Marja Saleva

About the Artist:

Marja Saleva is a Finnish visual artist and photographer living in Helsinki (b. 1975). She studied photography at the Turku Arts Academy and graduated in 2013. Before that she finished her Master’s Degree in Social Sciences at the University of Turku in 2001.

She has published two parts to her ongoing photographic project titled He is so obsessed with me. The first part is a Photobook (2013) and the second part is an Online story, (2017). The third part is in progress.

Artist Statement:

The photos belong to my online work titled He is so obsessed with me (2017). The work consists of more than 3 000 images and text.

He is so obsessed with me is a personal story about a single woman around her forties. In my photos I reflect my feelings and experiences bare and straight. Through mundane situations I show the pleasure and the pain, the mess and the glitter.

The online work is based on the flow of images, repetition and fragmented stories. The viewer has to interact with the narrative, arriving constantly at crossroads where he/she has to choose which way to go. There are an innumerable amount of alternative storylines.

The online story deals with the course of life. It rambles around the questions of causality, chance and choice. It questions the notion of one truth, the possibility to tell about one’s life in one single and truthful way.

He is so obsessed with me plays with the real and the imagined. The photos are originally documentary, whereas the title character He is imaginary. He represents the look of someone else, through whose eyes the main character is viewed – or photographed.

I am attracted to snapshot photography and amateur aesthetics. I am interested in mistakes and accidents, imperfect pictures. I use an old digital pocket camera and shoot spontaneously.

My approach to photography is expressive and experimental. I see photos as a material that I can do anything with. Through the rough working process the images lose their connection to reality and become representations of dreams, fantasies and feelings.

In the online work I deal with and express the subjectivity and unreliability of seeing, experiencing, remembering and narrating.

Below, Marja answered a few more questions about her series and photography practice!

Why did you choose photography over other artistic mediums?

It happened unintentionally, like my artistic career. I was working as a journalist when
I decided to have a year off and study photography. That year changed everything. I didn’t think of myself as an artistic person before that. I ended up continuing my studies for five more years.

Photography fascinates me because it has a connection to reality but at the same time it is made up, it is a vision of reality. It is a mixture of real and unreal. I like to play with this combination and the digitally brings many new possibilities for that.

Photography is also connected with chance. You can never control everything, so the final image is always a surprise in a way. That attracts me.

Photography allows me to be spontaneous and intuitive and to express something non-verbal and irrational. It allows me to control and lose control at the same time.

How did this series start for you creatively?

I have been working under the same title, He is so obsessed with me, since 2011. I have published two parts to this project: a Photobook (2012/2013) and an Online story (2017).

He is so obsessed with me was originally my final project to Turku Arts Academy. I wanted to work on something personal, but also something that had relevance in our time generally. That’s how I came up with this topic, singlehood. I was attracted to snapshot photography and artists like Nan Goldin and JH Engström.

After the Photobook, I thought I had to find something else. But as a result of feedback I got an idea of the online story and the non-linear structure with the alternative storylines. I got really excited about that. It was clear that the new work had to be different from the book, both in terms of visuality and content. I had been playing with Photoshop at the time. I wanted to create a new visual language for the online work and that led me to many kinds of experiments. Slowly the new direction began to take shape.

What reflections have you come to after finishing this series? If you are still working on the series, what revelations have come up while creating the series?

I am still caught up with this project. I will continue adding images to the Online story and I’m starting to work on the third part.

Originally I stressed the point of making this phenomenon – being single and childless around your forties – more visible. I feel the topic is still relevant, even though it has gained more and more visibility in recent years. Being single is part of our social structure, but I think there is still lack of variety in presenting it. And at the same time the idea of romantic love and relationship is all around us.

I think it is important to show the emotions connected to this situation on an individual level. The emotions I show are not important because they are mine, but because they can be universal and recognizable and shared.

Do you ever get in creative slumps? If you do, how do you get out of them? If not, what methods have you created not to get into a slump?

I would say no, not so far. Of course I have had trouble and despair and I have been stuck. I am very demanding and self-critical, which can in the worst case paralyze me. But it doesn’t go that far very often nor last very long. I have learnt to quiet the criticism, by either ignoring it or tolerating it as part of the process. I am very work oriented and self-disciplined, so I just keep on working. I need to have a private space to work where nobody sees what I’m doing. That’s important. It gives me the freedom to experiment and try out things without judgement. Alongside art I also do commercial work. It’s good to do something totally different. It gives me the distance that I need anyway.

Are there any books, movies, magazines or podcasts that you would recommend people to check out?

Richard Billingham: Ray’s A Laugh (2000)
Boris Mikhailov: Case History (1999)
Motoyuki Daifu: Project Family (2013)
Reima Juhani Hirvonen: This Is My Sauna (2010)
Jari Silomäki: Rehearsals for Adulthood (2001)
Hertta Kiiski: I Was an Apple And I Got Peeled – But It Was A Good Thing (2016)

Wong Kar-Wai: In the Mood for Love (2000) Charlie Kaufman: Anomalisa (2015)

Michael Haneke: 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (1994)
Isao Takahata: Grave of the Fire ies (1988)
Vitaly Mansky: Under The Sun (2015)
Roy Andersson: You, the Living (2007)

Lastly, what artists are currently inspiring you?

I find this question hard to answer. I feel my inspiration comes from many sources, from bits and pieces and not only from other artists. It is not always even clear where it comes from, it happens partly unconsciously.

It would be easier to name techniques, styles, genres, movements and aesthetics that inspire me: like snapshot and punk aesthetics, amateur photography, photobased painting, expressionism, experimentalism, collage, autobiography/autofiction... When I look at art I often pay attention to ideas, structures, rhythms, approaches and attitudes and find inspiration in them. If I were to give some names, at the moment I would pick Sigmar Polke, John Baldessari, Karl Ove Knausgård and Laurie Anderson.

You can follow more of Marja's work on her personal website and at the He is so obsessed with me website!