When Vishnu Vardhani invited me to carry out the interviews for Pixelache's 2019 Breaking The Fifth Wall, I was very intrigued by what the concept of the 5th wall is and how we could challenge it through a flat screen. I wanted to try to get to know the participating artists through conversation. Letting thoughts flow and investigate what rises. These conversations lasted one to three months through open discourse on an open google document.
Read the interviews here:
When will patriarchy end? When will there be a day when we don’t need to use a passport to travel?
On smells and the senses
Sawing, dimensioning, shaping
Incomplete manual for our living
Circle in a park
Vishnu and I took some time to reflect on my process of conversing with the artists and through that, we learned a lot about each other and where we are in the moment. Below are snippets of our dialogue:
VV: Arlene, thank you for bringing alive the conversations with the artists. It was a pleasure to read the interviews. Talking about end, For me personally, end is when we take our final breath. Until then the great collective consciousness connects us in numerous ways… Like Knots. Knots :D Amazing.I love Knots myself. I feel so empowered since I started to tie. Breaking norms I have internalised. Having courage to express, and to formulate the boundaries, as well as asking for support and to attend to my needs. It was a huge preparation process.Now I discern conflict without losing my agency. The workings of rope metaphorically and factually, inspire me to work with what need to be changed or developed in order to accommodate norm criticism. You understand ?
AT: Yes! I completely understand. It’s also a way to hold on and have grounding, but at the same time let one arm go, let one arm free and let the head dangle.
Do you think it makes a huge difference whether you initially meet somebody online or face to face?
VV: Does it make a difference ? For me, YES. I have a tendency to walk straight into the narrative that is carefully spun. Some people have exceptional online personas. I still don’t have tools to decipher these personas. In person I remark If the two individuals have the capacity and orientation to hear and see each other. Stay open to understand one another.
I am split on the question of difference.
I am inspired by an artist, who does comic books and who does a lot of political work. I followed him for years on Instagram, he always responded to my messages on insta, when I met him in person, my fantasy burst, I wish I didn’t meet him. As his ‘art’ wasn’t reflecting his ‘art-work’. That said, I am working at this year’s festival with the millennials. I am impressed, with simple online interactions. Yesterday, this person, was looking for our office, when I proposed to go find him, he counter-proposed to ‘just the share location- easy for all’. As I had walked a few times to fetch people that morning, I took note of this person’s exceptional screen interaction. That exceptionality also reflected in the hands on tasks. Also I thank the world wide web to have caught me this incredible being ‘Alaa Satir’. I follow her ‘art-work’. Recently I had the opportunity to talk to Alaa on Skype. This was a turning point for me in my life.
I have taken a lot of space with this response. Do you still follow me ? I can elaborate on the talk with Alaa, before, I want to ask you a question. You mentioned earlier about ‘bubble’ , do you feel the bubble can exists across realms ? Mediums ? Do you think it’s possible to build communities where people meet maybe only annually ?
AT: In my mind, bubbles are boundaries and borders that we create as individuals and as a society. So, yes, they exist in any possible dimension, but it’s dependant on perspective and context. I look at borders also as comfort and uncomfortable zones. Getting to know ourselves and stretching that boundary or breaking it, or just knowing we really cannot cross it. Awareness of our relationship to it.
Us talking about boundary, life and death triggered writings from one of my most inspirational figures, the Estonian Russian leader of semiotics and literature studies, Juri Lotman (1922–1993). Wilma Clark, the translator of Lotman’s book Culture and Explosion comments on his chapter ‘The end! How sonorous is this word!‘ by saying, “the notion of the ‘end’ and the principles of continuity and discontinuity are reflected in the stark boundary between life and death. Death is marked out as both the beginning and the end. Lotman speaks of the ‘special semantic role of death in the life of man’. It is the boundary which frames all meaningful activity and which, simultaneously, marks the contradiction between life in the general sense and the ‘finite life of human existence’. And yet, what is finite, is continued in the memory of the ‘son’ so that even the boundary of ‘death’, as it were, is permeable and filtered” (Lotman 1992, xiv).
One thing I noticed when I was having these conversations with the artists and something I was trying to develop these past few months was feeling their borders, being sensitive to their boundaries and timing through the computer. With all of them except the conversations with Laura, Vidha, and Samir, I did exclusively online through a Google Doc, like the one we are having now. With some people it clicked immediately and we were off talking about very deep and personal topics whilst with others, I could sense that they needed more time understanding my proposed process of opening dialogue, the point of meandering, and the importance of setting a pace in which we can safely and naturally delve into different topics. I could not have done this without everybody’s full participation. Most of the conversations lasted a good two months. Sometimes it stretched longer than that from the first initial contact as “life happens”.
With every artist, we would write to each other every few days or with some every day. It largely depended on their personality and what was happening in their life at that moment, but I tried to be sensitive to their response and how they responded. I really got to know every artist in an intimate way, which was very unexpected. I could see which times of day they were most active and how the changing of the seasons had or didn’t have an affect on them. From this, I also got to get to know myself in a different way too. Very grateful for that!
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.