Categories
artistic process interviews performance&dance

Anna Nykyri and the transient bodies

Pandemic has left many cities different, as if touched by invisible forces that folded a new narrative in front of us, for what is here now, and what might be more common in the future. At least, it is true to New York City. Finnish film director, visual artist and choreographer, Anna Nykyri created a short film “In-Between”, 2020 (2’51), to capture cityscapes during the pandemic. The artist collaborated with the photographers Aukusti Heinonen, Juan Pablo de la Vega and Griselda San Martin in Helsinki, Mexico City, and New York, respectively, to show relationships of the transient bodies that avoid contact with each other in these cities.

From short film, In-Between (2020). Image: Juan Pablo de la Vega

The documentary film curated by Andrea Valencia, is conceived as a montage that compiles photography and moving image to grasp the results of social distancing in the three cities, which are connected by the shared experience of the pandemic. By capturing details and fragments of the spaces and the moving bodies, “In-Between” suggests that, while movement and touch are being restricted, we are living an emotional collective experience.*

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As an artist, your practice is quite multidisciplinary. What is interesting is the way your dance and choreography, and film-making, communicate fresh angles to these fields. Maybe there is a level of interconnectivity between these artistic disciplines. Can you tell, how did you eventually pick your artistic practices?

Anna Nykyri: My intention as an artist has always been trying to create an artform, that would bring together my artistic interests at the time. So, I never tried to be a director, screenwriter, visual artist or choreographer. The current piece that I’m creating matters the most. My definition as an artist can be defined through the piece.  

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where we come from, to some extend defines what becomes of us, or let me put it this way. I think that sometimes we dream very early on, what we want to be doing when we grow up. Where did you grow up and go to school?

AN: As a 4-year-old, I told my parents I wanted to be a dancer. We lived in the rural countryside and the ballet classes were too far away to attend multiple times a week. Kaustinen, where we lived in, is famous for it’s folk music tradition. So, music it was. During the ten years I played violin, I almost never practiced, was really bad at it but somehow managed to get along with the others to an American tour (twice) and understood what it meant and took to be an artist.

Later on I started singing and playing piano. After a college of music I went to Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences to study my BA in media, started ballet classes and continued to MA-studies in Finnish Academy of Fine Arts specializing in moving image (MFA). I was lucky to have Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Veli Granö, Salla Tykkä and Liisa Roberts as my professors. They were great teachers and certainly had a great impact on my working processes. During the Academy of Fine Arts I also studied pedagogical dance studies in Jyväskylä University & later MA Choreography studies in Trinity Laban College of Music and Dance in London. I guess I have just always really loved learning new things.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Trinity Laban is a dear place in my own artistic history. When I was a student there, it was a place to find interdisciplinary approaches. You are a recent graduate. Did you find that the choreographer training supported multiple directions and platforms?

AN: Yes, I absolutely think it did. Still, after attending the MFA studies in Finnish Academy of Fine Arts with an unlimited number of courses to attend with a huge number of supportive one-to-one meetings with teachers & curators, studying in MA Choreography studies in Trinity Laban was much more self-lead. Also, the system of art grading is a different kind of process there, and I feel that being judged by juries was certainly the opposite of the pedagogical angle I had been used to. Of course the school had great teachers, and they are known for having creative professionals doing and implementing the curriculum. But, I personally felt that the system was partly old-fashioned. So, I struggled with disagreeing with some of the principles the system is built on, but fought my way through it, eventually. And learned a lot for sure.

Sonic Presence of an Absent Choreography

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Sound is an important part of your choreographic and creative work as well. In choreography, sound often comes together with the moving bodies. But, how do you compose a dance piece without choreography being visually present on stage, relying solely on sound? 

AN: I have had the joy to work in artistic collaboration with many great sound designers, sound artists and composers, to mention a few: Petri Kuljuntausta, Olli Huhtanen, Mikko Joensuu, Antti Nykyri and Félix Blume.

Immersive sound installation and choreographic environment “Sonic Presence of an Absent Choreography” is an artistic collaboration between curator Andrea Valencia (MEX/US), sound artist Félix Blume, choreographer, dancer Veli Lehtovaara and me. The installation was made for Prague Quadrenniale 2019, Finnish ECR Exhibition Fluid Stages and was curated by KOKIMO. The piece consists entirely of recorded sounds of a dance. Through the installation, we aimed to reveal the ephemerality of the body on the stage through the immaterial media of sound.

In this particular artistic collaboration, the choreography was based on a visual score, an image I brought to the rehearsals. The image is a picture of an empty advertisement board, filled with strands of old, ripped posters. I took the picture during a nighttime in Tampere, while passing by. For some reason I just felt like the empty advertisement board in the silent city environment had all the sound and choreographic elements in it. Choreographer, dancer Veli Lehtovaara looked at the image for a while and then started dancing. Sound artist Félix Blume recorded Veli´s dance and did a great job by creating a sound score for the piece and further mixing the sounds for the installation in artistic collaboration with me and Veli.

Video documentation from the recordings of the piece, by Félix Blume (6min 41sec):
https://vimeo.com/289907108

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The all encompassing subject at the moment is of course the Covid pandemic. You created a film that was based on the pandemic in different locations of the world. Can you shed some more light on the process of making this short film?

AN: The short film “In-Between” (2020, https://vimeo.com/432870117 ) is a second work, which I had the chance to work with the great New York/Mexico City based curator Andrea Valencia. I met Andrea whilst working in ISCP residency, New York in 2017 and we instantly bonded, sharing the interest for empty spaces in the cityscape, for instance. Aukusti, who is specialized in photographing architecture, I knew from beforehand and had wanted to work with for a while already, but Juan Pablo, who especially blew my mind with his photos on the cityscapes and Griselda, who is and amazing portrait photographer (for example for New York Times magazine) were introduced to me through our curator Andrea Valencia.

The documentary film is conceived as a montage that compiles photography and moving images to grasp the results of social distancing in the three cities, which are connected by the shared experience of the pandemic. By capturing details and fragments of the spaces and the moving bodies, In-Between suggests that, while movement and touch are being restricted, we are living an emotional collective experience. -Andrea Valencia

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you think the collaboration taking place between multiple countries came together from the point of view of editing and bringing the entire visual material together?

AN: The working process, first of all, included people from various time zones during the pandemic, which created certain restrictions for timing our online meetings. Also, in Helsinki, the Covid situation during the late springtime 2020 was comparably easy, but in New York City and Mexico City, I guess no one really knew the magnitude of things at that point. So, we had to be really strict about the safety of the photographers participating, some of them having small children etc.

I felt that my main task as director in this particular project was to suggest ideas of the angles from which to shoot the world during pandemic. So, we had long talks with the photographers on the themes of the film, but still wanted to give them a lot of freedom and it was a surprise for me, how they would approach the subject. Editing the photos and videos together was an important part of the process, and reminded of editing an archival montage. During the summer 2020, we edited the film in Helsinki with Jaakko Peltokangas. Sound design of the film was made by Olli Huhtanen, whose work I deeply admire. We wanted to publish the film online so that it would be possible for everyone to access. At the same time, the film was made really fast, the clock was ticking and we knew it would stay online however it would turn out to be, there would be no going back.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It is very inspiring that you are an artist between two or many artistic endeavors. It could also be challenging, but at the same time it seems to be rewarding. What obstacles can you recall having while finding parameters in your career?

AN: Working as a multidisciplinary artist within film, fine arts, contemporary choreography and sometimes also television, for me the most challenging part has been accepting the fact that it’s OK not to be good at everything, learning as you go. For example, in Trinity Laban, I was surrounded by amazing dancers. Dance has been a part of my life as a hobby and part of my practice for a while already. Still, there were MA Choreography students with amazing talents in that section, while my background was mostly in film and visual arts.

Visual Score by Anna Nykyri

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Can you say that you are more of a choreographer than filmmaker, or is it a completely irrelevant question? 

AN: I define myself as a visual artist, working with moving image, film, cinematic installations and choreographic environments.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did your everyday life and work life balance shift, and change during the pandemic so far?

AN: It certainly changed a lot. Basically, all my artistic collaborations turned into remote work – into zoom meetings etc. During the late fall, I was screenwriting and directing a pilot episode for a documentary television series for YLE. Shooting documentary footage during the pandemic was hard work for all of us – mostly with the extremely tight safety restrictions to keep everyone safe. For the past 1,5 months I’ve been lucky enough to work remotely from a cabin at Iso-Syöte, which is the southernmost fall of Finland.

My weekly dance classes shifted into online classes (mostly Gaga movement language, developed by choreographer Ohad Naharin, which I can warmly recommend to everyone: https://www.gagapeople.com/en/) and gym training into home workouts. I really am grateful for all the dance & sports practitioners, who have continued teaching online! The online classes and workshops have saved me during these unexpected times.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: This year, you are going to be participating in WRO Media Art Biennale in Poland. It is so interesting, as it also consists of a collaboration that you started at the new award-winning Oodi library in central Helsinki?    

AN: I’m super excited about the WRO Media Art Biennale opening in Wroclaw, Poland, May 12-15, 2021! I’m currently developing a new piece consisting of moving images in collaboration with visual artist Kaisu Koivisto, Helsinki Artist’s Association (project coordinator Anna Puhakka) and curator Agnieszka Kubicka-Dzieduszycka from the WRO Art Center.  The collaboration project, called “Synthesis”, began in Autumn 2020 with a shared exhibition in Central Library Oodi and includes, on top of the WRO Biennale, a following exhibition at Oodi in November 2021. Our interactive video installation will be presented in Wrocklaw in late autumn 2021 as well as in Helsinki, but we will already have an open talk during the opening week of the biennale: https://wro2021.wrocenter.pl/en/works/synthesis/. In the talk we will be reflecting the starting point for our work, Polish artist Pawel Janicki’s algorithmic structure “Synthesis”, and where has it led us.

The theme of the biennale is “reverso”. Me and Kaisu are at the moment gathering footage from our personal archives and filming some new footage. With this kind of theme, I think it has been a lot of fun to think of, what actually matters to us as artists, going back to the “roots”. Currently we are digging into the possibilities of MaxMSP program, testing the possible outcomes of an interactive installation, a choreographic environment.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: There is a lingering feeling that pandemic left us with some new ideas of how to connect and collaborate. Did you have any time to think what you want to do next?

AN: The year 2021 will be busy with the upcoming exhibitions and a screenwriting process of a fictional short film and a feature length film. Luckily, with the upcoming film works I’m collaborating with an experienced producer, Markku Tuurna and an established dramaturge Tarja Kylmä with both of the films. In 2022, I will also present an installation at the façade of Gallery Forum Box.


Also, for years already, my dream has been to have the time to focus on a research plan, apply for PhD studies, continuing my artistic research in relation to the choreographic environment within post graduate studies.

Who knows, what’s going to happen? There’s always a new adventure waiting around the corner.

— — —
*‘In-Between’ was supported and commissioned by The Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes’ Together Alone project and supported by Arts Promotion Centre Finland.

Directed & screenwritten by: Anna Nykyri
Photography by: Griselda San Martin, Juan Pablo de la Vega, Aukusti Heinonen
Edited by: Jaakko Peltokangas
Sound designed by: Olli Huhtanen
Curated by: Andrea Valencia

Featured image:

Short film, Passing by:
Passing by (2020)
Documentary short film 1’50”
Passing by shows a carcass of a young roe deer slowly decomposing in a forest, whilst cars are fast passing by on a nearby highway. The film creates a strong emotional charge of passing by; moving from the highway into the forest, details of fur, flies, a carcass – then distancing again, leaving the calf to be covered by the forest.

The film was supported by The Promotion Center for Audiovisual Culture AVEK / Media Art and Arts Promotion Centre Finland.

Directed and screenwritten by: Anna Nykyri
Cinematography by: Italo Moncada
Edited by: Jaakko Peltokangas
Music by: Mikko Joensuu
Sound designed by: Juuso Oksala
Color correction by: Juuso Laatio

Categories
artistic process interviews

Nozomi Rose on artistic process during covid

New York artist Nozomi Rose is a current 2021 artist-in-resident at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC)’s Arts Center on Governors Island in NYC. There has been an Island full of snow, couple of birthday cakes, and new artist friends. During times of social distancing, the residency has been fun, and great for exchanging inspirations and ideas.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: For artists, Governors Island is a mix of different kinds of approaches and possibilities in place. As you figured your way through the snow, how is it going?

Nozomi Rose: Yes, what I like about this residency is the true interdisciplinary nature. Our cohort is composed of artists, filmmakers, fashion designers, writers, actors, playwrights, choreographers, etc. If you visit my studio, you see the Jewish “climate change” comic artist Isaac Roller on the right and the black watercolor “house” painter Selwyn V. Garraway on the left. Isaac comes Mondays and Selwyn is there Fridays. The best part of our experience is the ferries. In Kobe, Japan, where I grew up, there were the mountains and the ocean, so this environment brings back my childhood memories, which often appear in my work.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are also part of a new annual lamp show in Brooklyn. How did you get involved in creating lamps from your paintings?

NR: The annual lamp show started in 2019 when Head Hi Gallery (and art book shop) opened in Fort Greene, Brooklyn/NYC, by the Navy Yard. The exhibition is about creative individuals experimenting with lighting and illuminations, so the owners inspired me to make my “vertical orange lamp” at the time, which visitors can now view at the gallery year-round. My lamp for 2021 is “social distancing lamp” that lights up when someone comes closer than 6 feet.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: According to the guidelines by CDC, to practice social or physical distancing, means staying at least 6 feet (about 2 arm lengths) from other people, “who are not from your household.” What is your approach to a ‘social distancing’ work?

NR: “Social distancing lamp (your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path)”, comes with motion activated light system. The work lights up if someone comes closer than 6 feet. For my paintings, I use both pigmented and fluorescent colors. They are combined with gold and silver paints. To achieve the maximum brightness, I started to paint on glass (with acrylic and oil paints) and attach LED light strips to my painting, but not sure, yet, if my direction is something like Mary Weatherford’s paintings. I am still experimenting with this last aspect.

Annual Lamp Show 2021

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have a very strong sense of color, in which the colors have a meaning attached to your personal history and memory. How about in relation to this work?

NR: For my social distancing lamp, I had a “yellow and violet” color scheme in mind at first. I was trying to paint the reflections on the water that I saw from the LMCC studios on Governors Island and the sunset from my ferry rides. 

I like the location of the Head Hi Gallery by the Brooklyn Navy Yard, in part because my grandfather served as a pilot for the Japanese Air Force during the war, which was part of the Japanese Navy. He lived to see his grandchildren. There are certain moments from my direct experiences with nature on the ferries that I tried but could not capture in photographs (with my camera) and that I desired to preserve in painting. Those seascapes resonated with me because of my personal family history. -Nozomi Rose

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As you are working with a different medium than usual, being it paint on canvas, and now glass in which colors may appear differently, how do you mix the colors on this surface?

NR: Regarding my colors, I simultaneously started in both violet in oil and fluorescent yellow in acrylic on glass for this piece. Drying time for yellow was much faster than violet, so I had to plan accordingly. I mixed different shades of each fluorescent color and also their gradations of gold, silver, and pearl versions. Acrylic parts of my work could dry in a few minutes, but I had to wait for at least 24 hours for oil paint to dry. There were certain colors that I preferred to mix in acrylic and also others only in oil, so I layered both materials in some parts and not in others.

The processes of creating the lamp piece were more complex than my usual paintings and also new to me, from preparing a couple of different brushes for oil and acrylic at the same time to painting on glass to assembling and disassembling different LED lighting strips. They had to happen all at once due to the tight deadline, but I enjoyed the collaborative aspects (with Head Hi Gallery).

The color scheme of my actual lamp maybe darker than I first envisioned because I decided to make the top part more pink and orange in oil paint with certain abstract details. This was in part because I was planning to place the LED light on the back. You know, white paint catches light and the work was supposed to be back-lit. But, oh well. -Nozomi Rose

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Did you have a vision of using this material as a lighting piece, perhaps an artistic direction beforehand for the aesthetical changes?

NR: My idea of the social distancing lamp stemmed from a “painting that changes composition by itself when the viewer comes closer than 6 feet,” so the image had to be something that immediately grabs people’s attention and intrigues them enough to approach the work in order to observe the detail. And I had to achieve this in abstract imagery.

I feel like everything I planned went “wrong” at the end, but I am happy that it is on the wall now. I thank Head Hi owners, Alexandra and Mösco, for taking care of it!

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As you are currently an artist-in-resident in Governors Island, can you describe your thought processes behind the methods of working. Painting is your primary way of creating art. Are you inspired by, or still interested in abstraction?

NR: It’s not a secret that I continue to be intrigued by Ab Ex NY (Abstract Expressionism) although I can have figurative elements in my work anytime. Can one person be a conceptual artist and an abstract painter at the same time? If so, that’s me. I aim at expanding colors by going somewhere beyond Modernism and Postmodernism. My practice is almost always informed by painting, but I also change medium often. When people ask, I tend to say my practice is concept-based, but materials guide me. I mentioned Mary Weatherford earlier, but is she a painter or a lamp maker? Why and why not? I think for me, concepts come out of materials.

I’m curious to see how Ab Ex influences on younger generations will unfold, maybe because I see Japanese/Asian cultures being reflected on American art there. For example, Emily Mason who passed away in 2019 was my former teacher who studied with Hans Hofmann. She sent me to my second Vermont Studio Center Residency in 2019. Emily was deeply influenced by Japanese cultures (in addition to Italian ones).

My new painting has light in it. Somehow, I’m seeing light as a “filmic” medium here, but my work rejects narrative. Perhaps, I’m attempting to introduce “duration” to my painting, without narrative. Have you ever watched essay films by Daniel Eisenberg? One of his films was about his indirect experiences with the Holocaust that was passed onto him through his parents’ stories. -Nozomi Rose

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I interviewed you in 2012 for your solo show at the Consulate General of Japan located in midtown Manhattan. Time flies, so do you remember your works back then?

NR: I think my color scheme was much darker then – because I was using Nihonga pigments [Japanese folk painting material]. I think I successfully reclaimed Christian painting practice with oil painting materials (just kidding!).

I recently started to read about artistic development of children and children’s abstract art. Children’s art and adult art are not the same; they visualize rapid brain developments in children. There are neurologically-relevant reasons why small children should take art lessons. Two books on this topic I recommend are: Eric R. Kandel’s “In Search of Memory” and Viktor Lowenfeld’s “Creative and Mental Growth.”

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: We are gradually starting to think practices after the pandemic, what ever they may appear to be like, in terms of experiences and lifestyles. I don’t know, how much you like to dig into your COVID-quarantine starting last year. But is there something that relates to your routine, work, making your art, and artistic process?

NR: ATP (All Things Project), had daily Zoom meetings during NYC’s mandatory quarantine, so I attended that every day in the evening. One time, our pastor got sick and had to isolate himself. That was scary for me/us because I imagined that maybe we would just watch each other get sick, but fortunately, he survived and the rest of us did not get sick.

I have personal interests in art related to the 80’s AIDS crisis. My Covid experience brought me to a new understanding of Gregg Bordowitz’s “Fast Trip, Long Drop” (1993), for example. There is a clip from “HIV Support Group Meeting July 1993” in this film where Gregg says, “[my] biggest fear is that we are just going to…our future is going to be about watching each other getting sick.”

I watched this film so many times in the past until I memorized part of his script, but I never really thought I got it. Now I think I can sort of feel how that might have been. “David” in the same clip also says, “it’s weird to live with this constant sense of mortality.” I think I can nod now. Gregg Bordowitz has a solo show coming up at MoMA PS1 in May 2021. I found it ironic that the epidemic artist’s show had to be postponed due to the pandemic. -Nozomi Rose

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It seems that also social media platforms expanded in the process. People not only took it to the zoom. Instagram has appeared as a new local and global lifestyle. What do you think about that?

NR: Head Hi offered “Head Hi Live” on instagram every Sunday during/after the lockdown in NYC, so I tuned in with friends from other countries. I liked Mösco’s sound choices, and he sometimes DJ’ed at the Lot Radio in Greenpoint. But the weekly event also had lots of participants from the art world such as Printed Matter (note: Head Hi hosted Printed Matter NY Art Book Fair’s “after party” before the lockdown). It was fun virtually dancing with them when there was no other social life. Head Hi seems to be a community leader during Covid. I think for lots of young people living in Brooklyn, it was psychologically very challenging to wear a mask at first, but one day Mösco had his mask on when cleaning Head Hi’s storefront and that was it. People started to wear a mask and gloves after that day in the neighborhood. Something like that.

In 2018, I mysteriously decided to move my life mostly indoors (well before the lockdown), so there was no crazy, sudden transition I had to make overnight this time. During Covid, I took online courses, mostly MOOCs, made art, watched movies, and read books.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How has your mother been coping during this time?

NR: I learned about Hugh Laurie’s acting in the American medical drama “House, M.D.” TV series that my mother likes, and British comedy such as “Jeeves and Wooster” series. My mother is an actress and I try to keep up with those classic movies so that I can converse with her, but I am very behind.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Let’s peek into a possible future with the lamps. Do you have any interest in creating them more, having a brand Nozomi?

NR: The last lamp show was the first time when I consciously made a lamp, so I asked Head Hi how long they plan to offer lamp shows. They say as long as they can. I guess I will follow the flow. One of the Head Hi owners, Alexandra, told me that her own ambitious, “failed” lamp making three years ago inspired Head Hi to host the first lamp show; she desired to see how people make lamps. They call it “lamping.”

It’s a community’s annual lamping practice that you witness when you come to see the lamp show at Head Hi Gallery. My show ends on March 3rd and Part 2 with new artists starts on Friday, March 5th.


— — —

Nozomi Rose grew up in Kobe and Hawaii, went to school in Paris, Rome, and New York City, and studied Fine Arts at the City University of New York (CUNY) where she was awarded an honor residency at Barnard College/Columbia University as an ICP Scholar. Later, she graduated from Cornell University with a BFA degree in Painting. Her MFA degree in Studio came from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the top museum schools in the country and the world.

As a visual artist, she has exhibited her work at Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Sullivan Center at the Art Institute of Chicago, Bridge Art Fair New York, LVL3 in Chicago, the Evanston Art Center in Evanston, All Things Project in Greenwich Village, New Century Artist and Kravets|Wehby in Chelsea/NYC and CANADA gallery in LES/NYC, among others.

Artist website: 
https://nozomirose.com/

Categories
artistic process interviews women in art

Color comes with music for Ellen Hackl Fagan

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The color field painting created space for exploration of color as a subject matter. How did this field of abstraction influence your work in the first place?

Ellen Hackl Fagan is an American artist working with painting, which is richly influenced by music of her generation. Starting to figure out her artistic practice in the early 80s, she found color as a strong compositional element. When looking at her paintings, one could say the ideas derive from traditions of Color Field. But it’s more than that.

The artistic experience and the bodily encounter with the materiality of work create another layer. Music and color go together also in a more profound and ethereal way in some of Hackl Fagan’s work, appearing as if systems and science were components of the network of sound and its emerging visual pattern.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Now, the cobalt is a color, which is a great conversation starter. How many times have you experienced people just being absorbed into the inviting presence of the color?

EHF: That happens all of the time. In my studio space, which was in the back of ODETTA in Bushwick, one was surrounded by blue from my walls to the floor. I found visitors would linger there, and mentioned often that the blue made them feel really good. So, it emanated a healing resonance with visitors to my space. I think this is one reason why I’ve remained focused on the color and the surface from this particular paint, KT Color, is that it resonates, down to the individual particles, because of the matte surface and the saturated hue. 


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Can you tell, how did you find cobalt, and how long has this investigation been your premise?


EHF: I have attempted to make paintings emanate sound through saturated color since 1981. At that time I was pursuing my undergrad degree, BFA in painting and photography, and was seeing a lot of live music. Punk culture was in full force, so sound and design were interchangeable. A painting I created, The Floozies vs the Force, in 1981, was a painting that was predominantly red and blue, and is oversized. I began to see that the cobalt blue used in this painting, a latex/household paint, would turn to a white hot in low-light times of day: dawn and dusk. The red of the painting would recede, and the blue would advance, which was the opposite of what we were trained to understand about color in school. This intrigued me, and I began to consider cobalt blue as a color that had a broader communicative range, and could possibly hold the key to my color/sound investigation.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You say that cobalt has some mystical components, does this mean transcendental in some ways?


EHF: Yes, I feel that this color actually connects with our spirit, and that it communicates directly to this intangible part of our being, which is why the response to blue is universally tied to the spirit. I think we all feel it.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The process of painting for you is very physical, it’s almost performative how you pour the paint on canvas, and work toward the outcome. Can you explain your process with paint, water, and objects, how they all are involved in your practice and contribute to it?



I think it’s about immersion. I want to put my full body into painting, connect physically with each aspect of the process, and finish, like a yoga deep breathing exercise, with the eyes as the final part that communicates to the color. I have a long history in dance, and feel that this visceral connection comes from this history, or muscle memory. 


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: There seems to be an element of covering and revealing in the process?

EHF: Yes, I call this part “blind painting.” In order to gain a full field of pattern, I have to cover the surface. I can’t know for sure what the outcome will be, which is an aspect of trust I’ve established with the materials themselves. I feel they have more to teach me than I them. I want to explore the full range of their characteristics, which means I cannot be the author of the final image, the paint is the author. I set the stage, facilitate its dynamic potential, and then I leave the room and let gravity and evaporation do their part to finish the work. If I’m not happy with the result, I tend to live with it for a while before going back into it for a second pass. I learned a lot about listening to my materials through ceramics. Often the ceramic work would come out of the group kiln at school with an unexpected result in the glazing and painting that I had put together with the underglazes and oxides. 

When I pulled the pieces out of the kiln, at first they disappointed me due to my expectations. But, over time, they made me look at the unfamiliar with an open mind, and would convince me that they had a strength to them that I could have never controlled or forseen. This made me want to explore accident and the unexpected more in my painting.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Can you tell about your background, and how did you find your calling as an artist?


EHF: I have always called myself an artist. From a very young age, 5 or 6, I can remember identifying myself in this way. I am the sixth of eight children, and married into a family of twelve children. My husband was a twin, he passed away in 1996 from an undiagnosed cancer, leaving me to raise three very young sons by myself. The boys are all young men now, with lives of their own, but we are close. I always made drawings, played school, painted, argued, and have had a life where I maintain a space for play. 

Margaret Ellen Hackl, City Sounds, 1981, latex house paint on canvas, 60″x57″ in.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are your influences in different arts of technology, and the systems, which have an impact on your creation?

EHF: For me, Color Field suggests an immersive experience of deep looking. Color Field has been a part of my development as a painter since 1981these paintings from 1981 are both full body size, which put me in full contact with responding to these contrasting colors when painting them, they literally would throw me off the easel as my eyes were having ocular severe reactions. I nicknamed them “retinal eye bouncers” for the punk era, these were a sympathetic relative to the music I was seeing live so colors spoke of sound, from the moment I began working in a flat, graphic style. Pop Art and Punk graphics were also a major influence at this time.

EHF: My influences from technology all source from music since 1981. I have referenced punk music, early pioneers of abstract, electronic music like Morton Subotnik, the fluxus influences dating back as early as Dada and Schwitters to John Cage, to Frank Zappa, to Brian Eno and David Byrne. The systems tend to be based in the arts, but many have application in the sciences as well. 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about the collaborations you have created with musicians and composers?

EHF: These collaborations have come to me since 1981 as well. Most composers/creators of music, see a relationship in my work to sound and are always eager to join me in my projects, musicians are natural collaborators, so it has been a path rich with artists to work with. 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I remember you having an installation at the New York Public Library, how did this project succeed in terms of audience response?

EHF: I was invited to share a panel with two guest artists, of my choosing. As we all focused on the relationship of sound to color, and vice-versa, I asked the audience to play the Reverse Color Organ all together. We focused on blue and their responses when asked to pair a sound to the color looked like this, then I asked for red. You can see their results pretty much feels like common sense. I would like to collaborate with an institution or a person to gain a lot more viewer input  for the Reverse Color Organ

Ellen Hackl Fagan, Riverse Color Organ.


Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your interest is very much also in the musical and sound aspect of the work. The blue color can have almost symphonic qualities. Do you feel this way?


EHF: Yes, I am a product of a long history of rock and roll, punk, and some dabbling in jazz and world music especially growing up seeing punk bands and following certain bands over the past three decades. Music is a direct influence in my work.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you tell a little more about your recent exhibition, and a project called Helpless?

EHF: I was thrilled to be invited to create a solo exhibition for Five Points Center for the Visual Arts. I was asked a year ago. As COVID-19 took over our lives and the galleries and museums all closed, it wasn’t certain when this exhibition would open. I give them a ton of credit for staying on time with their programming during all this chaos. It has been a great experience working with them. 


For Helpless, I began working in the studio in early May in the early night sky there was a congruence of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars. This was visible to me when we took a Mother’s Day hike in a local park where we were finishing up as it grew dark. We all talked about which planets these might be, etc. These burned in my visual memory as I was painting, and then the song Helpless flooded my mind as well. It became a meditation of sorts, and the title felt right for the exhibition. I’m a real fan of Neil Young’s music, since my teens, it was comforting having his voice in my head. 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: COVID-19 has changed a lot of the daily practices. How have you experienced this time in your life?

EHF: I run a gallery, which has now morphed into three distinct new projects, in addition to my solo work. If given a full time assistant, I’d really get on top of my work load. Mainly, I miss having the freedom to get together with family without a litany of interview-like questions but we’re working it out. I’m finally going to see my mother, who lives in the Midwest, and I continue my work commitment in and out of our recent quarantine periods. Otherwise, I’m staying healthy and patient that we will get through this pandemic. I paint in my garage, and am happy to have carved out this work space last summer. It is my source for happiness, the studio, and I’m thankful for this.

Ellen Hackl Fagan Studio view. Seeking the Sound of Cobalt Blue, Big Blue, 2020, pigment, acrylic, museum board, FV, 108 x 60 in.

Featured image: Margaret Ellen Hackl, The Floozies vs the Force, 1981.

Categories
artistic process interviews women in art

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.

Categories
artistic process interviews music women in art

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/

Categories
african art artistic process interviews scandinavian sustainability women in art

Stephanie A Lindquist about philosophy of plants and art

 

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.

Categories
design fashion interviews lifestyle sustainability

Anne Raudaskoski on Ethica and the holistic approach

 

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.

Categories
artistic process interviews scandinavian women in art

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.
https://eyesasbigasplates.com/

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
200 MORGAN AVENUE
BROOKLYN, NY 11237

The Chimney is open on Saturday & Sunday, 2pm-6pm.
Other days by appointment:
contact@TheChimneyNYC.com

Categories
artistic process fine and contemporary art interviews performance&dance women in art

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

Categories
interviews lifestyle Performa performance&dance women in art

Members Only: Flo Kasearu at the Performa 17

Ernest Hemingway once said, “In every port in the world, at least two Estonians can be found”. This is also true about New York, where more than a few community members share their Estonian House, New Yorgi Eesti Maja. The New York Estonian Educational Society was founded in 1929.  As a great coincidence, and as a brilliant and thoughtful part of the Performa 17 biennial, which took place from November 1 to 19, Estonian artist Flo Kasearu created a nostalgic ode to this members’ club house. Her site-specific performance tour guided groups through different rooms of the house. Her artist-led tour highlighted the very house’s past, changing its authentic traditional feeling into an updated stage, in which the local members themselves took part in the performing. All staged and directed by Flo Kasearu.

Kasearu runs also an artmuseum in her native Estonia. In Tallinn, visitors can book special guided tours in the Flo Kasearu House Museum. The historic wooden house belonged to the artist’s family from the time of its construction.

Flo Kasearu's House in the family history pictures.
Flo Kasearu’s House in Tallinn in the family history pictures as shown in the New York Estonian House performance, Performa 17.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your great great-grandmother was building the house in which you live now in Tallinn. How did that heritage inspire you to pick up the idea of bringing performative component of your family house to New York Estonian House?

Flo Kasearu: Both of my great great grandparents built the house. (I just have a photo of my great grandmother, so I mentioned her in the tour).

While living there since 2009, and getting involved with so many domesticity issues and problems of living in an over 100-year-old house, many ideas have grown out of the problems. I like to solve my problems through artistic practice, turning them into objective artworks. So I established a Flo Kasearu House Museum in the house, which is open by appointment only. I do guided tours to visitors through the house and its garden. Otherwise it would be difficult to find artworks from the middle of my everyday things.

The house tour is a sight-specific art project, and as such it’s difficult to transport it elsewhere. I can partly exhibit the tour, or works from it somewhere else.

Flo Kasearu_installation view at the Estonian House.
Flo Kasearu, Installation view at the Estonian House, staged in the social room ‘potatoes as billiards’, Performa 17.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How long ago was it when your family built the house, and how did Tallinn preserve its old buildings during the times of the Soviet Union?

FK: The house was built in 1911 and my museum and the tours started in 2013.

During the Soviet era, most of the private property was nationalised and belonged to the state. After 1991, 20 year-long restitution started taking place, during which the property was given back to successors of original lawful owners. Houses that belonged to the city were taken care by the renters. City of Tallinn, for example, did not put any money into renovating them. During the restitution process houses were in a legal loophole in terms of their ownership, and thus were not dealt with by the renters, as they thought that any original lawful owners could come back and take the houses over.

Flo Kasearu Performa-project at Estonian House.
Performer doing kissing sound experiments at the Flo Kasearu tour in the New York Estonian House.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you end up doing a similar kind of tour in New York at the Estonia house as part of Performa 17?

FK: Just the method of being a tour guide is the same anywhere, and talking about the history of my museum house is also the same. But otherwise it is a very different project.

‘The Members Only tour’ (Performa 2017 project), is a sight-specific work for New York Estonian House and its community. As I am not a big performer, I did not want to perform it on stage. So doing the guided tour seemed a logical method. The work also included the community members participating in the performance. Guiding people to go through the house, and then becoming like a tour guide in a museum which New York Estonian House is in a way. Everything in the house looks so authentic to its original times and everything is based on old traditions and rituals.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you feel that NYC local community members joined your project easily? From an audience member viewpoint everything seemed going smoothly and appeared well rehearsed.

FK: I took the time to talk with them, listen their stories, so then it was not too difficult to convince them to join. I got recommendations from one member to talk to another member, and then it developed on until I had enough members to invite. I had two ladies cancelling in a last-minute, for example an older lady’s husband got so sick that she had to take care of him and she could not join in the end. But luckily I had also backup members in mind.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You’re a multidisciplinary artist in the true sense. Did performance enter into your working methodology from the very start of your practice?

FK: I started doing video-performances while I was an exchange student in UDK, Berlin. I was in Rebecca Horn studio, a performance and installation artist, and she told me that there is no point for me to paint for her, as she doesn’t know much to comment on painting. I started doing video-performances, relating myself and my Eastern European identity with this new city and new space. So from that time I have been doing performances once in a while.

Flo Kasearu_drawing, 2014.
Flo Kasearu, drawing, 2014. Estonian House staircase presented drawings of the artist. Her fears of what could possibly happen to the house.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In New York City, the visual components in ‘The Members Only’ tour were really stretching the context of the Estonian House in a unique way. How did the imagination for the ‘sets’ evolve?

FK: They are a combination of ideas that evolve from speaking with people and wanting to bring them and their stories to this very abstract and minimal level. And mixing them with some of my older haunting ideas. It is very sight-specific. And I wanted to bring also humour and irony level in, as I felt this is really lacking in this house.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Now thinking also how the music room was evolving, with the grand piano in it. In your tour, you mentioned that behind the doors there is a choir practice going on, but the scene was so surprising?

FK: My point was not to repeat the same things that are happening in the house otherwise regularly. I went to see the choir rehearsal happening there, and I noticed the choir teacher who is such a strong character putting also chairs. So I wanted to highlight the choir teacher and show her alone. I have had this kissing-ticking sound long time haunting in my head and I thought to display this in the room as it is kind of abstraction from the emotions that I felt in the choir rehearsal.

For example, in the choir singing room, instead of singing patriotic songs, the notes are made of this kissing-ticking, which has similar emotion and a character being nostalgic, but abstracted. And then the humor comes in, with over-reacting with this kissing note, and this way it’s also more open to interpretation.

Flo Kasearu_the music room at the Estonian House.
Flo Kasearu, The choir room transformed into an installation with kissing-ticking sounds at the Estonian House, Performa 17.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Going back to Estonia. How would you describe the Estonian contemporary art scene today?

FK: Its tiny but rather interesting. Some years ago art used to be dealing more with the social and political problems, now it is much more in its comfort zone. Although the fees in Estonian art are still quite minimal. The younger generation is more similar to Western formalistic approach, seems to me.

 

Guided Tour of Flo Kasearu House Museum (compilation of excerpts) from Flo Kasearu on Vimeo.

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Artist website: http://www.flokasearu.eu/