Thursday, February 16, 2012


One of the few ice photos I have been able to take this year,
as we had very little snow and ice in Wales
I'm very tired of all the resistance to my efforts of creating meaningful art. I think most people have realized that we live in a very Orwellian reality, one in which Talent Shows (especially for singing) are at the very top of people's list of interests, and a self-promoted art elite (many of whom are arbitrary collectors) is telling the world what artists are worth investing in.

The new fad that I have discovered here in Britain is that people who get rejected when seeking a job or trying to take part in group exhibitions, or apply for anything else, no letter of rejection is being sent to them. In other words, you are often left wondering for quite some time whether you got accepted to something or not. This is especially true if you haven't kept count of the exact dates when the results are due (it can be quite hard if you apply for many things at the same time). The consensus seems to be, that people who are rejected mustn't get a chance to argue their case, as the authorities don't want to have to deal with people bickering. I do however find this attitude extremely humiliating. I feel that more than ever before, I'm a beggar, a "mere artist" who has to plead for acceptance and approval from a wistful elite that often consists of self-promoted "authorities".

I have tried to establish myself in this country, but all the rejections are hard to take. I have to say that the only people who sent me a real letter of rejection on the very day were of the national art competition in Chichester. At least they had a look at my work rather than only relying only on photos sent by e-mail. 

I didn't really expect to get in to the exhibition at the Oriel Davies Gallery in Newtown, Powys, because it's commonly held as a very snooty place. I find it quite sad that the trust was set up by these two art loving sisters who may well have wanted it to be a different kind of gallery. I don't have the facts so I don't know what the deal was when they left their money for the purpose of creating an art gallery in the middle of rural Wales, but what I do know is that the woman who runs it is not necessary pleasant to deal with (she has been very rude to Martin although the problem was with her computer and not his system) and apparently hates the idea of representing local artists. So the exhibitions are often either of London based artists or international, as in the case of the recent rather boring exhibition of Danish artists and their view of rural life. We go there often but never do we feel we actually gain anything. Many complain that it's not a very user friendly environment. Apparently neither Martin nor I got in, as we have not received any correspondence from the gallery.

I spent two days trying to make an application for the online directory AXIS, which was recommended to me. Apparently being part of it is status even if you have to pay 30 pounds a year for the membership.They want to make sure you're an established contemporary artist. Well, I took a lot of trouble explaining all about my long career, but what I'm not able to show for because of my disability is a list of commissions, workshops and all that other fancy work that artists are expected to consecrate their time and energy to. I also have no awards as I have never even seen any art competitions before I came to the UK. So - was it a case of discrimination that I didn't get accepted to the "elite"? Am I not "contemporary" because I do symbolic work? Am I using imagery (old copy right free engravings) that they don't find exciting? Am I too old? Do I speak too many languages and make the mistake of mentioning that I have an MA degree in Arts and Humanities rather than a proper degree from an arts college (I have been to art school in France but didn't last long enough for a degree).

The rejection letter goes as follows:

Dear Vivi-Mari Carpelan


Thank you for your recent application to join Axis. Our 
curatorial panel have enjoyed looking at your work.  However 
I am sorry to tell you that your application has been 
unsuccessful this time.

As stated on the website before you applied, owing to the 
amount of applications we receive, we regret that we are 
unable to provide feedback to unsuccessful applicants. If 
you would like to, you can reapply in 12 months.

About our selection process
Although we try to reflect a broad range of practice, our
selection process is also guided by the desire to document
and represent how contemporary artistic practice in the UK
is changing. You can read more about the application
criteria here:

Before you applied you set up a user account, which means
you may receive the monthly user bulletin with news about
Axis, we hope you continue to use Axis and enjoy these
bulletins. You can change your settings and unsubscribe from
the bulletins by logging into your account and selecting
'your preferences'.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you well with
your artistic career. Thank you for your interest in Axis.

Yours sincerely

I don't know what exactly they are saying when they are referring to the selection criteria. There are two things that don't make any sense. One is that they only support contemporary art, and make a distinction between "modern" and "contemporary" artists. This is very ambiguous and subject to almost any kind of interpretation. Contemporary art is basically art that is made now, and it tends to deal with social issues rather than only self expression. The other strange criterion is that the artist should demonstrate "awareness of current debates and issues in visual arts practice". What is that, and why should you have to, you're not supposed to be an art critic! I also don't know how you can demonstrate this in the application form.

I have a horrible feeling that having mentioned that my art is symbolic is a terrible "mistake". I was also forced to choose categories for my work, not really finding suitable ones among the predetermined selection (this is true for Saatchi too). I had to choose categories such as "surrealist" and "figurative" for my collages, which I find misleading. And maybe ticking the box "surrealism" gives them the idea that one's work is really passee! In actual fact, when you think about, a whole bunch of the categories sound more like "modern" art than "contemporary" art to me. By modern art I mean the isms that came into fashion after about 1860 and up until about 1950.

And was I wrong to tick the box for "disabled" when it was a question of the equal opportunities act? Does it make any difference, and if so, in which way. Who knows?!

I seriously ask myself, who is the potentially "power tripping" person behind the directory who gets to decide that you're not a serious artist even when you have been as active as you possibly could for over 20 years? To be honest, I found filling in the CV bit very difficult, as it only allowed seven entries. An intelligent general audience with a heart has enjoyed my work, but no matter how I try and twist my tongue to fit what I think could be the criteria these so-called "authorities" on art have laid out, it seldom seems to work. And of course, I have to remain true to myself and not start to make my work look like something I am trying to second guess that fits in with the art elite and their conception of what art is supposed to be in the modern world.

I think there are also a lot of buzz words that you need to know when you write about your art to judges of contemporary art, but these are words you probably only know about if you recently graduated from art college. This is one of the vast amount of problems you experience as an ageing artist, since youth is always more attractive to those who are in charge of the art market.

I take all this personally because my art is personal. The "art establishment" doesn't seem to like who I am and what I represent. I sincerely want to make a difference, I wish to challenge people's ideas and points of view, I want to show what is truly going on in people and what kind of suffering they are subjected to... I want that my life's work is of some value, that all the things I have gone through is of some use to others. But... it's like fighting the wind, and I feel that I'm losing. I don't know what more I can do to get my art out there so that I get to communicate with an audience. I don't have the stamina and energy for all this competitiveness. 

I shall add one more goal to my list of personal missions, and is to support art with meaning even more arduously and not give in to the wrong authorities, i.e. the heady, arrogant and often self-promoted "art elite". They aren't doing the art scene any good as far as I can see, it's just the same old promotion of cold and vapid conceptual art as well as the supporting of people who are go-getters and competitive enough for this world. It's too harsh, sensitive individuals simply cannot make it. 

These are the pieces I submitted to Axis, they were meant to represent a cross section of what I've been doing since 2008. Perhaps my strategy was not the right one, but who is to know what exactly these people are looking for? What art work would be best to show? How can I choose? 

X – SURVIVING IN THE WORLD OF THE FITTER (handmade collage 2011)

I have thought of possibly changing some things about this picture, which I worked so very hard on before the end of last year. I'm taking on board some of Martin's opinions about the hand drawn figure and will see if there is any way I can make it more attractive.
Chaos reigns as long as men rule the world, and everyone who participate in society is responsible for its state of being, in one way or another. When you suffer chronic illness and become marginalized, you are not very likely to receive appropriate help and attention. Still the tough school of life can help you gain wisdom and detachment.
To read more about the sign "X", see my previous blog entry about this piece.

INSOMNIA (handmade collage 2011)

The depiction of the nightmarish and vulnerable state of being one finds oneself in when afflicted with insomnia. Sometimes it almost feels like a mental illness, as issues related to fear tend to come up at this time - hence the insects, a common theme of psychosis. The text and pattern depict the brainwaves associated with different stages of consciousness. It creeps up from behind the wallpaper, which in my art symbolizes surface and "cover up". 
Perhaps this wasn't the best piece to present to a judge of contemporary art. 
Vintage is in, but only in certain circles.

This symbolic collage is about emotional development, and specifically about the ambivalence of sexuality. While somewhat threatened, the female figure also expresses excitement and expectancy. It's paradox and part of the dualism of life as well as cycles of existence. Water is a frequent symbol in my work which depicts various emotional states. Here, the volcano in the background expresses suppressed feeling, maybe on the verge of eruption. The camera stands for the ambivalent experience of being observed.
Again, the figures are "vintage" and perhaps that is another problem with the judges of contemporary art.
EPHEMERAL WAYS (handmade collage 2008)
This collage on canvas consists of a collection of real ephemera found in a derelict house in Kansas, USA. There are cheques that evoke stories of various purchases connected to daily life in this rural area, as well as wallpaper, old photographs and a handwritten story by a lady who was a school teacher. In the middle, there is my own photograph of a snowed in churchyard with the names of European immigrants. The red poinsettias are striking and connect with the red lines I have traced onto the images as pathways in this imaginary story of the survival of settlers in the USA.
DANSE MACABRE (digital photograph 2011)

This digital photograph of the outside of a skip is part of a series with the working name of "Beauty in the Rough". I'm interested in alerting the viewer to beauty where one would rarely look for it, especially in a trashy environment. This project is accompanied with some text about a journey (inner and outer), as the images are evocative of landscapes, weather conditions and other phenomena in the real world. Ultimately I aim to make it symbolic of body image, especially in cases of chronic illness. I hope to experiment with printing on other materials than paper, hopefully aluminium or zink as this would be more evocative than paper of the paradoxical origin of the images.
POETRY IN ICE I (digital photograph 2008)

During a stay in Kansas, USA I visited a man made lake over 20 times. It was an unusually harsh winter and the changing weather conditions created interesting patterns in the ice. Some are so abstract it's hard to tell what exactly the image depicts. This is part of a series and exhibition I called "The Petrified Trees" as trees from the time before the valley was flooded were still sticking up, creating an amazingly surreal and lonely atmosphere.

And finally... I am very upset because years and years of frustration with the so-called authorities in art (often prestigious galleries for that matter) came up... and it's all so soul destroying. I feel as if my soul is being trashed, bit by bit. I must find a way of healing this wound and a way of existing, even if it means  falling into the category of outsider artists, or leaving the art scene altogether.


  1. Vivi,
    I hear you. If I may suggest, your best strategy for moving forward is to focus on your art and don't attempt to anticipate what catagory your work fits into. Just place your focus on perfecting your art and hire a public relations director and/or art rep to handle all of the submissions and promotions of your career. This takes the burden of the art business world off your shoulders and onto someone who can do what needs to be done to get you to where you what to go in your career.
    Don't waste energy on trying to figure out where the art elite who make decisons about artists careers, are coming from or how they make their decisions. You get and stay positive and let a trained professional handle the art business elite.

  2. Hi Ava, thank you for coming here and commenting! I do actually agree with you, for all sorts of reasons and a high degree of sensitivity I have had a deep crisis about my art. I only came to this country a year and a half ago, and find it very harsh. I think I will, however, continue creating but putting less of myself out there is terms of promotion. It's taking a huge toll on me as you seem to have picked up on. You are however saying there are professionals who could help, but where are they?? My husband is an artist too, quite on the ball, but he doesn't know either. We would love to know how to do this. We also have no money to spare, so it would have to be someone who worked on commission. Please share if you know where one is supposed to start looking! I would be very grateful. Thanks!

  3. Hi Vivi-Mari, I adore your collage and the ice is I just want to look at this photograph for hours. I can relate about promoting yourself. It is so difficult because creating is soul work. When others tell us our soul work is not accepted it is crushing. I am also getting ready to have another to promote my work. It is so emotional for me to sell my work I have a hard time with it. I wish you only good and happiness.

  4. Hi Joann and thank you for commenting! I just set up a page on my website for ice pix only... How are you going about having someone else take care of selling your art? Surely it costs money. I don't have the luxury of paying anyone upfront for anything. But I will just have to try and avoid putting myself out there too much, especially where the going is rough, even if it means less opportunity... my health is not up to it, unfortunately. Wishing you the best as well!