December 12, 2017

My Latest Reading Experiences, from St George Bookshop to WhatsApp

I'm at Saint George English Bookshop and see a book about Russian avant-garde in fiction. P. tells me he's reading a new book about Eastern Europe. "It's really good but also super specific," he says. 

I buy Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency. When I come home, A. tells me it was used in an episode of Mad Men, in which Don is in a bar and sees somebody reading the book. “Is it good?” Don asks. “I don't think you'd like it,” replies the man. But at episode's end Don is reading “Mayakovsky” and in voiceover it's quoted: “Now I am quietly waiting for the catastrophe of my personality to seem beautiful again, and interesting, and modern."

I also buy Renata Adler's Speedboat, published in 1971, about a journalist who thinks "tepid" and "arguable" several times a day. It starts with a quote from Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies: "'What war?' said the prime minister sharply. 'No one has said anything to me about a war. I really think I should have been told....' And presently, like a circling typhoon, the sounds of battle began to return."

I get a present for A. at St George. P. calls it a "stocking stuffer." It's a book with recipes from American expats in 1920s Paris. Josephine Baker's one is called Naked Lunch. 

I'm bored on the subway so I'm reading what my neighbour is writing on WhatsApp. First it's about a burglary that apparently happened to his friend. He gives an example of his ex who had a burglar who was hiding in the hallway. He then continues: "WhatsApp schreibt. Es gibt einen neuen Update." 

December 6, 2017

Diary of my HIAP Residency in Helsinki, November 2017

First snowman of the year!

Day 1

“I had the best Russian food in Helsinki,” a friend from Belgium writes me in an email. I’m wondering if it’s inappropriate to say so about a country that has been under siege by Russia for so long. 

Day 2 

At Forum Box Gallery I see a video by Nina Lassila asking the question: “Did Van Gogh get laid because of his paintings?” That Van Gogh had a sexual life never really occurred to me. The legend of his cut ear somehow dominates all of his other body parts.

The sun setting at 3pm in Helsinki.

Day 3 

On the mirror of the women’s bathroom at the Helsinki Art Museum is written “You don’t know how beautiful you are.” I wondered if this is gendered so I sneak into the men’s bathroom to check out the mirror but it carries the same sentence. I feel like the gender police. 

At the bathroom of the HAM

Day 4 

Gallery hopping is between 5 and 7pm on Thursdays in Helsinki. We play the game which art work we would pick to take home. I choose a dirty kitchen towel painting at the Exhibition Laboratory Gallery, which consist of a dirty kitchen towel stretched over a canvas. My colleague picks a painting at Hippolyte Gallery, which has light smears on it as if somebody tried in vain to remove some smudges. Both of us prefer something dirty to something clean. 

Day 5 

“If I put myself physically in nature, could I become more natural?” the landscape artist asks. 
“If you put a human being in a landscape, it takes over the view, even when the figure is small,” the other landscape artist says.

Day 6 

Two elderly women photograph their food before they eat it. One of them also writes an accompanying text on what seems to be social media. The other one waits patiently. Luckily it’s a salad, which is cold anyway.  

Day 7 

On my morning walk by the river I take a picture of a big boat. The boat carries the name Eira, which means “snow.” I send the picture to my sister who says it looks desolate. In defense of Helsinki, I argue that when they’re two persons in a picture (both also looking at the boat) and the third behind the camera, you can call it populated.

Day 8,

My neighbor, the artist Hitomi Usui and I go grocery shopping together. We’re hesitating between the small S market or the big K market. “It’s too big,” we agree while entering S. 

Day 9

The studio of Sasha Huber is located upstairs of a kindergarten. When she looks out of the window, she sees a retirement home. We’re both abound 40 years old so that we find ourselves literarily standing in between.

Day 10

Lunch buffets are very popular in Helsinki. My boyfriend says I have no “buffet control.” I want to taste everything and heap it all on one plate because going back twice would be embarrassing. I still manage to overeat. 

Day 11

I’m hoping for the ultimate Nordic experience, which is snow. That’s why I bought wool underwear. But they tell me it’s unlikely it will snow. November is just dark and depressing. 

Preparing for snow

Day 12

“Are you in the program?” I’m asked several times at the video night of Phd students of Helsinki’s Aalto University. After a while it starts sounding like an institute of psychiatry. 

Day 13

four hours of 
dreary grey 
from Pori 
to Helsinki
until the mind
blanks out

Day 14

“When my eyes are open, it’s more about me,” the artist explains why she keeps her eyes closed in the video.

Day 15

In Finland there’s no real forest, I am told. Trees are constantly being cut and planted anew. 

Self-baked Finnish rye bread 

Day 16

Am I sitting here too close? a woman asks me, hesitating to take a seat at the next table. Maybe I look like a person who needs a lot of personal space.

Day 17

An Unknown ID calls me from Germany. “I don’t think we know each other,” I say. “We do,” he says, “You gave me your number at the fish shop in Neukölln,” I’m trying hard to remember if I was ever so desperate to give a stranger my number in a fish shop. 

Day 18

I invented a new word: “bavardy.” It’s a mixture of the French verb “bavarder” and an English-speaking person who talks a lot. 

Day 19

In Helsinki I drink kahvi. 

Day 20

It’s a new moon today, so I write a poem:

or the fool starry-eyed
when the moon
is tickling
the sky
to dance

Day 21

“You have to invite yourself to people’s private sauna,” she says. Like: “I come to your sauna tonight,” she gives as an example. I’m debating if this is the moment I’m inviting myself to her sauna. 

Day 22

“What’s your waiting number? the ticket sales person at the train station asks. We look around us but nobody else is waiting. “Next time you have to get a waiting number,” she says while giving us a train ticket to the airport. 

Day 23

I have the Long Drink with gin. It was invented in 1952 for the Olympic Games. 

Day 24

In the subway it says that 3/4 of the Finnish population is allergic to scents. The add asks passengers to watch their use of fragrances. 

Day 25
Thursday night is gallery hopping night. After finishing we’re surprised it’s only 8pm and we feel already like going to bed. Gil says that is normal since it has already been dark for five hours. 

Day 26

Just like the weather, coffee is always a good topic to talk about. I ask my neighbor what the sign says that promotes kahvi. “If you bring your own cup,” she tells me, “it’s only 1,50 euros.” "Morning coffee is a big thing in Finland," she adds.

Day 27

Hitomi goes out tot the natural parks to photograph nature. On her Instagram she describes the color as “deep green.”

Day 28

Kone is a company that makes escalators worldwide. It also funds art. Everyone doing something edgy in Finland is funded by Kone and if they’re not yet funded by it, they’re hoping to be funded by it.

Day 29

In Finnish, there’s no word for please, Australian curator Katie Lenanton tells me. You only have to say what is essential. If your order coffee, it’s “coffee” and not “coffee please.”

Day 30 

Artist Isaac Wong shows me Baudelaire’s poem “L’homme et la mer.” If you hear it, it could also be “l’homme haȋt la mer,” he says, or “l’homme est la mer.” 

November 27, 2017

The Laughter of Naomi Klein

Yesterday I listened to an interview with Naomi Klein on BBC4 radio. She was great, and she had a beautiful laugh that she laughed a lot. After a while the interviewer asked her what she did for fun in life. The interviewer rephrased, and said she had expected Naomi Klein to be serious (probably also angry). “That makes me sad,” Naomi Klein answered. Today, meeting for morning coffee, Isabel Hölzl, the director of the Goethe Institute in Helsinki, told me something similar happened at the Baltic Circle festival, in the panel The Time of Autonomy. Maryan Abdulkarim, a Finnish activist and freelance journalist, asked the audience to imagine her without the gender, the skin color and the hijab - basically, like a white man - otherwise they’d expect her to be serious and angry. Laughter and fun as a privilege of the while male when talking about things that matter. 

By the way, this is a beautiful song Klein chose to play on the radio: