Saara Salmi is a visual artist working in photography and painting. Born in 1981 in California, she grew up in Finland, and currently lives and works in Helsinki.
Her most known work is the Neo-Victorian art project and photo studio Atelieri O. Haapala. Documenting people from different scenes and subcultures, it explored the construction of identity through role play, and offered nostalgic escapism in a shared performance. The project was published as a twice-awarded book in 2018.
Salmi is doing her MA degree at Aalto University in Visual Cultures, Curating and Contemporary Art (ViCCA). Her previous education includes fine arts and animation (with a BA in visual design). She has exhibited internationally and has works in several collections, including the Finnish State Art Collection.
Escapism is the keyword in my work. My fascination for fairy tales and folklore bursts out in fantasy-filled imagery that has references to popular culture. However, behind the sweet surface and playfulness lie the dark undertones of nordic melancholy.
My main projects Atelieri O. Haapala and About Alice and the Rabbit both included staged photography bound together with a narrative. Set in the Victorian era with a slight gothic twist, both works were inspired by the delicious settings of the late 19th century: dawn of photography and cinematography, peak of inventions in science, the rise of women’s rights, lush advertisements speaking of the rising welfare and consumerism, insane behavioral rules and generally all the madness of colonialism and class society. I see it as a time of naïve optimism, in contrast to today’s accelerated technological development with dystopian threats hovering over it all.
Recently I’ve discovered a new rabbit-hole: I make large-scale paintings of tree roots. It links my practice to my life-long companion, the forest – and orienteering in it. Orienteering for me is a holistic experience in which physicality and strict concentration to the itinerary combine with the atmosphere and smells of the forest. Peat, moss, sweat, pine needles, fungi, something rotting, sun-warmed tree bark, they all intoxicate me. There are moments when I can feel a strong connection with the forest around me.
Often, I’m paused in awe in front of massive root systems of storm-fallen trees. To me these giant wood-skeletons reveal a link between life and death, and between all beings. In a fallen tree we can see two worlds, the one above, and the one underneath. The same structures of those roots appear everywhere in nature: in our veins, aerial photos of rivers and mountains, lightning bolts, neurons – in living and non-living. We are all constructed of the same particles, by the same laws of physics. Nature is not a separate space or a landscape outside our body, it is in us. Despite all the feelings of being special, we are not separate or above nature, we are just one part of it.