Sunday, August 3, 2014

Bands of Arms - Hamina Tattoo 2014

As the heatwave hit Helsinki and our apartment building decided that it was an appropriate time to turn into a greenhouse due to facade renovations done to it, this lady packed her bags, charged the camera, hoisted the laptop in its satchel and took the direction far, far, far the hell away from all the racket and splendid cacophony resembling dubstep gone horribly wrong that occurs when the drill hits concrete. Murder was becoming a justified option to placate my eardrums. Not that yours truly is all foreign to the infernal odes of men and machinery as working in construction sights is familiar, but when not working at the sight one rarely wants to have anything to do with it. Hence the swift escape away from Helsinki.

The grand tour went via the exhibition of William Kentridge that's currently happening in EMMA, Espoo Museum of Modern Art (a gorgeous experience to re-acquaint myself with at some point) to Turku. There, beside writing the thesis, I found myself seeing the past capital in a different light. Wandering through the nature preservation areas, by the sea-sides, and seeing the old architecture that I haven't even considered to exist in that city, made the heart grow fonder towards the place. Not to mention strolling down the well-known river-side of the river Aura and watching the swallows fly above our heads while enjoying tea on the balcony were the perfect little cherries turned into jam and eaten on a toast with some good Woojeon on the side. In any case, if you haven't visited the small city yet, I dare you to.

But, as the title of this post tells, this text isn't about the wonders of Western Finland, but the festivities that happen in a tiny town with circular city plan in Eastern Finland. Namely Hamina, the town where this lady grew up to be what the legends tell nowadays and where just last summer I had a co-exhibition with a dear friend. Growing up in a town where the constant presence of the Finnish Defence Forces is part of everyday life gives its own impact on, say, how one carries herself, how one likes to dress up remarkably like an officer (and has the presence of one to boot) and, as it goes for this post, grows to enjoy military music.

Hamina Tattoo, as some could think, has nothing to do with having some ink put on the skin for creating an image of a busty pin-up holding a flag with written hommage to anyone deserving having their name associated with scantily dressed women, but with bands of men and women playing the march music, symphonies and their most popular music pieces under their country's flag while wearing uniforms under the hot sun. The event was started in 1990, when a few active members of the military, music circles and travelling agencies decided to put their heads together and create something that would bring life to the sleepy harbor city and at the sime time honor the history of Hamina, which is a town that was founded on active army working there. The only things that I can remember from those early days of this festival that came to be, is that the first times were held in a huge hall in the harbor and seeing the Chinese military band, the sight of their fire red uniforms and yellow accent colors being etched in the memory of the little girl sitting and staring at the soldiers in the audience.

The Guards Band, Finland

In any case, despite the time passing and the society changing around us, the tradition still holds its ground and has now grown into a full week of festivities celebrated throughout the town. During the years, certain nations have established their role as the backbone of the festival, namely the American, British, Russian and German bands that visit Hamina Tattoo when they have the opportunity to do so, as well it has become a custom to have a few other bands from different countries each time, not to mention presenting the bands of the Finnish Defence Forces, such as the bands from the Navy, the Air Forces and so on. Beside the actual marching shows that present all of the bands visiting Hamina, there have always been concerts held in parks and market squares, so that the inhabitants and the occasional tourists can enjoy the music whenever possible without it being limited only to those willing to pay for the symphonic delights.

This time we had the pleasure to hear music from the spectacular and talented musicians of Heeresmusikkorps Koblenz from Germany, Western Military District Headquarters Band from Russia, The Combined Bands of the Lancashire Artillery and the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment serving the British menu, His Majesty The King's Guard from Norway (not only playing good music, these fellows know how to twirl a rifle while moving in formation), The Japan Ground Self-Defence Force Central Band which is the elite ensemble that usually accompanies the emperor and therefore this was their first time performing in Europe, and, of course, the Finnish bands which were the Guards Band, The Air Force Band, The Conscript Band of the Finnish Defence Forces, The Navy Band, The Lapland Military Band and The Dragoon Band.

Western Military District Headquarters Band, Russia

His Majesty The King's Guard, Norway

The Conscript Band of the Finnish Defence Forces, Finland

The Combined Bands of The Lancashire Artillery and the Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, Great Britain

Heeresmusikkorps Koblenz, Germany

The taiko drums belonging to the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force Central Band

Furthermore, not only were there concerts in the park and the actual venue tent designed for the marching shows, this year the organizers surprised the public by managing to engage the old gardens of the old fortress town to the festival as well, giving an opportunity to both the bands to play in rather intimate atmospheres in different settings and the townspeople to visit and see the secret sides of the old houses that are part of the town's history. Like so many others, yours truly hopes that the experiment will continue to be developed further, as it was a splendid way to spend the day sitting in the gardens and listening to the music designed to make the sunlight and heat feel a bit more tolerable.

Also, to those doubting if they would like to spend a whole week dedicated to all kinds of marching music and stoic performances of mind-blowing accuracy with rifles and such without going slightly crazy and waking up with Karelia Suite III Alla Marcia ringing in their heads, it's a pleasure to assure that the music played in Hamina Tattoo is never restricted only to militarian aspects of notation and top notch drum solo. The bands are more than eager to show their skills with various ensembles diving into the diversity of both classical and popular music, as was seen and heard during the perfect performance of the japanese music corps conducted by colonel Akira Takeda and by some smaller ensembles of the said band. To the ones curious for what they played, search for the musician Taro Hakase and the song Jounetsu Tairiku. If an opportunity ever arises, do go and hear it for yourselves what it sounds like when eleven military bands are brought into one tiny town for a full week and then being told to go creative.

All being said, the escape tour from Helsinki continues when tomorrow morning in early dawn a certain little lady takes her route towards a certain little town that's located right between Germany and Denmark. But first off, the evening tea is in order.

Monday, May 19, 2014

May - wait, what?

Been a while to post anything here, not to mention even sharing any thoughts to this direction. The sole reason for this mishap is the beginning of the end of our Spring semester at the university, moreover (as my odd natural talents for ending up doing things have it) the more recent excuse being me using the last weeks of the said period as a lecturer's assistant here in our department.

Yet the said new albeit temporary position in the academical hierarchy system isn't, naturally, the only reason as to why I'm lacking in updates on several fields of my choices of interest, the biggest being the thesis. The studies have kept me quite closely tied to themselves in forms of the last pragmatic field periods about which I posted a brief mention in the earlier post, not to mention seeing that I indeed in just couple of weeks will have all the course credits that I need to get myself out from our grand institution lecture-wise as soon as I finally wrap up the Last Essay of Pedagogical Trivia. How I actually managed to find some time to get tied up in a full-body harness for taking photographs for the final work, or baking cookies for a hanami festival picnic for that matter is beyond my common comprehension for now, so I'll just let it pass as some strange loophole in the current warp of dimensions that I'm venturing in.

The springtime has been busy, I admit.

Nevertheless, being busy doesn't mean that it hasn't been fun to play around with, so with this post I'll give you guys a glimpse of what I've been up to the past months.




Saw some pretty neat artist's books the students had made, now my hands are itching to make a couple myself.

TREASURE FROM THE ARCHIVES: in January, a colleague of mine, Roel Meijs, and his friend had a rather secretive spatial sculpture exhibition in a storage warehouse here in Helsinki.

The idea was to send them a reply email to the invitation, after which the visitor received a message with several number series and door numbers, behind which the made works were found. They were all very different, and worked with the space in very intriguing manner, and all in all adventuring in total silence in a huge, dimly lit storage space did make the thoughts wander to an anime series Cowboy Bebop, which might ring a bell for those having seen it for what kind of nicely bizarre ambiance I experienced there. To bump into an old russian lady listening to a radio there was just a cherry on top of that.


It was a large, very beautiful swamp area, and we bumped into dozens of frogs croaking away through the silence.

RECEIVED A PARCEL FROM A FRIEND WHO LIVES IN ALBERSTLUND NEAR COPENHAGEN; we once had a discussion over what kinds of sweets we like, and she decided to send me some Danish delights. Not one to receive without giving, I sent her some quality white teas that had some jasmine in them.

ALSO RECEIVED A PARCEL FROM PATRICIA, only this time with the letter and treats she also sent us origami cranes that now decorate our kitchen wall. We'll be visiting her the coming August again, so be prepared to have yet another post about Flensburg..and perhaps from some other places.

All in all, the summer is near, the research books are waiting, and there's a pot of oolong that has been calling my name for a while now. Maybe next time I can tease you with some snapshots of the shibari sessions we've had regarding the final work that should be given to be evaluated in October. I'll see you guys around.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Poetical conundrums and excited alpha signals - Brains on Art is here again

The springtime has hit the city once again, and yours truly has indeed tried to break the sound barrier more than twice during the past months as both the work and final courses at the university seem to have made a pack between them to keep me more than sufficiently busy until the beginning of summer. As the things are, the latest small moral victory on those fields was achieved with a group of twenty-seven students, six digital cameras and six computers that were used to create short stop-motion animations in small groups. I'll let your imagination fill in the blanks on that case.

Beside the final pragmatic period which includes the aforementioned animation course as well a couple more with different classes in the delightful world of secondary school filled with teenage spirit, the spring in the gallery Sculptor has proceeded onwards towards the summertime. Even though most of my time is currently dedicated on surviving the swamp called 'master studies', I did find myself standing on the large ladders in one evening when I was asked to go and set the lights for the current exhibition that they're having there. If you're interested in rather interesting bronze and ceramic sculptures of Markku Hirvelä, that's the place to go when having enough free-time.

In any case, this post wasn't all about me rambling about the ways of procrastinating when it comes to writing the thesis, but about a collective of five gentlemen who have already made their debut in one of the past posts.

The collective calling themselves Brains on Art presents their latest and past achievements when in comes to combining science and art together into an intriguing and entertaining collection of works that appeal to the natural curiosity and speculative questioning of human nature. This exhibition has a total of seven works, of which three of them use the EEG helmets, one is a video installation called 'The Suit' which is a recreation of a performance they once did and also an interactive piece, and the last three are more or less visual eyecandy flavored with a hint of scientific approach on aesthetical ways of presenting both the artistic process as well the beauty of human brain. For the more encoding-oriented members of the audience, the white screen showing all of the source code used in the exhibited works was appreciated and enjoyed, giving them a rather nice insight on what exactly the quintet of gentlemen have been working on for the past couple of years.

A work called 'Carbon Copy' even shared a very vague resemblance with the artworks of Nam June Paik, which was nice to realize after briefly wondering why it felt so familiar. Even more delightful was to see one part of the mentioned work being used in a performance that was presented in the opening, where the artist wore a black helmet that slowly produced a long sheet of receipt paper that had the performer's brainwave activity printed on it. The most pleasant suprise concerning the said performance was, though, that the audience actually created a connection with the performer and even took the initiative to approach him by, for instance, giving him some wine in a plastic cup.

Nevertheless, the best cookies in the methaphorical jar were the three EEG-focused works, two of them already being exhibited before and the third being the newest addition to the bunch. For those who have read my earlier post about 'Brain Poetry' can already guess what one of the works was that made people giggle and shake their heads in disbelief in one corner of the small gallery space.

For those who have not yet encountered this piece nor have read the linked post, here's the essential information behind it: this particular work is connected to the research concentrating on computational creativity, a subject which is interesting also from a future teacher's view, and hereby uses the combination of brain signals and mathematical algorithms to generate a poem fitting the data that it receives from the person using the EEG helmet. For this piece they have used different sources of literature, and based on the raw data given by the user's brain, the codes search out the most suitable category within the different themes such as, say, poetry from the early 20th century or modern novels, and then create the actual poem.

Although what really made me glad to re-encounter the poem generator was that the group had updated it to produce both Finnish and English poems, which, given the people I've gotten acquainted with and the constantly evolving linguistic dimensions of our society, was more than welcome.

The other work that was programmed in a similar way was the one that was shown in the very first picture in this post, namely the 'Visually Evoked Potential'. It could basically be described as the visual companion for the 'Brain Poetry', with slight changes to the way it creates new things from the collected data. In that case the viewer is showed ten random images, and based on what signals the brain gives to the code regarding, say, the eye-movements of the viewer and the levels of emotion experienced with each image, the generator slowly produces a cross-breed (if one could call that) image of all ten images as the result of the collected and processed data. This work in particular provoked long speculative discussions among us who tried it, and I have yet to try it a couple more times to really understand if my mind really produces quite indentical results regardless of what my conscious mind focuses on with each picture. Nevertheless, it's slightly addicting.

Though the most addicting one of the entertaining three is a work named 'It's not just in your head'. Here the group has built three quite ordinary-looking white pedestals on which they've placed clear small domes with tiny white marbles beneath them. Inside the pedestals and underneath the domes are located three loud-speakers that are tuned in to respond to different levels of brain signals, such as the alpha and delta signals. Above the person using the needed EEG helmet is a tiny receptor that receives the signals and then transmits them to the three speakers waiting for the data. As the result, the white marbles move more or less wildly depending on how strong and continuous the signals are.

When it comes to controlling the marbles or trying to make each of the speakers respond to the signals, it was fun to observe how different methods were put to use by each user when they tried to figure out what signal moved which marbles and why. Thinking about a melody while keeping the eyes closed was, by far, the most rewarding method for myself to make the tiny balls go crazy beneath the domes.

All in all, if one is looking for a reason to step outside and enjoy the chill spring air with some sun and badass winds that make even the winter seem like a warmer option, go to gallery Huuto in Jätkäsaari and check out if there's still some brain activity left after the dark snowy season that has finally relinquished its hold on Helsinki. I bet you'll be quite surprised.

Gallery Huuto, Jätkäsaari 2 (trams n:o 9 and 8 bring you quite close to it)
From 27th of March to 13th of April
Tue-Sun from 12 to 5 pm.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Artist book - An absurd dialogue over strange connections

Here's a small post about the artist book that was done in a collaboration with a good friend of mine when we had an exhibition at the Rikhardinkatu Library here in Helsinki in 2012. This was a book for which we both provided some prints with the most suitable techniques, meaning that yours truly went for the offset lithos that were in process at that time, when she decided to go for silk screen prints. Our first ideas for the book were so far away from each other, though, that it took several cups of tea and whiskey to think up one common factor for our works. Hence the inventive title for this post.

Our dialogues have always bordered the lines of surreal, which gave us the perfect viewpoint both for reflecting our own way of thinking as well for the way how we saw each other as artists. It was also a nice challenge for myself to work with very different color scheme in my prints, since many of you may already know that black will always be the dominant color in my works. Seeing the same plates used for, say, very light green did change my ways of seeing them as well, and working in way smaller scale (not to mention editing!) was also a challenge that may have increased the amount of gray hair amidst the blond ones. Nevertheless, we were very pleased with the outcome, and here are a couple of examples on how the pages looked like.

As a further notice, we also did centerfold prints from both of us for each 'magazine' we made, and all of them were printed on very lovely chinese and japanese papers. If any of you have seen how perverted and obsessed printmakers can get over certain types of paper, you get the joke. Regrettably the photos that I have here from the days we worked on the book don't give the best picture on what the book truly looked like with all the things happening in the spreads and almost see-through pages, so I suggest that you either just purchase one of these five books and unravel the centerfolds in your own peace and in good light conditions or, if you dare, give a shout and enjoy a cup of tea with either of us while browsing through the book. End of discussion.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Northern adventures - Nurmes / Koli

Some of you may already know that beside working in the art scene as an assistant, studio supervisor and an all-around helper, yours truly also studies to become one of those slightly masochistic creatures that in some odd way find tremendous pleasure and exciting challenges by putting themselves in a confined space with approximately thirty bloodthirsty knee gnawers or, deities forbid, head chewers who are not afraid to express their rather sharp comments concerning their everyday life and who may know twenty ways to misuse a ruler but haven't got the faintest idea on how to draw a straight line.

...And that was a rather long definition for an art teacher.

In any case, the topic for this post refers to places where I happened to get suddenly hoisted by a friend who works there both as a junior high school and a high school teacher. As part of our studies, the MA level students perform three pragmatic field work sessions in different levels and places of education, such as adult education, junior high, high school, museums and so forth. In some cases one can pick out the place they wish to go for that time, as in other cases the positions are already picked out by the university. So, as the things go, I suddenly found myself sitting in a train on my way to North-East Finland in a tiny town called Nurmes. The area where I was located for the couple of weeks is also known as Northern Carelia, which is also referred to be the key area for the most glorious time period in finnish art scene that happened in the times when we were still developing our own culture and language under different reigns.

Only this time the only contact with the area's artistic tendencies happened in the interaction with the teenagers who were the main target group of my visit. I taught classes from different grade levels, starting with the 7th grade in junior high, and also supervised some of the classes held by the teacher with whom I also happened to live under the same roof for those weeks. Based on what I witnessed, beside the obvious joys and sorrows and silent mutiny of the students, I'd say that it was a very good opportunity for me to really observe how different yet same teenagers were when compared to the South-East Finland from where I originate from.


It was also a highly valuable chance to really think about the different paths for my own professional future, whether as a studio supervisor / assistant or as an art teacher, regarding the geographical aspects of our developing school system. Unfortunately, many small schools are nowadays shut down and integrated into bigger units, which does bring uncertainty in all of us future teachers if we really should also start to consider going abroad to teach rather than stay in our own home country. Leaving Finland has crossed my mind as well. Copenhagen did seem like a nice city.

Nevertheless, things went well, I didn't have to practice my rope skills on anyone (not even the supervising teacher, surprisingly), and furthermore the youngsters seemed to even learn a thing or two. Ironically, I also happened to learn a thing or two about myself, since beside working with the usual two-dimensional tasks, there were two lessons on self-expression for a small group of 8th graders. Being one with theatre and dance background, the given challenge was more than just 'interesting', which lead us to a situation where I now just happen to browse around the net for MA level studies at the theatre academy in the Helsinki Art University. Who said that one should focus only on one thing at the time?

MATERIALS: The reflective sheets used for the street signs.

Moreover, the spent weeks were also a pragmatic lesson on what happens when one has specialized herself in one certain field, and suprisingly I found myself teaching the very basics of printmaking to a group of high schoolers. Only this time instead of etching we made drypoint over a certain topic which concerned the immediate environment in which the said students lived.

Handling the chaos of over twenty persons bustling around one tiny press was an experience which definitely brought up an idea of having smaller groups for so-called 'advanced' art forms, or at least creating even some sort of progressive way of doing the actual printing. In any case, no one squeezed their finger in the press or messed up the pressure / felts / pigments / other people's clothes  or anything else that could have been expected when dealing with a Friday afternoon spent in a tiny, confined class space combined with an hour and a half time to teach how to put the color on the plate, wipe the plate, dry the paper, use the press, see the result and then go over the same procedure once or twice more. The only casualties in that afternoon mayhem were the unfortunate papers that met a swift annihilation in a form of dirty hands full of pigment, but that wasn't the worst that could have happened. The students did their works well, though, and the amount of patience that even the most hyper ones did have when working on their pieces was a bit surprising, so all in all things were just peachy.

Then, as the post topic already revealed, the adventure didn't only concern the everyday life in Nurmes. Soon enough I was thrown into a bus that took its jolly way to Koli, a place that most of the art people know as 'the place where all of it began', meaning the place where many finnish artists sought inspiration for their works in their mission to create a good cultural base for the finnish people. That also included the legendary story of Kalevala which basically is a collection of spoken mythology from the Carelian area that was then formed into one solid tale of early finnish heroes.

The hostel in which our tiny delegation of renegade artists spent the night was a place called Vanhan koulun majatalo, a lovely place where one could make their own dinner etc. in a spacey kitchen, go warm up in a wooden sauna and, as we found out, spend most of the night playing a rather frantic and passionate game of table soccer. What can I say, brilliant minds need the insanity of the moment in order to stay somewhat balanced.

Koli itself, as I found out, is just way too beautiful place to describe with words or pitiful attempt of landscape photographs. So all you need to know is that it's still there where the artists before us had left it and is something worthy of visiting during winter time. I bet it goes for summertime as well.

As the final note for the past weeks away from Helsinki, I give you the case of IBO. It's a tiny restaurant in Nurmes, but has an epic reputation among our group now that there has been established a ground rule for those outside Nurmes who come to visit the small town. That is not to leave the place before eating what we now call 'Kyynärä'. Other people might know it as a rolled-up kebab where they put the meat and greens inside the rolled dough. It was good, I give it that, but the minor coma after devouring something that was bigger than my forearm in one go (blaming the set rules for this challenge, you boys know exactly what I mean here) was something to contemplate. In any case, if one seeks for adventure, this is one place to have one.