Whether it is our uncertain relationship with our environment or our uncertain relationship with ourselves and with others, uncertainty, in all its complex manifestations, seems to be a recurring theme in today’s art. This is no surprise. Contemporary art mirrors the concerns of its day and we live in an age where the repercussions of 9/11, global warming, super-viruses, and acts of terrorism (be they in a schoolyard, on the streets of London, in the Middle East, or in Afghanistan) are incessantly thrown at us via newspapers, television, and the internet. At best, this calls into question our confidence in the future of our world, at worst it calls into question our confidence in ourselves.
In the work of Erik Nieminen, uncertainty is expressed through perspective, light and its reflection, as well as movement within the urban landscape. In Untitled, we see two men standing on the top of the Eiffel Tower. Not only are these two men disconnected from one another, they appear to be in different time zones. Basked in light, the figure in the foreground, evoking a double-exposure, is faded, incomplete, present but not present. He appears almost ethereal, as if we have taken a tiny step back in time and are seeing a shadowy imprint of someone who was there but has since left. Nor does the figure in the background appear any more truly present. He is, like many tourists, just passing through an iconic landmark; not appearing connected to his situation. It is as if this second figure has been cut out and superimposed onto the canvas and we get the sense that he, too, could vanish at any moment.
Central to Untitled, and to Nieminen’s work in general, is the urban architecture. In Untitled, the Eiffel Tower dominates the canvas as an industrial feat of steel. The steel beams jut out and attain a movement of their own. That they are so present is due to Nieminen’s play with perspective. Realistically, from our viewpoint, we would not see them but Nieminen manages to shift the perspective so slightly (10%, maybe 20%), that we hardly notice this anomaly. The same can be said for the sprawling city – again it is the slight shift in perspective that allows us such a bird’s eye view.
Steel on steel – the steel beams juxtaposed against the wire mesh – further add to the overall sense of urban solitude and maybe even entrapment. Nieminen’s art. however, isn’t about negating our environment. Rather, it is about exploring our connection to our environment – how we fit in, how we move within it, how we live our lives within its architectural framework. In speaking with him in his studio, it is clear that the rhythm of a metropolis plays a key role in his art. It is why he chooses larger cities as opposed to smaller ones which tend to be more stagnant. To quote him, “There is something about the architecture of a big city that is overwhelming… something mechanical that you don’t get in a smaller city.”
Detail is another factor is the work of Nieminen. There is the detail of the architecture, the detail of the urban environment, the detail of the individuals who populate the canvas – look at a Nieminen painting and your eye keeps roving. In Figure 1, the detail is in the figure at the forefront. The hand raised to the mouth tells you that he has stopped mid track. He seems to be thinking, unsure as to where he is going. In his left hand is a bottle. We do not see his face, but we do see the face (the only one we do see) of a figure who approaches him and us, the viewer. There is a certain blankness in the facial expression that mimics a robotical “going through the motions without thinking”. This is echoed in the movement of all the other figures. In fact it permeates the overall feeling of the painting (again perspective and light help accentuate the overall sense of movement) and serves to make the hesitation and uncertainty of the figure at the forefront all the more arresting.
Perspective, light, movement, detail – artistic concerns that Erik Nieminen is just beginning to explore. In judging by how far he’s come in the still early stages of his career, he is someone to watch out for.