Pilvi Takala: Random Numbers

Carlos/Ishikawa, London, 15 November – 15 December

By Sean Ashton

Pilvi Takala, One In a Million (installation, Carlos/Ishikawa, London), 2012. Courtesy Carlos/Ishikawa, London

Pilvi Takala’s videos combine situationist nerve with journalistic enquiry. The setting may be reallife or fictional, the action scripted or interventional, the cast comprising anyone from herself to friends, associates and strangers. The artifice is often ambiguous: we could be watching civilians or actors.

Two works are shown here. One in a Million (2012) features three videos about the Dutch and British postcode lotteries, which entail players’ postcodes being entered in prize draws. Of course, ‘postcode lottery’ is also a pejorative metaphor for the unequal distribution of government services, and Takala explores both meanings. In Help Desk, artist Siri Baggerman visits a municipal administrator in Utrecht to complain about being unable to play the lottery, due to the council abolishing her postcode. Lawyer of the Week is a subtitled recording of her discussion with a lawyer about the prospect of being compensated for the jackpot she might (but probably wouldn’t) have won. Takala’s ‘performative citizens’ are Brechtian vehicles for testing regulatory limits, their interpretations of the rules absurd yet logical. In the third video, Palace, her gallerist Vanessa Carlos phones the organisers of the UK postcode lottery. On learning that one may play with any postcode, Carlos chooses SW1A 1AA – Buckingham Palace. When Takala herself calls and asks to play with that postcode, she is told she can’t. After the operative consults a colleague, she is then told she can. The point made here – that individuals interpret rules differently – is less interesting than the manner in which it is made: through a form of guerrilla theatre.

Where investigative journalists might focus on the politics of confrontation, Takala focuses on its sociality. The eight-minute video Players (2010) portrays a community of online poker players who adopt probability theory as a modus vivendi. Our narrator, Jaako, lives with six Finnish friends (here played by actors) in Bangkok’s Scandi Tower. These professionals embrace chance whenever possible, allotting domestic duties and settling restaurant bills by flipping cards. Even travel is transformed into a game: should two people disagree over the best way of getting somewhere, for example, one goes by taxi, the other by train; whoever gets there first wins the bet.

Conspicuous consumption rules. If you’re a Player, you buy a €600 pool cue from a former Finnish champion, despite being no good. You take helicopters instead of planes, “have ice made of iced tea in your iced tea”. This decadence – known as ‘balling’ – seems motivated by the need to mark the difference between minimal and maximal desiderata. It’s a form of autoanthropology – the cultural logic of late capitalism as self-caricature. “Having access to all the unnecessary things that rich people gather to show off is something we enjoy even more than the regular rich,” says Jaako. The implication being that only the temporarily rich can enjoy wealth. As though wealth were a hobby. And perhaps, for the poker player, it is.

Originally published in the March 2013 issue.