If 6 was 9



If 6 was 9

by Eija-Liisa Ahtila
Video art

View a still from the artwork

The title of If 6 was 9 echoes the Jimi Hendrix song of the same name, its digits hanging like speech marks or alluding to an act of oral sex. These overtones are confirmed as the prologue plays out. Enunciated with the nonchalant intonation of a read-through, the script’s opening lines comprise such amorous utterances as ‘That was incredible’ and ‘We are the perfect couple’. The widescreen then opens out into three, as domestic vignettes of boiling kettles and toast are intermittently interrupted with pornographic ephemera.

The triadic panorama is akin to the glowing panels of an illuminated aquarium, with its inhabitants caught and contained for us to gawk at. The words of each woman are heard loud and clear: ‘I wanted more sex.’ ‘I wanted full pay for my work.’ Over a game of cards, they take turns in recounting disillusionment in education and intimate anecdotes of discovery. As each recollection is articulated, it is distributed across the tripartite structure: six and nine neatly divided into a ménage à trois.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

A triptych of screens plays innocuous scenes of everyday life, against which we hear the voices of young women describing adolescent memories and sexual experiences. Each image draws us into a different view of the mundane, fully immersing the viewer in the banality of a basketball game, or of butter spread on bread. The camera appears to pay more attention to the background of the anecdotes, to the context of the incidents discussed, than it does to the events themselves.

As night falls in Helsinki, the film comes full circle and the credits begin to roll. A pointed disclaimer reveals that ‘all characters portrayed in this story are fictional’, jarring with the realism sustained throughout the work. We find that the ostensibly intense, personal nature of the direct-to-camera confessions was constructed. Before, the focus on the routine suggested a reluctance to sexualise the women featured. Now, we find that the director was putting words in their mouths all along.

Words by Katherine Fieldgate

More to discover

Cary Wolfe has interviewed the artist for BOMB Magazine, as has Max Ryynänen for Kunstkritikk.

Question of the day

Should artists tell other people's stories for them? Share your thoughts on Facebook, Patreon, or Twitter.

The artist must speak for those whose voices have been taken away.

– Marina Lewycka, author (The Lubetkin Legacy, A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian) (via The Brief →)

I'm not sure that they necessarily 'should', but I think that they're permitted to, as long as any artistic licensing isn't disguised!

– Hugh Maloney, Silent Frame Sub-Editor (via Facebook →)

Read more: Video art