Friday, 17 July 2020

Helsinki Public Art, the Nonconventional Edition

Helsinki has its share of huge metal lumps, in boring shapes of important middle age white men from the days past. Luckily, there is another kind of public art too, well worth seeing. Or hearing. Or even experiencing. In this first part, I'll list some of my own favourites in the central Helsinki area. Outskirts of Helsinki will follow, one day. Of course, there's a map, which will be updated as I go.

Holy Cows of Intersection

Artist Miina Äkkijyrkkä is known for her fondness of cows. They're a recurring theme in her works, including textile patterns, paintings and graphics. She has studied husbandry and even maintained a herd of eastern finncattle herself, even though that didn't end too well.

In Finland, cars are often regarded as holy cows of a kind, and Äkkijyrkkä indeed uses cars and car parts as material in her cattle themed sculptures. The ones in Hakaniemi, called Joy (2006) are of a smaller kind, the biggest may include a whole van in the body of the cow. And what could possibly be better place for these statues than a busy traffic intersection?

Getting this close is a tad dangerous and probably illegal, since
you have to cross a few car lines with absolutely no pedestrian crossing

Golden Showers in the Harbour

Manneken Schmanneken, we have it bigger and... more endearing? Tommi Toija's Bad Bad Boy (2013) was originally exhibited in Sweden, and in Finland first installed in front of the presidential palace, but only temporarily. Wonder why. In 2015 it was once again re-erected in Jätkäsaari, on the grounds of store of everything, welcoming people arriving from Tallinn by boat. It was supposed to be, again, temporary, but there it still stands in it's 8,5 m glory, years overtime. Which is great!

At first, the statue stroke me as horribly ugly, but on the second sight I began to see the laconic humour and appealing bluntness of it. It's kind of cute in the same way as a baby owl. The body of work of the artist Tommi Toija includes a lot of characters similar to Bad Bad Boy, just smaller and more hazardous in their looks, on the edge of horrible and heartbreaking. Judging from the internet commenting, not all bother to look twice, and/or see Bad Bad Boy merely as a joke. I beg to disagree. And dare you to take a shower in the jet on a hot summer day.

"Never mind me, I'm just on my way..."

Sound Art Hidden in Plain... Sight?

Every day at 5:49 pm, ever since 2005, there is a 5 or so minutes of sound art to be heard in the Senate Square. The likelihood is that uneducated ears don't even recognise it, since Senaatintorin ääni (The Sound of the Senate Square) is composed of very church bell -like sounds and thus is easily mixed with the bells of the actual church by the square. But they are not quite the same.

The sounds emanate, in turn, from different rooftops around the square and every version is different. The work is not just recordings of different bells, but an electronic composition by Harri Viitanen and Jyrki Alakuijala. If you really want to feel like in the know, linger by the statue in the middle of the square, listen to the beautiful sound art and scorn the tourists (and Helsinki dwellers) around you, who have no idea there is art going on.

The art work is audible on the whole square, but the best place to listen is the
area around the statue of Alexander the II, marked with white square in the image

Art under Your Feet

One probably notices Denise Ziegler’s public art works by accident or by already knowing what to look for. Even though I’d very much like the crowds to find them, the subtlety is a part of the poetic charm of the works. Epigrams for Helsinki Citizens (1999) series consists of eight manhole covers, spattered around Helsinki centrum, every one of them adorned with a sentence defining the site in a more or less poetic way. Here the text goes ”in the backroom of the city you’re enjoying the sea view”, which is very much true behind the market hall.

Note the more than fitting cigarette stub.

Sounds from Sewers

Markku Puustinen's Mutta minä lähden (But I shall leave) has been reciting under Torkkelinpuistikko parklet since 2003. The well pronouncing voice utters notifications of flights departing, heard from the sewer in the corner nearest to Avikainen bakery (which supported my wellbeing during my years in the nearby arts high school with their crescents and munkkis, so that you know).

At the time I first heard the piece I regarded it quite optimistic, as a kind of dream of freedom. Now, of course, this has all changed and the voice feels more like a harbinger of the inevitable doom. During the winter the art work hibernates, since the the battery can't stand the minus degrees. Let's see how the climate change will affect that.

The horror here is way more cerebral than in Stephen King's IT

Some Lumps are Okay I Guess

OK, these are lumps indeed, but not made out of metal, nor in shape of men. Even though Maria Duncker’s six part work of huge pieces of stone, Too Heavy Guests (2010), remind me of Pushkin’s play The Stone Guest, the awkward creatures still feel friendly to me. There they stand, a bit mopey, somehow in a wrong place and yet part of the community of buildings around them, old and new. I especially enjoy the combination of roughly chiseled stone and the finest detail of traces of decoration on their surface. No evil thing would have a tattoo of a jolly candy kane on them, would they?

I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what's the deal between these two.

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Trajectum Lumen: Orienteering by Light Art

Trajectum is the ancient Roman name of Utrecht, and Lumen is the unit of luminous flux. And a metabolism hacking device. And a Russian rock band. So that you know. Trajectum Lumen is a light art route meandering through Utrecht's ancient Roman center, luckily consisting of quite different light art works than those favoured by ancient Romans, especially emperor Nero. Like, flaming cities and humans.

The given estimates of the time needed vary between one and one and a half an hour, plus a likely visit to a bar, but I'd recommend at least two hours. And a visit to a bar.

Light Art Inside, Outside, Upside Down

I was a tad prejudiced when entering Erik Groen's Tunnel, since in the publicity photo it looked like another spectrum-wanking wondertube, of which there are way too many. I mean, we all know that it is possible to mix all the colours with RGB LEDs, but that really is not a reason to do so. It really isn't. Anyhow, to my great pleasure the colour variety was, if bright, still actually thought of, and even the less fanciful combinations were present. One could spot the unavoidable rainbow at times, yes, but it was just another colour combination among others.

© Merijn van der Vliet / Utrecht Marketing
Jan Hein Daniëls and Willem Hoebink's installation Pausdam was possibly the most spectacle-like of the lot, but definitely not too flashy. The cool hues of blue and white alternated fluently, although a tad mathematically for my taste, kind of lacking tension, but this really is a question of preference. On the other hand the projected hare and owl had been given more time to breath, so to say, and take their time and space, which was a nice contrast to the lights' punctuality. I wouldn't call this a ghost house, but the ever so still and finally alive-coming animals really gave an eerie finishing touch to the whole.

© Merijn van der Vliet / Utrecht Marketing

by Titia Ex at Sint-Willibrordkerk was one of my favourites. Simple, beautiful and integrated to the site on a thematic level and in a most elegant way. And funny, too! I wonder if it was on purpose, but the colours of the halo perfectly matched the surrounding Christmas lights, in a very who wore it better way (the halo did).

As soon as one realises there are small orange lighted arrows in the ground, the route is easy to follow. Sometimes the art works are a tad hard to spot, but the small blue eye signs on the ground give a good clue where to stand. Before I realised this, I did roam around the Drift like a desperate human snooker ball, in search for video art by students of the Utrecht School of the Arts. Which I, luckily, did find, and I have to say, the site was genial! A perfect example of making unnoticed parts of a city visible and meaningful. But not too visible to take away the joy of finding the art in a surprising place.

@ Anne Hamers / Utrecht Marketing
The Sun Shines in and around the Buurkerk by Gabriel Lester loans the shapes of the windows of the adjacent church, err, museum, adds some colour and turns it upside down. At the first sight the work is not nearly as fancy as in the photo, but once I got the idea of it, it quickly became a thoughtful study of blurred borders between inside and outside, a statement of belongingness and surrealist caricature of a decoration. I think.

Dead lights and missing mist

The lights by the Janskerk made me go like Oh, the lights are... changing? What am I suppose to... What? Given the benefit of doubt, I believe there was something wrong with the focus of the lights at the time of my visit. Another victim of dead lights was The Fortified City by Okra Landscape Architects. Not quite as fancy as in the publicity photos, I'm afraid. Some natural/artificial haze would probably have made the day, though.

As the webpage duly warns, some of the works may not be working properly or at all – being a year round project takes its toll. I did miss a bunch of artworks either/or for being out of order or missing from the map. The two may be related. Then again, I'm pretty sure that maintenance is not lacking because caretakers are stupid, lazy and hate art. I'm betting on deficit in resources. So, whoever is funding Trajectum Lumen, give it some more tender love, caring and money, please, so it can live up to its potential.

Cosiness is the key

Many of the commentators in the social media describe the art works as "nothing spectacular", which I mostly agree on, but do not see as a problem. All too often spectacle and flashiness is regarded as imperative to light art, which simply isn't true. Trajectum Lumen artworks draw attention to the city itself, and I just love the idea of orienteering the streets by light art works! The cosy, small scale of the artworks give room for both the art and the city, without one being just a canvas for the other.

Monday, 20 January 2020

Amsterdam Light Festival: White Crispy Lines and a Spoiled Dystopia

As mentioned previously, there are more than 70 recurring light art festivals in Europe. Seen through my own and social media’s eyes, they are sometimes hard to tell apart. I decided to visit as many as I can – which may fall to anything between 1 and 70 – and see if I can find any differences between festivals.

My first destination is in the Netherlands. Amsterdam Light Festival has reached its 8th edition, with 20 art works spattered around eastern part of the city centre. The recommended route is about 6 km and a boat is the preferred vehicle. There are many companies providing tours listed in ALF's website and the prices are not too painful.

So, what is special about Amsterdam Light Festival?

1. Water

Amsterdam is defined by its canals, and somehow I'm getting the idea that the Light festival is built on the needs of boat trip providers. That’s both a curse and a blessing. The art works are designed to be seen from the waterside, which leaves the ground strollers in a weaker position, view wise. Then again, gliding among the art works is a unique experience, well worth the quite reasonable ride fee.

Even if a boat trip is one of the most touristic thing ever, (which has never stopped me from taking one), a cruise in December has a taste of adventure. Raindrops will probably keep falling on one's head, and one shall freeze one's arse off, let me tell you, so one should dress accordingly. But it's worth it! In addition to seeing the art works from the designed angle and without too many steps, there's a certain camaraderie among the fellow travellers – partly thanks to the complimentary drink, I believe. Cheers! Kippis! Na zdraví!

Blinded by the fake famousness in Feel Like the Kardashians by Laila Azra
Photo: Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival

The ultimate example of the water/ground inequality is Feel Like the Kardashians by Laila Azra. Being in the middle of a paparazzi style regiment of flash lights is quite a different an experience than just standing on the pier and watch a boat being paparazzied. Then again, some of art works are well, even better, seen from the shore.

The canals play a big role in a lot of the works. Although it’s not quite clear, why butterflies would gather fluttering on the surface of a cold canal, the drowning cities, cars and lamp posts are quite spot on in the water. Another plus side: since it is difficult and even dangerous to be interactive from a boat, the festival is quite interactivity free. Which, I think, is usually a blessing.

Atlantis by Utskottet is a kind of a graveyard, where famous buildings around the world gather to drown.
Photo: Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival

2. Human scale

A light art festival without a facade filling WOW piece or two might be an impossibility, but ALF comes close. Actually, it seems just as if the works were chosen based on artistic values and not on magicality, amazingness or just plain huge size or bright colours. The fact that the works, at least seen from a boat, must be fathomable quite quickly and they cannot be too big, also gives a certain continuity to the choice of art works. Unavoidably, there was one wall projection, but even that was quite abstract, no twisting towers or flying bricks around, this time. That’s not to say that all of the pieces were small, but the usual grandiose spectacle was pretty absent. Kudos for that!

The stylishly subtle projection piece The ice is melting at the pøules by Martin Ersted
Photo: Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival

3. A Proper Theme

It’s nice to have a light art festival with a real and consistent theme for a change. Disruption is a well chosen one, specific enough to give the festival as a whole a structure, but still adaptive enough to include a variety of works of different styles and techniques. Disruption is not really a synonym of political, but it’s close enough: many of the pieces were quite straightforward in their social message. Climate change was, of course, on top of the list. Just as it should be. Some of the works were quite naïve and cutesy, yes, but all of them had at least some kind of a message. Like, I’ve never seen such cute 3D printed glowing wolves in a piece about the Holocaust.

A protecting wolf from the pack in Hiding in the Wolf's Lair 
by Republic of Amsterdam Radio & Nomad Tinker House
Photo: Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival

Another example of straightforward political light art was Surface Tension by Tom Biddulph and Barbara Ryan, a huge progress from their work in the previous ALF edition. The aesthetics of the  naïve neon eye of the past had matured into crisp, trimmed punctuality, even minimalism, of this year’s suggestive contours of cars drowning in the canal. This piece was just as fine, if not better, seen from the pier, preferably alone. Beautiful and depressive at the same time, a perfect piece for a Finn to enjoy. The one thing I think was not needed, though, was the trick of cute neon dinosaurs turning into cars and lamp posts, as the boat got closer. The illusion didn't quite add anything to the idea and just a tad spoiled the dystopia for me. But apart from that, bravo!

Surface Tension by Tom Biddulph and Barbara Ryan was a definite highlight of the festival
Photo: Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival

The theme Disruption was also understood in a more tangible way. Krijn de Koning's Nacht tekening redraw the Skinny bridge by breaking up its usual lighting and rearranging the shapes in a most topsy-turvy way. I kept wondering if the actual lighting gear of the bridge was used, but I'm betting on a duplicate. Anyhow, I guess this was the first cubistic light art work I've seen so far. Har Hollands, with his Between the Lines, used same kind of simple line aesthetics, but the approach is pretty different. In his work, the usually unnoticed structure of a crane is made visible, but not shuffled. This, I think, could be described as constructivist light art, par excellence.

Nacht tekening by Krijn de Koning breaks up the perspective
Photo: Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival
Between the Lines by Har Hollands is also a celebration of the former loading area
Photo: Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival

All in all

Amsterdam Light Festival has made good use of its surroundings and has a clear curatorial concept, which makes it a very well grounded and focused event. Most of the works are commissioned, so the curse of seen-before doesn't really count in Amsterdam. Of course, festivals are targeted for the large audience, so the most conceptual light art works are quite absent pretty much from every festival, but Amsterdam Light Festival has found a well balanced way between the high art and entertainment. Or, rather, a combination of the two.

AD. Empty Domination by Maria Watjer, Jasmijn Pielkenrood and Wies Brand 
is definitely of the high art section, and also another favourite of mine. 
Photo: Janus van den Eijnden / Amsterdam Light Festival

Other people visiting Amsterdam Light Festival:

• Laughing Squid: Blue Bomb Bursts Into Light Feathers While Butterflies Float Upon a Canal at 2019 Amsterdam Light Festival
• Amsterdam Light Festival 2019

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Light Art Festivals in Europe (and close)

I have the busiest weeks of my whole year going on, so of course I spend my time composing a map just for the fun of it. And because I absolutely need to perceive – right now – when and where there are light art festivals in Europe, so I can plan my travels accordingly. Well, there are surprisingly many of them, and I'm sure I have missed one or two or three thousand. If you know about a recurring happening, with a reasonable amount of light art in it, do let me know!

Surprisingly many festivals inform really, really insufficiently about when and even where the festival happens. Too often I had to check the dates from news sites and other sources. If you're running a light art festival, go check your website to make sure this information is easily available. Now, please.

In the map, the number on icon is for the month the festival starts, or has started in some time in history. To make spotting easier, they are also coloured according to spectre, from January's red to December's purple. The black ones are bonus destinations, exhibiting light art all year round. The information given is very sparse, since even I have some limits in procrastination.

The one festival I'd like to promote here is the FLASH Biennale in Suomenlinna, Helsinki, organised by the Finnish Light Art Society FLASH. The second edition FLASH2 – Eyes Wide Suomenlinna will be on from November 1st to 10th. The biennale is (thank gods) not as flashy as light festivals tend to be, but emphasises more the concept. One of those this year is political light art, which is not too explored an area in light art festivals. The exhibition is held in the old fortress island of Suomenlinna in front of Helsinki, in venues not usually open to public. And yes, I'm involved.
See more here:

Open map in a new window

Friday, 20 September 2019

Blinded by the Light Art of Venice: Biennale area

Too much art is certainly a first world problem, but it does get real when you're in Venice during the Biennale. In order to survive the emotionally suffocating amount of art in the city, one can start with concentrating on one aspect of art. In my case, that was obviously light in art.

Remembering last editions of the Biennale, light played a lesser part in the works in the Giardini national pavilions. The main exhibition there lacked light in the number of art works, but the shear amount of it was still pretty considerable. Even painfully so. In the Biennale's Arsenale site, however, light was widely used. In some cases it took the lead, but mostly it was used in supporting roles. There were also quite an amount of sporadic light and lightish art in the national pavilions spattered in the city, outside Giardini and Arsenale, of which I'll mention a few. The non-Biennale-related exhibitions had their fair share of light, too. A fair, fair share.


In my posting about Prague Quadrennial scenography show I briefly brushed the theme of thin line between scenography and fine arts. I was happy to find a reason to smile smugly when I found this piece in the Russian pavilion. The artist was also on display in PQ, which totally proved my point. Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai's coulisse had some more mechanics involved this time, and some whimsical neon light, too. Blatantly old fashioned and wonderful!

I though I could stand any amount of light, with my vast experience with it, but no. I just had to close my eyes in front of the painfully full radiance and walk half blind through Ryoji Ikeda's spectra III in the main exhibition. First it got me really irritated and wondering why is this done in the first place and is it even art and my imaginary child could have done this and after a few hours of pondering I realised I had been thinking quite the essential questions of art. Well done, Mr. Ikeda, but I still hate you!

Venice's own pavilion has lately been quite the Liberace of the Biennale, putting forward everything shiny and expensive la Serenissima has to offer. Luckily, this year it had a more distinguished and subtle approach to the essence of the city. I especially enjoyed the immersive artwork by Plastique Fantastique and Fabio Viale, which grasped both the romantic and melancholic atmosphere of the drowning city, quite haptically, without unnecessary embellishments.


Here's an example of not often seen political light art. Tavares Strachan's Robert Henry Lawrence Jr and What Will Be Remembered in the Face of All that Is Forgotten are more or less straightforward comments on remarkable persons, faded in history, most likely because of their gender and colour. Probably an incident, but it's mildly amusing to note that even here the male is depicted by writing his name both in the work and its title, and the female is left unnamed, presented by her body, however uneroticized. At least for us with no neon fetish. To mention.

It was nice to watch the breathing hues of these "corals" and I do appreciate military materials used for art rather than war, but somehow the piece by Christine and Margaret Wertheim was a little too showcase-y for my taste. However beautiful the electroluminescent wire was, it still was just electroluminescent wire. With nice colours. The context, however, brings some content to it: the other pieces of Crochet Coral Reef are handicrafted corals, commenting the great barrier reef and the possible loss of it. This one was taken aside for the darkness it needs, I presume.

Korakrit Arunanondchai's No history in a room filled with people with funny names 5 was another example of the thin line between using video as media or as light. Sometimes the information of image was the main point of attention, sometimes the screens were filled with pure abstract colour fields, making them luminous sources of light. This, of course, defines if the art work falls to category of video art or light art. Which is a question no one but an obdurate classifier, such as myself, should be bothered with. 

Hito Steyerl's piece This is the Future included some accidental light art in the form of most wonderful reflections. And yes, I'm a fangirl looking for any excuse to include Steyerl's work here, even though it's pretty obviously not light art per se.

Here's one example of increasing use of light as material for an artwork. Alex da Corte's Rubber Pen Devil is a hilarious series of videos of Satan and his pals, shown in a neon framed auditorium. The light in itself was definitely not the main attraction of the piece, but it did bring a certain kind of modernist-decadent mood to the space and thus to the experience of the videos. This was not just well designed, unobtrusive lighting, but very precise part of the artistic whole.

Most of the attention in the Indonesian pavilion was stolen by the big ferris wheel in the middle, but pretty soon my interest was stolen away by the light numbers on the ceiling. I couldn't quite catch the idea of them, nor did I find information about the piece. Which probably was there right in front of my eyes. Anyhow, the lights of Lost Verses by Handiwirman Saputra and Syagini Ratna Wulan really got me thinking, wondering even.

Not in any way technically amazing or visually staggering, Synchronocity by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Hisakado Tsuyoshi wasn't too easy to get, lightwise. I still don't know if I did, since after wondering, what's the light gimmick here, what with the fading bulbs and random general lighting, I realised there isn't one. By then I was far too mesmerised by the piece for not liking it so, yeah, I could say it really caught me. 

Even though Saules Suns by Daiga Grantiņa in the Latvian pavilion didn't include light wow effects either, the quasi sloppy untidiness felt a bit arrogant to me – even though there was something interesting in the use of light, when I really put my mind to it. I'm all for messiness, that's not the problem, but I quite felt like someone is inventing the wheel again and making it crappy on purpose.

I do love me some good neon allright, but this particular work by Gabriel Rico, I think, was in a wrong environment in the hallways of Arsenale. The placement made the work seem diminished, something taken to the corner, out of way. The surreal in the art work was nullified into awkward by mere misplacement. That's a bummer, since mr. Rico seems very interesting artist, especially by his use of light.

Hypersonic Hyperstitions by Marko Pelhjan of the Slovenian pavilion was probably one of the most photographed pieces in Arsenale. It was also one the pieces whose message was lost on me. Later Google told me all kind of interesting ideas about hypersonic weapons and stuff, but at the site all I could think of was a vehicle commercial from Galactica. Or this: 

There seems to be a certain trend in the use of light in contemporary art, which could be called souvenirism. The light emitting materials used in this kind of art include, indeed, actual blinking souvenirs, but also motley selection of other shiny bric-a-brac. 

Here's just two examples of many: Lee Bul's Aubade and Tracey Snelling's Shanghai/Chongqing Hot Pot/Mixtape. See also Thailand's pavilion, later. Snelling "gathers information through the process of wandering, observing, participating and documenting", which is pretty much what tourists do, and thus matches my self-invented -ism perfectly.

After the long walk of multi layer of meta levels art pieces in the Arsenale's never ending corridor, it was a relief to see some sunlight. Call me easy, but I enjoyed tremendously A Place without Whence or Whither by Chen Qi, an outdoors extension of Chinese pavilion. The idea was simple, pretty much from a course of lighting design for beginners: holes in surface where the light gets through and makes nice patterns on the other surface. That's what we do in theatre all the time. The work really was border line kitschy, but it didn't try to disguise in any kind of deeper philosophy, which I do appreciate. It was what it was. Just lovely!

See also:
Blinded by the Light Art of Venice: Other National Pavilions
Blinded by the Light Art of Venice: Other Exhibitions

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