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Sanna Kannisto

A song system

Solo show curated by Chiara Bardelli Nonino


There are surprising parallels between birdsong and language learning in newborn children. Unlike most higher mammals and other primates, in humans, songbirds, hummingbirds and certain cetaceans and bats, the capacity for vocal communication is not innate but learnt, through a complex network of experiences that may be summarised in the ability to listen to one’s own voice and to interact with and imitate other voices. 


In 1976 a series of cerebral structures was discovered in songbirds which governs precisely this: it is called the song system. 


This unexpected common factor among beings of different species lies at the heart of Sanna Kannisto’s work: whether they be the passerines of Local Vernacular, the bats of Fieldwork or the hummingbirds of Act of Flying, Sanna’s images presented at Metronom trace out unusual parallels between apparently very distant worlds. As in a celestial globe, the exhibition aims to outline constellations to be used as maps for getting one’s bearings in the universe of this Finnish photographer, where the immense biodiversity of the tropical forest and the minimalism of Scandinavian landscape cohabit, with the rigour of scientific procedures and the absolute freedom of art, the fixity of the photographic image and the tension of animals immortalised in all their vitality.

As in all truly interesting photographs, what remains outside the frame in Sanna’s images is as significant as what it contains. Outside, here, are the biologists with their obsession for measurements, the portable field studio which Sanna manages to set up practically everywhere and which allows her to photograph only living animals. And then all the artifices of art, that magic whereby a thing photographed must somehow really be found in a certain place and at a given instant, but may then be modified to the infinite.

Like Rorschach’s inkblots, Sanna Kannisto’s images are wilfully ambiguous, perturbing. Notwithstanding the extreme complexity of their possible levels of interpretation, Sanna’s images succeed in defining us not by what distinguishes us but by what we have in common: our song system.


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