Abstract art, like its oft-times bedfellow modern art, gets a lot of flak for being simplistic, random, or lacking in thought, provoking the sentiment that ‘anyone could do that’. Abstract photography, a more niche genre, perhaps even more so, particularly in the age of cellphone cameras and instant uploads, when it seems everyone is taking pictures of absolutely everything, constantly. However, Aini Tolonen – a photographer from Helsinki, Finland – is out to set the record straight.
Abstraction, in one sense, relies on the imagination of the viewer to ‘finish’ the artwork; in another, at its best, it demonstrates the creativity of the artist in recording a moment or image most of us wouldn’t think twice about, and transforming it into a story; appropriately, one section of Tolonen’s online gallery is titled Stories. The story the artist envisions may not be the same one a particular viewer takes away from it, but looking at a piece like ‘Crossing the Bridge’, or ‘You Used to Sit There’ – with its ghost suggestion of a chair above a jagged tear (and is the whole photograph one of a chair seat, in fact?) – we can immediately see where Tolonen’s mind is approaching from. The twin faces of ‘Penelope Waiting’, conspicuously Hellenic, show her both stoically waiting and longingly looking out over the crashing waves for Odysseus; an entire myth told in a photograph of what might just be paint-spattered concrete.
Other works, particularly those in the Spaces section of Tolonen’s gallery, are perhaps more typical of abstract art, representing interesting textures and patterns rather than suggesting narratives. Even here though, clever framing and titling combine to evoke particular emotions, moods, or atmospheres; wistful nostalgia, hopelessness, the mysticality of the desert. Whether these readings are the intended ones or not is irrelevant. What is important is the artist’s ability to create a meaningful interaction between viewer and art, rather than leaving them coldly feeling they’re just looking at a wall or a series of random lines.
Tolonen clearly demonstrates, across even the limited selection on her website (more pieces can be seen on her Facebook page), a broad range of ideas and inspirations. As she herself says, the ability to transform the banal and everyday into something provocative and engaging is a skill we’re all blessed with – as children we’ve all turned patterns in wallpaper or carpets into creatures and places of the imagination. Sadly, it’s a skill most of us choose to abandon as we reach adulthood; thankfully, it’s one Tolonen has honed into a polished and elegant art.