Sunday, 18 January 2015

Symbols of life

I am pretty sure this season’s crowd favourite at the Lux Helsinki 2015 event was the wooden egg-shaped OVO by ACT Lighting Design and Odeaubois, both from Belgium. This piece of art was seen glowing in changing colours in the backyard of the Hakasalmi villa.

Viewers could walk through the LED-illuminated sculpture to enjoy its light and sound installation at close range. Koert Vermeulen has designed the lights and Marcos Viñals Bassols the staging, while Pol Marchandise and Mostafa Hadi of Odeaubois have created the lattice structure out of poplar lamellae.

Naturally, OVO was also my favourite, most wonderful to look at and soothing to listen to. I stood nailed by it for quite a while. I never entered the sculpture as there was a constant queue in front of it. This is the piece I should have shot on video but couldn’t as my camera didn’t stand the cold. It had already started showing signs of dying out by that time I was on this spot.

OVO has been on show before on several locations around the world including Beijing, Jerusalem and the Fête des Lumières in Lyon, France. Now the conditions were somewhat harsher than in the other places it has visited. I do hope the structure survived the light snowfall and the few icicles it had to take in Helsinki and will continue its journey unharmed.

Hakasalmi villa.
If you missed my favourite from last season, my post (including a video) on the spectacular light installation projected onto the facade of the Hakasalmi villa can be found here.

The oval symbol of life and unity was also featured in another piece entitled simply Egg by Kustaa Saksi. He is a Finnish illustrator and artist whose rich nature-inspired designs are also internationally widely known. Regular readers might remember my post on the exhibition of his striking jacquard tapestries from some 18 months ago (here).

Now Saksi brought us a huge inflatable illuminated egg with decorations resembling a Fabergé egg. This piece was placed inside the glassed-in stage or band stand in the Esplanadi Park opposite the Kappeli restaurant. Egg was first seen in the Finnish pavilion at the Frankfurt Book Fair last October and was now part of the side programme of the light festival.

This is all on Lux Helsinki 2015. I am planning to attend the event also next January. Then I will most likely arrive by train from another town but let’s see.

Restaurant Kappeli.

Side entrance to the Helsinki Central Railway Station.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Mandalas and more

Further to the Lux Helsinki 2015 event of last week, a series of LED-illuminated Mandalas made out of medical material for diabetes were hanging in one of the inner courtyards of the National Museum. Syringes, needles, insulin pens, lancets and blood glucose test strips were arranged in symmetrical shapes between two transparent sheets making the viewer realize that something generally considered terrible or frightening can also be seen as beautiful.

This series was attributed to Ishmail Sandstroem, a supposedly New York based “outsider artist with an Algerian-Swedish background”. In fact, according to the pseudonym’s creator Sandstroem is an artist collective but more precisely it is the alter ego of the Finnish artist, theatre director, and diabetic Petri Lehtinen who lived in New York for years.

The 375th anniversary of the University of Helsinki was celebrated with a video installation by the German Mader Wiermann duo – that is media artist Holger Mader and architect Heike Wiermann – projected onto the first-floor windows of the University’s Porthania building. Thomas A. Troge had designed the sound installation for this piece. Below is my short video on it.

I do not know the idea behind this work entitled Shift but the balls and cards being moved around or dropped out seemingly at random reminded me of cue balls in billiards and playing cards. They made me think about how much of everything in our lives actually derives from chance and coincidences. Even in matters such as choosing a profession and finding a job.

I was thinking Shift could also be interpreted to describe how children or students enter the system pure and flexible and to warn how they might be hammered rigid and square only capable of filling the spot given for them in the machinery. Even if this interpretation were increasingly invalid, almost unthinkable in our country, there still are societies where such criticism would be completely relevant.

The Helsinki Cathedral was illuminated by a rare “anti-spectacle” created by Miika Riikonen. He is a local light designer who has been involved in the creation of several spectacular light installation on this location, such as the ones I posted on in connection with the 2014  and 2013 events.

However, in his own work he wanted to highlight those architectural details of the Cathedral that were not part of architect Engel’s original design. This is a great idea to honour the Cathedral and the 80th anniversary of the Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen whose piece Metamorfosa Op. 34 accompanied the installation. Still, an anti-spectacle is not what you have the patience for on a freezing January evening, I’m afraid. We are all in need of Spain this time of the year. Fire Circus Walkea might have provided some warmth but as they were performing just twice each night at the Senate Square in front of the Cathedral we didn’t see their show.

Anniina Veijalainen’s sculpture Camouflage, a figure wrapped in silver foil, was sitting on a bench in one of the courtyards of the Tori quarters. Despite the title, the artist doesn’t only refer to disappearing but also to reflections and eternal glow.

It was such a cold evening we didn’t even consider checking all the artworks but there was one we missed even if we made an effort to find it. It was Ville Mäkelä’s piece Vladimir, a rainbow flag projection with the face of our eastern neighbour’s head of state sketched onto it. The expression on his face is formed by shadows and changes as the wind ripples. This was one of the works that were already seen last season at the Cable Factory and it is even more topical now because of the 2014 happenings. I do hope it will be included also next January. Here is a link to a photo I found on Flickr.

One more post on Lux Helsinki 2015 to follow so stay tuned.

Entrance to the great courtyard of the National Museum.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Light for the little ones

It’s been again one of those winters when snow keeps coming and going, giving – at least until a few days ago – only temporary relief to the grim period of darkness we are facing. For five nights in early January, the Lux Helsinki 2015 event provided some comfort to the melancholy always hovering around us this time of the year.

Mostly a Good Visibility by Immanuel Pax. Hand-painted slides by Anniina Veijalainen are being projected onto the viewers who can enjoy them through opal glasses.

This season, the theme for the annual downtown Helsinki event was audience participation and interactivity, which the youngest generations seemed to embrace. The piece installed inside the Central Railway Station, for example, was very popular among the curious little ones. It is Antonin Fourneau’s work Water Light Graffiti containing thousands of LEDs that illuminate when the participant brings them into contact with water. Anyone could pick a brush and a cup of water and create a graffiti of their own as well as dry the surface and remove their work if they felt like it. The more professional artists were working on the other side of the wall.

Another fascinating work especially for the kiddies was the Time Lapse Plant by the Japanese artist and light designer Kinsei (aka Takayuki Fujimoto) and the Finnish composer and sound designer Aake Otsala. It consisted of three platforms with a circle of lights at the top making the viewers’ shadows move around them in multiple colours. This was enabled by the latest LED lighting technology. Otsala’s sound effects further enhanced the feeling of a time lapse. I had to try that one. I even shot a short video on it.

A third installation attracting children was the white cube in front of the Finlandia Hall congress venue. There was a microphone inside the illuminated box and anyone could have performed whatever they fancied in there. As we are not exactly a nation known for its faculties in public speaking or the like the participants were mainly kids moving around or dancing. The installation then kind of repeated the movements on the exterior of the congress venue illuminated in red.

This piece entitled Anonymous by the Helsinki Lighting Design Collective (Tapio Rosenius, Jari Vuorinen and programmer Gorga Cortazar) was a statement to the world of the Internet: there is no privacy there. I believe the message was that every action in there leaves a mark and can be traced however safe we believe to be. That someone may be watching you, interpreting you, even analysing you at all times.

'Anonymous' at baseline.

As for us older and less ‘participation-prone’ members of the audience, this year’s event felt a bit flat lacking those kinds of spectacular light installations I posted about in connection with the 2014 and 2013 events. Nevertheless, I’m planning to show some more works we saw last week in Helsinki as soon as I can.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Happy days

We have spent a great fortnight – at home – enjoying the company of family and friends with hardly any days or nights on our own. It certainly has been a happy season to cherish, especially as we only have a faint idea how everything might be a year from now.

Epiphany, the feast that is believed to be even older than Christmas, is here marking the end of Yuletide. Depending on the area, Epiphany is being celebrated to commemorate the arrival of the three wise men or the baptism of Jesus but also the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana. To the man in the street it probably only indicates the absolute deadline when he must stop holidaying.

Tomorrow will be business as usual for everyone from offices to schools but I’m not stripping the decorations yet. Now that we have a full-sized Christmas tree we’ve skipped for years using my daughter’s Maine Coon cats as an excuse (they didn’t mess with it at all!) I will take the most of it. I’m planning to follow the old tradition to close the festive season one week later on the 13th. That used to be the feast of Saint Canute or King Knud, the patron saint of Denmark.

All photos from Rome.