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.