A classic pin-up delivers a breath-taking performance in Finnish artist Salla Tykkä’s latest film, Airs Above the Ground. The first sound you notice is the horses’ hooves, softly falling against grass with a galloping beat that joins the morning birdsong. Then you see them: a dappled grey herd that melt out of the mist to move as one along a corral, overshadowed by autumn leaves. It’s beautiful: horses running free in the countryside.
The star of the show though is the older brother of these footloose beasts. His coat has paled to a pure white, he’s stockier, with pumped-up muscles and his head and body flex in a faultless arch, bound by a bridle. Seen performing in a dressage arena, to the flick of a long whip he prances or lifts his forelegs completely off the ground, balancing like an acrobat and hopping along on his two back legs. He’s a vision of power harnessed and honed by man.
These Lipizzaner stallions have a long, royal pedigree. Not quite the force of nature they at first appear, they’re the product of selective breeding overseen by the Habsburg monarchy several hundred years ago. Like these European powerbrokers, their glory days are now in decline. The high dressage they are trained to perform is little more than a tourist attraction. Yet these gorgeous creatures also bear the weight of Europe’s shady history: symbols of man’s tireless pursuit of perfect beauty and, by implication, the fascist horrors it has led to.
Salla Tykkä’s Airs Above the Ground is on show at the Hayward Gallery Project Space from 20 November until 2 January.