Atlas of Emotions 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 Atlas of Emotions. 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.