Stephanie A Lindquist about philosophy of plants and art

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eyes as Big as Plates arrives in Brooklyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CHIMNEY NYC
200 MORGAN AVENUE
BROOKLYN, NY 11237

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

Tamara Piilola: Painter from Finland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have an artist motto?

TP: Yeah, trust your intuition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bildmuseet poses strong perspectives in Umeå

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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More info about the exhibition at the Bildmuseet

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

Bildmuseet.
Bildmuseet by Henning Larsen Architects in Umeå University.

Designer Margrethe Odgaard about process and color

Danish designer Margrethe Odgaard’s exhibition was on view at the Design Museum in Helsinki during this summer. An introduction to her work put the creative aspect of design in focus. Odgaard’s study of color and the cultural signification of it is very relevant and timely for innovative design conversation, in which we are looking for perspectives that see beyond the pure form.

It feels timely to give design process a platform, which naturally builds discussion about contemporary creative culture. In the world of high tech platforms, we may say that the DNA of design can be found in those practices, which designers organically share with the world in which they live. Without the personal and playful approach, perhaps the future of design would find itself in trouble.

The Helsinki exhibition featured Margrethe Odgaard’s collaborations and use of materials bringing forth an idea of process. What it highlights is that design should not abandon creativity and art. Margrethe Odgaard was assisting late Louise Bourgeois in the artist’s large scale work, which she created for MoMA in 2005-2006. The young designer learned from this experience with the famous artist. Bourgeois shared an approach that artist has to believe 100 percent in the work, even if the outside world is not able to see the same thing. According to her, ideas and vision come with a careful attention to detail, and from a non-compromising attitude.

In the future, Odgaard hopes to work more from her own studio base, and focus on the quality of the materials and colors. There is still huge call for colors in our contemporary cultural environment. Tactility of design does not come to mind as a top priority, and the colors still belong to a neglected area in the design world and architecture. Odgaard’s dream is to bring colors back to the black and grey field of architecture, which she frequently collaborates with.

Odgaard’s design can appear as minimal, yet playful, featuring bold ideas and patterns. It is important for her that the work has emotive response from various audiences. She hopes that the designs bring comfort and energy to our everyday life. Colors have so much potential to give birth to moods and create different atmospheres. Odgaard has focused on the cultural context of colors. She traveled to Japan in 2015, and to Morocco in 2016 investigating culturally specific domains for colors. The designer aimed to find out if there are specific ways to code the local colors from architecture and objects that are attached to particular places.

Odgaard trusts that as a younger generation Scandinavian designer, she is aware of the craft that carries a long cultural history. This means that she is able to add on the existing knowledge, and offer solutions to design questions and problems, which can be both beautiful and functional. At the heart of her color thinking is The Popsicle Index, which she created as a tool. It comes out in rich color hues that appeal to the senses and relate to the body.

dm_popsicle-index-1_photo-andreas-omvik
Margrethe Odgaard wanted to create a color system as an alternative to Pantone color system.

Copenhagen based Odgaard studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and the Rhode Island School of Design in the United States. After graduating in 2005, she worked as a textile designer in Philadelphia. Before opening her own studio in Copenhagen in 2013, she also designed in Paris. In 2016, the designer received a prestigious Torsten and Wanja Söderberg Prize, which is the largest design prize in the world.

Muuto shoot
Margrethe Odgaard sates that colors and textiles can make together strong combinations, leaving an impact that is speaking to feelings as much as to eyes.

The textile designer looks for the purpose behind the design, and confirms that it should be always clearly attached to the process. The product is the end result of what the process entails. Margrethe Odgaard keeps diary of the colors which are inspirational for the designs. Details of colors have become a crucial part of her process. Nuances are extremely important, and the diary is a great tool as part of the investigation. Results are far away from being shy. It is truly a matter of sharing as well.

“Share your knowledge, ideas and skills without hesitation. Be specific to order to become general. Use good tools and create new if necessary. Think through your hands. Free yourself from the limits of coolness. Allow things to evolve in their own pace. Listen. Laugh. Dance.” – Margrethe Odgaard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Margrethe Odgaard’s exhibition was on view until August 28, at the Design Museum in Helsinki, more info:

www.designmuseum.fi.

Interview: Marina Celander explores theater with intention

New York City based performer Marina Celander crosses boundaries in her artistic practice, which combines a variety of genres and approaches to making art. Her solo performances echo authentic voice, and her deep participation on stage with theater groups comes across as statuesque, moving, gentle and charismatic. Marina Celander is born as Swedish-Korean, and is a recipient of 2014 Lilah Kan Red Socks Award for her outstanding contribution to the Asian American professional theater in New York City.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What choices did you make to become an actor, what is your background in the field?

MC: I started out as a modern dancer. After I graduated from London Contemporary Dance School I moved to New York and danced for a bit with various companies and choreographers. At one point I decided to take acting classes, which was something I had always felt I wanted to try but was afraid to do, and started studying with Gene Frankel at the Gene Frankel Theatre Workshop on Bond Street. Despite my fears, I took that first class with Gene and I remember feeling so elated and high, almost, as I stepped out from the darkness of the theater and in to the sunshine on the street. From that moment on I knew I had found what I needed to do with the rest of my life.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where were you born and raised, at least Sweden is on the map?

MC: I was born and raised in Sweden. I grew up in Malmö which is in southern Sweden, right across the strait from Copenhagen, Denmark. I lived in London for three years while I was studying dance, and then I moved to New York when I was in my early twenties. I have been in New York ever since! I go back to Sweden every other year or so to visit my family.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have performed with Yara Arts Group that is based in La MaMa Theatre for many years. How did you find yourself part of the company?

MC: I auditioned for a show that Virlana Tkacz, the artistic director of Yara Arts group, was putting up at La MaMa in 2000, called Circle. This particular show was special in that it had actors and musicians from Buryatia and Mongolia, as well as us New York actors. We had the chance to learn to sing these hauntingly beautiful Buryat songs from the Altai mountains. Two years later I traveled with Yara to Ukraine to sing Ukrainian folksongs, and visit Babushki, the grandmas, in the villages of Kratchkivka in Poltava and Svaritsevichiy in Polissia, and then we performed in Kyiv. This trip was also lead by Ukrainian singer, Mariana Sadovska, who was the musical director for our performance. Ever since then I have come back to work for Virlana in various poetry readings and events that she hosts, as well as being part of some of her theater productions.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Virlana Tkacz, one of the founders of Yara, and the director of the company, and many company members have a Ukrainian cultural background, But Yara is appreciated as multicultural in its productions echoing ideas of a World Theater. Did you find this conception as a great home for your own performance identity?

MC: Yes, I am really attracted to the idea of World theater. It is very fitting that Yara Arts Group is a resident theater company at La MaMa, because it is the home of World theater. Ellen Stewart, the founding mother of La MaMa Experimental Theatre, bravely and courageously invited individuals and companies from all over the world to perform and work at La MaMa.

Yara is an exciting company to work with, because of the always multi-lingual performances and multi ethnic cast. Lately, Virlana has been working with Ukrainian artists, but in the past she has worked with artists from Buryatia (in Siberia) and Kyrgyzstan. As a woman of color and a theater artist, I always deeply appreciate directors who are not type-casting based on ethnicity and race. In downtown theater in general, but at La MaMa in particular, I have always been given opportunities to act in a myriad of roles where my ethnic make up is not important. Virlana has given me and many other actors of color opportunities. I believe that putting a minority actor on stage for no other reason than the fact that (s)he is a good person to have in the show, is always a strong choice against the established order of theater in the West.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In 2015, you were part of a production that directly was touching Ukraine and the war that was happening on a huge crisis level there. Yara’s production premiere ‘Hitting Bedrock’ took place in La MaMa, (it was conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz, set & light by Watoku Ueno, music by Julian Kytasty, assistant director: Wanda Phipps). Your role in the work was central. Tell more about your role and how it shaped in the context?

MC: The production Hitting Bedrock, was an important production as it addressed the war in Eastern Ukraine. My character was The Refugee, and her significance in the piece was that she represented all of those humans, women, children, men, the elderly, that have been rendered homeless because of the war in Ukraine, and elsewhere in the world. She represented all of those that have had to leave something important behind, a memory, a treasure, a family member, a secret, a lover, old letters, a photograph… It was a role that moved me deeply. As a result, that summer (2015) I went on a self financed, crowd-funded trip to face paint and give dance workshops to children in refugee centers in Ukraine.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In this play, the audiences had a participatory role. At one point, we were asked to give our belongings away, and were offered big tote bags instead, to put our coats and personal items in them. This was altering a perception from an audience member’s point of view into the experimental, perhaps reminiscing the point of view of people in the war. In what ways did being a central actor discussing your war losses while audience is so close to you, alter your own performance? Did this event change you?

MC: Yes, the audience were forced to walk through a long corridor in the basement of the theater, and thereafter they were asked to give away their personal belongings only to have them put into bags. The audience immediately got those bags back to hold for the remainder of the show, but many felt uncomfortable and some refused to give up their belongings even for a second. We had brusque and insistent “guards” in uniforms commanding people to go here, put their stuff there, go up, sit down, etc. When the audience had finally arrived in a “holding area” after having been shuttled around with their big bags, they had to witness the guards doing the same to me. The guards demanded to see what was in my back-back, and I showed them my toothbrush and my papers. At this point the audience is really right next to me in the holding area. Having the audience being so close to me, being one of them, really does something to the performance. As an actor I loved feeling them so close, feeling their reactions to me, their doubts, their fears, and them feeling my fears. It was also a little intimidating when on one occasion we had a lady who was a little drunk in the audience, and she was shouting quite aggressively at the stuff I said. That was worrisome, because she was so close.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Besides being an actor and performer, you handle multiple different roles. How did you come to dancing and performing Hula?

MC: Yes, I handle multiple different roles in my life on a daily basis. I am a mother, and an artist, a teaching artist, performer, face painter, a freelancer. I wake up every morning thinking, what am I doing today?

I started dancing Hula, traditional Hawaiian dance, in 2000, after finding an organization that gave beginner hula classes. I was very fortunate to stumble upon the Hawaiian Cultural Foundation (HCF), and there I studied with Michelle Akina, Janu Cassidy, Keo Woolford and kumu hula June Tanoue. I have since been involved with a hula halau, hula school, Pua Ali’i ‘Ilima o Nuioka, under the leadership of kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your connection to the hula/Hawaiian community in New York?

MC: It’s a small, but growing, community of Hawaiians, and Hawaiians at heart, hula lovers, and Hawaiian language and music lovers and enthusiasts. It is a beautiful and loving and inclusive community of people from all over. My connection is through hula.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: A very interesting part of your practice is also face painting. That is a skill that requires another set of imagination and sense of personality in people. How did you start?

MC: I started face painting for my own children’s birthday parties, and it grew from there. Now I do other kids’ birthday parties. It’s a small side business, and I get clients usually through word of mouth. I really enjoy the face painting, and it makes me happy to paint kids’ faces.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In 2016, you created a solo work for yourself that was performed in Sweden. The work titled Mermaid’s Howl, handled a theme of you mother, and her Korean identity. How did you experience the project from the point of view of her identity, and your own, adding into the narratives that are so personal?

MC: I created a solo show called Mermaid’s Howl and performed it at the Stockholm Fringe in 2016. The story had been a long time in the making. As early as 2013, I had talked to my friend and mentor, Fred Ho, about my idea of writing a solo show. He quickly said, in typical Fred Ho style “Write it, I’ll produce it. Here is your deadline, use it.” He unfortunately passed away before that came to fruition, but I stayed true to my promise to myself and to Fred, to finish writing that piece. I am grateful to the Stockholm Fringe Festival for inviting me and giving Mermaid’s Howl its premier.

The story is about me growing up in Sweden and finding out who my mother was, and finally being able to connect the dots in my adult years. Connecting the dots from me, to her, to all of our maternal ancestors. The play is part dream, part real memory snippets, part madness and part immigrant mother-daughter story. It was a deeply personal process, of course, to write this play, which delved into questions of what is must have been like to an immigrant woman, all alone in a completely foreign country, without family, to raise a child on her own, have her dreams crushed or set aside. It also explores the question of women and madness, and what it means for women to not be able to fully express themselves as artists and human beings in a society that sees women as less valued than men.

(For a little more detail to this story and an except of the play you can go here: http://riksha.com/mermaids-howl-an-excerpt/)

 

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Was the theme of mental illness and it’s feminine counter-narrative hard to project into a play?

MC: Mental illness is a topic that is still not openly talked about, it’s a little taboo. I wanted to bring it to the forefront and not skirt around the issue. Without glorying mental illness, I wanted to shine a light on it from a different angle, to let people see that there may be a societal value to possessing a different sight and different viewpoint from what is deemed “normal”. Normal is a societal rule, and normal is different in other cultures. In the West there is absolutely no point to mental illness at all. It is just a nuisance, a bother, a hindrance, a difficulty, something to be shunned and stowed away, far far away. I am not saying that it is not utterly devastating when serious mental illness occurs in a family, but I am saying that there are options as to how you would view someone with a divergent view of the world. Those with divergent behavior can actually have value in society, their divergence is seen as highly creative as well as highly unusual and abnormal. At the same time, madness in women have always been a tool to belittle and demean women, to incarcerate “difficult” women, and put women in their place by the patriarchic machinery.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The play also involved projections as part of it, tell more about the visual and performance collaboration?

MC: I had three amazing collaborators. The electronic score was composed by Dåkot-ta Alcantara-Camacho. The costumes were designed and made by Jane Catherine Shaw, and the projection design was made by Youn Jung Kim. Youn Jung knew my play very well. She was a student of Fred Ho, that is how we met. In the beginning of the writing process she and I used to meet regularly and have our little mini-writing labs, where we shared, read and discussed our work. Because of her connection to the piece from the start, she really knew the flow, the pace, the colors, the feelings of the piece. The projections grew out of her intimate knowledge of the story I wanted to tell, and her receptiveness to my suggestions made the working process so easy.

Dåkot-ta created a score that was so sensitive and evocative, and reminiscent of water and forests and shaman drums. His sounds were instrumental in setting the scenes for particularly relevant moments in the piece. It really was amazing to hear the music loud, with real speakers, for the first time! Goosebumps moment! Cathy made these amazing creations that felt magical to wear, and helped me grow into the characters I was portraying in the various environments.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What would you like to say about the performance experience in Sweden, did you feel you were at the crossroads of cultures while bringing the work there?

MC: I didn’t necessarily feel I was at a cultural crossroads in Sweden, but my piece, Mermaid’s Howl, is an exploration of my cultural heritage, so it was very fitting to have its premier in Sweden. Performing in Sweden was a homecoming of sorts. Being bi-racial I guess means you are a hub for cross-cultural activities within you.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: This play involved also a Kickstarter- fundraising, and the audience was able to have a glimpse into the concept and to you as a person. What was this campaign process like?

MC: Yes, I decided to crowd-fund with Kickstarter as it seemed as the most reputable and an easy way to go. The opportunity to go to Sweden came up very quickly as I was invited to perform with Mermaid’s Howl just a couple of months before the festival started. I had to come up with the funds to go very quickly.

Youn Jung Kim is a great conceptual artist and photographer and film artist. She has a great eye and a great feel for what works and she listened to what I wanted to convey in my little promo video. From the short interaction we had on camera she created a little gem of a video for my Kickstarter campaign.  (You can view the campaign here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq4-2zW7GZ0)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are an activist in social platforms. You have performed radical acts in public places, closing yourself in a body-bag for instance. Tell more about the involvement. Do you think activism can change the dominant narratives in crisis? Are you an optimist?

MC: Yes, I’m always an optimist. The particular event you are mentioning was Belarus Free Theatre’s demonstration in NYC against Capital punishment in Belarus, where young people disappeared and their families were not notified of their deaths, and never received their bodies back. This was an event planned together with La MaMa. We gathered by City Hall, and then walked over to Foley Square, where we crawled in to body bags, zipped ourselves up and laid still for 30 minutes to raise awareness of the issue. We had monitors who were watching us to make sure nothing came to pass as we were inside the body bags, or in case anyone would freak out they could quickly zip us open again. It was a very intense experience, I have to say.

As artists we have an obligation to tell stories where we stand up for the underdogs, speak up for those weaker than us, for those who do not have a voice or platform with which to tell of their story.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What new adventures do you have planned?

MC: I performed a first draft, a first work-in-progress version, of a new solo show called Shakespeare’s Sisters at Dixon Place in NYC in January of 2017. My plan is to perform it again in a larger venue and to see the piece grow. Mermaid’s Howl will also be traveling to Massachusetts sometime in the near future. We are working out the details now, so I will tell you more when I can reveal more, but I am very excited that this show will have a future life.

MARINA CELANDER, SHAKESPEARE'S SISTERS, DIXON PLACE, NYC 2017 - PHOTO SALLY MINKER
MARINA CELANDER, SHAKESPEARE’S SISTERS, DIXON PLACE, NYC 2017 – PHOTO SALLY MINKER.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are also performing with Yara in their new production?

MC: I’m currently performing with Yara Arts Group’s new show at La MaMa called 1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan and the Dogs. Again, it is a project based on Serhiy Zhadan’s poetry. It was shown this spring in Kyiv, by a Ukrainian cast, and now it’s our turn to put our spin on it. Serhiy and his punk-rock band, The Dogs, are in New York performing with us. It’s an exciting show! It’s always very special to perform with a live band. Other musical elements in the show are Julian Kytasy’s bandura compositions.  This piece makes us reflect on the concept of tyranny and how easily it arises – it did in Europe in 1917, and now in 2017 we are currently in danger of allowing it to rise again. The show opened on Friday June 9 and runs at LaMama ETC until June 25, 2017.

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Information about the Yara’s 1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan and the Dogs at La Mama here: http://lamama.org/tychyna/

Marina Celander on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/user26138773

Interview: Yasushi Koyama, cuteness and nature in Finnish and Japanese aesthetics

Japanese sculptor Yasushi Koyama lives in Helsinki, Finland and exhibits frequently in the local galleries. In this interview, he ponders the aesthetics behind his cute wooden sculptures. The artist brings the two artistic worlds together in his deep knowledge of both Finnish and Japanese cultures. One of his revelations connects to an idea of etic (or ethic), a general belief that influences people’s behavior and attitudes.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: When did you move to Finland, and how did you decide to go there to study?

Yasushi Koyama: I moved to Finland in Autumn 2007 to study Fine arts in Saimaa University of Applied Sciences in Imatra. In 2006, I met Finnish printmaker Tuula Moilanen and took her art courses in Kyoto Japan. She was a good teacher and gave me some advice for Finnish education and art school. Then I decided to come to Finland to study.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is the best part of having two cultures to live in and with?

YK: The best part is to have another viewpoint beyond one culture. In addition, in my own artwork Finnish culture meets Japanese culture automatically, unconsciously and unintentionally. It is a good mixture of two cultures for me.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that new cultural heritage transforms you?

YK: I am transformed by Finnish culture on a daily basis especially with the sense of nature and with the contemporary culture of art & design in Helsinki. While in Imatra I experienced a lot of nature such as forest, lake, snow, river, waterfall etc. I took many photos of the beautiful Finnish nature during each season. In this point I was transformed to be a person who likes nature. At the same time, it reminded me of how to be a Japanese, because a life with nature is the very style of Japanese culture too. I came to Helsinki in 2012 to have my solo exhibition in NAPA Gallery. In 2012 Helsinki was the world design capital and my exhibition joined in with some events of World design capital 2012. NAPA Gallery had many artists who were related to graphic design. It was very fresh for me. The art of NAPA members inspired my own art language to absorb the feeling of contemporary graphic design into my art. So I am transformed to get the design viewpoint from the Helsinki contemporary culture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are currently taking part of an exhibition at the Cable Factory in Helsinki. Tell about the background for this particular show.

YK: The show is called “Masters of Saimaa’16”. It is Masters of Fine Arts graduation exhibition in The Saimaa University of Applied Sciences. 9 master degree students have joined in the show. My artworks are 3 works. There are 2 wood sculptures and 1 wood installation from me.

One of the wood sculptures is titled Panda papa and child. It is a large sculpture, 160cm high and weighting more than 400 kg. The artwork is made for my Art for Children project in 2016. People can touch & hug this Panda papa sculpture, so it is interactive art, and the art also connects to our well-being. It is going to be donated to children’s public place as a public art after my upcoming solo exhibition in Galleria AARNI. I have a good memory attached to Panda. When I was 6 years old Panda came to Ueno Zoo in Japan from China. I visited the Zoo to watch the Panda with my father.

Another wood sculpture is titled Walking cat with Katja’s T-shirt – collaboration with Katja Tukiainen. It is 150 cm high and weights more than 200 kg. Artist Katja Tukiainen is my supervisor for my final works of my thesis. Both Katja and I had a similar experience of having cats as pets in our childhood, and we both like cats. Katja Tukiainen has also designed the official T-shirt for the Cable factory. I liked the T-shirts and so got the idea for the collaboration with her.

Then, my  wood installation’s goes with the title The horizontal – wood installation. It is composed of 6 pieces of woods that were originally from one large tree (5m high). Each piece weights between 30 kg to 150 kg. It is made from ash wood that my friend gave me. The title is from Eija–Liisa Ahtila’s video work “The horizontal “ to use 6 screen panels to show one long tree in horizontal way. Her video work “The house” was the first contemporary Finnish art that I saw in Tokyo in 2003. Through this work I wanted to express the culture of wood in Finland and Japan, the process of wood sculpting and wood as a material itself. In Finland the forest area is 71% of the entire land area. In Japan the forest area is about 68% of the land area. In the world, the average of forest area is 31%. So in comparison, our countries have a lot of forest and woods. I think that we both have the tradition of wood culture such as wooden buildings, wooden houses, wooden tools, wooden arts etc. So wood is really important material for me.

yasushi-koyama-panda-papa-and-child-2016-birch-house-paint-oil-color-162x85x80cm
Yasushi Koyama, Panda papa & child, 2016, birch, oil color, house paint, 162 x 85 x 80 cm.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You hear often that Finnish and Japanese cultures have something in common from the point of view of the design cultures. Do you think it’s true and in what ways?

YK: Yes, it is true. As I told, both Finland and Japan have the culture of wood. Both Finnish and Japanese like nature in life. So natural materials have an influence on the expression of our cultures of design, architecture and art. In addition simplicity, clarity and repetitive nature are similar in both cultures.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you find your artistic expression with the sculpture? 

YK: My artworks are animal sculptures described as “Cute, lovely and humorous”. Most of my works are made from one piece of wood by using hand chisels. The rich textures of wood sculpting give people a warm impression. My wood sculptures have the good mixture between traditional wood sculpting and contemporary expression.

I learnt traditional wood sculpturing in Japan, New Zealand, Transylvania and Finland. For example in Finland in school I learnt wood sculpting from Finnish sculptor Pasi Karjula. He cherished the traditional way of wood sculpting using axe and hand chisels as well as other methods.

In the contemporary art context my wood sculptures have the expression of cuteness and positive energy. Finnish painter Katja Tukiainen had an influence on those expressions. And Finnish sculptor Kim Simonsson inspired me with his innocence of cartoonish sculpture. In addition, the graphic design of Marimekko etc., as well as the culture of the Finnish children’s characters, especially the Moomins took effect on me.

At the same time Japanese Manga & Anime and “neo-pop” art by Japanese painter Yoshitomo Nara have influenced my art language of cuteness. The ideas of art works are inspired by animals, natural shape of wood, self-drawing, Finnish art, illustration, textile design and Japanese art & culture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are your cute animal sculptures loved by both Finnish and Japanese audiences alike?

YK: Yes, I think so. They are loved and sold in both Finland and Japan. The interesting issue is that Finnish people say Yasushi’s works have Japanese feeling, and Japanese people say that Yasushi’s works have Finnish feeling in them. I accept their viewpoints as a good mixture between Finnish and Japanese culture.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you develop and teach your concepts to kids? 

YK: I remember that I was making animal sculptures with clay almost every day when I was between 4-6 years old. My father gave me photo books of animals. After I looked at them I made animals. It was my ordinary life during my childhood. So it was natural for me to make cute animals. Although I was making a human sculpture while in school, after my graduation I remembered my enjoyment with animal sculptures. So it is normal and natural for me to make these cute animal sculptures. After starting to create animals, some friends and gallerists told me that my artworks include concepts for kids. So I will continue developing art based on my own childhood memories.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your favorite museum or museums in Finland and why?

YK: I have many favorite museums in Finland. It is difficult to tell of all the museums. So I point my favorite 3 art museums with exhibitions in 2016. I liked Ai Weiwei & Yayoi Kusama exhibitions in Helsinki Art Museum, Ernesto Neto’s exhibition in 5th floor in Kiasma and “Suomen Taiteen Tarina” (Stories of Finnish Art) in Ateneum Art Museum. Ai Weiwei and Yayoi Kusama are top well-known artists in the world. I appreciate HAM to have offered their exhibitions to people in Finland. I also like the space in Kiasma’s 5th floor. Ernesto Neto’s exhibition gave us the participation and experience, the post colonial and interdisciplinary disciplines in the contemporary art context. “Stories of Finnish Art” was very compact exhibition, but at the same time a very profound way to show Finnish art history. I thought it was a great opportunity for tourists in summer to see the exhibition in Ateneum and also for Finland to show their image through Finnish art.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How would you describe Finnish aesthetics?

YK: I want to describe 3 concepts of “less is more”, “silence” and “sorrow” as Finnish aesthetics.

When I think about aesthetics, I always think about “etic” of aesthetics. Etic (or ethic) is a general idea or belief that influences people’s behavior and attitudes. I think that Finnish etic are diligent, honest and simple. Finnish aesthetics is the general idea that influences Finnish people’s behavior to understand beauty. So in my opinion one of Finnish aesthetics is about “less is more”. When I see the simple structures of Finnish architectures, it is so obvious.

About “silence” (hiljaisuus in Finnish), and how it is connected to nature. I remember silent landscape of snow in forest during winter. It was very beautiful. One of my Finnish friends gave me the message about nature, comparing sisu to silence (sisu is a Finnish spirit against strong power). “Nature means more than forests or lakes. It means freedom for oneself. Sisu is the most important for Finns. But how can one respect the other’s freedom? To respect one’s own freedom and the other’s freedom, Finns are keeping silent.” It is poetic but precisely showing the Finnish behavior of silence.It says that silence is the expression to respect one’s own and other’s freedom. Silence is one core of beauty related to the idea of freedom in Finnish culture.

About “sorrow” (suru in Finnish). A Finnish pop singer-song writer Kaija Koo says the phrase: Niin kaunis on hiljaisuus, mutta kauniimpaa on kaipaus. It means: So beautiful is silence but more beautiful is longing. So, when a Finn misses another person or a place, they feel sorrow. The sense of sorrow is connected to the feeling of longing and missing. In addition, a Finnish sense of sorrow takes place in the melancholic climate of Finland, such as during cold, dark and snow etc. “Sorrow” is a general and profound concept in Finnish art, film, novel, mythology etc.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does innovation mean to you?

YK: Innovation is the attitude to look for new applications of old knowledge and the one to create new concepts by mixing more than two different concepts and cultures.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who do you collaborate with and where do you work? Is teamwork important to you? 

YK: To meet a person is very important for me. So I would like to cherish meeting a person. This time I collaborated with Finnish painter Katja Tukiainen in Cable Factory, Helsinki. I met her in Cable Factory in 2009 coincidentally, when I was walking around the Cable Factory. She was very kind to me even though I didn’t know her at all at that time. She talked to me friendly about Japan and her exhibition in Yokohama, Japan. I think that meeting is sometimes coincidental but often meaningful. I would like to cherish such a meeting. For the collaboration it is important for me to have a similar concepts, and to be able to share ideas. It is important for me to make collaboration beyond your own culture and to create something new from it. I have collaborated with artists such as painters, sculptors and printmakers. For the future I am interested in collaborating with not only artists but also with designers, anthropologists, philosophers, children, and with ordinary people to be transforming my art.

yasushi-koyama-walking-cat-with-tshirt-by-katja-tukiainen-2016-birch-house-paint-156-x-72-x-71-cm
Yasushi Koyama, Walking cat, T-shirt collaboration with Katja Tukiainen, 2016, birch, paint, 152 x 72 x 71 cm.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have an opinion about Kusama’s works, she is now extremely popular in the West. How do you like the exhibition in Helsinki at the moment?

In my opinion Kusama’s exhibition includes an important concept of interdisciplinarity, the roles of post colonial and gender in the contemporary art world. So it is natural for the West to accept her art. And her exhibition shows not only art but also an idea to share an experience of her art with visitors. It means that her art works are not only objects but also the image of her art, spirit and that of the contemporary culture. Her exhibition goes beyond art and connects with people in the gallery space to share their experiences. From this point of view, the visitors can participate in her exhibition. And I find that her paintings have an influence coming from native art and aboriginal art. Then, I think that her dot art includes not only pop art but also biological consideration of a cell, Shintoism and neo animism. I imagine that those concepts are fresh and still new to the West. So I admire HAM (Helsinki Art Museum) to have her exhibition.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does Kusama have an approach that can be applied to other things, or could there be a recipe for a good idea to be developed further. There seems to be something that makes people really want to participate in it?

YK: Yayoi Kusama was the world’s most popular artist in 2014. And she is still one of the most popular artist in 2016. I think that the quality of this exhibition is among the top of the world. And her exhibition has been already developed by the point of visitor’s participation, comparing it to her exhibition that I saw in Matsumoto, Japan in 2003. It would be possible for her to use 5 senses to prompt visitors to participate in her art, such as the sense of touch, the sense of smell and auditory sense.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you think that art should be more sensorial, and available for people to touch?

YK: Yes, at least for me. I think touching art is a much deeper experience than seeing art. I make my large animal wooden sculptures (about 160 x 80 x70 cm) to be touchable and huggable. It is a hands-on way of “interactive art” in a sense that visitors also take action towards the art. And it is also “participation art” as you are touching and hugging a sculpture in the exhibition gallery space or in the public space. The importance of touching art is also connected to the internet period or described as a post-internet period. Although we can see a lot of images through internet, we can’t get a sense of touch through internet as well. So the sense of touch is a strong point attached to my animal sculptures. The feeling of a wood material is little warm and nice to human body. My animal sculptures have been already in some public places as public art. It gives people happiness and experiences in a way that they participate in a society through art.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is there a line between art and design in contemporary art or does there have to be?

YK: For me such a line is not so meaningful in our contemporary time. Design can be art and art can be design. I think that art and design have an effect on each other especially here in Helsinki.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are you planning next, do you have new ideas and exhibitions coming up? 

YK: My next exhibition is coming soon 23.11-18.12.2016 in Galleria AARNI in Espoo, Finland. The concept is “Cute” –between SÖPÖ and Kawaii. I mix Finnish cuteness “SÖPÖ” with Japanese cuteness “Kawaii” in my art. In Japan “Kawaii” (= the quality of cuteness) has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture. This term Kawaii has taken on the secondary meanings of cool, groovy, charming and innocent. The book “Kawaii Syndrome” tells “cute” and “neat” have taken precedence over the former Japanese aesthetics of “beautiful” and “refined”. So cuteness is a new cultural wave of Japanese postwar generation especially of the ones born in 70’s and 80’s. This cultural wave has come to Europe particularly through Manga and Anime. For the design of my animal wood sculptures I use Finnish wood, and the Finnish cuteness of SÖPÖ is inspired by Finnish art and design. In the exhibition visitors can see ”Cute” animal sculptures, touch & hug a large sculpture ”Panda Papa & Child”. I am hoping the audiences will enjoy Yasushi Koyama’s world of cute animals in the exhibition coming to Galleria AARNI.

***

yasushi-koyama-photo-by-ayana-palander
Yasushi Koyama, photo by Ayana Palander

Artist profile: http://www.kuvataiteilijamatrikkeli.fi/en/artists/3620

Director Simen Braathen discusses ARCTIC SUPERSTAR

Norwegian documentary film director and advertising professional, Simen Braathen introduced his new doc ARCTIC SUPESTAR to audiences in New York City last week. His documentary about a Sámi rapper SlinCraze had the screening and a concert by the rapper at the United Nations as part of the Forum on Indigenous Issues. The film opened the Films From North program at the Tromsø International Film Festival earlier this year receiving a well-deserved welcome. US VICE Magazine described it as “one of the best music documentaries” of 2016.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you start doing documentary films originally, did you plan on becoming a director as a career choice, or did it just happen?

Simen Braathen: ARCTIC SUPERSTAR is my debut film and it was something I stumbled into 4 years ago. I was working in advertising in New York at the time and as a side project, photographer Martin Johansen and I wanted to make a photo exhibition that portrayed Norwegian rappers and the places they represent. You know, instead of reppin’ Brooklyn, Bronx or Compton, you would have rappers throwing up their signs on top of mountains and fjords.

That’s when we came across SlinCraze – who was not only living in one of strangest, most desolate places I’d ever been, but he was also rapping in this ancient language less than 20.000 people speak. So we brought DOP Kristoffer Kumar for the trip and made a short doc.

At the exhibition opening the year after, the short film earned way more attention than we could ever dream of. With both Huffington Post and BBC showing up to cover it. That’s when we knew that the story might be strong enough for a real doc. Since then it has been a learning-by-doing-kind of process, but luckily I’ve had some very experienced people helping me through.

What is your background and education, you studied Social Anthropology at NTNU?

SB: I’ve also studied creative writing and advertising in Oslo, and moved to the States after graduating, where I spent three years in Colorado and New York. Now. Besides making documentaries I also run a small creative shop called BRUNCH OSLO.

How did you eventually find about SlinCraze? 

SB: I knew a couple of Sámi rappers from before, but I was really caught off guard when I first hear SlinCraze’s music. His flow and technique were way better than I ever expected. And his mix of traditional Sámi music with raw hip-hop makes you forget the fact that you have no idea what he’s saying.

Did you know much about the indigenous Sámi people and their culture in Norway before starting to make this documentary?

SB: No, sadly most Norwegians know very little about the Sámi people and the things we do know are usually based on stereotypes. Even current journalism from that region tends to ask the same cliché, preconceived questions. I think what made our process a little different was that we were first and foremost interested in music and we shared so many musical references we could connect through. To explore this part of the world and being able to hang out with some really cool people have been a major motivation for making this film.

In this documentary, the Sámi rapper from Finnmark, Norway is on a mission. Nils Rune Utsi has recently gained a lot of visibility with the definition of a guy wanting to save the language, previously gaining audiences in Norway from all ages. How was the ARCTIC SUPERSTAR screening last week in New York City? 

SB: Great! It was such an honor to be able to show it both at the United Nations and at the Scandinavia House last week. It was fun to see that people here responded to the same things as the audience in Norway, cause you never know if things will get lost in translation or in cultural differences.

This is the 15th time that the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues was held at the UN. There were more than 1,200 indigenous representatives from around the world attending to promote indigenous rights. One of the participants, Aili Keskitalo, the President of the Sámi Parliament of Norway, was introducing the screening and the SlinCraze concert on May 10th.

ArcticSuperstar_Nils Rune Utsi
Arctic Superstar aka SlinCraze

What can you say about the German and European responses that you’ve had with the film, would Europeans know more about the subject, and about their indigenous people?

SB: No, I don’t believe they do, but I think there is something universal about coming from a small place, like SlinCraze does it dreaming big dreams. And I think that is what the audiences recognize and have roots for.

Did hip hop change Norway essentially, can you say it is much different there than in America?

SB: I’m not sure how or if it has changed the country, but we’ve had a huge hip-hop scene for many years. Some of our best selling and most influential artists today have their background in hip-hop. One of the things I really like about hip-hop, is that it can be so local. Even in a small country like ours we have subgenres that vary based on where you come from.

You have career experiences from branding and advertising industries, how is advertising different from making documentaries, do you find it useful to have expertise in both fields so that one gives to the other?

SB: The creative process is the same. You plant a seed and make sure it grows into it’s full potential. But the time and money you have in making, is obviously very different. As a creative I’ve really enjoyed mixing the two, because making a documentary is such a slow game, and whenever I felt like nothing happened I could turn into advertising. At the same time, advertising can feel pointless at times when clients turn your ideas into crap. So then I would go back to my film where I was in control.

There is always a lot of curiosity around the Cannes lion prizes. What is your personal opinion, what do you generally think of prizes and awards and their role in the making of your works?

SB: I personally couldn’t care less about advertising awards and I’ll never understand why people spend more time making case studies for their work, than the actual work. But I guess that’s how a lot of the industry works, how people get promoted and agencies win business.

How do you usually fund the projects, is Norwegian support for film good and beneficial?

SB: I don’t know so much about this. It’s is probably more of a question for my producer Stig Andersen at Indie Film in Norway.

Do you see yourself as an artist; are documentary filmmakers considered to be artists, and how do they talk about art in the advertising industry?

SB: No, I don’t. I think documentaries sometimes can turn into art in the end, but I never like the ones that set out to be that from the start. The same goes for advertising. If you start by thinking you’re going to make art, you will most likely end up making shitty art that also doesn’t work as an ad.

Start with something true and make the most out of it. Then maybe it becomes something unique.   -Simen Braathen

Director Simen Braathen photo Martin Rustad Johansen
Director Simen Braathen. Photos: Martin Rustad Johansen

What is your motto of making your works in a couple of sentences?

SB: Finish it no matter what. Every creative will at some point think, “this idea sucks, I’ll wait for the next” but when you’re stubborn and push things through, you’ll never know where it might end up. In this case we ended up at the UN.

Do you have great plans for the future, any specific subject matters that are important for you at the moment?

SB: We just started developing a new project, which is about my grandpa who is 93 years old and plays in a band. Also I’m excited for some of the things we’re doing at BRUNCH, where we help companies tell genuine and more engaging stories.

Riitta Ikonen’s artistic day dreaming

Artist Riitta Ikonen traveled recently to Greenland to discover new artistic work that reflects interaction between humans and their natural environment. Her exhibition, “Glacial Reveries”, is on view at The Chimney Exhibition & Performance venue in Brooklyn until February 7th. Interestingly, the body of work touches directly a topic of glaciers and their fate in the age of the anthropocene. Reveries, then, as a form of day dreaming, means for the artist a human survival strategy during the end of the world scenario. The objects include; a wetsuit for the tip of an iceberg, a lifejacket for a brick, eroded stones tied back together with strings, a video hidden in a suit, stairs leading up to cinder block windows. Few year ago, Riitta Ikonen captivated her audiences with a collaborative photography project, Eyes as Big as Plates, which embeds something remarkable of the elderly human portraits, characterizing people among their surroundings. In this interview, the artist discusses her exhibitions, travels, artistic practice and plans.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Could you tell about this ongoing project called Eyes as Big as Plates, how did it start, develop, and so on?

Riitta Ikonen: Eyes as Big as Plates is an ongoing collaborative venture with Karoline Hjorth, a photographer with a journalism and tall-ship sailing background. We met in 2011 on an artist residency after I, in search of a collaborator, typed in: Norway+Grannies+Photographer into an Internet search engine and found Hjorth as the top search result. (She had just published a book on Norwegian grandmothers.) We met for the very first time on the doorstep of a 20 m² flat in the small town of Sandnes, southwest of Norway.

Starting out as a play on characters from Nordic folklore and the personifications of nature in the lore, Karoline and I wanted to find out what kind of connection the Norwegians had with their rocks, fjords and hills. Those hills hadn’t changed since the tales, but the people sure had. We figured that the older the local interviewee/model, the closer we would get to the talking rocks of the tales. 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 aimed to discuss the contemporary human in the nature in a similarly approachable language. After interviewing in Sandnes for two weeks, our investigation started shifting more towards imagination and Eyes as Big as Plates has evolved into a search for modern human’s belonging to nature.

Much of the western society is unnecessarily confused when it comes to the ‘usefulness’ of older people. As the project 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.

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 shops, indoor gardening society meetings, swimming pools, on the city streets etc.

The title Eyes as big as Plates refers to two Scandinavian folktales featuring respectively a goat and a dog with eyes the size of plates.

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It seems that the work was presented in multiple international places. Do you think that there were different receptions of your work that you find as constructive?

RI: I traveled to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the US last fall with Eyes as Big as Plates exhibition and was honored to witness the reactions to the photographs from of the large Finnish community. More people of Finnish descent live in the northwest part of the Upper Peninsula than anywhere else in the world outside of Finland. The images resonated with the crowd in a way that transcended borders, time and language. The Nordic spirit was redolent in the minds of the third generation Finns yearning to keep the connection to their heritage alive. Though the exhibition was small, it was one of the most moving and personal of the dozens of lectures and openings I attended last year.

After the opening of the Eyes as Big as Plates exhibition at the National Museum of Greenland, Karoline and I got to listen to Teitur from the Faroe Islands perform live at the Katuaq Center. His song ‘Home’ struck a cord in that moment and I realized there is a ‘home’ in each image for me, perhaps for others too, a universal anchoring point. Greenland was exceptional in many ways and I know that this was the first trip of many more to come.

I wish I could have attended the shows in Korea and Bogota too, but that would have required a body double. I have worked quite a bit with the Norwegians since 2011 and the Norwegian National Museum has been touring an Eyes as Big as Plates exhibition with a workshop for a couple of years now. At the opening of Fotogalleriet in Oslo, Karoline and I also got offered a chance to work on a public art commission by the Arctic Sea at Kirkkoniemi-Kirkenes, where we work on documentary portraits for a brand new hospital until 2017.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Readers of this blog are interested in the artistic language and process, are there any compelling features that make yours?

RI: The process is most often rooted in collaboration, with the current show in New York at The Chimney being a cheerful exception. The latest works consist mainly of interactive sculptures and video all of which bubbled from last October’s trip to Greenland. The pieces were produced after digesting the experiences of the spectacular land- and seascape near Nuuk, and filmed over the next three months in Finland, the Pacific Northwest and New York. The below piece of writing by Robert Smithson also accompanied me through the making process as a kind of fluid spine.

‘One’s mind and the earth are in a constant state of erosion, mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptual crystallizations break apart into deposits of gritty reason. Vast moving faculties occur in this geological miasma, and they move in the most physical way. This movement seems motionless, yet it crushes the landscape of logic under glacial reveries.’
Robert Smithson, “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects”, 1968

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you see that artistic collaborations and working with curators have formed your artistic language? Are you able to pin down, or do you have a story about how a dialogue with the art field has forwarded your career?

RI: I collaborate with people (architects, artists, photographers, sculptors, writers, postal workers etc.) to catalyze the interaction that determines the direction and the work. Unpredictability feeds my practice and keeps the process interesting.

Working with courageous people is necessary for progress.  My solo show ‘Glacial Reveries’ in NY is far wilder than I could have imagined with the fearless support and insight from the curator, Clara Darrason. She encouraged me to follow my initial plan of making the gallery goers walk under water, on the bottom of the ocean with the water level up in the ceiling. We also ended up installing a 25-foot tall iceberg in the show.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are you currently based in New York City, and do you have specific plans for staying and working here?

RI: I am currently on an airplane, and spend a great deal of time in transit. I am based in Kouvola with restless feet. I just met up with Tiina Itkonen in Helsinki who has done a life’s work in Greenland and it is only a matter of time that I will return there! I was hoping to go to Mexico City, where I have works at the Material Art Fair, in March, there are also the RCA Secret exhibitions and sales in London and Dubai, but again- I am restrained by this one body only.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you consider yourself a Finnish artist, are there any particular ways to designate and identify with your country of origin?

RI: I am a Finnish artist and I feel it pulsates strongly in my work and me. I receive a tremendous amount of support from Finland, whether it is from the brilliant network of Finnish Cultural Institutes around the world, Consulate staff, Cultural foundations, or curators. Most often as a Finn, you are only two steps (at most) away from a fellow creative countryman. This network is incredibly loyal and operates on a penetrable scale- a truly privileged situation however you look at it.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As mentioned, your current project and exhibition, Glacial Reveries is on display at The Chimney in Brooklyn. How did you find yourself going to Greenland to do a project there?

RI: It was a lifelong dream to go to Greenland; it was also the last Nordic country I hadn’t worked in. My collaborator Karoline Hjorth and I decided ‘it shall be done’, and we compiled a list of various Greenlandic institutions to reach out to. I called a few numbers and sent some emails. I received no reply. Eventually I got used to the ‘radio silence’, but made a habit of ringing one number or another every week. Most often no one replied, sometimes a receptionist or an answering machine picked up. A year went by stubbornly. We finally made the contact when Åsa Juslin from the Finnish-Norwegian Cultural Institute in Oslo, introduced us to Mats Bjerde and Mette Hein from NAPA (The Nordic Institute in Greenland), who were organizing Nuuk Nordisk Festival in the capital. After Åsa’s email, the ball started rolling.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is a topic of climate change important to your work, and how about the nature as such?

RI: Climate change discussion and open dialogue is vital and art is a good communication tool. I am a bit hesitant to talk about nature as I am coming to think that there is no such thing. There are just us in our surroundings, whatever those may be. The idea of nature might be just as manmade as Shopkins. Either way, to acknowledge that you are not separated from your surroundings can be a way to get the most real picture of the world available to us. (Timothy Morton has written interestingly on that)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Is art political to you and if so, how?

RI: ‘The personal is political’ as it was once aptly put.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Did you find your artistic medium early on, or did you master and explore various techniques?

RI: After the wish of becoming a conveyor belt worker in a confection factory faded a little, a career as an artist was an obvious second choice. I am still exploring various techniques, and am a happy amateur. As a fish farmer living by the Arctic Sea said it very nicely last year: ‘I am a charlatan and an amateur, a typical Finnmarking who has adapted to this county of contrasts. I love what I do (Latin Amator = lover, amare = to love), unlike a professional who does something not because he loves it but to earn money. There’s a big difference. (Oddbjørn Jerijærvi)

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

RI: Go work in the desert in the spring, complete a National Park Residency, exhibition at Pielisen Museo in Northern Karelia, continue the Time is a ship that never casts anchor project in Kirkenes, Exhibitions in Germany and the Douro Valley in Portugal, Mail Art- Art Mail Show at the Finnish Postal Museum until the end of February 2016, RCA Secret in London and Dubai, Material Art Fair in Mexico City this month, More Greenland, etc.

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

 The Chimney, New York: http://www.thechimneynyc.com/

Nordic nature: light and darkness represented

”As one follows the lines drawn at the map, across the light blue surfaces, further north, twists and turns, further north, straight lines, still north. This is where I see myself, at the island furthest north, at the North End, standing at the northernmost cliff, facing the North Sea.” (Tonje Bøe Birkeland/Lumiére, from Papa Westray in Orkney Isles, 1900)

Darkness & Light contemporary Nordic photography –exhibition just opened on February 22nd at the Scandinavia House in New York City. Norwegian Tonje Bøe Birkeland’s photograph, displayed above, is part of her project that reflects how she takes on the role of fictional photographer Luelle Magdalon Lumiére (1873-1973), and recreates an imaginary journey to the Orkney Islands. Birkeland’s project travels back in time.  Her art combines photographs and texts, and she is also writing letters to Lumiére who as a traveler explored ie. western parts of Norway and New York. The artwork is an interesting dialogue between past and present, that is encompassing two life stories. Yet the images appear dreamlike hovering between fiction and reality.

Two captivating photographers in the exhibit are from Iceland. Bára Kristinsdóttir’s Hot Spots’ photography-series portray Iceland’s geothermally heated greenhouses. Her style owes to Dutch Golden Age still lifes. Her photographs play with opposites, such as light and dark, cold and hot, indoor and outdoor, natural and artificial.  Kristinsdóttir shows interest in nature photography, and so does Pétur Thomsen, another Icelandic photographer. He takes, yet, a more critically environmental stance with his works. His ‘Imported Landscape’ project is based on his visits (since 2003) to a Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant, a construction site on the east coast of Iceland. The artificial lake and the construction project have spoiled the biggest wild nature in Europe. Environmentalists have been fighting for the preservation of the wild nature. The voices supporting the project discuss about the need to use the energy from the nature. Thomsen’s photographic project has explored this debate, as he has documented the transformation of the landscape.

Bara Kristinsdottir - Hot Spots2(above: Bára Kristinsdóttir ‘Hot Spots’ 4, 2004 From the series Hot Spots R print, 47 1/5 x 39 1/3 in. (120 x 100 cm), courtesy of the artist)

Pétur Thomsen Imported Landscape AL3_9a(above: Pétur Thomsen ‘Imported Landscape AL3_9a’, Kárahnjúkar, Iceland, 2003 Pigment print, 43 1/3 x 55 in. (110 x 140 cm) Courtesy of the artist)

Darkness & Light: Contemporary Nordic Photography will run through April 26, 2014. The exhibition focuses on a diverse selection of recent photographic works displaying a selection of over 30 works by 10 emerging and established photographers. The artists from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden, (two from each Nordic country) are:

Thora Dolven Balke, Tonje Bøe Birkeland, JH Engström, Joakim Eskildsen, Ulla Jokisalo, Bára Kristinsdóttir, Tova Mozard, Nelli Palomäki, Katya Sander, and Pétur Thomsen.

The exhibition aims to display ”the ways in which light—and the lack thereof—informs the practice of contemporary Nordic photographers. The exhibit  demonstrates the breadth and strength of Nordic photography today.”

The exhibition is organized by leading figures in the world of Nordic photographic art.

More information found on the  Scandinavia House: The Nordic Center in America’s website