Me, Me, Me

As modest as the Finns may be, selfies have caught on here too, dating all the way back to the 19th Century. The exhibition Me: Self-Portraits Through Time is a collection of 160 works by 102 artists from Finland ranging through the Finnish Golden Age to noteworthy contemporary ones.

In the early days they were called self-portraits and perhaps the focus was slightly different from today’s aren’t-I-stunning approach. ‘The eyes are the window of the soul’ is an expression we’re all familiar with, but what if you’re too shy or simply don’t want to reveal it to the onlooker, but you still want to be immortalised? Is it about immortality or just vanity?

Otto Mäkelä: Self-portrait (1929)
Alexandra Frosterus-Såltin: In the Studio (1858)

Thank God for Justus von Liebig who invented the mirror in 1835. Without it, some of these would never have existed and while they all used it, only a few admit to the fact and show it in their pieces. But even mirrors can be too self-revealing and hence reflections come into distorted focus in the metal of blenders as in Pauliina Turakka Purhonen’s Oaig, referring to the only visible letters on the cardboard Laphroaig box in which she keeps her paintbrushes. Or could it be a groan, an utterance of loathing? Or the sculpture in wood of 84 year-old Radoslaw Gryta strangely staring out at you from the backdrop of honeycombs.

Pauliina Turakka Purhonen’s Oaig (2010)

As a foreigner, I find the Finnish style rather intriguing. Seeing the exhibition as a whole, shows that most of these are realistic in the way they bare themselves to the general public. Some are perhaps flattering, some are distinctly distorted, others horrifying and abstruse. While you wonder about the character in the painting or photo or sculpture, it also brings you to a point of self-searching and your own reaction to it. The creator must have had this in mind and while they couldn’t predict the response, they could control it to an extent. This is where emotion comes into play. Seeing the irony and humour in Sampsa Sarparanta’s The White Man’s Burden, the Heidi man-girl ridiculously laughing back at you, the grotesque Last Man Standing evoking fear, the sadness, the playfulness, the sorrow – it all draws you into their world and their feelings at the time of execution. Finally, you walk out with a bag of mixed emotions to sort through and the memory of faces you never knew but will never forget.

Sampsa Sarparanta’s The White Man’s Burden (2015)
Last Man Standing – Stiina Saaristo (2007-2008)

Me: Self-Portraits Through Time is on show at Kunsthalle Helsinki from 27 May until 6 August 2017.

Kunsthalle Helsinki

Nervanderinkatu 3, 00100 Helsinki

Tickets +358 40 450 7211

Tue, Thu, Fri 11–18

Wed 11–20

Sat-Sun 11–17

Mon closed

€12 / €8

Under 18s – no charge

It’s a Wild Ride at Linnanmäki Amusement Park, Helsinki

The locals lovingly call it ‘Lintsi’ and when the first rays of sunshine start appearing after the long winter, the kids are already tugging at their parent’s nerves to take them to this summer attraction. It’s a happy place and something sincerely has to go wrong for it not to put a smile on your face. Even better, the proceeds go to Finnish child welfare work. It’s the kindest thing you can do for not only your own children but also those less privileged.

Magia for a heady ride

A new year brings new stuff to explore starting with Ice Age in 4D with arrows whizzing passed your head, water spraying lightly in your face and plenty of bumps and jumps for you to get the full effect. This is included in the wristband. Magia will take you on a whirl that reaches the heavens while you look down vertically at the ground below, spin you and settle you down back to earth before it all starts again. There’s wild and gentle for the not so brave and if you’re not interested in the rides at all, there’s the wheel of fortune which will add yet another soft toy to your already overflowing collection. Lots of the kiddie rides are free of charge and there is no entrance fee so if you just want to come along and watch, that’s possible too. The American Diner will satisfy your hamburger needs and there’s a lot more besides that. Caruzello has a family buffet while the Sports Restaurant has finger food to go with your beer.

Starting with the Spring Carnival, Linnanmäki has special events happening at times when the park might not be that crowded. Between 2 – 14 May, clowns, ventriloquists, and music are put on to entertain the crowds and you can even take a twirl on the dance floor if the mood hits you. At the beginning of September Iik!week brings zombies to scare you and other eerie phenomena to keep you intrigued. The Carnival of Light is a show to behold with plenty of design teams working on displays to light up the dark time of year.

Linnanmäki is open from 28 April until late October but do check the website if you’re planning to go in September or October.

Links:

Linnanmäki Amusement Park

A Walk on the Wild Side

A train and bus ride takes you a world away from the hustle and bustle of Helsinki city where you can experience Finnish nature, virtually and physically. Haltia Nature Centre transports you within its environmentally friendly wooden walls to the treasures of Finland’s natural wonders. Everything is well done and attention to detail is stunning.

Nou hätä – no panic but the real caption says, “If anyone asks, you haven’t seen me.”

Look up, look down, look around you as you go through a winter wonderland where a bear is feeding on the meat of a ‘fallen’ reindeer, where you can listen to the sounds of nightlife in the forest and experience the rush of rapids and see what goes on underneath the water’s surface. The panorama display keeps on changing, revealing all 5 seasons from polar night to summer. Enter the giant Duck’s Egg and see Osmo Rauhala’s installation of white swans playing chess on a randomly-changing board. Pat the snoring, sleeping bear in its den and look through the bird hold to see who the next visitor might be.

‘Now this sucks’ – part of an hilarious exhibition at Haltia.

It makes you hungry for the real thing which is easy to find since the Nuuksio National Park is right there surrounding you. Lake Pitkäjärvi is large and when the water is open, you can rent a canoe from Solvalla Sports Centre to see the forest from a different angle. The reception staff at Haltia will be happy to help you book one. Cycling, sauna, swimming and feeding reindeer at the Nuuksio Reindeer Park, are all options whether you’re there for a day or overnight. But it’s hiking that’s really the thing to slow you down, get you meditating and communing with nature. The slow pace brings peace and calm within this cathedral of birch trees with moss-covered primary rock and its here where you’ll listen to that inner voice that brings rest and a healthy mind. Stumbling upon a barbecue is not uncommon and wood is usually in plentiful supply. Take your own sausage and dry matches with you.

Osmo Rauhala’s swans playing chess
Cosy up to baby bear in his den

This paradise is easily reachable from downtown Helsinki: https://aikataulut.reittiopas.fi/linjat/en/b245.html

Haltia Nature Centre is open from Tuesdays to Sundays from 9.30 – 5 pm: https://www.haltia.com/en/

A comprehensive guide to facilities and activities at Nuuksio National Park: https://www.nuuksioresort.fi/en/

 

Class with a touch of casual – Emo Restaurant, Helsinki, Finland

Wooden tables, serviettes like dishcloths hanging on the side, cutlery in a wooden box all add to the informal atmosphere. But don’t be fooled. This joint might not strike you as ‘fine dining’ but dining fine you will, believe me!

Tomato soup with truffle foam

With a choice of non-alcoholic beverages like fresh apple juice or spicy tomato to get those salivary glands going is just the ticket for lunchtime. The tomato soup starter brims with richness and elegance is thrown in with the truffle foam on the side while crunch is provided by the croutons. Every mouthful is a treat and if the croutons aren’t enough, there’s plenty of home made bread with butter on the side. Haddock is my choice of the 3 main courses only because it brings back memories of breakfast in South Africa when I was child and when it was always smoked. This one comes with potato mousse, a poached egg and lots of capers to give it a good kick of acidity. It’s all so soft and creamy but get your teeth into the crispy onion and the salsify slices on top and you know the chef, Ilkka Lääveri knows what he’s doing. Combine this relatively light lunch with a cold, crisp Brut Nature cava by Castell del Remei and you wish you could linger longer. My dining partner chooses the pork with gem lettuce and a heap of caramelized-to-a-crisp onions to make for a slightly heavier meal. There’s also a vegetarian option. Of course the menu changes and whatever’s fresh, seasonal and local when possible, is served up every week.

Creamy haddock and almond potato mousse

Lunch for 2 courses sets you back €25, 3 courses €29 and 4 at €34. Dinner comes in set meals or as à la carte and is a little more expensive as is the practice in Finland. That laid-back mood is just a ruse, there’s serious food and wine coming your way at Emo.

Links:

Emo Restaurant

Curves, Folds Shades and Sandals

An exhibition of the oil paintings of Caesar van Everdingen (1616/1617 – 1678)

Place: Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Time: 16 February – 14 May 2017

Mythology, portraits, history and hunting, the stuff of Caesar van Everdingen’s masterpieces and so much more. Overshadowed by his contemporaries such as Rembrandt, he has been rediscovered and takes his rightful place as a grand master of Dutch classicism. With the help of the exhibition’s curator from the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar, van Everdingen’s hometown, Christi Klinkert, we delve into the detail.

Christi Klinkiert, curator from Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar

“The Girl with the Broad-Brimmed Hat you will all agree is wearing a white shirt. Come closer and you see within the folds of this garment that colours emerge. Grey, pink, peach was used to turn it into a 3-dimensional garment. Her hat is made of coloured cloth wound around a wicker frame casting a half shadow over her eyes giving her a seductive look reminiscent of a gypsy. In fact, the hat itself was associated with that same culture. It’s okay to say that this painting is just lovely to look at. She is the epitomy of summer.”

Girl with the Broad-Brimmed Hat

“Now look at this portrait, also of a girl, part of three that are on loan from the Rijk’s Museum. Quite a contrast, warming her hands over a brazier, is wearing expensive clothes and everything about her demeanour and surroundings spells winter. Then there’s this lady, completing the trilogy, dressed in black wearing a hat which would normally have been worn by a greengrocer at a market stall. The black cloth on the smalt pigment which has faded from blue to greyish teal, suggests the season of autumn.”

We stand in front of a provocative scene: a huge canvas with a nude couple, the male obviously trying to seduce the female. Without looking at the title, is it a male? The secret is out – it’s Jupiter disguised as Diana and Callisto who looks apprehensively at her suitor, not knowing quite what to make of him. The cherubs in the top left hold a mask and Jupiter’s eagle spreads its wings wide in the shadows on the right hand side. In fact, what we’re observing is nothing other than a rape scene since the story goes that he gets his way with her. In the conservative times of van Everdingen, such a painting could have been construed as immoral but since the subjects hail from classical times, it becomes a story and he’s able to tell it without repercussions.

Jupiter and Callisto

The exhibition takes us through various portraits of people from the bourgeoisie, those that could afford to pay for the commissions or then the city of Alkmaar, immortalizing their city leaders and encouraging worthy values such as education. The detail with which every brush stroke is executed is extraordinary. The sandals are of such elegant design that they could even be Italian. The satins in contrast with wool, cotton and linen come alive in such a way that you want to reach out and touch it to feel its texture. The colours are rich and bold on whimsical backgrounds that give us hints but are not that important.

The Sinebrychoff Museum has always had a penchant for Dutch art with this exhibition being one of their great achievements. A string of events such as croquis nude drawing and guided tours of course will enhance the experience of having such mastery in our midst.

Links:

Caesar van Everdingen

Sinebrychoff Art Museum

Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar

 

Be Calm and Surround Yourself with Beauty

Fiskars, Arabia, Iittala, are all intrinsically part of Finnish design and deeply embedded in the homes of just about every Finn I have ever come across. It would be a challenge to find a Finnish household without at least an Aalto vase or an Arabia mug in the kitchen cupboard. Traditional, yes, but the Iittala and Arabia Design Centre steps right up to the plate of the 21st Century when it comes to new ideas.

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The museum where timeless shapes and forms are housed

First and foremost, this is a workspace and it’s here where you’ll find the artists behind the fantastical shapes and forms that are good enough to carry the honoured names of Arabia or Iitala. The museum area hosts wood-framed glass display cabinets with the pieces designed by the likes of Rut Bryk, Michael Schilkin and Kaj Franck, some of which have never been exhibited before. On the strong shoulders of these stalwarts, comes the next phase of this space called the Design Lab where you can currently see the glass works of Harri Koskinen whose objects in and of themselves are unique in their imperfections, the time of day and amount of light creating distortions and reflections that fool around with your vision. The stunning work of Ville Andersson called Clouds, consists of drawings of nature, so delicate and somewhat unfinished in order to invite the viewer to use their imagination to complete the picture. This area will house contemporary design exhibitions as well as workshops, events, brunches, and whatever else this innovative team comes up with.

Iittala 20161113 Iittala & Arabia design centre, Helsinki
Harri Koskinen’s glass works

Peek through the glass wall and you’ll see another section devoted to works in progress where you might catch a potter throwing a piece of clay onto a wheel or shaping an unfinished jug into a work of art. The Arabia Art Department Society members have their studios there and guided tours give you the chance to talk to them and pick their highly skilled brains.

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Works in progress

The second floor is devoted to serious shopping but not without a pause for a cup of free coffee to be enjoyed on one of the luxurious sofas or armchairs where dreaming is free and deciding on what to buy, is made easy.

The shop - be calm and surround yourself with beauty
The shop – be calm and surround yourself with beauty

The Iitala and Arabia Design Centre is open from Tuesdays till Sundays. Their website http://www.designcentrehelsinki.com will keep you up to date on events.

 

Back to Karelia – Caj Bremer’s photography exhibition

In a stunning garden on the shore of the Baltic Sea, lies the Gallen Kallela Museum, home of the intrepid traveller and artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela. Called Tarvaspää, it was designed by the artist himself who used it as a studio and residence. Today it is open to the public and houses exhibitions.

Tarvaspää - Akseli Gallen-Kallela's home and studio
Tarvaspää – Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s home and studio

Caj Bremer looks pretty good at the age of 87. His subjects, however, are not all as well turned out as he is but rather speak of years of toil and hardship not without happy times and humour thrown into the mix. The exhibition at the museum is entitled Back to Karelia and consists of black and white photographs of people who hail from the eastern part of Finland. Every picture tells a story and the humanity with which he captures the person makes them come alive in a unique way.

Yrjö Kallio cooling off in the porch of the sauna
Yrjö Kallio cooling off in the porch of the sauna
Village dog listening to a sung performance
Village dog listening to a sung performance

This exhibition could not have been better placed. In this atmospheric setting, the history of each scene fits seamlessly into the story that exudes from the walls of this castle-like structure. Followed by a coffee and cake in the wooden house nearby, it makes for an unusually pleasant outing. From 10 September – 15 January 2017.

The picture with the most atmosphere from the visit to Valaam
The picture with the most atmosphere from the visit to Valaam

Layer Upon Layers – the art of Lionel Smit

When you first set eyes on a Lionel Smit painting, besides the huge expanse of colour and subject, it’s as if you’re seeing a hologram or a 3-D image imposed on a background or foreground, for that matter, of landscape, seascape and the heavens above. It invites you to probe and with that comes intrigue. Why women? What women?

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Faces of Identity is the title of Smit’s exhibition at the serenely beautiful Didrichsen Museum of Art on the shores of the Baltic Sea. The artist and the Didrichsen family got to know each other through Jenny Didrichsen who lived in South Africa while working for an NGO and met Lionel through a mutual friend. He invited her to his studio in the Strand, near Cape Town, an encounter that set the process of an exhibition in Helsinki in motion. Two years later, the works have now found their way to their temporary resting spot in this home converted into an art museum and the pristine gardens that surround it.

DSC05330There’s even a pool and for no other reason but because it’s there, there really should be a floating sculpture. This one depicts a woman’s head with shafts of wood protruding from it. The totem pole of women’s heads nearby, rise from the ground as a symbol of diversity in identity, each with its own expression but still forming part of the whole.

DSC05325Inside, the vast canvases are splashed, sprinkled, blotched and finely delineated with colour, oils in blues and golds dominating. The sculptures are whole or fragmented like modern day artefacts all depicting the heads of Cape Malay women. His remark to that,

“For no other reason but because I find women prettier than men.”

“The Cape Malay is the archetypal hybrid of identity. They stem from so many different cultures, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.”

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These layered, elegant portrayals of the female sex speak of the depth of the complexity of sociological culture not only in South Africa but also of women in general. In fact, it is a statement that encompasses all of humankind, every person and encounter and an invitation to look a little deeper to discover the golden gem behind the first impression.

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Lionel Smit’s Faces of Identity exhibition will be at the Didrichsen Museum of Art from 10 September 2016 until 29 January 2017.