Monday, March 17, 2014


"Junk Mail", photograph by Vivi-Mari Carpelan.
This is a comment, I hope I don't need to explain myself.

As we all know, over the past 250 years science has taken precedence over heart and soul. For every invisible phenomenon, there is supposedly a perfect rational and visible explanation, and they presumably match each other without fail. It is not about correlation, it's about blatant reductionism. The arts have followed suit because what is considered superior to the artist's inner life is an artist's ability to state an objective point of view about the world. Spiritual concerns are just passé! But how does that help us recover our fragmented selves? Surely art should support self-development and the development of a more humane society? I find it immensely disturbing that subjective truth is so down market at this point, and therefore I'm on a mission to help bring it back into people's consciousness... to reinstate a balance between subjective and objective... a bit of a task, eh! This article has come about from discussions with my husband.

There is so much art out there to browse, so one must be careful about generalising the art world too much. However, I do see a trend which supports the idea that an artist must start with a clear concept that they then create the art to fit the concept. People who wish to be artists are desperately trying to think of more and more "clever ideas", because that's what art authorities seem to expect to see. For instance, if you apply for a grant from the Arts Council, you usually have to have a very precise idea of the kind of project you wish to pursue, and then make damn sure you deliver it too. Unfortunately, as Martin pointed out, if you make up the art to fit your concept, you're actually only illustrating an idea. And that's often just bad philosophy anyway.

Where is the true creative spark? Coming up with ideas is creative, but if it's not taken further and moulded into something a great deal more comprehensive and profound, then there really is very little creativity involved in the process. I'd almost go as far as to say that if a wannabe artist isn't able to let their soul sing in order to create something surprising and even wondrous in some ways, then they aren't worthy of being called an artist. It's amazing to watch one's own subconscious mind organise elements into an unexpectedly meaningful whole. It's in essence a spontaneous and life affirming process, not a dry calculated one (the calculation only comes in sometimes as a mere supportive tool). You start out with "some kind of idea', a hazy concept, and then let the alchemy take over and basically just see what happens. I'm so sick of seeing superficial, calculated cleverness in the arts... everything has been dumbed down to the lowest common denominator. What sometimes may appear as difficult art is often just very bland and superficial. Having the guts to trust your instinct and see through the veil of snobbishness isn't easy for everyone though, because we have been told it's good by presumably trustworthy authorities. 

The situation is so skewed. We saw one of the shows in the lovely BBC series "What do Artists Do All Day?" about the performance artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. She has tons of energy, which could account for the fact that people are so taken in by her that they give her lots of money and freedom to do what she wants. She engages a lot of people in her performances, too. But it's so badly made and so badly performed! It all really looks like a crappy school play with replicas from scifi movies, and all she's doing is just farting about a lot (as Martin put it) and then inventing some political story to cover up her dodgy tracks. The boulders made of paper the performers were carrying about that were supposed to symbolise debts... oh god, the banality and poverty of expression! Perhaps through this art you're supposed to discover your inner child? I have to say there was nothing I enjoyed more when I got out of school than burying my child self for good somewhere in very deep and dark forest, and no I don't want it back! Because Chetwynd's somehow gained attention (she was nominated for the Turner Price in 2012 for some rather sad looking performance that was supposedly about democracy), she was being put on show in the Nottingham Contemporary art museum. I feel that it's another case of the emperor's new clothes - because someone has put her there, people believe that she's worth appreciating. She says something to the effect that she doesn't believe that you need to know anything about art in order to understand what she's doing... well... it sure doesn't take much to realise what she is doing, or not doing... I'm sorry, but one thing it isn't, is art.

The other day someone passed on a rather innocent comment on the internet about how real art doesn't require any education, anyone can intuitively enjoy art and culture because that's what it's for... or something like that, I forget the exact phrasing. Of course lots of people would ascribe to this, and happily enjoy whatever art they feel drawn to, and that's fine. Yet... it would be an ideal world where everyone would just follow their intuition, but this is not the world we live in and very few nowadays have a clarity of vision that allows them to see right through the art - and I mean all art... There's a difference between enjoying what you feel attracted to (which is fine, but a limited way of experiencing life) and seeing art work in general for what they really are. Art is more than just Mona Lisa and Sunflowers, and by the way Picasso and Matisse are over-rated. 

The point is, education is valuable in today's world. I just said people should question authorities. Yes, but I also resent having it suggested to me that I can't possibly be less knowledgeable about art than an office clerk. The worst is, it's uneducated and ignorant people who would say such a thing. I thought about it and came to the conclusion that I wasn't reacting so vehemently to the statement above because I necessarily want to be seen as an authority (which is nice but not all-important). I was reacting because these days, laypeople don't seem to have any respect for expertise - everything has to be dumbed down so that the simplest of minds can understand what is going on. Everyone is subliminally told what to think but they often start believing they came up with it themselves. It's a great paradox, that people ingest so many relative "truths" without discernment that they find difficult to question, yet also want to be self-sufficient and rebellious when someone comes along with some expertise (a sign of the good old narcissistic individualism I expect). I don't blame them a lot of the time because many people with expertise aren't serving them well, and perhaps it's also a sign that attitudes are changing. Yet there is also the possibility that the internet gives people the illusion they can be an expert on pretty much anything there is, because they can browse so many pages... but someone put it there in the first place and a lot of information is superficial and biased in insidious ways. If you're not trained in critical research, this information could be difficult to handle.

Interestingly, almost anyone can get into a university these days, too, so it's no longer just for the intellectual elite. What will happen to the standard of teaching? Art authorities, who themselves have an education behind them, do expect artists to have one too. In this case it's very often about looking less at the actual art than the artist's CV... that's because in the end, it's still the objective view point, the lists, that mean the most (have you noticed how everything is always made into lists? Five reasons you're not a good artist!). Basically, it's all a terrible mess! That's because what is lacking is a clear distinction between the experience of deep feelings and intuition, and a plain rational evaluation of a phenomenon in the world.  People don't see these faculties for what they are, they tend towards one or the other without discernment (or awareness, even). The faculties are therefore usually in conflict instead of complementing each other the way they are meant to. Feelings and intuitions are immensely useful in helping us make real sense of the world and its objects from our subjective standpoint, whereas objective rational analysis is hardly any better than a computer's way of processing (though in fact slower!). It so often doesn't arrive at the correct answers, either - rationality usually comes from a very prejudiced place, the home of all our belief systems and other mental constructs. It's that thing about right and left brain, heart and mind, and so on. Collective consciousness is undoubtedly now on the level of thoughts (rational, cognitive processing), so it's natural that this kind of mental processing would seem very important to the majority, but it's a terribly insular level and really needs to start moving towards something a bit more lifelike. The world has become stifled and robotic, and lost much of the soul and spirit that makes life worthwhile in the first place. It's but one of the signs of a very decadent society.

However, the years of studying art and art history as well as experiencing the art world first hand that I have behind me do account for something. For instance, my education at a real University as well as the university of life allows me not to confuse "liking" with "understanding". If I feel uneasy and don't understand a piece of art, I usually find in conversation with Martin that it really was as meaningless as it appeared at first. It gives me confidence to pass a value judgment on art work. And though there is no objective guarantee that I'm right about what I think and feel and could in fact be a terrible culture snob, that expertise should still have intrinsic value. I was also upset because I feel that as soon as I make art that is a bit difficult to understand, people shy away. People seem to expect everything to be really easy and palatable, i.e. dumbed down. I don't want to be too harsh because I also see that people are tired, bogged down and in need of hopefulness. There's only so much people can take in. However... it's easy to escape into a world of pretty pictures and cute animals and twee spirituality. Suddenly everyone is an expert and able to say "this is good art" simply because it's pleasing to them. Even integral art can offend a serious artist / real imperfect human because of being so glossy, banal, often anti-feminist, and anything but all-encompassing (i.e. truly integral and integrated) like this stuff by a Finnish guy. I saw a visionary artist calling themselves a "conscious artist" today, no doubt meaning they have their eyes wide open and are spiritually receptive... however I believe that art has to be largely subconscious in order to be meaningful (for instance, creative solutions often come to us after sleep), and therefore that kind of statement to me isn't really analytical enough! Intellectual ability is a good thing too, just knowing its real place in the grand scheme of things is important.

Not everyone sees any point in dwelling on difficult issues. But I want to inject, that if people stop sharing serious issues with each other, nothing will ever change for the better. You have to take the bull by the horns! This is everyone's responsibility, is it not?

Thursday, March 13, 2014


Photograph by Vivi-Mari Carpelan copyright 2013

I'm getting a bit tired of explaining what I do and why... society is so obsessed with mental constructs. However... let's see what I have to say about the process of creating music as a visual artist...

I have now ventured further into the realm of sound and have lingered at the intersection of music and sound art. Compared to most sound art I didn't proceed in an analytical manner and almost solely relied on my intuition. The result is definitely more musical than noisy - sound art generally speaking tends to distinguish itself from music by avoiding sounding musical (sometimes successfully, sometimes not...). These are more poetic (they aren't strictly speaking "sound poems" though I've seen the term used for this kind of sounscape).

I am not just stringing sounds together in some random fashion, though that's how the process starts and you do of course make more or less conscious decisions along the way. It's in my mind a deeply creative process that demands a lot of attention and intuitive understanding of the way sounds work in harmony. It works much the same when I do physical collages, and I do enjoy this process of discovery and insight.

The two first pieces, "The End is a New Beginning" and "The Unexpected Longevity of Love". I decided to rename the second piece when I realised I was going to continue to work along these lines and might even want to make an album.

"The End is a New Beginning" and "The Unexpected Longevity of Love" (formerly part II of "The End is a New Beginning") are two experimental pieces of music that make something new out of something old. They use found sound. They are an aural representation of the kind of 2D collage that I have made using copyright-fee imagery from the past. How can you create a completely new feel from old material? This is the challenge I have set myself in this series. I decided not to include other elements and concentrate only on recycling the found sounds from two historical periods covering about 200 years each and only use vintage recordings of the public domain - at least for now. The process of picking the recordings from was somewhat haphazard (and was in fact done a while ago when I didn't have any clear intentions), and what I ended up with was recycled sounds (this is not an official definition). This is not unlike the process of taking an old object (preferably something unique and personal, of course) and turning it into a new expression of creativity.

This is my way of comparing music with images... generally speaking I don't agree with a lot of sound artists that you can analyse an image and construct sound/music that somehow corresponds with the image directly. To me, this is reductionism. Perhaps I feel that sounds are of a higher order in some ways, because of being more abstract, and complement images rather than represent them. (Check out this piece by Marios Athanasiou though, it almost works). In fact I'm a bit unsure of whether I want to put imagery to these pieces, as I worry that it will detract from the rich musical texture and twists and turns - these could be in conflict with each other, fighting for the spectator's attention.

Surprisingly, the pieces feel intensely personal - the process as well as the results had a deep emotional impact on myself. I therefore concluded that using found sounds rather than generating my own had little impact on how I felt about the finished piece. I was also interested in how this kind of work differs from work on a flat surface. Music and sound art depend on the passing of time and you can loop it if you wish. 2D work also has an element of the passing of time because of the way a viewer's eyes travel around the work. However, one compels you in one sequential direction whether the other compels you less. You also cannot loop a piece of 2D work so it doesn't have the same circular character. 

The first part comprises Renaissance and Baroque composers such as Monteverdi, Gesualdo, Palestrina and Buxtehude. There's mainly vocals and the organ. As this music has strange harmonies and a fairly simple structure, it was exciting to work with. The recordings were fairly good quality to start with so that also made the process a bit easier. The following challenge was using Romantic composers such as Beethoven, Verdi and Rachmaninoff, with a hint of Baroque in J.S. Bach's Goldberg variations. The vocal parts are an entirely different style, the tonality is generally speaking more complicated, and the main instrument is the piano. The piano notes resonate a great deal and the overall is more personal, two factors which makes it harder to mould clips into something new. The experience was quite different and as the recordings were somewhat lacking, the process proved a lot more laborious.

The title is philosophical but also personal because I feel that I'm at the end of a phase in my life, and it denotes a new beginning. This is a liminal space. It's reflected in the process of making sounds, which has left me feeling liberated and somewhat spiritually elevated. The end is also literally present in the beginning of both pieces.

I believe you can feel the flavour of these historical periods but also experience the pieces as completely contemporary that don't follow any common musical rules. In fact I'd say it exists in the liminal space between old and new, and is as much part of the collective consciousness as it is personal. I'm not a musicologist but that much I know! I regret not playing an instrument and knowing more about music (I was admitted to a music school when I was 15 but never attended due to chronic fatigue). However I'd like to believe that there just might be an advantage sometimes in not being bound by rules... please listen and judge for yourself! I'm quite happy with the results as I feel I have satisfied a desire to create music in spite of my educational shortcomings, and I might do it again. I have plans on using my own voice again at some point.

Martin alerted me to a sound artist who worked from the 1960s onwards, particularly in the BBC workshop - Delia Derbyshire. In other words, it's all been done before! Her electronically produced sound collages are well worth listening to and have something in common with my own work. I enjoyed seeing her demonstrate the process in a documentary by the BBC. I also found this series of the 1980s on Youtube which demonstrates the methods of making "new sounds" at the time (now rather historical but quite interesting nonetheless).

Do you really need to know the rules in music? Though I completely agree that you normally need to know rules in order to break them, perhaps you can also be self-taught just as well as being self-taught in any other creative area. After all, I have a life time of curiosity towards alternative music behind me, and I guess that's a kind of education too.

Delia believed that the way the ear / brain perceives sound should have dominance over any basic mathematical theory, but as with most things in life it is important to know the rules in order to advantageously bend or break them. (from the website)


"Don’t Tell Me You Don’t Have The Right Equipment – What Matters Is Your Musical Imagination!" (Steve Reich)

Listen to this piece, Somewhere a Voice is CallingVoices from the Dead Wax and The Boyling Cells by Paul J. Rogers. He uses old recordings in his performances, while relishing the imperfections. Though I saw one of his performances ("Somewhere a Voice...") last August, he didn't give me the idea to do this sort of chop up of old music. That's probably because the main element in this work was all the old devices for playback that he used to create an amazing soundscape. Many of us are looking for material with soul, feeling perhaps that computer generated sounds can be soulless. At least for the time being, I am also making a point of using only sounds of the public domain.

Photograph by Vivi-Mari Carpelan, 2013
Please read more about liminality and the reasons for doing this kind of thing in this blog post.