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


  1. I'm so impressed, Vivi-Mari, not only with your artwork (which is so brilliant, all the collages that I have seen of yours) but also with your eloquent words on the subject of chronic illnesses and marginalized people. I hope you do more work with the distinctive X: it's a great concept! And one more thing: I'm so struck by the spirituality in your work—it's uplifting to me, to look at your art.

  2. Thank you so much for your wonderful and thoughtful comment! You made my day! It's thanks to people like you that I keep on working... ;-) it can be lonely sometimes. I am very excited about the concept of X and hope to make it into a really extensive project!