Does Janne Lehtinen really believe he can fly?
Janne Lehtinen, Scared Bird, 1998 – 2004
Laughing in a Foreign Language
Written by Robert Dingle
The Icarian Sea, near Icaria (an island southwest of Samos), takes its name from the story in Greek Mythology of Icarus and his farther Daedalus. Having been imprisoned by King Minos within the labyrinth (the home of the Minotaur), Daedalus fashioned a pair of wings for himself and his son made of feathers and wax. Ahead of leaving his farther advised Icarus not to fly, either, too close to the sun, as its heat would melt the wax, or too close to the sea, as the wax would dampen. Icarus being overwhelmed by the sublime feeling of freedom that flying gave him forgot his farther advice and sawed into the sky. The wax melted, his feathers disappeared and Icarus fell into the sea.
Scared Bird, a sequence composed of eight large photographic Lamda prints, sees the artist try to surpass Icarus in a series of unsuccessful attempts. In each image the artist is frozen, either poised at the moment just prior to an attempt being made or contemplating the unforeseen errors in the aftermath of an effort gone amiss.
In the former, the image captures a moment of indeterminacy. The expectation and intention is clear. The artist, surrounded by wings, fins and sails and adorned with a ‘do-it-yourself’ aesthetic, is seen preparing to undertake a leap of faith. Through an act of bravery and in the face of seemingly stacked odds, the artist is held to a point of potential; a moment of generative possibility where any number of latent outcomes still remain open.
In contrast, the other images depict the lone figure, no longer surrounded by his avaitory trappings or the expectations they formerly embodied, rather, he remains central to the image, but surrounded by wreckage. The risk has been taken and the outcome determined.
Our initial reading of this work leads us to believe that it makes clear the divide between expectation and reality. The ‘before and after’ images seem to explicate how the process of failure can operate i.e. when the distance between expectation and reality no longer meet but become misaligned.
But what happens when realization no longer equates reality? When reality becomes fiction? We cannot ignore the fact that the work harbors a conceit. Does Janne Lehtinen really believe he can fly? The answer, although I have never met him, I am certain would be ‘no’. This leads us to understand the work as a series of attempts that rely upon the staging of events. Lehtinen does not expect to fly, he does not enter a realm of doubt or not knowing, he expects to fail and his expectation corresponds to reality.
Scared Bird becomes a successful illustration or interpretation of the idea of failure and leads us to acknowledge the well-established paradox intrinsic to failure i.e. failure can never be an objective, as when achieved, reverts to becoming a form of success; one successfully fails.
Icarus can be read as a fictional metaphor for failure. He shows us that an unorthodox act entering into a realm of doubt can produce a space of opportunity. However as Icarus pushes the limits of this prospect the conjectural possibility of failure eventually becomes an actuality.