The second graders at Ressu comprehensive school have been investigating How does food change? Where does our food come from? and What kind of communities and what kind of relationships are found within and between food? Every student chose a food to research these aspects. Along with traditional methods of researching, we also used art as a medium to explore our findings and fuel our curiosity. Naturally, one question led to another.
It was serendipity that one of the works on display at Kiasma, as part of the Coexistence exhibition, fit perfectly with our topic. Kalle Hamm & Dzamil Kamanger's Immigrant Garden / Emigranttitarha / Emigrantgården "consists of four parts: a collection of plant illustrations, a map, a book, and audio works. The watercolour studies portray various ornamental and edible plants that are commonly found in Finland, but which are all originally non-native" (Kiasma).
I was lucky enough to meet Kalle and Dzamil last spring so felt the comfort to reach out to them. Here, again, as lucky art goers, we bumped into each other at Kiasma the other day when we were taking a tour of the exhibition. Kalle and Dzamil agreed to make an interview with us as their artwork is so relevant to us, in every way possible. They said yes!
Arlene: I asked one of my students what part of the trip he liked and he said ”meeting Kalle”. : )
Kalle: :-D Say my greetings to him!
2B: Why did you start making this project?
K&D: Dzamil noticed that here in Finland grow the same plants than in his home country Iran, but they are smaller and grow in pots and greenhouses, not in wild nature like in Iran. We wondered how these plants had found their way to Finland, and this is how we started to track the travelling routes of the plants, and this was the beginning of making the whole piece.
2B: What made you choose the plants to research?
K&D: We chose that kind of plants, which should be known by most of the Finns, and had been cultivated here already hundreds of years (for example potato and onion), but none of them are originally from Finland, either Europe, but imported here form other continents.
2B: How did it feel when you were making the artwork?
K&D: When everything went well it felt hilarious and fun, but when we had obstacles it felt extremely stressful and we just wanted to start to do something else.
2B: How did you make this art?
K&D: We read lots of books to study how the plants travelled from their home area here. We bought lots of seeds and planted them and grew the plants by ourselves (not in Kiasma, but when we made the artwork first time). We practiced drawing flowers and made many plant drawings. We also recorded many plants and made sound pieces based on that material.
2B: How did you know how to draw plants? Was it fun drawing the plants?
K&D: I studied drawing in the art school, but you can also learn drawing plants without going to art school. You just have to see the plants very carefully and draw exactly what you see. Drawing plants is fun. They don't change their position, move or run away. They stay nicely still. But you have to water them or otherwise they will wilt.
2B: When did you start this project?
K&D: We started to make this art work 14 years ago and it took two years to make it ready.
2B: How long did it take for you to finish this project? Is it finished?
K&D: It is finished in such way, that we don’t add more new plants to the artwork, but every time when we install the whole artwork, we have to think about how everything should be set up: what kind of pots, what kind of chairs and etc...
2B: Which plant sound do you think is the most relaxing?
K&D: Of course potato!!!
2B: Out of all the plants you researched, which one is the oldest?
2B: What was your favourite plant?
K&D: Persian yellow rose
2B: What surprised you about that plant?
K&D: Plants sound totally different comparing to what they look like!
2B: Which one was the hardest to find information on?
K&D: Garden mignonette
2B: Which one was the weirdest?
K&D: Artichoke had the weirdest sound, even thou I love the taste and look of artichoke
2B: What was the first plant you researched?
K&D: Persian hogweed, but it is not part of this artwork :-(
2B: Did you first sketch your drawing or draw them straight away onto the paper?
Kalle: I first sketched them very lightly on very same paper I used for the final drawing. I made quite many mistakes, and I had to redraw atleast 5-6 drawings.
2B: How old are you now? When were you born? Where were you born?
Kalle: 50 years, born in Rauma (Finland) in 1969
Dzamil: 72 years, born in Mariwan (Iran) in 1948
2B: How old were you when you made your first piece of art? What was it?
Kalle: I think I was age of 16. I had then my first exhibition. It was a drawing a man holding a woman in a desert.
Dzamil said he cannot remember exactly, but he made his first embroideries in age of 30-32. It was a birthday present to his friend.
2B: Was your dream to become an artist? How did you get the idea of becoming an artist?
Kalle: Yes it was, but I didn’t know what kind of artists. I wrote poems, played flute and acted in children’s theatre group. And of course drew a lot.
2B: Where do you live?
Kalle: We both live in Oulunkylä, Helsinki.
2B: How many artworks have you made? What kind of art?
K&D: You can count them on our website www.beelsebub.org. and see what kind of artworks we have made.
2B: Do you have kids?
Kalle: I don’t have kids, but Dzamil has a son. He is living in Stockholm.
2B: Have you ever had a different profession, other than being an artist?
Kalle: Yes, I was working as a principle of the art school for children and young people. I was also working in Kiasma as an educational curator. Dzamil worked as a forester in Iran.
2B: Do you have a pet? If so, what is it?
Kalle: Not any more. Dzamil had a dog, but he passed away many years ago. Dzamil had also canary birds, and lots of them, about 70-80 all together. They had they own room. They sang very loudly.
2B: Do you like your art?
Kalle: Yes, we both like art!!! …and we hope you like art, too!
The list would go on, but here are some comments from the students about Kalle and Hamm's work:
"I think it's really good artwork"
"I love your art. It was interesting"
"I felt amazing when I saw your art"
"I liked the potato sound because it sounded like it was playing rock n roll"
"I felt excited about learning about the plants"
"I felt great!"
"The drawings were beautiful"
"The drawings look very real"
Thank you very much for taking the time to share with us!
XOXO Arlene & 2B
Arlene Tucker is an artist and educator currently based in Helsinki, Finland.