Maija Tammi questions what it means to become human

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Employing an AI robot and a tiny freshwater animal as her topics, Tammi investigates the liminal space between life and death

Finnish photographer Maija Tammi is obsessed with mortality. Not her own, necessarily, but the concept of it. “Sometimes I think There are picked up a new theme, however look back at the work and find that I have returned to life, death and its limitations, ” she says. “It must be a subconscious factor because I don’t intend to tackle it with every project I do. ”

Try since she might, Tammi’s newest projects, One of Them Is A Human and Immortal’s Birthday , do exactly that. The first, which is showing at Belfast Photo Festival come july 1st, is a set of photos associated with geminoids: hyper-lifelike robots created by Japanese inventor Hiroshi Ishiguro.

The series was made in 2016 while on a residency in Osaka, Japan. These year, Tammi entered one of the images, a photo of a robot named Erica, into the Taylor Wessing portrait competition at the National Portrait Gallery. With her surprise, the mischievous, risky entry was eventually elevated to your shortlist, sparking a flurry of debate around the definition of “a living sitter”: one of its crucial criteria.

“The androids tend not to pass as humans upon video or face-to-face, yet photography as a medium has the power to make us doubt, ” she says. “One could ask if the photographs are portraits or still existence – nature morte within French. It goes to show that will ‘alive’ and ‘dead’ are usually slippery definitions when you start looking at them. ”

Maija Tammi: Party Pet, 2020. (Archival pigment print, framed, 130 × 119 cm)

The more recent Immortal’s Birthday , meanwhile, features a tiny fresh water animal called the hydra, which usually first exhibited in Helsinki last year. The creature, determined in the 18th century, is known as after the serpent monster through Greek mythology which regrows two heads each time one is cut off.

However the real-life hydra’s regenerative ability is even more impressive: cut off a small piece of tissue and an entire creature can regrow from it in just a few days. In recent years, the hydra has again caught the attention of scientists because it does not appear to age. In theory, it could be immortal.

The works – slow moving videos and frequently beautiful, still renderings of the polyp taken under the microscope – are coupled with pictures of floating human fingers and feet adopting comparable poses. “Spending enough time with the subjects makes one create a relationship with them, ” Tammi says. “What very quickly comes after is anthropomorphising. ”

“If an arm or leg is amputated what is it? ” she continues. “When something is attached to the body, such as hair, nails or a limb, this is a beautiful living thing. Yet as soon as it separates it really is disgusting. With the hydra you don’t have that – it regenerates when part is stop. ”

Maija Tammi: Example 1 of an in a short time aging species. 2017–2020. (Diasec, light box, 62 × 82 × 45 cm)

Maija Tammi: Instance 1 of moderately rapidly aging species. 2017–2020. (Diasec, light box, 62 × 82 × 45 cm)

And yet, the functions in Immortal’s Birthday are not without an element of light alleviation. One piece, called Celebration Animal , plays on the organism’s spindly, tentacular form, showing scores of hydra throwing dance-like forms against a black history.  

“I like the concept that a viewer might very first be intrigued by the playfulness, then realise that they are contemplating the much heavier style of life and loss of life, ” Tammi says. “And although I find it interesting, it is challenging to make other people interested in a tiny water animal; it is a jellyfish that appears to be a fork and movements very slowly. But combined with a human element, it is about alive. ”

Ostensibly, Tammi’s two subjects could scarcely be more different. One is an inanimate machine, the other a tiny organism whose defining characteristic is its ability to stay alive. But the common floor between them – the gray area between life, demise, and what it is to be human being – is what Tammi appears compelled to explore.

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