibition features an installation named Turn Your Back and We Are Still Here, made of black balloons. The installation turns the space into oppressive emptiness that is unpleasant to encounter, growing into a metaphor for things we tend to turn our backs on. The visually impressive work uses the balloon, a positive item and a symbol of light-heartedness and fun, as something that takes our thoughts on the verge of the distressing.

We have strong preconceptions on what is natural and what is not. Despite this, the concept of naturalness is always culture-specific. Kinnunen succeeds in avoiding the imagery usually used to imitate naturalness so totally that her photographs could never be considered true.

The aim of this extremely refined mode of expression is not merely to question how photographs are viewed. The exhibition is also a story of how human beings have gradually become alienated from nature, how the landscape has become a stage, and how humanity has turned into role play. Kinnunen often appears in front of the camera herself, playing various characters that are aesthetically products of fantasy but often approach nightmares.

Her photographs are not self-portraits, and they are not related to the mock-documentary self-portrait often seen in contemporary photographic art. The human figure in Kinnunen’s photographs and videos questions the entire assumption of a natural human being. The requirement of naturalness is, in fact, seen as a way of exercising power from a constructed position that claims to represent the natural. In Kinnunen’s photographs lack of naturalness is present in a disturbing way, swimming precisely on the borderline between beautiful and horrendous. And that is why it feels like such an honest way of portraying this era.

However, Kinnunen’s relationship with nature and the reality around us is not free of complexities. Although her works criticise the requirement of naturalness, the simultaneously criticise the way our relationship with nature has become alienated. Where are we going to, and why? Are we running away from something?

The extravagant artificiality of Kinnunen’s photographs is sometimes amusing, but the questions they pose are serious. In the context of Finnish visual art, they are a unique combination of the forest and plastic. Kinnunen’s distinctive visual style is stopping, even startling, but its overall effect is thought-provoking.

Not all that glitters is gold. The strong physical presence and subjective experience of colour, typical of Kinnunen’s works, sometimes escalate to full-on surrealism, and her highly charged colour analogies challenge the spectator to engage in dialogue over what is beautiful and what is not, also posing the question whether it wouldn’t be more meaningful to consider what is true and what is not.

Veikko Halmetoja, curator of the exhibition