Laura Horelli dedicates herself to themes and their associated places, always with the intention of making it possible to experience the points of intersection between the so-called public and the so-called private. To that end, she uses documentary material that she edits together in a very specific way with her own images, information and texts to produce other kinds of relationships in these installations of photographs, texts and/or video. In so doing, she opens up communicative spaces that are always highly psychological in nature, in which the levels of ‘public’ and ‘private’ are constantly displaced and criss-crossed.
Horelli demonstrates this exemplarily in two works whose variable concepts can be traced back to 2000, but that have been redesigned for their respective new contexts. These works for her exhibition at the Galerie im Taxispalais in Innsbruck (2004) were Rekonfiguration von “Der Standard” and the video 04.06.04, which mix media reportage - in one case from an (Austrian) daily newspaper; in the other, from television - with manifestations of something seemingly private. In the case of the newspaper, the artist chose only the images and articles - or sometimes just excerpts, like the headlines - that she finds particularly interesting. She cuts them out, puts them back together in a new way, and thus designs her own edition of the newspaper consisting entirely of excerpts. Her deliberate selection and the new arrangement of the articles make public her personal evaluation of the reports and their quotidian content. Horelli reveals her - subjective - censorship in that she presents the original newspaper to the public alongside the copy; she reworked issues from four consecutive days. The relevant editions are presented in newspaper holders.
Whereas Horelli employs the media-specific method of image and text montage for the newspaper, the television piece uses an analogous logic for the montage of images and sound: recorded on 4 June 2004, Tagesschau, the daily news show of the German television station ARD, runs its full 15 minutes from start to end, but the original soundtrack is replaced by a voice-over with three people, each relating a five-minute story. First an 18-year-old schoolgirl, then a 30-year-old woman, and finally a 50-year-old woman tells of her ordinary daily routine, of the personal events experienced that day that were important to her. These women, like the artist herself, live in Berlin; for two of them, German is clearly a second or third language. Horelli shows that these subjective documents, which appear to be entirely private, everyday experiences, are involuntarily criss-crossed by media events. The 'private' and the 'public' are constantly changing constructions whose manners of operation and effects are taken up by Laura Horelli at different places, opening new perspectives.
Lene Crone Jensen finds Horelli’s working method reminiscent of that of a journalist, and she comments: “Horelli takes a step back from the role of the artist in the traditional sense, and instead becomes a catalyst or promoter that counters prejudice and supports a plurality of understandings.”1 Horelli’s goal, however, is not a journalistic one. She is not concerned with supposed objectivity, which in fact she rejects on principle, but rather with bringing in her own intuitive associations and with the use of possibilities that result from the particular situation: “I do not collect data to prove a hypothesis. The conclusions of the research are often open to various interpretations.”2
The video You Go Where You’re Sent (2003), in which Laura Horelli interviews her grandmother about her life, is a work with a complex methodology as well as a reconstruction of part of her own family history. Her grandmother, born in 1916, is seen here as an example of the women of her generation who had university degrees and were under particularly intense social pressure to combine professional careers with the roles of wife and mother, in a constant alternation between emancipation and conformity to very traditional images of women. The protagonist of Horelli’s story was not only a dancer trained in modern dance and a gymnastics teacher, but also a practicing physician when she married a diplomat during World War II. Over a period of 30 years, she lived with him in a number of countries, including Brazil, the USA, Romania, Germany and Switzerland. Horelli’s grandmother tells of her experiences as a diplomat’s wife and, simultaneously, as a practicing physician, an activity that she could only pursue with great difficulty, because of her diplomatic status, and not least of all because she would have needed a separate permit for each country. Hence in Brazil she worked for the Finnish 'colony', while in New York, London and Switzerland she continued her studies. She used her vacations in Finland to advance her career as a physician.
Horelli uses black and white and colour documentary photographs from albums belonging to her grandparents. She selected about a hundred photographs, preferring as locations the countries and places that seem most interesting historically from today’s perspective. The video, produced in the editing room entirely from still photographs, is accompanied by a soundtrack with a conversation between granddaughter and grandmother and - accompanying this conversation on another level, as it were - a commentary by the artist. The commentary addresses, in a cautious but nevertheless highly reflective way, those points where her grandmother refused to address certain questions because they seemed too 'political' to her, and as a diplomat’s wife, she did not wish to answer them. Horelli comments on this: “I used narration especially in places where I disagreed with her description of the situation. The inspiring aspect in the work is the conflict between politics and personal affection.”
Horelli develops her artistic method with subtle intelligence: the images, interview text and commentary form a multilayered narrative in which the granddaughter manages to convey a version of the story, from a woman’s point of view, that is an alternative to the official histories. She draws a portrait of a remarkable woman and at the same time introduces a critical metatext about politics before and after the war and about the patriarchal system that had a decisive influence on her grandmother’s life. As the wife of a diplomat from a rather peripheral country, which she was as prepared to serve as she was her family, she contributed to the construction of an image of Finland during the postwar era, and for which she, in her words, “went where she was sent.” Her service for the country she represented is closely tied to her service to her family, or more precisely, to her husband, to whom she always considered herself secondary.
Language plays an important role in You Go Where You’re Sent - as it does in Horelli’s other works. The interview with her grandmother was conducted in three languages: Finnish, English and German. English was chosen for the final version because, as Horelli says, English permitted “greater artificiality”, a “more distanced relationship”.
The work also mirrors a piece of the history of photography: from the 1930s - the video begins with the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, in which Horelli’s grandmother participated as a member of the Finnish gymnastics team - to the 1950s the photographs are black and white, then colour photographs begin to appear, though the so-called 'official' or 'journalistic' photographs are always black and white because they are better for archiving than colour photos are.
Horelli understands You Go Where You’re Sent as a reflection on the simplistic model of 'documentation': “For me it was interesting that she was aware that our conversation was being recorded. Both her experience as public speaker and the choice of language contributed to this. The work gives one representation of the life of my grandmother. In communicating this to the viewer, I attempt to complicate the simple mirroring of reality.”
1 Lene Crone Jensen, “Laura Horelli”, Rooseum Provisorium, Issue 3, 2003