Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Nature of Art, the Art of Nature

This morning I walked over to another market hall, this one about two blocks from my hotel. Outside were dozens of fruit vendors, each with piles of berries. I don't think I've ever seen such luscious looking blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries all in one place. Plus there were other Scandinavian berries, like cloudberries and gooseberries. The strawberries were smaller, darker, and more tart than what I'm used to in the US, and had a much more fragrant smell. Cloudberries are vaguely like yellow raspberries, but with sort of apple-ish taste all their own that I later enjoyed in ice cream form. In the market I had another one of those great salmon sandwiches, this one made from cut-up bits of salmon mixed with dill and something called rose pepper. The lady behind the counter explained that rose pepper is not really pepper, but the skin of a berry. It does have a sharp taste, but it's not at all like black pepper, and goes very nicely with the fish. I found a packet of it in a nearby spice stall to try at home.

My first sight-seeing stop this morning was the Kiasma, a rather mind-bending museum of contemporary art. To begin with, the building itself is a sort of sculpture itself. Exhibits flow from level to level, and it's not always entirely clear how to get around and through things. The shape and interconnection of levels in the exhibit space breaks the mold of more traditional museums that feature row on row of gallery rooms. Much of the works on exhibit were video installations. In a regular art gallery, a visitor can sort of 'cruise' by many pieces and form instant impressions of them. The video works, however, have a fourth dimension -- a time element -- that forms like painting and sculpture don't have. So, at each installation the visitor needs to stop and sit for at least a few minutes to get a fuller sense of what the work is about. I found it fascinating, and a bit challenging. How long is long enough to watch a piece? If it doesn't interest me and I decide to leave, will I miss something? It wasn't like looking at a painting and being able to decide if I wanted to keep looking at it or move on.

What I saw yesterday at the Design Museum, and then today at Kiasma, made me ponder of the nature of art, and I came to the comforting conclusion that art can simply just be something that the artist wants to show the world. It doesn't have to be brilliant, original, of a certain style or technique. It just is a manifested idea. Sure, there's a lot more to it than that, but this simplicity is helping me to see a way to get past the huge mental block I've had about creating art.

With this in mind, I headed to the meeting point for my afternoon bus tour to the Nuuksio National Park, located about 25 miles from Helsinki. The Finnish countryside in this area looks a lot like where I grew up in New Hampshire, but with no real mountains, just hills. The tour group walked through the forest for about an hour, passing along small lakes, until we ended up at a small resort where we had coffee and fresh-made bread and butter. Some people went swimming on the lake at the resort. I stuck my feet in and it wasn't cold but it did have a lot of organic matter floating in it that made the water kind of blackish.

I realized that the light slanting through the trees and making patterns on the forest floor reminded me a lot of how the light came into that Russian Orthodox church I visited on the first day. I started seeing the mosses and leaves on the forest floor as carpeting, and the patterns of the leaves and sunlight on the floor as similar to stained glass windows, and tree trunks as being like structural columns. The forest suddenly seemed very artistic in an architectural sense. I tried to capture this in a photograph:


Later on, at the lake, I was intrigued by the green lily pads on the black/blue lake. I've always been fascinated with patterned rugs and ornate floor tiles, and thought I'd try to picture them as something on a floor. I also played around with color saturation in Aperture, and basically pushed the greens up very high because I liked the shade and because I wanted to make them start to look manufactured rather than something organic:


On the way back to Helsinki I considered heading over to the zoo once I got back into town, but when all was said and done I was just too tired to do anything more. Tomorrow will be a very long day traveling back to San Francisco, and although I haven't seen everything there is to see in Helsinki, it was just time for me to stop.

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