Memory Viewers. Reflexiones sobre el proceso.

“Memory Viewer makes you witness of some moments that came to the sight of Reino, Krista and Mikko. These are fictitious characters made up with random material from the flea markets. By getting a closer view into people´s lives you can build up the identity of a country from a different angle: the one that is ephemeral and as real as themselves”. This is how the project for Design Exploration and Experimentation ended. Its a far too short paragraph to describe such an intense and rich process where I have experimented new ways of artistic research. The work has been done during two months, starting with a trip to Karelia and finishing in a collective exhibition. In between, days of group critics, a working diary, and research on artists and designers. The course had a starting point based on two concepts: the Western region of Finland, Karelia, and the theme of Identity. Identity is a theme that has been very touched in contemporary art, so it felt it like a big challenge."

Part 1: In Site
As a main nutrient we had a week trip to Karelia, where all my senses where open to whatever influence I could gain. My attitude was to receive without judgement and without any fear of being in stereotypes, in all ready mades or away from my own path. By writing on the diary I made a strong production of non cataloged ideas that were supposed to surprise to myself in the construction of the new project. The result was as expected: among all the stimulus, I found the one that would follow me along this personal trip. It was a combination of overwhelming and sublime nature of Karelia and comments made by people living there.
The landscape revealed a lot about any living thing over there. The strength of ice and the delicacy of the snow particles are two attributes that I saw in the nature but also in the people and its History. The whiteness of the snow made the people on it shine in a special way: even though I knew very little my curiosity towards them was like appreciating the colors of a painting hang in an empty wall. I felt the same when I was alone in the silent lakes, surrounded by the extreme power of nature, the silent and my high volume thoughts. I perceived the place like an eternal and immutable theatre for past lives. This was a scaring thought because I saw myself as one of those lives that had happened over there and would never be as everlasting as the forests, the mountain of Koli and the punishing seasons. This was the beginning of my incursion to the theme of Identity: the curiosity for what I didn’t see in that huge whiteness, the lives of the people that have been there, just like me. But as I said, the comments of the Karelians I met were also of a big influence, in a very surprising way. We had the luck of listening to some lectures by professors and doctoral students from the University of Joenssu. I thought this would be the definite affirmation of my thoughts. I thought they would tell me that the people are a microcosmos of the nature in Karelia and thats why they made such an impressive job in the Winter War of Finland. I thought they would tell me that Karelians are hard and have a blooding scarf from the fight with the Russians and the songs of the Kalevala were their shower tunes. By contrast, the Karelians I met were not like that. One of them said something that was quite revealing for me: History is something you learn at school, it is not a genetic inheritance. Things happen and things are forgotten, we are not carrying the luggage of our grandparents.
At this point I felt completely lost. I thought it was ridiculous to try to “discover the identity of a place” in a week trip and without hardly talking with anyone from the place. I wonder what was the point and if we where over estimating ourselves. But after this doubts, I realized it what just a wrong angle of vision. The point was not doing a scientific research with an ultimate truth as a result, but taking advantage of a completely new place to be inspired in personal research. So I really don’t know how “being Karelian” is. I really didn’t know anything and that’s why I had to invent it.

Part 2: The old photographs
The trip to Karelia was a small experience contained in my whole year trip in Finland. Its difficult to say which thoughts belong to which experience. Everything is mixed in the same way that everything is new: Karelia, Helsinki, Finland.
One of the most beautiful experiences I have had here is getting to know the country in alternative ways: through the Kalevala, through the flea markets of Helsinki. Since the beginning I have been visiting Valtteri Flea Market moved by the fascination that all the little objects I found there cause on me. It is a huge container of cheap waste, but this waste is totally different from the one I found in Madrid’s flea markets. It tells a lot about the intimacy of the people, which is not the domestic world I know. It’s the easiest way of getting into Finnish people’s homes without being invited. Although I would like to have everything I see there, I have been focused only on old photographs.
I picked the ones that had anything that disturbed me in any way but without thinking too much. When I looked at them again once the course had started I began to pay more attention on the ones that showed in a strong way the presence of someone behind. I realized that many of the pictures I had were “failed” pictures: wrong colours, fingers, wrong compositions. I thought maybe this was the reason for ending up in my hands. But this photographer mistakes were really useful for my project.
The reason why I came back to this documentation was getting to the point of appreciating Identity as an heterogenous matter that has very little to do with the official History, Sociology or Politics of Karelia. History is something that happens to the people. And knowing what people have tried to immortalize through the photography is knowing about their stories, from the most naïve gesture of trying to catch a flock of birds to photographing a funeral. Photography is a cemetery of thoughts, desires and fears from the unconsciousness that read with the right glass can be sometimes too revealing. The image is a dangerous son that our society has let run free and can sometimes become against us. Facebook is just the last episode of this.
Nevertheless, once again I was talking too much. Was I really reading too much about the intimacy of the people in the photographs? Or were they just images? In any case, the feeling was connected with the thoughts about Karelia. I wanted to know more. And because it couldn’t know more, I had to invent it to fulfill my curiosity.

Part 3: The fictitious investigation.
I went inside the photographs. I started to make connections between different photos that in the reality didn’t have any connection. I grouped the photos by themes and after by time periods. I analyzed the type of paper, the shape of the borders, the fashion of the characters... I read the notes behind them and googled words, addresses and even names of objects that appeared in the images. I did just the same people do in the era of the Social Networks and Google: stalking. I realized you can build a whole story with the smallest data you find. The structure of the story will probably be determined by your own background. And you never know how far you can reach with free information.

Part 4: gathering ideas.
Once I had all these conceptual material, I just needed a way to materialize it. I want something magical that made you immediately fell the same as I did. Something like an experience that could be put in exhibition. First I thought of a book, which has the appropriate size and is a story that contains stories. But it wanted something else, something fictitious, playful and attractive. Finally I got to the idea of an image viewer that could make possible being inside the lives of these people that make the history with their own sight. I wanted to build one machine for each of the identities I would invent with the random information I had obtained from the flea markets. I didn’t know in what shape I would do it, though. I thought this could be not enough to reflect all my research, so I decided to make also a graphic story. This graphic part ended being the instructions brochure that each of the memory viewers needed. I wanted to make it a product, to express the greatness that a character has. If for me these people where so important, I wanted to make it as important to the audience. And the only thing that I thought it has value in our society is product. What we can buy is what we think is rich. Therefore my characters would be products that someone could pay for, take and keep safe and therefore commemorate.

Part 5: building Memory Viewer.

The process was not easy. Taking decisions about materials and complexity of the system took me a long time. I got a good inspiration from ViewMaster, the old gadget grom the 60s, but I had to realize what was possible for me to build in 3 weeks. I discarded analogical slide because of prize, microscopic lenses because of prize and complexity and electricity because of weight (and complexity!). I took also a lot of time deciding the shape, and more specifically if my viewer would be a helmet, a camera, a monocular or a binocular. The help of Martin in this part of the process was extraordinary.
On the other side, I had to work on the stories and how to present it. I decided to make a foldable poster. This was a difficult choice because the poster had to be good as a whole and as a compilation of many different information. I had to make a test print were I realized many things didn’t work visually but helped me to get to a better result.

Part 6: The exhibition
Presenting my work to the public was really joyful. The comments I received were positive, although I realized that not everyone understood the under layers of the project. However, it was good to know that people enjoyed looking through the holes and they even tried to build their own stories mixing images from different characters. For this to happen it was necessary to invite the people to touch, play and manipulate as they wanted.

At the end, I can only have positive feelings towards this process. I really appreciate the system: working diary, research, group critics, tests... Most of them were new for me but I’m sure they will follow me to future projects in art or design. And in what its concerned to the project itself, I feel happy to have found a new way of expressing myself: the fictional research, a system of following an imaginary story based in random material of the reality. I will never forget neither my first steps into the ergonomic of objects, wood working, poster graphics and organization of documentation. It has been a very complete and enriching experience pulled up by my creativity and desires complemented by the people that surrounded me.
Memory Viewer is an artistic project developed in Design Exploration and Experimentation, a course from the Industrial and Strategical Design Depart ment of Taik. It was coordinated by Maarit Makela and assisted by Krista Kosonen, Simo Puintila and Karthick Acharya

Helsinki, March 2011

Character 1
name: Reino Suominen
documentation: photos, letters, google maps

Character 2
name: Krista Koskikallio
documentation: photo found on street, photos form flea market, postcard, street viewer.

Character 3 
name: Mikko Holmberg
documentation: photos, letters, Google Earth

No hay comentarios: