Asian art markets

Does copycatting rule the Asian markets, where much of the world’s small technological innovation is located? Mobile-phone industries, small pieces in massive volume are centrally part of the future of the east.  What I find problematic in America is that the ‘westerner’ thinks we have invented it all. Today’s Asia is very creative, the arts are sensationally inventive, international, and not hostile at all in terms of who gets to participate. But, is there still a question of freedom of speech (what one is allowed to say and where) stirring in the air? Perhaps societal problems can build a frame for creation, meaning that when one comes from the ‘margins’ the experiences enhance new creativity? Artists and designers have to make it work and gain new presence in the world? All good signs. This reminds me of Finland too. A small nation started striving to get visibility with its original designs approximately hundred years ago. Design and fashion have become visible in almost every corner of the bigger cities in Asia, then the performing arts are moving forward. The traditions are remarkably present in design, and there seems to be value towards local traditions also in the new works of art. Yet, impacts of globalism are present; slums in the city corners and prostitution. The discussion about the trafficking of people has become loud.

Gigantic cake for a cause/light from recycled bottles

What would be more uplifting in the season of the fall with less light approaching us, than to surprise your friends with a gigantic cake to vibrate senses. It is tasting good and creates a visual sculpture with a low cost budget. There is absolutely no reason why not. And it is a great excuse to do some communal action.

Take this example from Helsinki, a parade of huge cake shared with hundreds of people walking in during one night. The cake definitely creates the performance in itself, and there will be lots to discuss around it. It is a terrific site for some new action plans. How about a theme of recycling, or new energy-saving strategies to create light with the Solar Bottles? The solar bottles is one of the smartest innovation to employ already existing material, namely used soda bottles, and hang them down from the hole in the ceiling/roof. This, of course, fits purposefully in the warmer climates, but one could also think of using them in the summerhouse, or while camping. Most importantly, this is a low-cost solution for the energy problem in South East Asia, where villages suffer from electricity cuts, and where the local areas are over-populated with households. (Go Youtube and search for the topic: Plastic soda bottles become light source…)

When you start baking your communal action cake, think about solar bottles, recycling, and new design innovations from existing materials. Get involved in creating light. Light is increasing quality of life, it is fighting against depression, sustaining life, engaging our senses.

Would I buy a ‘poisonous’ handbag…

Marketing strategies are sometimes tricky, and techniques of seduction are part of the contemporary branding of products. Putting products out on displays, is then of course part of the entire strategy. We are sensuous beings. Consuming today means taking seriously the product differentiations. We should be paying attention to, how the different products feel, taste, smell, etc… In other words, a questions is, how we as humans experience and imagine objects and things.

What is the tricky point is that we are after all quite childlike beings when we make our choices to buy something. Hopefully our product differentiation is more in line with the future aspect; what would be good for us in the long run and what would be a more sustainable aspect in our buying of new things. This relates to, what is good for the environment and does not poison our bodies.

It is important to emphasize couple of questions: how much of the seduction in the advertisements, and in the product differentiation is based on the use of different color-combinations? How do the various techniques of branding speak to our sense of nostalgia aiming at reminding us of our childhood experiences, the shapes, designs, colors and patterns? I noticed something based on this idea.

There was a handbag, which was on display on a ‘poisonous mushroom’. Think of the red-white spotted Amanita. The color combination would be just so inviting, so deliciously right. The color and shape is full of associations, which can be traced to children’s books and other childhood designs…Just imagine Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  (by Lewis Carroll). What actually happened to Alice? She was growing tall, shrinking…The image appears as both fascinating and scary. We do not necessarily need to know what happened to Alice in the story. Yet we should think about the poisonous as a metaphor for things that work in the level of seduction… An important question would be, as I see a beautiful handbag on display, would I buy it as it is on a top of a poisonous mushroom? What else does ‘the poisonous’ stand for in the contemporary consumption imaginings, what are the materials used in the products; do they harm the environment and so on?

Follow me to the forest

It is time for Helsinki Design Week (HDW). We are impressed that the locations include the Old Customs Warehouse. There will also be a fashion show in the brand new Helsinki Music Centre (designed by LPR-architects Marko Kivistö, Ola Laiho and Mikko Pulkkinen). Finnish people love their music, also for the reason that Finnish music has gained world class reputation with our composer Jean Sibelius. After Sibelius, of course, several other 20th and 21st century composers have turned into the unique sounds, which have defined Finnish art music. Perhaps one definition for the musical trends could be a word ‘moody’. It is quite easy to pin it down when one listens all the brass-instruments in Sibelius.

The new Music Centre stands in a row of other remarkable buildings along Mannerheimintie-road, which honor Finland’s musical tradition and the local arts. Next to the new construction is Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia Hall with its beautiful white marble walls. The modern classic stands out as a continuum of (evolving) organic shapes within the city landscape. Then, a little away from the center is the Opera House, which opened in 1993. The Bauhaus-inspired building was designed by prominent HKP-architects Eero Hyvämäki, Jukka Karhunen and Risto Parkkinen… As going towards the city center along Mannerheimintie, the Music Centre shares an outside green area with Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, Designed by American Steven Holl Architects, the museum opened  in 1998.

During the Helsinki design week, a fashion dimension is added to music. As a result we have an interesting Nordic-Finnish combination of performativity.  Like the musical tradition, Finnish design can be associated with some unique factors. The design and architecture take inspiration from the nature. It makes sense as the country is filled with so many forests and lakes. The nature functions not only as a source of inspiration for design patterns, but it also offers concrete materials and structures. The use of a birch tree and birch bark has been common since traditional times, for example. Birch bark was used in folk designs, and it still continues to define some of the Finnish design, which has taken new forms.

In 2010, I started imagining the future World Design Capital. How to picture one’s own hometown as a world design capital, how to find the paths, buildings, and all the details and different perspectives, which all are true and necessary in the mixture; to represent Helsinki as a place with rich history?  One important step is to acknowledge our own design potential in the ways we perceive our everyday lives. To see all the creativity in the everyday life.  Finally, remembering Helsinki’s amazing location and closeness to nature is a surplus to the small capital. If one does not want to take one of the cruise boats to Tallinn or Stockholm, at least a trip to one of  the forests and national parks is a must!..As much as there is also international art on display (2010 there were sculptures of Manolo Valdes, picture above), and beautiful natural and man-made design around, there are also landmarks with so much historical value. This prehistoric grave is just a mile away from the city center.

see more about Helsinki architecture in this blog

FALL vitamin time

(Kuplat in different colors by Yki Nummi, the lights displayed in Mbar, Helsinki)

…It is almost fall, although the concept has changed over time. So when does the actual fall begin, when is the late summer? What is sure is that we tend to push the starting of the fall further. Nevertheless, the fall is time for energizing oneself with colors. Vitamin drinks give energy with color, and cocktails in different glass shapes are an important part of the bar designs. The ‘food’ is also becoming more of a matter of design.

…With the colors, then, when it comes to the design-thinking, we need to reconsider the white as a basis for creating interiors. Design Modernism in itself is often taught as to be ‘black and white’. But, in fact, bright colors, would not stand out so much without the basic concept of white in the background surfaces and objects… Some timely and popular classics include remakings of the ‘vintage’ lighting designs by Yki Nummi (Kuplat, Lokki are popular). Then there is Arne Jacobsen’s Ant-chair, which looks great in white, as well as Eero Aarnio’s Ball-chair, with white exterior, and the color splash is found inside…

Sustainable coffee cups

(Artist/educator Outi Länsikunnas enjoys Alice’s Tea Cup)

We are mistaken if we think that we can sustain our ecosystems with the current consumption of paper cups. It is not so false to argue that we are heading towards environmental disaster with all the paper cups and plates. Price in paper has been going up, yet as simple as it sounds, recycled paper did not replace much of the ‘regular’ paper, which is used out there in making the cups. Radical innovations (with real thinking) requires replacing some old ecosystems with new ones. Then, creative economy means that idealistic visions are turned into everyday solutions. The everydayness of innovation comes with solutions to paper cups, for example. Putting high tea back on the menu with grandmother’s vintage porcelain, is an example of creative economy. Do you grab a coffee-cup with you each morning from your corner Starbucks or other coffee company? If your answer is yes, you should reconsider your everyday values. It sounds we all take papercups too easily on-the-go. An evident change would require actions.

A question is, why do not local coffee brands, such as Starbucks, go for alternative cups, a customer could also choose a china when sitting in their premises? Believe or not, Starbucks has initiated real coffee cups in its Asian markets. You can find real china in Hong Kong while enjoying your guilt-free soy latte. That is a right direction, and North American markets should follow.

Think again when your daily ‘design-items’ are white paper cups. One for tea, one for coffee, one for water, one for ice-water…You already noticed that there are too many ‘ones’ on the table. ‘Tea for two’ with real porcelain would now stand for the romantic teatime shared together, and it also reflects sustainable values and global responsibility!

Bryant Park Yoga

The summer is full of colors which add dimension to the parks in the city. Yoga in Bryant park has invited attendees to sit, relax and stretch in a green area. This moment is quiet, waiting, before the rush…In case one wishes to escape the city, there is a ferry option going to the Governors Island, which attracts with its old time charm, and yet, it is becoming a center of all kinds of contemporary doings. It is possible to find the almost abandoned buildings, interiors and construction areas there, and even an old sanctuary/church. Things seem to be in-between state, so creative energy flows. The place is great for looking at water and the city from a little distance. The island has some green spots, and it is a perfect fit to do some modern mummy-like meditation or yoga.

There is also program for the ‘art hungry’. Contemporary Finnish photography found its space in Governors Island this summer (exhibition called Bodies, Borders, Crossings: Photography and Video Art From Finland, curated by Leena-Maija Rossi and Kari Soinio), and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council has been programming art there as well in their gallery space.

What adds dimension to physical exercising cultures these days is that, for example, yoga practices have taken in more performative elements. The influence of various ‘eastern’ bodily practices are coming to the ‘west’ together with the idea of world stage performances (of course there is Bollywood). In classical Indian dance, music and theater forms, the yoga is a foundation of the techniques used in the body. So when we actually look at the works, It is not only the performances that we see that influence us, but also the ways our modern hectic life keeps looking for new types of body techniques. Therefore, all trends that incorporate yoga-breathing and such into a daily/weekly/monthly-retreat routines is a healthy direction. With more centered body, the mind operates better.

I want to occupy this space in Governors Island and fly away. What is my survival kit in the city? Finding my innerscape, designing my yoga outfit, breathing through the fabric!

The Unisphere of Flushing Meadows Park, New York

The Unisphere of Flushing Meadows Park built for the 1964-1965 World’s Fair.

Signs of social activism around the world are coming forth through the social media. The old world representations for ‘peace’ and ‘mutual understanding’ are still visible in the landscape, and also preserved in the architecture, in monuments and even in parks. The Flushing Meadows Park in New York City’s Queens is an example of the park, which shares an illusion of the timeless representation for ‘mutual understanding’. The globe functions as a symbol for the world cultures, for the one-world, for the United Nations, and many more. In the Flushing Meadows, it stands as a symbol for the peoples’ park and shared time together.

Our memories and futures

Curator Leevi Haapala in Standard-hotel

This is the day when we remember New York, the city with wounds, the city with radiant sparkle that lost so much of its future potential in one day, or did it start re-doing it? Dissonances are present in our memories, yet, we also recognize what our new futures might hold. Future is in people, in environment, in their harmonious co-existence. We can leave positive traces behind us, traces of the sun, traces of our bodies, movements, designs planting new hope. Let me share some of the silence and noise of the future potential. Give it away to the architecture that is there. Walk the High Line and look around you, sip a fruity cocktail in the luxurious Standard…When you stroll, find your own stone, find a wooden structure.

I was walking ‘up’ the new High Line extension paying attention to the new park designs. As I went along, I was gladly absorbing a different atmosphere, I left the modernist and massive Standard behind me (believe me, I think it is fantastic), and stepped into a merely willowy landscape, which I would not exactly take for granted in the heart of New York City. It has to be admitted that ‘willows’ are trendy, the Northern atmosphere created in the city will attract people, and it surely took me by force. I wanted to go back, as when walking the new extension I felt that I could leave some of the city mayhem behind me.

Notably, Steven Holl Architects have been joining in the city plans with ecological dimension (in Helsinki, for instance), so the High Line also reflects this approach. Green trends are global.