Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Walk and Take the Urban Space


Wondering and wandering go hand in hand. Walking gives mental space to concentrate and go through issues that have jammed inside one's head. When in movement it feels like even the things that are stuck and without an answer begin to move and get a new order. For many creative processes walking is an essential part. One comes up with an idea but a good long walk enables the thinking go to the second level. The idea being processed gets a new and even better form. In hard times walking can be one of the few activities one can do. It is possible to adjust the pace and just keep moving no matter how slowly but still going somewhere. Maybe not going to a physical place but towards a solution and some outcome that leads forward. Walking can help to notice the steps that take closer to one's dreams. It is concrete action that makes one see action in issues that are hard to define.

35/52 Lauren Elkin's Flâneuse. Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London (2016) is about walking in urban space and it's many meanings. It asks to whom the urban space belongs, who can walk there and who can wander observing passers by. It ponders how urban cities open to the female walker. It inspires to go and explore the cities around the world by walking.

Elkin is accompanied by women from different eras of time. Women who have both been keen to walk and knew their city with it's every detail. At the same time when Elkin walks with inspiring writers like Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys and Martha Gellhorn, she goes through their work and alleys they took. She takes the same paths and reflects the same issues they either brought up in their work or had in their personal life. If you love book, film and art recommendations this book will offer you many. There is so many interesting works to enjoy from films by Agnes Varda to novels by George Sand. Not to mention countless cites Elkin makes through the book raising a dream to become as well sophisticated as she is. I have always been deeply inspired by people who are able to move from level to another in cultural and societal discussions, how they can drop a name or two, cite some recent research, quote in French or Latin, talk about what is happening in popular culture today and draw lines of connection between this all.

Urban space has not always been available for women and even these days we ask ourselves if we can go out in certain parts of the city or walk around save in certain hours. City offers lots to explore but also threats. Even nowadays a woman can't walk alone in some places, either because it is not save or because it is not approved by society. When we walk we are not moved by others we move ourselves, take the space ourselves and explore it with our own terms. We can choose to take different route instead of being driven to given places and answers. Virginia Woolf moved with her sister Vanessa to Bloomsbury. From save and predictable Kensington to an area that didn't hold the best of reputation. What Bloomsbury gave her was freedom to walk and think. With fellow artists she could develop ideas and choose whole new ways of organizing her world. Some spaces still stayed closed for women. In A Room of One's Own women are not allowed to go to the university campus lawn and library. But Virginia is well aware of this injustice, she is a feminist who goes to test the limits of her time and writes to us all if there are faults in the current thinking.

Elkin defines flâneuse and seeks to show that women too can walk and observe. We might think why not, sure women too can observe and walk in urban space as they like. What has hold against this is that women are the one's to be observed and seen and thus it is impossible to observe, be part of the mass if you stand out. Man is the norm in urban space and men can fade themselves to the background. That is how the thought of flâneur is based, that men can hide themselves and become observers. In times when women were not that common sight on streets, cafes and bars they have raised more curiosity. But there were curious and adventurous women in history too, flâneuses, who took the space. Sometimes in disguise, like George Sand, most often without, taking the observing gaze directed to them and gazing their observers back.


Walking and going are protests per se but it is also good to notice that manifests are also partly about walking in public space. At the same time when one walks they tell why they walk. Apart from flâneuse in manifest the point is to be seen and to be present to the public eye. Elkin tells her story how she first tried to stay away from manifests and keep a low profile but eventually by accident got into one and learned how it feels to be in a group. She sees the meaning of the manifest not as opposing those in power but as a way to show fellow citizens that these kind of opinions exist. It might be that the presence of opinion encourages those who observe to re-evaluate their thinking.

When we travel we want places to open to us and invite us in. Even if we seek something different to what we are used to we still hope that the different works with the same core principles. Elkin tells about her experiences in Tokyo. She gets a possibility to live in Tokyo when her boyfriend gets a job in the city. When she gets there she begins to feel that the city is not as inviting as the other cities where she has made her home in. Tokyo craves time to get to know how it functions. Streets are marked in a different way and products on store don't look familiar. Tokyo wants the explorer to stay longer before it shows it's character.

Is to wander to be without any attachments or vice versa? Maybe the essence of flâneur is to be able to go to the shared urban space and explore it and get to know people with whom you share the space with. One can have a camp in the world or several camps from where they go to their walks. Walks can head to nearby streets or around the world. Point is to own the outside space with others instead of being bound inside the four walls. For Elkin Paris is her home in the world even though she has lived in various cities. Paris is where she begins her journeys and where she wants back. For author and war correspondent Martha Gellhorn it was restricting to own a house and be bound to certain place. She was in her bets element when she got to see the world, observe what she saw and report to those in their homes what happened in war zones. It is everyone's own balance between wandering and being in one place. Also the distance of these wanderings is something we can choose. Do we need to go another side of the world or is it enough to see how life goes in neighbor suburb.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Story Behind The Photographs


34/52 Rupert Thomson: Never Anyone But You (2018) Never Anyone But You tells the life story of Suzanne Malherbe and Lucie Schwob also known as Marcel Moore and Claude Cahun. The artist couple met each other in 1909 and the novel follows their life for several decades. During that time they went through both First and Second World War as well as the free and fascinating time that Paris lived between the wars. Marcel Moore was a visual artist and Claude Cahun author who wrote novels, articles and other texts. Cahun also posed in self-portraits that she took together with Marcel. In those portraits Cahun studies gender identity by using different costumes, poses and roles.

 Might contain spoilers! The story is told from Marcel's perspective and the photographs they take together are essential part of the novel's structure. I felt that the time sort of stopped when they began to make arrangements for a photo shooting. In the old times people thought that the camera steals the soul. Their self-portraits are still available for us to see and Thomson pays attention to the moment and the surroundings where the couple created their works. Those moments are not quick and spontaneous. The photographs are designed and finished. The idea seems to come from Claude who chooses the clothes, makeup and role she wants to present. Marcel is the one who shoots the photographs. The photos show different sides of Claude. She examines herself in those moments when she is in front of the camera. Some photos take part to political discussions and societal issues.

For Marcel Claude is the center point of her life. Claude is demanding personality who brings in the drama. Through their life together she has many suicide attempts and she is always between life and death. She refuses to eat and makes her body a work she molds according to her artistic ambitions. When Marcel tries to take photographs without Claude she sees how empty the pictures are. The art they make together is the core of her life and Claude is the only subject she has in her work. She ponders:

"My subject has been taken from me. 
My love had been taken from me. 
Or perhaps that was my subject."

The novel makes you think how easy it is to vanish from the scene of history. They both did creative work and belonged to the artistic societies. They were part of the surrealist movement and in the same circles with them was for example Salvador Dalí. The time between wars was liberal and experimental. They had parties and interesting artistic projects. The contrast between peace time and war is enormous. They are forced to move from Paris to Jersey to be save. The societies are broken and can't be fixed. After the war not everyone is present. People have been scattered around this world and beyond. Some of the artists they knew continue their career. But Marcel and Claude have vanished and their work forgotten. How history is written is not objective and the overall spirit of each time decides who is remembered and who is forgotten. They might have been ahead of their time. The time between wars was a short glimpse to the future and in that bubble they bloomed. After the second world war came a conservative boost. Traditions and old norms became the surviving mechanism from the war that had been incomprehensible in it's cruelty.


Marcel and Claude inspire us when they create a resistance movement against the Nazi ideology. In Jersey they see German soldiers and become aware that some of them think differently and don't share the ideology. They see a possibility to influence on those soldier's attitudes towards the cruelties and war. Their dedication to the pacifist campaign is so huge that the German who question them find it difficult to comprehend that is all crafted by two elderly women instead of a whole group of people. In the campaign they use the tools given to them, their Art. In this project as well as in their other personal choices they are not afraid of risks. That is what makes their work and life visionary. If they did only what was safe there would't be anything we can learn about. Their life would be part of the ordinary canon and part of the history book narrative; A mass of events that form a bigger picture and where individuals with visionary thoughts and acts are not forming the way we think but we are assured to continue on believing what we have been taught is true and right.

Then again even though the history can make us vanish we do not leave the world without a mark. There must be a trace we leave. The generations to come might get interested and find new value on art that once didn't get acknowledged the way it should have been. In a new surroundings and atmosphere the art made decades before gets new meanings and speaks differently. In today's world when the understanding of the diversity of gender has become broader Claude's examinations about her identity visualize what she feels inside. When looking at the photos it is interesting to notice how one person can be many. How she wants to be seen defines who we see in the picture. And it essential notion in the novel too. When they take photographs Claude decides what there will be in the picture. She takes a pose, arranges her hair and asks Marcel to wait for the moment when she is ready. Claude is on both sides of the camera.

Thomson's novel is perfect read for these dark Autumn evenings. It is romantic story of a couple whose love lasted for a whole lifetime. It describes Paris between wars, inspiring new movements and possibilities. It makes us see our potential on fighting against destroying and harmful ideologies that seem to be overpowering and invincible. It is also interesting to go and see the actual self-portraits that are described in the novel, one can find their photographs with a simple search using their names.


Thursday, 13 September 2018

Modern Quilt Art


Quilt: Orange Is the Rule Breaker
In this work orange become the color that breaks the harmony. Without it this quilt would look boring. Now that the colour challenges the eye one has to look again to form an opinion.


It is always equally pleasing to introduce a new quilt work. These are all so different even though you might recognize that the style is the same and works are made by the same person. In every work I try to test new ideas, search inspiration from different sources and combine colours that inspire me the most at the time. These are all modern and timeless yet I am not afraid to put hints to the time these have been done. Quilt art should last time like art in general and it should not be bound to trends that make it look worn out after year or two. Still I think art also preserves the essence of the time and era that is lived. That is why it is natural that art represents the ideas and currents of the time or in it's most visionary predicts the future we all might not even see. Then we can both see the moment when work was created, let it discuss with what we have now and based on this discussion develop new ideas. One might see from the colours that I am using that this particular work is created around the late 2010s. The work might connect to what happened in this era and what we talked about in the society. When I go to an exhibition this is one way I look at the works. Next step is to understand the similarities to our time and if we ponder same kind of issues these days.

Quite often things just change form yet the core is the same. The pattern for this work is inspired by staircase I saw months ago on my walk. The end result brings to my mind art deco with it's shell like curves. What comes to the era after the first world war we might see many connections to our time. Fashion has always looked inspiration from past decades and centuries. What comes to societal climate of the 1920s - 1940s we hear same kind of voices today. People's desperation and those who are not afraid to use it for their own purposes. I really hope art can be one path to show us from where we have come to this moment. Art can make us see where appealing rhetoric and blind following will take us. In hard times artists made their dreams visible though art and those are the pictures that tell us our real possibilities and how high we can actually aim.

We can enjoy art and we are all allowed to create. What ever is the way for going through emotions -  quilting, painting, moving, cooking... - it is great there is something to make us think and process. We become emotionally blind if we don't create, play and question what is given. Person who creates solves problems and begins to see the opportunities and new ways of doing things. If we don't develop a capacity to question we begin to believe that the solutions given to us are all there is. I have always seen crafts as a form of empowerment. The moment when I draw, test ideas and make is a moment when I have a small arena of my own. I can make decisions, do errors and make corrections and after the process I have something that I can be proud of. An object I have made by myself with my own decisions and skills. Creative processes give self-confidence and knowledge about one's own capacity and through this one has courage to be critical and use their own voice. Quite many things can be taken away easily but creative mind is somewhere deeper.

I have already been sketching a new quilt project. I have fallen in love to the notion that fabric can be so fluent like liquid on canvas. It can be twisted and sculptured to curves. I will test the limits of fabric and draw more challenging patterns. I have noticed that even the most difficult forms are possible with the right technique. It is so much fun to use imagination and come up with an idea that craves time and determination to come into reality.


Thursday, 30 August 2018

Uncensored Self-Portrait


33/52 Violette Leduc: La Bâtarde (1964) What would subscribe best Violette Leduc's novel La Bâtarde is uncensored self-portrait. She hits the spot in 2018 when myths and taboos about womanhood are broken with honest new works of art and social media discussions. Leduc writes down all things that hold a meaning in her life and does it with brutal honesty. She doesn't leave out even the ugliest parts, something that a writer is allowed to do when making an interpretation of their life. It seems she wants to reveal herself without caring too much about the opinion of the public. The novel is personal and goes to private moments that no one would see or hear about if she didn't choose to tell. As we know from the discussion we get to take a part today, it is liberating to see realistic images on what it is to be a human.  

Leduc's descriptions about her romantic relationships are very passionate and full of life. When she pictures her first love with Isabelle she lingers in their desire and sexual tension. She tells about a relationship that has very poor possibilities to survive. After she lets go of Isabelle she meets Hermine. In a relationship with her she is a bit cold and uncaring. At first it seems like she is just placing Isabelle with someone she doesn't care. Violette doesn't stop Hermine for overworking and giving all the money she gets for Violette's clothes and restaurant dinners.  Leduc writes thoroughly what is in her mind, the feelings she is having and what is happening in her body. Her straight forward style makes the novel interesting to read right from the beginning. In a modern way she shows the most deepest ponderings as they are. She concentrates on details and achieves authenticity leaving out common and referential notions. Instead of introducing broader concepts she tells directly what those mean to her and what kind of appearances they get in her life.

Through the book Violette struggles with her looks. She sees herself ugly and brings up comments she has gotten from others that would make her notion look accurate. Somehow when I read the novel it was out of context in her life that she brings up her looks and it made me think if she brings it up just because of vanity. She has interesting life, friends in cultural circles, lovers, possibilities and encouragement in her career. Yet she talks about her looks like it was a thing to stop her from achieving something. Maybe it is her own aesthetic that she is not pleased with herself and she would like to look different. There might even be a deeper contradiction what is in the mirror and what she feels she is.  It is also true that random ill meaning comments press us down for years. Yet it might also be that she has time to analyze her own looks and develop a problem, namely her nose that needs to be fixed. The struggle she has with her identity and how to express herself is easier to comprehend. She lets Hermine to spend money and dress her like a doll with pretty clothes. She enjoys her new clothes and the look Hermine has created for her. But same time she has a need to express her masculine side too, a thing that Hermine doesn't approve. 

When Leduc writes about wartime she describes her love for money. It is said that in the most difficult times our true nature reveals. Violette is living in the countryside where there are possibilities to buy food outside the food card limitations. Because she has rich acquaintances in Paris she sees an opportunity to earn money in black market. She creates a circle of professionals who deliver her food and she sells it to people who can afford to buy it at any price. As she puts it it is in her nature that she loves beautiful objects. She becomes more greedy in her business and there is no Robin Hood in her. She makes money and keeps it herself. When she analyses afterwards the decisions she has made she doesn't explain or try to make things look better. She admits her own greediness. She even states that she would have eaten her own shit to get more money. There were situations when she could have done something good for others with her money, for example a poor boy is starving in front of her eyes and she had a possibility to help. She also looks from her window how her neighbors are taken away without an expression of sadness. She is in the flow of doing great herself and becomes blind. The years to come are harsh and remind cruelly about the past moments and it becomes impossible to understand one's own behavior. Maybe she has a bad consciousness, who knows, and that is why she wants to write it all down as a confession. Still I felt Leduc is not making an atonement she just reveals how things were and what she went through those times. And we can't know what kind of person the main character of the novel has become afterwards, we just know the past ans a glimpse of the present moment. 

What inspired me to read this novel was Martin Provost's film Violette that tells about how she became a writer and her one sided love towards her mentor Simone de Beuvoir. The title of this post is uncensored self portrait because the relationship she describes between Isabelle and Violette has also been written in her previous book, Thérèse et Isabelle, a novel that was partly censored at the time of publication in 1954.  This novel was not censored and what comes to her direct style she herself doesn't censor the issues she brings up.