Monday, 4 September 2017

Gothic Art in Spotlight: mythological creature of Finnish folklore

After this post I shall be taking a one month pause from blogging. It's because of two reasons; Firstly, I already know that September will be very busy for me. Secondly, I need to rethink the concept of my art posts. Evidently the pieces I've lately introduced are not really goth-y.
A photo of a town, seen through a window
So, for the next month, I'm not writing myself, but I will still read other people's blogs, though!

The piece I shall now introduce is a sculpture. The subject is Ilmatar, which is a mythological creature (often like a sort of minor deity) of the old Finnish folklore. Ilmatar means a female spirit of the air. As you can see, the figure is very slender and she has feathers instead of arms.
Statue of a mythical creature called Ilmatar, close-up
Sculptor Kaj Lindgård made the figure and artist & novelist Katariina Souri made the mosaics.
Statue of a mythical creature called Ilmatar, front view
What appeals to me is how this statue balances between being human and being alien. It is like a very cute version of some of HR Giger's alien female characters.

I also think that the position of this work in the gallery was well thought. It would not look the same if it was against a white gallery wall, right?

Cultural background of Ilmatar

Now, prehistoric Finnish folklore did not have a strict dogma; the geographical are which is now called Finland was populated sparsely and different villages had slightly different beliefs. Some villages had certain stories and the other villages some other stories. It's a bit like Ancient Greece where there was no 'one collection' of the mythical stories and beliefs before Homer and his Iliad and Odyssey.
In Finland, the majority of the old folktales were not in the written form but they were always sang and learned by the ear. In the 19th century, when European culture came more popular in the north, old Finnish folk poems started to disappear.
Statue of a mythical creature called Ilmatar, close-up
This worried some people and so people started to record (in written form) these folk songs. The most famous of these is Kalevala by Elias Lönnrot (1835). Kalevala inspired J.R.R. Tolkien when he was creating the folktales of the Middle Earth, by the way. The language of the elves even resembles Finnish.

Now, Kalevala, like Iliad and Odyssey, is a one man's edition of all those stories from all those areas. Lönnrot chose certain versions and put them into a time order. And: he used mainly the stories of one or two singers. This means that we have a very narrow scope to the old tales.

In Kalevala, the spirits of the air are not heroic adventures but they are mostly beautiful creatures that are sometimes associated with the maidens of the North (who are mostly prizes for heroes). Which actually is an interesting parallel for this sculpture by Lindgård and Souri; it is a beautiful object we ogle. 

Monday, 21 August 2017

Gothic Art in Spotlight: Uncanny insect statues

I haven't seen goth-y art lately, and that is the main reason why I haven't posted for a while. These sculptures I am now introducing are not that goth either, but they did appeal to my taste.

I saw these works in an exhibition at Gallery Gumbostrand Konst & Form. They are made by Kristian Venäläinen. His works are often sculptures, but his technique varies a lot.

These statues resemble a dragonfly, who for some reason is digging itself into the groud. They are odd, and most people do not like insects that much. Insects are thought to look a bit too alien, I guess.
A statue that looks a bit like a dragonfly
Resembling an insect is not the most off-putting quality of these sculptures. The unnerving part is that if they are insects, there is something wrong with their structure. The wings seem to be pointing the wrong way.

Especially in this large sculpture the form is uncanny. The wooden wings are huge and spiky. And to me it looks like they are pointing to the wrong direction. But maybe it's just me?
A photo of a sculpture with wooden wings.
What do you think? I think the way the wooden part is attached is very intriguing. It looks a bit like a helmet, doesn't it?
A statue with wooden wings, photographed from another direction.
Venäläinen says he is inspired by the randomness of nature and that is very visible in these works. Their names are Evo as in the word evolution,  Otus and Olio (both can be translated as 'a creature') or Elo which means 'to live' or 'living'.  There were several statues, so their full names were Evo IV, and so on.
Three sculputers and a man standing close to them.
In this photo I used a random person as a measuring stick for the statues.
The smaller sculptures are constructed of metal and black clay. The big ones are made of some other clay for which I do not know the translation. But its consistancy is suitable for making huge objects.

The next post will be out in two weeks and it will feature another statue I saw on my vacation. It's not necessarily goth but it certainly is a bit odd.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Goth tourist in Switzerland: HR Giger and Mary Shelley

In Switzerland, there are two main attractions for goths: the HR Giger Museum in Gruyères and all things related to Mary Shelley, the author of The Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.

For those who are sporty, hiking and walking around is a way to get to admire the sublime and a bit scary scenery of this country. When we were there, temperatures were really high (34 degrees of Celsius / 92 Fahrenheit) so we did not take too long walks.

This statue of the Creature of Frankenstein is very near the center of Geneva. As you can see, we had an amiable stroll. Compared to the Creature I saw in Edinburgh, this fellow was more into holding hands.
Photo taken by my lovely travel companion.

Villa Diodati

Villa Diodati was the place where Lord Byron, John Polidori, Percy Shelley, Mary Godwin (future Mrs. Shelley) and Mary's half sister Jane Clairmont spent the summer of 1816. Well, Percy, Mary and Jane did have another residence rented, but they spent a lot of time in villa Diodati and that is the place where this small company had their little contest of writing a ghastly ghost story.

Mary Godwin wrote the first version of Frankenstein and John Polidori made his first version of his short novel Vampyre, the first modern vampire story. Mary Godwin was only 18 when she wrote one of the most famous Gothic novels and 20 when it was published. Makes one think, doesn't it?

Nowadays, Villa Diodati is a private residence and one cannot trespass. But they do have a sign on their wall stating the history of the house and next to their garden is a small park where one can have a picnic.

And of course you get to have sly glimpses of Villa Diodati's garden when you walk past it. They have high fences, so it is not exactly peeping; you just see some treetops and the roof of their lovely old greenhouse.

If you are visiting Villa Diodati's surroundings (and it is summer!) take a bathing suit with you. From the villa there is a short walk to the Lac Léman (the huge lake) and if you walk a few minutes towards the center of Geneva, you'll arrive to the spot where the locals go for a swim.

How to get there

Villa Diodati is in Geneva, and if you are staying in a hotel, you are entitled to a day ticket to the public transport. The day ticket is valid during your whole stay (max. 14 days). So basically you get to travel around the city as much as you like. Bus 'number' A takes you almost next to villa Diodati.

HR Giger Museum

The HR Giger Museum and Giger bar are situated in a medieval city called Gruyères. Other famous places to visit are the castle of Gruyères and a cheese factory.

You can buy a combined ticket to the HR Giger museum and the medieval castle. I can wholeheartedly recommend this, because the castle was very interesting and there was a lot to see.
One was not allowed to take photos in the museum, which is very understandable. That statue was in front of the museum.

The exhibition consists of the main exhibition of Giger's works and they also have a two room section for changing exhibitions of contemporary artists.

Next to the museum of Giger is the Giger bar. Actually, the exhibition area for the changing exhibitions is situated in their second floor. This photo was taken from the balcony/corridor that led to the upstairs of the bar.
I found it rather cool that opposite the museum (and next to the Giger bar) was clearly a home for the elderly. At least that little square had dozens of old people with their walkers, just chilling on the benches.

The castle

Château de Gruyères (the Castle of Gruyères) is a rather well preserved castle with a lot to see. I had fun visiting it, even though I am not a huge fan of castles.

The castle has a long and colorful history, which I am not going to quote here. I'll just say that during the 19th century it was bought by the family named Bovy and they with another family made it their summer residence.

Here taking photos was allowed, so I must show you this rather odd piece of celestial art: this carnevalistic angel. Or at least I interpret it to be some sort of a decorative object for a church or a chapel.
Apparently this decorative object has horns as wings. And it seems to be holding some sort of a divine announcement in the form of a parchment. Or, it might be a torch.

The castle too has a small changing exhibition featuring contemporary artists. It is in the tower that used to be for prisoners. During my visit they had works that clearly were inspired by surrealism and old folk tales but I cannot find any record of them from the castle's webpage.
Their English webpage is under construction, so you'll get most out of it if you can read French. Italian page has also more material than the English one.

The only attractions are not merely these two museums. The city itself is very pretty and strolling around the streets is fun.

How to get there

The easiest ways to visit the city of Gruyères are by car, by train or by bus. If you have a car, you can drive up to the old town. If not, you'll have to walk uphill from the train station for about 20 minutes. We did not take a bus, so I have no first-hand knowledge about that route.

Handy tips for travelers

Buying train tickets

If you are traveling by train and do not have access to internet all the time, it is smart to buy your train tickets in advance. By this, I do not mean online but when you are on a train station the first time.

When buying a ticket from an automate, you do not have to specify the time you want to hop on a train, only the day. But why in advance? Because if you travel to a small town, you cannot buy a ticket from there to lets say Geneva.

Apparently small stations only have the local train company's ticket machine, and they do not sell tickets for national routes (like from Gruyères to Geneva). You first have to travel to a bit bigger city where they have also the SBB's ticket machine.

Speaking French is very handy

Speaking even a little bit of French is a huge plus, if you are traveling in the French-speaking area of Switzerland. In small villages the locals do not necessarily speak English at all or only a little bit.

We noticed this when we were departing Gruyères, and we did not know that we could not buy tickets straight to Geneva. We had to ask help from the ticket office and the workers there did not speak English.

Luckily I had studied French but to be honest, I felt like an idiot with hearing difficulties most of the time. The locals were very understanding, though, and patiently repeated what they had said if I seemed confused.

I hope you found this post helpful and/or entertaining!

Friday, 16 June 2017

Personal update: moving and a trip to Switzerland

This past month has been very busy for me. I found a new apartment and had to plan my moving in a bit of a haste.

Slowly, the apartment is starting to look like a home. It has taken this long because straight after the moving I caught some nasty virus and spent a week lying in bed with a fever and a sore throat. 

And naturally it has been rather busy at work too, so that too has been a bit stressful, especially since after the fever I got a nasty cough and it is rather disturbing if you are organizing events and so on. Trying not to cough hysterically while another person is giving a speech is awful!

A grown-up playing games

My vacation started two days ago and this weekend I am off to play in a sci-fi LARP. It is great to go to a game like that but I have to say that the way it has been organized and how the information has been given to us players, it has bee rather stressful too. 

My character is a guard in a futuristic prison, so it will be an interesting and quite probably a very intense game!

A vacation in Switzerland

After the LARP I am off to Switzerland. I've wanted to go and see the HR Giger Museum for a long time and now I an finally getting there! This museum is situated in Gruyères, a medieval city an hour and a half's drive from Geneva. This shall be the first time I am going to drive a car in a foreign country so that shall be very exciting!

Another place I and my travel companion would love to visit is Villa Diodati, the villa that was rented by Lord Byron in 1816. During that summer a woman who would be known as Mary Shelley wrote the first draft of Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus and Byron's doctor friend John Polidori was inspired to write the first modern vampire story The Vampyre

In the photo you can see an art book about Giger and my copy of Polidori's short novel. I could not find my copy of Frankenstein for this group photo. Moving sucks!

Health things

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had eye surgery recently. The operation was easy and the recovering has been great so I am very happy and excited. 

Though, due to the operation my eyes are very sensitive for sunlight and at the moment I seem to have misplaced both of my sunglasses. It is rather annoying because I can't go out of my apartment without them. 

Friday, 19 May 2017

Gothic Art in Spotlight: grotesque installations

I haven't posted for a while because this month has been very busy for me. I am going to move to a new apartment by the end of the month and today I am going to get my eyes operated. In the future I shan't be needing glasses to be able to see things around me! Obviously, I am rather excited (and agitated) about it. Hopefully everything goes alright! But now, to art:

A week ago I visited Tampere, my old university city, and spent one afternoon looking art. I encountered the grotesque installations and sculptures at an art gallery called Galleria Saskia. The exhibition is free, open daily and you can see it until the end of this month. 

The exhibition features two Finnish artists, Heli Ryhänen and Anne Meskanen-Barman. These both ladies have made a substantial career and the all the sculptures in the exhibition give the viewer an uncanny feeling.

Regardless of the whole exhibition being intriguing, I shall concentrate on only one installation by Meskanen-Barman: High Tea (2017). The installation consists of a table with food and teacups on it, an armchair and a lamp. When one enters the room, it looks quite harmless. But as one walks nearer, one sees that the high tea is not that delicious-looking.
The interpretation of this work is ambiguous. Therefore, it works as a reflector for the viewer. How do we react when a face is poking out from a sophisticated teacup? 

The faces in the teacups resemble the way one sees one's reflection of a teacup when one is about to have a sip. On the other hand, one seldom looks that agonized when one is enjoying high tea...
And how about those delicious little cakes? If one looks closely, one notices that the surface looks like a human nipple. How to interpret that? Is the installation trying to raise conversation about how in our culture sweet treats and cakes are often used as a metaphor for sexual passion or courting? Or are they there for the sake of shocking people?

What are your interpretations of this work?

Friday, 14 April 2017

Peculiar Easter tradition of witches

In March, Goth Gardener announced a Baskets & Caskets competition. To participate, one needs to make a post according to the theme Goth Easter. Now, I don't believe this post fits the given topic but nevertheless Goth Gardener inspired me to write this post. :)

This post is once again about the odd traits of the Finns. Previously I've featured Nuuttipukki (the creepy Santa Claus) and fortunetelling traditions.

On Easter, we have a tradition that is very similar to the trick-or-treating on Halloween. It's called 'virpominen'. In short, children dress as witches or Easter bunnies and go around the neighborhood in order to get candy. BUT: they are not like evil spirits on Halloween who threat people with tricks.

Instead it is more like a mutually beneficial transaction. The kids collect and decorate sticks of pussy willow and will use them to cast spells of good luck for the neighbors. After the spell the kids will give the decorated willow to the neighbor and as a payment the kids will receive some candy.

Since I was super fascinated by witches as a kid (and still am), I was as excited about Easter as I was about Christmas. I could dress as a witch myself, it was like heaven! To clarify my behavior, I want to point out that during my childhood Halloween was not a big thing (it is still a very minor holiday here in Finland).

Here is a photo from my childhood. Since Finland is so up North, we used to have winter weather on Easter (at least during the 90's, with the climate change it is sort of a spring nowadays). So, us kids used to have to dress our witch garments over our winter coats. Nevertheless, it was always super fun!

In the photo you'll see the most fashionable gear an Easter witch could have: a black paper board hat and a broom. The broom was made by my father and I had tied some scarfs around my waist to get the proper witch look. The witch's familiar is also appearing in the photo (aka my pet dog).

The traditions behind virpominen

This tradition has roots both in the Orthodox traditions and in the old customs Finns had before Christianity arrived. I am not an expert on these traditions and beliefs, but here is how I've understood the historical roots of this tradition.

Pussy willows are not just a Finnish thing, in Eastern European countries many people use pussy willow in their rites on Palm Sunday. Palms do not grow here in the North, so people needed to substitute them with some other plant. I'm not sure if this is something people still do, but in the old days a priest blessed the willow sticks and then children took them home, decorated them, and then used the willows to bless their immediate family.
Willows made by the kids next door.
There is also another Christian belief related to virpominen. In the Nordic countries, people believed that during the days between the Good Friday and Easter Sunday the protecting powers of God were, well, diminished. Therefore people believed that evil witches were roaming around the countryside and causing misfortune to people. To prevent this, people did all sorts of protection spells that resemble the idea behind virpominen.

So, that was the Christian part of the tradition of virpominen. I am guessing that the pagan roots of the Finns twisted it a bit and that is why the kids dress as witches for it. In the old times, witches, witch doctors and shamans were appreciated members of the community. I guess that's why there are also good witches who now cast spells of good luck.

I've not heard that other countries would have this tradition of virpominen. If you have, please comment on this post!

I hope you enjoyed this little piece of information and do check out what people contributed to Goth Gardener's competition!

Friday, 7 April 2017

Creepy Reads Review: Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman

This months Creepy Reads Review presents to you Grimm Tales for Young and Old (2012) by Philip Pullman. Or so it says on the cover.

I saw this book at the Glasgow Airport, my flight was due in a couple of minutes, and I wanted something to read on the flight. The cover of Pullman's book was pretty and the back cover stated following praises:

'Gripping ... A clear and humorous retelling, with added sprinklings of wit ...'  – Sunday Telegraph
'Told with extraordinary toughness and savagery' – Andrew Marr 
'Magical ... This wonderful retelling is set to become a classic in its own right' – Sunday Times

From those quotations I assumed that:
a) Andrew Marr is praising Pullman's way of writing.
b) Retelling is creative work in which Pullman has made new version, his unique versions, of the Grimm's fairy tales. How else could the book 'become a classic in its own right'? The old fairy tales are already classics.

Sadly, my presumptions were wrong. The stories in this book are mostly just a regathering of the old stories. Pullman hasn't altered the Grimm's fairy tales much. In many cases he has merely gathered his favourite versions of the old printed tales. In some stories he has made minor alterations but I have to say they seem irrelevant. It doesn't matter whether an evil stepsister ate cake or chocolate cake, especially since chocolate doesn't become a symbol or motif for anything.

Pullman claims he has altered some text in order to better them but I do not really see it. He hasn't been bold enough with the alterations and therefore they lack significance and individuality. The narrative style is not reaching the 'Pullman way of writing' and hence any writer could claim these texts as his/her work. I expected a little more from a famous writer in the 21st century. There are already so many printed versions of the Grimm's fairy tales, why did we need this one?

One of the most often heard quotes from Pullman (which, of course, is not really his) is that all stories are stolen and all stories have already been told. That is quite true, but to be able to retell a story without slipping into mere plagiarism requires some effort.

Honestly, I was disappointed. I would not have bought this book if I had known that these stories are not really rewritten. I have read several version of Grimm's fairy tales in several languages and the Pullman collection does not bring anything extra to the stories. I assumed this collection would've been more like the My mother she killed me, my father he ate me short story collection or like The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter, in which Carter has really rewritten the old fairy tales, giving them intriguing twists. But no.

The good sides of Pullman's book

I was disappointed, because the back cover praises were misleading. If this is put aside, there is nothing wrong with the collection. Firstly, the cover is pretty. Secondly and more importantly, in the end of each story is a short background report about it. It tells what type of a story it is, and from what year this particular version is (or if it is a mix of two old versions).

I appreciate the background report, and for that the Pullman collection is great. Though I must point out that in some of the background reports there are Pullman's own 'observations' and opinions of the story lines and the morals and those remarks seem often unjustifiable and sometimes even unprofessional.

So, I can recommend the Grimm Tales for Young and Old 'by' Philip Pullman for those who are looking for Grimm's fairy tales in a pretty cover.