In 2018, a New York City poet Olena Jennings created poetry based on her family’s stories, attempting to visualise photography with words. The poems that resemble photography, carry them as frameworks of memory. In Olena Jenning’s THE MEMORY PROJECT:The memory comes before the poem. The poem comes before the art.
“I chose ink and paper for the poems. I chose fabric for the art. The poems are a small slice of time in which I experienced memories, many based on photographs in my grandparents’ photo album. I experienced the memories in 2018 and they were embellished by memories I was creating as I lived.”
Red and blue on the dresser,
dust in the folds,
stretching towards the dim lamp.
Click of lipstick cap,
spritz of perfume,
snap of purse,
and she will turn the light off.
The flowers will wither
into their dreams
and I will put my lips
into their centers,
ready to blow away pollen.
The yellow dust caught in my eyes,
when I see for a moment
from her perspective, I look out
onto the yard. I see myself
throwing a rubber ball into the flowers,
crushing their petals,
the place where I convinced
my little brother there was a snake,
there was something to fear.
To make up for my deception,
I gave him one of the plastic flowers,
deceiving him again, pretending
I bought it at the corner gas station
from which we had collected all
of our dishes with the points we got
from pumping gas. I want to make up
more than that now—absences
when I would become like that yellow dust,
a quiet star.
PAPER MAPS Olena Jennings
Even flat maps have texture.
They carry with them
someone’s memory of the streets.
I will walk near the water
to draw the places off the map
on the palm of my hand.
We used to make paper
out of recycled letters,
for a moment – wet,
on our knees
We mark our way to the castle
with the handle of a shovel.
We could live inside
our fairytale, find our way
despite the sand
in our eyes.
Poems and dresses by Olena Jennings. Photos of the dresses by Elvis Krajnak.
Finnish contemporary composer, oboist and music pedagogue Riikka Talvitie is an artist greatly influenced by her audience. She believes that the audience and community have an impact so important that there is a need for new notions of authorship and agency in music. Her compositions are brought into practice in performances, and so the discussion of the community’s role in collaboration is relevant. As a woman composer, Talvitie also wears an activist hat in society. Women are still in the margins as art music composers.
There are topics and ideas that Talvitie is ready to discuss more, and she collaborates with artists of many genres. She is currently in the process of doing her artistic doctorate in music at the Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts in Helsinki.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you pick oboe as your instrument?
Riikka Talvitie: As a child, I lived in Kerava, in a small town near Helsinki. When I was seven years old I started to play piano in a local music school which was founded in those years. (This autumn I am composing a piece for the 40-years celebration.)
When I was around 14-years old I asked our music teacher if I could start to play oboe in a school orchestra. In the orchestra, there was also an older student, oboist, who started to teach me. I didn’t know how difficult it was to start the instrument.
Later after school, I did entrance examination for Sibelius Academy with both instruments. I got in with oboe, which was a sort of coincidence. I also started to read mathematics at the University.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How much did your own instrument define and influence your creations in the early face of your career?
RT: I just did a video work Self-Portrait which is dealing with this question. The main thematic issue of the work is a relationship between a composer and a musician. I am performing both persons at the same time, so I am discussing with myself. I am also improvising some bodily exercises with the oboe. (See the video here https://fmq.fi/articles/composer-at-work-a-critical-self-portrait)
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What else in your musical training and background created who you are, and what made you choose composing?
RT: I chose a high school, which was specialized in performing arts. All my friends had something to do with theatre, cinema, literature or dance. So while I was studying oboe playing I composed and improvised music to theatre plays and short movies. I was quite enthusiastic with these projects so I took composition as a secondary subject.
I was also quite interested about contemporary music in general. I played myself a lot and I was visiting many festivals.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many years ago was this, and how has your career path evolved?
RT: I had my first composition lesson in 1994 in a summer course with Jouni Kaipainen and Magnus Lindberg. At that time I had lots of ideas and plans but no craftsmanship or technical skills. After the course I started to study really seriously.
The world might have been a bit different place in the 90’s because I was able to study composition quite long at the Sibelius Academy after I had graduated with oboe.
I have also been twice in Paris. First time I was studying oboe and composition at the conservatory of Paris. And the second time I was following one-year-course of music technology at Ircam.
Finally when I got my first child, in 2004, I stopped playing oboe because I didn’t have time to practise and travel anymore. In the video work I am quite strict to myself and ask: why did you stop playing? You did not think about your career? The answer is not that simple. This autumn I have some oboe performances coming so I am still dealing with the same question.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What words describe your music?
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What kinds of themes do you usually develop in your compositions?
RT: Many themes and interests have changed during the years. When I was younger I got excited with mathematical ideas. Abstract world without social intrigues fascinated me in many ways. Then I have worked a lot with texts – poems, plays etc.
Nowadays, I am more into political and critical themes. I have a feeling that concert music is repeating some kind of old ritual where the most creative ideas are forbidden. Many things are not allowed, socially and aesthetically. I find this quite contradictory to the main purpose of art.
At this moment, my goals are more interactive and communal. I am preparing an artistic research about shared authorship and communality in a composer’s practice.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are there ways to categorize contemporary music? Do contemporary works differ from modern music, say in tonality, and in aesthetical ways?
RT: I just read an interesting book Music After the Fall: Modern Composition and Culturesince 1989 by Tim Rutherford-Johnson. The writer argues that contemporary music is not anymore so much linked to modernism as we tend to think. instead, it should be analysed in the context of globalization, digitization and new media. He starts the new era from the year 1989. I recommend this book to all composers and musicians who are trying to define the state of contemporary music scene today.
I see some trends among composers. The growing use of video and multimedia is now very common in concerts all over. Also the question of material is changing. In modernism a composer created his/her own material on which the composition was built. Now, there is more liberal relation to musical material which can vary from different musical styles to short samples of already existing music or sound.
One of the most important changes is the effect of social media. All the composers are marketing and presenting their works openly in the internet. It gives composers freedom to find their own paths but on the other hand it feels like a global competition of recognition.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Does being a woman composer mean something special to you?
RT: Yes, it means a lot. I am a feminist, in a way. I strongly support equality and diversity in the society and correspondingly in the music field.
These values are unfortunately missing in the project of canonizing composers and art works. I am interested in artists who are left outside the canon. A year ago, I was presenting a work by Ethel Smith, a British composer from the beginning of 20th century. She was not mentioned in our music history classes in my youth. And how many others are there?
While doing my artistic research, I have many times wondered why the different waves of feminism haven’t left almost any imprint on art music composition. In Finnish composers society there are still only 10 % female composers. If we think about what happened in performance and video art in the 60’s and 70’s there were lots of artists participating in the happenings for sexual emancipation. At the same time, among contemporary music we just invented new composition techniques 🙂
I have also considered this question while teaching. What values do we forward to the next generation?
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland has a woman composing star, Kaija Saariaho, who is also well-known in New York City music world. Do you think she has developed a way for others to follow?
RT: Kaija Saariaho has an important role in Finnish music life, for sure, and in that sense her career is a sort of example for woman composers. She is also really warm and gentle person towards colleagues, especially for young students.
On the other hand, Kaija is presenting quite traditional image of a composer. Her career is based on international reputation, large commissions, prizes and so on. This position is actually quite hierarchical, and mythical.
There are plenty of artists who don’t want an individual international status. They want to work in working groups or in a pedagogical field. We are different. In that point of view Kaija is not a role model for all Finnish female composers.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are your key influences as a composer, and how do you conceptually start your works?
RT: Every project is slightly different but I still try to give some concrete examples. I start every composition by discussion with other people who are involved. I try to figure out who is playing, what skills musicians have, what are the interests of a producer, what is the schedule, what else is performed in the same concert, is there a musical theme like era or an ideological theme like protection of seas etc. For me it is really important that musicians and performers are fully engaged in the big picture.
I also collaborate quite a lot with other artists. In those situations I normally wait a moment and listen to others. I feel that I have much to learn because contemporary music has been so isolated in the abstract world for a long time. I am also curious about ideas and opinions of my audience. Also different audiences like non-musicians, children, teenagers etc.
When I start to compose I spend a lot of time looking for suitable material for each situation. I sit at the piano and try out things. I look for certain ”constraints or boundaries” for each project. Almost always, I meet the musicians and give some sketches to play. Lately, I have increased to send demos while I am working, just to open up the process and get feedback.
I consciously think composing as an ongoing collaboration.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is the composition process for you like, how long do you usually develop a work?
RT: I like to work slowly and develop ideas with other people.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many solo instrumental works have you composed so far, how about chamber music and orchestral works?
My works in numbers:
– 4 operas
– 1 radio-opera
– 8 works for orchestra
– 14 choir works
– 18 songs
– 12–15 chamber works
– 5 solos
– 1 radiophonic work
– pedagogical works
– theatre projects
– short movies
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Recently you have also worked with opera. Could you tell more about these projects?
RT: I have recently composed two operas. The first one is called The Judge’s Wife which is based on TV script written by Caryl Churchill at the time of IRA terrorist attacks 1972. The text deals with the power structures of social classes and the difference between terrorism and a revolutionary act.
The opera was carried out as a cross-art performance with some additional text and documentary video material by its director Teemu Mäki. The performance was closer to contemporary theater or live art than traditional opera. It included music, drama, videos, texts, humour and also a meal, vichyssoise soup, which is also written into the libretto (http://www.teemumaki.com/theater-judgeswife.html).
The second opera Queen of the cold land was a radio opera commissioned by Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle-radio). The libretto is a sort of rewriting of the Kalevala – a present-day version of some abstract life situations. The aim of the working group was to look at the Kalevala from a socio-historical point of view. Kalevala is not qualified as a source of Finnish mythology because the mythical images of folk poems have been transformed and merged into new entities by Elias Lönnrot. Lönnrot’s goal was not only to collect poems and to propose them as a coherent epic, but the goals went together with the nationalist idea to create a common image of the past, customs and culture of the Finnish people.
The opera is dealing with several issues like diversity, sexual identity, nationality and naming. As a composer, I would state that the main theme of the musical narration is nationalism or rather the future of national states. This theme is presented in the musical material.
The music consists of orchestral music, chamber music, operatic and folk singing combined with radiophonic possibilities. The composition is based on a variety of materials. The most extensive material consists of national anthems by different states and people. In addition to these I use folk music, war songs, wedding anthems and lullabies.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In Finland, composers like Jean Sibelius are master voices in the classical music world, for their emancipatory approach of voicing national myths, and yet speaking to broad international audiences. Sibelius is a widely known European composer in the United States with his Finlandia, and Violin concerto. Has this tradition created a sense of your own status as a composer who has Finnish roots?
RT: As an answer to this question, I just tell that have composed a chamber opera called One seed, one sorrow – conversations with Aino Sibelius. Aino was a wife of Jean Sibelius. At least it was an other perspective to the question of national heroes.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: We met in Lapland in 2007, while doing a nature piece in Pyhatunturi. Do you still get inspired while spending time in nature?
RT: I am really worried about nature and by that – also inspired. This year I work with several pieces which are processing nature and particularly climate change.
Last spring, I carried out a project called Heinä (Grass) with playwright Pipsa Lonka. It was performed in Silence Festival in Lapland. The performance contained images that a grass had drawn. I tried to read or interpret those images by composing them for bass clarinet and voice. The performance took place in an old cottage with smoke and a dog. The atmosphere was quite unique.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Are you critical of your own work?
RT: Of course I am critical and I would like to rewrite all my compositions but I just don’t have time for that. So let them be…
As for the future composition, I have challenged myself to ask every time ”why do I do this piece”. I feel that every art project should have a reason or meaning or aim which is something more than a commission, a commission fee, reputation or a course credit. This goal can be both an internal musical idea or external starting point. It should be something that connects our work to the surrounding society.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who gives you the best feedback?
RT: The best feedback comes from my children when they ask ”what on earth are you doing” or ”how awkward”.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is the role of commissions in your work?
RT: The art funding is quite different here in Finland than in United States. Mostly I work with small commissions by different musicians, ensembles, choirs, orchestras or festivals. However, the main income of Finnish composers comes from the working scholarships.
Some of my works are collaborations with other musicians and artists. Then we apply funding together as a working group from different foundations and institutions.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Do you have specific plans for the future?
RT: I have plenty of plans for the future. In a near future I will finish my artistic doctorate that is about shared authorship and communality. For that, I still have couple of projects to compose. After that I will devote my time to activism.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How about dreams, perhaps international presentations and residencies?
RT: An old image of a composer with a wig is quite outdated. This image contains travelling and prestige. Luckily the world has changed – women and mothers can be composer too and they don’t need to represent ”a plaster composer”.
Mainly, I don’t travel. I work nearby. I am quite often at home in the afternoons when my children come home from school. And in the evenings they have hobbies. My plan – not a dream – is to spend time in residencies after my children are grown-ups. I just need to be patient because it will take ten years still.
I don’t dream about an international career, firstly, because I like my daily local life. And, secondly, because I am at this moment interested in subjects and working methods which are rather marginal in classical music f.e. community art, live art, performance and philosophy. These are not the themes of a grand audience.
I dream about ideological aims. I hope we will see the world where the terms of consuming, owning and competing are less valued. I also hope that there would be a turn in over-consuming that finally we are saved from dystopical eco-catastrophe. I am not that worried about my own career.
RT: I have a small activist inside me who says that we should listen to different voices. So I would recommend you some other Finnish female composers here:
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.
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.
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-Onyango. Since 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.
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”.
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!
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” 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.
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.
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.
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.
Finnish artist Sirkku Ketola had her performance project A Body Called Paula at the NARS Foundation Gallery in Brooklyn in November. In Finnish the word paula means a ribbon, something to tie or to be enchanted with. It is also a synonym for a trap. Globally Paula is known as a female name, originating from the Greek word ‘Paulus’, which means small.
In her current project of ten years, Ketola creates an installation that mixes screenprinting with performance. Part installation, part performance, A Body Called Paula is a piece that develops over the days of the installation through long-duration printing sessions. The movements and their soundtrack create an enchanting, sensual machine with the main themes of time and temporality, pleasure, and the meditative process of working.
The narrative story behind the performance hunts beauty through the themes of light, passion, knowledge, reality, and depth, finally balanced out by darkness. What is the measure of time? Ornament is a universal form of visual art in every culture. The installation at NARS is part of Sirkku Ketola’s long-term project. For the duration of ten years ‘A Body Called Paula’ produces hand printed ornaments, or ribbons.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What comes to mind, when you think about your project Paula is that it is so clearly beyond the visual practice, or enhances the physicality of the practice. What is so intriguing is how you dive into the embodiment and stretching of the paper. Is it that the body becomes a continuation of the paper in the printing process, as if being one with the paper? What kind of metaphors would you like to highlight, or are being evoked in the process?
Sirkku Ketola: I guess I need touchable material to support thinking and understanding. In this case the handling of color and paper together with challenging technical crafting, tune us as one organism, where the tempo is being set in the cohesion of the qualities of the all included matters. The strength of the body, the sensitivity of the hands and the exactness of the eyes, are sensing constantly the fragility, stretching, moistening and drying of the paper, and the consistency and volume of the ink. The local, or should I say site-specific humidity and temperature effect strongly to the functioning of this paper/colour/body formed sensual machine. Also the instant substance of the body, the general vitality, the emotional ambiance, and for example the daytime, give all some special marks, first to the performance, and second to the visual appearance of the ribbon in progress. Imprint is different during mornings and evenings, also in the beginnings and the ends of the ribbons. I have chosen the long and fragile paper to be forced to lose control. The process is too tiring to hold on it. During the series of the performance the same paper roll goes by my hands 12 times so it is impossible to dominate the quality or the crossing effects of different layers. I just must be humble, and let the ribbon teach me. Maybe the greatest thing is that the ribbons still surprise me even though I’ve been working with the same materials for years. The major errors have been avoided, but the danger of errors are constantly present – everything can be irreversibly spoiled even in the last round of printing.
Sirkku Ketola: The ornament arises on paper in stages from light to darkness. The colours (yellow/magenta/cyan/black), except being common from every home printer symbolize light, passion, knowledge, reality, depth and darkness. Step by step these colour layers, as named the elements of beauty, while mixing and uniting approach the truth, the code of life or would I say the mystery.
The hand printed ornament reminds somehow of the DNA. Basically with the repetition of same patterns, the motif is being affected continuously by the changes of the circumstances. All the variations show together endless amount of visual possibilities and diversity. At the same moment the so-called mistakes come part of the entirety and open up routes for the new beginnings.
Today we talk a lot about unmaterialized art, light and it’s different digitalized reflections. I am blown away by it also, the transfer of energy from one equipment to another accomplishes wonderful outcomes. In my own work process the need of touch, the acception of the tardiness of the body as the part of the thinking self, in other words handling with hands, have so far helped me to the deeper knowledge. I choose to cherish this special bodily tempo – it might be good for human species. When one forces oneself to stop by the slow repetition, one might also have time to understand something essential.
Sirkku Ketola: To be able to do the metamorphosis to become a sensual machine I had to create a role. My character Paula is simultaneously enraptured and trapped (in Finnish there is a sentence with both meanings, derived from the word ‘paula’ which also is a ribbon). She is a metaphor of a small human in cosmos. The name Paula comes originally from the Greek name Paulus which means small. So my Paula works with paula, with her special ribbon. Her job is to communicate visually by printing this repeating and overwhelmingly beautiful ornament. She wanders globally and communicates of the seen beauty. The previous place sets the next pattern, for example the New York effects to Paula will be seen next spring in Helsinki, Finland.
The machine is slow and time bending. It is a factory that is able to work without problems approximately four times per year. The doctor’s order has set the limit. I forget the rules always in the beginning of the new project, but now, when the Brooklyn ribbon has been finished, the pain in my hands is there and that makes calming down easy. By respecting this manual of the project, it will be possible to enjoy after ten years from now about the yet unknown massive installation, which is made of these forty different and international printed ornament ribbons.
I feel extremely privileged to be able to define the speed of the assembly line. For that reason the pleasure is an important part of the performance. Paula enjoys her movements and the choreography set by the printing process. The ink flows and the paper glides with the hands accepting to follow the weight of the body. The touch varies from strong to gentle and the rhythm beats with the working steps. The birth of the image feeds the will to come along to the anonymous destination. The possibility for sudden challenges forces the printer into the extreme concentration and to overcome difficulties and accept the errors. With the physicality, the mental part is also reacting all the time to the present. The chosen repetition grows thinking and developes strong pleasure.
Firsindindigo&Lifestyle: How do you prepare for the performance of this scale, which is almost a marathon? What is the preparatory phase like, and what happens during the performance aftermath?
Sirkku Ketola: During the performing period I take specially good care of myself. I try to do the outdoor activities daily, sleep enough and eat healthier. I try also to avoid the evening happenings and alcohol. The preparation for the performance takes mentally the whole day, but the most intense are the two hours before the show. The soundtrack of the performance follows me since morning. I’d like to highlight, the sound scape of my music and the noise of the printing table are essential elements of the performance. When arriving to the show space I tend to eat lightly and drink a lot of water. After it is time to check all the technical equipments and to mix the printing inks, the hue and the saturation needs to be done carefully. I have a special ritual order to do this. After this, I isolate myself, warm up and slowly become my transformation to the role. Thirty minutes before the show it is time to change the costume and become Paula. She doesn’t speak. The aftermath of the show is quick, washing the make up and changing the clothes are rapid, so I’m soon ready to communicate with the world again as myself. Before leaving I clean the colours and check all the technical details for the next day. When arriving home I stretch well and take a warm shower, except in Finland my choice is sauna.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How is New York as a place different, and this performance venue special, in terms of what is their impact on the quality and outcome of the work? How is the location different from the rest, say, Canada or Finland where you also created this performance piece?
Sirkku Ketola: The place impacts mainly how the performance is being installed. I like different spaces because they challenge the art work and keep it impossible to predict. The space in NARS in Sunset Park in Brooklyn is many ways special. First, it is near the Finntown, where there was a strong community of Finnish emigrants. During today’s new emigrations flow it felt important to mark the difficult roots of my own country. Second, the size of the gallery was perfect for the project. It fit there well, both visually and functionally. Third, the space is in the building, which is full of working artists, situated in the middle of the industrial Brooklyn. Where else should the sensual machine be? I came to New York as a visiting artist-in-residence of Finnish Cultural Institute for two months. My main goal was to research the structures of the money and power in the contemporary art scene. Beyond A Body Called Paula –project I started to sketch the new large-scale print installation referring to this research theme. The work will be produced during next three years. My colleagues in Brooklyn taught me a lot about independent artists’ living at the capital of contemporary art (NYC).
The physical dimensions and the quality of the NARS space gave the rhythm for the installation when growing during the performances. The intimate gallery of the Sunset Park made possible to the paper ribbon to take a shape of a visually fine zig zag when it landed to dry to the perches I mounted. Also the rest of the visual elements of the performance found their places to create a dynamic composition. There was space for Paula to move and the audience was able to have several standpoints. The space was also photogenic with A Body Called Paula – and that’s important in our social media time.
This was the fourth time and the fourth place for Paula. In Toronto it was seen in a gallery with the long hallway. There the magic of Paula worked like in the story of the Pied Piper, when people saw the action from far, they just had to reach to the space. In Helsinki Paula measured the huge hall in Cable Factory during the five hours marathon performance. And in Turku, Finland she worked behind the lightened window in the darkness of the first autumn evenings by the riverside. And in Brooklyn she captured the industrial space around the other artists. I believe that during the next ten years, Paula can capture many different structures and spaces as rich as she has done in her first year of the process. The big scale quality will be seen in the end of the whole process. All in all, these places are valuable treasures for me, and will affect the final installation.
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Next time A Body Called Paula will be seen in Helsinki in March 2018. After that Sirkku Ketola travels mostly in Central Europe. She will be back in New York City during autumn 2019.
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The screenprints made in New York have been prepared at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop: http://www.efanyc.org
Ernest Hemingway once said, “In every port in the world, at least two Estonians can be found”. This is also true about New York, where more than a few community members share their Estonian House, New Yorgi Eesti Maja. The New York Estonian Educational Society was founded in 1929. As a great coincidence, and as a brilliant and thoughtful part of the Performa 17 biennial, which took place from November 1 to 19, Estonian artist Flo Kasearu created a nostalgic ode to this members’ club house. Her site-specific performance tour guided groups through different rooms of the house. Her artist-led tour highlighted the very house’s past, changing its authentic traditional feeling into an updated stage, in which the local members themselves took part in the performing. All staged and directed by Flo Kasearu.
Kasearu runs also an artmuseum in her native Estonia. In Tallinn, visitors can book special guided tours in the Flo Kasearu House Museum. The historic wooden house belonged to the artist’s family from the time of its construction.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your great great-grandmother was building the house in which you live now in Tallinn. How did that heritage inspire you to pick up the idea of bringing performative component of your family house to New York Estonian House?
Flo Kasearu: Both of my great great grandparents built the house. (I just have a photo of my great grandmother, so I mentioned her in the tour).
While living there since 2009, and getting involved with so many domesticity issues and problems of living in an over 100-year-old house, many ideas have grown out of the problems. I like to solve my problems through artistic practice, turning them into objective artworks. So I established a Flo Kasearu House Museum in the house, which is open by appointment only. I do guided tours to visitors through the house and its garden. Otherwise it would be difficult to find artworks from the middle of my everyday things.
The house tour is a sight-specific art project, and as such it’s difficult to transport it elsewhere. I can partly exhibit the tour, or works from it somewhere else.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How long ago was it when your family built the house, and how did Tallinn preserve its old buildings during the times of the Soviet Union?
FK: The house was built in 1911 and my museum and the tours started in 2013.
During the Soviet era, most of the private property was nationalised and belonged to the state. After 1991, 20 year-long restitution started taking place, during which the property was given back to successors of original lawful owners. Houses that belonged to the city were taken care by the renters. City of Tallinn, for example, did not put any money into renovating them. During the restitution process houses were in a legal loophole in terms of their ownership, and thus were not dealt with by the renters, as they thought that any original lawful owners could come back and take the houses over.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you end up doing a similar kind of tour in New York at the Estonia house as part of Performa 17?
FK: Just the method of being a tour guide is the same anywhere, and talking about the history of my museum house is also the same. But otherwise it is a very different project.
‘The Members Only tour’ (Performa 2017 project), is a sight-specific work for New York Estonian House and its community. As I am not a big performer, I did not want to perform it on stage. So doing the guided tour seemed a logical method. The work also included the community members participating in the performance. Guiding people to go through the house, and then becoming like a tour guide in a museum which New York Estonian House is in a way. Everything in the house looks so authentic to its original times and everything is based on old traditions and rituals.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle:Do you feel that NYC local community members joined your project easily? From an audience member viewpoint everything seemed going smoothly and appeared well rehearsed.
FK: I took the time to talk with them, listen their stories, so then it was not too difficult to convince them to join. I got recommendations from one member to talk to another member, and then it developed on until I had enough members to invite. I had two ladies cancelling in a last-minute, for example an older lady’s husband got so sick that she had to take care of him and she could not join in the end. But luckily I had also backup members in mind.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You’re a multidisciplinary artist in the true sense. Did performance enter into your working methodology from the very start of your practice?
FK: I started doing video-performances while I was an exchange student in UDK, Berlin. I was in Rebecca Horn studio, a performance and installation artist, and she told me that there is no point for me to paint for her, as she doesn’t know much to comment on painting. I started doing video-performances, relating myself and my Eastern European identity with this new city and new space. So from that time I have been doing performances once in a while.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In New York City, the visual components in ‘The Members Only’ tour were really stretching the context of the Estonian House in a unique way. How did the imagination for the ‘sets’ evolve?
FK: They are a combination of ideas that evolve from speaking with people and wanting to bring them and their stories to this very abstract and minimal level. And mixing them with some of my older haunting ideas. It is very sight-specific. And I wanted to bring also humour and irony level in, as I felt this is really lacking in this house.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Now thinking also how the music room was evolving, with the grand piano in it. In your tour, you mentioned that behind the doors there is a choir practice going on, but the scene was so surprising?
FK: My point was not to repeat the same things that are happening in the house otherwise regularly. I went to see the choir rehearsal happening there, and I noticed the choir teacher who is such a strong character putting also chairs. So I wanted to highlight the choir teacher and show her alone. I have had this kissing-ticking sound long time haunting in my head and I thought to display this in the room as it is kind of abstraction from the emotions that I felt in the choir rehearsal.
For example, in the choir singing room, instead of singing patriotic songs, the notes are made of this kissing-ticking, which has similar emotion and a character being nostalgic, but abstracted. And then the humor comes in, with over-reacting with this kissing note, and this way it’s also more open to interpretation.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Going back to Estonia. How would you describe the Estonian contemporary art scene today?
FK: Its tiny but rather interesting. Some years ago art used to be dealing more with the social and political problems, now it is much more in its comfort zone. Although the fees in Estonian art are still quite minimal. The younger generation is more similar to Western formalistic approach, seems to me.
The Eye of the Beholder: Julia Pastrana’s Long Journey Home is a new book edited by Laura Anderson Barbata and Donna Wingate. The essay collection sheds light on the life of historic sensation, Mexican international performer Julia Pastrana, expanding the storyfrom anthropological and art historical perspectives. The book can also be viewed as a personal story of discovery. Artist and writer Laura Anderson Barbata remembers her own process of starting the project that eventually led to this book. How she got engaged in the controversial subject propels ideas of activism, and a passion to rewrite Pastrana’s history from new humanitarian and feminist points of view.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you originally get interested in Pastrana’s life?
Laura Anderson Barbata: In 2003, Amphibian Stage Productions, a theater company directed by my sister Kathleen Culebro, invited me to collaborate with designs for a play that they were about to premiere in New York: The True History of the Tragic Life and the Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World, by Shaun Prendergast. This is how I learned about Julia Pastrana. The story, unfolding in complete darkness, details the life of Julia as she traveled through Europe, a performer in a freak show, until her death in Moscow. It also briefly recounts the fate of her mummified body, and that of her baby, until they were added to the Schreiner Collection of human remains in the anatomy department of the University of Oslo. Upon hearing her story, I felt that my duty as a Mexican artist, and as a human being, was to do everything possible to have Pastrana removed from the anatomy collection and returned to Mexico, her place of birth—where she was at the time practically unknown—to receive a proper burial.
After nearly ten years of effort, Julia Pastrana was finally transferred to Mexican officials in Norway; I represented Mexico. After more than 150 years of being exhibited for her unique physical condition, Ms. Pastrana (1834–1860) was repatriated to Mexico and buried in Sinaloa, Mexico in 2013.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It’s been really a longitudinal project for you personally. How did you get others to get involved?
I was not the first person to request the burial of Julia Pastrana and have often asked myself, why was I able to succeed? Why did other efforts fail? What did I do differently? I think the answer lies in the fact that I am an artist and therefore my methodology was radically different from all others from the start. My extensive collaborative artistic experiences in Mexico, Venezuela, and Trinidad prepared me for a project of this magnitude that ultimately involved international institutions, government officials, various organizations, and scientists.
LAB: The ten-year plight for Julia’s return for burial began with letters I wrote to the National Research Ethics Committee for the Social Sciences and Humanities, the National Committee for Ethical Evaluation of Research on Human Remains of Norway, the Governor of Sinaloa in Mexico, the Foreign Affairs Department of Mexico, the University of Oslo, journalists, artists, anthropologists, individuals, and various institutions that I reached out to for their professional opinion, advice, and guidance. During this process, they became deeply involved and invested in the outcome. Each one was fundamental for the success of the repatriation and I consider them to be my collaborators.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many authors are participating in the publication that is coming out now, and what perspectives do they cover from visual and historic perspectives?
LAB: I edited the book with Donna Wingate, and it includes texts by Jan Bondeson, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Grant Kester, Nicolas Márquez-Grant, Bess Lovejoy, and myself. Donna and I researched and selected more than fifty illustrations from the public domain, library collections, archival materials, and works commissioned especially for the project.
The authors are as follows:
Dr. Jan Bondeson is a Swedish-born rheumatologist, scientist and author, working as a senior lecturer and consultant rheumatologist at the Cardiff University School of Medicine. Outside of his career in medicine, he has written several nonfiction books on a variety of topics, such as medical anomalies and unsolved murder mysteries.
As an expert on Julia Pastrana, Bondeson contributed two chapters to the book; the first is a general introduction to the story of Julia Pastrana, and the second recounts how he found her remains in the basement of the Forensic Institute of Oslo in 1988, and how his extensive research established that she suffered from hypertrichosis terminalis rather than hypertrichosis lanuguinosa, as previously believed.
Dr. Nicholas Márquez-Grant is a Specialist Forensic Practitioner in Anthropology and Archaeology at Cellmark Forensic Services, Abingdon, UK. He is also a Research Associate of the Institute of Human Sciences, University of Oxford.
His text addresses the history of collections and the anthropological framework of the nineteenth century; the ethics surrounding human remains; the case of Julia Pastrana’s repatriation and its significance; witnessing Pastrana’s body in the chapel during the repatriation process.
Rosemarie Garland-Thomson is Professor of Women’s Studies and English at Emory University. Her fields of study are feminist theory, American literature, and disability studies. Her work develops the field of disability studies in the humanities and women’s and gender studies.
Dr. Garland-Thomson’s essay considers the ways that the public display of Julia Pastrana both reinforces and challenges the lines between the self and other, human and non-human, ordinary and extraordinary, that such spectacles rely upon. By analyzing how Pastrana’s display and recent repatriation and burial in Sinaloa invest her body with different meanings, it traces the processes that socially mark human bodies in order to reveal and explicate the inner workings of representational systems, such as race, gender, ethnicity, and disability.
Grant Kester is Professor of Art History, and Director of the University Art Gallery at the University of California, San Diego. Kester is one of the leading figures in the emerging critical dialogue around “relational” or “dialogical” art practices.
Dr. Kester’s text discusses how European colonizers were unable to attach specific meaning to the objects they acquired through colonization and thus developed larger meanings for art more generally. Recovering Pastrana’s remains becomes an act of restitution that encourages a confrontation with the historical status of “stolen” objects and encourages a renegotiation of and reconnection to the understanding of the past.
Bess Lovejoy is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Ms. Lovejoy’s essay contextualizes Julia Pastrana’s afterlife by considering a number of other notable individuals whose bodies have been preserved in museums. Like Pastrana, many of these individuals possessed bodies that differed from the European norm, either because they were born with physical abnormalities or because they were of non-European ethnicities. Her chapter considers how scientific and ethical considerations complicate the collection and display of such bodies, and how some of these bodies have been the focal point of successful repatriation campaigns, while others have not.
Laura Anderson Barbata
My essay describes my own journey: the process, challenges, and partnerships that were formed as I worked for ten years for the repatriation of Julia Pastrana.
Books by Laura Anderson Barbata. Images by Firstindigo&Lifestyle.
Laura Anderson Barbata in her studio.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your own artistic research work on Pastrana has included performative phases, how are you implementing this approach on the book?
LAB: While Julia Pastrana was billed as “The Ugliest Woman in the World,” what is most important to mention is that she was a gifted mezzo-soprano and dancer—she was a very successful performer during her lifetime. Julia Pastrana’s life story and the fate of her body after her death (including her successful repatriation) brings to light issues that remain deeply relevant: beauty, ownership, science and racism, commercialization, objectification, exploitation, human rights, public versus private, international law, colonialism, sexism, respect, responsibility, indigenous rights, memory, sensitivity, the physical body, and the spiritual body.
In order to unpack all of these subjects, I felt that they must be addressed through different mediums. First, it was important to create a publication to gather the most significant material concerning her life with critical essays from different scholars. Donna Wingate and I worked on this book for over four years—researching archives and discussing the various lenses through which we could gain a deeper understanding of Julia Pastrana. At the same time, our goal was to present a full account of Pastrana as a person, a woman, and an artist, with the dignity she had been denied during her life and after her death. The book includes images of my artworks—works on paper and performances—based on the story of Julia Pastrana.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle:How would you describe the cultural life in Mexico at the time of Julia over hundred years ago? Also, what was the context that she was surrounded by that addressed her as a celebratory oddity?
LAB:Julia only lived in Mexico for the first twenty years of her life. She was born in 1834 in the State of Sinaloa, and according to popular legend, was born in the indigenous village of Ocoroni—or thereabout—in 1834. Today Ocoroni belongs to the municipality of Sinaloa, in the state of the same name, and is located in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental.
In the decades of the first half of the nineteenth century, Mexico was searching for its own destiny and independence. Since the establishment of the first settlements by European Hispanics in the sixteenth century until the early nineteenth century, the territory of Sinaloa was mainly a mining state. The population, therefore, settled in the mountains and in the valleys. Mining camps and towns were established throughout Sinaloa for the search and exploitation of metallic resources that were coveted by the monarch of Spain.
Nothing is known about Julia’s parents or siblings, and there are no documents of her birth or baptism. It should be noted that the Office of Public Records (Registro Público) had not yet been created in Mexico; it was legally established on January 27, 1857. Little is known about her childhood, although it is said that an uncle took charge of her after the death of her mother, and in an effort to make a quick buck, sold to her to a small traveling circus—the kind that occasionally passes through these remote villages. Sometime around 1836 until April 1854, Julia was a maid in the residence of Mr.Pedro Sánchez, who had been in charge of the government of Sinaloa from September 28, 1836 to June 3rd, 1837. It is possible that he purchased Julia from the circus that had exhibited her throughout the northwest of the country.
We believe that her training as a mezzo-soprano and dancer began when she lived at the governor’s house, and he likely presented her before audiences. She spoke four languages: English, French, Spanish, and Cahita, her native tongue. She was taken to Guadalajara to perform in 1854, and news of her reached the United States, as we found in an article in the New York Post. This must have been what sparked the interest of the American Theodore Lent, who worked for Barnum and Bailey and later became Julia’s husband. He traveled to Mexico to meet with Pedro Sánchez and Francisco Sepulveda to discuss a business venture that involved the sale and purchase of Julia Pastrana.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As a phenomenon she became extremely internationalized so to speak. How would you explain this to contemporary audiences, from the perspectives of art, science, and women’s history?
When Julia Pastrana left Mexico and traveled to the United States with Francisco Sepulveda to meet Theodore Lent to complete a business transaction between Sepulveda and Lent, Theodore Lent secretly convinced Julia Pastrana to marry him, and he immediately became her manager. He presented her to audiences and billed her as the Bear-woman, the Nondescript, the Ape Woman, the Female Hybrid, the Wonderful Hybrid, and Baboon Lady, among other sobriquets.
LAB: Julia Pastrana was taken to perform in Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and New York, among other cities. After a number of presentations in the US and Canada, Lent decided to take his show to Europe. They traveled to London, and extensively throughout Germany, Poland, and Russia. Julia Pastrana’s shows were very successful, and newspapers throughout Europe wrote about her.
Julia Pastrana’s story is a reminder that what happened to her is not an experience exclusively from the past—today there are far too many cases of exploitation, abuse, neglect, cruelty, human trafficking, and discrimination. Julia Pastrana is a reminder that we urgently need to forward women’s rights, indigenous rights, children’s rights, and eliminate human traffic to start. We must end gender discrimination, defend the rights of people with differences, protect religious choices and end the voracious dehumanization of people in the name of political, commercial, religious, and scientific purposes. For me, it means that I continue working on the topics related to her, the injustices she lived and how they are still relevant today.
LAB: Among the works are: a performance piece that is continually evolving, a series of zines that address different topics related to Julia Pastrana such as: repatriation of human remains, museum ethics, exhibition practices, the objectification of people and women, human traffic, beauty and the commercialization of women’s bodies, feminism, animal rights, love, circus arts, among others; in addition, we are working towards an Opera about Julia Pastrana in collaboration with the artist collective Apparatjik, Concha Buika, and Void Design.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle:Do you think she is appreciated in Mexico today, and how will the book contribute to that?
LAB: The repatriation of Julia Pastrana sparked a great interest worldwide and in Mexico. Since Julia Pastrana’s repatriation there have been at least three plays written and performed in Mexico about her, and I understand there is a feature film in development by a Mexican director. I have also learned about a woman’s health center that opened recently in Argentina that is named after Julia Pastrana. Because of my work on the repatriation of Julia Pastrana, I recently received an award by the Instituto de Administración Pública of the State of Tabasco, Mexico for the Defense of Human Rights.
It is clear to me that all of these responses show that Mexico is embracing Julia Pastrana and is working towards restorative actions for her memory, for the promotion of dignity and justice, and in humanitarian efforts to defend the rights of all.
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 theAcademy 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.
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.
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.
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.
I moved to Los Angeles in 2014, after 11 years as a New Yorker. During those years, I went to graduate school, began and finished a career, learned to love opera, and mounted my first fine art exhibition – a crowd-sourced photography group show that was simultaneously a fundraiser for the nonprofit where I was a board member. What I never did in New York City was paint. At the time, my relationship to painting was purely as a viewer, standing a respectful distance away, wondering how in the world they did that. Who would have thought that three years later, at the instigation of my Los Angeles painting professor, the indomitable Barbara Kerwin, that I would find myself pursuing a graduate degree in painting?
Our first-year MFA group show was titled “Twelve,” for the 12 of us that started the MFA in Art program at Claremont Graduate University this past August. The works I created for the show were made with oil pigment sticks, built up into a thick impasto texture by smashing them onto the canvas with a palette knife and mixing colors alla prima. The paintings are about the loss of meaning and culture through the generations and across the seas. Words, behaviors, rituals become hybridized, sometimes beyond recognition, when transplanted to a different environment, just as language and writing change over time, eventually past the point of intelligibility. Each of my paintings starts with a Chinese calligraphic text, drawn in black, that becomes obscured through layers of superimposed texture and color, ending in a very different visual experience compared to the black and white text that “birthed” it.
The largest painting (60 x 48 in.) is titled “Outremer” (French for “ultramarine”). The cool colors and coral-like shapes evoke underwater life, but the title also refers to the French territories in the South Pacific (called “outre-mer” in French, meaning “overseas”), that were visited by Gauguin and others interested in the decidedly un-PC idea of “primitivism,” and also where France has conducted a large number of controversial nuclear tests. Thus, in addition to the Chinese text being washed away “underwater,” the painting’s title also alludes to aspects of modern world history that some might prefer to be swept under the rug.
Each of my paintings starts with a Chinese calligraphic text, drawn in black, that becomes obscured through layers of superimposed texture and color, ending in a very different visual experience compared to the black and white text that “birthed” it.
Patricia Chow is a Los Angeles-based artist whose abstract paintings engage the intersection of Eastern and Western cultures across time and space, and the hybridization and reinterpretation of meaning. She is currently a first-year MFA student in Los Angeles, CA.
A 90-year old Chinese artist An Ho finds inspiration from nature and its serene beauty. Still a steady brush in her hand, she invents nature with her visionary approach. The landscapes seem like in many Chinese classical paintings, where the vision engages in the detail. Stillness of a landscape is poetic, without rush forward, yet bearing undertones of memories and dreamlike solitude. The artist who lives in Upstate New York, shows her love towards the trees and landscapes of her environment.
An Ho’s six recent paintings are on display at the CHINA 2000 FINE ART in New York City. In a way, the works on silk and paper are telling an ancient story. Ho studied techniques that were forgotten many centuries ago. The artisthas revitalized this history by bringing the painting styles into life in modern times. Eventually, there is a play of translucent refinement that of color and movement.
An Ho’s mastery of the Chinese brushwork lays the basis of the landscapes. There is a sense of perception in the works, as her artistic vision develops in a close observance of nature. Each composition has its own reality, and perfection, or an entire world to narrate. If the works were a dream, they would be more perfect than a reality. They propose harmony and co-existence between man and nature.
An Ho, also known as Wen-ying, was born in 1927 in Beijing, China. Her father was chief newspaper editor, and mother was a painter of flowers. Her parents were senior members of Sun Yatsen’s revolutionary movement.
An Ho got introduced to famous Chinese traditional painter Pu Ru (1896-1963), who took her as his student and protégée. She studied 17 years with him, learning that Chinese painting takes into account both the fine quality of the art, and the personal approach and attitude of an artist. She studied with him initially in China and then in Taiwan. Master Pu Ru came from the Qing royal family. He was a poet, calligrapher and painter. Also, An Ho studied first classics and poetry, before starting arts and painting. The artist started with calligraphy, and finally learned the techniques of painting. Pu Ru’s teaching method cultivated her character as the basis for the skillful using of brush and ink. The brush is profound and important part of the technique, and the character of an artists rehearses for it.
In 1952, An Ho’s work began to be noticed by the Chinese art world. Her works have been exhibited in China, Taiwan, Germany, Italy, France and the United States.