Thursday, November 14, 2013


Still from my upcoming film "Tides"
Copyright Vivi-Mari Carpelan

This is a little ditto, a short minimalist remix of Verdi's Ave Maria, based on a vintage acapella recording from way back in time. The reason I used it is because I wanted an Ave Maria and it was the only copyright-free piece I could find (it's from Musopen). It's also for my current film project "Visible/Invisible". I'm sure it's not to everyone's taste but all I can say is that I myself have developed into being more receptive to unusual sounds and really enjoy a lot of minimalist, repetitive music. I find it strangely compelling as it disrupts my expectations of what music can be. Repetition creates structure where there aren't so many notes. A straigtforward narrative (through words, imagery, sounds etc) can often feel too conventional. A good story is great, but it's often more entertaining than meaningful. Westerners are so used to a logic that takes you from a-z - it is embedded in our alpabhet. Think of the Chinese and how their alphabet comprises entire concepts without a succession of letters (I studied Chinese so I know... it's an entirely different and more intuitive way of perceiving the world). In this respect I seem to often prefer a sort of middle ground, something that isn't too logical and straightforward.

Unfortunately the original recording was very distorted. I had to cut off huge chunks and that gave me the idea of reworking it altogether. I liked the parts that are dominated by male voices, and liked the female parts less. I also found a more personal sound by doing this. There's something very "me" in the way this little piece came out. I know, it's not very sophisticated. I haven't quite worked out how to begin and end something like this so it sounds smoother - I will no doubt rework the beginning. It was just an experiment and not really meant to stand on its own, however it made me want to do more similar stuff but with my own voice!
All the older versions of Ave Maria (Bach/Gounod, Schubert, Verdi, Caccini) are deeply meaningful to me in terms of a specific feeling in them, which I sense in all of the versions. It's also reflected in my name. Ave Maria means "Hail Mary", a salutation offered to Virgin Mary by Angel Gabriel. No, I'm not Catholic, however I believe that names are often deeply meaningful and given to us through intuitive insight from our parents. While Mary is no doubt the archetypal mother Earth, Vivi refers to life and being lively and animated. 

Monday, November 11, 2013


I'm quite excited because I've just released my first piece of sound art! That is, a soundscape that works independently of the film it's intended for (the third part of my trilogy). It has been a long process. The recordings themselves didn't take long, but processing them was quite slow. It was a case of figuring out how Audacity, the free sound editing software works, as well as deciding which effects are useful and how they work - not the easiest things since I don't understand the lingo. It was a bit of patient trial and error... I have used the simplest means, but I think the result is quite accpetable nonetheless. The ambient sounds from London were recording on my camera in mono, but Martin found a plugin called "pseudo stereo" to convert it into, well, pseudo stereo. I was amazed that the little recorder picked up distant sounds including trains, airplanes and river boats.

The recordings of sounds of the city, "the external sounds", as well as my own voice, "the inner voice of pain", is an expression of what it means to live with pain and fatigue. As one walks around in this cityscape, one has a subjective experience of life inside the body. The vocal expression is meant to be pretty unsettling and it did in fact damage my vocal chords quite badly... oh well, what we do for art, eh! The sounds from the city were recording on a walk along the Thames in London. What I find fascinating about sound art is that it often tells a very intricate story of a place ("local colour"), but you have to listen really carefully in order to fully appreciate it. It can, as I learnt during the Noises of Art conference, be a way of expressing architecture and space.

Sound art is an important art form as it provides a dimension to art that is often overlooked, and can also be enjoyed by blind people. Not all sound needs to be music or talk, though a sequence that is several minutes long has to have a great deal going for it in order for people to be able to sustain interest. People aren't used to listening to anything that isn't entertaining. I realise that most people will still not understand what this piece is for. Though I want to champion this art form, this is of course why I will incorporate it into the third film as well.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Sharmila Samant: Against the Grain, installation 2008.
The cobras weren't stuck on with this clipper, but messy looking green wire.
I consider giving up this blog. These days, the world is so full of people's confessions. So much blabla that no one has the time and energy to listen to. Do I really need to add to this noise?

On top of that, I feel unsure about my future as an artist and writer. Frankly, I need to simplify my life even more. Living is too tiring. My head is too weary for any deeper analyses about life and art. All that noise is getting to me. I'm not sure I even care that much anymore about recording my impressions. Plus I seem to mostly see bad art about. I could say that it makes me feel a bit better about what I'm doing. But it's depressing as well. It would be really good to feel totally blown away sometimes. As it is, we're already drowning in the sea of mediocrity that Grayson Perry was talking about.

We went to see "Shakti Cymru" in Oriel Davies Gallery in Newtown where we go to shop for food when we can afford it. The entire space was filled with only one person's work. The artist is Sharmila Samant. Cotton wool on the floor and some handmade cobra heads in the style of traditional Indian crafts stuck on green plastic sticks and fixed with green plastic wire, all of equal length. "Oriel Davies is proud to showcase a major exhibition of work by Indian artist Sharmila Samant in her first solo show in the UK. Her work is visually arresting as well as critically and politically engaged." Basically the project is criticising the way cotton is being produced in India. There are a number of problems with the show...

a) The cobra heads seems to have been an installation in the cotton fields themselves. It's been transported directly into the gallery rather than being an adaptation for a different space, hence the naff looking green sticks and wire that are supposed to blend in with the landscape. It would have been so much better if the cobra heads had been suspended from the ceiling with invisible thread. They could have been arranged in an evocative way, at differing heights and slightly moving in the draft. There could also have been creative lighting. Or evoke the cottonfields in India somehow..!
b) The project is to literal. The cotton wool represents cotton wool. The cobras represent themselves too, possibly something else as well, maybe traditional values, threat, poision, etc. In combination, it just doesn't work. There is a soundscape, but it's just a straightforward recording and nothing creative has been done with it (so I wouldn't call it sound art, but documentation). I have to say there's one more thing... craft is a bit too close to art, yet so far from it at the same time. Craft seems a bit laden with negative associations. And finally, using other people's craft to vindicate one's own creativity seems to demean the craft rather than elevate it.
c) Poorly executed art should be banned! If a piece of art is neither aestethically pleasing nor intelligent, it really isn't art. It's possibly documentation, but not art. Even the fact that the cobra heads were made by crafts people rather than the artist herself puts me off. I can imagine it was difficult to bring stuff from India and that could have limited the materials, but surely the gallery should curate the show and help in making it appealing to the public? This show looked like something out of playschool.
d) If I want to hear about the problem with cotton in India I can read an article about it. I really don't feel that it works particularly well as the subject matter for some art, and the fact it's political doesn't make it anymore art. I dont also get a sense of the artist's passion, of the transmission of her zeal. The topic simply fails to touch me.

So this is the kind of art that gets grants.

Saturday, November 2, 2013


Grayson Perry: The Rosetta Vase, 2011

Ok, that's probably quite a pretentious title, and no I don't pretend to have all the answers to it. However, I will present a few thoughts that arose when I listened to Grayson Perry on the radio. If you have access to BBC Iplayer, please do listen to his four lectures! I think he says what a lot of people are thinking, and that may very well be the secret to his popularity. He's very succinct, honest and unpretentious, but also funny and hugely entertaining. I remember seeing a book with his pottery in the Hayward Gallery art shop when we visited Tracey Emin's retrospective two years ago. The way he had analysed his own work seemed unusually down to earth, but also perceptive. I was very surprised to find out that this guy, whose visual storytelling is so representational, is in fact really famous!

At the end of the third lecture Grayson concludes that art can no longer shock and surprise. While the "real" art world is still quite small, there are more and more amateur artists. The idea that anyone can be an artist could indeed find us drowning in a sea of mediocrity. He's talking about the gentrification of art, how being arty and bohemian has become commonplace. Whatever is democratic, tends to become conventional and boring. I've no doubt that if everyone starts believing they can be an artist, the trade will lose its lustre and "real" artists with the intention of imparting some real meaning through their art work will lose the audience's respect. That's a bit of a bleak prospect. 

Grayson also says that you can choose what kind of artist you want to be. I guess what he means is that you can decide for yourself whether you want to be politically orientated, low brow, high brow, conceptual, modernist and so on. In an informed society, its educated members will know how to categorise themselves. It's more and more rare to find artists who aren't self-conscious. As we speak, outsider art is becoming increasingly sought after because it often has that quality of spontaneity and at least a certain lack of self-awareness. Yet even they have to find the environment that fits their art. Of course, in some cases it's the carers who do this for them. Most of them, however, are aware that they fit the outsider category of artists. I myself am already "ruined" by cultural sophistication and therefore don't fit that category all that well, however at the moment there are only few other peer groups that suit my needs. I'm guessing that identifying your peer group might become increasingly important in a world where art is an increasingly integrated part of daily life. In the past, society reacted to art (a lot of the time because it was perceived as unconventional and shocking) and so the categorisation often happened inspite of the artist. A lot of the time, it was impinged on the artist. If that is no longer the case, then it's up to the artists themselves to label their art and seek out the right kind of environment. I can imagine that most people would do that for convenience's sake, because navigation in an increasingly complex society calls for simplification. This way, you're also more likely to reach the right kind of audience. 

Of course, many artists will rebel against the idea of being put in a category. Many will be engaging in many different kinds of media and artistic expressions. However, perhaps there will be a category for various forms of eclectisism too!

All in all, people will have more and more choice... it's difficult to orientate when you do, and the results aren't guaranteed to be any good. In fact, artists often get to engrossed in all the technical possibilities while forgetting the real point with making art. Art is about communicating something meaningful about life in the present time. Often, this happens through exemplifying stories (cf. Grayson's vases). Otherwise it's just a sollipsist practice, one that you might as well call a hobby. That's just my opinion!

Are we living in the end-times of art? Please read my husband Martin's erudite discussion on Grayson's opinion that art has come to an end... here on his blog Artedstates.

Saturday, September 7, 2013


Paul Rogers: "The media machine, a real-time, performative, sound and object based installation"
during the Noises of Art conference in Aberystwyth, September 2013.
This piece was a beautiful use of junk sounds.

I believe a video will be available on the internet some time soon.
Martin and I didn't decide to go to the conference "The Noises of Art" at Aberystwyth Arts Centre until just about ten days beforehand, when Martin managed to sell some older art and made just enough money for us to attend. As a university driven conference, it was subsidised and not especially expensive, but our situation is dire right now so this was a questionable expense nonetheless. When we heard about this conference we both felt driven to take part, hoping that in some way or another it would help us air our stuffy brains and that just getting out there into the real world among intelligent people with an interest in art for a bit would be inspiring. This venture required a massive effort from myself, as I had to get up several hours earlier than usual, try and make sure I got to sleep at a reasonable time (we commuted back and forth, as it's about 40 minutes by car), and put up with three really long days of stretching my attention span somewhat unsuccessfully and sitting down for most of that time.

Aberystwyth - photos copyright by Vivi-Mari Carpelan
The atmosphere was great and I think everyone enjoyed this conference a great deal (someone hinted that they had never been to one that was so interdisciplinary and interesting). Obviously I can't say too much about the contents of the 20 min talks as many are preparations for doctorates. Most participants were presenting papers (many of them being PhD graduates), either in the real or virtually, or offering artist's talks or sound art installations. I think we were the only ones who were there for the whole time and only to listen and observe. As expected, a few papers were as dry as the paper the words were written on, others were suitably entertaining. A potential problem with research into the arts is that by the time this becomes possible, the art in question is already quite old. Thus we heard quite a lot about Paul Klee and his influence on musicians, John Cage, and a couple of names that were unknown to me - Terry Fox who amongst other things, recorded the purring sound of cats (compare with my "production logo" at the end of The Title) and the disturbing art of voice of Vito Acconci. Especially Acconci's performances resonate to a degree with my "Insomnia", as self becomes objectified and manipulative of the imagined "other" through the use of obsessive speech, especially here in a performance called Claim Excerpts from 1971. 

'A documentation of one of Acconci's most notorious performances, Claim Excerpts is a highly confrontational work, an exercise in self-induced, heightened behavioral states, and an aggressive psychological exploration of the artist/viewer relationship. During the three-hour performance, Acconci sat in the basement of 93 Grand Street in New York, blindfolded, armed with metal pipes and a crowbar. His image was seen on a video monitor in the upstairs gallery space. Staking claim to his territory, he tries to hypnotize himself through language into an obsessive state of possessiveness: "The talk should drive me into a state where everything is possible." He becomes increasingly tense and violent, threatening to kill anyone who tries to enter his space. Acconci has written, "If during the first hour, I had hit someone, I would have stopped, shocked, horrified; if, during the third hour, I had hit someone, I would have used that as a marker, a proof of success... a signal to keep hitting." (from the description on Ubuweb)'

'In the 1970s, he produced a remarkable body of conceptual, performance-based film and video works, in which he engages in an intensive psychodramatic dialogue between artist and viewer, body and self, public and private, subject and object.' (From Electronic Arts Intermix)

Generally speaking the conference offered a great cross section of all sorts of stuff, though tiring as it was for my brain to process. I felt really privileged to find out what people are researching or working on artwise (though art practices were less represented and many of the theoretical papers were rather impenetrable, at least to my sorry brain). As I have a MA degree in humanities from 1999, I certainly felt reasonably at home, but it was also quite obvious to me how far removed I now am from the world of academia and the active world of working life. It left me feeling nostalgic. After my graduation my health declined quite rapidly and the start up of my PhD came to a halt quite soon after. I had to concede that the university years were behind me, and had to try and get on with my life in other ways. Some might even say that I have really moved on, i.e. gotten on with "real life", as a friendly person pointed out. Having now experienced this kind of conference, I feel that I might want to submit a talk myself if a similar opportunity came along, but I would have to consider the stress that this would put me under (if accepted of course). I want to fight the position of a complete outsider but we'll have to see how it goes. Martin on the other hand would love to pursue some serious studies in fine arts, and I know he'd be perfectly able to if an opportunity were to arise. It's an annoying fact that higher education is so expensive in the UK - if this was Finland, he'd already be doing it.

Andrew McPherson:
"The Magnetic Resonator Piano: Electronic Augmentation of an Acoustic Musical Instrument"
at Aberystwyth School of Art in September 2013.
Artwise, I think the conference confirmed the ideas about sound and multimedia that have already been brewing. My two previous multimedia projects will see a third part and I will thus end up with a trilogy, something to do with natural vs unnatural, control vs abandonment... The first part, Insomnia, has sound elements that I created through recordings of events in space as well as my own voice. I have thought some more about what it all means (and if it's still a bit hazy, I shall attempt to work on articulating it even better):

In this video performance, self becomes objectified through the use of voice art. A subjective experience goes through stages of expressions as thoughts become vocalised and then recorded as a token for the direct communication that would never take place in real life. Here, the body gains a semiotic quality because of carrying a potent message of distress, and it can only be a signifier through the process of art.

The second part, The Title, has some recordings of events but also introduces classical music as a symbol of history and the past (apart from being a mood enhancer, of course). Being faced with the problem of not wanting to use copy-righted music and thus not being able to claim full ownership of the work, I have been ruminating about creative ways of creating my own sounds. Perhaps attending local choirs has given me some self-confidence in this area, too. I have also been very adament about the importance of silence and of course, this was confirmed as well. Sound and silence are to me yet another undeniable dichotomy of negative and positive, and therefore of equal importance.

Next up, in the third part ("Visible/Invisible"is the working title), I will be experimenting with more ways of using my voice in an even more expressive way. I hadn't quite realised just how well tremor and feeling really does come through in the recordings, that I have done with free software on my laptop, and Martin's good quality Sony mic. However, this is partly apparent in The Title, in the laborious breathing sequence. Martin has been enhancing my soundscapes but I think that it's time for me to try and get my head around the editing of sounds through some free software called Audacity. This way I feel freer to experiment and create multiple layers without having to wait until Martin has a moment to improve the recordings. What would I do if Martin wasn't informing me about the technical side of things! As it is, I have a great opportunity of adding a new and wonderful dimension to my body of work. As John Harvey, a pleasant professor at the School of Art in Aberystwyth said to me; a lot of artists are starting to employ sound as a medium inspite of not having any formal education in music. It's obvious that this is absolutely the right place for me to be right now, and it feels quite natural. In the end, almost anything goes, and it's simply up to the individual to put their creativity to good use.

What really inspires me is that I can combine sound with my visual material, as this to me is a beautiful marriage. I almost feel that there's a bit lacking when visuals or sounds are presented on their own - this feeling was certainly reinforced by the conference. We have multiple senses, and visuals without sound could perhaps seem a bit like being deaf but have good vision, and vice versa. For this reason I have started to warm up to the idea of video art, which I used to sneer at. In fact it just occurred to me that I've always felt precious about sound, but was unable to do much about it. I used to play music at my private views and later on when I got ITunes, started to create playlists with selected songs for each exhibition. Sadly, playing this music during the exhibitions was rarely possible.

Please read more about my current sound art projects. You can find examples on SoundCloud or my website.


A few weeks ago I received a letter that my art work didn't make it to Shape Open at the Nunnery Gallery on Bow Street in London, but a week later someone wrote and said they thought I might not have been told one of my two pieces did get in! I really hope there's a way of attending the private view in November. Shape Arts is an organisation for disability arts and the exhibition was open to both disabled and non-disabled artists on the theme "disability re-assessed". I'm sure that the main objective is to present disability in a positive light, as 2012 was a year of many developments in this field (mainly through the paraolympics in London). My piece is, however, direct and confrontational.  Unfortunately they didn't want my confrontational statement for the catalogue, so it had to be rewritten. Funny that, as it's really the sort of censorship that I'm trying to fight through pieces like this!

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Your Indifference is Breaking My Heart".
Mixed media collage with
artist's photograph, moral poetry from the 19th C, and vintage engraving.
Copyright 2012.

In this piece, I'm suggesting that the conservative government (and the Atos system of disability assessment in particular) has a very Victorian moralist attitude towards those who are disabled and/or afflicted with chronic (long term) illness (a reason there's Victorian moral poetry in the background - nothing much has changed in terms of moral codes...).

Original version: "This is personal. Look me in the eyes and stop giving me moral BS about contributing to society on your terms. You feel you have the right to assess my abilities, but what does that even mean? I am ME, a unique human being. Do you care about that? I need your support and compassion, not parenting! We're in this together, you know.” 

The rectified version: This work suggests that the accepted moral codes of society are still “Victorian”. It is about the fundamental right to assess my own abilities and the ways in which I feel I can contribute to society on my own terms. I want to evoke questions about the validity of assessing people’s abilities from an emotionally indifferent point of view – is my value solely dependent on my economic productivity?

Another happy piece of news is that I sold "The Impossibility of Sleeplessness and Damien Hirst Doesn't Exactly Make it Better" at Outsidein West in Taunton. I'm so glad someone appreciated my hangman's humour! In both pieces, I have used photographs of myself, and feeling this is really the way to go for me.

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "The Impossibility of Sleeplessness and Damien Hirst
Doesn't Exactly Make it Better",
Handmade photomontage, copyright 2013.

"In a general sense, this piece is about the fear of a sudden fall into a state of despair and depression, and how difficult it is to remain balanced and “on top of things”.

More specifically, this piece is about insomnia, which in severe cases involves constant threats of medication not working any more, while one is being pumped up with habit forming medication in the first place, of the fear of going insane with severe cognitive and physical impairment and physical flare ups due to lack of sufficient good quality sleep... and never getting any really useful help from the medical establishment. On top of this there's the sleep schedule which always goes wrong, ie. something disturbs one's routines and tips the wagon so you end up sleeping/dozing/lying around well into the afternoon and always feeling the day goes by while you're simply useless. Managing a condition that happens when you're not looking, is like walking a tight rope, knowing you could fall any time. This piece is part of Project X. When I thought of the name including the word "impossibility" it became a reference to titles by Damien Hirst and his somewhat doubtful financial success.ow difficult it is to remain balanced and “on top of things”.

Saturday, August 10, 2013


Thumbnail picture for the film "The Title" 

This multimedia project wasn't all clear from the start, but I filmed a few bits that I thought I might like to use, and added other video clips and stills as I was going along. Martin helped me with the theatrical scenes where I'm dressed in black, in a Victorian style. There must have been a thousand little bits in the end. Premiere Elements isn't really designed to cope with so many layers and general complexity. The uploaded version still has a few faults in it, but I will leave it for now and fix it later. I spent a few weeks with this project and really need to get it out there and out of my mind!

This short film is a collaged conglomerate of fragments from my own life as well as my family's history - stills, moving images, performance, a poem I wrote long ago back in 1985 - the only poem I ever wrote! In the film a part of it is performerd in the original Swedish, with the English translation overlaying the imagery. And last but not least, there are many of my handmade collages. It's packed with symbolic imagery and the narrative (a kind of journey) is really an explanation to the art work. However, as this may not be immediately obvious, this multi media show can be taken in intuitively as well. It's an emotional life story, and I hope that comes across as the main objective for this project. Ultimately, the idea behind the quote "All the World's a Stage, and Men and Women merely Players" (Shakespeare) is once more one of the main themes of my work.

Ggenerally speaking I'm leaving it to people to make their own conclusions about this work, but of course I hope, as always, that there is universal appeal as it speaks about entitlement, loss and restoring a sense of dignity. The title "The title" refers to the idea of being "entitled", either physically (health, money, and other good things in life), or emotionally (having a sense of worth, dignity and spiritual stature).

The idea of using a journey as the narrative that pulls it all together is of course not an original one, but one that makes a story easier to watch and tends to keep the audience's attention. I decided on this format because "the journey" is a deeply archetypal metaphor or "monomyth" (Joseph Campbell) that is present in all cultural traditions, speaks to everyone on at least some level, and because it helps making sense of the fragments.

I think this representation of a heroe's journey should be taken with a pinch of salt, but
it can offer some viewpoints that clarify the concept of a journey through life that
is full of hardships but also some sort of benefits and rewards.

I also used the old film effect quite a bit because it helps create a sense of the past (which is an important element in this project), as well as providing great texture. I ponder each effect quite a bit, as it needs to support the symbolism or message that I want to get across. 

I think you can't make a long film with this much symbolism, there's a point where it overwhelms the brain. Recently, we watched some older Ingmar Bergman films and I was thinking how they were always said to be deeply symbolic. I saw them when I had just entered university and loved the atmosphere and the way Swedish was spoken, but I didn't get the symbolism. Now I realised, there is hardly any there at all! In my favourite, the tender "Wild Strawberries", there's a dream sequence that has some symbolism in it, notably in the clock without hands. Sometimes the weather is moody, which is meant to enhance the melancholy in the story, but that's not really symbolism, it's just mood. Of course, as a Cancerian I can recognise another Cancerian's flair for moodiness! The empty streets... oh so de Chirico, who was also Cancerian! Strictly speaking, Bergman's strength lies in conveying mood, but not really in the use of symbols - in fact, some of his movies are actually just nonsense. Anyway, this medium allows a lot of imagery that speaks to people as if they were symbols, because the performance in 3D can convey so much in so little time with the help of props, environment, music, temporality and other attributes.

The dream sequence in Ingmar Bergman's "Wild Strawberries" ("Smultronstället")

The classical music for my film was taken from a site with copyright-free classical music, Musopen, which I can highly recommend. Youtube suggested that I had nicked some music called "Tranquillity" from someone else's album, but the performer whose piece I used has never participated in any project called "Tranquillity". My guess is that someone else also took the Baroque piece, which obviously wasn't originally called "Tranquillity", and used it on their CD! Let me guess... with added birdsong and water splash... I have therefore debated Youtube's suggestion with a clean conscience. Oh and of course, Martin did some wonders to some of the recordings that weren't really up to scratch.

And of course, I always wanted to be movie star! I remember in the distant past, that a good friend of mine said about me that I'm always quite theatrical - and she meant it as a compliment, rather than in the sense of "drama queen". I think I have an imbedded sense of the theatrical, and it feels good to get some outlet for this side of my creativity.

I would love to hear comments!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Thumbnail picture for "Insomnia"

So here it is finally, the multi media project that was supposed to only take a couple of days... in fact, the biggest issue was the sound, as my original recordings weren't really good enough. Martin has a mike that borrowed, and I used some free software to do the recording with. The quality wasn't fantastic. After a lot of fiddly tweaking in Premiere Elements I had a soundtrack that Martin then worked on to remove crackle and other disturbing elements with software that he already has, since he's recorded his own music in the past and enjoys creating soundscapes. He also added a bit of ambience to the words.

Martin said he was surprised I tackled this subject matter intuitively rather than literally. I guess I feel a different kind of freedom to be expressive through this medium. I think it's liberating and makes a change from the fixed nature of a 2D image. I do get very tired from editing, but hope that in time I will become more fluent in using this and find it easier. Martin encouraged me to go on when I was being despondant, feeling it wasn't good enough. I realise I can't compete with people who have been to film school or are being paid a lot of money to create fantastic moving images with expensive software. My projects have to be about the atmosphere and the message. I want to talk about things that I really know about, through and through. That's my excuse for making art.

I put my soul into this project, it was really a "gut feeling project". Someone said it reminded them of a scene from "Fight Club", in which it's being said that with insomnia, nothing is real; everything is a copy of a copy of a copy. That was an interesting view point, because it's true that there are reverberating echoes going through your mind when you start panicking about not sleeping, everything is magnified and there's often a kind of terror that becomes a waking nightmare. I think most people can relate to this feeling of layers of anguish and a distorted sense of reality. I think I instinctively decided to go down that route rather than talk about it more literally from my own experience of a medical disorder (which is very real). This I tried to do in my biopic "Vivi-Mari in a Day" (though I still feel I may not have been succesful in getting the message across sufficiently well).

This is no longer "just" a slide show, but uses both video clips, stills and my own sound. It really is a lot like collaging! I voted for simplicity rather than adding too many effects. Effects for the sake of effects is just empty. I ask myself, is this effect really adding to the message, and only use it if I think it is. I was using some old film effect here, part of it is to cover up the garishness of indoors photography (I use floodlights). But on the other hand, a touch of vintage is in line with my other work so I think it's justified in many ways. In some ways, when you're lying awake, you exist in a kind of timeless space that I wanted to enhance with this effect. It's not easy to convey a sense of horror without cheap effects these days... movies are packed with such effects. The aim is instead to portray a very personal experience and hope that has a different tone that captures other people's imagination in a different way.

This short 4 min film in which I have staged myself, is an evocative artistic expression and vision of insomnia, which is sometimes part of serious health conditions, or one all on its own. Though it's not meant to be just a medical document, but also a vision of despair in general, the medical aspect and my concern is obviously at the forefront. The lack of good quality sleep also leads to many other medical problems such as the worsening of the primary health issue (e.g. fibromyalgia and ME/CFS), depression, anxiety, cognitive problems and memory loss, inability to cope with life's normal challenges, and to focus during the day. With this video I've sought to create a representation of the kind of problem that about 25% of the population allegedly experiences in one form or another, though mostly only periodically. I hope and believe that most people can identify with this situation at least on some level, and that it also helps understand what serious insomnia can feel like. 

This is a document, but not a literal documentation, and shows only part of the problem as I experience it myself, as in reality there's more to it than this. It seemed more important to me to create a film that might strike a cord in most people who watch it. It's about the emotional response to a problem, rather than the problem itself.

I'm no doubt influenced by minimalist music, notably Steve Reich and Philip Glass, and some of my inspiration may very well come from them. 

"Managing an illness that's happening when you're not looking is like walking a tightrope" (From the description of "The Impossibility of Sleeplessness and Damien Hirst doesn't Exactly Make it Better"). It's a problem that is hard to cure since sleep happens when we're not in control.

I got the old film effect here. There are a few options. They work but you will need to be able to unzip them first.

Read how I found that this work resonates with Vito Acconci's work from 1971 in this article.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013


Artwork by Alex Grey

As a university student at the faculty of comparative religion (or the science of religion, as it is called in Finland), I was studying the New Age movement as a phenomenon. I remember being warned by my mentor that the way spiritual people talk about energy is not scientific, and so one could postulate that they simply don't know what they are talking about. Of course, I believe in a kind of energy that isn't measurable with the tools we have today, and it's not just about energy that comes about through a metabolic or other physical process of transformation. To be honest, I don't really care what physicists think, because energy in the esoteric sense is perfectly real to me. I can sense it in many different ways. Some artists, however, feel that they can express various levels of energies in their art. This makes me a bit curious.

A year ago I wrote a blog post about spiritual art and how so much of it is really bad art. I was checking out some visionary art the other day and was wondering why on earth I find so much of it quite annoying. Some of it follows the school of "energism" which attempts to visualise the energies we can't see. Many would probably agree that Vincent van Gogh did just that in his paintings - and look how popular he is! In his art, the energy is however very much part of the scenery, not a byproduct but actually it. It's not quite what I see in contemporary art that depicts energies, where the energy is often there on top of the physical being or object (check out these paintings for instance).

Vincent van Gogh: "Starry Night" 1889

Alex Grey is a contemporary artist much revered by my favourite integral thinker Ken Wilber who speaks of gross, subtle and causal levels of existence. I watched a lecture Alex Grey had given and it helped me see what he's trying to do. I do find it all a bit dogmatic and not terribly original though. I would love to visit "Cosm", an area in the USA created by him and his friends. "The mission of CoSM is to build an enduring sanctuary of visionary art to inspire and evolve the creative spirit" - it certainly looks like a very intriguing place. Somehow it's almost as if this kind of art lends itself better in and on buildings than as conventional paintings, and it's probably easier to overlook a certain kitschiness when you're overwhelmed by awe in front of the scale and a sense of sheer majesty. It reminds me of Art Deco, which was quite a commercial style but in some cases quite wonderfully glamorous, majestic and whimsical. (I would say Portmeirion was at least in parts deliberately created to be a bit kitsch, which is possibly a different matter).

The term "energism" seems to have been invented by artist Julia Watkins. She (I think it's her anyway) says

"...Energism or Energy Art depicts the flow of spiritual energy that forms the fabric of our universe. Through colorful swirls it portrays beautiful scenes where beings exist in perfect harmony with the flow. It demonstrates how all life is interconnected.

But the art goes much further than simply creating a representation. It exerts a hypnotic effect on the viewer, allowing him to actually experience the energy on an emotional and instinctual level.

For many it is a powerful transformational experience, allowing them to connect to a part of themselves and a world they never knew existed.

For this reason, it is often called "meditative" or sacred art."

Actually, I think it's all quite wonderful. I think that if someone really is able to pick up such vibrations and somehow visualise them onto canvas or paper, then that's a good thing. There is a place for that in the world, most definitely. The problem is, that there seem to be so many people out there who just doodle and then say it's depicting energies. It's because it looks cool, I suppose. Others copy each other. The other problem is the lack of originality in terms of subject matter and ideas. There's the tree... there's the human in lotus position... there's the Buddha head... there's the hand reaching down from the sky to bless the human... there's the all seeing Eye... phew, need I go on? It's all so predictable! And this is why this kind of art very seldom is truly good art. It's often a sickly sweet or over-idealised portrayal of humankind and what is seen as the human potential. There are also frequent references to mythology and previous cultures - and I'm not entirely sure why?

I think most visionary art (that I've seen) is incredibly intricate in terms of technique, but a lot of it strikes me as mannerist and escapist. That in turn seems a bit decadent. I would like to think that our reality is just as much spiritual as "the other" reality. After all, enlightenement is said to be the realisation that this is it! I also look for more personality... after all, our indivduality should be celebrated, not downplayed! Energism isn't my thing, because I'm here to investigate the kind of world most people see and experience. That seems relevant to me - I just wrote about the importance of embracing imperfection in a world where everything strives towards glossiness and sanitation in my previous blog post. Of course there's no right or wrong... but sickly sweet, cute or extreme perfection is all very boring to me. Most of all, I'm put off by a lack of personality and originality. I look forward to the emergence of some more convincing spiritual art of the future!

Read my article on symbolism here.


Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "My Lovely Brain"
Mixed media collage, copyright 2013.
My latest collage was tricky, it took me quite a while to decide how to express the idea of pressure on the brain. The process was quite tentative and experimental. I scanned loads and loads of images to use and ended up using only very few of them. In the end I chose this strange machine that has a sense of mystery and surrealism to it. It conveys the idea of constant pressure on the brain. The image of the brain is really a map, which underlines the idea of "the map rather than the territory" with the sign X all over it to mark the spots. The X's denote the areas that are troubled, which is basically all of it. The sketchy and inaccurate nature of this old map of the brain reflects the way I see my own brain, i.e. without much knowledge of its actual anatomy. I wanted to address the brain as I've been thinking quite a lot about how this solitary organ, that almost appears to be floating in space, has to manage the rest of the body, and ultimately is the one that takes the blow when life is overwhelming, sensory input isn't processed properly, and sleep isn't restorative. The case of "the map rather than the territory" also highlights the fact that although the brain appears to be the organ that's the closest to our sense of self, it's still an object. I don't believe that the seat of consciousness is in the brain as Dr. Dennet would have it. But unlike in the case of problems with most other organs, if we're brain dead or the brain is severely malfunctioning, we're no longer of any use in this realm.

I wanted to try out the use of crackle glaze so that's what constitutes the ground in this image. The portrayal of a landscape was something that I hadn't planned, but just happened as I was going along. I wanted to underline the sense of illness of the brain, so I added the sickly yellow colour at the very end, holding my breath while I was hoping it wouldn't ruin the image. 

At the core is the rose, symbolising what is still beautiful about my brain and cognition in general, as well as the compassion I have for a part of my body that's struggling to cope with sleep deprivation and medication.

Making it all straight and lined up is difficult for me, I do try very hard but somehow there's always some alignment I manage to screw up. I think in my case the imperfections are part of the work and who I am, and shouldn't be seen as shortcomings. It's not easy for me to accept that there's always something not quite right, but on the other hand imperfection is part of being human and therefore has a place in  the grand scheme of things. Everything these days tends towards the glossy, highly perfected and sanitized... I really want to stay out of that myself. So therefore I continue to try and work by hand, as long as I can. Ultimately, because I'm not able-bodied, my abilities will never be perfect. Human imperfection is something that those who represent the norms of society need to tackle. I speak for everyone out there who has had to concede that they are disabled in comparison with most people who are able to participate actively in society. Not until society embraces its disabled organs, can it become whole.

I have one more image about invisbile illness in mind. After that I think I probably want to change gear and work on a slightly different note. At some point I just have to concede that I have enough images about difficulties and now is the time to look for answers. There is, of course, no guarantee that I can think of solutions in this regard. I mean that expressing solutions to the questions and problems raised through Project X simply may not be possible. We shall see.

One more thing... I few weeks ago I hastily applied for a year long residency for disabled artists at a University just before the deadline. It really was a bit of a tester, and I didn't really expect to get it. I tried not to worry about it too much. I didn't even have time to consider whether I would be able to do such a thing or not. It would have involved spending two days a week on location. In retrospect, I think it's something I might have been able to do, because there was quite a lot of money involved that would have made it possible for me to make it all quite comfortable for myself (easy train rides, nice stays overnight and so on). Getting out there would have picked me up quite a bit. But competition is fierce and some people just know how to apply. They also have track records. Whether their art is really interesting and meaningful is questionable - I don't mean to say it isn't, just that I would probably think very differently from the way the judges view these things. My kind of art still seems to fall outside of neat categories. 

In spite of my intention not to care, the rejection made me feel very discouraged and prepared to give up art, I cried a bit, and then got over it. Recently, I have been thinking about how I could use my own disheartening experiences to help others like me... if I had the resources. It's interesting to ponder, what group of people I would like to support because no one else does, or you end up in a peer group that isn't quite right for you.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


I finally saw Portmeirion a bit over a week ago, and was astounded. It was so much more than I expected! It's been so close by all this time (1.5 hrs through great landscapes), but Martin never thought of taking me there... in fact I'm so enthralled by this magical and wonderfully fanciful folly that I hope to acquire seasontickets (which is an affordable option) with some birthday money.

"Sir Clough Williams-Ellis designed and constructed the village between 1925 and 1975. He incorporated fragments of demolished buildings, including works by a number of other architects. Portmeirion's architectural bricolage and deliberately fanciful nostalgia have been noted as an influence on the development of postmodernism in architecture in the late 20th century." (Wikipedia). Apparently he wanted to prove it was possible to build something quite wonderful without spoiling the beautiful natural scenery.

We got there very late, and didn't have much time or energy as I was exhausted from a long day and started to get very hungry. No shops or cafes were open, and there was no one about apart from a wedding party, so it was otherwise a great time to be there. But we hope to go back on my birthday. Meanwhile, I wanted to share some of my photos here as a blog post. The light was getting low, but I'll capture some more on another day. 


I seem to have failed to post about the trailer Martin and I finished a while ago! I created the visual show and Martin the soundscape. This is in preparation for the complete project, which should be about 20 mins long. If I have an opportunity to go and collect more material, i.e. abstract photos from the original source in Finland, there may be two parts. I would love to, as I would like to have more images to play around with, but at the moment we can't afford to eat, let along pay a visit to my home country.

Please choose the highest resolution for viewing, and view it full screen!


Trailer for a multimedia show based on abstract images by Vivi-Mari Carpelan and music by husband Martin Herbert. This project idea is based on the use of koans in Asian Buddhism.

The work should disrupt so-called "functional fixedness" in the viewer, breaking old cognitive patterns and helping the brain make new connections. "Mind-wandering" that is neither too focused nor too slack is beneficial to a receptive state of mind, conducive to creative thinking. This is not really meditation, but rather an exercise in "a fresh look on life".

The gently flowing yet dynamic feel of the multimedia show should lull the viewer into a contemplative state of being. Inspiration has been derived from the ancient Japanese tradition of the koan, a story or statement that is ultimately absurd, offered to Buddhist disciples as a way of breaking old cognitive patterns, i.e. the mental "rut" humans get stuck in. The statements are meant to help the disciples drop their rational minds and become susceptible to the greater mystery of life.

Ideally, we want this shared subjective encounter to inspire people to question the rationale behind the frantic process of dashing about the planet in a state of semi-functionality.

The title references the marks that people have left behind while simply doing their job. Successive layers of paint, repeatedly stencilled or painted signs and lettering and the corrosion express the convergence of cultures, communication as well as the universal concepts of decay, the passing of time and the echo of history - all of surprising aesthetic value.

My fascination with creativity, the many forms of linguistic expression in different cultures as well as belief systems around the world were at the core of my MA at Helsinki University. This, as well as my very personal and first hand concerns with the psychology and physiology of stress, are all behind this artistic venture.

The finished multimedia show will be about 20 mins long.

David Drake of the prestigious Ffotogallery in Cardiff has offered personal comments on the photos, and encouraged taking the project further.

This project is in line with my research into fatigue and invisible illness, notably the category that holds solutions rather than just problems.


Mostyn Oriel (Gallery) is situated in an old Victorian Art Gallery with some added modern bit sinside
I am soon done working on another collage, it was a tricky one to put together. This morning when I was trying to sleep I had some idea about a short multimedia project about insomnia. How could I make it express it without being too literal? I have some initial thoughts and will get down it soon. The two other more extensive projects (including creating the complete Traces) are going to have to wait. It occured to me, however, that I haven't posted the trailer for Traces yet so I will do in a separate post.

About a week ago we went to the North of Wales to pick up the second hand printer my husband bought on Ebay with the money we raised through the crowd funding project. It was a sunny day, and a lovely couple. We had picnic on the beach, then saw Llandudno, which is beautiful and quite sparkly summer resort. We also managed to get to Portmeirion, which really captured my imagination, so I will create separate article with photos from this magical place.

Mostyn Gallery is situated in Llandudno so we had a little look at it as we'd not seen it before and it's fairly prestigious, at least by Welsh standards. It's quite heavily into conceptual art. There was a show about interactive art, called YOU. Now some of the pieces, such as the typewriters that were set to create different patterns that the audience could control in order to create different kinds of images was quite cool. Interestingly, nobody had done anything to the paper itself. At the really bad end was a teleoscope that shows reality upside down. Apparently by looking into it, it will challenge your view of the world and blahblablah... thumbs down! 

Another piece I thought interesting but not necessarily in a good way was a large floorspace filled with candy. Apparently the weight of the candy corresponded with the weight of the artist's wife, who had been wasting away with cancer. The audience was invited to (morbidly?) eat the candy and it would thus symbolize the loss of her weight. To me, the idea was as far fetched as you can possible get. Candy - a human body? If anything, this contrived correspondance devalues the human body in question. I also feel uncomfortable because to me it sounds like emotional blackmail. In other words, you feel almost obliged to give thumbs up for the work because it's about a dying person who's now dead. I honestly can't think of anything less pretentious. Afterwards, when Martin and I discussed it, he said he really regrets he didn't mess up the place a bit and step on all the candy, because after all, you were invited to interact! We agreed that some artists would have welcomed this and others would have been horrified that their carefully dictated form of interaction wasn't respected (so how honest is the piece if it's very strictly monitored?). Of course, art should ask questions, and the discussion we had bares proof of that, but it still doesn't mean it was any good.

Another thing I've noticed when approaching conceptual art is that there's a vast amount of text telling you what you're supposed to understand, written by a curator. They write it so it sounds as if you should really already have understood it and they are just clarifying it for you. But without this explanation the audience would understand very little. So it all becomes strangely circular and maybe, just maybe, it's the explanation that is the art?

Nowadays I'm curious about conceptual art but I find it sad that so many authorities within the arts still value this type of art higher than other forms of art that are more directly expressive of feelings and experiences. Not only is the artist often in a highly analytical frame of mind when he's constructing his piece, but even if it's just created intuitively, by the time it reaches the judges it turns into this object that has to be approached analytically in order to be either approved or disapproved of. 

Another exhitbition I meant to write about was a collection of collages from the Arts Council, but it's long gone and I wasn't immensely impressed. One that stayed in my mind, however, was a piece by Chris Ofili. It's a lovely and colourful collage except he's stuck elephant dung on them to support some ideas about national identity. But... it's dung. Honestly, it would be quite a beautiful piece (not by far one of his best though) if it wasn't for the dung, which no only is not aestethic in the context of the rest of the collage but only says very little. The "shock" isn't doing anything for me. I'm not sure the juxtaposition works from any point of view. I think it's a good thing to be experimental with "combines" (this term derives from Rauschenberg). Still. I think in fact the artist was noted for his beautiful images inspite of the dung, but still... Call me conventional but for me it's thumbs up for the fantastic collages but thumbs down for the addition of dung.

Detail of Chris Ofili "Holy Mary" 1996 - a controversial piece

Read my blog post 'Is Conceptual Art Just Bad Philosphy'

Rauschenberg: "Canyon", 1959.
Rauschenberg's collages made of stuff from the streets hold a strange appeal to me.

Saturday, May 4, 2013


Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "Gentle Persusasion", 29x29 cm -
artist's photographs, digitally manipulated image,
velvet and gold ribbon, bead.
Copyright 2013
Some more new work has been finished so that I can feel that I'm also doing real things in the real work and not only digital work! It may not be immediately obvious but this one is meant to be part of the solutions when challenged with invisible illness - Project X is about the actual problem but I also meant to get on with finding a way of expressing some form of solutions. I wasn't planning on it this time, it just happened. I was attracted to the woman of the fin de siecle (c. 1900), gently gazing at a skull as was rather typical of the time of the Symbolist movement. Pondering mortality and all that... it's a bit ironic since it's actually an image that was meant to be erotic, on the other hand they were often seen as two sides of the same coin, the drive towards procreation versus the end of all earth bound drives.

I thought this one would be easy to scan but in fact it proved very hard to get the hue right, and the golden ribbon doesn't show up the way it does in reality. We're running out of laser ink cartridges and our artistic venture wowlookwhatigot didn't quite generate enough for a second hand ink jet printer as well as cartridges... we'll se how that goes (you can still support us if you like). It's a bother and a great shame but for the moment I just have to try and use what I have.

I would like for this image to be one that one can contemplate rather than analyse with the tools of a sharp intellect. There's pain, there's hardship, there's a kind of imprisonment... but there is also a kind of resignation that borders on acceptance. The velvet and the gold are meant to envelop the vulnerable character, and the very cheap "diamond" on the skull bears a gentle reference to Damien Hirst's famous work, "For the Love of God" in which real diamonds obtain questionable value... It also refers to the idea of the third eye, which signifies intuition and profound insight. There is a theatricality in this image which is not uncommon in my work. It points to the idea of "the world as a stage and the men and women as merely players". The photograph in the background is my own. There are large footsteps in the snow - I leave it to you to imagine what they could stand for. Life is hard but sometimes it's the most challenged people in this world who are "the golden people", and I like to believe it's all for a good reason. Controlling your life or fighting your destiny isn't what life is about. The toughest challenges can engender the most wisdom, but there is also a great deal of wisdom in the art of letting go of your own petty concerns at least intermittently, and to bear your destiny with dignity.

The theatre of life is the great play of Lila as suggested in non-dualist schools of Hinduism. Brahman is the Ultimate Creator. Freedom from necessity doesn't mean there is no "destiny", but this destiny is relative, while the play of lila is absolute.

"Brahman is full of all perfections. And to say that Brahman has some purpose in creating the world will mean that it wants to attain through the process of creation something which it has not. And that is impossible. Hence, there can be no purpose of Brahman in creating the world. The world is a mere spontaneous creation of Brahman. It is a Lila, or sport, of Brahman. It is created out of Bliss, by Bliss and for Bliss. Lila indicates a spontaneous sportive activity of Brahman as distinguished from a self-conscious volitional effort. The concept of Lila signifies freedom as distinguished from necessity."

—Ram Shanker Misra, The Integral Advaitism of Sri Aurobindo (from Wikipedia)

Monday, April 29, 2013


Vivi-Mari Carpelan: "A Measure of Normality",
handmade mixed media collage with photographs,
copyright 2013

I thought I wasn't going to do bigger pictures but there you go, I couldn't help myself. I was struggling a bit as I had to spend most of my time on the floor.

This collage started with a Chinese newspaper and the photos of myself. As I was checking out this newspaper, I realised how many cultural cross references there were. In one single paper, there were discussions about Windows 8, Google, Ipad and brands such as Toyota, Opel and Roche. I speak a little bit of Chinese but I don't understand the characters. Nonetheless, I found it quite easy to guess what the articles were about simply on the basis of all the Western names, but also the images and the typography. The editorial is suggested with the image of a scribbling pen, the dating site has bold characters and a cheesy Western couple in the picture. A meditating monk is clearly not real, but a movie character, as he's surrounded by a romanticised candle lit environment. An article about UFO's is accompanied by a photo of all sorts of paraphernalia to do with UFO's and the belief therein. An image of a couple sleeping on top of their luggage on the floor clearly speaks of delays in transport. Nostalgia for the past is expressed in traditional imagery and pictures of Asian food, and a love of modernity expressed in the extensive article on computers. All in all, though the details escape me (for instance, what caused the delay and whose football scores are we talking about here?), it's clear that globalisation and information technology is making it easier for people to understand each other. 

The downside is the homogenisation. While humans have always attempted to "fit in" and not upset the general concensus about normality, the extensive relocations that are taking place cause more pertinent conflicts in the individuals and in their new surroundings. To what degree should you try and blend in and to what degree should you preserve your cultural heritage? How do you strike a balance so that everyone has a reason to be content - personally, and collectively? Society may be more tolerant of difference than it used to be, but we are still far from living harmoniously side by side. On the pages of this newspaper, which incidentally is aimed at Asians living in Europe, I have scribbled my own little notes the way you do - phone numbers that are relevant to my existance but also reminders of little idiosyncracies such as the format in which the British and the Finnish  express time (9 pm being 21.00 hrs, for instance), and issues related to differences in the use of the phone. For instance, I was in for a shock when I found that calling a UK service number from my mobile phone was expensive - this isn't the case in Finland, were landlines are largely abandoned.

There are also peculiarly English expressions that I learn as I seek counterparts to expressions in my own language, and ones that I'm thinking of in order to use them in my projects. My dad used to always circle the programs he thought we should watch in the TV guide with a red marker - the marker being a typical association with newspapers. Is paper on its way out, well we'd all like to know that, of course! Many people are starting to hold onto the slow consumption of the written text on real paper, rather than suck up lots of short stories on the internet.

You want to express your individuality - well I'm assuming in this time and age most of us do in one way or another - and society certainly encourages people to do so up to a point. How much room for individuality is there really? As soon as a belief system runs counter to the rules and regulations created by the government, there is trouble... The paradoxical message is, you can be different, as long as you fit in. I have wanted to express this idea through the use of the photos of myself, that could be passport photographs if it wasn't for the unusual set up (I'm possibly naked, with a bowler hat on my head - and of course in Magritte's famous world, the bowler hat stands for conformity). I also point to the idea that most of us want to be noticed in some way or another, as well as express our individual selves... we silently question the idea, whether there is really room for us too in an over populated world that is much governed by the collective consciousness.

Then there is the grid, that much loved symbol within modern and contemporary art... To me, it merely suggests that we are really all stuck inside of the grid, or the matrix of society. Perhaps in the end it's not so much a matter of getting unstuck and "living off grid", as loosening the rigid grid so that we can all breathe with greater ease.