Thursday, March 29, 2012


Vivi-Mari Carpelan: Part of a treasure map for a women's creativity group, copyright 2012

Thanks to kind contacts, I was recommended as the kind of artist who would be able to do a treasure map for a women's creativity group. This is run by Arts Care here in Wales. There wasn't much time so I only had one session of "critique" which I received by mail and telephone before I finalised the draft. I started out with a collage from 2008 in mind - "Distant Shores", so I did the background by hand in the same style. While I could have used maps already in existence, I felt that this would lend the map some personality but also keep it simple.

Vivi-Mari Carpelan; "Distant Shores" copyright 2008

Thankfully, I had quite a bit of copy right free images in mind already, so my long experience as a collage artist was helpful in this case. I suggested a treasure trove from a book of esoteric imagery because the group was doing stuff related to Tarot cards, as well as a woman with a water jug. The former has a Phoenix attached to it, and this was well received. The latter was found  superfluous. The decision makers wanted a treasure trove that was open and overflowing with symbols of creativity, especially musical instruments. At this point I wasn't quite sure how much I would be doing in Photoshop... what I did know was that it wasn't going to be that easy to fill up the trove. Though it would be good to represent all art forms, instruments were probably the best elements to use due to the scale and the relative scale between the elements, as well as the imagery available in my library. The finished maps were going to be only size A5.

For those who don't know how complex the process can be, here's an example: I had to scan the chest, changing some of it in Photoshop, then print it out and change the appearance, find objects to put in there, scan them, scale them (which is hard to do on the computer) and change them in Photoshop, think about the relationship between them, print them out, cut them out by hand, think how to position them, glue them by hand, then scan again and elaborate (i.e. fix the density of the blacks and make the white whiter), then scan in Photoshop, then add them to the circle with the bird... and so on. 
I ended up doing most of the map in Photoshop but most of the open treasure trove was done by hand. I knew the bit done by hand was going to be quite time consuming and difficult for me to execute, and I was right. Also - because I don't have a scanner that works with my relatively new HP laptop (Windows 7) I have to borrow Martin's Spanish tablet PC in order to scan anything, and this is always extra hassle. I had infuriating issues with the fact that I don't understand that much Spanish and his PC is getting old and tired. My PC also tends to run out of memory, so I'm learning to be more diligent about saving my work. Except that there's a bug in Photoshop Elements 10 that forces you to save each version separately. Big sigh!

By the end of the day I omitted some more references to maps. They wanted it quite simple, and to be honest - although I enjoyed most of the process there is also only so much time one can spend on a project for a week's food money.

I have received the feedback that the overall look is good but that there are too few references to all of the arts. The map has been sent to the rest of the team for review. Martin suggested put an inkwell at the front, which I have already scanned so that should be a reasonably easy thing to do.

Monday, March 26, 2012


I really dislike groups for mutual admiration but at the same time I realize that they are a inextricable part of life. One just needs to be aware of the purpose of any such group.

You may remember I wrote a blog post recently about the fact that I was rejected by the online registry for contemporary art Axis, one that is funded by the Arts Council and where membership costs £ 30 per year. In other words, a lack of resources is no excuse for elitism. Well, apparently I'm not the only one with some questions and complaints! Read this by Craig Smith who tries to find ways of supporting artists: through a newsletter you can subscribe to ( among other things it offers artists regular lists of opportunities).

"The recent cull of artists from the Axis register highlighted once again the issue of artists' visibility. 
With a remit to represent recent development in UK contemporary art, Axis' representation seems fixed on style rather than substance. Why should the distinction of modernity prohibit artwork from being contemporary? 
Maybe it's simply that Axis are at the limits of their ability to process artists' information, but for an ACE-funded organisation it's increasingly looking like a private members club. 
We share no such prejudices at isendyouthis and have been working for the last two years to find a way to move artists from invisibility to connection. 
Spurred on by recent events, development work has been accelerated and we're just about to launch our free national database for artists. Consider this your invitation.
Whatever your art form, genre or location, if you are seriously engaged in your practice - student, emerging, mid-career or established, with or without gallery representation – then we believe there is an audience for your work. 
Through this central database isendyouthis can connect you to opportunities, galleries, sales, resources, suppliers - free of charge.  It's what we mean when we say 'connecting the artworld'.
The artregister will be promoted extensively. Everything will be tailored to target your visibility as an artist. Entries will include contact information, a brief statement about your work and direct links to your website and social pages. isendyouthis artportfolios are included in the database so if you wish to show a selection of your work then that’s the option to choose."

Martin and I had to go to Cardiff last week to arrange for my upcoming exhibition in the Milkwood Gallery in  the lively area Roath. I insisted that we also go and have a look at an exhibition called Wunderland II at the Tactile Bosch Gallery. I had submitted six pieces but got rejected, and was very curious to see what kind of art they had accepted, especially as it was held in celebration of International Women's Day. 

Well, the website suggested a high profile gallery but it was in fact situated in a warehouse ( you might expect something of the sorts from the description "alternate" and "chameleonic" that weren't there when I submitted my pieces). You didn't really know where the gallery ended and where the workshops began. I didn't mind this per se but it's not what I expected. The art was not bad but seemed very young and immature, as if compiled of projects done at art college.

Some bad laser copies of even worse photographs of something nebulous hung on a washing line. A series of photographs showed a young woman in various corners of a bedroom. The obligatory bleached out polaroid photos (in case you hadn't noticed, this as well as photography with old plastic cameras is a big trend) were present. Two big charcoal drawings highlighted the pattern of old dresses. There was an arm chair that was painted white and some rusty objects were laid out in front of it. A room had some rather nondescript photos that I didn't have the patience to figure out arranged in gold frames around a fireplace with an ornate standing lamp. Cardboard boxes filled up another small room and there was some old thread and some lace. The third room had a installation we thought was the most interesting of the pieces; figure drawings were laid out in the midst of something that looked like the insides of a human being, suggesting a conflict between the portrayal of bodies on the outside as opposed to the inside.

There were also some other installation of some objects that didn't make much sense to me and I can't remember what they were, as well as some charcoal drawings of people in a nice, somewhat naive style.

I found the exhibition sadly lacking in any deeper references to a woman's reality (as it was supposed to refer to International Women's Day). It all looked contemporary, as if copied from a school book on conceptual art, and unsurprisingly therefore quite vacuous. In fact, our distinct impression, although possibly false, was that this was an exhibition of a group of young people who all knew each other.  At least my mind came to rest as I had no regrets about not having been part of this exhibition.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Affected by X", copyright 2012
Project "X" marks a change of direction in my art. I got some ideas for new work in a new style, inspired by a lot of encouragement from the disability arts community but also people who support outsider art. If I am to continue doing collages, I feel it has to be for the specific purpose of highlighting social issues through my own life's experience. I have always used myself in this way, I don't feel comfortable moving too far away from the subjective experience of life. However, as this image shows I have decided to be braver in my approach... this photo is not of very good quality and a better one will appear some time soon... 

The work features photos of myself, photos I've taken of the Finnish winter by the Baltic Sea, and various medical reports from Finland about my condition. It was a bit upsetting to work with these reports, that state personal facts with such detachment. The piece is about strength and weakness. The black garments represent the affected areas. The medallion "wallpaper" is as usual a symbol of "cover up". It's fairly large and it was as usual very hard for me to focus and get it right. I had to do a lot on the computer, which is tiring, and then cut things very neatly, which is not my strength (I'm sure a lot of people are familiar with the frustrations of missing a few millimetres where it's really important!). It's mostly handmade so it was a lot to deal with - I refuse to do too much trickery on the computer. It didn't help that the laser printer has some problem with printing black. And my studio is just way too small, and I'm too disorganised when I get inspired! Disability has many faces...

I have been invited to participate in a group show about art related to the metaphysical world of Giorgio de Chirico in Weston Super Mare. Of course, it's right down my alley. I mean not literally, of course, as this seaside town really is out of the way. I have asked other artists whether they thought it was worth it, opinions vary. Sadly I will have to decline because of the submission fee of £ 200. I'm sure it's reasonable but I can't afford it. I will wait until someone wants to represent me and support me rather than just take my money for the privilege of getting one more gallery onto my CV. In any case, I refuse to enter the art game in which the artist needs to be wealthy in order to get represented.

Oh and I finally secured the dates for the Milkwood Gallery in Cardiff, a non-profit gallery and shop. My exhibition starts on the 4th of June and ends on the 25th. The retrospective will mark the end of an era...

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Entangled for Life" copyright 2003


Retrospective: 10 years of handmade collages

In this exhibition I will be showing as many of my handmade collages as will possibly fit the walls of the lovely Milkwood Gallery. The themes I have been grappling with over the past ten years are mostly emotional, as my attention turned from a more theoretical attitude to life to one that was about living life for real. I was contemplating destiny and expressing feelings of being bound to one that for many reasons I couldn't escape. Ultimately, it was a sense of purpose rather than nihilism, albeit at a price. Life often felt like a kind of sacrifice for the acquisition of greater wisdom and understanding. As always, my images express paradox, as the hard lessons of life usually have a constructive side to them. Learning about emotions is learning how to be more human.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


"I Always Wanted to Go There", photograph by Vivi-Mari Carpelan copyright 2012
I have been updating my website a bit, trying to find a way of displaying my photography in sections that make some sense. I decided that most of the old abstracts should be in a separate folder as they the resolution is not that high and so my attempt to show them in A3+ size at an exhibition was not quite as successful as I had hoped. It also taught me that I shouldn't let someone else print my photographs, because even though our friend had time to spare, the result wasn't quite what it would have been if I had had time to experiment on my own. I don't understand why the Arts Council in their Creative Steps programme wanted to give applicants access to printing rather than giving the money for a printer. Surely it's one of those things you must do in the peace of your own home if you're a serious photographer. I also don't see people with physical impairments and what have you run around to printmakers every time they need a print. It's ludicrous. 

I have been working more on my ideas about the shadowy worlds and hope that this will be an intriguing series. I also put all such images on a separate page on my website because they differ from the "trash aesthetics". I don't feel I can disclose what this project is about as yet, other than that it's about the way other people treat objects. We shall wait and see... I hope the metaphysical mystery of objects will be apparent. The series "Beauty in the Rough" is slowly advancing but I will have to make special trips in order to find things to photograph, and so Martin has to have the time for it on a day when I don't wake up too late and the light is favourable.
"Guidelines Lost", photograph by Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2012
"The Presence", photograph by Vivi-Mari Carpelan, copyright 2012
"Once a White Board", photograph by Vivi-Mari Carpelan, copyright 2012

I have been asked to give two talks about the way my condition is reflected in my art at two Disability Arts Cymru launch events in May (3rd and 16th of May 2012 at Y Galeri, Caernarfon and Mold, FlintshireClwyd Theatre Cymru at 2.30-4.30 - there are other artists talks as well). The truth is, public performances terrify me, yet I do what is important to do, and am obviously honoured to be asked. In fact, my fear of speaking to people on the phone has increased since I got all those rejections - I am especially terrified of calling up galleries and finding that I have been rejected, that they are not interested, or receiving some other form of negative feedback. Making calls or giving talks takes a toll on me, I often psyche myself up for days or alternatively, decide to go for it as soon as I get up in the morning so that I don't have to wait around and get jittery. Still, there are calls and performances that cannot be avoided, and I try and limit my life as much as possible. But it was very clear that all this bothers me a lot. Fear is a parasite that digs its ugly snout into you the more vulnerable you feel, and is very hard to get rid of.

Yesterday we went to the MOMA Wales gallery in Machyntlleth to discuss the exhibition that was loosely promised to Martin's illustration project. He thought I should come along so that I could be introduced at the same time. I felt extremely awkward, not knowing when I could inject something about myself and whether it would be seen as rude. Martin apologized for not having thought of this beforehand. He did introduce me after they had agreed on the space by the road for next May, but I sensed that Ruth, the director, was probably feeling a bit overloaded and didn't want to make plans for years ahead when the main gallery spaces are available. She was sympathetic to my proposition but when we got home the fear of rejection struck quite badly again. I have lately been thinking about post stress syndrome again, because someone brought it up... I feel that difficult experiences just dig themselves deeper within me. On the one hand some things are getting easier, such as superficial socializing, but on the other some things are getting harder due to negative feedback. Martin keeps telling me that people promise all sorts of things... he always says he'll believe it when he sees it and the money is in the bank. I'm not that used to that kind of mentality and it bothers me a great deal.

I have entered the Saatchi showdown for Abstracts, this time I am certainly not going to be worrying about it. The rules have luckily changed, still I have no hopes as I know that it's usually boring art that wins, haha. Voting begins on the 13th.

"Helloo...?" mixed media drawing
 by Vivi-Mari Carpelan copyright 2000

Saturday, March 3, 2012


"Contemplating the Nature of Triumph", copyright Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2011
Art work featured in the Pallant House Magazine, March 2012

After a bad dip during which I seriously considered the validity of my artistic career, a number of things have happened. First, my better half Martin has received a small grant from the very elusive and mythic Arts Council! He worked very hard on the application. Apparently, the number of applications they receive these days are record high due to hard times, so they decided to distribute the money among a larger portion of applicants. Though Martin hasn't gotten what he initially hoped for in order to do research and produce an exhibition with supportive material, it's still a start. I sense that this will allow him to get going and that things will follow in a natural way so that he will get the recognition he deserves. 

As for myself, I seem to have stirred up a lot of feelings/reactions/caused an outcry due to being rejected by the Arts Council (The Creative Steps Programme), and am getting massive support from the disability arts community. People who work for our rights here in Wales have complained about the selection process, as it isn't seen as being fair and have "pointed out the absurdity of the situation" as Rachel Stelmach put it. Although no one has told me exactly what they are upset about, I venture to guess that it starts with the fact that I was considered too articulate and have too great a body of work to fit their scheme, i.e. I'm "too good". I did read through the programme (which was easy to read) and didn't see anything that should have immediately disqualified me. It certainly didn't suggest that you shouldn't be too intelligent, or that you must be an emerging artist. Of course I'm by no means suggesting that anyone would equate disability with "learning difficulties"... They did state that they wanted to be challenged, to be taken on a ride for a different point of view on life. Allegedly, only the quality of the applicant's work should matter, whether this applies within this programme I don't know... You could argue that the government wishes to support those who never get a chance otherwise, this makes them look benevolent and I'm sure the general public thinks it's great. This, however, leads to people like me who are not well enough to be accepted by the general art establishment (we don't have enough fancy stuff to show for) nor ill enough to be considered sufficiently marginalized, to be cut off from any sources of funding whatsoever. There is very little funding for individual artists to begin with.

I have found myself in the surreal situation of basically being punished for having tried so hard to make it as an artist. I am on disability, still I try and work to the best of my ability. The fact that I didn't get any financial support basically means that I cannot at the moment develop my ideas and message much further. I'm stuck trying to make do with the means I have at hand, and it's not great. One of my biggest problems is that I don't have an ink jet printer so I have to make do with small laser prints of much lesser quality to be used in my collages - until I run out of ink that I can't afford. I can obviously not set up a photo exhibition anywhere. I cannot involve other disabled people in my art project either, since I don't have the means to go around visiting these people. This means whatever art I may continue to produce will only be about myself. There is also the issue of mentoring and help with creating gallery contacts. From the official at the AC that I was dealing with, I was given the name of one gallery, and I did contact them via mail but of course I haven't heard from them. It's extremely difficult to approach galleries and I wouldn't even know where to start. When I do contact them, they are more likely to turn me down because I am not backed up by the Arts Council. I also have great trouble dealing with authorities on the phone as I have a horror of talking on the phone with strangers but also easily get things wrong due to a bad line, not catching numbers well, or due to linguistic reasons. It was not funny when I needed the IBAN number from a company and the lady had a New Zealand accent. Seven was "zieevn", for instance, and there was a confusion about the amount of zeros which were five and not two! (Martins says she probably said double O triple O, which would not be evident to me!).

The point of view of the AC is that I should just apply the normal way like everyone else who is articulate, but this is contrary to the reasons I applied through the Creative Steps Programme in the first place. I may be articulate, this doesn't automatically mean that I'm any good at reading complicated guide lines. I know it can be hard to believe but those who know anything about fibromyalgia know that this can be very true. The guidelines are hard to follow even for normally functioning people like Martin. And it seems to me that I don't know how to get the wording right for any "official purposes". I am and will remain a person with my own subjective language and point of view.

Gareth Foulkes who is the new North Wales officer of Disability Arts Cymru said this in an e-mail to me: "Your work is very important as it is identifiably Disability Art and makes powerful statements that will be of interest to those involved in the Arts in Wales". I did at the time of my rejection ask the Arts Council why my artistic messages about disability and specifically invisible illness where not considered important enough, and the answer I got back was that it was not relevant for the scheme because there were priorities of a more pressing nature. It appears that the disability community disagrees with this point of view and are now trying to help me further. The first step is that I will be giving a talk about my experiences, and though public performances always take a toll on me I have agreed to continue my fight for the rights of marginalized people.

The other aspect of all the rejections I have experienced recently (apart from putting me so close to giving up) is that there is no longer any doubt that I am part of the outsiders in art. All these years I have found myself putting on a straight face and pretend to be normal, for fear of rejection. If people know you have health issues, they are not very likely to ask you to contribute with any form of work. For instance, I may not have been considered for the talk and the workshop I gave in Finland in November 2010. The reality, however, is that I am hardly ever asked to do anything because I'm not able to push myself out there enough. Even if I did, it would take a huge toll on me unless I was given a bit of "special treatment". Who would want to do that unless they felt that what I had to give was important enough? So this has been a Catch22. The decision to stop trying to fit in is nonetheless the better one, as I can no longer play along with the normal people. I need to set my concerns and worries aside and just do what I feel compelled to do, which is to continue exploring ideas surrounding invisible disability. At least know I know that there are people out there who believe that this is important and that I have something to give even if it's not on the larger scale it could possibly be if I had more help. We shall see how it goes. It's the irony of life that I have never disclosed the fact that I dropped out of art school in France because I couldn't take it any more. I tried to cover this up as much as possible for fear of not being taken seriously and to be honest it was alright as long as I didn't deal with any art authorities in Finland. In reality I was kicked out of that school for not keeping up and was not welcome to try again. At that point I was so sick and tired of the harsh mentality that I was very happy to return to the scholarly studies at The University of Helsinki. I didn't do too badly during the first year of Arts Foundation in Perpignan (France) in spite of the language barrier, but the studies in graphic design and illustration that followed were rather pointless. So in practice I'm pretty much a self taught artist. Now it's been disclosed.

One of my pieces was featured in the Pallant House Gallery Magazine because the article mentioned the upcoming Outside In exhibition for outsider artists which effectively takes place in the Pallant House Gallery. I was astonished at the quality of the magazine and proud to be in it. I will definitely submit two pieces for the exhibition, only making a choice is very hard as usual. I have also sent a proposal for an exhibition in Brighton... it's specifically for non- or semi professional artists. I think I have to concede that because my CV lacks any fancy commissions, awards and more than just a couple of small grants over a period of 20 years, I can probably not call myself professional no matter how much I might have wanted to. After all, Axis doesn't want me! Surely that says it all.

Martin is finally able to speak up about his new project:

"A new project has been hinted at for some time, and now we can reveal... This season's big news is that after a lot of hard work, Martin has secured funding from the Arts Council of Wales for his new project, "Synthesis". The name reflects the fact that it's about using new media (specifically, at the moment, material from the Internet, and from 3D fractal-based computer modelling) and combining it with deeply traditional drawing techniques to create an innovative new body of work.

There are 2 strands to the project - the first and most extensive concerning the use of open-source text from sites such as Project Gutenberg as material for new illustration projects. The first candidate will be the Irish fairy-tale-for-grownups "The Crock of Gold" by James Stephens. The book was suggested by Vivi-Mari, and contains a wealth of rich imagery in the Celtic tradition. At the top of this mail is a test piece I made during the planning stage - "Character Study for Aengus Óg". The project begins in earnest on the 1st April, with all the artwork to be completed by the Autumn, along with a signed and numbered limited edition hardback and a downloadable e-book version. Not much to do there then!

The great news is that the whole project will be exhibited at the Radnorshire Museum and Gallery in Llandrindod Wells from 1st Nov through to January, and will move to MOMA Wales in Machynlleth in April of next year. Other exhibition venues are currently being courted! More details about the exhibitions closer to the time, but before that there will soon be details available about how you can get involved with the project ahead of the first exhibition - watch this space!

At the same time as all this is going on, the second strand of the project involves developing the work that Martin has done with 3D fractal modelling, to create new objects, fauna and flora after the style of the 'unlikely realms' series of abstracts, but again using them as source material for drawings using traditional media. You can see a piece in similar vein on the blog here. This will form the start of another major exhibition project, hopefully to be continued in 2013."