December 6, 2017

Diary of my HIAP Residency in Helsinki, November 2017

First snowman of the year!

Day 1

“I had the best Russian food in Helsinki,” a friend from Belgium writes me in an email. I’m wondering if it’s inappropriate to say so about a country that has been under siege by Russia for so long. 

Day 2 

At Forum Box Gallery I see a video by Nina Lassila asking the question: “Did Van Gogh get laid because of his paintings?” That Van Gogh had a sexual life never really occurred to me. The legend of his cut ear somehow dominates all of his other body parts.

The sun setting at 3pm in Helsinki.

Day 3 

On the mirror of the women’s bathroom at the Helsinki Art Museum is written “You don’t know how beautiful you are.” I wondered if this is gendered so I sneak into the men’s bathroom to check out the mirror but it carries the same sentence. I feel like the gender police. 

At the bathroom of the HAM

Day 4 

Gallery hopping is between 5 and 7pm on Thursdays in Helsinki. We play the game which art work we would pick to take home. I choose a dirty kitchen towel painting at the Exhibition Laboratory Gallery, which consist of a dirty kitchen towel stretched over a canvas. My colleague picks a painting at Hippolyte Gallery, which has light smears on it as if somebody tried in vain to remove some smudges. Both of us prefer something dirty to something clean. 

Day 5 

“If I put myself physically in nature, could I become more natural?” the landscape artist asks. 
“If you put a human being in a landscape, it takes over the view, even when the figure is small,” the other landscape artist says.

Day 6 

Two elderly women photograph their food before they eat it. One of them also writes an accompanying text on what seems to be social media. The other one waits patiently. Luckily it’s a salad, which is cold anyway.  

Day 7 

On my morning walk by the river I take a picture of a big boat. The boat carries the name Eira, which means “snow.” I send the picture to my sister who says it looks desolate. In defense of Helsinki, I argue that when they’re two persons in a picture (both also looking at the boat) and the third behind the camera, you can call it populated.

Day 8,

My neighbor, the artist Hitomi Usui and I go grocery shopping together. We’re hesitating between the small S market or the big K market. “It’s too big,” we agree while entering S. 

Day 9

The studio of Sasha Huber is located upstairs of a kindergarten. When she looks out of the window, she sees a retirement home. We’re both abound 40 years old so that we find ourselves literarily standing in between.

Day 10

Lunch buffets are very popular in Helsinki. My boyfriend says I have no “buffet control.” I want to taste everything and heap it all on one plate because going back twice would be embarrassing. I still manage to overeat. 

Day 11

I’m hoping for the ultimate Nordic experience, which is snow. That’s why I bought wool underwear. But they tell me it’s unlikely it will snow. November is just dark and depressing. 

Preparing for snow

Day 12

“Are you in the program?” I’m asked several times at the video night of Phd students of Helsinki’s Aalto University. After a while it starts sounding like an institute of psychiatry. 

Day 13

four hours of 
dreary grey 
from Pori 
to Helsinki
until the mind
blanks out

Day 14

“When my eyes are open, it’s more about me,” the artist explains why she keeps her eyes closed in the video.

Day 15

In Finland there’s no real forest, I am told. Trees are constantly being cut and planted anew. 

Self-baked Finnish rye bread 

Day 16

Am I sitting here too close? a woman asks me, hesitating to take a seat at the next table. Maybe I look like a person who needs a lot of personal space.

Day 17

An Unknown ID calls me from Germany. “I don’t think we know each other,” I say. “We do,” he says, “You gave me your number at the fish shop in Neukölln,” I’m trying hard to remember if I was ever so desperate to give a stranger my number in a fish shop. 

Day 18

I invented a new word: “bavardy.” It’s a mixture of the French verb “bavarder” and an English-speaking person who talks a lot. 

Day 19

In Helsinki I drink kahvi. 

Day 20

It’s a new moon today, so I write a poem:

or the fool starry-eyed
when the moon
is tickling
the sky
to dance

Day 21

“You have to invite yourself to people’s private sauna,” she says. Like: “I come to your sauna tonight,” she gives as an example. I’m debating if this is the moment I’m inviting myself to her sauna. 

Day 22

“What’s your waiting number? the ticket sales person at the train station asks. We look around us but nobody else is waiting. “Next time you have to get a waiting number,” she says while giving us a train ticket to the airport. 

Day 23

I have the Long Drink with gin. It was invented in 1952 for the Olympic Games. 

Day 24

In the subway it says that 3/4 of the Finnish population is allergic to scents. The add asks passengers to watch their use of fragrances. 

Day 25
Thursday night is gallery hopping night. After finishing we’re surprised it’s only 8pm and we feel already like going to bed. Gil says that is normal since it has already been dark for five hours. 

Day 26

Just like the weather, coffee is always a good topic to talk about. I ask my neighbor what the sign says that promotes kahvi. “If you bring your own cup,” she tells me, “it’s only 1,50 euros.” "Morning coffee is a big thing in Finland," she adds.

Day 27

Hitomi goes out tot the natural parks to photograph nature. On her Instagram she describes the color as “deep green.”

Day 28

Kone is a company that makes escalators worldwide. It also funds art. Everyone doing something edgy in Finland is funded by Kone and if they’re not yet funded by it, they’re hoping to be funded by it.

Day 29

In Finnish, there’s no word for please, Australian curator Katie Lenanton tells me. You only have to say what is essential. If your order coffee, it’s “coffee” and not “coffee please.”

Day 30 

Artist Isaac Wong shows me Baudelaire’s poem “L’homme et la mer.” If you hear it, it could also be “l’homme haȋt la mer,” he says, or “l’homme est la mer.” 

November 27, 2017

The Laughter of Naomi Klein

Yesterday I listened to an interview with Naomi Klein on BBC4 radio. She was great, and she had a beautiful laugh that she laughed a lot. After a while the interviewer asked her what she did for fun in life. The interviewer rephrased, and said she had expected Naomi Klein to be serious (probably also angry). “That makes me sad,” Naomi Klein answered. Today, meeting for morning coffee, Isabel Hölzl, the director of the Goethe Institute in Helsinki, told me something similar happened at the Baltic Circle festival, in the panel The Time of Autonomy. Maryan Abdulkarim, a Finnish activist and freelance journalist, asked the audience to imagine her without the gender, the skin color and the hijab - basically, like a white man - otherwise they’d expect her to be serious and angry. Laughter and fun as a privilege of the while male when talking about things that matter. 

By the way, this is a beautiful song Klein chose to play on the radio:

November 25, 2017

Sex d'Ameublement: 桃色/ the color of peaches by Hiroshi McDonald Mori

In Helsinki I drink kahvi. It’s the cheapest drink, only 2 euros with a refill included. I once had a refill, trying to make the most out of my 2 euros. My heart trembled on my way home. Finnish coffee is strong. 

At the HIAP we have coffee morning on Thursdays. The Kaapeli residents take the ferry at 9:20 to Suomenlinna to join the others on the island. You have to be quick for the yoghurt with red berries because it’s the first thing that goes. 

My studio has no coffee table. Not that coffee tables in their modern fashion have much to do with coffee. In the 60s they became en vogue because they were low enough not to obstruct the view on the TV.  Nowadays people with laptops prefer a chaise to put on their feet. 

Hiroshi McDonald Mori's’s coffee table might not be one. The lava stone could refer to Japan where low tables are common for tea ceremonies. Yet the heavy glass top on the other hand might be a reference to the Noguchi coffee table which was invented in 1947 by the Japanese-American designer Isamu Noguchi.

Hiroshi lists Stromboli lava stone and Lasa marble as his materials for the sculpture. I remember him telling me so when I saw the work for the first time during the Berlin Art Fair. Since seeing it there, it has been in the back of mind. Coffee tables are an interesting phenomenon in the history of furniture, but Hiroshi’s one has an additional vibe. 

I know that Hiroshi has done a tea ceremony talk at the Jan van Eyck Academie. He sent me the text, which consisted of fragments of The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo, written in 1906, footnoted with excerpts from Semiotext(e) issue Polysexuality, published in 1981. When sex and zen meet. 

There’s only one artist particularly known for working with the form of the coffee table, and that’s Allen Jones. Fibreglass models of semi-naked women support the glass top. “Is Allen Jones’s sculpture the most sexist art ever?” The Guardian still asked in 2014, some 45 years after its making.

Hiroshi’s work is titled 桃色 / the color of peaches. Peaches are a voluptuous tasty fruit, often used as a food metaphor for the vulva. On the web I find out that peaches is a code word for a quick sexual release with no strings attached. 

The legs of Hiroshi’s sculpture are in the color of peaches. They’re pipes and combined with the hot lava and the cold marble sexual chemistry comes about. 

How does something as petit-bourgeois as a coffee table lead to sex? Satie wrote furniture music (musique d’ameublement). What about a sex d’ameublement

*  The artist told me that the color of peaches is a literal translation of the Chinese pictograms, Peaches and Color, which is used in Japanese language to say, Pink.