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.