Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Installation view of Gallery III, Summer Exhibition 2012

The Culture Show Special on the Royal Arts Academy summer show 2012 actually gave me nightmares. I had this recurrent nightmare about Paradise Lost - I revisit the beautiful, pristine island where we used to spend the summers and it has all been heavily developed and ruined... Of course, there were other things that gave me this nightmare too... but I realized that the cosy cocoon like community of the Royal Academy seemed to me like the paradise I can never have, the feeling of belonging somewhere prestigious with long traditions is never going to be part of my life. As I'm getting older and finding that there is very little  time left for experiments and getting acknowledged, the outsider position I have always held is only being reinforced and tends to bother me more than ever. All I can do is accept it and embrace it, and hope it gets me somewhere in the end. 

It was an interesting show that revealed a lot of the attitudes of the members of the Royal Academy, the ones whose art gets in every year without question. Many of them are real ego trippers (no surprise there though). Around 11 000 non-members of the public queue up, having first paid some £ 130 submission fee, only to have their art evaluated in a split second. About 900 or so get in. I desperately want to try and participate, maybe next year if I have any way of paying for it... I think Martin wants to try too. That's a lot of money. I don't want to do it until I feel that I have a piece that would make a difference to the judges. This year they went for smaller work ("large pieces seem to take precedence in today's world"), which would have been great for me... /sigh/. Yet... the rejection would hurt quite a bit. I'm not saying that I think it's a wonderful establishment or that the open exhibition is fair, or that the people there are all wonderful, only that I wish to belong somewhere solid with lots of history attached to it. I'm one of those fundamentally rootless people who are doomed to be outsiders.

The Wollaston price was a laugh as usual. Shortlisted were a big charcoaled boulder with a hole in it, some computergenerated stripes that look a bit like bar code, something forgettable that I don't recall, and Anselm Kiefer's large painting of a landscape with a real rifle stuck to it. Just to make sure no one mistook it for the wrong war he had written GAZA on the piece. Kiefer's piece won the price. Subtle was not part of this equation. 

Grayson Perry has been visiting three social classes and made three TV shows about their taste ("In the Best Possible Taste" - you can see these on 40D Iplayer). I was amused that the middle classes were represented by Tunbridge Wells where I lived for a year in 1985-86 (I attended The Country House Course). I admire Grayson's efforts to pin point the differences between the choices made by the lower, middle and upper classes depending on circumstances and value systems. Of course he had to make the point that these are constructed categories, that nevertheless seemed valid as a starting point. He created six tapestries, The Vanity of Small Differences, based on his impressions. I thought it was quite interesting to see these categories come to life even if sketchy and quite stereotyped.

In Scandinavia and Finland great efforts have been made in attempting to eliminate class differences and so we have ended up with a largely middle class type society, a kind of grey mass whose homes look much like the homes you see in most interior design magazines all over Europe or in the Ikea show rooms. This blog from Finland, which featured our home last year but removed the article for unknown reasons (maybe it just didn't fit in), exemplifies it well.

Grayson Perry and "Upper class at Bay" (the first tapestry about the upper classes - about their downfall I presume)
Grayson's conclusion was that there is no good or bad taste, only different tastes. Of course he had to say that in order to be politically correct. I'm not sure about that though I concede that taste is not necessarily a matter of class. It always seemed to me, though, that the upper classes who have nothing to prove will also have a tradition of culture and education that does make a difference a lot of the time. I always felt that some of my mom's legacy about what is tasteful came through in spite of the fact that we lead a very non-descript life and were surrounded by middle class values. This was especially obvious where I grew up and the Finnish-Swedish school I went to... ironically, I had a friend who was middle class but went to the school where the upper class kids went to due to their geographic position in the city, and who became obsessed with antiques. I don't know if this was coincidental. 

From the show it became quite clear that the middle classes tend to self-reflect the most, and also worry the most about choices and their impact on the environment. Expressing their identity is their prime concern. This is the kind of people I've known all my life. The new spiritual ideas as well as eco-trends tend to take root the most in this environment. The upper classes are nowadays often without much money and this is the case with my family too. There isn't even anything to inherit any more. I see several occasions having been lost during my life time. The loss of the right to status, a great family home, and beautiful  things is another instance of Paradise Lost. One of my greatest regrets in life is that my grandmother's flat and possessions were sold because of a money hungry uncle - I've had nightmares about this too. A certain desire to create a safe and grounded haven with things of the past has haunted me all my life, but I don't know if it's coincidental... Our present home would probably come across as rather upper class in the typical manner of deliberate shabby chic and bohemian teamed with obvious signs of real poverty, as opposed to the more affluent homes with owners who are more concerned with "appropriateness".

What struck me was that Grayson recreated some scenes from religious art of the past in some of the tapestries, and I don't really understand why. I found it a bit out of place. His art is basically representational and only a tiny bit symbolic (this to me is his greatest weakness, apart from his drawing which is often mannerist). For instance, the last tapestry was from a piece of Jesus being taken down from the cross (the artist escapes me at the moment) and the recreated version was about the nouveau riche, people who have created riches from soft ware engineering and the like. Did he feel that these people were the new upper classes? It wasn't very clear. I suppose there is a connection in that the upper classes of the past were nouveau riche too. Apparently he also finds that the differences is really within the tribes of the middle classes - we all know, of course, that Britain is abolishing class differences too. Oh well. By the end of the day this is a very complex and difficult subject matter to tackle and I admire his efforts. However, it's only part of the story.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Deep Waters", 65x50 cm, copyright 2012
I decided to redo my latest collage from scratch. There were too many flaws in the first version that were hard to live with, I discussed it with Martin and simply had to concede that I could do better. I have said before that there is often a problem when a piece is conceived over a longer period of time and when it's fairly large, because it tends to be more tentative and less focused. What happened here was that some of the ideas just weren't as crisp as they could be. For instance, it made sense to try and keep all the other elements except the most semantically pertinent ones black and white. Thus the bottles all stand out a lot more. The bow in the child's hair is also in colour... as a last minute decision I decided to put it there as a more pertinent pointer to the contents of this piece.

The background is made up of many different found images of landscapes, but I took more care this time in making sure that there aren't too many seams that stand out. The idea of an explosion in the background became more obvious as I worked harder on printing out different size bottles and concentrating them visually. 

In this piece, I am talking about my own mother and her past issues with alcohol abuse as well as the effect it has had on my own life. Surviving and fighting the effects of neglect and stress during ones childhood is like fighting a windmill. There is also the fear of drowning in emotional residue and having to make constant efforts to cope. The signs so typical of British "health and safety" are ironic reminders of a society that pretends to care about its disadvantaged members. However, as usual it's possible for the viewer to see whatever they like to see in this image. 

My mother was evacuated from her home during WWII and put in foster care at the age of four. She had to revise her own identity and become part of a culture that was diametrically opposite her own. Something that sticks out from her vivid stories is how much she hated having a bow stuck in her hair. Her new mother was a prima ballerina and aristocrat.

I have been soul searching a lot, trying to decide whether talking about a dysfunctional childhood is a valid thing to do. Shouldn't I just get on with life and put all that behind me? Well, for one thing I have to try and just do whatever comes to me as a subject matter. There is no other way of being honest. The other thing is, I'm not really digging through past issues in a therapeutic kind of way. I simply wish to bring this subject matter to other people's attention by creating a visual representation of it. I want to communicate something that I'm familiar with. In this way I hope that my piece has more validity as art rather than as a therapeutic gesture. If anything, it could be therapeutic for other people to see such an image?

I struggled to finish this piece in time for the deadline of the Saatchi showdown for surreal art - I might as well participate. For this reason I had to try and get a good shot of the piece, which proved very hard.  The muscles in my back are aching so badly from leaning over, trying to retouch areas where the varnish caused milkiness... My art is not really surreal but it's the category they offer that comes the closest. I wish symbolic art would also be seen as a valid category. After all, it's a lot more meaningful than surreal art, that tends to be rather whimsical and nonsensical. I really hope this piece has got what it takes to make it to this year's open exhibition in the MOMA in Machyntlleth. This year's theme is "movement". Yes, it's related to the Olympics but there is no need to stick to sports and the like. The idea of fighting a windmill came to me already last autumn. I actually don't like modern windmills much, as they are ugly bits of engineering that clutter the landscape. Meanwhile they are supposed to be a "good thing". There's a paradox if ever there was one....