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

Colour, Coffee and Art

It’s bright pink, purple, yellow and orange that catches your eye when walking by the supermarket shelves dedicated to coffee. This one’s Paulig’s Presidentti Special Blend 2017 made with coffee beans from Sumatra. To make it even more intriguing, there’s an art exhibition to go with it in the deli at Stockmann Department Store with pictures of Presidents of Finland done in WPAP style by Indonesian artist Arif Wicaksonon. You may well ask about the connection…

President Tarja Halonen in WPAP style

Every year Paulig produces a special blend that celebrates a different taste from a different country and always an exotic one. This year, it’s Sumatra’s turn to shine and this balanced yet striking mouthful of liquid is quite unusual. The edges are soft but the flavour is wild and together with a macaroon it’s a perfect afternoon break enhancer.

Six Presidents, the sixth year of Presidentti Special Blend. And how were they selected? Easy, they all have a coffee story to tell. President Tarja Halonen only started drinking coffee at the age of 18 but fell passionately in love with the brew and has a favourite spot at Hakaniemi Market Hall where she partakes of it with relish. President Kekkonen on the other hand, was alive and well and even had a hand in roasting the first blend at the then new Paulig roastery in Vuosaari where the head office is currently located. He was also known to take Presidentti with him on his travels.

President Kekkonen loved Presidentti coffee

The WPAP art was developed by Indonesian Wedha Abdul Rasyid and stands for Wedha’s Pop Art Portrait. This highly colourful, geometric style has spread outside of his home country and to other parts, now to be seen at Stockmann’s (city centre 28-5.3 and Tapiola 15 – 19.3) and at Narinkka Square at Kamppi Shopping Centre (16 – 19.3). More importantly, the coffee is for sale in every major supermarket in Finland.

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

Passion, Play and a Girl with a Gun

Niki De Saint Phalle – Kunsthalle, Helsinki 20 August – 20 November 2016.

It’s impossible to tell what your child is going to grow up to be. The process of bodily creation is over and the newborn is set free in a world largely made up of their parents’ circumstances. When Niki de Saint Phalle was born in 1930, the world didn’t know what had hit it. She was going to make a splash and a big one at that.

 

Les Trois Graces - fat, flourishing and flaunting the rules!
Les Trois Graces – fat, flourishing and flaunting the rules!

Art became her therapy, creativity, her life force. As she put it, “If I didn’t have art, I would have to be pregnant all the time because I can’t live without creating something.” At a time when the bourgeois female was expected to be, putting it crudely, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, she was out there sculpting voluptuous females, both black and white, in colourful bathing costumes, dancing away to their hearts’ content. She called them ‘nanas’, a derogatory word corresponding to ‘broad’, or in Émile Zola’s eponymous novel, ‘whore’. Her rebellion against the slim female figure, a throw back to her time when she herself was working as a fashion model, was blatant. At a time when Black was hardly beautiful, she was not ashamed to colour her figures dark or couple them with white men as in her Le Palais. And then the guns and the shooting. Not the archetypal feminine activity one would associate with the women of the day, she excelled at it and became the first performance artist, shooting her works to bits with precision and planning and skill, allowing the paint to explode at exactly the point where she wanted it to happen. The process was as much art as the finished work.

 

Piercing deep into the heart of tradition and the status quo.
Piercing deep into the heart of tradition and the status quo.
Le Palais, the utopian dream as expressed by Niki De Saint Phalle
Le Palais, the utopian dream as expressed by Niki De Saint Phalle

In other words, don’t be fooled by the vibrant colours, the naivety and playfulness you encounter when looking at her pieces. She is dead serious about joie de vivre and wants everyone, including children, to exclaim with delight when they see her sculptures or explore her Tarot Garden in Tuscany. Her message is clear, art for all and all for art.

Diana's Dream - a gun, a swastika and monsters emanate from the woman on her back.
Diana’s Dream – a gun, a swastika and monsters emanate from the woman on her back.
Sex symbol of the 60's, the pain that is Marilyn.
Sex symbol of the 60’s, the pain that is Marilyn.

Finding the Moomins – Fiskars and Mustionlinna

This elusive family of gentle trolls that inhabit the imagination of children across the world, are pretty hard to find. Head west of Helsinki about 100 km, and you might come close to spotting one in the spectacular countryside near Karjaa.

Svartå Manor or Mustion Linna
Svartå Manor or Mustion Linna

Mustion Linna or Svartå Manor (pronounced ‘svart awe’) is tucked away along a country road and is the proud possession of the Linder family who have owned it since the early 18th Century. A museum of course it should be, but in the capable hands of Christine and Filip Linder and Maria his sister, the many majestic and quaint buildings with the magnificent gardens that sweep down towards the lake, have been transformed into a multi-faceted business. Hotel guests are put up in uniquely styled rooms with modern conveniences, the sauna is next to the water which lures you into taking a dip while the restaurant has a small but carefully selected menu using only local ingredients many of which come from the farm itself. A culinary school is at the disposal of groups where they’ll teach you how to whip up dishes that you never thought you would even begin to attempt. The museum gives you a peek into the lives of the nobility that had close connections with this place and can only be visited with a guide. There’s a summer theatre and plenty of events happening especially in the warmer months. The children can look for Moomins while the adults relax on the terrace overlooking the immaculate surroundings.

Beautiful murals in Svartå Manor
Beautiful murals in Svartå Manor

If you don’t find Moomins there, you might just come across them in the fairy world of Fiskars, arguably the prettiest town in Finland. Oozing charm from its wooden houses, mill and river, this place used to serve as a foundry once upon a time. Today artists and crafts people occupy these spaces and take exceptional care of them. Finnish design can be seen in every nook and cranny of the boutiques and restaurants and a major exhibition takes up room from May to September. This year ‘Kasvu, Tillväxt, Growth’ is organic and earthy and pretty wild with 45 works to intrigue, puzzle and wow you.

The organic 'Growth' exhibition
The organic ‘Growth’ exhibition

2016-06-09 13.14.36

Have lunch at the famous Wärdshus Restaurant where you can also spend the night. The local brewery is a class act and calls itself Rekolan Panimo. They are extending their craft beer selection to gin and whisky in the near future once the distillery is up and running. In the meanwhile, try their Metsän Henki or Spruce Shoot beer, it’s different and apparently their biggest seller. Café’s are in plentiful supply but there’s one that’s just a little different. It’s called The Laundry. Soak up the sun, sip on a cold one while overlooking the pond or stay the night in their cute little B and B.

Beautiful Fiskars - it couldn't get any greener
Beautiful Fiskars – it couldn’t get any greener

Fiskars has it all. Their summer programme is jam-packed with events including the Beer Camp with products from micro breweries and lots of munchies to drive away the hunger pangs and Faces Festival in August, celebrating multiculturalism and world music. Nature lovers can take long walks in the truly beautiful surrounds and who knows, you might come across a little creature hiding in a crevice? Don’t be afraid, it’s only a Moomin and they’re known to be gentle and kind.

 

Links:

Svartå Manor

Kasvu, Tillväxt, Growth Exhibition

Wärdshus Restaurant

Rekolan Panimo

The Laundry

Faces Festival

Beer Camp

 

 

 

Beating, Shafts, Tie-ups, and Tabby – Gibberish to All but a Weaver

Her children say, “Be warned. Talk about weaving and you’re gonna get a lecture.”

I launch forth anyway and discover the passion and enthusiasm with which Maddelein Anderson throws herself into her hobby which is hardly a hobby anymore. It’s become her life with only hubby, children and grandchildren taking precedence.

Maddelein and her fabulous creations
Maddelein and her fabulous creations

Just to kick off I ask her what got her into weaving of all things and so the roller coaster ride begins.

“After giving up teaching, I started a degree in Fine Arts at the Unisa. I completed the 101’s of drawing, art history, sculpture, etc. and found that the only time I had to work on this was at the weekend. Remember I was raising a family of four with a husband who travelled a lot and came home on Friday afternoons to spend time with us. I felt compelled to give up of my own accord.”

Run out of thread? Easy, just add your mothers' curtains.
Run out of thread? Easy, just add your mothers’ curtains.

“Being a seamstress I had plenty of bits and pieces of material lying around and so I asked my friend if I could do anything with these. Weaving of course and after much deliberation I bought a loom from Finland made by Varvapuu. I took lessons from the best in the field, and as it happened, one loom lead to another. Nowadays I have 3, the Rolls Royce being from Sweden, a Cirrus Öxebäck. The beater is slightly at an angle and heavier so that only one beat is necessary. The tie-ups too are easier.”

Bubble craft with cotton and wool
Bubble craft with cotton and wool

We’re up and down the stairs in her home where she shows me the innovations that she’s come up with that nobody else is doing. No one-dimensional creations for this lady. Oh no, she puts pure cotton with pure wool, washes it in her washing machine and voila, there it is. The ‘bubbles’ that are formed are the cotton bits that don’t shrink as much as the wool does and so you get a 3-dimensional surface that piques the interest of the onlooker and the fascination of other weavers.

Granny with attitude - see that bag
Granny with attitude – see that bag

“I am intrigued by Sakiori weave, a Japanese thing where they use old silk kimonos, ripped up and woven in a tabby weave.”

“Huh?”

“Yes, you know it’s like plain and purl in knitting. I use cotton since I can’t always find silk. But I got bored with the pattern so I started adding twill, a 45degree diagonal line in between the rest.”

Maddelein caught the attention of renowned South African designer Marianne Fassler. She was asked to use a China bag. We’ve all seen them, that iconic plastic red, white and blue hold-all so prevalent in African society and elsewhere. Free reign resulted in a weft of plastic, the warp being in pure cotton. Big squares, little ones, warp showing, her creativity matched that of the designer who constructed a jacket which wowed the judges and numbered one of the 20 most beautiful objects in South Africa. The Nelson Mandela statue in Pretoria was also on that list. Samsung, the sponsors of Amaze Africa were so bowled over, they even used it as a design on their phone covers.

More bags by Maddelein
More bags by Maddelein

Maddelein’s work, amonst others, can be seen at the Pretoria Art Museum from 1 February 2016 for a period of 3 months. She doesn’t use internet, hence no website but she can answer her mobile phone. Write me an email to set up an appointment.

Work in progress
Work in progress

Violetta Teetor – violettateetor@gmail.com

Marianne Fassler

HAM and Ai Weiwei

Owned by the people, for the people, is what HAM is and even though it’s Christmas, it’s got nothing to do with its culinary counterpart or has no allusions to its verbal use as in hamming it up. The collection of the Helsinki Art Museum numbers more than 9000 works and is located in their newly renovated building in Tennispalatsi and on the streets and in public areas for all to see. Quite fitting then are the superlative works of Ai Weiwei, focusing on his wooden sculptures, a material that Finns are more than familiar with.

From an interview with Howard Brenton www.telegraph.co.uk
From an interview with Howard Brenton
www.telegraph.co.uk

Defender of freedom of speech and expression, he knows all too well that art is not going to change a system but that opposition to that system has to be put under the glaring spotlight. He has suffered for this having been imprisoned for 81 days on a trumped up charge of tax evasion. Yet he has managed to maintain his sense of humour and warmth, his gentle nature as can be seen in the video with his son. Lover of heavy metal music and antiques as ancient as those from the Qing Dynasty, the contradictions are clear in his ability to take apart, chop up, repurpose and re-assemble some rare pieces, much to the alarm of conservationists.

The White House made its debut here in Helsinki. A huge temple-like structure standing 80m tall is made from the wood used in a Qing Dynasty residential building. It’s been recovered in white paint and depicts a protest against the urbanisation of China but also perhaps has some connotations with the well-known US landmark, showing the middle finger to this icon of power.

Ai Weiwei: Tree, 2010. White House, 2015 © Ai Weiwei, Kuva/Photo/Bild: HAM / Maija Toivanen
Ai Weiwei: Tree, 2010. White House, 2015
© Ai Weiwei, Kuva/Photo/Bild: HAM / Maija Toivanen

His tenderness and concern with children is clear in Garbage Container based on a true story of 5 boys, all cousins, ranging between the ages of 8 and 12. Scavenging on the streets for food, they found shelter in a rubbish bin, lit a fire to keep warm and died of carbon monoxide poisoning as a result. This is a harsh criticism of the number of children whose parents are migrant workers far from home. Wry too, if you consider the story of The Little Match Girl who died in the cold and widely purported in China as a symbol of Western negligence. This too is one of the new works never seen before but now at HAM in Helsinki.

Ai Weiwei: Garbage Container, 2014 © Ai Weiwei
Ai Weiwei: Garbage Container, 2014
© Ai Weiwei

What struck me most was the minute and skilled craftsmanship of the antiques now unrecognisable from their former appearance. The intricacy and attention to the artistry of the perfectionists who first created these objects is what makes Ai Weiwei one of the leading artists of our time. From the tiniest detail to the mammoth structures he creates, his art in the same way defies time and spans centuries way into the future.

 

Ai Weiwei: Table with Three Legs, 2006 © Ai Weiwei, Kuva/Photo/Bild: HAM / Maija Toivanen
Ai Weiwei: Table with Three Legs, 2006
© Ai Weiwei, Kuva/Photo/Bild: HAM / Maija Toivanen
Ai Weiwei: Through, 2007. Frames, 2013. IOU Wallpaper, 2011-2013 © Through and IOU Wallpaper © Ai Weiwei Frames ©Ai Weiwei and Neugerriemschneider, Berlin Photo: HAM / Maija Toivanen
Ai Weiwei: Through, 2007. Frames, 2013. IOU Wallpaper, 2011-2013
© Through and IOU Wallpaper © Ai Weiwei Frames ©Ai Weiwei and Neugerriemschneider, Berlin Photo: HAM / Maija Toivanen

Ai Weiwei’s exhibition will be at the Helsinki Art Museum until 28 February 2016.

Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908-2004) – the Reluctant Photographer

Emotional, anarchist, humane and definitely NOT a journalist, is how Agnes Siré, Directeur de Fondation HCB describes him.

“It was by chance that he became a photographer. He was more interested in painting and drawing and literature than in actual photography. In fact, he gave it up in the 70’s and concentrated on his fine art skills in stead.”

Île de la Cité, Paris, France 1951
Île de la Cité, Paris, France 1951

This talent made him a master of composition, gave him the eye for that ‘decisive moment’ that turns a one-dimensional photo into a 3-dimensional work of art. His deep concern and engagement with human beings was further nurtured by the 3 years he spent as a prisoner of the Germans. His travels took him far and wide and his ‘nose’ for historic events landed him in strategic places at strategic times. Only a few hours before Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, Cartier-Bresson photographed him. When Mao Zedong’s troops marched into Beijing, he was there. When prisoners of WWII concentration camps were released, he was there.

Gypsies, Grenada, Spain 1933
Gypsies, Grenada, Spain 1933

While he was recording historical events, his main focus was always people. The USA did not attract him as it did other photographers. No sweeping landscapes or city scenes but rather the Black people from Harlem, the rich from the Upper East Side, the ghettos of South Carolina. His subjects, except for his portraits of famous people, have no names and only the city, country and year marks the occasion. He said himself, “One should not try too hard to explain the mystery”, and even though he was referring to that serendipitous moment of capturing the unexpected, it also allows us as onlookers to let our imaginations run amok on what we observe.

Seville, Spain 1933
Seville, Spain 1933

Ateneum Art Museum in collaboration with Magnum Photos and the Foundation HCB have put on an impressive display of 300 photographs depicting The Man, the Image & the World.

Dates: 23 October 2015 – 31 January 2016

Easter Sunday Harlem, New York City, USA 1947
Easter Sunday Harlem, New York City, USA 1947
Ascot, UK, 1953
Ascot, UK, 1953