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."

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