Vivi-Mari Carpelan is a Finnish artist now resident in Wales, United Kingdom. In her artistic practice, she has focused on the survival of the self in the face of the threatening Other, as well as her experience of liminality and transition.
She is a photographer and mixed media artist. Over the course of three decades, she has produced symbolic drawings, collage/mixed media, abstract paintings and photographic prints, all presented on paper. Her symbolic drawings were well received until her fine motor skills prevented her from that type of work. For about a decade, she picked apart material from the collective domain and reassembled it in new ways. She completed this creative phase by using appropriated images and sounds while transforming them beyond recognition to make emotionally charged films and sound collages. At this stage, the investigation was predominantly marked by deconstruction. There was a desire to seek new associations and syntheses, while simultaneously befriending the mysterious and often intimidating Other (that often appeared in the form of social and medical authorities but also as other people in general). This compelled her to turn to the archives of the collective consciousness.
As a marginalised person, she was also confronted with the idea of invisibility and its different manifestations in people’s lives. On the one hand, she felt invisible to herself. On the other, her chronic medical condition was partly invisible and her difficulties in coping with every day life were not sufficiently visible to those who touched her life. As Sartre pointed out, you relied very heavily on other people’s gaze for a sense of identity, and the gaze she felt was largely indifferent. Yet she felt that the adversary - the often unresponsive and difficult Other - held the key to the resolution of conflicting feelings within. The deconstruction had to be followed by integration and a process of reconstruction. For this to occur, the invisible had to acquire some kind of shape. The undifferentiated needed to be differentiated.
Following her experience of the chronic medical conditions Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and fibromyalgia, her artistic expression has been informed by imprisonment in a dysfunctional body. There’s already a sense of terror when the physical habitat is unreliable and unstable and feels disgusting. Yet there’s also additional stress when the social environment appears to try and lose your stability by tearing you down rather than supporting you. Using the self as a starting point, she has found art and writing vital in repairing failing thought constructs and connections that aggravate the sense of alienation from the body and its environment. One of the main objects of Vivi-Mari’s art has been to find ways of repairing dysfunctional connections and vindicate human dignity in the face of demoralisation. An artist and human being, she feels she needs to believe in her own dignity before she can communicate convictions about worthiness and the unburdening of guilt to other people, and this is the process that her art exemplifies. In order to improve the dialogue between self and Other and ultimately improve her own sense of self, she investigates the dichotomies and paradoxes that govern the underlying structures of reality. All her adult life she has sought the points where the tensions inherent in conflict resolve into open ended dialogue, but has felt that the centre of attention always needs to be the inner self.
After the unexpected death of her husband artist Martin Herbert in late 2014 (see gallery), Vivi-Mari took a break from the visual arts in order to revaluate her life and reorganise her thoughts in writing. Her serendipitous work about death from just a few months before her husband’s unexpected death now turned into a philosophical investigation into the invisible aspect of reality and the nature of consciousness. During this time, she also accompanied her mother to the Other Side, and this allowed her to experience a different process of death. The 2018 diagnosis that finally confirmed that her life long struggle to cope on society’s terms originated in a genetic disease, provided relief: the invisible had materialised and become easier to communicate to others. This revelation marked a point in her personal transformation and helped her ‘come out’ as a disabled person in a way that steered her away from the isolation that chronic fatigue and anxiety, not to mention guilt and shame, had put her in. In 2018, she was offered opportunities that encouraged her to create new visual work on paper. Her new work expressed the process of the reorganisation of the psyche through dreamy imagery of transition and change.
The new projects evoked a desire to overthrow her customary identity as a disfigured, vulnerable and anxiety ridden person. The process of reinvention involved a deeper insight into her true gender (she now identifies as transgender) and a clearer idea of her authentic self and its future. Her understanding of identity was expanding as she deepened her understanding of the masculine and the feminine as attributes of the psyche. In affirming her masculinity, she was also able to see the advantages of the feminine from a new perspective. Outwards, the change was not so obvious; inwards, it was all the more powerful.
In a series of abstract mixed media works on large Khadi sheets of paper her husband had left behind, she began to express her understanding of the liminal space where change occurs and new connections are made (see work here): the realm of the imagination appears in the intermediary between the visible and the invisible. With her iPhone, she found a less strenuous way of working, and was able to do most of her work from the comfort of her sofa. In this line of work, she decided to abandon the appropriation of found materials of the collective past and restrict her materials to the vast archive of her own photographic work both old and new. A new synthesis of past experiences was coming to life. Ahw superimposed the photos through the simple medium of filters for double exposure in a few free photo editing apps on the iPhone. She thereby achieved the impression of an inner realm beyond physical appearances where the undifferentiated begins to take form. Apart from basic ‘dark room work’, she kept the interference of the software to a minimum by not using any other form of generic filters. (Read more here).
The tug of war between the uncompromising perimeters of a set of filters for double exposure and her own personal photographs, offered a metaphor for a deeper process of reconciliation with aspects of life that are beyond one’s personal control. This was a way of processing the idea of personal choice and control to see how a more allowing attitude could form. There was also a sense that the appropriation of the shady aspects of the collective consciousness was no longer required and that the focus had shifted to the befriending of much more impersonal, man made aspects of the collective reality. Architecture, nature, texture and abstract patterns were combined with Instagram type selfies to create a dreamy twilight zone of reconstruction and hope for the future that follows inner transformation. The process mirrored her belief that it’s possible to transcend the screeching experience of conflict and chaos in favour of a more fluid, interactive and mutually enriching dialogue between self and Other. But for this to occur, the Other has to be understood as an aspect of one’s own self.