Saturday, December 31, 2011


This Christmas has been very rainy indeed...
A year ago, we were struggling to get through deep snow...
It has been a very arduous year. Looking back, I have no doubt done a lot of useful inner work and also managed to set new things in motion. At least I hope so! I feel that things that have been stuck are now getting unstuck, and I feel quite energized by a feeling of motivation to work and seek personal success. It's too early to shout about it but things look less bleak now. There's a sense of direction and purpose, which was lost for quite a while. I am quite determined to do what feels right in spite of potential criticism.

As we set out in our car to look for a Christmas tree,
we spotted two across the street,
leaning against the Animal Welfare Charity shop.
We got a smaller and a bigger tree for £ 7... it's funny how I usually get a tree for almost nothing at all.
A incense burner, probably from an Anglican church or chapel
The bigger tree is not really in my taste, but oh well, we saved a lot of money!

We bought this second hand chandelier for £ 12 and I have been hanging stuff I already had on it
throughout the year.
 I bought a few hearts and the beady garland.
It's a bit of a whimsy!

The best thing about this Christmas, apart from finally seeing my mother and having a good time, must be the fact that my mom gave me a fabulous new lens (SP 70-300 mm) which will allow me great close ups! I took this image of a candle late at night on Christmas Eve (which is when we celebrate) and it is pretty damn good quality. Of course, if someone gave me an even better camera I would be very happy, but I can manage with my Nikon D90 for a while longer... 


Thursday, December 29, 2011


We bought some paints when a hardware store was selling out, as well as got some pots here and there over a long period of time, and this was the basis for the work we have been able to do in the house. We also bought some white floor paint and some items from Ikea when we got a small sum of money. This is what we have done.

The kitchen was really a kitchen from hell. Someone had recycled some old cabinets from the 1980s but of course nothing really fitted very well. They also covered the walls in panelling, which I call the "sauna effect"! We desperately needed to do something about the state of affairs but it was difficult without any money. I gradually painted one wall after another with cheap white matt emulsion.
The dreaded sauna effect!
We removed the shelf, painted it white,
and hung it above one of the doors to hold my collection of
colourful tins..
The Scandinavian settee moved to the dining area
(former pantry or utility room)
and the table was also removed.
The cabinet doors are a very typical British design from way back in time...
Fake wood grain melanin and wooden handles across.
The tiles speak for themselves...
I have managed to cover the floral pattern on one side of the
kitchen with a spray paint for tiles that I got on sale.
I will never use spray paint indoors again!
It was a nightmarish job.

One sleepless night I was thinking about the cabinet doors, which would be very difficult and somewhat pointless to replace until we have some money. I made a decision and since I couldn't sleep I just got up at four am and primed them with Crown Multi Surface Primer. In the morning I asked Martin what he thought and he didn't even notice! But the next two days we painted them with a mixture of a water based green paint that I got on sale and some pigments. Though the pigments don't mix very easily, when applied they blend and create a surface that doesn't look dull. This is one of my little tricks to get an interesting shade and surface! I love dark green and quite enjoy creating my own shade anyway.

My old cupboard from the 1920s that doesn't go upstairs finally ended up in the kitchen
where the bench and the table used to be.
This gives great storage for crockery and things like the bread machine that was taking up space on the worktop.
I still need to deal with the varnished surface.
and Martin has to do some fixing of the door.
A lot of junk and food has come down from on top of the cabinets.
To the left above the oven there is a big hole where there used to be a microwave oven.
I will replace the white curtain when I find
something suitable. Tins and flour are now in that space.
A lot of food have gradually found its way into Ikea storage jars, and later on Martin will build shelves for them.
We got cheap black iron handles for the drawers from Ikea.
The worktops aren't great, they are fake oak, but at least they are neat.
The spice rack is also from Ikea, built from four pieces.
We've been looking for a bread bin for a long time, but when I saw a series of tins
for only £ 15 in a supermarket I figured it was just as well to go for it.
The tiles in the background aren't painted yet, but they are not as obtrusive
as the ones on the other side.
I had some spare halogen light fittings that Martin put up on the walls.

I had a three-piece halogen light fitting that Martin attached to the cabinet
for better working light.
These tiles were spray painted white.
A lamp stand from Ikea was bought to fit this shade,
as a cosiness factor in the corner.
I painted the side of the unit dark green to create as much
sense of coherence in a chaotic looking kitchen as possible.
It's a great shame that we have a brass blender that we got on sale a long time ago
but cannot afford having someone install it at the moment.
What is also irritating is the positioning of the gas heater,
but when the kitchen is done properly it will have to get a better place inside a cupboard.
We also hope to have a Belfast sink eventually,
as well as move the sink to the corner and have a Finnish style drying cabinet above it.
We have not had time to do anything much to the yard,
eventually the trellis will come down and the walls will be painted white.
I bought this lovely kitchen curtain a long time ago in Finland and now it found the perfect window.
It makes a big difference to the cosiness of the space.
I have also attached a spotlight above the sink.
The wicker rug beater to the left is from Finland.
We bought these halogen lights for the ceiling on sale some time ago, we like the vintage look.
Decent lighting. i.e many small spots and halogens, helps to make the space cosy.

We moved a shelf to the door that leads to the dining area.
My collection of Chinese tea caddies is on it.
The dining area is quite cosy now, and we can use it... we just need to get the vinyl wallpaper off completely.
The Christmas cards are obviously seasonal...
I really like my set of Scandinavian chairs and a bench from about 1910.
I have primed them, but am still looking for the right paint. I think they will remain white.
The seats are clad with some William Morris fabric I found in Finland.
My artwork "Grazing A Maze" from 2006 adorns the space above the fridge,
along with a small blackboard from Indiska.
Luckily the floors are tiles, they are not our taste at all but at least it's neat...


This is the table that used to be in the kitchen.
We have a large and rather horrible plastic shower tray that was originally meant for a handicapped lady,
so it requires two shower curtains.
Nice ones tend to be very expensive so my solution was to buy cheap white ones for the inside.
On the outside, there is a normal curtain with a lovely pattern.
In fact, it was two for the price of one shower curtain!
I wouldn't usually buy polyester but 50 % (the rest is cotton) is warranted in the wet room.
I hate the pointless non-see-through window glass
and hanging an old favourite cotton curtain in front of it makes it all seem cosier.

Finding a way of fastening the curtain really required lateral thinking...
I had to get them up quickly for Christmas and didn't have time to fuss with eyelets.
I had these curtain hooks from the past, but only one set. The other set is much thicker metal.
It was hard to find thin metal ones anywhere, most are plastic these days,
but in the end I found similar ones from John Lewis so I will be able to make small eyelets that will fit the hooks.
I have taken the little curtain grips that are traditionally used in Finland
and bent the wire so that I could fasten it to the actual shower curtain hooks.
It doesn't look too bad.

I hung an Indian textile shoe rack by the sink
and we got a cheap shaving mirror from Ikea that doesn't get quite so steamed up.
One of my pet hates are these two separate taps. It's like living in the 1950s.
Oh well, one day...
The black/grey/gold tiles that are scattered around the walls are truly pointless,
and quite ugly,
but there's not much we can do about them right now.
The floors in the bathroom have been painted white with Ronseal Diamond Hard Floor Paint, but some more coats will be necessary. We also solved the problem with dirty laundry - I admit to creating quite a lot of it... - by getting a big but cheap metal garbage bin for £ 16. It was a damn sight cheaper than any decent quality laundry bins!

The space between the floorboards still needs filling.
Ideally you would take the boards out and reposition them,
but Martin will be using caulking and hemp rope instead.
The old step ladders function as clothes depository...

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Emotions 1-6", six handmade collages 12x17 cm

So here's the scenario: you feel discouraged and disheartened, not knowing what to do next. It seems as if everything is against you and you are losing faith not only in other people but in yourself as well. You feel stuck and uncreative. Personally, I have been in this place many times. It's almost as if each time it gets worse, but this could be evolution in action. Challenges get tougher as you learn from life, but the rewards you reap are probably also greater. Thing is, life is naturally dynamic, and this means there are always ups and downs throughout the journey. I find it helpful to think of it as the inhalation and exhalation of life itself. When you're in a phase of inhalation, you will feel more introspective and maybe even depressed. The point is to not fight this, but go with the flow. If you resist it, you make it harder for yourself. 

Artists are people who may feel these mood swings and roller coasters much more poignantly than others. People in creative jobs easily get distressed when they're in a low phase because it feels as if they can't produce anything worthwhile. The feelings of vulnerability easily make them feel victimized and as a consequence, they blame others for a lot of things rather than assuming responsibility in a more "grown up" sort of way. The darker aspects of one's being might come out and one will be a less pleasant person to be around. The way that depth psychologists who specialize in creativity theories explain this is that you are more submerged in your subconscious mind and the reason you cannot produce quite so well is because mental material is in a state of brewing. Don't panic, this phase is necessary. If you look into yourself you will probably find that you're battling with problems and feeling conflicted about many things. There is often one major issue to deal with but it usually connects with other more minor issues. You need to let it all go on for as long as it needs to go on.

Let this be. Don't panic, don't force yourself to be something you're not. At the most, be positive in the sense that you know this will pass, and that consciously dwelling on things is not necessarily of any use. I find talking to Martin useful, as it sometimes speeds things up a bit and makes me feel clearer, as well as helps him understand what's going on and why I'm acting the way I'm acting. But trying not to whhine and winge too much is better for yourself and everyone around you. Keep in mind that clarity will come when the time is right.

Then suddenly, one day, you have reached a decision - maybe even a major one. Time and time again, I find that reaching a decision about what direction I want to take is the turning point. I don't think there are any real short cuts to this. This is usually when you come out of your shell and start acting. You will no doubt be more extroverted than normal, which will enable you to communicate with other people about your ideas and your direction. In fact, just chatting to people about whatever happens in your life can lead to unexpected turns of events. Very often things happen indirectly, in a mysterious way that is not really of your own making. You're just being open and actively putting yourself out there. You feel more in charge of your own life, but don't make the mistake of thinking that you can control it. Control is not the point, and there is a very important distinction between the two. I think one of the keys is that you stop putting your destiny in the wrong hands and decide what kind of people you want to interact with. These people will then be the right ones who facilitate your journey. It's always a two way street so you really must avoid manipulating or forcing other people to make things happen for you. Luckily at this time and age people have woken up to the advantages of networking. I certainly feel that real, profound and honest interaction with others can be quite fruitful. It's about a balance between being self-sufficient and acknowledging the need for other people. The truth and fluidity of being is a paradox somewhere between the two ways of being.

When you overcome your own prejudices and expectations of life, you often end up choosing the path of less resistance. I think it's important to remember that there are often alternatives, and when we cease to stubbornly hold onto a particular path, it turns out there is an easier one which is much better for you. This is my experience, anyway. 

It's interesting how inner decisions will lead to greater flow and how things just start to happen. It probably feels great. During this phase, it's useful to be outgoing and generous. I'm not saying it's a ride without any bumps. But if you follow your intuition - and this is of paramount importance - you will probably finally achieve some important goals on your journey. By goal I don't mean an end, but rather a milestone. It won't last, because it's not in the nature of reality to be stable. Embrace the changes that will happen in one way or another, and enjoy the rush while it lasts!

P.S. These are my own thoughts but there are two classic books by Mihalyi Csiksztentmihalyi, "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" and "Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention" that you might like to read if you're interested in the subject matter.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


"The Vocation", copyright Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2008

Today I am really knackered. It has been a busy time with very bad sleep. However, I feel that I have really advanced on some important practical levels. I have talked to several nice people who are involved in the disability arts in Wales. It seems that nowadays, outsider art is defined as being art by anyone who is marginalized by society. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I fit the bill since I have some training and work professionally as an artist. The idea of outside art is namely to bring out "talent in the rough" amongst those who don't have much education and sophistication. However, I do have a disability so surely I fit into some kind of niche somewhere.

The main thing is that the messages I wish to bring out through my art have become much clearer in my mind, and I feel that I am gradually able to get them across to other people too. For a long time I felt quite scattered and lost in regards to my art, and what I could say that might get a wider audience interested in more than just the aesthetic value of my artistic products.

For most of my life, I struggled to keep up with other people and didn't particularly want to be seen as disabled. Instinctively, and even due to practical experience, you know that disability isn't received very well by most people. In some ways I am sure that pretending that I was doing better than I really was has been helpful, because it made me feel more worthwhile. There are images you can create in your mind that will be empowering. Some people have made it their mission to bring awareness to our ability to visualize in order to feel better about ourselves and our situation, but I never liked following other people's advice in this regard. I guess I'm a bit stubborn and I always figured I'd find my own way. I do beat myself up when I don't do too well though. Since I've been married I've seen myself fall into a whiny mode of martyrdom and victim hood far too many times. While I believe it is probably quite normal when you're not feeling well and your energies are low, but it doesn't make you feel any less guilt ridden. 

A few weeks ago we saw an exhibition with art by South Asian people, namely from India and Pakistan. When we left the venue, Martin said oh well, it's always the same story. "Whine, whine, poor me I am such an outsider in this society...". It's an easy way of making art, isn't it, he said. Complain through your art, there is bound to be somebody who gets a guilt trip or feels sorry for you. I thought to myself, that there is indeed a great danger in slipping into the victim mode and using it to your advantage. The problem is, you are not doing yourself the favour you may think you are. Of course, I am in this country of my own free will, so it's probably easier for me to have a positive attitude towards integration. But the truth is, I have many varied issues of feeling marginalized as I don't really know where I truly belong, how to adapt to my past (Finnishness) and my future (Britishness), nor how I can best work and contribute in my own way at my own pace in a new environment, as a person with a disability.

Don't get me wrong, I complain as well. Many people in Finland know that I have put myself out there, not least by complaining officially on the radio. I also have a blog in which I have recorded all the social injustice I have witnessed in my own life. But in the end there is a fine line between wallowing in self-pity, complaining about all that is bad, and just observing and stating a fact. I'm not entirely sure where the lines are, and I think often you have a little bit of everything in your cocktail. But I do know that I cannot state facts without a certain amount of emotional involvement. For instance, both Martin and I reacted to the colouring book for children about the terrorist attacks during 9/11 that an American publisher has recently published. We both thought, wow that would make a good artistic project. I was absolutely fuming at the very thought of offering such propaganda to innocent kids who will never understand what it's really about. The publisher obviously thinks they are educating the children about what really happened, but kids cannot comprehend it. It will only sow more seeds of hatred and "us against them". All that crap. 

Anyway, the point is that somehow you need to try and make art that doesn't put other people off. It's very easy to make others feel guilty or uncomfortable by being too confrontational and blaming everybody else for your rotten situation. I want to say things the way they really are - I think I'm well equipped for this as I'm Finnish... but I want people to actually want to engage in my work and not dismiss it because they are not obliged to have a second look. You cannot force others to feel sympathy. This is especially true today when a lot of people are having a difficult time and the future is uncertain in so many ways. What you want to create is an atmosphere of sharing, because, as someone just pointed out, most of us are going to be afflicted with ill health and misfortunes at some point in our lives. We need to pull together and also see that the marginalized people in society may very well have something valuable to contribute even when it doesn't seem like it. The point is, you just don't know. Yes many disabled people are not contributing much, but they might be able to do more if they weren't pushed to try and keep up with the norms. Others may be gems among the pebbles, with real wisdom and insight to share with others. Life is not only about economic growth, in fact that ideal should probably be abolished.

We do need to think about the audience as well though. We often forget, that there are "normal" people out there who just don't know what it's like to be marginalized. They have never met such people before. Their natural inclination is to feel embarrassed and uncomfortable and turn a blind eye. I have to admit to my own embarrassment that I sometimes feel similarly when faced with people who don't fit the norm. And I am supposed to be an open minded and unprejudiced person... well I don't think anyone is, to be honest. We must be gentle with these people. My interest in Buddhism many moons ago comes to mind, especially the ideal of compassion. We need to find the line where we get our message across but also have compassion for those who are ignorant about marginalization. Where exactly would they have learnt about such things? Many people believe what they read in their daily journal of preference, and it may be a very thwarted view of reality. Many newspapers only support what prejudices people already have. Yes, sometimes you have to yell really hard to be heard. Believe me, I know what I'm talking about. I have been a fighter of my rights as a human being for a very long time and often felt very discouraged. Still - maybe it's especially through the arts that people can be shown a complex and troubled reality in a way that doesn't put them off. How can you get people to listen to you and make them feel positive and educated about what they hear at the same time? Keep going, don't give up. I'm sure every little helps.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


So I finished the big collage that has been featured piece meal in previous blog posts. I was really hoping to create an arresting image of life with a chronic, but fairly invisible illness. Realizing that most people wouldn't be very interested in my personal experience, I hoped to create a general atmosphere that many other marginalized people can identify with, and possibly others with some empathy and brains.

What my message really boils down to is feeling neglected and bypassed by society, but there is also a strength in being able to have an outsider's point of view. As usual, I have hoped to express a paradox or double message of suffering and alienation but also strength of character and a possible insight into the deeper layers of life. People with disabilities are not just weak individuals. Very often illness can teach them lessons of life that other people can only dream of (if they care, that is). Of course, it's a sign of a civilized society that it takes care of its weaker individuals. But our society still has a long way to go. It needs to stop bickering over power and border issues - these tend to go round in circles as that which is being destructed has to be mended. It needs to start focusing on the real needs of its members and those who are healthier and wealthier obviously need to take more responsibility for the whole.

"X - Surviving in the World of the Fitter" (56x76cm) Vivi-Mari Carpelan copyright 2011
Second version of the picture above... an attempt to make the figure a bit less "in your face2,
especially as there are some issues with it that I don't know how to fix.
I also wanted to tie in the top bit with the lower bit a bit more.

"X" stands for many things. X marks a spot - this is where the problem lies (it's invisible to the viewer so must be marked with a sign). X is an unknown denominator (in mathematics x is commonly used as the name for an independent variable or unknown value) - often when it comes to physiological problems, the causes and effects are not known or well defined and even diagnoses can be elusive. X signifies a multiplication operation - physical symptoms have a tendency of multiplying over time as one thing leads to another. X has crossed something off or out. X-rays reveal physiological disturbance invisible to the eye. X can replace the signature of someone who is illiterate - this could symbolize the inability to fit in. In some countries (such as Finland where I come from) X is commonly used instead of a tick in a box - I tick all the boxes for someone who is crossed out of society, for instance.

There are also the X-files, which are not open to the general public due to their abnormal nature, and X-rated i.e. censored material which is also available only to the chosen few or those who especially choose to partake in this material. During the plagues, X's were drawn on the doors of those afflicted with it. "Shunning someone like the plague comes to mind...".

But most of all, X is an abstract sign that points to a concrete phenomenon.

As I'm sure anyone can see, the bottom half (from which the figure is more or less cut off for better and for worse) only comprises men and some animals. I decided to omit women in order to stress that we are still obeying patriarchal values and that they obviously don't work very well. However, I would say that people in general are responsible for the state of society and it would be false to portray only high powered authorities as responsible for the chaotic state of affairs.

In reality there are so many social issues to make art about, but it's not easy to find a visual language that is precise without being trite and banal.

This piece has now been sent off to be evaluated by a panel of (as far as I can tell) high powered curators for the Oriel Davies open art exhibition nearby. They ask for an artist's statement of no more than 100 words. I don't know whether it's a good thing or not. Sometimes I think it's useful to have to compress my intentions, and I'm sure it's easier on the judges too... I find that I need to rewrite my statement each time I enter something, because my focus always changes even if it's ever so slightly.

I have now decided to see what I can gain from going with the flow, i.e. find a way of practising art as a disabled artist. It has been a hard decision to make, probably because there is no such thing in Finland unless you have severe learning difficulties... In which case we're not really talking art but therapy (in most cases anyway). However upon some research (which often happens in the form of asking around, and I cannot stress enough how well this works over here) I have found that there is a niche for anyone who is marginalized by society whether it be due to mental problems, physical health problems or financial problems.I joined a gallery called Outside In which is precisely for the promotion of work by such artists, and it looks like there are exhibitions you can enter for free. This is very good news and one of the advantages of living in a big country like the UK. Charities abound. It's a bit strange and different but it's just as well to get used to it. I have also found out about something they call "surgery", a meeting for disabled artists to discuss their projects and needs for funding (as all of it is so much harder for those who lack in health). I am now a member of Disability Arts Cymru. What I am really hoping is to find the route of least resistance, and being able to relax a little rather than trying so desperately to keep up with the healthy lot.

Vivi-Mari Carpelan, a Finnish artist resident in Mid-Wales, has created symbolic images since 1991. Afflicted with a chronic illness since childhood, it comes naturally to her to explore emotional issues of belonging versus not belonging in a society mostly designed for people with wealth and health. Her work expresses paradox, as a fundamental and crucial characteristic of reality. While ill health and alienation are linked with shame and helplessness, these can also give rise to strength of character, deeper insights into matters of life and death, and the advantage of a more objective viewpoint in regards to society at large.

"Ephemeral Ways" (60x60cm), my second entry, created with real ephemera found in a derelict house in Kansas, and my own photo of an old graveyard with European immigrants. 
Copyright Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2007