Jocelyn Shu on sculpture and identity

Jocelyn Shu is an Asian American artist whose wire sculpture installations draw from the philosophical texts of the Tao Te Ching. The sculptures walk you through chapter by chapter, and the aesthetic captures the essence of language and thought through visual forms. She is also a researcher in psychology, which has inspired her interests in exploring the visual aspects of language. While self-isolating during the pandemic, she has created work responding to the changing environment.   

Jocelyn Shu, Installation2(Chapt1,2)
Chapter 1, 84 x 16 x 16 in., wire, cut text, and glue, 2012-13 (front) and Chapter 2, 60 x 24 x 24, wire, cut text, and glue, 2013-14 (back).  The first two pieces in the series 81 Chapters.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  I remember meeting you at the Flux Art Fair in Harlem a few years back. This was a great event, and it was an opportunity for artists working in the Harlem area. How many years did you keep your studio there?

Jocelyn Shu: I maintained a studio in Harlem either in a separate space, or in my home, from 2013 until I moved out of New York City in 2019.  The years I lived in Harlem encompassed a lot of growth for me.  I feel very lucky to have been part of the art community there, and to have been in an environment where I was constantly inspired by the work of Black artists and artists of color who were exploring their cultural history and spirituality.  It was also a time when I sought to further understand my own roots, which included deepening my understanding of systemic oppression in American history and culture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What was interesting to me was that you as well were doing your research at Columbia University. You were hard at work with your doctoral thesis, and then wanted to create art as a balancing act. How did that plan work out?

JS: I don’t think I would have been able to complete my PhD without also maintaining my art practice!  It has been important for me to have both channels of work to turn to and find inspiration in.  In both research and art, one often faces hurdles that seem difficult to overcome.  It has been productive for me to be able to turn to alternate creative channels, which can provide space and inspiration during these times.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Has it been hard to keep up two practices, or do you think it is actually the opposite?

JS: While there are definitely benefits to keeping up the two practices, it is not always easy to balance the two.  It can be difficult to have the time and energy to pursue everything that I am interested in!

Chapter 13 (30x48x20in)
Chapter 13, 20 x 48 x 30 in., wire, cut text, and glue, 2019. A piece the artist worked on while writing her dissertation.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: When you started doing art, you first studied the subject in the Bay area. Do you think of the Bay Area as your home, and has the place itself influenced your artistry? 

JS: I was born about an hour south of San Francisco.  I grew up in that region immersed in the immigrant Asian communities there.  So, a large part of figuring out my identity during that time, as is the case with many who are part of immigrant communities, involved learning how to navigate multiple cultures: that of my parents and relatives (who are from Taiwan), that of being American, and that of being Asian American.  This is an ongoing journey for me.

I stayed in the Bay Area for college, and majored in Painting and Drawing through a joint program held at the time between the University of San Francisco and the California College of the Arts.  I had wanted very much to attend an art school for my undergrad experience.  My parents placed an incredibly high value on higher education, but were opposed to this idea.  At the time, attending this program was a way to compromise on our different values by being at both of these institutions. Reflecting back, I think this experience left a lasting influence on me by allowing me to develop intellectual interests rooted in a liberal arts tradition while also cultivating a studio practice in the creative environment of an art school.

I am not sure that I would consider the Bay Area my home now.  I feel I am constantly in a transitory state, traveling between different cultures, geographies, and intellectual and creative traditions.  I have a sense of feeling at home in different ways, in the various places that I’ve lived and visited.  However, the drawback to this is that there isn’t any one place where I fully feel at home, at least not in the current moment.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that your fine art education defines what you chose to study after graduation?

JS: Being able to pursue my interests in the fine arts during college felt like an incredible gift.  I loved having the time to hone my interests and creativity, and to be surrounded by artists who were passionate about their craft.  The experience fostered a deep curiosity to understand the world and humanity better.  In the following few years after I graduated, I focused on my painting practice, but also became interested in psychology.  I would read about it, as well as take a course at the local community college in my spare time.  This interest eventually inspired me to pursue the field further by moving to New York City and taking post-baccalaureate courses at Columbia.  With the knowledge and research experience I gained, I eventually completed my PhD in psychology there.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As we look at your identity today, how did science eventually play so important role in your life? 

JS: I have been doing research in psychology for about 12 years now.  I’ve learned over this time that science is a process in which our knowledge of the world is built slowly through accumulated evidence.  It is not a linear or straightforward process.  What is thought of as true can later be demonstrated to be false, and sometimes vice versa.  It has been a difficult journey at times, but I’ve appreciated the various ways in which the scientific process can cultivate one’s thinking, ranging from how one observes the world to how one interprets data, from how one clarifies their writing and thinking, to how one responds to criticisms of their work.  It can take many years for a scientific project to be completed, and I’ve gained an appreciation for work that is undertaken over such timescales.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your art about, how would you describe it?  Do you find any similarities in your artistic practice and scientific research?

JS: For many years, I have been working on a series of wire sculptures that are meant to be displayed together and adapted to the environment that they are installed in (you had seen some of the earlier pieces in this series at the Flux Fair).  I had the idea for this series shortly before moving to New York City in 2008.  At that time, I was in Taiwan to visit family and to reacquaint myself with the culture.  The pieces in this series are each comprised of text from a chapter of the Tao Te Ching.  The process of making these pieces involves cutting the translated words and letters from each chapter, and then incorporating them into wire sculptures.  These pieces take on various forms that hang from the ceiling or wall, or sit on the ground.  Working on this series is a slow, ongoing process.  I was not raised with religion, so it has been meaningful for me to connect with text that has an ancient history from the culture of my ancestors.  Working on this series has shaped how I view and respond to change in the world and in my life.

Outside of this series, I’ve become more and more interested in considering the visual components of language, and in exploring various ways that language and art can intersect with each other.  I think this has stemmed from having to constantly develop my writing in the research that I do.  Other than this, I don’t think the similarities between my art and research manifest in a direct way, at least not yet.  People often point out that the forms of my sculptures resemble neurons.  This has not been conscious on my end, but it would make sense that elements from the work that I do in one field find their way into work that I do in the other field.

Chapter 9 (detail 1)
Chapter 9, 72 x 30 x 30 in., wire, cut text, and glue, 2017.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have visited and travelled in Europe, and met with artists there.  Do you have any opinions or experiences about how artists work in Europe versus in the US?

JS: My relationship with visiting Europe, and traveling in general, started when I studied abroad in Florence, Italy, during my junior year of undergrad.  It is hard for me to make generalizations about how artists work in the US vs. Europe.  However, I do feel that art is more valued in many places in Europe, and more deeply intertwined into the fabric of society than in the US.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As a postdoctoral fellow, you are currently based at the Harvard University. How is this environment different from your time in New York City? 

JS: As I have been here for about a year, I am still processing my experiences in this new environment.  There are clear differences in that I am no longer in a big city, and the quietness of my surroundings seems to lead to a sense of having a bit more time.

Firsindigo&Lifestyle: The current COVID-19 pandemic has changed our daily lives in so many ways. Have you found this time altering?

JS: I have been going through different phases.  During some weeks, the isolation has allowed me to focus on my work and explore different creative paths.  During other weeks, it has been hard to concentrate on work amidst the societal upheavals we are facing.  It is understandable and necessary that attention during these times should focus on the pandemics involving COVID-19 and racism in this country.

Firsindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that going through self-isolating has initiated new art as well?

JS: Yes, I have turned to drawing and making small pieces for the immediacy that working in this medium and format provides.  Doing so has allowed me to respond more rapidly to changing events from day to day.  I have also continued to work on the series of wire chapters.

Jocelyn Shu, installation view.
Chapter 15, 32 x 14 x 10 in., wire, cut text, and glue, 2020. A piece completed while self-isolating.

Firsindigo&Lifestyle: Have you exhibited someplace recently?

JS: I recently had a small drawing in an online show at Gallery 263, a non-profit art gallery in Cambridge that had put out a call for local artists in Massachusetts to submit work as a way to gather the arts community together during the pandemic.

Firsindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have any specific plans for the future, in terms of your research and artistic practice? 

JS: I am constantly exploring ways to combine the different interests I’ve had in my life and career.  I have a feeling it will be a lifelong pursuit!

Firsindigo&Lifestyle: It would be nice to hear what kind of late summer and early fall ideas you have?

JS: It is hard to say for sure in this tumultuous time!  On the research end, studies for the foreseeable future will need to be run online, in accordance with safety protocols in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  As usual, I am looking to establish a routine with this work and my studio practice.  My current studio is located in Somerville, in Vernon Street Studios, which houses multiple floors of art studios in a large foam factory.  As I mentioned, I have been exploring new ways of combining language and art, a process that has been inspired by the literary tradition in the Cambridge area.

While I feel very lucky to have all of this in my life, and to have been healthy and safe throughout these difficult times, I am also hoping that there will be a way to reunite with my partner, who is currently based in Germany.  As I’m sure many others are also experiencing, travel restrictions have prevented us from being together.

Jocelyn Shu_studio_2020
Studio view of artwork in Somerville, MA.

A shock of an image: Are we going backwards?

wave @firstindigo&lifestyle

There is a test for a humankind, which is almost beyond measure. Health crisis with the current pandemic, too little or complete lack of solidarity for the #blacklivesmatter, environmental crisis, climate emergency: you name it, we almost seem to be moving backwards. To try to locate it in a visual-literacy sphere, it appears like a shock of an image. A complete inaccuracy of any portraiture of a situation. Yet we must.  We need to find new images, create new existence for love and peace, and keep on finding creative solutions for our planet.

Artistic practices and curatorial interventions are still valid ways to express movement forward. They show legitimate approaches to voices speaking against structural injustice and discrimination. The power of art is that it can change our perceptions and attitudes. It can inform us. It can take a stance, which is strong, shocking, and informative at the same time, for example about refugees in the world. In the #blacklivesmatter movement, new curatorial openings can be made, and more voices will be put on center stage, so stories will be heard and seen. Not forgetting that gender equality is still a dream in the global art world.

The environmental crisis needs more of our attention as well. How to navigate a jungle of opinions in this world and speak in a creative, artistic and curatorial manner about the climate emergency. Relying on ‘safe’ structures, and displaying ice cubes that are melting on concrete in front of our eyes. Are we running out of ways to create imagery of a crisis? ‘A shock of an image’ of something that would be a gathering of species dying, a globe that was burnt, and/or left behind without mankind, a nature that is not natural as we know it, but could be imagined as anthropocene. We did it already.

Water crisis, a water scarcity and the inequality that it creates in the world is almost unparalleled. A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises, is a great article published in New York Times giving an introduction to the problem.  Climate change creates a high risk to water resources in places that have experienced enduring droughts. Water reserves are running out in hot and populated industrialized areas. For example, the clothing industry uses groundwater in Bangladesh, and creates a severe problem for its people. Mexico City is sinking after using its relied water resources. In Mexico City, the Zócalo, the main square in the historic city centre, is at a lower elevation than ancient Lake Texcoco; the city was built on its basin.

Global fresh water scarcity can be caused by droughts, a lack of rainfall or simply pollution. Will our experience economy stop from creating more pollution in the future? ‘Backwards’ is a metaphorical attest to imply that shock doesn’t come without imagery.

This year, World Environment Day on June 5, 2020, celebrates biodiversity. The mission is to educate people that with one million species facing possible extinction, it is now time to focus on biodiversity. Biodiversity can be imagined in the world’s forests or oceans, for example. We can safeguard the nature they provide, and prevent extinction.  

  

 

 

 

 

Shakespeare and Earth Day

Windmills @Firstindigo&Lifestyle

Earth Day and Shakespeare’s Birthday both take place in April, a month known for its showers and blossoms. The poetry month of April resonates with the nature’s big events, and surely that of playwright and poet William Shakespeare’s imagination. Earth Day is celebrated on the 22nd, and Shakespeare gets his day on the 23rd.

Earth Day wishes to bring us back to thinking of hope in the days of chaos, and optimism for our futures during crisis. Each of us has a voice in creating our ideas for, what the future might hold, and what kind of world would we rather imagine. Perhaps a look back in the history will show us, how not to live in the future. From the point of view of conservation, Shakespeare’s times weren’t necessarily better than our more recent past.

The Shakespearean Forest” is a book written by Anne Barton (Cambridge University Press, 2017). The book handles woodland in early modern drama. “The Shakespearean Forest” puts the playwright’s work within a historical, social and literary world of forests. It also questions, how the forests might have been staged in the early theater. Forests as surroundings were also “stages” for leisure hunting, and preparation for warfare. 

Shakespeare’s birthplace, the town of Stratford-upon-Avon, was surrounded by the Forest of Arden. This forest was already in decline in his time. It is believed that during his lifetime, trees were more of a commodity, used as timber for building houses and ships, and functioning as fuel for cooking and heating. 

To see nature in a positive light in Shakespeare’s work is not hard though. Nature acts as a metaphor in his writings numerous times. One of the greatest is from “King Henry“: Let heaven kiss earth! now let not Nature’s hand Keep the wild flood-confin’d! let order die! And let this world no longer be a stage To feed contention in a lingering act.(Henry IV, Part 2).

There are so many beautiful and accurate comparisons between seasons and our life cycles, seeing weather as a backdrop for actions, and setting its moods for our own. Not to mention how romantic sentiments are created within nature. Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 98” is an appraisal for the month of April, a song of Spring. 

From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud-pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in everything,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leaped with him.
Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
Could make me any summer’s story tell,
Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
Nor did I wonder at the lily’s white,
Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
They were but sweet, but figures of delight
Drawn after you, – you pattern of all those.
    Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
    As with your shadow I with these did play.
meadow @Firstindigo&Lifestyle
meadow @Firstindigo&Lifestyle

The Folger Shakespeare Library,  in Washington D.C., opened in 1932 being an independent research library devoted to advanced study of the Renaissance and the early modern period in the Western hemisphere. It is a world-class research center with an outstanding collection of editions of Shakespeare’s plays. The Library has one of the world’s finest collections of 15th- through 18th-century rare books and manuscripts from Great Britain and Europe.

Armory’s charm

Almost thought, that I wouldn’t visit The Armory Show, which took place in the first week of March. The art fair’s tiredless self-promotion worked, however, and the show on Piers 92 and 94 didn’t disappoint. Next time, The Armory will move to a new location, providing also different dates. New York’s Javits Center will host the show in September 2021.

Exhibitions of delicate, poetic, musical, and folding works, that create beauty in a world full of turmoils, took a center stage. One could pick the art with rose colored glasses. The Women’s History Month approved to be relevant. I immediately fell in love with Francois Morellet’s red neon work “Contorsions” (2007), at a Milanese gallery A Arte Invernizzi’s beautiful and minimalist booth.

Shahzia Sikander, Double Sight, 2018, glass mosaic with patinated brass frame mosaic.
Shahzia Sikander, Double Sight, 2018, glass mosaic with patinated brass frame mosaic. Sean Kelly, NY.

Shahzia Sikander’s “Double Sight” (2018), is a mosaic work that draws from classical miniature painting traditions of Indo-Persian origins. The Pakistani-born international artist has experimented with the medium, and employs multiple perspectives to her works, including those of South Asian, American, Feminist and Muslim. The topics the artist explores are globalisation, languages, trade, empire, and migration.

Kim Jones, Untitled, 2003-2009, acrylic and ink on colour photograph.
Kim Jones, Untitled, 2003-2009, acrylic and ink on colour photograph. Zeno x Gallery, Antwerp.

Artist Kim Jones’ photograph has texture. In the one above, the hair is covering a face, while his other works on display were installations made out of wigs. The life of an artist includes time spent in Vietnam War, making his world appear as creating asymmetry, or holding a point of view that is more hidden.

Rosa Loy’s painting, on the other hand, creates different magic with narratives, in which unknown looms in the air. The Leipzig-based painter makes compositions, in which women perform in seemingly weird and ritual-like settings.

Rosa Loy, Tu das nicht, 2020, Casein on canvas.
Rosa Loy, Tu das nicht, 2020, Casein on canvas. Kohn Gallery, LA.

Moyna Flannigan’s new works include paintings and collages. They draw from art history, mythology, and popular culture to explore issues in the contemporary society. She is interested in the representation of women in art. The figures in her works, have ambiguity in mind. The dark tones are discovered with humor and irony. She is at The Armory with the Ingleby Gallery from Edinburgh.

Moyna Flannigan, Tear 52, 2019, ink, gouache, spray paint and collage on paper.
Moyna Flannigan, Tear 52, 2019, ink, gouache, spray paint and collage on paper. Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh, UK.

These artworks remind us of the fact that the life is in a state of suspension. The everyday life feels more as if we face it in a raw spacetime continuum. 

Rina Banerjee, 2020, installation view. Galerie Nathalie Obadia.
Rina Banerjee, 2020, installation view. Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Paris, Brussels.

Rina Banerjee’s recent sculptures are part of her concept of ‘irresistible earth’, that can be described as something uncontrollable and unconditional. In it, our senses play a central role in a process of figuring out, what is right and what is wrong in the migrating destinies of our lives. Banerjee is an Indian artist who lives in New York City, and is represented by Galerie Nathalie Obadia in Europe.  Of her new sculptural work, she writes poetically.

“Fastened to two walking sticks and lopsided imagined she in a world without opponents, unburdened by squabble and masonary bricks, she a prop propped up man from man not capable of understanding the parts that ripped and torn like partition, camps, detention pockets and passport tangles bottled black glory and tangerine blossom.” (Rina Banerjee, 2020)

Nancy Wilson-Pajic
Nancy Wilson-Pajic, Falling Angels, 1996, unique cyanotype photogram. Robert Koch Gallery, SF.

For the Women’s History Month, Nancy Wilson-Pajic’s feminist cyanotype photogram recalls the time, in which women artists were not accepted to the canon of the art world. Therefore, the radical expression of her art developed into significant styles that she became known for. Her multidisciplinary art was aiming, “to create mental spaces within which creative reflection may take place.”

These artworks remind us of the fact that the life is in a state of suspension. The everyday life feels more as if we face it in a raw spacetime continuum. 

 

Asian Smithsonian: Bells, buddhas and the meditation

Bells, tools and meditation are all ancient. When it has been confirmed by historic research, that tools and weapons were among the earliest bronze objects in China, the bells also now belong to this bronze age era. The meditative component has eminently added value and appreciation among the Asian arts. People are looking for nurture from art, and statuesque buddhas seem nurturing, even healing with their meditative poses. Massive sculptures are surrounded with the calm that is often lacking from the demands of the everyday life. The journey inwards requires little more participation.

Chinese bells have a special form that calls for a closer investigation. They are emblems of music, and when tried, the sound can be interestingly different from the Western terms of bell-sound. The church-bells have varying melodies, yet Chinese bells embody tones that are thousands of years old. It is believed, that the sound has not changed since they were casted. Bells still narrate of ancient technology as a soundsystem.

Chinese bells in the Sackler Gallery.
Chinese bells Free Gallery of Art & Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

With the global travel, the world has shrunk, and meditation practices have become increasingly popular. We are at the moment pushed to scrutinize ourselves into increased indoor dwelling, so discovering new possibilities of meditative practices might be useful. Sound is one way to go, listening to music with new awareness, concentrating fully into music or sound may turn the focus into a particular matter. A ‘look’ inwards may be rewarding.

Meditation is a bodily practice of a mind as operator. A word techne would also fit with its stance of the world. Techne is a philosophical term, which includes knowledge at its core. By using it in reference to bodily practice, it might as well connect to understanding your meditation approach. Learn to meditate by meditating, gain knowledge of meditation by doing it. Knowledge is coming from the act and art of doing.

Sitting buddhas are art works that meditate, giving out a pose with a silent approach that is almost demanding us to participate in a technology of looking inwards, of stopping our other activities, breathing with the sculpture. The art stimulates the senses into a sole pattern of sitting with a more disciplinary attitude.

Buddha sculpture at the Sackler gallery.
Buddha sculpture at the Free Gallery of Art & Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

 

Resound: Ancient Bells of China – exhibition on view at the Free Gallery of Art & Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington DC.  

Olena Jennings: THE MEMORY PROJECT

In 2018, a New York City poet Olena Jennings created poetry based on her family’s stories, attempting to visualise photography with words. The poems that resemble photography, carry them as frameworks of memory. In Olena Jenning’s THE MEMORY PROJECT: The memory comes before the poem. The poem comes before the art.

“I chose ink and paper for the poems. I chose fabric for the art. The poems are a small slice of time in which I experienced memories, many based on photographs in my grandparents’ photo album. I experienced the memories in 2018 and they were embellished by memories I was creating as I lived.” 

The project was presented in various incarnations at Queens Farm, the Red Barn, and Bliss on Bliss Studio.

POPPIES        Olena Jennings 

Red and blue on the dresser,
dust in the folds,
stretching towards the dim lamp.
Click of lipstick cap,
spritz of perfume,
snap of purse,
and she will turn the light off.
The flowers will wither
into their dreams
and I will put my lips
into their centers,
ready to blow away pollen.
The yellow dust caught in my eyes,
when I see for a moment
from her perspective, I look out
onto the yard. I see myself
throwing a rubber ball into the flowers,
crushing their petals,
the place where I convinced
my little brother there was a snake,
there was something to fear.
To make up for my deception,
I gave him one of the plastic flowers,
deceiving him again, pretending
I bought it at the corner gas station
from which we had collected all
of our dishes with the points we got
from pumping gas. I want to make up
more than that now—absences
when I would become like that yellow dust,
a quiet star.

Olena Jennings, Map Dress, installation view. Photo: Elvis Krajnak.

PAPER MAPS        Olena Jennings

Even flat maps have texture.
They carry with them
someone’s memory of the streets.
I will walk near the water
to draw the places off the map
on the palm of my hand.

We used to make paper
out of recycled letters,
rough, imperfect,
for a moment – wet,
on our knees
ripping

We mark our way to the castle
with the handle of a shovel.
We could live inside
our fairytale, find our way
despite the sand
in our eyes.

Poems and dresses by Olena Jennings. Photos of the dresses by Elvis Krajnak.

https://www.olenajennings.com/

Riikka Talvitie: A Finnish composer

Finnish contemporary composer, oboist and music pedagogue Riikka Talvitie is an artist greatly influenced by her audience. She believes that the audience and community have an impact so important that there is a need for new notions of authorship and agency in music. Her compositions are brought into practice in performances, and so the discussion of the community’s role in collaboration is relevant. As a woman composer, Talvitie also wears an activist hat in society. Women are still in the margins as art music composers. 

There are topics and ideas that Talvitie is ready to discuss more, and she collaborates with artists of many genres. She is currently in the process of doing her artistic doctorate in music at the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts in Helsinki.  

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you pick oboe as your instrument?

Riikka Talvitie: As a child, I lived in Kerava, in a small town near Helsinki. When I was seven years old I started to play piano in a local music school which was founded in those years. (This autumn I am composing a piece for the 40-years celebration.)

When I was around 14-years old I asked our music teacher if I could start to play oboe in a school orchestra. In the orchestra, there was also an older student, oboist, who started to teach me. I didn’t know how difficult it was to start the instrument.

Later after school, I did entrance examination for Sibelius Academy with both instruments. I got in with oboe, which was a sort of coincidence. I also started to read mathematics at the University.

Self Portrait (video still), Riikka Talvitie, 2018.
Self Portrait (video still), Riikka Talvitie, 2018.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How much did your own instrument define and influence your creations in the early face of your career?

RT: I just did a video work Self-Portrait which is dealing with this question. The main thematic issue of the work is a relationship between a composer and a musician. I am performing both persons at the same time, so I am discussing with myself. I am also improvising some bodily exercises with the oboe. (See the video here
https://fmq.fi/articles/composer-at-work-a-critical-self-portrait)

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What else in your musical training and background created who you are, and what made you choose composing?

RT: I chose a high school, which was specialized in performing arts. All my friends had something to do with theatre, cinema, literature or dance. So while I was studying oboe playing I composed and improvised music to theatre plays and short movies. I was quite enthusiastic with these projects so I took composition as a secondary subject.

I was also quite interested about contemporary music in general. I played myself a lot and I was visiting many festivals.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many years ago was this, and how has your career path evolved?

RT: I had my first composition lesson in 1994 in a summer course with Jouni Kaipainen and Magnus Lindberg. At that time I had lots of ideas and plans but no craftsmanship or technical skills. After the course I started to study really seriously.

The world might have been a bit different place in the 90’s because I was able to study composition quite long at the Sibelius Academy after I had graduated with oboe.

I have also been twice in Paris. First time I was studying oboe and composition at the conservatory of Paris. And the second time I was following one-year-course of music technology at Ircam.

Finally when I got my first child, in 2004, I stopped playing oboe because I didn’t have time to practise and travel anymore. In the video work I am quite strict to myself and ask: why did you stop playing? You did not think about your career? The answer is not that simple. This autumn I have some oboe performances coming so I am still dealing with the same question.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  What words describe your music?

RT: Light, airy, ironical, tasteless, fluent – perhaps.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  What kinds of themes do you usually develop in your compositions?

RT: Many themes and interests have changed during the years. When I was younger I got excited with mathematical ideas. Abstract world without social intrigues fascinated me in many ways. Then I have worked a lot with texts – poems, plays etc.

Nowadays, I am more into political and critical themes. I have a feeling that concert music is repeating some kind of old ritual where the most creative ideas are forbidden. Many things are not allowed, socially and aesthetically. I find this quite contradictory to the main purpose of art.

At this moment, my goals are more interactive and communal. I am preparing an artistic research about shared authorship and communality in a composer’s practice.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Are there ways to categorize contemporary music? Do contemporary works differ from modern music, say in tonality, and in aesthetical ways?

RT: I just read an interesting book Music After the Fall: Modern Composition and Culture since 1989 by Tim Rutherford-Johnson. The writer argues that contemporary music is not anymore so much linked to modernism as we tend to think. instead, it should be analysed in the context of globalization, digitization and new media. He starts the new era from the year 1989. I recommend this book to all composers and musicians who are trying to define the state of contemporary music scene today.

I see some trends among composers. The growing use of video and multimedia is now very common in concerts all over. Also the question of material is changing. In modernism a composer created his/her own material on which the composition was built. Now, there is more liberal relation to musical material which can vary from different musical styles to short samples of already existing music or sound.

One of the most important changes is the effect of social media. All the composers are marketing and presenting their works openly in the internet. It gives composers freedom to find their own paths but on the other hand it feels like a global competition of recognition.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does being a woman composer mean something special to you?

RT: Yes, it means a lot. I am a feminist, in a way. I strongly support equality and diversity in the society and correspondingly in the music field.

These values are unfortunately missing in the project of canonizing composers and art works. I am interested in artists who are left outside the canon. A year ago, I was presenting a work by Ethel Smith, a British composer from the beginning of 20th century. She was not mentioned in our music history classes in my youth. And how many others are there?

While doing my artistic research, I have many times wondered why the different waves of feminism haven’t left almost any imprint on art music composition. In Finnish composers society there are still only 10 % female composers. If we think about what happened in performance and video art in the 60’s and 70’s there were lots of artists participating in the happenings for sexual emancipation. At the same time, among contemporary music we just invented new composition techniques 🙂

I have also considered this question while teaching. What values do we forward to the next generation?

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland has a woman composing star, Kaija Saariaho, who is also well-known in New York City music world. Do you think she has developed a way for others to follow?

RT: Kaija Saariaho has an important role in Finnish music life, for sure, and in that sense her career is a sort of example for woman composers. She is also really warm and gentle person towards colleagues, especially for young students.

On the other hand, Kaija is presenting quite traditional image of a composer. Her career is based on international reputation, large commissions, prizes and so on. This position is actually quite hierarchical, and mythical.

There are plenty of artists who don’t want an individual international status. They want to work in working groups or in a pedagogical field. We are different. In that point of view Kaija is not a role model for all Finnish female composers.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are your key influences as a composer, and how do you conceptually start your works?

RT: Every project is slightly different but I still try to give some concrete examples. I start every composition by discussion with other people who are involved. I try to figure out who is playing, what skills musicians have, what are the interests of a producer, what is the schedule, what else is performed in the same concert, is there a musical theme like era or an ideological theme like protection of seas etc. For me it is really important that musicians and performers are fully engaged in the big picture.

I also collaborate quite a lot with other artists. In those situations I normally wait a moment and listen to others. I feel that I have much to learn because contemporary music has been so isolated in the abstract world for a long time. I am also curious about ideas and opinions of my audience. Also different audiences like non-musicians, children, teenagers etc.

When I start to compose I spend a lot of time looking for suitable material for each situation. I sit at the piano and try out things. I look for certain ”constraints or boundaries” for each project. Almost always, I meet the musicians and give some sketches to play. Lately, I have increased to send demos while I am working, just to open up the process and get feedback.

I consciously think composing as an ongoing collaboration.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is the composition process for you like, how long do you usually develop a work? 

RT: I like to work slowly and develop ideas with other people.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many solo instrumental works have you composed so far, how about chamber music and orchestral works?

My works in numbers:
– 4 operas
– 1 radio-opera
– 8 works for orchestra
– 14 choir works
– 18 songs
– 12–15 chamber works
– 5 solos
– 1 radiophonic work
– pedagogical works
– theatre projects
– short movies

Riikka Talvitie, The Judge_s Wife, Juha Uusitalo as the Judge. Photo Teemu Mäki.
Riikka Talvitie (composer), The Judge’s Wife, Juha Uusitalo as the Judge. Photo Teemu Mäki, 2017.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Recently you have also worked with opera. Could you tell more about these projects?

RT: I have recently composed two operas. The first one is called The Judge’s Wife which is based on TV script written by Caryl Churchill at the time of IRA terrorist attacks 1972. The text deals with the power structures of social classes and the difference between terrorism and a revolutionary act.

The opera was carried out as a cross-art performance with some additional text and documentary video material by its director Teemu Mäki. The performance was closer to contemporary theater or live art than traditional opera. It included music, drama, videos, texts, humour and also a meal, vichyssoise soup, which is also written into the libretto (http://www.teemumaki.com/theater-judgeswife.html).

Riikka Talvitie (composer),Tuomari (The Judge's Wife), performance photo by Teemu Mäki, 2017 (2).
Riikka Talvitie (composer), The Judge’s Wife, Tuuli Lindeberg as Judge’s wife. Photo Teemu Mäki, 2017.

The second opera Queen of the cold land was a radio opera commissioned by Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle-radio). The libretto is a sort of rewriting of the Kalevala – a present-day version of some abstract life situations. The aim of the working group was to look at the Kalevala from a socio-historical point of view. Kalevala is not qualified as a source of Finnish mythology because the mythical images of folk poems have been transformed and merged into new entities by Elias Lönnrot. Lönnrot’s goal was not only to collect poems and to propose them as a coherent epic, but the goals went together with the nationalist idea to create a common image of the past, customs and culture of the Finnish people.

The opera is dealing with several issues like diversity, sexual identity, nationality and naming. As a composer, I would state that the main theme of the musical narration is nationalism or rather the future of national states. This theme is presented in the musical material.

The music consists of orchestral music, chamber music, operatic and folk singing combined with radiophonic possibilities. The composition is based on a variety of materials. The most extensive material consists of national anthems by different states and people. In addition to these I use folk music, war songs, wedding anthems and lullabies.

(here I am pictured as a bird in the project: https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2017/12/02/queen-of-the-cold-land)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  In Finland, composers like Jean Sibelius are master voices in the classical music world, for their emancipatory approach of voicing national myths, and yet speaking to broad international audiences. Sibelius is a widely known European composer in the United States with his Finlandia, and Violin concerto. Has this tradition created a sense of your own status as a composer who has Finnish roots?

RT: As an answer to this question, I just tell that have composed a chamber opera called One seed, one sorrow – conversations with Aino Sibelius. Aino was a wife of Jean Sibelius. At least it was an other perspective to the question of national heroes.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  We met in Lapland in 2007, while doing a nature piece in Pyhatunturi. Do you still get inspired while spending time in nature?

RT: I am really worried about nature and by that – also inspired. This year I work with several pieces which are processing nature and particularly climate change.

Last spring, I carried out a project called Heinä (Grass) with playwright Pipsa Lonka. It was performed in Silence Festival in Lapland. The performance contained images that a grass had drawn. I tried to read or interpret those images by composing them for bass clarinet and voice. The performance took place in an old cottage with smoke and a dog. The atmosphere was quite unique.

Riikka Talvitie at the Silence-festival, Hiljaisuus Festivaali, Day3, Thursday. Photo Jouni Ihalainen, 2018.
Riikka Talvitie at the Silence Festival, Hiljaisuus Festivaali, Day3. Photo Jouni Ihalainen, 2018.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Are you critical of your own work?

RT: Of course I am critical and I would like to rewrite all my compositions but I just don’t have time for that. So let them be…

As for the future composition, I have challenged myself to ask every time ”why do I do this piece”. I feel that every art project should have a reason or meaning or aim which is something more than a commission, a commission fee, reputation or a course credit. This goal can be both an internal musical idea or external starting point. It should be something that connects our work to the surrounding society.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Who gives you the best feedback?

RT: The best feedback comes from my children when they ask ”what on earth are you doing” or ”how awkward”.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  What is the role of commissions in your work?

RT: The art funding is quite different here in Finland than in United States. Mostly I work with small commissions by different musicians, ensembles, choirs, orchestras or festivals. However, the main income of Finnish composers comes from the working scholarships.

Some of my works are collaborations with other musicians and artists. Then we apply funding together as a working group from different foundations and institutions.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Do you have specific plans for the future?

RT: I have plenty of plans for the future. In a near future I will finish my artistic doctorate that is about shared authorship and communality. For that, I still have couple of projects to compose. After that I will devote my time to activism.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  How about dreams, perhaps international presentations and residencies?

RT: An old image of a composer with a wig is quite outdated. This image contains travelling and prestige. Luckily the world has changed – women and mothers can be composer too and they don’t need to represent ”a plaster composer”.

Mainly, I don’t travel. I work nearby. I am quite often at home in the afternoons when my children come home from school. And in the evenings they have hobbies. My plan – not a dream – is to spend time in residencies after my children are grown-ups. I just need to be patient because it will take ten years still.

I don’t dream about an international career, firstly, because I like my daily local life. And, secondly, because I am at this moment interested in subjects and working methods which are rather marginal in classical music f.e. community art, live art, performance and philosophy. These are not the themes of a grand audience.

I dream about ideological aims. I hope we will see the world where the terms of consuming, owning and competing are less valued. I also hope that there would be a turn in over-consuming that finally we are saved from dystopical eco-catastrophe. I am not that worried about my own career.

RT: I have a small activist inside me who says that we should listen to different voices. So I would recommend you some other Finnish female composers here:

Minna Leinonen www.minnaleinonen.com
Jennah Vainio www.fennicagehrman.fi/composers/vainio-jennah
Lotta Wennäkoski www.lottawennakoski.com
Outi Tarkiainen www.outitarkiainen.fi/en
Asta Hyvärinen core.musicfinland.fi/composers/asta-hyvarinen
Sanna Ahvenjärvi www.sannaahvenjarvi.com
Maija Hynninen www.maijahynninen.com
Maija Ruuskanen www.maijaruuskanen.com
Sanna Salmenkallio https://fi.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanna_Salmenkallio

Also Paola Livorsi, Italian composer living in Helsinki, is worth of listening:
core.musicfinland.fi/composers/paola-livorsi

 

***

Featured image: Saara Kiiveri as Peg in The Judge’s Wife. Photo Teemu Maki, 2017.

***

website: https://www.riikkatalvitie.com/

Stephanie A Lindquist about philosophy of plants and art

Stephanie A Lindquist, Cowpea Lannea Edulis Sorghum African Nightshade (East Africa) part of Founded series 2018 Digital print on acrylic 44“ x 50” in.

 

Stephanie A Lindquist is a New York based artist and photographer, whose photo collages gather ideas of plants with world-wide origins.  Her works bring forth anscestral memories from diasporic places, and create meaning mapping our global existence as travelers and settlers. Food has always played enormous role in peoples adaptation to new places, creating and sustaining cultures. Art can have as much to say about this subject too. 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I have understood your recent photography art is based on your research on plants that are native, local  or indigenous to areas. How did you start this art project?

Stephanie A Lindquist: I started gardening and reading about plants and how to grow them. I was especially inspired by farmer, philosopher Masanobu Fukuoka. He is the father of natural farming and a proponent of natural dieting–both of which he believed to be beneficial for the environment and human health. According to Fukuoka, a natural diet consisted of local and preferably ancient plants–something nearly impossible for any urban dweller like me to accomplish.

This sparked my interest in identifying and promoting many little-known indigenous food plants from my ancestors in Africa and Europe, to where I currently live in the Americas.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where did you grow up, and live prior to New York City?

Stephanie A Lindquist: I grew up in Los Angeles. I’ve also had opportunities to travel abroad to Europe and Central America.

Stephanie Lindquist, Lablab oryza glaberrima celosia, 2017, Digital print on aluminum diode, Edition of 3, 4’ x 4’ in.
Stephanie Lindquist, Lablab oryza glaberrima celosia, 2017, Digital print on aluminum diode, Edition of 3, 4’ x 4’ ft.

 


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As one major inspiration behind your art making are the plants, do you cultivate or grow plants yourself and have your own garden?

Stephanie A Lindquist: I garden regularly in East Harlem and the South Bronx. It is an essential part of my practice and life. Gardening allows me to cultivate, consume and appreciate some of the plants I study first-hand. It is a way to immediately begin creating a more reciprocal relationship with nature.

 

Stephanie A Lindquist, Okra at 103rd 2018 Photo collage, Edition of 5, 7.5” x 10” in.
Stephanie A Lindquist, Okra at 103rd 2018 Photo collage, Edition of 5, 7.5″ x 10″.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that flowers, fruits and vegetables, etc. as subjects of art carry ideas about sustainability and environmental philosophical concepts?

Stephanie A Lindquist: Definitely. Potawatomi scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer writes about our need to listen, observe and learn from plants as our teachers–rather than only learn about plants. I truly believe that plants can teach us how to lead sustainable lives if we listen. 

Cultures close to nature have the benefit of accumulating indigenous knowledge of a diverse number of plants and their uses than city-dwelling folks. To see, recognize and know thousands of local, indigenous food plants is a powerful way to live in communion with the world. By taking care of widely diverse plants within our local ecosystem, we begin to take care of ourselves too–physically and spiritually.

It is my aim to heighten our awareness and appreciation of indigenous food plants and to collectively reimagine the local cuisine of specific regions.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are there other concepts and philosophies attached to your art?

Stephanie A Lindquist: My work is inspired by the work of many scientists including Mary Abukutsu-OnyangoSince the 90s she has been promoting the cultivation and sustainable consumption of African indigenous vegetables and fruits. On a continent plentiful with plants, it is surprising that most do not eat a sufficient amount of vegetables.

The promotion of these plants have commercial and cultural implications as well as physical and spiritual effects on our health. Most of these plants have been purposefully displaced by genetically engineered cash crops and changing tastes. To rekindle our relationship with the oldest, local plants is also to remember the unique history of the land and how we arrived here.

Stephanie A Lindquist, Cowpea Lannea Edulis Sorghum African Nightshade (East Africa) part of Founded series 2018 Digital print on acrylic 44“ x 50” in.
Stephanie A Lindquist, Cowpea Lannea Edulis Sorghum African Nightshade (East Africa) part of Founded series 2018 Digital print on acrylic 44“ x 50”.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do people act amazed when seeing and hearing about  your work?

Stephanie A Lindquist: It has been very satisfying to hear people’s reactions to my work. Even urbanites like me are full of surprising information about plants and their uses, which I happily add to my arsenal of knowledge.

As the daughter of a Liberian-American immigrant and descendant of Swedish and Irish immigrants, I have been invested in reclaiming ancestral knowledge for a long time. Conversing with others about indigenous plants has been a very satisfying way of piecing together our ancestral knowledge of the natural world around us.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who inspires you to do your art?

Stephanie A Lindquist:  I admire many artists including Julie Mehretu and Wangechi Mutu. I am also inspired by the authors I read and the emerging artists I meet everyday.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you design your collages and what is the process like in making photographic prints?

Stephanie A Lindquist:  I begin by researching a number of indigenous plants to a specific region and learning about their history, uses, and the people who cultivate them. Next I collect images of them, and if accessible take original photographs of the plants.

I cut the prints by hand and arrange the composition on a smaller scale until satisfied. Next, I digitally produce and print the collage at a larger scale or sometimes hand-cut a larger collage on fine paper.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell a little more about yourself, where did you study art?

Stephanie A Lindquist:  I have studied art since I was little. I received by BA in Urban Studies and Visual Arts from Columbia University. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to participate in residencies in Rome, Berlin and Staten Island, and to exhibit my work in museums and alternative spaces in New York and California. I also work as an arts administrator.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your objects and prints seem to carry domestic ideas in them, or it gets transmitted as a feeling with the coffee cup on a table, or with  the flowers. Does this resonate with your intentions?

Stephanie A Lindquist: Yes, my previous body of work in photo collage was concerned with capturing colorful, jarring, domestic still lives. I often chose the materials used to create the stage in memory of family and friends in my life, like my mother, my partner, or a particular place like the Kitchen Floor. Through collage I bring new meanings to these objects, in this case now where an okra blossoms and fruits. Their patterns are playful, somewhat minimal, abstract, full of textile, and tactile.

 

Stephanie A Lindquist, Kitchen Floor 2017 Photo collage 14.5“ x 17.5” in.Stephanie A Lindquist, Kitchen Floor 2017 Photo collage 14.5“ x 17.5”.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Some collages of yours are really colorful. Do you find that colors have significance and carry meaning?

Stephanie A Lindquist:  The colors reflect my mother’s textiles, family photographs, and the landscape around me.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you consider yourself similar to feminist art practices in which domestic life and the everyday gives to details and form in the art?

Stephanie A Lindquist: Yes, in many ways I make my art to create space for feminism and equality among humans and all that lives in the world. I treasure these often feminized spaces of the home and garden. And I enjoy propagating this image into my viewer’s subconscious of a plentiful, sustainable earth.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Also your knitted objects would signify not only sculptural dimension as objects that hang on the wall, but also about art-historical connection to the women artists?

Stephanie A Lindquist: The knitted objects Needles and String and Rosary for me were living sculpture–something I could create and disassemble again and again as a public performance and private meditation.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you separate your own artistic practice from curating, and working with other artists in your work?

Stephanie A Lindquist: I make time for it. I also let it bleed into my research interests and writing. My practice gains a lot from being in such close contact with artists and curators on a daily basis. I am constantly listening to and collaborating with other visually creative minds.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Can you describe what art projects are you planning for the future?

Stephanie A Lindquist:  I am thrilled to show recent work around indigenous food plants at Smack Mellon as a part of AFRICA’S OUT! inaugural benefit exhibition, Carry Over: New Voices from the Global African Diaspora curated by Kalia Brooks Nelson. To have my work in the context of Firelei Báez, Layo Bright, Melissa Calderón, Baseera Khan, Jasmine Murrell, Anna Parisi, Keisha Scarville, Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum and Saya Woolfalk is a joy!

The exhibition is on view June 2-30. More information about the s  how in Brooklyn http://africasout.com/exhibition-carry-over

I am also looking forward to presenting work at CTRL+SHFT Collective in Oakland this summer. Other than that, I’m excited to spend part of the summer camping and learning more about plants indigenous to the eastern seaboard.

I treasure these often feminized spaces of the home and garden. And I enjoy propagating this image into my viewer’s subconscious of a plentiful, sustainable earth.

Anne Raudaskoski on Ethica and the holistic approach

Anne Raudaskoski, Textile hackhaton, photo credit: Sara Malve-Ahlroth.

 

Anne Raudaskoski is a Finnish enterpreneur who wishes to create new connection to nature. Her approach can change the game of sustainability. With a background in dance, she has faith on the power of the arts: 

“Arts provide a holistic approach to existence, and this is what we need to change the current linear system. Human beings are part of the nature; nature isn’t something that is “out there” to be exploited, but rather, we need to re-establish our connection with the nature to realise that we can create sustainable growth and well-being with far better rules than what we presently have”. (Anne Raudaskoski)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: When and how did you start Ethica consulting company?

Anne Raudaskoski: I started Ethica in 2013 with my business partner Paula Fontell. We actually didn’t know each other at the time, but we both had been talking to our mutual friend of having a dream to set up a company focused on sustainability and the circular economy. This friend of ours suggested we should meet and share our ideas. We had our first meeting over lunch and we realised we shared the same vision. Three months later Ethica was formally established.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you get interested in the circular economy?

AR: My approach to CSR (corporate social responsibility) and sustainability has always been very business oriented. It means that there has to be a solid business case for sustainability and it should be embedded in strategy and R&D in such a way that sustainability works as a spring-board for the strategy instead of being an add-on or philanthropy. I wrote about the circular economy (CE) in early 2012 on my blog site after reading some articles on the Ellen McArthur Foundation (the global driver for the CE) site. I felt that some of the questions and pain points that CSR could not resolve – especially the intersection around environmental, strategic and economic issues – were inherently part of the circular economy. So when we started Ethica, it was very clear to us that the circular economy would be part of our service portfolio.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is it possible to define, what circular economy actually changes?

AR: Circular economy is an economic model, so it affects all sectors and organisations in some way. I always say that the biggest hurdle in transition from a linear to a circular economy is our current mindset. All our processes, decision-making, governance and actions are based on linear thinking. In a nutshell, this means that we keep overusing natural resources, we accept the concept of waste as de facto, design processes are not based on biological and technical cycles and we haven’t figured out yet how to do business within the planetary boundaries. All this is changing as part of the transition towards the circular economy.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the basic principles that define the circular economy?

AR: The below list of six principles offers a good starting point to explore CE more in detail.

1 Circular economy is a resource wise economic model that is restorative and regenerative by nature. It operates within the planetary boundaries.

2. Materials cycle endlessly in technical and biological loops in society. Materials are safe & non-toxic.

3. The value of products, components and materials is maintained and increased through refinement.

4. All energy is renewable and is used efficiently.

5. Solutions are systemic and based on designing life cycles, ecosystems and multiple purposes.

6. Equal distribution of resources and well-being is in the heart of the circular economy.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you describe the ‘ethical’ core of Ethica?

AR: We want to create a circular future. To us this definition also entails equality, social well-being and in fact, a more just and transparent economic model than what we currently have as the result of the linear economy.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland seems to be a forerunner for ethical solutions when it comes to consumption, and the country is also involved in introducing new clean practices. What aspects in Finnish culture support these kind of thinking?

Indeed, there are quite a few aspects supporting this and I’d say it’s the unique combination of culture, history and welfare state: high number of clean tech innovations; excellent education system that educates children and young people about sustainability topics; frugal manners that our grandparents and parents had to adopt during the war, which then were passed on to younger generations; good recycling infrastructure with incentives…and of course ambitious policies and action plans in place. For example, circular and bio economy are one of the five flagship programmes of the current government. Finland was also the first country in the world to publish a national circular economy roadmap in 2016.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What in your mind defines good consumption?

AR: Understanding your own impact and power as a consumer. Exploring your own values; what kind of world I want to be building, do I want to be part of the solution or part of the problem? Questioning your own consumption habits: is there something that I could do and choose differently? Being your own leader when it comes to adopting new, sustainable solutions.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell more about your Relooping Fashion project?

AR: Relooping Fashion was about creating circular fashion. We piloted a circular ecosystem consisting of seven business partners ranging from waste management company to fashion retailer and packaging service. So the goal was to build, test and learn how a closed loop fashion ecosystem could work. Another important goal was to test VTT’s (Technical Research Centre of Finland) new technology for cotton dissolution that replaces the use of virgin cotton. Ethica’s role in the project was to model the business ecosystem as well as research the consumer interface. i.e. how to create demand for circular clothing.

 

Anne Raudaskoski, credit Janne Häkkinen, JFramesPhotography.
Anne Raudaskoski, photo: Janne Häkkinen, JFramesPhotography.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you find your daily inspiration from?

AR: No matter how cliché it may sound, I simply and truly enjoy my work, so the work itself coupled with the opportunity learn new things is my source of inspiration. Every project is different, we have great clients and collaboration partners to work with and of course our own team is brilliant.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What can the world learn from Finnish innovation in clean practices?

AR: Great education and innovation support system are essential enablers. I also think that the Finnish way of living and thinking inherently has a fairly good level of social and environmental responsibility, and when these aspects are combined with innovation, you get the solutions that the world needs.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you like to influence and motivate people in their everyday life to incorporate more sustainable solutions and choices?

AR: There are a number of different players who all have a role to play. Of course we need businesses to develop solutions that are not only sustainable, but they’re also the best solutions available. Legislation can speed up the development and help mainstreaming new solutions. Education and the media also play a hugely important role in making sustainable choices the “new normal”.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that your background as a dancer helped you in your career path?

AR: It did in many ways. Working as a freelance dancer requires endless curiosity, self-discipline, perseverance and ambitious attitude. You’re always seeking new opportunities and you need to welcome constant change. You need to be a good team player, but at the same time you’re 100% in charge of your own development. There are hardly any permanent vacancies available, so you have to build your own career and make sure you are sufficiently networked just to be even considered to be one of the many candidates. Basically, you work as an entrepreneur without the formal status of entrepreneur.

Also my dance teacher background has been an asset when running workshops and giving presentations.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In what ways can arts support circular economy?

Arts can create connections and mental horizons that escape the typical business environment. It can bridge rational and emotional in a way that enables eureka moment, which is a prerequisite for willingness to change the status quo.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many countries have you visited to lecture and share about your business?

AR: A few so far: China, the Netherlands, Estonia and Reunion Island (France). We also exhibited in Austin (US) at the EcoExhibition a couple of years ago. Next month I’m going to Sweden.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is it easy to name clients that are best for your brand?

AR: The ones who want to work ambitiously, are truly interested in raising the bar and finding new opportunities through the circular economy thinking, no matter the size or sector of the organisation. From the circular economy perspective, we are still at the dawn of the new era and endless opportunities that this new approach can provide us with.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is the questions of climate change significant and embedded in your models?

AR: Absolutely. To start with, all energy should be renewable, this is one of the basic tenets of the circular economy. Decoupling growth from the use of virgin raw materials and resources is another key principle. In short, it means doing more with less and designing our products, systems and societies in a circular way so that emissions can be decreased significantly.

Featured image credit: textile hackathon, Sara Malve-Ahlroth.

Eyes as Big as Plates arrives in Brooklyn

“Eyes as Big as Plates” is an ongoing collaborative photographic project between the Finnish-Norwegian artist duo Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth. This unique collaboration is now presented as a solo exhibition in New York City at the Brooklyn based Chimney Gallery. In the exhibition, 12 photographs are installed in the gallery space so that they form a visual unity in a column-like formation. This way the solitary portraits emerge naturally from the gallery space, which itself is raw and original.  Eyes as Big as Plates presents solitary humans standing meditatively in their favored setting.  What makes them special is their organic attire made of leaves, branches, pine needles, rocks, or flowers. The models are senior citizens.  Ikonen’s & Hjorth’s photographs have another layer in them. The wearable sculptures connect the humans into their stages organically, making them part of the world they inhabit.  The Chimney exhibition features newer works from Greenland, South Korea, NY, Iceland, Japan, Finland and Norway.

Eyes as Big as Plates # Mr Otsubo (Iceland 2013) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen.
Eyes as Big as Plates # Mr Otsubo (Japan 2015) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Karoline and Riitta, can you tell more about the idea behind the elderly portraits. Where did the idea to do the series originate?

Karoline and Riitta: The series is produced in collaboration with retired farmers, fishermen, zoologists, plumbers, opera singers, housewives, artists, academics and ninety-year-old parachutists. These are people we meet through friends, relatives and newspaper ads, in hardware stores, noodle bars, indoor gardening society meetings, swimming pools, senior centers, on the city streets etc. Our creative point of departure lies in the collaboration with these contributors, who we consider as co-creators. As we started our investigation into local folktales we reasoned that the older the local interviewee we would work with, the closer we would be to the tellers of the tales and the talking rocks of the stories. Those Nordic hills hadn’t changed since the tales, but the people sure had. So far it doesn’t seem to us that the answer can be predicted by the age of the answerer. Thinking of older people as a unit that operates in a certain manner is rather lazy with much of the western society unnecessarily confused when it comes to the ‘usefulness’ of older people. Attitude with knowledge, life experience and stamina are some of the main traits we have found amongst all our collaborators, as well as a formidable curiosity for new experiences. As Eyes as Big as Plates continues to cross borders, it also aims to rediscover a demographic group too often labeled as marginalized and generate new perspectives on who we are and where we belong.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You shoot the portraits in the nature, so it seems that thoughts about environment, and people’s relationship to it is really part of the visual narrative?

Karoline and Riitta: Each image presents a solitary figure in a landscape, dressed in elements from surroundings that indicate neither time nor place. Nature acts as both content and context and the characters literally inhabit the landscape wearing sculptures. In the beginning of the project we were curious and on a mission to find out what kind of connection the Norwegians had with their rocks, fjords and hills and especially keen on looking at the folktales where nature or natural phenomenons were personified.

Folktales often made complex natural and sociological issues understandable and accessible, with phenomena taking on forms and characteristics that even a mere mortal could have a dialogue with. Perhaps our Eyes as Big as Plates images aim to discuss the contemporary human in the nature in a similarly approachable language. As the project started crossing borders, our quest soon turned more towards investigating universal questions about imagination and curiosity, and evolved more into a search for modern human’s belonging to nature.

Eyes as Big as Plates # Edda (Iceland 2013) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen.
Eyes as Big as Plates # Edda (Iceland 2013) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen.

The location is chosen based on conversations with each collaborator, who might have a special connection with a certain landscape or a specific plant in the area. Sometimes we spend days finding the perfect location, sometimes we discover it within minutes. Most often the best collaborators and locations are found through chance encounters and lucky coincidences, which is also some of the main reasons why the project is still ongoing – the unpredictability is highly addictive.

Each image always starts with a conversation with the contributors. Most often, and ideally, we meet our model before the actual shoot day to chit chat about the world, life, interests, neighbourhood, relationship with nature, opera, moss, fishing, weather…, and see if there is something there that we can just magnify a little. We try to find out as much as possible about who our model and collaborator is beforehand in order to best present them and their relationship with their surroundings. The ‘costumes’ are just a primal response to real people in their settings. We always start from scratch with each contributor. Some of them are eager to participate in all stages of the process, from collecting the materials to deciding on the location and even putting together the sculpture, while others prefer that we make the choices that best reflects them.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I recall that Karoline found Riitta, or was it visa versa, as collaborator in a fun and memorable way?

Karoline and Riitta: Eyes as Big as Plates started life on the southwest coast of Norway in 2011. When Riitta was searching for a collaborator online, the three words ‘Norway + grannies + photographer’ found Karoline as the top search result, as she had just finished a book on Norwegian grandmothers. Karoline loved Riitta’s work and sense of humour, and one email and two months later, they met for the first time on the doorstep of a little white wooden house in Sandnes.

It was a very natural marriage of our complementing skills, where we come up with one image from two heads. Part sculpture, part installation and part photography, we work together from beginning to the end of the process. Karoline is the photographer in the duo while Riitta works mainly with the creation of the wearable sculptures in the images, but most importantly we operate with one mindset and vision, to the extent that we barely need to talk during the shoots, as we both know exactly what we are aiming for.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many countries have you embedded in these portraits, and how many people?

Karoline and Riitta: Over 60 people from 12 countries (Norway, Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Greenland, UK, France, US, South Korea, Czech Republic and Japan.)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you remember the most memorable portrait ever in the making of it, perhaps related to the how the situation or process evolved?

Karoline and Riitta: It is quite impossible to pick one portrait as the most memorable, especially since so many of them feels more and more precious as time passes and our dear collaborators (and us) grow older. There are so many incredible encounters over the years, many that have turned into long-lasting friendships and we feel like we are the luckiest artist duo alive. One day the most memorable portrait is the very first one made together with Halvar in Norway, another day it is the memory of Riitta’s mum midnight swimming back and forth in lake Kalvä side by side with beavers on a freezing Midsummer’s Eve in North Karelia, or the very magical double shoot with Karoline’s grandparents last summer, some days we remember the intense weather conditions, other days we treasure the silence we all experienced, or the eagle that flew past us, the fog that landed just perfectly in time or the ruthless sun that never left the scene, it all depends on the time of year, season and mode of the day what comes into mind.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your recently published a book about the project, and it bears the title “Eyes as Big as Plates”. What do you want to tell about the book tour?

Karoline and Riitta: The book is a culmination of the first six years of this ongoing project, and each book is hand-finished, unique with thinly pressed vegetation veiled underneath the cover cloth to honour each of the 60 collaborators in the project. We teamed up with Swedish designer Greger Ulf Nilson and the independent, Oslo based Press Publishing. For the release tour we returned to many of the countries we had visited to produced the works, and enjoyed a fantastic, fun and intense book launch tour to New York, Paris, Helsinki, Oslo, Landskrona, Nuuk, Seoul, Tokyo and London all over the course of 4 months. The book was also shortlisted for the Paris Photo- Aperture PhotoBook awards in the ‘First Photobook’ category, as a finalist from nearly 1000 submissions.

Eyes as Big as Plates # Marie (US 2013) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen.
Eyes as Big as Plates # Marie (US 2013) © Karoline Hjorth & Riitta Ikonen.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The book also initiated a Kickstarter fundraising process. Do you want to share some tips, or ideas for this kind of succesful outcome?

Karoline and Riitta: Our Kickstarter experience was a true rollercoaster and the outcome was just quite unbelievable. We spent weeks preparing, researching and gathering material, editing texts, having the material reviewed, putting together the video piece, sourcing the perfect soundtrack etc. Obviously we already had quite a lot of material from our 6 years of production and process material, and even an established audience that we could reach out to. We took day and night shifts between New York and Oslo emailing people non stop with personal emails, and our magic bullet in the campaign came in the form of Kickstarter’s weekly newsletter where we were recommended amongst 3 other projects to their whole worldwide community. Until this moment, we fought for each and every pledge and it was a slow start. We were lucky to be picked up – and in 24 hours went from 29% to 120% funded…

Hot tip: Make sure you set aside enough time to babysit and nurture the project and campaign while it is live, throughout the duration of the campaign. Then, once the campaign is successful, starts the aftermath of following up with delivering the rewards. We spent probably nearly a month sending emails, packages, postcards, printing, resending, chasing post etc. It was hard, but mainly exciting and definitely worth it.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Karoline, since you are Norwegian, and I haven’t asked this previously from you, I’m kind of curious what do you want to say about Norwegian art scene and support?

Karoline: The Norwegian art scene is small, but it has got quite a unique support and funding system in place for artists. There are many different opportunities when it comes to project funding, stipends, grants etc and recently some exhibition venues have slowly started to get used to the thought that artists might also deserve payment for the exhibitions they produce, instead of paying for renting a space, which I understand is more common in for example Finland. Norway still has a long way to go in terms of the gender gap though, both in terms of the most-selling artists, the most represented artists and the movers and shakers of the gallery world.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that the art education is exceptional in Norway?

Karoline: I studied abroad, so I cannot speak from my own experience here, but after hearing from my colleagues who did study in Norway, my impression is that there are many other countries with much more progressive art education.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Riitta, you are Finnish, what does ‘Nordic’ collaboration mean to you, do you find that you both share similar ideas or mindset because of the Nordic factor?

Riitta: We both grew up with an understanding of the outdoors as something intermixable with the indoors. It is part of everyday and the awareness and interaction with our surroundings still drives our practices strongly. Both of us live in big cities so there is a definite need to roll in the leaves regularly.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where do you see that this project could be developing on its next phase, have you figured out the ‘after’ yet since the book came out?

Karoline and Riitta: We are taking part in a public art project in Seoul, South Korea this winter with newly produced work made in collaboration with seniors living in and around the Olympic village in the PyeongChang area, these will be on display on the Seoullo 7017, a newly renovated former highway turned into a pedestrian walkway that connects the eastern and western sides of Seoul. We are also taking part in a group exhibition in Germany (The Museum Schloss Moyland) this winter and spring, followed by a solo show in Finland in the summer (Pielisen Museo in Lieksa), and more exhibitions in Detroit in the autumn. We have promised each other that we will continue the project as long as it’s fun and we are still very much enjoying ourselves. In the continuation of the project our focus might shift more to investigating the impact of climate change on people living in different parts of the world. We feel compelled to use our voice and platform to discuss the things we find important and urgent.

***
Karoline Hjorth completed her BA Photographic Arts and MA International Journalism from the University of Westminster (London) in 2009 and Riitta Ikonen graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2008, with an MA in Communication Art.

RIITTA IKONEN & KAROLINE HJORTH:
EYES AS BIG AS PLATES
JANUARY 19 – FEBRUARY 18, 2018
OPENING FRIDAY JANUARY 19TH, 6:30-9:30PM

THE CHIMNEY NYC
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