Sirkku Ketola: The artistic process of performing Paula

Finnish artist Sirkku Ketola had her performance project A Body Called Paula at the NARS Foundation Gallery in Brooklyn in November. In Finnish the word paula means a ribbon, something to tie or to be enchanted with. It is also a synonym for a trap. Globally Paula is known as a female name, originating from the Greek word ‘Paulus’, which means small.

In her current project of ten years, Ketola creates an installation that mixes screenprinting with performance. Part installation, part performance, A Body Called Paula is a piece that develops over the days of the installation through long-duration printing sessions. The movements and their soundtrack create an enchanting, sensual machine with the main themes of time and temporality, pleasure, and the meditative process of working.

The narrative story behind the performance hunts beauty through the themes of light, passion, knowledge, reality, and depth, finally balanced out by darkness. What is the measure of time? Ornament is a universal form of visual art in every culture. The installation at NARS is part of Sirkku Ketola’s long-term project. For the duration of ten years ‘A Body Called Paula’ produces hand printed ornaments, or ribbons.


Paula prints by Sirkku Ketola.
Paula prints by Sirkku Ketola.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What comes to mind, when you think about your project Paula is that it is so clearly beyond the visual practice, or enhances the physicality of the practice. What is so intriguing is how you dive into the embodiment and stretching of the paper. Is it that the body becomes a continuation of the paper in the printing process, as if being one with the paper? What kind of metaphors would you like to highlight, or are being evoked in the process?

Sirkku Ketola: I guess I need touchable material to support thinking and understanding. In this case the handling of color and paper together with challenging technical crafting, tune us as one organism, where the tempo is being set in the cohesion of the qualities of the all included matters. The strength of the body, the sensitivity of the hands and the exactness of the eyes, are sensing constantly the fragility, stretching, moistening and drying of the paper, and the consistency and volume of the ink. The local, or should I say site-specific humidity and temperature effect strongly to the functioning of this paper/colour/body formed sensual machine. Also the instant substance of the body, the general vitality, the emotional ambiance, and for example the daytime, give all some special marks, first to the performance, and second to the visual appearance of the ribbon in progress. Imprint is different during mornings and evenings, also in the beginnings and the ends of the ribbons. I have chosen the long and fragile paper to be forced to lose control. The process is too tiring to hold on it. During the series of the performance the same paper roll goes by my hands 12 times so it is impossible to dominate the quality or the crossing effects of different layers. I just must be humble, and let the ribbon teach me. Maybe the greatest thing is that the ribbons still surprise me even though I’ve been working with the same materials for years. The major errors have been avoided, but the danger of errors are constantly present – everything can be irreversibly spoiled even in the last round of printing.

Sirkku Ketola performing Paula.
Sirkku Ketola performing Paula in Cable Factory, Helsinki, August 2017.

Sirkku Ketola: The ornament arises on paper in stages from light to darkness. The colours (yellow/magenta/cyan/black), except being common from every home printer symbolize light, passion, knowledge, reality, depth and darkness. Step by step these colour layers, as named the elements of beauty, while mixing and uniting approach the truth, the code of life or would I say the mystery.

The hand printed ornament reminds somehow of the DNA. Basically with the repetition of same patterns, the motif is being affected continuously by the changes of the circumstances. All the variations show together endless amount of visual possibilities and diversity. At the same moment the so-called mistakes come part of the entirety and open up routes for the new beginnings.

Today we talk a lot about unmaterialized art, light and it’s different digitalized reflections. I am blown away by it also, the transfer of energy from one equipment to another accomplishes wonderful outcomes. In my own work process the need of touch, the acception of the tardiness of the body as the part of the thinking self, in other words handling with hands, have so far helped me to the deeper knowledge. I choose to cherish this special bodily tempo – it might be good for human species. When one forces oneself to stop by the slow repetition, one might also have time to understand something essential.

Sirkku Ketola performing Paula in New York, November 2017.
Sirkku Ketola performing Paula in Helsinki, August 2017.

 

Sirkku Ketola: To be able to do the metamorphosis to become a sensual machine I had to create a role. My character Paula is simultaneously enraptured and trapped (in Finnish there is a sentence with both meanings, derived from the word ‘paula’ which also is a ribbon). She is a metaphor of a small human in cosmos. The name Paula comes originally from the Greek name Paulus which means small. So my Paula works with paula, with her special ribbon. Her job is to communicate visually by printing this repeating and overwhelmingly beautiful ornament. She wanders globally and communicates of the seen beauty. The previous place sets the next pattern, for example the New York effects to Paula will be seen next spring in Helsinki, Finland.

The machine is slow and time bending. It is a factory that is able to work without problems approximately four times per year. The doctor’s order has set the limit. I forget the rules always in the beginning of the new project, but now, when the Brooklyn ribbon has been finished, the pain in my hands is there and that makes calming down easy. By respecting this manual of the project, it will be possible to enjoy after ten years from now about the yet unknown massive installation, which is made of these forty different and international printed ornament ribbons.

I feel extremely privileged to be able to define the speed of the assembly line. For that reason the pleasure is an important part of the performance. Paula enjoys her movements and the choreography set by the printing process. The ink flows and the paper glides with the hands accepting to follow the weight of the body. The touch varies from strong to gentle and the rhythm beats with the working steps. The birth of the image feeds the will to come along to the anonymous destination. The possibility for sudden challenges forces the printer into the extreme concentration and to overcome difficulties and accept the errors. With the physicality, the mental part is also reacting all the time to the present. The chosen repetition grows thinking and developes strong pleasure.

Sirkku Ketola: Feedback, 2016. Handprinted silkscreen on wood. 81 x 105 cm. Process picture.
Sirkku Ketola: Feedback, 2016. Handprinted silkscreen on wood. 81 x 105 cm. Process picture.

Firsindindigo&Lifestyle: How do you prepare for the performance of this scale, which is almost a marathon? What is the preparatory phase like, and what happens during the performance aftermath?

Sirkku Ketola: During the performing period I take specially good care of myself. I try to do the outdoor activities daily, sleep enough and eat healthier. I try also to avoid the evening happenings and alcohol. The preparation for the performance takes mentally the whole day, but the most intense are the two hours before the show. The soundtrack of the performance follows me since morning. I’d like to highlight, the sound scape of my music and the noise of the printing table are essential elements of the performance. When arriving to the show space I tend to eat lightly and drink a lot of water. After it is time to check all the technical equipments and to mix the printing inks, the hue and the saturation needs to be done carefully. I have a special ritual order to do this. After this, I isolate myself, warm up and slowly become my transformation to the role. Thirty minutes before the show it is time to change the costume and become Paula. She doesn’t speak. The aftermath of the show is quick, washing the make up and changing the clothes are rapid, so I’m soon ready to communicate with the world again as myself. Before leaving I clean the colours and check all the technical details for the next day. When arriving home I stretch well and take a warm shower, except in Finland my choice is sauna.

Paula performance in Nars foundation Photo Nov 17, 3 38 57 PM
Ketola performing at the NARS Foundation in New York, November 2017.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How is New York as a place different, and this performance venue special, in terms of what is their impact on the quality and outcome of the work? How is the location different from the rest, say, Canada or Finland where you also created this performance piece?

Sirkku Ketola: The place impacts mainly how the performance is being installed. I like different spaces because they challenge the art work and keep it impossible to predict. The space in NARS in Sunset Park in Brooklyn is many ways special. First, it is near the Finntown, where there was a strong community of Finnish emigrants. During today’s new emigrations flow it felt important to mark the difficult roots of my own country. Second, the size of the gallery was perfect for the project. It fit there well, both visually and functionally. Third, the space is in the building, which is full of working artists, situated in the middle of the industrial Brooklyn. Where else should the sensual machine be? I came to New York as a visiting artist-in-residence of Finnish Cultural Institute for two months. My main goal was to research the structures of the money and power in the contemporary art scene. Beyond A Body Called Paula –project I started to sketch the new large-scale print installation referring to this research theme. The work will be produced during next three years. My colleagues in Brooklyn taught me a lot about independent artists’ living at the capital of contemporary art (NYC).

Paula, NARS foundation.
Paula performance, NARS Foundation in New York, November 2017.

The physical dimensions and the quality of the NARS space gave the rhythm for the installation when growing during the performances. The intimate gallery of the Sunset Park made possible to the paper ribbon to take a shape of a visually fine zig zag when it landed to dry to the perches I mounted. Also the rest of the visual elements of the performance found their places to create a dynamic composition. There was space for Paula to move and the audience was able to have several standpoints. The space was also photogenic with A Body Called Paula – and that’s important in our social media time.

This was the fourth time and the fourth place for Paula. In Toronto it was seen in a gallery with the long hallway. There the magic of Paula worked like in the story of the Pied Piper, when people saw the action from far, they just had to reach to the space. In Helsinki Paula measured the huge hall in Cable Factory during the five hours marathon performance. And in Turku, Finland she worked behind the lightened window in the darkness of the first autumn evenings by the riverside. And in Brooklyn she captured the industrial space around the other artists. I believe that during the next ten years, Paula can capture many different structures and spaces as rich as she has done in her first year of the process. The big scale quality will be seen in the end of the whole process. All in all, these places are valuable treasures for me, and will affect the final installation.

 

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Next time A Body Called Paula will be seen in Helsinki in March 2018. After that Sirkku Ketola travels mostly in Central Europe. She will be back in New York City during autumn 2019.

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The screenprints made in New York have been prepared at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop: http://www.efanyc.org
More information:

Introduction: http://sirkkuketola.com
Previous exhibitions: http://www.la-bas.fi/ketolaeng.html

Tamara Piilola: Painter from Finland

Tamara Piilola is a young generation Finnish painter with almost enigmatic ability to capture natural processes on the canvas. Or more than a process, her images offer views with a hint of gold in them. As a painter her perception seems thoroughly personal, and therefore can touch many. Piilola started the arts as a musician, and perhaps its possible to hear music when looking in to the painter’s landscapes.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where in Finland did you grow up and study art?

TP: I grew up in the small city in the west coast of Finland. I studied in the south, in Turku and in Helsinki in the Academy of Fine Arts. I was an exchange student for one year in Leipzig in Hochshule für Grafik Und Buchkunst and spend months in Reykjavik during my studies.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your story of becoming an artist? 

TP: I’m the only child, and I started to think about art first through music. I studied in a conservatory for ten years, but in classical music you don’t have the freedom to play how you like it, or if you do, people think you’re wrong. It’s much longer process, with a lot more technique involved.

I went through every book that we had in the house. As a child, I remember I was deeply interested about the Old Masters and portraiture by Rembrandt, Holbein and Gainsborough. I was mesmerized by the use of light and the extraordinary talent itself. I wanted to do something similar.

I got my first camera and Marie’s oil paints as a ten-year old. Around the same time I enlisted myself to a painting course with some grannies (they’re organized everywhere even in the countryside in Finland). As I got a bit older it was certain I wanted to go to art school and quit classical music.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you choose oils and painting as your medium?

TP: I did some photographs as well but in the end paintings have turned out to be the most flexible media for me. The texture is very important for me. Although I did photos in which I used for example liquid chocolate and velvet, the outcome was too cold and the end product had an industrial feel to it. In black and white pictures, you have the softness, but then you lose the colors. I have learned to use only the best materials in my paintings and usually paint just one layer to keep the colors pure and bright. Oils can become dull and lifeless when applied thick. Oil paint is so flexible that I can adjust what I’m doing, and because of the way the pigment is held in the oil, it is beautifully luminescent.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What defines a good painting to you?

TP: Color, light, composition – all these things make the painting interesting to look at. The eye has to wonder. I love if you are able to grab something, it has some kind of energy, or you can relate to something. Paintings have the ability to embody a series of thoughts and feeling processes, and good paintings are very personal. It’s all there on the canvas as a record.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is there in the landscape painting that fascinates you, maybe the history of it too. How about the influences?

The heavy load that comes with the term landscape was at first turnoff for me. When I got in terms with the subject (which I felt I had to do), the whole world opened up to me. It was like a flower that was opening in front of my eyes. I felt I was completely free to do whatever I felt like with this subject. It felt like it was mine, all mine to explore, and that was beautiful. My large canvases of imaginary landscapes present viewers with startling experiences of nature. These detailed views, full of mystery and light, colour and verdancy, draw viewers to their essence and idea.

 

TP: These are not recognisable landscapes but the creations of countless memories stored over time as photographs and sketches. Thin layers of paint, bold fluent brushstrokes and the use of pure pigments combined flood the paintings with light. Landscapes do not always have to be beautiful. I paint wastelands, timber stacks and dunghill, emphasising their decorativeness. I depict decaying beauty and allow natural forms to blend into almost abstract surfaces. I’m soaked with art history because I have been interested in art all my life. My favourite painter is Lucian Freud, the master of seductive and complex psychological portraits. My favourite movie directors are Kubrick and Lynch. In music it’s much harder to point out the most influential ones, I listen to music in my studio all the time from almost all genres. In literature there are many great minds that speak to me, Hesse, Nabokov, Murakami, Knausgård, Hustved, Woolf, Wilde. I don’t have a specific landscape painter that has influenced me.

Tamara Piilola, installation view at Gallery Heino.
Tamara Piilola, installation view at Gallery Heino.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is being a figurative painter these days a rare thing. How do you feel the genre is approached in the contemporary art world?

TP: With suspicion – no just kidding. I think now it’s much more acceptable to be a painter. I think there is the audience and professionals who recognizes the talent and accepts it as it is: A viable art form. As an artist, you always have to be interested of what other artists do. I think there is a lot of theoretical confusion about art. Everybody thinks they have to make theoretical work and be able to explain what they do. I think if you hear this long enough, this kind of stuff gets in your way when you’re coming up with ideas, because you start thinking through a filter.

Tamara Piilola's oil on canvas in Galleria Heino, August 2017, installation view.
Tamara Piilola’s oil on canvas in Galleria Heino, August 2017, installation view.

TP: I always thought that art could move more on the emotional level. You should work with your feelings, because if you’re using language to put things to action, you limit yourself. Many times things in art don’t make sense.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: There is almost a photographic precision to your works. Do you layer the works, plan the works with meticulous detail, and come up with the entire idea before starting to paint?

I have photographic memory and I often work with images that have a lot of details. I start sketching by doing a collage with a computer (I used to work with paper and scissors before). At the end, there is a sketch that gives me a solid structure, the composition to work on top of. This is extremely important stage. After that I can start painting and I have quite a lot of freedom to choose which colors to use, how the brushstrokes will look, and overall how the end result will look. This structure gives me freedom to improvise. The motives have to be challenging, full of details and light to keep the painting process interesting. I love to see a big painting almost ready, I get excited about my own work.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you describe your method or process of working?

TP: I’m a deadline worker and I do exhibitions, not just one painting at a time. I work with about eight paintings at the same time. If I get an idea or a feeling that something should be done it usually takes years to pass through. I have a solid confidence in what I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m satisfied with everything I do. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to question your work. On the contrary – the best thing is to view the work from every angle and to be very skeptical at first if you get a “good idea”. I’m very patient to give my ideas the time they need to develop. I need to build a relationship with the motives: I want them to be familiar. When I know I can start, I go through my picture bank to fill the missing pieces in the collage. I focus on the composition and not so much on the colors.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have an artist motto?

TP: Yeah, trust your intuition.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are you in love with nature as it is your playground in a way, how about the trees that come out so vividly in your works?

TP: I think it’s not about loving though I love nature, it’s about respect. I recognize certain similarities in Finnish and Japanese cultures. We have both had our animistic past. The recognition of energy in things was very natural for me as I  was raised up by the sea, and the wilderness started right behind the fence. I think materials can be very sensual to look at and touch. In our times, it’s a luxury to have the time to look at things in peace. That’s what I do, I look and appreciate things.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Did you ever think of becoming an environmental artist?

TP: No. I’m afraid to destroy things in the nature and I have no interest to mess with wild things. I think there is such perfection in natural order, and to show “art” in that context feels utterly fake.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: When looking back at your career, how have your paintings developed through the years?

TP: I went here and there in the beginning. About ten years ago I accepted the fact that it’s OK to do what I do best: Big paintings with a lot of details.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Is there anything particularly special to you about being a ‘woman’ artist?

TP: I don’t consider myself a woman artist, I am simply an artist. My works can be labeled feminine because they can be quite decorative. But I think it’s a drag to label things. I don’t think artist’s gender makes the work interesting unless the gender is the concept of the work. What is feminine and masculine? I’d like to go around those labels, because everyone and everything can be both depending on the culture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  You recently attended a group show in Galleria Heino in Helsinki. Have you collaborated with the gallery before?

TP: This was the first show I did with Heino. I love to work with them because they have the courage to show artistically ambitious shows, with basically no art market to sell them in Finland. Rauli Heino is a true art lover and I consider myself to be very lucky to be in their team.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Do you work with curators or more directly with museum and gallery directors? What is your experience on building a show? 

TP: I work with all of them, it depends on the project. I listen very carefully what people are after and it’s always a pleasure to work with professional people. The structure of the new show is in my hands and it has to be, otherwise it’s not my show. I will do the best I can to make things work. To have the atmosphere of support and trust is very rewarding. To have fun, to discover and do wonderful things together, isn’t that what life’s about?

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  Do you think that you have had many successful shows?

TP: Yes, I think so. Success for me means that I am able to do the things the way I intend to. To do a good show means you must have the time to do it. It helps a lot when you learn to say no to projects that are not that beneficial to you.

Tamara Piilola, Kruunu, oil on canvas.
Tamara Piilola, Kruunu, oil on canvas.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle:  How about such labels as ‘Finnish’ painter? If you consider to be one, what do you think about an international career?

TP: The world is definitely smaller than let’s say in the beginning of the nineties. Long stays abroad, mainly in France and Germany have influenced my work. I live and work in Helsinki, and I guess nowadays the place you live defines you. It’s an interesting question. I certainly recognize my subject matter to be very Finnish, and that’s fine. Does that make me a Finnish artist?

To be able to build an international career I need contacts to good international galleries. I would love to show my work especially in the Nordic countries, in the U.S. and in Canada. I think my work could meet some interest in these places since we have similar cultural values.

Patricia Chow and the meaning of ultramarine

 

By Patricia Chow

I moved to Los Angeles in 2014, after 11 years as a New Yorker. During those years, I went to graduate school, began and finished a career, learned to love opera, and mounted my first fine art exhibition – a crowd-sourced photography group show that was simultaneously a fundraiser for the nonprofit where I was a board member. What I never did in New York City was paint. At the time, my relationship to painting was purely as a viewer, standing a respectful distance away, wondering how in the world they did that. Who would have thought that three years later, at the instigation of my Los Angeles painting professor, the indomitable Barbara Kerwin, that I would find myself pursuing a graduate degree in painting?

 

Our first-year MFA group show was titled “Twelve,” for the 12 of us that started the MFA in Art program at Claremont Graduate University this past August. The works I created for the show were made with oil pigment sticks, built up into a thick impasto texture by smashing them onto the canvas with a palette knife and mixing colors alla prima. The paintings are about the loss of meaning and culture through the generations and across the seas. Words, behaviors, rituals become hybridized, sometimes beyond recognition, when transplanted to a different environment, just as language and writing change over time, eventually past the point of intelligibility. Each of my paintings starts with a Chinese calligraphic text, drawn in black, that becomes obscured through layers of superimposed texture and color, ending in a very different visual experience compared to the black and white text that “birthed” it.

Patricia Chow in the MFA-exhibition.
Patricia Chow’s two paintings pictured left in the Twelve-exhibition at the East and Peggy Phelps Galleries.

The largest painting (60 x 48 in.) is titled “Outremer” (French for “ultramarine”). The cool colors and coral-like shapes evoke underwater life, but the title also refers to the French territories in the South Pacific (called “outre-mer” in French, meaning “overseas”), that were visited by Gauguin and others interested in the decidedly un-PC idea of “primitivism,” and also where France has conducted a large number of controversial nuclear tests. Thus, in addition to the Chinese text being washed away “underwater,” the painting’s title also alludes to aspects of modern world history that some might prefer to be swept under the rug.

Patricia Chow with her paintings.
Patricia Chow with her recent paintings.

 

Each of my paintings starts with a Chinese calligraphic text, drawn in black, that becomes obscured through layers of superimposed texture and color, ending in a very different visual experience compared to the black and white text that “birthed” it.

 

Patricia Chow is a Los Angeles-based artist whose abstract paintings engage the intersection of Eastern and Western cultures across time and space, and the hybridization and reinterpretation of meaning. She is currently a first-year MFA student in Los Angeles, CA.

Twelve is on view at the East and Peggy Phelps Galleries, Claremont Graduate University, through October 20, 2017.

An Ho’s recent paintings

A 90-year old Chinese artist An Ho finds inspiration from nature and its serene beauty. Still a steady brush in her hand, she invents nature with her visionary approach. The landscapes seem like in many Chinese classical paintings, where the vision engages in the detail. Stillness of a landscape is poetic, without rush forward, yet bearing undertones of memories and dreamlike solitude. The artist who lives in Upstate New York, shows her love towards the trees and landscapes of her environment.

An Ho’s six recent paintings are on display at the CHINA 2000 FINE ART in New York City. In a way, the works on silk and paper are telling an ancient story. Ho studied techniques that were forgotten many centuries ago. The artist has revitalized this history by bringing the painting styles into life in modern times. Eventually, there is a play of translucent refinement that of color and movement.

An Ho’s mastery of the Chinese brushwork lays the basis of the landscapes. There is a sense of perception in the works, as her artistic vision develops in a close observance of nature. Each composition has its own reality, and perfection, or an entire world to narrate. If the works were a dream, they would be more perfect than a reality. They propose harmony and co-existence between man and nature.

An Ho, also known as Wen-ying, was born in 1927 in Beijing, China. Her father was chief newspaper editor, and mother was a painter of flowers. Her parents were senior members of Sun Yatsen’s revolutionary movement.

An Ho got introduced to famous Chinese traditional painter Pu Ru (1896-1963), who took her as his student and protégée. She studied 17 years with him, learning that Chinese painting takes into account both the fine quality of the art, and the personal approach and attitude of an artist. She studied with him initially in China and then in Taiwan. Master Pu Ru came from the Qing royal family. He was a poet, calligrapher and painter. Also, An Ho studied first classics and poetry, before starting arts and painting. The artist started with calligraphy, and finally learned the techniques of painting. Pu Ru’s teaching method cultivated her character as the basis for the skillful using of brush and ink. The brush is profound and important part of the technique, and the character of an artists rehearses for it.

In 1952, An Ho’s work began to be noticed by the Chinese art world. Her works have been exhibited in China, Taiwan, Germany, Italy, France and the United States.

Learn more about the exhibition of her recent paintings at the CHINA 2000 FINE ART.

 

 

 

 

Bildmuseet poses strong perspectives in Umeå

Jumana Emil Abboud's videostill in Bildmuseet-exhibition, 2017.

A tree blossoms, meadow is green, horizon is filled with stillness, which is almost touchable. The rich video footage by Jumana Emil Abboud narrates without noise. Palestinian artist, who lives and works in Jerusalem, uses video and audio to add into other mediums of storytelling. For her exhibition in Bildmuseet, The Horse, The Bird, The Tree and The Stone, the artist has added murals, and included drawings and sculptural objects to create installations that open up about personal and communal memories and losses. Her art handles belonging and peoples’ attachments to territories. For her project, she has visited sites, which carry haunted memory of the past. The artist visited wells and other water sites that no longer exist, but are retold in the oral history. Abboud’s current artwork carries magical components that mix with reality. The imaginary intertwines with researched material, which both influenced the art. The artist has collected stories and reinterpreted fairy tales from new perspectives. She used a story of Rapunzel, for example, to imagine lives of Arab women from a domestic point of view, to make it a women’s story that has universal visibility and resonance.

Abboud was born in Shefa-‘Amr, Galilee and moved to Ontario, Canada with her family. After returning back home, and moving to Jerusalem, she encountered personal questions of belonging, and started making her journey towards finding her own connection to the place. Her exhibition at the Bildmuseet, asks through visual images and oral performances, what the personal and collective memories can be, and what the myths can tell us about ourselves and our history. What stories connect us to the places that we live in?

Jumana Emil Abboud's videostill in Bildmuseet exhibition.
Jumana Emil Abboud’s videostill in Bildmuseet exhibition.

Abboud’s three-channel video installation Hide Your Water from the Sun (2016), goes back to 1920. The video is based on a study by ethnographer Tawfiq Canaan who dived into the Palestinian customs and folklore. The ‘haunted locations’ presented in the study, connect to multiple water sources, which are inhabited by demons, good or bad. Abboud visited these locations together with cinematographer Issa Freij. The original wells and springs pointed in the study have disappeared.  The artist applied the notion that in the Palestinian traditions the haunted or blessed sites become activated with storytelling and through fairy-tale practices.

Upon returning home as a young adult, the artist did not feel connection to the place called home. She found a new connection by looking at the landscape, which played an important part of her childhood. It acted again as a direct link to her past. Abboud had also experienced stories as a child. The stories were not written down, so she wanted to ask questions about them and find out, how the political layer attached to Palestinians had pushed the oral history down. In her mind, the landscape related to all the stories told about the people, creatures, monsters and goblins. Landscape related to the past, and what she had learned as a child, but also to collective memory, which belonged to others as well.

Abboud’s artistic whole, The Horse, The Bird, The Tree and The Stone, relocates the disappeared landscape, which went through alteration and changes of infrastructure. Many of the original sites have been buried. Only the older generation has memory of the haunted sites. Abboud’s installation include film, drawing and painting, reflecting the journey to the past that confronts the current political reality. The artist has also created recent performances out of the Palestinian folktales, which connect to contemporary life-stories of the people.

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More info about the exhibition at the Bildmuseet

Besides Bildmuseet, Umeå, Jumana Emil Abboud has had solo exhibitions in Tel Aviv and in Switzerland, among other places. Her work has been exhibited at venues such as the Istanbul Biennial (2009); Acción! MAD-Festival, Madrid (2010); Sharjah Biennial (2011); Bodies that Matter, Galeri Man, Istanbul (2013); the Venice Biennale (2009, 2015); Baltic, Newcastle (2016); and Kunstraum, London (2016). Bildmuseet represents artist’s first major solo exhibition in Scandinavia.

Bildmuseet.
Bildmuseet by Henning Larsen Architects in Umeå University.

Linda Cunningham’s Whose Land? Whose God?

Linda Cunningham’s sculptural installations speak many languages. Much of her recent work has been tapping into environmental specificity relating to the South Bronx waterfront. The artist has explored a topic of climate change in urban environments. Through July-August, Cunningham has her solo exhibition up in Brooklyn at the celebrated ODETTA. The current show features a large installation of her sculptural pieces well put together with drywall photo collages, both mediums that Cunningham frequently works with. This time Cunningham’s exhibition features textual patterns as mixed media works. The images display historic texts, which carry references to three monotheist World religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) in earlier times when the cultures co-existed peacefully, a scenario impossible to imagine now. Many of the texts seem to be fragments that have been saved, depicting religious writings in Coptic, Hebrew and Arabic. The title of her exhibition: Whose Land? Whose God?, also includes remnants, which the artist acquired from the Berlin Wall in 1989. As the artist herself is well-traveled, behind the exhibition story is an expedition.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Let’s talk a bit about the bronze as a material in the exhibition. As I understood, you were running your own bronze workshop in Pennsylvania? 

LC: As a young professor at Franklin & Marshall College, I was challenged to create a bronze casting facility to make use of a very old oil burning furnace that a former professor had acquired for the sculpture facility. Enthusiastic art students and guest professors helped me build the facility and develop the expertise to do traditional bronze casting which I later taught in Advanced Sculpture classes. I eventually ran some women’s bronze casting weekend workshops which was wonderfully empowering for the participants who never had had such an opportunity.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: About the process of pouring the metal, how do you create the movement so evident in your sculptures. What is the methodology behind the pouring, and using sand in the process?

LC: I eventually became interested in much more experimental casting methods that sculptors like Isaac Witkin were using, pouring bronze in single sided shallow molds filled with foundry sand. I developed the technique of pouring long thin forms that record the flow of the hot melted bronze. The bronze freezes the flow patterns and splatters creating the highly textured surface as it solidifies in seconds. Early on I found a way to acquire scrap military bronze and was using these lacy bronze forms to create 11 ft high shells of figures I called “War Memorial.” I thought of them of as vulnerable survivors. Five of those bronze images framed the entrance to the City University Graduate Center when it still stood for many years on 42nd St across from Bryant Park. They are now owned by Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey.

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Linda Cunningham’s innovative bronze becomes part of a drywall sculpture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your exhibition Whose Land? Whose God? is inspired by an exhibition that you saw in Germany, when and where did this exhibition take place?

LC: The text Images were taken from the catalog of an exhibition I saw and was deeply impressed by in Berlin, 2015 titled: ‘One God: Abraham’s descendants on the Nile. Jews, Christians and Muslims in Egypt from late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages’ at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, known as the Bode Museum on the Museum island in Berlin.

 

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many texts, including a variety of liturgical, bible & prayer books, are there included in your exhibition? 

LC: I used 16 different examples. Many more were included in the exhibit in Berlin.

Detail of Coptic and Hebrew.
Linda Cunningham, installation detail at ODETTA. Textual imagery is relevant to early history of three monotheist World religions. Often saved as fragments like this.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about the pieces in the exhibition that you acquired from the Berlin Wall, what is the story behind them?

LC: I was invited to create a sizable installation in an alternative arts factory building in Kassel as an alternative documenta exhibit in 1992 about 2 1/2 years after the wall had opened up. A man who worked in the factory that was sponsoring the project took me to the town where he lived that was just over the former border where mountains of posts, fence, electrical cable and barbed wire were assembled as they dismantled the border that reach across the entire country. They were happy to have me take what I could fit in his van and charged me 50 Deutschmarks. The elements fit perfectly into the theme of the installation I was working on at that time.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did the transportation of the wall pieces take place, literally from Germany to the US?

LC: When the exhibition came to an end after 90 days, I couldn’t bear to throw them out and storing was also prohibitive. My German friends helped me to get crates built and one friend drove the crates to Hamburg to get them loaded on a freighter. I picked them up with a van at a New Jersey port outside Newark. I always intended to exhibit them again and they have been schlepped from one studio to the next ever since.

Linda Cunningham's installation view at Odetta Gallery.
Installation view to Linda Cunningham’s exhibition at ODETTA. Remnants of the Berlin Wall are on the right.

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More exhibition info: 

Linda Cunningham Whose Land? Whose God? 

July 7 – August 20, 2017

ODETTA | 229 Cook Street, Brooklyn, NY 11206

Artists Talk: Sunday, August 6, 3 pm

Odetta Gallery: http://www.odettagallery.com/

Artist website: http://www.lindalcunningham.com/

Read about the visit to Linda Cunningham’s studio as featured in Firstindigo&Lifestyle.

 

Diana Al-Hadid: Liquid City

Diana Al-Hadid: Liquid City is an exhibition full of history that is so relevant today. Al-Hadid’s solo show is currently on view through September 24, 2017 at San Jose Museum of Art in San Jose, California.  Liquid City is like a micro-cosmos of a world, in which the observer has carefully assembled her sharp point of view towards the core. It features an art-historical study on a matter that is hybrid and timely in the world, where archaeological sites and cultural homes are disappearing in front of our eyes. The subject is immense, but in this exhibition, the history gets rewritten in more pleasant terms.

The exhibition focuses on Al-Hadid’s creative process by bringing together works and related primary source materials. One example of this fruitful exchange is a large sculptural installation titled Nolli’s Orders (2012), which refers to Giambattista Nolli’s landmark 1748 map of Rome. The artist has included a reprinted folio of Nolli’s map and works on paper by old masters, to support the idea for the sculpture. The two-dimensional papers are an interesting contrast to the three-dimensional sculpture, perhaps showing how the process evolves from sketches to more complete forms. The constellation addresses how works are fluid and in-between states before their final spatial configurations.

Sculptural centerpiece Nolli’s Orders brings Al-Hadid’s installation idea to the museum space. With the multiple references, the sculpture addresses an idea of a city as public and shared space. Showing private and public structures of contemporary life, it anchors the idea of the sculpture into city with piazzas and fountains. Cities have been shaped around sources of water, around which the people have gathered and shared their belongingness. The conflict, which this work implies, is embedded in the idea of not belonging. It touches on the private spheres in which people feel uncertainty and alienation from firm structures, lacking the real connection to the architecture of the city. Resulting in the shapes as structures without roots, narrative and story?

The idea of the sculpture continues also in Al-Hadid’s two-dimensional works, which aesthetically relate to its colors and patterns. On the other hand, Diana Al-Hadid has employed yet another ephemeral pattern and style on their surface. In these works, the historical evidence is present as influence of ruins. The dripping paint creates the delicate surface as if showing traces of archeology as rendering marks. During her graduate studies, the artist was influenced by Hellenistic history that is visible in the ruins near Aleppo. She also explored Moorish layers in Spanish cathedrals.

Diana Al-Hadid, Untitled, 2013, Conte crayon, charcoal, pastel and acrylic on Mylar.
Diana Al-Hadid, Untitled, 2013, Conte crayon, charcoal, pastel and acrylic on Mylar. Collection of ICG Advisors, Los Angeles. photo: firstindigoandlifestyle

Diana Al-Hadid: Liquid City is displayed in the SJMA’s central skylight gallery, and as such fits to the space eloquently. The work questions boundaries of the space. Putting together the reference materials is brilliant, as all surrounding works add to the monumental scale of the sculpture. The visual of the artist’s own works is compelling, interwoven, giving a context to a deeper thinking of history. Al-Hadid’s thinking is full of vivid ideas of fusing materials into new order, rewriting history from today’s point of view. How the artist got interested in the borderlines and beloningness/alienation thematic, comes from her own background as an immigrant to the United States. The artist was born in Aleppo, Syria, but was brought up in Ohio, US. Being contradicted with different experiences was a nourishing source for imagination and thinking. The theme connects many fragmented ideas across continents, beyond physical and social realms, and certainly travels across the world with its relevance. The works in the exhibition are far from being literal.

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More information about the exhibition at San Jose Museum of Art: http://sjmusart.org/exhibition/diana-al-hadid-liquid-city

Francie Lyshak about painting

After four decades in painting, American artist Francie Lyshak has a deep knowledge on her practice. A woman-artist who has a lifelong approach to learning, finds nature and it’s varying stages influencing her work. The artist examines nature also with photography. It seems, as if those pictorial notes would transfer into her paintings with subtle poetry and movement. In this interview, she discusses her career, love of painting and the meditative approach to being with her art. Remarkable is how the artist views art as a career, also in psychological terms as a radical act. Francie Lyshak’s recent paintings, which examine movement and gestures, will be on view until April 27, 2017 in the Carter Burden Gallery of NYC.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: How did you find yourself doing painting? Where did you grow up?

Francie Lyshak: I will share with you two central memories that are at the very early roots of my art career (before it begun):

I am in Detroit, Michigan, in a single family home with a nice yard. I am a small child, somewhere between toddler and latency age.  I am sitting in the mud, alone making a mess and enjoying it totally.

In the second memory, I am 18 years old, attending my first art history class.  As I watch the projected images of works by modern artists, it is suddenly clear that making paintings is what I need to do with my life.  I began to paint was when I went to a summer art school in Paris around the age of 19.  I haven’t stopped since that time, except for one year in Boston in the early 70’s.  After that point I switched from abstraction to figuration.

 

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Francie Lyshak, Black Curtain, oil on canvas, 16×20, Courtesy of the artist.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: You have an exhibition opening now at the Carter Burden Gallery in NYC, tell more about the theme of your paintings in the show?

FL: These paintings focus purely on the physicality of painting, of paint, painter’s tools and the interaction of the painting surface with light.  The use of a palette knife can be a violent destructive attack on a painting’s under-layer.  A flowing brush mark can be evidence of the painter’s sweeping gesture. The painting then becomes a stop-action image of what was either a waltz or a wrestling match between the artist and the medium.  It is painting without any intention other than leaving the physical evidence of its own dynamic birth.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: What is really interesting is that your career spans for four decades, and there can be so many changes that fit into that time frame. Did you start with figurative or representational art?

FL: In my early work, my visual language was a figurative and a metaphorical narrative with strong feminist overtones. This work lasted for two decades in the 1970s and 80s. Animals, humans, dolls and toys populate these paintings, each one describing the psyche captured in a critical moment of time.  Influenced by art therapy theory and practice, their emotional rawness challenged the viewer to contemplate disturbing aspects of life that are typically overlooked or avoided. After years of these explorations, I unearthed evidence of my own childhood sexual abuse.  With the support of the late Ellen Stuart and La MaMa/La Galleria, this work resulted in a one-woman exhibition in 1993 narrating my own trauma recovery through my paintings.  The series of paintings with accompanying prose was published in a book in 1999 entitled, The Secret: Art and Healing from Sexual Abuse. This exhibition provided me with a release from the narratives of the past.  After that show, my work changed slowly but radically, moving towards landscape, then abstraction.

 (Images from The Secret: http://www.francielyshak.com/archive/Secret/index.html).

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: How did you choose painting and photography, how are they similar or different to you?

FL: I am a painter.  However, I believe that no matter what medium an artist chooses, they cannot escape their artist’s sensibility. That means that we cannot help but consider the aesthetics in our environment.  Also, we cannot help but be creative.  It is a kind of compulsion that requires an outlet.  In that vein, I took up photography.  This was in part because I found it offensive that paintings are generally only affordable by the wealthy.  I experimented with printing and multiples as a way to make my work more accessible to those with less means.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: Can you say that what you do is abstract art, and if so what would this kind of abstraction be?

FL: The best way to describe my new work is ‘pre-verbal’. Before words,  ideas and memories there is a mental space that is responsive to shape and texture, color and amorphous mood. That is the space that my paintings occupy. My abstract work is not expressionistic, nor is it minimal or conceptual. My newest work has something in common with action painting.  Over the long haul, the trend of my work has been increasingly reductive.  I seem to be constantly trying to reduce the content of my work to its simplest components.  I removed the figure.  I removed the narrative.  I removed the symbolism.  I removed the suggestion of landscape.  Then I tried to suggest empty space alone (which made the work illusionist).  Now I am just looking at the surface, the medium and the tools of application.

I recently saw a show that was simply lighting in an empty gallery.  I understand that.

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Francie Lyshak, Brushed Blue, oil on canvas, 34×44, Courtesy of the artist.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: How do you choose your works for the exhibition, do you ‘curate’ yourself?

FL: No, my dealer is fully in control of the choice of work and the hanging.  Of course, it is up to me to choose the paintings from which she makes her selection.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: The process is of course different with each artist, do you like to add older paintings into the show, or is it mostly recent works?

FL: Mostly very recent works are shown in April exhibition.  My first exhibition at Carter Burden had some pieces that were several years old but had never been displayed.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: You are watching a lot of movies, how apparent is it that those moods or aesthetics you gain from films enter your works somehow?
 
FL: I don’t think that the aesthetics of film influence my work, but perhaps the moods do on a subconscious level. I find great solace in the work of these great, underappreciated independent film makers.  They address very important, very real aspects of being human.  Hollywood spends mountains of capital selling fantasy worlds to viewers because it is a natural,human inclination to avoid and escape harsh reality.  The filmmakers that I love make me look at the challenging underbelly of being human.  This gives me courage and support in my effort to stay honest as a painter, to not be fooled by the illusionary rewards of commercial success, to lead my viewers to the challenging aspects of being human.

I have a fantastic list of my list of favorite movies.  It is a long list and the titles are unrecognizable to most people.  Almost all of the films were borrowed from the New York Public Library which has a treasure trove of great films.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: What does a notion of ‘zen’ mean to you as an approach?

FL: I am not formally trained in Zen practice.  However, I understand that Zen does not have a god head, and is focused on what westerners call mindfulness practices.  My mind is constantly racing.  I hunger for empty space and quietude.  (Perhaps this is reflected in my urge to constantly minimize the content in my paintings.)  We live in an overheated, overstimulating world (at least in NYC).  I know, however, that it is not the fault of my environment that I am so mentally restless.  I reach for ‘zen’ as a pathway towards a quiet mind or to attain full attention.  When I paint, I am in a ‘full attention’ mode.  In this sense, painting is a mindfulness practice.  (Click the link to see a series of paintings that were specifically intended to be ‘meditations spaces.’
http://www.francielyshak.com/archive/New%20Monochromes/index.html)

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: What else do you do to balance with making art?

FL: Not much.  I do some Yoga practice, go to the gym, take walks and, of course, watch movies.  I would add that there isn’t anything much more rewarding that good conversation with other artists and intellectuals.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: Where do your influences come from other than abstractions? Do you blend in narrative contents from today’s world and events?
 
FL: My goodness, the political climate has a tremendous impact on the ‘climate’ of my work.  There is very little joy in my work these days.  On the other hand, I am finding surprising strength and power there.  My work is definitely a mirror of my psychological condition.  My psychological condition is a mirror of my personal and social life (which in these times encompasses the political environment).  A new painting included in this April exhibition is entitled “Silence equals Extinction”.  It was clearly a response to the nightmare political situation in the US.

Francie Lyshak_KnifedWhite_34x26.
Francie Lyshak, Knifed White, oil on canvas, 34×26, Courtesy of the artist.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: In your photography there is a lot of nature in them; fog, mountains, trees, moon, and so on. How do you find your photographic subjects, do you just happen to be in those places in the moment? 

FL: Yes, everything was done either in Michigan, where my family has a summer home, or NYC.  I also did some photography when I did some traveling along the Adriatic, Ionian and Aegean Seas and along the Pacific Ocean shore. I am wild about landscapes.

On influences: 
I am not influenced by art theory nearly as much as I am influenced by psychoanalytic theory, philosophy and religion.  I have no belief in any religion.  However, I find the search for self and meaning to be central to my practice as an artist.  I am most affected by any work of art that creates a space for the viewer to engage in this search for identity or meaning.  Works by Frieda Kahlo, Mark Rothko and Fred Sandback all succeed at doing this for me; although each uses a radically different method to set a stage for this to happen to the viewer.

On color: 
Colors have a strong valence, a kind of personality.  My latest pieces have been in various shades of black.  I am choosing black because I have always feared it.  Black oils cannot be controlled because they are wildly interactive with the light in the environment as it reacts to the surface of the painting.  The color black, for me, has much to do with loss, change and the unknown.  So colors themselves have a kind of personality and meaning and different oil colors also have a unique physicality, such as color density.

On my use of color in photography and painting:
I think of myself as a painter.  I have spent forty years painting.  Photography has been  secondary to my work as a painter.  My photography is in the early stages of development; but is created on a foundation of 40 years of evolved aesthetic sensibility and artistic practice.   My photography is mostly rooted in local color or black and white.  My new paintings, on the other hand,  are each a deep explorations of color, the oil paint medium, the painters tools and methods of application.  In other words, my practice as a painter has evolved to a point where I am exploring the very basics of the medium.  It is full circle, back to the beginning.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: Do you find inspiration in your travels to foreign places, how about those leaving an impact on your thinking and aesthetics?

FL: I just traveled to Japan.  Their aesthetic and social values were a great comfort to me.  The Japanese seemed so much more civilized than Americans.  It was heartening to experience their aesthetic and their culture.  I felt that my own values were much more supported by the Japanese culture than they are in my own culture.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: Did you ever come up with a notion, who would be your best art audience, or collector?
 
FL: Probably intellectuals, other painters and psychologically-minded people.  It is hard to tell who is most taken by my work because people usually don’t say much.  Most of us become a little inarticulate in the face of meaningful visual art.  Art takes us to a non-verbal place.  I admire people like you who are willing and able to give us language in the face of visual art.

Firstindigo and Lifestyle: With so much insight in the practice, we all want to know, what would you like to teach or say for younger generation artists and painters?

FL: I would like to say to them that it is worth the battle to stay true to their artistic sensibility.  This is because, in the long term, losing touch with one’s core strivings (to be an artist, to be creative) has an unbearable cost.  I would tell them, however, that they shouldn’t expect to be rewarded.  Artmaking is essentially a radical act, because it means turning away from the influence of others and, instead, opening a channel to one’s true self.  Being true to one’s core self usually means letting go of many of the rewards of social/commercial success.  After all, in the short term we are nurturing ourselves rather than others.  Who knows if our art will nurture others in the long term.  That is in the hands of the vagaries of the art market.

Achieving commercial success in the art world is a totally different side of being an artist.  It takes a combination of ambition, talent, personality, timing, social resources (such as health, social networks, time and money) to make income from making art.  To have these resources is often a matter of privilege and other random social events.  Artists don’t have control over most of these factors.


Francie Lyshak’s exhibition info: 

April 6 – 27, 2017

Examining Movement & Gestures: Jonathan Bauch and Francie Lyshak

CARTER BURDEN GALLERY, 548 West 28th Street, #534
New York, NY 10001,  
http://www.carterburdengallery.org/current-exhibition

Francie Lyshak, education:

·      Pratt Institute, Art Therapy and Creativity Development, Masters of Professional Studies, NYC, 9-76 to 5-78
·      Wayne State University, Painting and Drawing, Bachelor of Fine Arts, Detroit, Michigan, 1-69 to 5-70.
·      Center for Creative Studies, Fine Arts, Detroit, Michigan, 9-68 to 5-69
·      University of Michigan, Humanities, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 9-66 to 5-68

Artist website: http://www.francielyshak.com/

Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait

Bill Viola, The Dreamers, 2013, video/sound installation, seven channels of color high-definition video on seven plasma displays mounted vertically on wall. four channels of stereo sound.

Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait is a retrospective exhibition happening at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC. The exhibition, on view until until May 2017, is celebrating a career of a pioneering video artist Bill Viola. The artist is recognized for his groundbreaking use of video technologies; and his works are known as poetic and performative, exploring the spiritual and perceptual side of human experience. Installed in multiple darker rooms, the show takes a viewer into a few episodes with the moving portraits. They are diverse, as one can imagine, and with each work the viewer’s experience becomes more fluid than staged or patterned. The works follow more circular way of reasoning than linear logic in storytelling.

The portrait of Bill Viola himself is titled Self Portrait, Submerged, 2013 (color high-definition video on LED display; stereo sound; 10:18 minutes). This portrait connects to an idea of mortality, the artist himself is appearing underwater. He looks as if being still with his eyes closed, and he does not seemingly breath. However, the movement becomes present with the unfolding effect of the water moving and altering the stage so to speak. For Viola, self-portrait is an evergoing reflective way to figure oneself out. Self-portrait is always a self-representation. As an artistic discovery it would be more like looking beyond a merely simple representation of oneself; attaching a subjective and changing viewpoint into a larger psychological canvas. We live in an era of selfies, so what more is there to discover, beyond a representation? Where does the normative cultural portrait end, and the new interpretation start?

In many of his works, Bill Viola summons the characters, young and old, male and female. These portraits are submerged underwater in a similar manner as his Self Portrait Submerged. A group of seven works are titled The Dreamers (2013). The portraits appear in a dark room as an installation of plasma displays mounted on the wall. They radiate very subtle visuality. There is water underneath of each character as their personal stage. It is the essence of the water that animates the otherwise still portraits to become sifting moments in space. The plasma videos are accompanied with a sound of a running water, which appears as a surrounding pulse for the portraits. These portraits take form as immersing works. In a way they are virtual, or the time is stopped as if there was an episode happening in another realm or in outer space. Each personality emerges as colors, when their fabric and hair covered bodies measure the dimensionality of the water. They contour and camouflouge barely within its surface.

A very different video setting is formed around a work titled The Reflecting Pool originating from 1977-79. In the video, a man is emerging from the forest standing in front of the pool. As he is leaping up in a sudden movement, jumping into the water, the image freezes. The person remains still in the center of the image; he is frozen whilst the water in the pool is slightly moving and changing. Another take on a theme of time passing. This time, the person is also immersed into the surroundings even more, and perhaps becoming one with the green lush with all his senses.

In a massive one screen video installation, a group of nineteen men and women from various ethnic backgrounds are struck by a great amount of water coming from a high pressure hose. The video called The Raft (May 2004), expresses different actions and reactions from the people to a seemingly catastrophic situation. Some are struggling physically showing hardship of survival with their bodies, the others remain more upright; yet all characters are touched and moved by the sudden force. The scene of the people reacting with their personal response, with their bodies moving, resisting, twisting, and falling, is effective. In the end, the water stops and leaves people with altered positions. The narrative brings into mind a natural force, which takes over peoples’ lives and controls their surroundings. An occurrence, which people cannot control. The video story opens a new stance to altered ways of being flooded, or being carried away with life occurrences.

 

Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait exhibition is a well curated retrospective to the artist’s forty year career. It includes several works investigating life cycles, and the process of aging. It touches a question of gender, and the metaphysical place for people in the world. His video works speak with the language and gesture of the body and face. They confront us with emotion and presence. Portraits are not always beautiful, or the characters are not always beautiful in a sense of how we measure our bodily image. But they echo beauty with their truthfulness and soul, which goes further than a normative cultural presentation.

Bill Viola started his discovery with a Portapak camera in the early 1970s. Since that time, the video has been his medium of expression.

Bill Viola, Surrender, 2001. Color video diptych on two plasma displays mounted vertically on wall; 18:00 minutes. Performers: John Fleck, Weba Garretson.
Bill Viola, Surrender, 2001. Color video diptych on two plasma displays mounted vertically on wall; 18:00 minutes. Performers: John Fleck, Weba Garretson.

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More info about Bill Viola: The Moving Portrait exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery 

More info about the artist on James Cohan Gallery 

Artist website: http://www.billviola.com/

 

Dive into Finnish Modernism: Tyko Sallinen and Tove Jansson exhibitions in Helsinki Art Museum

Tyko Sallinen, Leppiä keväällä, Alder Trees in the spring, 1911, Courtesy of HAM, photo Hanna Riikonen.

With the current exhibitions focusing on the historic works of Tyko Sallinen and Tove Jansson, The Helsinki Art Museum HAM draws attention to modern Finnish art. Both exhibitions opened in January 27, 2017. Sallinen’s exhibition will run until the Fall of this year, and Tove Jansson’s frescos will remain on a permanent display in the museum.

The exhibition of Tyko Sallinen (1879–1955), explores works of a Finnish modernist pioneer in painting who is also a representative of expressionism in art. The exhibition consists of 50 works from the artist’s most important period, the 1910s. Tyko Sallinen’s expressionist works had a meaningful impact on Finnish art in the beginning of the 20th century. He and some other like-minded artists introduced new ideas into the Finnish art field, as their approach met open opposition and critique from the older generations of artists.

Sallinen was painting portraits of people, which became a signature marker of his often personal and intimate works. These one person and group portraits were also considered scandalous in their time because of their expressionist and emotive approach to people. Yet, many of his landscapes create a similar sense of strong moodiness. The landscapes imply that the role of nature was close to the artist’s thinking. The brushwork across different canvases come out with delicate movement, composing trees and horizons with earthy tones. The works bring forth viewer’s personal approach and feeling to the surroundings. Sallinen’s landscape compositions are both classic and reflective, confirming that human mind wishes to connect with its nature with intuitive touch and reflection. Simple blue and green hues of the two landscapes (pictured) convey messages, being poetic with a strong stance.

Tyko Sallinen, Tuulinen huhtikuun päivä, Windy April day, 1914, courtesy of HAM, photo Hanna Riikonen.
Tyko Sallinen, Tuulinen huhtikuun päivä, Windy April day, 1914. photo HAM Hanna Riikonen.

The other Finnish modernist artist receiving the exhibition in the HAM Art Museum is Tove Jansson (1914–2001). She is famously perceived as a creator, writer, visual artist and illustrator of the Moomin books. With a substantial global recognition, the Moomin characters are now more popular that ever around the world. It is no wonder that Tove Jansson’s visual compositions are among the most loved works in the HAM collection. The art museum has dedicated some of its galleries to an exhibition celebrating the artist’s entire life and works. These include also her less well known frescos, which she originally created on site for several public institutions. Tove Jansson stands out as an impressive woman with a long career as an artist and influential thinker. She was a skilled painter, writer of many genres, a comics artist and illustrator with a humorous larger than life approach, and a script writer. The exhibition shows the history of words and pictures bringing forth her richly illustrated stories.

Tove Jansson and Niilo Suihko paint the fresco Juhlat maalla, Party in the country, at the City Hall Restaurant.
Tove Jansson and Niilo Suihko paint the fresco Juhlat maalla, Party in the country, at the Helsinki City Hall Restaurant, 1947.

Among the exhibition works are Jansson’s frescos titled Juhlat kaupungissaParty in the City and Juhlat maalla, Party in the Country (the latter pictured above);  and sketches of murals which the artist made for the Aurora Children’s Hospital (LeikkiPlay I-III; Play II illustrated below) in Helsinki. The Play I-III series was created in 1955-57 for the walls of the staircases in the Aurora Hospital, and it features several Moomin characters running up the staircases. The hospital is now closed, but during the years of its operation, 1 million children were able to enjoy the art.

The Kaupunginkellari restaurant, known as Helsinki City Hall Restaurant, opened in 1947 to serve as a canteen for the people working in the City Hall, and as a venue for official functions. Tove Jansson painted the frescos Party in the City and Party in the Country during the same year for the restaurant. With these colorful works, the artist wished to express a sentiment of the joy of life, which was important for the country after its experiences and losses in the World War II. Jansson’s frescos were added to the restaurant’s interior, and were accompanied by the group of reliefs designed by Michael Schilkin, as well as pictures etched on windows by Yrjö RosolaThe HAM has also added lamps into Tove Jansson’s exhibition of frescos. They are the same lighting fixtures that were used in the restaurant. Their designer is Paavo Tynell (1890–1973), who made lighting designs for numerous public interiors.

From architectural and design point of view, Helsinki City Hall Restaurant represented a remarkable example of Finnish modernism of its day. This was a time in the Finnish art history, when modernism in art was highly approaching different genres of artistry and design; bringing art, design and architecture in closer contact and communication with each other. The art and architecture union made peoples’ everyday life happier and more colorful, creating experiences for multiple senses.

Tove Jansson, Leikki, Play II, 1955, courtesy of Moomin CharactersOy Ltd ™. photo HAM Hanna Kukorelli.
Tove Jansson, Leikki, Play II, 1955, courtesy of Moomin CharactersOy Ltd ™. photo HAM Hanna Kukorelli.

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HAM, The Helsinki Art Museum, concentrates on art collections, which belong to the people of Helsinki. The collection includes over 9,000 works of art, and almost half of the works are on display in parks, streets, offices, health centres, schools and city libraries.

Tyko Sallinen’s exhibition also shows works from artist’s first wife, Helmi Vartiainen, and by their daughters Taju and Eva.

Tove Jansson in HAM.

Tove Jansson’s Moomin stories: https://www.moomin.com/en/history/