Framing the World: An Essay on the Organization of Experience, 2009–2020

The lives, feelings and events of anonymous people are like background noise to us. In the 21st century the internet has opened the possibility to access the everyday life, feelings and unfiltered honesty of people around the world.

In 2006, at a flea market, I bought some personal documents that had belonged to a woman I didn’t know. While reading her letters and notes, all stuffed into garbage sacks, her life and personality began to open up to me. Based on these texts, I tried to construct, or rather reconstruct, a visual portrait of her, which became part of the series Alienation Stories (2009). This experiment was the beginning of my current project Framing the World: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. I began searching online for everyday life stories written by anonymous people from around the world. Google Translate helped me to get a general meaning of these texts, typed in all possible languages and scripts. After hundreds of hours of Internet trawling, I ended up with a similar feeling as with the paper-based past of the first woman: portraits and the living environments of the various narrators slowly unfolded before me. I selected the most appealing stories and asked a professional translator to translate them into English as precisely as possible. I then located the place, a city or a village or even a street, where these anonymous stories came from. I travelled there to discover what the streets, houses and living spaces looked like. I then bought genuine local construction materials – fabrics, wallpaper, furniture and the like – in shops and flea markets. Finally, in my Helsinki studio, I re-enacted each story and its specific setting as accurately as possible, based on the textual references and employing professional actors. The text in each final image-re-enactment is written in the native tongue of its unidentified author. When completed, the series will include dozens of such anonymous stories from around the world.

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Helsinki-based artist Jari Silomaki has been working on this project since 2009, and it has marked a significant shift in his art. The major concern of his well-known ‘narrative documentary’ photographic series has been the relationships between individuals, including the artist himself, and larger (political) narratives. These relationships have been historical, abstract, real, physical, safe, detached, mediated, paradoxical, or tragic in their consequences. Launched in 2001, the artist’s magnum opus My Weather Diary is representative of his method, geographic scope and ever-present poetics, which are helpful in reconciling the tensions between the textual and the visual, the local and the global, the natural and the social, the personal and the political. Framing the World stems from anonymous Internet diaries, which inspired the artist to approach reality in a more performative than descriptive manner. The project borrows its title from the classic book by American sociologist Erving Goffman Frame analysis: An essay on the Organization of Experience (1974). Both this academic account in the field of the micro-sociology of everyday life and Jari’s art project employ a frame as a device to demonstrate that a fragment of daily social reality, which at first instance may look casual and insignificant, is actually organized and thereby experienced. Although having similar means, the sociologist and the artist pursue contrasting aims. Jari’s project does not intend to expose social patterns or make scholarly generalizations based on them. Quite the opposite, everything about his choice of why and what he has framed is subjective, emotional, and visual rather than rational. As a result, his re-enacted stories have something in common with novels or films, but they also embrace a unique, sovereign quality, at once originating in and emancipated from the photography medium.

Andy Shab
art historian, independent curator