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 we 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.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Lighting up the winter season

The annual LUX Helsinki Festival is here yet again, and this time yours truly took part as a student in the Lantern Park which got once again built up in one of the large parks here at the city center. This time, though, they weren't requesting lanterns that could be put up hanging from the trees, but the kind that could stand on the ground. Interestingly enough it became a perfect opportunity to practice my welding skills.

Although as can be seen from the sketches that I have put up, the first idea for the lantern was far off from what actually became of it. Nevertheless, it was a fun task to complete, and learning new ways to work with three-dimensional objects was the best reward from that few weeks of sawing, assembling and re-assembling a pile of steel pipes in the sculpting department. As for the measurements for the lantern, I used the old steel frame that I had already done for the Red Elephant exhibition, which in a way fit the whole scene quite well since building the lantern was part of a course held by the environmental art teachers and they emphasized the importance of ecological and aesthetical approach on the task.The actual lamp that we got to use in them was provided by the festival organisation, so we all had similar standard lights in our use, which gave its own challenge for the whole project.

As I said in one post, I did have in mind to use tea bag papers in this work, and that intention was with me until the very end right to the moment when I suddenly realized that they just won't work. Having my old sculpting teacher agree with me as she by chance bumped into the same room said enough. Maybe I'll get to use them in some other projects in the future again, then...perhaps when I finally get my offset lithos on display somewhere. We'll see. Nevertheless, enjoy the process pics.

Oh, and if you're around the neighborhood, don't forget to go and check out Heidi Tikka's exhibition at the Gallery Sculptor. She was kind to take me as her exhibition assistant, and the interactive media art pieces that she has there on display are a treat for those who are interested in how the spectator's actions can affect the art work. To add more fun to the whole exhibition, she had in mind that she would be present most of the exhibition and show 'artist at work' in the gallery space, developing new works and maintaining the ones that are now put up in the space. So for those interested in media art, meeting her might also be a very nice opportunity to broaden the views on that subject.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Winter War Memorial competition 2013


The sculpting scene has been buzzing with slight excitement for the past few weeks ever since the third phase of the Winter War Memorial Competition kick-started, the said competition now having its winner and the good other finalists chosen by the committee. Yours truly had once again also proven the point of getting into situations as the sudden suggestion of joining the staff for the competition was suddenly dropped in my morning tea at the gallery.

The task basically withheld receiving the first stage works with one of the founding members of the Talvisotayhdistys ry and then joining the same gentleman and a nice madame on the third, final stage where the chosen finalists brought in their scale models for the sculptures.


There were a total of 258 suggestions for the memorial, varying from humoristic pieces to very architectonic and poetic glass/steel/bronze/stone/ceramic/light works and thus gave an excellent opportunity to see how different artists viewed one given theme, in this case Finland's Winter War against the Soviet Union back in the 1939-40, a time period that has also been dubbed as '105 days of honor' which refers to the miracle of a small nation actually holding its ground against a country that was (and still is) bigger on every scale imaginable.

One of the aspects that is also well-known concerning the said war was that it happened right after a long and brutal civil war where the nation had been split in two politically opposite sides, but despite the old grudges and still a bit delicate political atmosphere, the Finnish people united when facing one common enemy. This may seem like a rather trivial detail, but that's part of the reason why we still have Helsinki as our capital. The said 'change of heart' is also one of the most referred phenomenon when the policitians nowadays wish to engage the whole country into something that requires unanimous action (which, sadly, has led to an extensive misuse of the otherwise grand ideal of a united nation).

In any case, rather than indulging myself with a tiny lecture of our war-time history (the society has libraries and the internet for a reason) let's steer back to the things at hand. The pictures that are shown in this post are all the finalists and of course the winning piece. Intriguingly, out of six contestants two were architects, and which was even more interesting was in how similar way they viewed the location and the challenge of using the given space in their work.

Below is a scale model made by the architect Abel Groenewolt, a piece called 'Kaarna' / 'Bark', which resembled a burned forest with charred trees scattering across the market square. The trees would have been made of bronze, and the poetic part of the piece were tiny lights that would have been embedded to the ground and as the days of the war went past, for each day one of the lights would switch on, resulting with 105 luminated lights illuminating the dark winter nights.


The other contestants were on similar tracks with their train of thought, as their piece also takes over the market square but with solid glass pillars that were designed to reflect the sunlight throughout the surrounding urban landscape. This dynamic duo was an architect and a designer, which was a good reminder about the perks of collaboration. Coincidentally, the architect Kai van der Puij was also the one who had designed the brand new collection room at the Sculptor gallery, which led to a rather amusing situation for both sides as we bumped into each other when he brought in his model. Small world.


For those who have already checked out the section for my offset lithos it isn't much of a surprise why this particular finalist caught the geometric eye from the first glance. Anssi Pulkkinen, an active member of the Finnish Sculptor Association, participated the competition with a piece called 'Displacement'. With this piece one can see both the brutality and beauty of a destroyed building, and after understanding that the artist was indeed referring to the houses that were damaged through bombings and so forth, the details of the piece suddenly made a whole lot more sense as the torn doors and the exploding windows became visible underneath the otherwise chaotic compositions.

The play of form and de-constructing an architectonic space was interesting, and being able to get inside a monument rather than circling it and peering at the minuscule historic tales from its surface is always a preferred choice in this lady's opinion. However, the given location may not be the best place for this sort of piece, no matter how awesome it would be to bump into this when strolling down the streets.


As the art of creating suspension goes, the winner gets the final word. The sculptor Pekka Kauhanen is one of the still very much active grand old masters in the Finnish sculpting scene, and also well-known for his style. And yes, as the first picture of this post already showed, not only does he know his stuff but he also managed to make his way to the finals with two scale models. Then again, if one ever met this gentleman and got to exchange a few well-humored words, the said occurrence would not be so odd any longer. That man is quite something.

The work carries the name 'Valon tuoja' (roughly translated as 'The Bringer of the Light'), which is a lonely soldier made of steel standing atop a hollow steel ball (referred as 'The Time Capsule'). Inside the said round pedestal will be an exhibition of old war-time photographs that are chosen by the Finnish Defence Forces, the photos reflecting both the civilian's and soldier's views on the Winter War period. Luminating the soldier will be done with some pro lights that are estimated to last for the next ten years before they'd need to be renewed, and the windows through which the people can look inside 'the Capsule' are made out of LEXAN MARGARD , a hard surface coated glass that should be able to withstand both the climate changes and the propable vandalism as well.

The soldier itself will be cast in steel and the pedestal is going to be welded after which both will of course be polished etc., and as the size of the monument will be ten times larger than the scale model (which really would make a hefty sculpture by itself already), our energetic gentleman is going to be rather busy for the next couple of years.


Here's what the committee wrote about the winning entry:

"- - The judging committee felt that Kauhanen's proposal was a thought-provoking and novel type of war memorial that succeeds in symbolising the character and tenor of the Winter War period.

The theme and size of the proposal make it a persuasive piece of artwork. The use of light as part of memorial is to be applauded, and the pedestal with a crevice in it is an interesting approach. The placement of the memorial on Kasarmitori square projects a firm stance. - -"

The judging committee of the competition had members from The Ministry of Education and Culture together with the Prime Minister's Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Defence Command, the City of Helsinki, the Winter War Association, the Mint of Finland and veteran organisations.

 For further reading, behind the link you'll find what Helsingin Sanomat wrote about the competition.