Saturday, October 22, 2016


The following is an excerpt from a book I'm working on. It includes an analysis of the latest developments in the third season of the TV series 'The Fall', episode four. This is my personal interpretation, loosely based on Jungian depth psychology.

"Perhaps Paul Spector is not really responsible for the murders..."
"Is he, or is he not? Surely it depends on how we define the self that acts the murders out?"
"Well... he is... because he's conscious when he commits them... yet he is in a stupor... and so he's not really responsible..."
"So the self that he knows of at the time is responsible. But is this his true self? It's peculiar, that one can have a self and not be conscious of it. There are lots of people who are quite unconscious of who they are, yet the general consensus is that they are still responsible for themselves. The reality is, that until someone holds up a mirror for Paul so that he can begin to see the monster that he has created in and of himself, it tends to hide and elude his conscious self. Although he does film himself, he only watches the videos in capacity of the 'bad self' that is not conscious of being anything other than bad."
"And so the 'good self' never gets to see them... And the reason he is a murderer is because he was abused by a priest when he was a child and split in two... and so he split into the good and the bad... but... that's not it, either..." A was thoughtful.
"Because the bad is illusory... and I guess the good is illusory too... They are not real... only his Soul is real. The good and the bad selves are merely ideas in his head that he firmly believes in, and they are based on the relationship with the priest that has abused him. His eternal Soul is, on the other hand, neither good nor bad... it's just... neutral. If he hadn't split off, he would only have had minor flaws like most other people."
"The thing is," I clarified, "the idea of splitting assumes that there is something to be split in the first place. He has not really split himself in two, only the concept of who he is. The splitting started in his infancy, when the attachment to his mother was conflicted due to the mother's erratic behaviour, and he experienced maternal deprivation. When was needy, he wasn't always given what he wanted. He started to reject his mother. The more he rejected her, the more intense his neediness became. He became confused as to why he was being punished, while also feeling that there must be a reason for the withdrawal of his mother's attention. His identity was then largely based on the idea that his mother rejected him, that he had no father, and that God's representative on Earth punished him for being bad. There's an awful lot of badness in that equation."
"Where is the good self, then..?"
"The good self is the victim self. Because he is a victim of other people's erratic desires, his conscious self identifies with it and represses the bad self. In order to balance up all the bad, there has to be a counterpart.  Subconsciously he nourishes the idea that he needs to be punished for being bad. Victims of sexual abuse tend to see themselves as bad for having led the perpetrator astray. On the other hand, there is also a pertinent question in his mind as to what he could possibly have done to deserve to become a victim of all the bad experiences he's had to go through. Paul is an intelligent person who is able to understand the nature of his victimhood. In other words, the victim self is the aspect that reasons against the abuse and tries to keep the person sane. In reality, Paul is quite a soulful person, and has been able to connect with the Soul to some extent in order to nourish the good in himself. He channels the Soul through art and poetry, but in doing so, he is in effect nourishing his victim self."
"The fetishes..," A reminded me.
"Oh yes, that's right. Because he was deprived of attention from his depressed mother when he was going through the phallic stage in infancy, he is attempting to find an outlet for conflicted feelings in regards to the symbiosis between his mother and his infantile self. The women he fantasises about are products of his imagination surrounding his mother complex. Ultimately, they represent his mother, who rejected him through suicide. He identifies the desires through objects and actions that personify the good, virginal mother on the one hand, and the evil mother, on the other. He begins to develop a desire to take revenge on her, but because she has already passed on, he cannot carry the idea out in the real. He needs a stand in, or two, or even three... While he carries on nourishing the victim self, the predator self also grows stronger. The reason for this is, that the psyche consist of polarities. One polar aspect cannot exist without the other. They also have to be equally strong. At some point, the tension within the psyche between the two polar opposites becomes so dramatic, that the 'good self' can no longer keep the train on socially acceptable and sensible tracks. Out of the fabric of reality, a trigger point will emerge. It will erupt the bubble Paul has been living in and throw him into the grips of a psychotic state of mind."
"It's a kind of trance..?"
"Yes, he's entranced by all the repressed archetypal material that starts surging to the surface. He has to find an outlet for all that psychic energy. The 'bad self', which is a conglomerate of the abandoning mother, the abuser's twisted attitude to Paul's sexuality, and his desire for a female figure to take revenge on, has to be expressed. Almost right from the beginning of his life, Paul has lived his life in a trancelike semi-conscious state of mind. He has been in the grips of a very powerful and conflicted complex that has possessed him and made him into a monster with a divided mind. Because this monster is double headed, when it needs to, it is capable of leading a double life of polar opposites. When the repressed material surges, he is really no longer in control of himself and starts to give in to the inevitable resolution of his inner conflicts. It's a most dreadful scenario."
"And you're saying that the Soul self is the solution..?"
"Yes. The Catholic orphanage Paul grew up in provided him with the ingredients for a fake sense of self. He is compelled to play out the good and the bad self until he has reached a point of resolution. Because his authentic Self or Soul wants to be seen, it conspires to get him to be found out. He therefore starts to play hide and seek with the vampy Saviour in the drama, Stella the inspector. They both feel equally compelled by the relationship. She is a sexy and compassionate female character that can take on the role of a surrogate mother. Under her supervision, Paul's bad self is targeted. As he gets shot, he nearly dies. During the surgery of his digestive organs, he has a near death experience and catches a glimpse of Heaven. The digestion, as you know, represents the division between good and bad sustenance. It's strange, that his spleen is damaged. This is, of course, an important organ in Chinese medicine and representative of the digestive system. It is responsible for the transformation of food stuff into blood. When Paul steps into the tunnel and catches a glimpse of his real mother, he is able to transfer the idea of his bad self onto the image of the angry mother in Heaven. Perhaps the knowledge that his bad mother has found her way to the heavenly spheres appeases him. Through this reconciliation, his old sense of identity melts away. By virtue of removing the idea of a false, dichotomous self, he has exposed his authentic Self, the Soul. He then wakes up with no memory..."
"... of the way in which he was possessed by his autonomous complex... he dies and goes to Heaven... this is so weird how the story fits in with the things you have been looking into at late... " A's voice revealed a renewed curiosity in the destiny of her Soul. "But... he still has to go to prison for what he's done... I also have to deal with my transgressions... I have to try and get out of the drama that I'm still playing out... and you're holding up a mirror for me... " A was bewildered and confused.
"Although the Soul is ever changing, it's more real than the egos we create in our temporary lives on Earth. The ego is a tool through which we gain experiences and develop into more complex individuals. But while the essence of the experiences remains and adds to the character of the Soul, the set up for the formation of an illusory ego has to be left behind when we die. Paul was lucky to have the experience of death and still remain alive, but unfortunately there are karmic consequences to his actions."

The title is a reference to T.S. Eliot's poem, The Hollow Men - According to Wikipedia, Some critics read the poem as told from three perspectives, each representing a phase of the passing of a soul into one of death's kingdoms ("death's dream kingdom", "death's twilight kingdom", and "death's other kingdom"). Eliot describes how we, the living, will be seen by "Those who have crossed/With direct eyes [...] not as lost/Violent souls, but only/As the hollow men/The stuffed men."

Sunday, August 16, 2015


My husband died last December. One moment he was there, visible - the next he was invisible. I know there is an after life, and so to me he isn't gone forever. It's just metamorphosis, a change of shape and plane of existence, though of course a very dramatic change from the point of view of human experience. Being the one who is left behind is no doubt the worst, since we are the ones who are left blind and deprived of insight, generally unable to see the bigger picture because we can't remember the truth about life and the life that lies beyond death.

There were in fact many clues that Martin was subconsciously aware of approaching his time, and there have been possible messages to me from the beyond. It was maybe also not so surprising that I found an unfinished video work that portrays him "behind a screen". He had been scanning his own face and metamorphosing them into moving images (six months prior to his death). When he died, the changing slide show on my smartphone also got stuck on an everyday photo of him in a mirror - behind a screen, in other words. Like saying, I'm still with you. Though maybe not all the time or in ways that you would expect, because you also need to get on with your life and have to be able to let go. You have your own karmic bitch to deal with... the stuff you signed up for, if only you'd be able to remember.

I was in fact signed up for two solo exhibitions here in Powys this year. Martin's death was unexpected and left a whole lot of trouble for me to deal with. His junk, both metaphorical and real, was something I had to plough through at a steady pace in spite of being very ill myself. Here's the deal: I have to deal with more than anyone should ever have to deal with. But how can you say that about yourself without sounding ridiculous? I have given up on trying to explain it to people who don't listen. While learning how to pay bills, dealing with foreign bureaucracy and packing up and selling our house, I had to try and deal with my and my mother's health issues and do my utmost to revert the damage. Because if you're gonna survive, you might as well try and survive in the best possible way. Theoretically, at least. My mom was diagnosed with cancer on the day before Martin passed away. My cat was also diagnosed with cancer some time later though he's not in a terrible hurry to leave. But really that's just the surface. I have given up on trying to explain that the grief was the easy part. People don't listen, people don't want to know. Most people turn their backs on the one who grieves. Being so totally abandoned and struggling to survive in the physical world is the worst part, but for some reason also the hardest for other people to grasp. Grief is just an emotion, and a very natural one at that. The rest is not natural in the slightest. The rest is what reduces you to almost nothing at all.

Perhaps one day I will understand why helping those who are needy is so scary for a lot of people.

Anyhow, I wasn't in a good place to try and do exhibitions, especially as it is so physically demanding and I had little help. I did it anyway (though laboriously, I may add). It just seemed such a shame to let the opportunities pass. After all, who can resist one more line on their CV? (I am only joking). I guess I felt there was something to be expressed in terms of the different points of view that Martin and I seemed to have had on invisibility, and I also felt I wanted to honour Martin by showing his video work as a posthumous collaboration. Strangely, he seemed to have left the piece for me to finish off, so the sound track I came up with was very much coloured by his passing and no doubt a heck of a lot more dramatic than anything he would have made himself. I felt that Radnorshire Museum, where he had a solo exhibition once and was going to have another one, was a very suitable venue for this purpose. So I went ahead and put together the exhibition "Visible/Invisible".  It's about the transience of life as seen from both my and Martin's perspective, but is of course also about death.

The main point is - of all the senses (along with other faculties we may possess), people tend to rely on the sense of sight the most. Moreover, the average person tends to only believe what he or she can see with his or her own eyes - with the exception of some matters of faith that have often been handed down over generations. Yet it seems to me that people usually don't really know how to look. What people think they see is usually filtered by their own conditioning. Learning how to see beyond the obvious and peek behind the screen should be as important as learning how to write, but we don't live in a very visionary society.

The show features "I Got Life" by myself, and "A Life Unremarked" by Martin with a sound track I made last winter a couple of months after his death. In addition, there is one oil painting by Martin and some of my most recent collages (no doubt the last ones I'll ever make). Apparently the private view of my exhibition, which features the Hiroshima bomb, was incidentally on the 70 year Hiroshima remembrance day  The exhibition is on until 12th September in Llandrindod Wells and the feedback so far has been generous and encouraging. Now let me retreat to my exercise in physical survival. Art is a luxury item that I cannot really afford at the moment. 


This exhibition draws together two separate projects, work from Project X by Vivi-Mari Carpelan and work from A Life Unremarked by her late husband Martin Herbert (1957-2014), who passed away unexpectedly in December 2014. Both speak of the threatened dissolution of the authentic self in the face of anti-individualist trends, and the fear of being engulfed in the dark abyss of the shadowy side of the collective consciousness. Both projects lament present day social demands to conform to a rather specific model of the well adapted and hard working human being who contributes to society in strict accordance with expectations laid out from the higher levels of the social hierarchy. Though starting out from different premises, the two projects converge into the same fundamental fear of being invisible.

A Life Unremarked from Vivi-Mari Carpelan on Vimeo.

FROM THE EXHIBITION (and no, I wasn't really in mind frame to be writing arty farty stuff):


My husband artist Martin Herbert passed away very unexpectedly in December 2014. 

I discovered the unfinished video work A Life Unremarked (2014) after his death and decided to do a posthumous collaboration by adding an appropriate ending and a soundtrack.

In this project, which amounted to a video work made of numerous scans he made of his face, and an oil painting composed from the scans, Martin was exploring the idea that the skills of the generalist or polymath are no longer valued in our modern day society. Individuals are generally only well-regarded if they become experts in one field. On the other hand, people in today's world are also able to do extraordinary things and have adventures that only a select few could even have dreamt of in the past. Because of an inflation in personal feats, they do mostly tend to go unnoticed. Ironically, Martin's own life as a polymath ended prematurely and thus his desire to become acknowledged for his artistic work was cut short. The memory of him is thus rapidly disappearing into the mist of an anonymous past that appears even more transient in the context of the sudden and premature nature of his death.

Because of Martin's premature death and the nature of the music I came up with without any conscious attempt at matching it with the video work, the impact no doubt diverges from Martin's initial intentions. Because of technical difficulties, I was unable to see how it would all work until the final rendering of the complete video work, and was taken aback by how well it nonetheless seemed to fit. I find the final product rather uncanny as it evokes the idea that we may sometimes have premonitions about our own death (this is especially meaningful to myself in the context of other possible “clues” that I discovered, and the fact that the scans Martin made were physically produced “behind a screen”). The work also takes on a whole new meaning in the context of a prematurely ended life and its impact on those left behind.

Only after my husband’s death did I fully comprehend how much similarity there was between our artistic projects, even though we made no conscious effort to converge. I was working on another kind of invisibility, that of the disabled person. I called it Project X. Symbolically, X stands for many things, but generally it is an abstract sign that stands for a concrete phenomenon. In the context of this exhibition, X denotes an ailment that is unknown to the outside world - one that is invisible but also tends to make the sufferer gradually slip into invisibility due to the rejection of a society that finds it hard to accommodate for that which doesn’t fit a political agenda of health and normality.

In the film I Got Life (2014), war is presented as a fact as well as a metaphor for a stressful life that has undertones of constant warfare. In fact, warfare seems to define our life on Earth. A war mongering mentality pervades all of society and poisons every aspect of the human life experience. For many, there is nowhere to escape from the feeling of being targeted, chased, threatened and hunted down. The unconscious stress reactions that follow aren’t confined to the battle field or the besieged city, but arise everywhere and anywhere throughout our lives. 

The majority of illnesses are generated by stress, and over time, they are increasingly likely to become chronic. It isn’t just our immediate physical survival that is at stake, it’s also the body’s ability to sustain life in the long term. The mental and emotional repercussions are disastrous and the survival of the authentic self is eventually also at stake. For a great many people, life has become a traumatic struggle to manage the invisible forces that manipulate our bodies and mind, and the joy of being alive is gone. 

I Got Life is based on footage from World War I and World War II, as well as footage of myself as the civilian narrator. The circular shape is indicative of the feeling of being targeted. The black and white, and negative, effect highlights the sense of the fundamental dichotomies in life, as well as the starkness of the emotions. 

The film has been constructed around a sound collage I made called A Long Way to Heaven. It features machine sounds, radio sounds from the Cold War and other war related sounds. I performed the song “I Got Life” from the musical “Hair” from 1967, and added it to the track. It was sung on a day I felt quite ill and tired in the same tempo as the song in the 1979 film version. As it is fast and quite a tongue twister, it makes the performance sound shallow and panicky. Though the song's main function in my film is irony bordering on parody, it's also connected to the Vietnam war. At the time, the musical was a radical criticism of religion and warfare, and met with a lot of resistance until entering pop culture for good. By using this highly energised song about the good things in life in the context of stress and war I was hoping to further reinforce the sense of irony and how difficult it is for severely exhausted and ill people to feel that joy of having a body and being alive. Surely this should be everyone’s birthright?

I have dedicated a page on my website to Martin's art.

Friday, November 14, 2014


Antoni Tàpies: Hieratical, 1990

I spent a couple of days looking at commissions for disabled artists but I had to concede it's all out of reach and that I am not cut out for any of it. Of course one would like to make a difference, but one can really only do that through art by participating in society and making socially relevant work that gets seen by a lot of people. One has to be one of those people who are able to conform to the expectations people now have on contemporary art. I don't feel that any of it is wrong, it's just the way it is. As a contemporary artist you're just another cog in the great big social wheel, you are doing a job and you get paid through commissions and grants to respond to people's needs. Gone are the days when people just made art and would pride themselves that it wasn't their job to explain it to anyone! It also seems to me that the value of expressive gesture, i.e. making a mark with pen or brush and putting one's signature on a surface, has been reduced because of the prevalence of mind centred (and often very narcissistic) art.

Of course people who are able to engage in this kind of socially encouraged art practice sometimes do make meaningful work that make us think about ourselves from a new angle. I should sit back and enjoy what other people do instead of allowing myself to be so frustrated about my own lack of opportunities (to the extent that I can afford it, of course). I do feel segregated because I can't even begin to explore such possibilities. Chronic illness sets you apart from other people who may have physical and mental obstacles but don't suffer from a lack of energy. I am unable to work and thus naturally also unable to sustain focus and energy in order to apply for the big money, let alone execute the work in accordance with the expectations on a job well done. Since I can't do this in the first instance I can't build a track record that would make it easier to carry on pursuing a career. So I think it's best to realise that this is not part of my reality, even if it reduces my practice to a mere hobby. Conceptual art is not something I ever envisaged in the first place, and though it's possible to become passionate about new things in life, I think the fundaments of your psychological make up is often evident from an early stage in life. It's not that I am devoid of ideas, it's that I keep asking myself why I would want to bother. Some different way of expressing my creativity might be possible, though. It may not even be through art, as scary as that is to someone who feels it's their only way of self expression. I'd like to think that the crisis I've been ploughing through for a while now will lead to a new realisation and so the act of giving up is more a case of letting go of the old self and old fixations.

Antoni Tàpies: Large Grey Painting No III, 1955

Antoni Tàpies: Grey Relief in Four Parts, 1963

Antoni Tàpies: Double Beige Door, 1960

Antoni Tàpies: Matter in the Form of an Armpit, 1968
Antoni Tàpies: Red and Black, 1981
I came across the artist Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies (1923-2012) while studying art in Perpignan in 1991, but never actually looked into his work (a lack of internet made it so much more difficult in those days). I felt somewhat interested in the colour and texture of the work I saw then, but then forgot all about it. A friend reminded me of him recently and that prompted me to look up the work on the internet. I was really blown away. It was far more intricate and beautiful than I had imagined. Martin then got a couple of books out for me from the University library. As I worked my way through them I felt that the ideas I've had for abstract work based on texture aren't worth pursuing because he did it all so much better than I ever could. It's in fact too similar to what I had in mind - only better, since my ability to be spontaneous is quite limited (not least due to a lack of energy and work space).

I feel such deep kinship with the mysterious and tactile aspects of his work - to me his evocation of the material is deeply mystical, emotionally intelligent and very sensual, with an aesthetics that speak of the barely contained chaotic nature of matter and its rough naturalness. To me, matter is inherently spiritual. He was initially inspired by the Surrealists, read the authors I also enjoyed when I was younger, and was interested in Eastern philosophies. The ideas that void is an ontological fact and that all aspects of reality are equal, are pillar stones of his world view. He seemed to have wanted to convey a sense of Zen, that is "shock and contemplation". The values of Taoism and Zen come through very strongly in this work, in containing meditative and expressive gestures, a colour scheme that encourages contemplation, a pronounced equality between all aspects of reality, and a profound communion with organic matter. These are semi-abstract matter paintings with an autonomous presence as Shamanic things in themselves rather than windows onto a different reality. They are infused with traces of human emotions, and therefore never detached from subjective reality and human universalities. Interestingly, my feeling of resonance with this work was there before I was made aware of the Eastern link.

Tàpies' art would escape geometry - albeit retaining some of its fundamental forms - in order to explore the world of organic life, the 'amorphous', ambiguous and unfinished, the expressiveness of pure gesture inspired by Chinese and Japanese traditions. (Jean-Luc Chalumeau: Tàpies)

Antoni Tàpies: Montesy - Montenegre (Detail), 1988

Antoni Tàpies: Breathing In, Breathing Out, 1991

Antoni Tàpies: Matter Spiral (Detail), 1991

Tàpies was clearly able to ride on the wave of art trends in order to synthesise an approach that was deeply personal and esoteric in a way that is rarely seen in modern art. When this kind of connection with contemporary currents doesn't occur, an artist will find themselves in a difficult position that ultimately leads to serious questions about the validity of their practice. Such resonance with surrounding currents has at times been there in my own life, but not in any big way. Perhaps things would be a bit different if I felt more confident in pursuing fine art as a career. Passion is a sign of the prevalence of a true life path, and when that motivation is somewhat tattered you feel that this particular path of destiny is called into question. Too many concerns are distracting me and keeping me from feeling a really deep sense of artistic purpose.

The strange thing is that my abstract photography series "Traces" is so evocative of Tàpies's work, and that I had explained the experience of the video work based on the photos as a form of Asian koan. In 2013 I wrote:

The viewer is also encouraged to contemplate the way we inadvertently leave our personal marks on the many layers that constitute our reality - some of our marks get erased as new people leave theirs. The enigmatic contents with its Cyrillic lettering and random numbers can serve to disrupt “functional fixedness”, breaking old cognitive patterns and helping the brain make new connections. 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 out of mental ruts, to drop their rational minds and become susceptible to the greater mystery of life and question the rationale behind the frantic process of dashing about the planet in a state of semi-functionality.

My photographs with their highly gestural and coded content bear an almost uncanny resemblance to his work in general. Even the frequent occurrence of letters like "X" and "T" evoke Tàpies' work.  If I had some money I'd buy a new camera and set out to collect some more. You have to realise that once you decide not to go down the path of conceptual art, no one will pay you to buy materials and equipment and just make some art.

I rewrote a statement today:

“Traces” is a photography project already comprising over 150 images that brings to view the marks that people have made while simply doing their job. The source of these mysterious surfaces that have been repurposed time and time again are old dilapidated goods wagons from Russia. Successive layers of paint, repeatedly stencilled or painted signs and lettering, as well as the corrosion, express the convergence of cultures and efforts to communicate within a professional, and thus exclusive, framework. These real life happenings caught on camera chime in with the instinctive and highly tactile work of Antoni Tapies. They evoke an equal sense of the mysterious communion with the material and intrinsically imperfect aspects of life, as well as codes passed on from person to person The impression of the passing of time becomes evident through the layers of paints and marks. While the workmen who have given rise to the imagery had no artistic intention and tend to be invisible to most passers by, it is the photographer’s eye that has recognised the artistic quality and aesthetic value of these markings. One person’s gesture has thus become another person’s art.

Having now processed Tàpies' life and work for a while and thought about my own inclinations and limited ability to create conceptual art, I just might go ahead and do something handmade in 2D after all, especially as my health has lately improved a bit. On a good day I might find the energy for this kind of work. After all, texture is what I really love (something I also wrote about in my post about William Kentridge). Never mind that it stays flat. In any case I do feel I'm in the process of breaking away from old cognitive patterns...

From the series "Traces" (Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2012, the year Antoni Tàpies died):

You can view more of this work on my website.

Antoni Tapies' lithograph
A few more of Antoni Tàpies' art works:

Antoni Tàpies: Ocher and Pink Relief, 1965

Antoni Tàpies: Rags and Strings on Wood, 1967

Antoni Tàpies: Scribbles and Varnish, 1987

Antoni Tàpies: The Catalan Spirit, 1971
Antoni Tapies: Speak, Speak, 1991

Vivi-Mari Carpelan: Helsinki 4, 2012 (Digital photograph)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Initially, my previous film project "I Got Life" was intended to contain more references to hair. My stress related illness was causing me to lose a great deal of my hair and with it, a chunk of my feminine identity. Long, curly hair is emblematic of a creative, feminine and powerful person, and I wanted to own this persona. When I finally had to cut off all the very damaged long hair I'd spent years growing, I felt robbed of some of my power to shape and communicate my own identity. 

Hair symbolizes physical strength and virility; the virtues and properties of a person are said to be concentrated in his hair and nails. It is a symbol of instinct, of female seduction and physical attraction. Baldness may suggest sterility. Hair flowing depicts freedom and looseness; the unwilling removal of hair may be a castration symbol. Carries the context of magical power; witches had their hair shaven off, as well as in the Bible, in which Samson loses all his power when his locks are stripped. Heavy relations to fertility and even love (the quantity is related to love-potential). It can be thought of as the external soul. (Dictionary of Symbolism)

This short film is a spin off from "I Got Life", which talks about stress in the broadest sense. The featured song is from the musical Hair and meant to include footage of hair. Instead I chose different footage. There was a clip, however, which I decided to make into a separate project, "Hair". The soundtrack is an excerpt from "A Long Way to Heaven", which I used for the project about stress. This little film hopefully encapsulates the stress, anger, obsession and frustration of losing one's strength, vitality and personal empowerment.

HAIR from Vivi-Mari Carpelan on Vimeo.
Hair is symbolic of strength and vitality, of freedom, sensuality and physical attraction. One often loses one's hair when illness occurs. This film attempts to express the stress, anger, obsession and frustration of losing one's strength, vitality and personal empowerment.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


"Entity" - photograph by Vivi-Mari Carpelan from the series "Traces"
See description below
Perhaps there is synchronicity after all, because my general depression since a number of weeks back has been coupled with some art related rejections that leave me feeling that I should really either give up or up the game by completely reinventing myself - I can tell you this is a very serious question for me at the moment. How likely is it that you can reinvent yourself..? Of course you can probably learn to deal with rejections in some way, knowing just how many artists are struggling for attention. But when the rejection comes from what you thought of a peer group, it feels doubly hard. 

Having worked for so long on Project X and Visible/Invisible, I really did presumptuously expect to get into this year's Shape Open on the theme (In)Visible. (Did they nick my title?!). It's about the repercussions of "coming out" as disabled, and stuff like that. The brief should have matched my project quite well. Neither my latest collage nor my film "Tides" that was part of the Visible/Invisible trilogy made it in. I thought, well if they don't appreciate what I've tried to express, then who will?

Though I realise the judges are biased in various ways and that my feelings are tied to the fact that I put so much effort into my project, exhausting myself in the process with a desperate need to communicate a message, I also do wonder about Shape's policy to invite non-disabled artists to participate. To me this is making the point that Shape is primarily working for the cause of disability, not for disabled artists and helping them get their work out into the world. The curator has even stated that Shape is about the art, not the artists. I realise it's all very political and governed by the necessity for PR, but this policy is making disabled artists forced to compete with abled bodied artists. I thought the point with the disability arts was to provide opportunities for those artists who find it difficult to enter the normal, competitive art world. Perhaps I'm completely wrong, but... it does seem to me that organisations such as Shape are in fact indirectly trying to encourage disabled artists to become as much like everybody else as possible, while attempting to show to the world that disabled artists are not really different than anybody else in spite of looking or behaving differently. To me it seems similar to feminism, which in its heyday was more about helping women to be like men than giving women the right to be themselves. It feels like it's potentially the kind of pressure to conform that we already feel from society at large.

It's complicated because it also seems that there's this thing that disability should be celebrated (as recently pointed out to me). I'm assuming that's because difference is considered a value in itself, regardless what the difference is. This could indicate yet another symptom of flatland, where any kind of difference regardless whether it's to do with sexual orientation, gender, skin colour, learning ability or mobility issues should be considered equal in the sense that they are as valid as the norms they are being put up against. Of course in a sense they are, but that's just part of the truth - minority issues are more different to one another than they are similar. A more important fact is that disability is severely limiting to the ability to function within the framework of society, and in this respect it differs greatly from other minority issues. The more disabled you are, the less you can function. Because you can't function, you can't work or participate in any of the grand schemes for the employment of disabled artists (employment, residencies, commissions etc.). The new different soon becomes the same.

You need help, and you need for others to realise just how much you need help. You don't need to be told that it's fine to be different. It isn't fine to be ill. It isn't a thing of joy that you should have to feel obliged to celebrate. You need to feel that it's alright to be who you are. What you need is for society (and that includes the art world) to value your input for what it is, no matter how small it is. This also means that there should be more opportunities for people like us, not less - Shape being open to non-disabled artists is no doubt eliminating quite a few disabled artist from the opportunity of showing work.

When Will Self has been going out with an appeal on BBC to support disabled artists through Shape, I'm thinking this publicity is also attracting a lot of go-getters who think it actually gives them street creed to  be in an exhibition like Shape Open. I may be very unfair but I can't help this has crossed my mind. I have asked how many this year were non-disabled but have received no answer. It also makes me sad to hear publicly that Shape is all about supporting disabled artists when this a half-truth. Perhaps they are afraid that disabled artists will drag the standard down to a level of amateur art, when they are trying to validate disability at all costs (what disabled artists create is just as good, blahblah...). Accessibility is not all about wheel chair access and difference is not just about a strange body shape, though these are important view points as well. There is a world of difference between someone who is slightly visually impaired and someone who is completely blind. Imperfection needs to be embraced in this over-sanitised world.

If disability arts organisations are trying to raise their profile by selecting only work that conform with the general consensus regarding the kind of art that should be considered "real" contemporary art, they are basically saying that disabled artists can do it just as well as able bodied artists. While this would be reasonable within the framework of an exhibition only aimed at disabled artists (because it's based on the idea of what constitutes good art), I don't think it's alright when a whole bunch of able bodied artists are entering the game. That's because you are then eliminating the important fact that a disability will almost invariably inform the art made by a disabled artist. It would do this through content or mode of execution. People who are seriously disabled will quite likely be limited in their expression. Of course limitations can encourage creativity, so this is not always a bad thing per se. However, there are many things many of us really can't do which simply limits our choices and may influence our ability to conform to the expectations of the art world.

I mean - through the process I've been going through I've started to imagine work I could do that would conform a lot more to the expectations of contemporary art, but I can't imagine how I would execute them. I can just barely make what I make now. I do not have the physical, mental and financial means to start looking for companies that can execute my wishes regarding bigger work and installations, and then store the work, and then get it out to exhibitions somehow. That's just for starters. I definitely can't do performances, which seems to be all the rage. I'm also stuck with certain basic software, with certain skills that I take long to develop on my own because I can't go on courses. I'm stuck with physical discomfort while I work which can be hard to resolve. I'm stuck with the inability to do anything finicky with my hands. I'm stuck with the kind of tiredness that can make it very hard to feel creative and focused enough to make something spontaneous and beautifully instinctive. I can only work for about four hours per day, and that's starting around 2 pm when I can finally get going. This is not to mention how hard it can be to formulate an artist statement on some days. The imperfections I've talked about in my work are inherent in the work itself.

Having said that, resolving the insomnia would be a good place to start making different work. Having now pondered this for a long time, at least I know in which direction I might want to try and go. At least I'm not completely cut off from artistic currents because of the internet and my artistic husband who talks to me and takes me places, so there is scope for change. For one, I'm done with trying to speak about problems no one wants to hear about, because being rejected for my messages is even harder than being rejected for my actual work. And perhaps this would also free me up to do more instinctive work, who knows.

I think that judging disabled art from the point of view of how well it conforms with general opinions on good contemporary art is false, because in the majority of cases it may well fall on its own impossibility. I'm not trying to sound patronising, I just think that a serious disability will invariably inform the work in one way or another, and that's what makes it into disability art. I know there are many opinions on what disability arts constitute (is it just art made by disabled artists or is it art informed by disability, etc) so this is just my subjective point of view. I personally think it should be about art informed by disability. Art with a heart, as heart is seldom seen in the contemporary art world -  ideally, it should be emotionally enlightening rather than just making another cerebral statement. While this doesn't mean that bad work in line of community arts needs to be accepted, it should perhaps be looked at with a more compassionate eye. Again, I am talking about compassion in the deepest humanistic sense, not pity. No one needs to be a pity case or to be treated like a victim, that is not the point. It's about raising awareness of what it's like to be an outcast or just different in some fundamental sort of way. Questions to support the evaluation process could be more in line with  "What does this work really convey? What is this person trying to say? What is this unique and interesting point of view about what it's like to be stuck in a decrepit body or mind?" rather than something akin to "how cool is this idea and does it fit in with the contemporary art world?". Many people who get serious ill are also very spiritual people, and their viewpoint gets easily overlooked in a materialistic world.

More than anything, however, the judges need to be in touch with their intuition and their hearts, in order to pick up on the real quality of the work in spite of possible technical flaws and shortcomings, and the fact that the subject matter and execution doesn't necessarily conform with the expectations on contemporary art. Back in the days when Gauguin started to make art that was more in touch with his feelings and unconscious, he felt very strongly that the majority of the people were not going to be able to see beyond the surface and pick up that elusive quality of soul that he was trying to express - not until this approach had gone mainstream in which case the message would already be watered down by people's preconceptions. I guess in this instance, the work and/or artistic movement becomes a question of taste rather than soul. Raw art/Outsider art does of course sometimes have similar qualities to that of Gauguin's work, and some people are clearly able to perceive it. There is however also some rather bad raw art out there that is hailed as good. This could have something to do with agendas, as mainstreaming always brings with it a lot of mutual back patting and pleading for money. In any case, we have gone a long way since Gauguin and his work and there is now some work out there that has different qualities of soul that also deserves to be noticed. This is the kind of work I'm talking about. The art world is ostensibly bad at telling good, soulful art from bad and soulless work. The truly perceptive art critics are still few and far between.

This doesn't mean to say that I think one should forget about the brain altogether. I do feel that the brain is secondary, that only heart/soul can understand heart/soul. Intuition is rapid for a reason, because it distinguishes qualities without the intrusion of the mind, and then the brain takes time to analyse the findings. Of course everything is interconnected. The problem is that people are so stuck in their heads and blinded by the veil of their mind - they can't see what is really there because of all their preconceptions. It's not about unlearning to think, it's about putting thoughts in their rightful places. Rational thought isn't everything, as science seems to believe.

A real change of heart regarding the true qualities in some art that is easily bypassed in today's world might encourage compassion from the viewer and instigate a real change of attitudes rather than just "well they are doing alright, aren't they". But I guess not enough people care to even begin thinking along these lines.

There should of course be an organisation that cares to support those who feel left on the dump with few means of getting their voices heard - perhaps confined to chronic illnesses alone, for instance (I do think the disability art scene is simply too diverse). That's without just being told to smile and do some redemptive and incredibly impossible heroic act that will finally gain everybody's admiration and applauses - while in fact it's a heroic act just to survive from day to day and create some kind of art in spite of a lot of pressure. (Cf. BBC's recent appeal for wheel chair user's who will play the part of a presumably rather stereotyped jolly cripple with a penchant for "positive thinking").

The one thing that really does need to be "forgiven" is the fact that many chronically ill people don't have the track record you'd expect from "proper" artists. If we can't work, we can also not easily collect lines on a CV. If you don't do the right kind of art you don't also get residencies and awards to put on your CV - and so on and so on.

I've seen plenty of schemes for people with learning disabilities (there's a lot about...), and they aren't attempting to make these people create conceptual art! There is also a fad for outsider art that accepts that it's a certain way. The world of outsider art isn't quite right for many disabled artists though, because we all know it tends towards the work of very introverted people with psychiatric disorders. The kind of art they produce is attractive to the art world because it tends to be instinctive and has an aura of innocence and play. If you're marginalised and in that sense an outsider, but not mentally challenged in any other way than being cognitively impaired as a consequence of your physical illness, then you can't make that sort of art. You're basically stuck in a no man's land where no one is interested in supporting and encouraging you. You are confined to fiddling with the materials you can afford and that you have the energy to master. You can only do work that is as good as your ability to focus. I for one find it excruciatingly difficult to think of complicated ideas and plan how to execute them, to focus and get it right. In spite of my best intentions and the presence of a huge amount of meaning, the execution can suffer. I wish people could see beyond the flaws and imperfections towards what I am really communicating. However, no one cares to look that far. They are not interested. So why am I doing it, alone in a vacuum? Because it is the only work I can manage and because I don't want to cut my creativity off. That would literally mean cutting off the very life force that keeps me going. Though really it's killing me too.

The fact I didn't get into Shape of all places just got to me, it really was the last straw (I did get in last year). I should never have hopes for a positive result. Of course we would all like to know why we failed to please the people who are in charge of our success - and the art world remains mute. Boy do I hate this situation. It's like I can now imagine the sort of work they have probably gone for, I mean there is supposed to be a mask made of meat... well that is simple. It's simple to take in. I don't normally do simple in that sort of way. People think that what I've done in the past is aesthetically pleasing, and maybe quaint, but they don't get that it's trying to say something. I'm not saying it's fantastic art, because I'm really not as innovative and clever as many other people. I don't care very much about visualising simple concepts, random ideas and comments or reactions to social issues. I'm more interested in the spiritual dimension of our lives here on Earth, about the survival of the self rather than how this self is presented to the outside world. The fundamentals. I just wanted to communicate some of my feelings to ordinary people, but I don't have such an audience now. I never really cared for accolades of the elite, but here I am, feeling I have to fight for them after all. What is this vortex we are being sucked into? Perhaps the comparative simplicity and isolation of my life in Finland was a blessing... However, I'm sure I'll figure this one out somehow. Sooner or later. It's just another one of those impossible riddles of my life. I think maybe my art really is pretty rubbish and this is what I should realise - after all, who am to say that other people are wrong?

Having said all this, what do I really know about the world of disability arts, I've only been here for 4+ years attempting to work it out? Perhaps it all makes perfect sense to a lot of people out there, and who am I to criticise that?

Since writing all this, I was pointed once again to this article about disability arts, which I've reread to refresh my mind. Please go and read it if you want to know more.

Disability Art philosophy is based upon legitimating the experience of disabled people as equal within art and all other cultural practices; not as an equal opportunities issue but as part of a process of re-presenting a more accurate picture of society, life, disability and impairment and art itself. Disability Art is a challenge to, an undermining of (as a minimum), traditional aesthetic and social values. Disability Art is a virtually a sociology of the art of society, art exploring its own disabling practices and processes – coming out of post-1960s liberal ideas of social and material constructivism. Disability Art utilises the social model of disability (and society) to explore disability (not impairment per se) and society through arts practice and culture as a collective and individual experience of socio-economic exclusion in a society that is marginalising, demeaning and exploitative of the images and experience of disabled people. (Dr Paul A. Darke)

In the end the fact that disabled people with serious chronic illnesses will not get their voice heard is no doubt because they are too ill to stand up for themselves. This is obviously not the case with other minorities.  The desire amongst many disabled to fit in with existing cultural structures, and the desire of mainstream society to want to normalise those who are different, is in fact killing all the aspirations of Disability Arts to introduce challenging ideas and new perspectives.

Consequently, current practices, and processes, actually does nothing for disabled people per se but only serves to create a situation where the more normalised disabled people will not be as excluded as they were before, superficially. Most disabled people will increasingly be denied their basic human right: the right to life. The normalised disabled person will increasingly be used as a tool of legitimacy to marginalise or dehumanise others within the disabled community. (Dr Paul A. Drake)

I also entered a free international competition, Big-i, for disabled artist based in Japan. I didn't really understand how it was all supposed to work because my attention span is often very short. I had a good feeling about it all, but that was an illusion, as I was just wanting something good to happen for once. Turned out that there was a first selection based on printed photographs, then another one based on the actual work which I had to spend a lot of money sending all the way to Japan. That's after the shock of having our printer break down after the selected photograph had been printed, so I had to send a print that I wasn't 100% happy with. One of my pieces was returned to me - fair enough, they didn't think it was any good. However, I had to pay import duty because it hadn't been marked as "returned goods". A piece of advice - always remember to ask the galleries outside of the EU to mark your work this way upon returning. The other piece, a photograph, received an "honourable mention" which allows it to be in just one exhibition at the disability arts centre for seven days! It is not going on tour around Japan like all the award winners and runners up. By the time I found this out, I was just feeling extreme exhaustion. What is the bloody point?? 

This I wrote about the photograph "Entity" shown in Japan for seven days:

"The power of observation brings about a mindset apart from the normal attraction to that which is pleasant and beautiful. Through abstract photography, I wish to highlight the raw texture and imperfection of our lives, and point to the beauty found in the most unlikely places. Interesting patterns and texture can be found in the things that people have thrown away or abandoned. 

To me, the compelling beauty of decaying surfaces and evocative patterns echo the beauty found in bodies that don’t meet with the norms and expectations of an over-sanitised society. In this photograph, I have captured something that gives the impression of a living entity, yet the fact that the entity’s body isn’t fully formed and perfect functions as a metaphor of the kind of bodies many disabled people live with. Just as I have to look for beauty in dumpsters and other other places with old and decaying elements, humans should become more aware of the beauty in decrepit bodies and perceive the beauty of the souls that inhabit them.

I believe that one of the purposes of art is to awaken curiosity, and that feeling intrigued by a sense of recognition is fundamental to humans and therefore of the greatest importance. Out of this comes a sense of sharing, which builds bridges and supports us in our lonesome journey on Earth."

Post Scriptum: You can read Disability Arts Online editor Colin Hambrook's summary of the discussion my blog raised in the Facebook group here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


Still from "I Got Life", copyright by Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2014
This was another fiddly project to finish, lots of technical issues that stretched this project over a period of a couple of months rather than weeks. I have vowed never to make anything similar again with somewhat unsophisticated software! I wanted to create something ironic around the song "I Got Life" from the musical "Hair" (1967) and then decided to combine it with my latest sound piece, "A Long Way to Heaven", mostly based on machine sounds that represent the mechanised, industrialised aspects of our lives that we have clearly not yet come to terms with. At the time, I was losing a lot of hair and ended up cutting it all off. Hair is, of course, a strong symbol of individuality, confidence and strength. I also didn't feel I had much life to speak of, as my condition and the insomnia was getting the better of me.

I decided to make an emotional film about the modern age conundrum of surviving inhuman amounts of stress. I used some footage of my own to express feelings of stress in our modern lives, yet mostly looked back to old footage of WWI and WWII, for an authentic document of war related stress. Since I have no way of using modern war footage, this was a self-evident choice that also fits in with the 2014 commemoration of the Great War. There is an obvious correlation between day-to-day stress in modern times and war related stress. Stress affects most of us in one way or another.

Stills from "I Got Life" copyright Vivi-Mari Carpelan 2014

Warfare defines our life on Earth. The war mongering mentality that gives rise to this regrettable fact pervades all of society and poisons every aspect of the human life experience. There is nowhere to escape from the feeling of being targeted, chased, threatened and hunted down. The unconscious stress reactions that follow aren’t confined to the battle field or the besieged city, but arise everywhere and anywhere throughout our lives. The majority of illnesses are generated by stress, and over time, they are increasingly likely to become chronic. It isn’t just our immediate physical survival that is at stake, it’s also the body’s ability to sustain life in the long term. The mental and emotional repercussions are disastrous and the survival of the authentic self is eventually also at stake. Severe disability will no doubt soon become the norm within the framework of society as we know it today.

In the film “I Got Life”, war is presented as a fact as well as a metaphor for a stressful life that has undertones of constant warfare. Life has become a traumatic struggle to manage the invisible forces that manipulate our bodies and mind, and the joy of being alive is gone. Moreover, when humans do break down from the effects of chronic stress, society is quick to jump on more guns to finish off the ones they consider weak and useless. The irony is that it’s often the shallow and dull individuals who are able to withstand stress the best. Are these the people who should lead our world?

“I Got Life” is based on old footage from the World War I and World War II, as well as footage of myself as the civilian narrator. The circular shape is indicative of the feeling of being targeted. The black and white, as well as negative effect, underline the timelessness and starkness of the affects. The film has been constructed around a sound collage I made called “A Long Way to Heaven”. It features machine sounds, radio sounds from the Cold War and other war related sounds. I performed the song “I Got Life” from the musical “Hair” from 1967 and added it to the track. It was sung on a day I felt quite tired in the same tempo as the song in the 1979 film version. As it is fast and quite a tongue twister, it makes the performance sound shallow and panicky. At the time, the musical was a radical criticism of religion and warfare that met with a lot of resistance until entering pop culture for good. By using this highly energised song about the good things in life in the context of stress and war I was hoping to further reinforce the sense of irony and how difficult it is for severely exhausted and ill people to feel that joy of having a body and being alive. Yet this should surely be everyone’s birthright?

Saturday, September 27, 2014


Selfie in Aberystwyth - Martin is now enrolled in the art school and 
has been allocated a studio in the beautiful building in the middle.

I have been thinking about the meaning of contemporary art and my relationship to it. My thoughts aren't complete but I'll present a few anyway as it all reflects my desire to find a new way and a new niche. Finding one's niche is of course essential to one's mental health, and finding oneself in some kind of state of transition and change in this respect can be hard. I feel a need to transition but uncertainty of the way to go and whether things will work out in the end is quite wearing. I don't feel very confident I'll find a niche again. It frankly makes me quite anxious and a little manic. 

If you look at the evolution of consciousness, it's only natural that the most progressive art of today should be conceptual. Concepts are of the mind and preoccupation with the mind and its contents marks society today. Emotions are often set aside in favour of rational analysis. It's of course simplistic and shallow way of dealing with reality, and tends to fall short in the face of the real on goings of human life.

I find conceptual art quite tantalising because it is of this moment in time and a mirror of society, but also quite frustrating because of its general lack of emotional input (it's not a rule of thumb but in my opinion a frequent occurrence) and because it indirectly says a lot about negative values in today's world. The problem with lack of emotional input is sometimes corrected within the framework of performance art, which normally uses the body to convey messages, but it's also an art form I rarely have a chance to witness.

Conceptual art often takes the form of installations and usually employs a philosophical approach that tends towards an objective and intellectual stance. It's a cerebral rather than an emotional process. Emotions are usually commented on indirectly through intellectual analysis. In fact, most things are commented on indirectly, which is why it takes a while to work out what it's all about. That's why this kind of art can be intriguing, but often fails to touch people on a deeper and more instinctual level. In other words, it's not intrinsically emotional but rather points to events and situations while saying they are a reason for emotional reactions. I do find the concept of intellectualism disguised as art quite scary and can see how it is becoming the new conventional. I've no doubt emotionalism is considered somewhat passé by many. I'd argue it's time for a higher level of emotional intelligence, a more synthetic approach than what we've seen before. People on a specific evolutionary level won't be able to recognise it as valuable because it's of a higher order than they are capable of comprehending, but I realise this viewpoint isn't well understood by the general population and won't go into it here.

I'm not saying contemporary artistic comments are useless, as I'm sure every comment ever made about life and reality contributes like a shallow stream to a much deeper river, but unfortunately it's still often just poor philosophy that leaves you feeling a bit indifferent (though I'm sure it depends on your own level of consciousness). It's a strange phenomenon that people with no education in certain scientific areas such as philosophy, political sciences, social sciences and so on, feel they can make art about questions that belong to these fields of expertise. I have seen some ridiculous info graphics in books about contemporary art, they are just graphic tables illustrating phenomena without any artistic input whatsoever. And when Jeremy Deller re-enacted a miner's strike - well, where's the art, where is his personality and artistery? It seems more like a social study. Worse still, intellectualism tends to represent a fragmented view of reality, one that doesn't reference the wider context or even take the whole into consideration. You can't take the whole into consideration if you don't have a complete and solid worldview. This is very typical of Western society of today. It's why, when I went to University, I found most modern Western philosophy very boring. It's often bitty, exclusive and pedantic, and often seems a bit trivial in the grand scope of things because of its failure to touch on a human level.

Every day, /.../, people rely on the cognitive clutter in their minds—whether it’s an ideological reflex, a misapplied theory, or a cradle-born intuition—to answer technical, political, and social questions they have little or no direct expertise in. (David Dunning: We are All Confident Idiots)

There's always talk about art pushing boundaries. While it's true that it's the hallmark of some contemporary art, I wouldn't consider this its primary function. Pushing boundaries so easily becomes an end in itself, missing the actual point about communication and sharing. Take for instance the recent winner of the Jerwood drawing price. It's a sound piece! This is by no means the worst example of the breeding process of the fine arts, but it's an illustrative one.

This sound piece by Alison Carlier describes the act of looking at an object while drawing it. Sure it's a clever idea, but it's also somewhat ridiculous. I mean, what's the point? There's a kind of modern day flatland where everything has to be made equal, which I think leads to a tendency to obliterate qualitative distinction between different disciplines. I believe that the modern day idea that "diversity" should be respected often ends up meaning that everything has to be the same. It's one thing to cross boundaries and let disciplines interact, it's quite another to mix it all up in some kind of mash up where things are no longer respected for their intrinsic uniqueness. I know it may sound stuffy, but I do think this is sometimes a real concern. It's basically saying that one discipline can be substituted for another. I have mentioned this problem before in the context of sound art, where very often people are trying to equate an image with sounds, such as a particular colour with certain notes.

There's a real danger that art becomes just another arena that reflects the dry world of Western scientific discourse, that is, cold and often very contrived objectivity using quantitative rather than qualitative research, where data are always seen from a very reductionist black and white "either-or" perspective. All this is well illustrated on the funding scene, where it's all about ticking as many boxes and getting as many bums on seats as humanly (or non-humanly) possible.

All this flatness seems further enhanced in the way you're supposed to present yourself on your artist's website. Aloof, lofty, minimal and cryptic - I still find it hard to find my way on these websites and often end up missing the real work - if there is any at display, that is. There is a clear trend that prominent art must only be shown in approved spaces and the idea that all and sundry could access the work in some way is horrifying to the elite. The contemporary artist's website is clearly geared towards galleries, rather than being a source of enjoyment and exploration for the lay person. And moreover - it all makes me feel increasingly embarrassed about who I am, because I'm unable to be  like that. I just wish conforming was easier...

Of course how these issues come across depends on the context. In the case above we're talking about a drawing contest that people enter with the understanding of what the official definition of drawing is: "The art of representing objects or forms on a surface chiefly by means of lines" (The Free Dictionary). While there is nothing to stop people from taking this definition further within the framework of their own practice, I do think that allowing for a medium that has nothing to do with surfaces and the physical world is very unfair in the context of a drawing contest. While challenging people's collective assumptions is fine as art, it's not fine as an unspoken framework for an exhibition entitled "drawing contest". I have heard that it's common practice within competitions to focus awards on only certain categories of work - it means everyone else misses a chance that specific year. I don't find this very appealing. It's like pulling the carpet from underneath people's feet.

The sound piece was obviously chosen because it was breaking boundaries and therefore considered innovative, however that's quite a contrived reason that presumably has little to do with the actual quality of the work. It's clearly an intellectual decision rather than an emotional one. I'm sure it has its place in the grand scheme of things but it only goes to show just how far from emotional truths that contemporary art has strayed. The real point sort of eludes me.

More interesting than pushing boundaries between disciplines I find the act of asking questions and probing our emotional selves and challenging functional fixedness (habitual thinking). Still, having grumped about contemporary art, I do also in some ways find it all a bit liberating, and even in some ways quite attractive. Even though I may not feel comfortable in the elitist art world, at least there are new ideas and perspectives about. At best these new currents arouse our curisosity and challenge our habitual mental patterns and ideas of what constitutes an artistic exposé. They can bring together many disciplines and aesthetic expressions under one roof, instigate dialogue and discussions and gradually enter ordinary people's consciousness from all sorts of directions. In spite of a tendency towards exclusivism, I see art in all its myriads of forms as becoming a more integral part of society rather than less. It's all rather exciting, but the worrying trend is that as there is lots of it, most of it isn't going to be very good.

The art market is really like an enormous big supermarket of consumer goods, that come in and go out in rapid succession. I get the sense that people hardly ever stop to really ponder a piece of contemporary art, it's rapid consumption. It means the message has to be easy to take in. I find this trend very worrying, but the upside is that art is probably becoming much more of a part of ordinary people's lives. Also think about how difficult it was for avant garde artists of the past to get their work accepted - only the initiated would "get it", and the mainstream would follow suit a lot later. Now it seems art authorities are desperate to be on the beat, the initiated member of an exclusive club who have complete control over the very newest in the arts. I think this desperation to be the first to recognise the latest and best can lead to a lack of sound judgment and a heck of a lot of "noise". After all, only some time and perspective can give us clues about the real value of trends, and not everyone can always be in the right. There are also an awful lot of copycats who have discovered what the trends are, as for instance in the present case of small blobby abstract paintings in muddy colours that you find in every contemporary open at the moment. Thanks to the internet, it's quite easy to stay in tune with the fashions.

This is how it is, in the art world today. If you want to make it and get funding, you should have lots of energy to create a performance or installation, and to engage with the general public and make them feel they are contributing to the piece in some way or another. It needs to be socially relevant in some way. You should also be able to handle many media and create it all on a large scale. Being young or an emerging artist is a bonus. The following is an example of a typical call out for artists - as usual, you have to be extremely extroverted.

Exhibition proposals are invited from self-defined practitioners at all stages of their careers with new single works or collections in any medium, including participatory or performative works, to test in the public domain. We are looking for evidence of experimentation and ideas that push the boundaries of contemporary practice, and a commitment to artistic and critical enquiry. Practitioners should suggest how the exhibition would benefit both their own practice, students’ research, and the wider public, indicating how the opportunity would be maximised and whether further developments may be anticipated. (Hardwick Gallery)

I found this description of a recent installation and thought it somewhat amusing, as it really seems to tick most of the boxes of what contemporary art should look like. Multidisciplinary using film, sound, physical objects and strange constructions, the play of light - and there's even a glance at a disability! And a title that doesn't mean too much. Perfect! Which is not to say it isn't any good of course - I think it looks arresting enough.

As part of this year’s Outcasting: Fourth Wall artist moving image festival, Richard Bowers was commissioned to make a new installation piece that combines complex film and sonic techniques. Drums suspended from wooden branches on the ceiling and on a wooden structure are rigged with lights and play/light up in response to events on screen. The film itself blends a background from a classic film, with action slowed down and overlaid with hand gestures (a combination of British Sign Language, piano fingering and dance gesture). As the hand moves gesturally the drums/lights are activated throughout the space. (CCQ magazine)

I have to admit that I find currents that are stuck in modernist art (the first half of the 20th Century) very tedious. An expressionist artist who paints dark Kyffinesque paintings of landscapes, seascapes and still lives has won the MoMa Wales Open twice! It's as though the gap between traditionalist 2D work and conceptual art in the form of performance, moving imagery and installation is just widening, like the gap between rich and poor. What I find so difficult about today's world is the incessant tension between opposites - for instance, this is a country with a terrible power battle between two opposite political views with insufficient balancing forces in the middle. Perhaps this is reflected in the arts, which seems to favour one or the other ends of an extreme spectrum (raw art being very introverted and conceptual art being very extroverted). Dual thinking is how our brains operate - we can only liberate our attitudes by challenging this habitual tendency to put opposite forces against each other. To me, the only way of changing anything in a fundamental way is to realise that we're dealing with paradoxes, i.e that the oppositions are equally valid and fundamentally illusory. 

I wish to approach the contemporary art scene through my own work at least in some way or another, albeit without losing track of who I really am. I feel real pressure to conform, to be as lofty and conceptual as everyone else. Because if I'm not, then on what rubbish heap will I end up again? It's all reflected in an identity crisis of sorts. So I'm going through this process of trying to figure out ways of expressing something essential without falling into on the one hand the trap of ingratiating triviality and on the other the trap of exclusive intellectualism. I want to steer away from representational art without completely losing touch with it. I doubt whether I could express emotional truths in a satisfactory way using only an abstract pictorial language. It's no doubt as easy to fall into pictorial cliches while using abstract forms and colours as it is using figurative imagery. I'm no doubt looking for some kind of synthesis of different approaches. There must be a way that makes emotional sense. A way that doesn't comply with a need to be extremely extroverted and socially engaged.

I want to minimise the role of figures or landscapes as I mostly find them quite trite. Of course these are the highways to a person's emotional brain but I feel they reinforce habitual perception and are therefore ones that can prevent us from seeing other aspects of reality from a more emotional point of view. I'm also tired of 2D but I guess one is stuck with it while unable to do performances or unwilling to start creating installations (both of which consume masses of energy some of us don't have). In the meantime I'm playing around with my new smartphone (as I finally decided they are good enough and updated to the modern age) -  exploring shapes, texture composition and atmosphere through snapshots and interesting filters. It is such fun, which I guess begs the question why real art is usually not a lot of fun. There is too much pressure to conform and to impress through cleverness.

The Artist

I did finally manage to finish a project using my latest soundscape "A Long Way to Heaven". More about that in my next post. Last week we saw an exhibition with sculptures by Tim Shaw (RA) . I was hoping it would prove a bit more emotionally satisfactory, and it did. I enjoyed his expressive red figures at the RA Summer Exhibition which I had a chance to see this year (albeit unimpressed by the standard of the work from the public). The work is of course representational, but the expressive materials used make it all out of whack in a good way. And of course, he is conveying relevant messages in a sincere and direct way.

Tim Shaw: Casting a Dark Democracy