Sunday, August 24, 2014

Beda Stjernschantz (exhibition at Amos Anderson Art Museum)

Beda Stjernschantz: Lasinpuhaltajat / Glasblåsarna / Glassblowers (1894), oil on canvas, K. H. Renlundin museo. Click to enlarge.
Beda Stjernschantz | 1867–1910. Amos Andersonin taidemuseo | Amos Andersons konstmuseum | Amos Anderson Art Museum, Yrjönkatu | Georgsgatan 27, Helsinki. 14 March – 31 August 2014
    Curator: Itha O'Neill
    Oil paintings, watercolours, pencil drawings, charcoal drawings.
    Visited on 24 Aug 2014.

Book:
Itha O'Neill (ed.): Beda Stjernschantz 1867-1910. Ristikkoportin takana / Bakom gallergrinden [Beyond the Gate Grid]. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura, 2014. Bilingual in Finnish and Swedish. Large format, fully illustrated, 302 p.

Official introduction: "The first ever solo exhibition on the Symbolist artist Beda Stjernschantz (1867–1910) opens to the public on 14 March 2014 at the Amos Anderson Art Museum."

"The exhibition is part of the museum's series of classics that showcases overlooked artists. Beda Maria Stjernschantz is one of the foremost Symbolist artists in Finland, but poor health and financial hardship had dire consequences for her artistic output, which remained small and fragmented. Through a broad survey of her art and newly discovered letters and notes, we are now able to gain deeper insight into the work of one of the most underrated artists in Finnish art history."

"The exhibition highlights lesser-known aspects of Stjernschantz's work such as her landscape paintings and botanical drawings, not forgetting key pieces such as Glassblowers (1894), Everywhere A Voice Invites Us... (1895), Aphorism (1895), Irma (1895–1896) and Pastorale (Primavera, 1897). Comprising some sixty paintings and twenty or so drawings, the exhibition covers nearly all aspects of Stjernschantz's work: early drawings of torsos and plaster casts from the Art Society's Drawing School, figurative and tonal paintings from when she studied at Gunnar Berndtson's private academy, the Synthetist painting she adopted in France, as well as her lifelong interest in mythological subjects, timelessness and spirituality."

"By the first decade of the 20th century Colourism had become the dominant trend in painting, and it became difficult to reconcile these new artistic concepts with Stjernschantz's Symbolist ideals and ascetic palette. Stjernschantz eventually came to be considered passé as an artist. In 1906, she was admitted to the Nummela sanatorium in Röykkä for a period of three months. Having pulmonary tuberculosis, she isolated herself in order to be able to paint undisturbed. In a last effort, she created the distinctly Symbolist works Autumn (1908) and Winter (1908, later lost) that are part of her suite on the seasons – a synthesis of her entire view on art – that she had begun a decade earlier with Pastorale (Primavera, 1897)."

"The exhibition is accompanied by the publication of the first monograph on Stjernschantz, with art historical essays by Anna-Maria von Bonsdorff PhD, Riikka Stewen PhD, Juha-Heikki Tihinen PhD, Edyta Barucka PhD, Marja Lahelma MA, and Bart Pushaw MA. The bilingual (Finnish, Swedish) catalogue is published by the Finnish Literature Society."
(Official introduction)

AA: It is surprising to learn that this is the first solo exhibition of Beda Stjernschantz /'ʃæ:rnskants/, key works of whom are among the most distinctive in Finnish art.

Stjernschantz developed to mature mastery along with her fellow Symbolists and friends Magnus Enckell and Ellen Thesleff. They all studied in Helsinki and Paris and were deeply influenced by Italy. Enckell and Thesleff won recognition. Stjernschantz was marginalized, fought disease and died by her own hand, but the spiritual force of her art remains undiminished.

Symbolism flourished in Finland at the same time as art nouveau and national romanticism. Like the Swede Hilma af Klint, another contemporary who was not fully understood in her own time, Stjernschantz paid a lot of attention to plants and was inspired by the natural, winding forms of their stalks, leaves and flowers.

Stjernschantz was an excellent realist painter, but in her vision there is always also a sense of another, spiritual reality which is what it is really all about.

We witness the artist's development from early realism and vigorous colour to a stark reduction of the external and a growth of an inner personal vision. We enter a realm of allegory and dream. An emblematic work is The Gate Grid (Ristikkoportti) to which the name of the exhibition catalogue refers.

Certain key works are lost, for instance two of the four seasons, but they, too, are covered via relevant sketches.

The book to the exhibition, the first Beda Stjernschantz monograph, has been edited with love by Itha O'Neill. The reproductions give a good impression of the evolution of Stjernschantz's subtle colour world.
Beda Stjernschantz: Ristikkoportti / Gallergrinden / The Gate Grid (1892). Private collection. Photo: Amos / Kari Siltala. Click to enlarge.

Work? (exhibition at Amos Anderson Art Museum)

Aimo Tukiainen: Hitsaaja / A Welder (1976). Bronze. Height 110 cm. Art Foundation Merita. Click to enlarge.
The Association of Finnish Fine Arts Foundations: Työtäkö? / Arbete? / Work? The changing images of work. From log driving to temping. Amos Andersonin taidemuseo | Amos Andersons konstmuseum | Amos Anderson Art Museum, Yrjönkatu | Georgsgatan 27, Helsinki. 11.4.2014–17.8.2015
    Oil paintings, watercolours, bronzes, screen prints, digital files, large-size cardboard cut-outs, installations, works on gouache, tempera, plaster, charcoal, photographs, magazine collections, clipping archives, and a film excerpt (Risto Jarva: Työmiehen päiväkirja / A Working-Man's Diary, starring the modern artist Paul Osipow).
    Visited on 24 Aug 2014

The official introduction: "Labour of love or forced labour? Hard work is its own reward – or is it? Amos Anderson Art Museum presents Work? an exhibition opening on 10 April that raises questions about the nature of Finnish work and its changing representations. Work as a concept has changed and it is this turning-point that is at the heart of the exhibition. In earlier decades Finnish work was often represented in art through depictions of lumbering, and log driving in particular. A log driver struggling with his load was a romantic and compositionally interesting figure. We have come a long way from driving logs along rivers; work in the 2010s is often independent of time and place. How does one portray the kind of work that cannot be reduced to a single dynamic pose that in most cases mainly involves staring into a computer screen? Visitors are encouraged to ponder their own relationship to work and the meaning/s of work in an age, when new jobs and job descriptions are constantly introduced while "traditional" jobs are becoming extinct."

"The Work? -exhibition at the Amos Anderson Art Museum consists of historically important works from the member collections of the Association of Finnish Fine Arts Foundations that depict labour. Some of the works combine the depiction of physical labour with the study of movement, while the suited members of the disreputable Wednesday Club, a group portrait by Aarne Nopsanen, appear frozen. On display are some 70 works by 31 artists: paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs, video art as well as an installation."

"The change in how work is represented is also evident in the works selected: "Traditional" occupations have be depicted by Alvar Cawén, Pekka Halonen, Lennart Segerstråle, Felix Nylund and Juho Rissanen, while modern work is depicted in works by  Aino-Marjatta Mäki, Jaakko Karhunen, Tuomo Manninen, Meri Peura, Kalle Turakka-Purhonen, and Jussi Valtakari. Documentary photographs from the 1950s from the Finnish Labour Museum Werstas serve to complement the exhibition."

"The exhibition has been produced by the Association of Finnish Fine Arts Foundations (STSY) and curated by Jyrki Siukonen, DFA and post-doc researcher." (the official introduction)

AA: The magnificent exhibitions based on the collections of the Association of Finnish Fine Arts Foundations (STSY) have been among the most exhilarating surveys into the history of Finnish art in recent times. I have been especially fond of the four chronological exhibitions at Amos Anderson Art Museum put on display since 2007 and the accompanying wonderful SKS books. Many essential but hard-to-see works that belong to the art collections of mighty foundations were shown in contexts of inspired curatorial approaches.

Work? belongs to the same series of explorations. Now the approach is thematic, and there is bite in the vision of Jyrki Siukonen the curator. We witness the history of Finnish work starting with traditional hard work, often represented by cinematic lumberjacks captured by many key artists, even including a pop art style interpretation by Unto Pusa as late as 1960 when lumberjacks still existed but were rapidly vanishing.

We proceed to today's precariat - the MacJobs with low pay and no security in our post-industrial societies. Precariousness is hitting more and more severely even such recently lucrative fields as design and advertising. Works relevant to this theme include Jussi Valtakari's Feissari / Face-to-Face Fundraiser (sculpture from linden and watercolour, 2014). There is also an audio montage on today's dreary reality on the labour market.

Among the most startling works exhibited is Aarne Nopsanen's Keskiviikkokerho / The Wednesday Club (oil on canvas, 1959, 210x261 cm, UPM-Kymmene Cultural Foundation) showing the financial and political elite of Finland, including the President of the Republic. One could write a book on the painting. Depicted are some of the most important dramatis personae in the history of the republic, some of their stories reaching back to the period before the independence. It is an essential vision of power in Finnish art. There is a mystery in this painting which represents Capital in this exhibition about Work. How can such a chilling auto-portrait have been commissioned by the powers-that-be themselves?

It is refreshing to see classic works in a context like this. Alwar Caven's Kehtolaulu / Lullaby (1921, oil on canvas) belongs to the works displaying women's work. Juho Rissanen's Seppä / The Blacksmith (1907, oil on canvas) is powerful and elemental. Aimo Tukiainen's Hitsaaja / The Welder (1976, bronze) is an expression of the joy of work.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Celebrating Heidi Krohn

Heidi Krohn as Silja. Click to enlarge.
Anna Möttölä, Riikka Pennanen, and Minna Santakari interviewed Heidi Krohn (born 17 August 1934) before the screening of Silja - nuorena nukkunut at Cinema Orion, Helsinki, 19 August 2014.

Heidi Krohn, the beloved theatre, television, and film actress, reminisced how she was discovered for the cinema by Veikko Itkonen and Sakari Jurkka for the film called Leena (1954), "Now we've found Leena!". She made three light comedies for the Veikko Itkonen company. The roles were tailor-made for her. When the film called Tyttö tuli taloon was made at Veikko Itkonen's villa "it was like summer holiday". The three films were Cinderella or Pygmalion stories.

"Jussi Jurkka was admired by many. I had met him already at my parents' home and thought 'If only I could act with him one day'. I was sixteen or seventeen. I admired him terribly. Jussi never learned about this. He remained in the corner, stood on his head, doing the yoga."

"The studio at Kulosaari was an exciting place. It stood on wooden beams. It was a former tennis hall. I was there always: I was the first to arrive, being made up, and I was the last to leave, making friends with the carpenter unit".

"Silja [based on a novel by Nobel laureate F. E. Sillanpää] was my best film - best photographed - best directed, by Jack Witikka. Even when it was being planned there was a feeling that I should do something more serious now. Even my parents may have helped."

"The previous movies had been light comedies, with contributions from Roy, stuff for the young, and people started to recognize me: 'Gimme an autograph'."

"We never discussed with Jack Witikka the previous film adaptation of Silja made by Tulio. I never saw it."

"Sillanpää portrays Silja as the last offspring of an old family. My external habitus corresponded with the Sillanpää novel. Regina Linnanheimo was the opposite. We made an epoch drama; Tulio's film may have been made more contemporary judging by the stills."

"Witikka as a director created the atmosphere. He picked me up in his car, and we headed towards Vihti. He put on some music, made me relax, gave me notions. When he said something it was [imitates Witikka with a musical sentence with words that make no sense]. There were few lines of dialogue in the role. It was written by Juha Nevalainen. In his script Silja is an outsider, a passer-by."

"In my next film I'm playing in a French short film which is soon forthcoming."

I glanced at the print of Silja which was ok albeit with a sense of a somewhat high contrast.

O něčem jiném / Something Different. Věra Chytilová 1929-2014

Vera Uzelacová  as Vera and Josef Langmiler as the negligent husband Peter. Click to enlarge.
Jostakin muusta / Om något annat / Om någonting annat [title on print] / Another Way of Life. CZ 1963. PC: Filmové Studio Barrandov. P: Jiří Pokorný. D: Věra Chytilová. Ass D: Jirí Menzel. SC: Věra Chytilová. DP: Jan Curík. AD: Vladimír Labský. Cost: Dagmar Cejnková, Jarmila Romanová, Anna Blažková. M: Jiří Šlitr, musicians: Karel Turnovský Karel, Jiří Šlitr, Živný František, Rokl Rudolf. Songs: Eva Olmerová. Themes include "Bony Moronie", "Begin the Beguine". ED: Miroslav Hájek. ED: Eva Bosaková (Eva, the gymnast), Vera Uzelacová (Vera, the housewife), Josef Langmiler (Petek, the husband), Jirí Kodet (Jirka, lover), Milivoj Uzelac (Milda), Miroslava Matlochova, Luboš, Vladimír Bosák, Dagmar Cejnková (Dada), Jiří Cejnek, Oldřich Červinka, Rudolf Kyznar, Věra Čáslavská, František Filipovský, Antonín Bahenský (photographer), Helena Štvánová. Helsinki premiere: 7.2.1964 Astra, distributor: Suomi-Filmi, Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Marjatta Kaija / A. Forsström – VET 67934 – S – 2335 m / 86 min
    The vintage 1964 print imported by Suomi-Filmi viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Věra Chytilová 1929-2014), 19 August 2014

Věra Chytilová was the mother of the Czech New Wave, and Something Different was her debut feature film. In an interesting parallel, Agnès Varda was the mother of the French New Wave with La Pointe-Courte (1954) exactly ten year earlier. Both films were inspired by the structure of William Faulkner's novel The Wild Palms - in all there are two stories which are parallel but disparate. I don't think Chytilová was aware of La Pointe-Courte.

The first story is about the gymnast Eva. We follow the tedium of her exercises. It's hard work, and Chytilová's account is documentary. Eva's male trainers are tough and unrelenting. We see genres such as - vault - uneven bars - balance beam - and floor.

The parallel story is about the housewife Vera. Their little son is quite a rascal, always at pranks. The husband Peter hides behind a newspaper as soon as he comes home and neglects Vera. Vera has a lover called Jirka. Also Peter has a lover, as it turns out before the finale.

The approach is realistic, even a bit naturalistic. This is a film about the everyday.

Eva becomes a multiple winner at the World Championship in gymnastics. After the tedium of the exercises that we have followed during the entire picture we now see the beauty and the brilliance of the performance.

Vera and Peter experience a marital crisis. For Vera, everything is at stake, but after a furious confrontation they go on, and we see the family wandering in a park or wood full of autumn leaves.

Eva, in turn, is in the finale a teacher who is coaching a new female gymnast.

Something Different is known as a feminist film, and it does show the ordeals of Eva with her tough coaches and Vera with her indifferent husband. Chytilová has stated that Eva experiences a crisis because she sacrifices everything, and Vera because she sacrifices nothing. Something Different also shows the beauty of Eva's mastery of sport and Vera's furious, tigress-like passion which keeps her family together after all. They are fighters and winners, too.

Something Different is a film of everyday realism and banality on the one hand, and an experimental film on the other hand. To the experimental side belongs the wayward approach with the four seasons: from a winter scene we jump abruptly to a summer scene and so on. The two stories are each consequent and even close to a traditional narrative structure, but the seasonal jumps bring a surreal dimension to them.

The music is based on jazz idioms: there is a sunny, carefree, sung, happy jazz sound to Vera's world. In Eva's world there is often the piano, playing "Begin the Beguine", and so on, and culminating towards the beautiful floor exercise with dance choreography elements.

The cinematography is based on the cinéma-vérité idiom. The lighting is unflattering, perhaps even based on available light. The faces are not lit to look beautiful.

The vintage print is perfect.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction (exhibition at Kunsthalle Helsinki)

Hilma af Klint: Svanen / The Swan, nr 17, grupp IX/SUW, serie SUW/UW, 1915 © Courtesy Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk. Foto: Albin Dahlström/Moderna Museet. Click to enlarge.
Taidehalli / Konsthallen / Kunsthalle Helsinki, Nervanderinkatu 3, 16 August - 28 September, 2014.
Curator: Iris Müller-Westermann (Moderna Museet).
    Helsinki vernissage 15 August 2014
    Deputy Mayor Ritva Viljanen, Museum Director Jan Förster, Director of Helsinki Festival Erik Söderblom.

Official introduction: "The woman who revolutionised our ideas about the history of art. Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) was painting abstract works in the early 1900s, years before the landmark works by Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich that are today seen as the starting point of non-objective art. In her will, the Swedish af Klint protected her work from publicity, convinced that only future generations would be able to appreciate it."

"This highly successful exhibition produced by Moderna Museet in Stockholm in 2013 made the work of the pioneering artist both world-famous and the talk of the day. The most extensive show ever produced of af Klint’s work, it will be exhibited at Kunsthalle Helsinki as part of the annual Helsinki Festival. Prior to Helsinki, the exhibition was on tour at Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, Museo Picasso in Málaga, and the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark.  The extensive retrospective presents a body of work that was deliberately kept secret."

"When Hilma af Klint sought to render the invisible world visible in her paintings, she was doing so at a time when science and psychoanalysis were also probing things unseeable with the naked eye. Af Klint lived in an age of upheavals and technological leaps, such as the invention of X-rays, while also popular interest in spirituality increased."

"A technically accomplished painter, af Klint belonged to the first generation of women to receive their education at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. Hilma af Klint was a popular portraitist, who in her public works followed the traditional style of creating a faithful likeness of the subject. In parallel, she developed an entirely different and personal style, but kept it secret and never sought acceptance from the male-dominated world of art."

"Hilma af Klint’s work attests to the curiosity and enthusiasm with which she observed the world. The curator of the show, Iris Müller-Westermann from Moderna Museet says: “What fascinates in Hilma is that which is common to all cultures: the attempt to understand the world and one’s place in it.”"

"Kunsthalle in co-operation with Helsinki Festival. The exhibition is produced by Moderna Museet. Curator: Iris Müller-Westermann."

AA: The sensational Hilma af Klint touring exhibition launched last year at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, breaking all records there, is now in Helsinki.

Hilma af Klint is - justifiedly, in my opinion - called the first pioneer of abstract art. Of course there are always predecessors, but Hilma af Klint was a visionary professional who created an enormous body of work. She was not just a pioneer but also already a major and determined explorer in abstract art. Some of her works are small, but there are also huge series and cycles of works.

That her abstract works came into being and a long time remained in secret changes only one thing: she did not have followers. Kandinsky and Malevich were the ones who influenced everybody who came after. Hilma af Klint remained unknown until the 1980s.

For me the fact that this magnificent oeuvre was created in privacy is one of the most fascinating aspects of the Hilma af Klint story. We usually start the history of plastic art from cave paintings and drawings, although they were not meant to be seen, either. They were created with supreme taste and skill only to exist. Perhaps as elements of magic, of expressing the invisible, capturing the essence of vital animals of prey. The images were secret instruments.

Film correspondences come to mind constantly as I wander through the Hilma af Klint exhibition. Three weeks ago I saw the Henri Langlois exhibition at La Cinémathèque française with its rich sections of original art for abstract cinema. The story goes back to before WWI. Ginna & Corra (1911-1912), Léopold Survage* (Rythme coloré, 1913), Richter, Fischinger... Sharits... Jordan Belson's Mandala.

But Hilma af Klint's most obvious spiritual affinity is with Harry Smith, shaman, theosophist, pantheist, anthropologist, deep into American Indian cultures, occultist, Kabbalist... and among other things, an abstract film-maker, often hand-painting frames. Smith titled his films with opus numbers; the best-known include Early Abstractions and Heaven and Earth Magic.

This exhibition is a spiritual journey. It is a thoughtfully curated entity with a visionary scope.

I saw the Suomenlinna exhibition in 1988 (Hilma af Klints hemliga bilder, Nordiskt Konstcentrum, Helsinki) which already made a deep impression in Finland. It may have been the first Hilma af Klint solo exhibition of her abstract art anywhere. Even previously, the Swedish art historian Åke Fant had highlighted Hilma af Klint in a Nordic conference in Helsinki in 1984.

In terms of exhibition there is no problem with the oil paintings. But the most sizable works have been created on tempera on paper. As a film archivist I can symphathize with the daunting challenges of preservation and exhibition here. The challenges are similar to those with moving panoramas, also created with tempera, as explained by Erkki Huhtamo in his recent magnum opus Illusions in Motion. Hilma af Klint's giant cycles can also be imagined as moving panoramas - not about the visible world but about the invisible one.

I have been fascinated for a long time by the prohibition of the (figurative) image. Abstract art such as Hilma af Klint's does not break that ban.

* Survage was born in Lappeenranta and spent his childhood and youth in Finland but created his art in Moscow, Paris, and Nice.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Tommi Toija: Mutatis mutandis (exhibition, Amos Anderson Art Museum)

Tommi Toija, March 2014. Photo: Stella Ojala / Amos. Click to enlarge.
Tommi Toija: Mutatis mutandis. Amos Andersonin taidemuseo | Amos Andersons konstmuseum | Amos Anderson Art Museum, Yrjönkatu | Georgsgatan 27, Helsinki. 15 August - 27 October, 2014.
    Painted ceramics, brass, fibreglass, glass balls, type metal, mixed media on plywood, plastic, steel, wood, lead, bronze, aluminium, pillow.
    Vernissage, 14 August 2014.
    Words of welcome: Kai Kartio (Director, Amos Anderson Art Museum). - A word by Tommi Toija. - Opening of the exhibition: Erik Söderblom (Director, Helsinki Festival).

Book: Tommi Toija: Minä - me [Me - Us]. Essays by Susanna Luojus, Otso Kantokorpi. Edited by Tanja Saarto, Jaakko Pesonen. Helsinki: Parvis Publishing, 2011.

Official introduction: "As part of the Helsinki Festival, Amos Anderson Art Museum presents sculptor Tommi Toija's strange figures, delicately dark ceramic sculptures, whose stories are captured in free-standing sculptures and mask-like reliefs as well as a gigantic baroque fountain."
 

"Tommi Toija (b. 1974) is known for depicting the ordinary using commonplace materials such as clay, leftover plywood, found objects and hardware store paint. The public has encountered these charmingly subtle little clay people in numerous exhibitions, and now Toija had added baroque exuberance, even pomposity to his visual world. Thus the little man takes on gigantic proportions when the 8.5-metre-tall Bad Bad Boy is installed next to the Linnanallas basin by the Market Square in Helsinki. The giant boy peeing into the water was originally made for the summer 2013 outdoor exhibition Open Art in Örebro, Sweden."

"Toija's ceramic sculptures are partly defined by their manufacturing process: the fired clay figures either break or are broken and the parts are then reassembled, with plaster, paint or found objects added – anything goes. In his most recent sculptures, the glazing is allowed to develop freely in the kiln any way it likes, and the end result is always a surprise even to the artist himself. The unorthodox process of constructing, breaking and reconstructing allows the subject to be refined and altered indefinitely, which the title of the exhibition refers to: Mutatis Mutandis, changing the changeable. The mutations result in exciting tableaux and snippets of stories that are easy to empathise with. In Toija's earlier work, the little people were innocent with large eyes and heads, features characteristic of children, and their emotions were easily identifiable. Now the metamorphosis of the figures reveals darker aspects of life. Their twisted, even malformed features as well as the apparent deformities with flaws or outgrowths conjure up images strangers from another dimension. Together they radiate something slightly menacing and scary, yet as individuals their endearing features remain discernable."

"In addition to the Amos Anderson Art Museum and the Market Square, Tommi Toija's work can also be seen in the Forum shopping centre. The sculpture Gone with the Wind will be on show in the Forum Platform exhibition space on the 3rd floor of the shopping centre from 15 August 2014 to 12 January 2015."

"The documentary film Mutatis Mutandis (2013–2014) presenting Tommi Toija and his art has been directed by Topi Heimonen."
(The official introduction).

AA: In the morning I had already detected Tommi Toija's giant Bad Bad Boy sculpture newly installed on the Helsinki Market Square. And now Amos Anderson opens a Tommi Toija exhibition with hundreds of artworks. Single illustrations of them do not convey the impact of experiencing them as an ensemble live in a space. Some works are huge, like the macabre fountain. Others are tiny.

Associations run wild in a show like this. I was thinking about Tove Jansson's Hattifatteners, the gargoyles of Notre Dame, Hiroshima survivors and remains of its victims, Auschwitz, Gulag, and Red Khmer. Of course "Mutatis mutandis", the title of the exhibition, "changing the changeable", includes a wordplay to mutants, perhaps of biological experiments or victims of pollution.

I was also thinking about Island of Lost Souls, Erle C. Kenton's 1932 adaptation of a novel by H. G. Wells. Charles Laughton plays Dr. Moreau who creates grotesque mutants by cross-breeding men and animals. ("Are we not men?" the question uttered by the Sayer of the Law / Bela Lugosi, became a motto for Devo in their agenda of "devolution", and for numerous other new wave bands.) (Which reminds me that in Finland the most popular new wave band Eppu Normaali ripped its name from Young Frankenstein's Finnish translation for "Abby Normal" in the "Do Not Use This Brain! Abnormal" scene).

I was also thinking about Freaks, Tod Browning's tender account, also from 1932, about those who have become carnival sideshow exhibits because of their physical deformations, even though you shouldn't judge a book by the cover.

Further I was reminded of The Elephant Man and Peter Jackson's mutant creatures.

There are expressions of astonishment, disappointment, shame and horror on Tommi Toija's Thickhead Men. They are often caught in the act of wetting themselves in whichever inappropriate space where may they find themselves. They are also often bloody. They are like fetuses from a miscarriage. Or victims of malpractice or malnutrition.

Aliens, strangers, lilliputians, giants, freaks, mutants, deviants, devolutionaries... the reflections are manifold. Perhaps the reflection is on our civilization seen as a failed biological experiment.

The contrast of this large-scale memento mori was perfect to the opening gala audience in our smart casual dresses. And at sunny Market Square - the idyllic tourist spot number one of Finland - the giant pissing mutant is a reminder that we have turned the Baltic Sea to the most polluted sea in the world.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

La Chinoise

Anne Wiazemsky, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Juliet Berto
La Chinoise, ou plutôt à la Chinoise: Un film en train de se faire / Kiinatar / Kinesiskan. FR 1967. PC: Anouchka Films, Les Productions de la Guéville, Athos Films, Parc Films, Simar Films. D+SC: Jean-Luc Godard. DP: Raoul Coutard – Eastmancolor – 1,66. M: Karlheinz Stockhausen; Schubert: Sonate in A für Klavier op. post 120; Vivaldi [the main music, a short clip repeated many times]. Theme song: "Mao-Mao" (Gérard Hugé - Gérard Guégan) sung by Claude Channes. "L'Internationale" (Eugène Pottier, Pierre Degeyter, 1871). ED: Agnès Guillemot. S: René Levert. Régie: Claude Miller. C: Anne Wiazemsky (Véronique), Jean-Pierre Léaud (Guillaume Meister), Michel Semeniako (Henri), Juliet Berto (Yvonne), Lex de Bruijn (Kirilov), Omar Blondin Diop (as himself), Francis Jeanson (as himself), Blandine Jeanson (Blandine), Elaine Giovagnoli. Tournage: March-April 1967, Nanterre. Helsinki premiere: 5.4.1968 Sininen Kuu, distributor: Suomi-Filmi – VET 76172 – S – 90 min, 2460 m / 96 min
    Vintage KAVI print (deposited by Suomi-Filmi) with Finnish / Swedish subtitles viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Jean-Luc Godard), 12 Aug 2014

Of Jean-Luc Godard's first 15 feature films - the ones he made before he withdrew from commercial film distribution - I used to love all at the time except La Chinoise and Made in U.S.A. Those two did not seem to deserve as much intensive attention. The farcical approach of La Chinoise seemed callous as this is a story of a terrorist cell. The more we learned about the terrors of the "great leap forward" (causing perhaps the biggest famine in history) and the "cultural revolution" (a wholesale vandalization of cultural heritage) the more disgusting this approach seemed.

Now I watched La Chinoise as a film of unease. A film about extreme left-wing dogmatism of the worst kind, a parodical Bildungsroman (Jean-Pierre Léaud's character is called Guillaume Meister), and a pop satire where Tashlin meets Mao. It has been said that La Chinoise has been inspired by Dostoevsky's The Possessed (Godard's suicidal Kirilov is the counterpart of Dostoevsky's suicidal Kirill); it is a psychopathological study of a social radical movement turning destructive and self-destructive. In another terrible turn Véronique, on her mission to assassinate the Soviet Minister of Culture, mixes up the hotel room numbers and assassinates the wrong man.

After Le petit soldat, La Chinoise is Godard's second film about terrorism. In both he shows how violence destroys both the victim and the perpetrator.

As a political film, La Chinoise remains on the surface. Yet it belongs to the prophetic works of film history, having been made a year before the events of 1968.

La Chinoise is a talking film with non-stop recitals, lectures and dialogues. There is little action and a lot of talk.

La Chinoise is a meditation on theatre and performance art, also on the political theatre. Many classic names from Shakespeare to Goethe and Brecht are evoked. "The Theatrical Mission of Wilhelm Meister" becomes a mission of socialist theatre. After 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle La Chinoise is another study in Brechtian cinema, a new approach into the V-effect.

As a visual work of art La Chinoise is rich in parody, satire, gags, bright colour resembling Tashlin, funny blocking, long takes, and a parodical agitprop approach titles, intertitles, and captions which sometimes flash by too fast. The Vertovian inspiration is growing, but at the same time there is a dimension of parody.

The last title: FIN D'UN DEBUT.

The vintage print has rain in the heads and the tails, and the colour is slightly faded but not distorted. One can still appreciate Raoul Coutard's stunning colour cinematography in this print which we screened in Academy although the official ratio is 1,66:1. It looked better at Orion this way.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Teollista muotoilua / Industrial Design

Teollista muotoilua. The Structure of the Matter. An illustration model for the Industrial Design exhibition (1957). Designmuseo.
Teollinen muotoilu / Industriell formgivning. FI 1958. PC: Allotria Filmi Oy. D+SC+DP+ED: Wallu Virtanen (Jukka Virtanen), Jukka-Pekka Kinnunen. Advisor: Ilmari Tapiovaara. 35 mm, black and white, 1,33:1, optical sound. VET A-8084 - 205 m / 8 min
    Three ballerinas, students of the Taideteollisuuskeskuskoulu / Finnish School of Art and Design participated, Kirsi Koskelo, Orvokki Niiniranta, Kielo Louhivaara.
    Producer: Erik Blomberg [CEO of Allotria Filmi].
    Ilmari Tapiovaara contributed a general vision and a lot of detail attention to the set-ups.
    The music: a vibraphone and percussions by Rainer Kuisma [percussion virtuoso at Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra].
    [Jukka-Pekka Kinnunen was the cinematographer at Allotria Filmi. He then moved to Gothenburg where he became a television manager].
    [Sound: at Filmiääni / Evan Englund. Sound mixer: Aarre Elo. tbc]
    [Jukka Virtanen: "I edited the film with an experienced editor from Yle".]
    [Yrjö Kukkapuro participated in the mounting of the exhibition, including the giant egg and the cell structure. Also Liisi Tandefelt participated.]
    A KAVI reference vhs videotape viewed at home, 11 August 2014.
    This film is also on display at the Ilmari Tapiovaara Centenary exhibition at the Design Museum (Helsinki). 

An experimental film, a promotion film, an exhibition film, an Ilmari Tapiovaara commercial, an animation.

Ilmari Tapiovaara had a strong background in the experimental cinema of the 1920s and the 1930s, conveyed via Alvar Aalto, his brother Nyrki Tapiovaara, and the Projektio Film Society, reflecting the Bauhaus inspiration.

Ilmari Tapiovaara always emphasized the significance of good photography in the presentation of his designs. The same care is evident in this short film.

The Bauhaus inspiration is still in evidence in the typography: no capital letters.
    Visually this is witty, stark, and uncluttered. Objects often appear on black background.

A playful study in form and design.
    The film starts with natural forms and organic structures - such as cells and honeycombs.
    We see little eggs, big eggs, eyes, abstract curves.
    "The structure of the matter" was a central concept and exhibit in the Teollinen muoto / Industrial Form exhibition (1957) on which this film is based.
    How a bookshelf emerges from components.
    The Domus chair.
    "The stackability" of chairs piled on top of each other ad infinitum.
    Spinning tops, lamps.
    Three good fairies, beautiful ballerinas, lead us on our journey through natural forms and designed forms inspired by them. They also evoke legendary cat ladies of the cinema: Protéa (Josette Andriot), Irma Vep (Musidora), and Catwoman.
    This film documents the Annikki and Ilmari Tapiovaara design of the 1950s, before their turn to High Modernism in the 1960s.

P.S. 21 Aug 2014 Design Museum, Night of the Arts (the Ilmari Tapiovaara exhibition), at 19-20, a special event about "Teollista muotoilua / Industrial Design". Jukka Virtanen had been invited, but he did not arrive. Instead, his greeting was delivered by Hanna Seppänen. - The moderator was Leena Svinhufvud. - Yrjö Kukkapuro reminisced how the exhibition was mounted, and the production of the giant egg at the art school. Ilmari Tapiovaara was a teacher who radiated great enthusiasm to everybody. Kukkapuro learned a lot from him, and this exhibition was an inspiration for many exhibitions of his own. - Kirsi Koskelo became an interior architect. She remembered that "the three graces" received tailor-made tights for their participation. It was a fun experience which she had entirely forgotten, and she had not even known whether the film was ever finished until this Ilmari Tapiovaara exhibition. She had been Ilmari Tapiovaara's student and having finished her studies she worked at Ilmari Tapiovaara's office for a while. - I talked about Allotria Filmi, Erik Blomberg, Mirjami Kuosmanen, Jukka Virtanen, Nyrki Tapiovaara, Projektio, Alvar Aalto, and the Bauhaus background of inspiration for the interplay of cinema and architecture.
Teollista muotoilua. Jukka Virtanen, Ilmari Tapiovaara. Designmuseo.
Teollista muotoilua. Kirsi Koskelo. Designmuseo.
Teollista muotoilua. Ilmari Tapiovaara doing Kirsi Koskelo's makeup. Designmuseo.

Ilmari Tapiovaara Centenary (exhibition at Design Museum, Helsinki)

Annikki and Ilmari Tapiovaara at their studio in 1954. Photo: Jussi Pohjakallio. Click to enlarge.
Ilmari Tapiovaara 100 years // 6 June - 21 September 2014 @ Design Museum
    Visited on 10 August, 2014.

A new book:
Aila Svenskberg (ed.): Ilmari Tapiovaara. Muotoilu ja elämä. Helsinki: Designmuseo, 2014. - 175 pages. - Written by Jukka Savolainen, Pekka Korvenmaa, Susanna Aaltonen, Suvi Saloniemi, Aila Svenskberg, Jonathan M. Woodham, and Ilmari Tapiovaara. - Richly illustrated.

Official introduction: "The year 2014 marks the centenary of the birth of designer Ilmari Tapiovaara (1914 – 1999). In honour of this event, Design Museum is staging a major exhibition of his work featuring both furniture and sketches from archive collections that have not been displayed previously. The book Ilmari Tapiovaara – Life and Design will be published in connection with the exhibition."

"Originally trained as an interior architect, Ilmari Tapiovaara followed an extensive career in design. He was the artistic director of a furniture factory, a teacher, an expert serving in development cooperation and the head of his own design office, among other work. Tapiovaara was a charismatic speaker and skilled writer with a public presence as a spokesman for modern professional design."

"The Ilmari Tapiovaara centenary exhibition presents one of Finland’s most significant designers in broad perspective. The numerous sketches, items of furniture, interior designs and personal items on show lead the viewer through Ilmari Tapiovaara’s life, presenting his development from an internationally oriented student to a prolific and responsible designer of the post-war years of reconstruction. His work is considered in particular from the perspective of the social responsibility of the designer. The exhibition also notes the significance of his wife and colleague, interior architect Annikki Tapiovaara as an important background figure."
 

"The exhibition is produced by Design Museum. The curatorial working group consists of curators Suvi Saloniemi, Salla Heino and Harri Kivilinna. The exhibition design is by Henri Halla-aho.  The book Ilmari Tapiovaara – Life and Design appearing in connection with the exhibition is edited by Aila Svenskberg with articles by Professor Pekka Korvenmaa of Aalto University, researcher Susanna Aaltonen PhD of the University of Helsinki, curator Suvi Saloniemi, editor Aila Svenskberg and Professor Jonathan Woodham of the University of Brighton."

The atmosphere is fresh and spacious in this Ilmari Tapiovaara exhibition which is structured both chronologically and thematically.
    The background in the large Tapiovaara cultural family passionately inspired by Finnish National Romanticism - even the names of the 11 children were taken from Kalevala mythology. Ilmari was the blacksmith sorcerer who forged the Sampo, the source of welfare.
    Early days in the 1930s, inspired by Alvar Aalto, Artek, the Projektio film society, the cinema, and work and studies in London, including film studies. Ilmari was studying to become the art designer for the films of his brother Nyrki Tapiovaara, who died in the Winter War.
    Wartime responsibility during three years as a frontline architect-designer of korsu dugouts. Necessity and hardship were mothers of invention. If I would make a biopic of Ilmari Tapiovaara I would focus on this angle. Ilmari always considered the war service his true university.
    The collaboration with Annikki Tapiovaara: they co-signed their designs. Like the Aalto couple and the Eames couple they worked together, and their home was their calling card.
    Postwar reconstruction: great designs for a battered and impoverished country.
    An international approach: participating in MoMA competitions and Milan Triennales, teaching at the Illinois Institute of Technology with Mies van der Rohe, being created Honorary Royal Designer for Industry in Britain, working for development aid in Paraguay, Mauritius, Egypt, and Yugoslavia.
    Venturing to high modernism in the 1960s.
    Being inspired by psychedelia.
    Always with a respect to the skills of the handicraft of the carpenter.
Mademoiselle chair designed by Ilmari Tapiovaara (1957).

Friday, August 08, 2014

The Greatest Documentaries of All Times (Sight & Sound, September 2014)

Man with a Movie Camera. Poster design: Vladimir Stenberg, Georgi Stenberg (1929)



Engrossing: the Sight & Sound special documentary issue (September 2014) with a poll of the best documentaries of all time. The top ten, as usually, is predictable. The most frequently quoted films are:
    Man with a Movie Camera, Shoah, Sans soleil, Night and Fog, The Thin Blue Line, Chronicle of a Summer, Nanook of the North, The Gleaners and I, Dont Look Back, and Grey Gardens (Critics' Top).
    The Filmmakers' Top: Man with a Movie Camera, Sans soleil, The Thin Blue Line, Night and Fog, Shoah, Salesman, Titicut Follies, Dont Look Back, Man of Aran, and Nanook of the North.

The engrossing part, as always, is in the individual lists. The lists of 50 critics and 50 filmmakers are included in the printed magazine. The rest (totalling 237 critics and 103 filmmakers) will be published online later. There are true discoveries and interesting arguments in the individual lists.

My own top ten:
1. The Song of Ceylon (Basil Wright, GB 1934)
2. L'Inde fantôme / Phantom India 1-7 (Louis Malle, FR 1969)
3. S-21, la machine de mort Khmère rouge / S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (Rithy Panh, KH/FR 2004)
4. Vlast Solovetskaya / Solovki Power (Marina Goldovskaya, SU 1988)
5. Elegiya (Aleksandr Sokurov, SU 1986)
6. Vauhtia - Tempo (Heikki Aho & Björn Soldan, FI 1934)
7. Les Statues meurent aussi / Statues Also Die (Alain Resnais & Chris Marker, FR 1953)
8. Hearts and Minds (Peter Davis, US 1974)
9. Woodstock (Michael Wadleigh, US 1970)
10. Hollywood 1-13 (Kevin Brownlow & David Gill, GB 1980)

I agree with the Sight & Sound top ten films, but there are others equally great. Cinema started as non-fiction. The Lumière brothers were the first film artists; films produced by Thomas A. Edison started as straight records. Everybody should see every now and then a programme of a hundred Lumière films (total duration 90 minutes); it is always a revelation and an education in ways of seeing.

Some masters of the non-fiction made but a few films, like Robert Flaherty. Others have made dozens or hundreds. There is a renaissance of non-fiction cinema today, not least in Finland, where there are many interesting and talented documentary film-makers. The most famous is Pirjo Honkasalo who gets mentioned in the S&S lists, and another great veteran is Markku Lehmuskallio, but there are at least 20 others working today that are very good. There is a great Finnish documentary tradition since the very start because the first pioneers, the Atelier Apollo team, had a background of photographic art in a way comparable to the Lumière brothers. In 1924 the Aho & Soldan company was founded, inspired by Bauhaus, László Moholy-Nagy, and soon also by Soviet montage (especially Turksib), in a way comparable to John Grierson's British school of documentary. Both the Flahertyan tradition and the montage tradition flourished in Finland in the 1930s. The last decades have been a golden age of personal expression in Finnish documentary film.

A top ten list could be made just of great documentary essay films by - Chris Marker - Jean-Luc Godard - Marcel Ophuls - Edgardo Cozarinsky - Thom Andersen - Martin Scorsese - Wim Wenders - Peter von Bagh...

Random examples of unforgettable non-fiction films that are unlikely to be mentioned often enough on lists like these: - early cinema could be mined endlessly - early medical films such as Edison's records of epilepsy - and brain surgery documents by Dr. E.-L. Doyen - early scientific films such as La Torpille produced by Éclair (an electric ray lighting a light bulb) - Jean Painlevé - Richard Massingham - The T.A.M.I. Show - Breakaway - Zaproszenie do wnetrza / [Welcome Inside] (Andrzej Wajda, PL 1978) - Arne Sucksdorff, of course - but also Eric M. Nilsson - the Kulturfilm genre (films such as Wunder der Schöpfung) - Tercer mundo, tercer guerra mundial / Third World, Third World War (Julio García Espinosa, CU 1970) - Cien años de lucha: 1868-1968 (Bernabé Hernández, CU 1969) - Painters Painting - Luciano Emmer's art documentaries - Jean Epstein's films on Bretagne - Michelangelo Antonioni - Vittorio De Seta - Mario Ruspoli - Why We Fight 1-7 - Folco Quilici (L'ultimo paradiso) - Franco Piavoli - the paradise on earth genre - the films of Charles Eames and Ray Eames - Eugene Jarecki's devastating The House I Live In (2012): how the war on drugs turned into a war on non-whites, with the result that 25% of the prisoners of the world are in the U.S.

Documentary / non-fiction film is having a very fertile phase in its evolution right now. Especially sport films and nature films have been having their golden age in the last decades on television, and there are now too many of those to be listed. Partly because of music television good non-fiction films on popular music have exploded.