Riitta Päiväläinen’s work could be defined as the emotional archaeology of the ordinary. Her series, entitled ICE, was started in 2000 and was the beginning of her first serious experimentations with frozen clothing.
Using old clothing, found in second-hand shops and flea markets, Päiväläinen creates installations in sub-zero temperature landscapes which she then photographs. Prior to being placed in the landscape the clothes are wet. As they freeze they are shaped to take on various postures and therefore appear to be animated by invisible bodies. Frozen, the clothes become sculptural objects, each charged with its own character, and can be placed within the landscape in much the same way as one can place people within a landscape, either individually or in groups.
For Päiväläinen, the clothes are vestiges of human beings which, long after having been discarded, retain traces of the history of the people who wore them. The garments represent both the presence and the absence of their former owners. Like artefacts found in an ancient tomb, the clothes, faded, torn and bearing the signs of time and usage, are pervaded by personal histories.
The landscape containing these animated assemblages is not a topographical and objective phenomenon for Päiväläinen. Rather, it is a subjective and highly evocative setting, representative of the cycle of life.
Documents of the encounters of the used clothing with the frozen landscapes in which they were placed, Päiväläinen’s photographs condense the sculptural qualities of her installations into two-dimensional images, records of the initial event. Her mises-en-scènes exist only in order to be photographed. In reducing her installations to a form of photographic evidence, Päiväläinen uses the viewer’s ingrained perception of photographic images as copies, records, or documents of reality, in order to give substance to her imaginary histories. In her pictures, she creates worlds in which reality and authenticity are closely intertwined with her own fictions.
Working with frozen clothes is logistically complex. Päiväläinen needs special weather conditions in order to take her photographs: the temperature has to be low enough for the cloth to freeze yet the sun must be bright enough to show details. The combination of these requirements, coupled with the geographical location in which Päiväläinen lives and works, mean that the artist can only produce these pictures during a short period of the year.
Each of her installations is minutely prepared: the setting (the landscapes), the actors (the clothes), and the atmosphere (light) are all carefully taken into account. The situation is predetermined and the timing must be correct. However, in working in natural environments, Päiväläinen is also open to the accidental, the unforeseen, and the surprising. By using the photograph instead of the installation as the final work of art, Päiväläinen is able to choose the exact moment and point of view from which the installation is seen. She determines what is taken into the picture and what is left out, and in doing so maintains control over the viewer’s participation in the work.