Menu Maker in Focus: Pilvi Takala
Maker in Focus: Pilvi Takala

Maker in Focus: Pilvi Takala

Pilvi Takala has trained herself to resist awkwardness, through the process of making films.

Actively seeking discomfort in interaction with others is not something very appealing to most people. Yet, for Pilvi, it is a confirmation that she’s on the right track. Making video works based on performative interventions, she researches specific communities and by that, seeks to question the social structures that form our behavior. 

Coming from Go Short, we know you first and foremost as a filmmaker. Yet, a lot of your work does not seem to be limited to what we see in typical movies. What do you think defines your work? 

“I guess that would be the interest in social, human behavior. Specifically, the small ways in which we negotiate or uphold norms – and the moments when they’re renegotiated. Small, everyday things that happen within the interaction between people and make up a system of rules. That’s where I’ve been looking at the most of my career.” 

Not quite coincidentally, that interest seems to be an important building block in most of your films, too. Whether it is about the interaction between the staff of a security company, entrepreneurs attending an event for startups, or visitors of Disneyland. Can you tell us a bit about how that works? 

“I’m always trying to learn new things. If I already know how to make something in advance, then it’s a bit boring. But in general, there is a structure that applies to my work – which is a starting point in another community or context that I have access to. Either I speak the language, or the cultural context is familiar. However, the whole point of course is that it is not my world or something I’m super used to. There has to be a sense of discomfort around it. Something that will cause tension. 

Then there’s a period of getting interested in the broader context. Often, at that point, without specifically knowing what to do with it or how to approach it. That stage involves a lot of general research. Reading, watching films or TV. Anything that revolves around the subject, location, community or whatever it is.

“I go there, things happen, and I learn things.” 

Afterwards, the real core of the work lies in interacting with this subject. That could be in many different forms. Sometimes I just participate and try to understand what’s going on, as kind of a learning process. Other times, I already know how I’d like to twist or break the rules – and do something a bit disruptive. There are different approaches, but that’s really at the core of the research. I go there, things happen, and I learn things. 

Then there’s the last part, which consists of putting together the narrative and thinking about how to share what was interesting. That might involve having to find a new approach, based on what I saw there. Other times, I documented what I did, and it’s made from there. So, in this case too, there are many different ways to further construct the narrative.” 

A lot of the work you make seems to require a high sense of personal devotion. An interesting example of that is found in your recent work, ‘Close Watch’, for which you went as far as becoming a fully qualified security guard at a company operating in the private security industry. How important is it for you to fully submerge yourself in the stories that you’re trying to tell? 

“I guess in every case it has been important, though in some more than others. Usually, I think that the strongest works – and the ones that I learn the most from – are the ones where I’m really in the center of activity. Where everything is unfolding, and I’m somehow participating in it.  

For ‘Close Watch’, there was even more extensive research. The theme was quite significant, and heavy too. I didn’t feel like it was possible to ‘superficially’ try to say something. Also, I really wanted to have the experience of doing that work. You can’t just pop in and say ‘Hey, I did this for one day, and…’ That’s just not how it works. Also, that was a longer commitment in terms of time. Getting trained and working for six months has been more extensive than any of my other research. Being there every day makes it harder to keep the ‘artist hat’ somewhere. It can be really messy to have so many different roles.” 

Having so many different roles, the line between you as an artist and you as an individual might start to blur as well. On the one hand, you are doing this work as a security guard, which involves a very specific focus on the practicalities of that job. On the other hand, you are trying to tell a broader story by doing so, too. How do you handle such a complex situation?  

“In general, within works where the involvement is shorter, it’s often still quite challenging emotionally. There’s a lot of rejection and stuff like that in my work, where often I intentionally evoke those feelings. Because of that, there’s always a sort of recovery period getting out of these situations. I also feel real feelings, even though I’m seeking rejection. I know I’m asking for it. 

“The more awkward it is, the more uncomfortable it is, the more interesting it is.” 

There’s a balance between how long you can go on whilst still being open to it – and being a normal person who has had enough and needs a break. You need to make notes and analyze.
The more awkward it is, the more uncomfortable it is, the more interesting it is. At the same time, it’s also true that it feels really bad.  

I think in my work as a security guard, because it lasted so long and I had to consider many things, there was way less possibility of stepping back. I was writing my diary, trying to reflect on stuff with an assistant – somebody not witnessing directly but who was aware of what was going on. That was one tool to keep from getting lost in it. Otherwise, I could have gone on forever. Go and work in another mall. Gather more information. There’s always more you can learn.  

At some point it was like: OK time to stop. Go to the studio and be like what the hell? I have thousands of pages of diary writing, what is all of this? What does this mean? Though, at the same time, I really try to let it be. I don’t have to know what it means. I don’t have to have the story. I don’t have to know. It will take time for it to fall into place.” 

By fully submerging yourself in the stories you are telling, you more often than not become the subject of your own movie, too. Looking at all of the films you have made, what have you learned about yourself by doing all of this? 

“I think all of the work has had an impact in different ways. Especially the longer-term work. For me, “the Trainee” was one where I also engaged for quite a long time. Through that work, I really learned about the physicality of social pressure, and how good it feels to conform. That feeling gets strengthened when you are in the workplace itself. When it lasts longer. It’s different from going on the street or in the mall and just being ‘the strange person’. In that sense, public spaces, for example, are less intense. The relationships are less intense. People are like, “Oh, some crazy person, whatever”.  

And then, obviously, in the whole security environment, there are a lot of plain facts that I have learned. Understanding how that industry works from the inside. A lot of knowledge that you gain by happening to be there on the other side. It’s all banking up.” 

It must be cool having so many deep insights into environments that normally you might not have been in if it weren’t for your films. I can imagine you having a closet full of trophies of all the skills you’ve earned so far. If there is one that has stuck with you throughout the years of making your works, which would it be?

I guess that I learned it’s kind of a muscle that you can train – being able to resist social pressure. To go through with something, even if there is this emotional discomfort where you feel like it is not nice when everybody’s being super awkward. So that’s something you can train, and I’ve trained it a lot.

“It’s kind of a muscle that you can train –  being able to resist social pressure.” 

But then with that, I also learned that you need to recover. The emotional labor aspect is something I learned on the go, though I don’t apply it enough in my actual personal life. The kind of like, hey, there’s a moment, I need a recovery here. For me it’s easier when it’s within a project. 

During the upcoming edition of Go Short, Pilvi will dive deeper into these feelings of awkwardness and emotional labor – as part of a case study around her film The Stroker (taking place April 4th).  Talking her way through the process, she will uncover her unconventional approach to making the film, together with all the insights she gathered along the way.