Imaginary Life
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Meetings at airports: Ingrid & SOS Barn

I was on transit from Copenhagen to Stockholm. We shuffled towards the gate, slowly forming a queue. There was a friendly-looking couple in front of me, and we quickly started chatting. They were still absorbing all the many impressions and experiences that come from long-distance travel, from their trip to Sri Lanka. I was on my way back from India. We were longing to get home, but we also had mixed feelings about leaving.

That’s how I met Ingrid and her husband.

You can get to learn a lot about people in a short conversation. And those at the gates of random airports always seem to be especially economical in that way, especially poignant and memorable.

Ingrid told me that she is a 59-year-old mother of 4 children. A grandmother. She spent her whole life bringing up her children and working full-time. She loves everything do with nature. She had a pony once, and enjoyed taking care of her pony a lot.

Tommy had worked abroad before he met Ingrid, and had lived in Sri Lanka for a year. He got to know about the charity SOS Barn when he was there, and the great work they do at their children’s villages all over the world.

When Ingrid started to talk about SOS Barn, her eyes welled up.

“I’ve never donated to any other organization before I met Tommy. But he had seen with his own eyes how well the organisation works. I only send 250 SEK per child per month, and that makes such a difference. 250 SEK- for us it’s nothing really. I wish more people would donate,” she said.

“I just want every child to have the same start in life. Every child should have food, and clothes and go to school. Every child should be loved,” Ingrid explained.

When Ingrid’s youngest child finally moved away from home, Ingrid decided to sponsor another child. The children are orphans or have parents who can’t take care them.
Ingrid and Tommy decided to see the children’s village where the two children she was sponsoring live.

“Everything there was beyond my expectations. We spent about 2 hours at each school. It was wonderful. The children were happy and so curious about us. They tried to speak English with us. We met the two kids we sponsored, and they were so proud to have visitors from abroad.”

Each SOS village is made up of small houses where about 8-10 children live. Every house has a housewife who takes care of the children and everything in the house. For 250 SEK a month, a child gets to have a home and an education.

“The trip affected me a lot. I want to sponsor a third child now. SOS Barn has recently opened a new orphanage in northern Sri Lanka. An area that was very hard hit during the civil war that only ended in 2010,” she explained.

The conversation at the gate left an impression on me too.

And her parting words: “I want to tell everyone that just a small contribution every month can do wonders for a child.”

2. Reuni village

Finding Zero

You don’t have to go to the Himalayas to find yourself – but it might help!

Immersing yourself in natural surroundings brings a huge amount of physical and psychological benefits. But naturalness is much more than a superficial sense of wellbeing. It can bring us to another level of autonomy, where we are freed from all the usual external influences that shape our beliefs and behaviour. It’s about gaining insight into The Human Condition.

View from Majkhali Village. Photo by by Dhirendra Bisht.

View from Majkhali Village. Photo by Dhirendra Bisht.

That kind personal transformation is much easier to attain with hands-on experience, says Ajay Rastogi, Philosopher and Applied Ethics practitioner, and founder of The Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature.

I had the good fortune to meet Ajay at the recent Tasting India Symposium in New Delhi, an event that brought together some of India’s brightest minds within food and sustainability. Like many of his contemporaries there, Ajay had left a successful career to go back to his home region and drive change from within. For Ajay that meant working together with the rural villagers of his homeland at the foothills of the Himalayas, in Uttarakhand.

Ajay welcomes everyone, regardless of race, caste, age, religion, gender, orientation, or education.

Ajay welcomes everyone, regardless of race, caste, age, religion, gender, orientation, or education.

 

The foundation aims to research and develop new models for Resilience through cultural exchange, by connecting villagers with people from the cities and other countries in residential homestays and programs such as yoga and meditation retreats. The Contemplation of Nature is threefold; immersion in nature, mindful meditation, and a hands-on experience of the rural ‘resilient’ life.

Resilience moves far beyond current definitions of sustainability. On a 2-week homestay, you get to take part in everything that rural village life offers. Don’t worry – there is no enforced programme here. You are free to just rest and explore if that’s what you need, but guests usually end up getting quite involved with village life; learning about everything from organic seed banking, to preparing grain harvests, to tending to the village cows, cooking the local Kumaoni cuisine, or celebrating one of the many festivals that happen throughout India.

The Yoga Hall was listed as one of the top ten yoga venues of the world by The Guardian newspaper.

The Yoga Hall was listed as one of the top ten yoga venues of the world by The Guardian newspaper.

The Vrikshalaya centre is the headquarters and heart of the Foundation. It also offers longer-term residencies for artists and designers who are interested in exploring the principles of resilience as part of their work. Vrikshalaya means ‘Home of the Trees’ in Sanskrit – so outdoor activities such as rock-climbing, water rafting, camping and hiking are all part of nature immersion. The area is stunning, and the centre has been listed as one of ten top yoga venues in the world by the Guardian newspaper.

The aim of the foundation is to get people to experience three basic principles of Resilience that sustain all life; Dignity of Physical Work, Interdependence and Interconnectivity.

Women transplanting of rice accompanied by a Hudikia Ball musician. Photo by Dhirendra Bisht.

Women transplanting of rice accompanied by a Hudikia Ball musician. Photo by Dhirendra Bisht.

The Dignity of Physical Work
There is a long tradition in India of travelling to the Himalayas and rural areas to practice yoga and meditation as a spiritual practice, but not physical work.

Ajay explains: “In India, we have such an inequitable society. The caste system is still deeply ingrained in society and especially in rural life.”

Specific tasks, such as tailoring, traditional music, cleaning and different crafts, are often associated with specific castes. It’s considered servant’s work. And work is very gendered. Traditionally, women prepare the food, work in the fields and take care of the house. A recent survey revealed that women spend more time in the fields farming than men and bullocks combined!

Homestay Mums preparing food.

Homestay Mums preparing food.

“We never even imagined the value of cultural exchange with western visitors. Younger westerners, in particular, would challenge outdated ways of thinking about caste and gender,” explained Ajay. “They wanted to know why the village girls were fetching water and taking care of the cows after school, instead of playing cricket with boys.”

Also, the homestay families are from different castes. This was purposefully provocative on Ajay’s part. The foundation hosts communal events for the visitors and their host families, challenging these deeply ingrained practices. Traditionally, lower castes do not eat together with higher castes. They do not attend the same meetings. Lower castes are even given separate plates and cutlery if they go to the house of a higher caste.

For the visitors, the learning curve is clear. Artisanal types of work and growing our own food re-connects our minds and hands.  Doing something mindful with our hands together with others is natural and enjoyable.

This especially affected some of the younger visitors from the States, Ajay explained. “Their tears welled up as they realised they hardly ever spent time with their family. Here in the villages, shared activities, whether its farming or preparing millet, or making textiles, is a way to spend quality time with our friends, family and neighbours. It’s fun to create something of value together.”

Traditional farming is organic.

Traditional farming is organic.

The repetitive actions of simple tasks also have a positive effect on the mind and body. When your mind can reach a level of sustained calmness, your body starts to do miraculous things. It’s called the ‘deep relaxation response’ in psychology. The stress hormone cortisol isn’t frantically released as our bodies aren’t in a fight or flee mode, aggravated by extremes in emotion.  Combine this innate calmness with physical movement and you have a recipe for better mental and physical health.

Interdependence
Interdependence is about people, reciprocity and solidarity. We are all used to financial transactions; I buy something and I pay for it, I own it. But it’s far smarter and more beneficial for the individual to systemically build a society around shared spaces and shared resources. In the village, not everyone has to take care of their cows every-day. They can share the duties, and reduce the daily work from once a day to once every 30 days.

Celebrating Diwali. Photo by Pete Zhivkov.

Celebrating Diwali. Photo by Pete Zhivkov.

Traditionally, when someone dies in India they are cremated on an open funeral pyre. So when someone dies everyone visits the house in mourning to pay their respects and donate some wood. The job of collecting wood for the funeral pyre is taken care of by the community. Community takes care of necessities. It used to be the same with cooking for a wedding. Surplus food and goods are also distributed throughout the community to those in need. Interdependence exists as a fact, so working with it is just common sense.

A host family house in the village.

A host family house in the village.

Interconnectivity
The third and final principle of the foundation is Interconnectivity. This is about striving for a harmonious coexistence with nature, as we rely on our environment for all the resources that keep us alive. Ajay’s hope is that people will take the realisation of interconnectivity back with them and apply it to their own lives.

Celebrating Spring. Photo by Jogendra Bisht.

Celebrating Spring. Photo by Jogendra Bisht.

Interconnectivity
The third and final principle of the foundation is Interconnectivity. This is about striving for a harmonious coexistence with nature, as we rely on our environment for all the resources that keep us alive. Ajay’s hope is that people will take the realisation of interconnectivity back with them and apply it to their own lives.

11. Ajay gardening
Words by Tanya Kim Grassley. Published in The Forumist, March 2018.

Links:
The Foundation for the Contemplation of Nature 
Tasting India
India Tourist Board
The Guardian top ten yoga holidays

Designing ‘The Good Life’

Many of us dream of quitting our jobs and leaving the city, but how many of us manage to do it? I asked Innovation Strategist, Karina Vissonova, how she and her partner Aron designed ‘the good life.’

Karina and Gazsi, at home in their cottage. Gazsi is a local Pumi dog. Photo by Alexandra Heim.

Karina and Gazsi, at home in their cottage. Gazsi is a local Pumi dog. Photo by Alexandra Heim.

Q: What was your childhood like?
A: I grew up in Latvia. I played in our family vegetable garden since I could walk, and was outdoors all year round. As a teenager in Riga, I spent every free minute with my friends making fires on the beach or partying in the forest.

Q: Why did you move away?
A: I studied in Copenhagen and was recruited right away into a job in innovation, that was still a relatively new field at the time. I got to work with some amazing professionals – architects, designers, and thought leaders. It was like working with rock stars! But Copenhagen was never really ‘my town,’ despite all the ‘goodies’ that came with life in the city. It felt like my lifestyle was bought, somehow.

Q: How did your job evolve your thinking?
A: I found it challenging to accept that so many great ideas, which would truly help people to live a better and more sustainable everyday life, would get chiselled down to fit into existing production systems. It’s as if we design for machines rather than people. We have all the technologies we need, but we have heavy, outdated systems that are resistant to change. I started wondering what else I could do.

Q: So you decided to leave your job?
A: Not immediately, but I knew I needed to change my own path. I wanted to be able to seek answers to the ‘big’ questions. Eventually Aron and I decided to make the leap and move to the countryside in Hungary. Aron is half Hungarian, but it wasn’t particularly about living in Hungary, it was about pursuing a quality of life with less, and rediscovering ourselves without a professional identity tag. We moved in the middle of winter, without TV or internet. It was the most silent 3 months of my life!

PAP Wines Garden Restaurant- Under the Volcano.

PAP Wines Garden Restaurant- Under the Volcano.

Q: How did you cope with that silence?
A: Just by giving it a chance. We missed our friends, but we were also in love with our new home on the hill. In the Spring, I started gardening. Portuguese friends had told me about permaculture, and so I spent hours on YouTube learning everything I could. My first garden was a mandala garden; a beautiful, unruly patch. I was the laughing stock of the neighbourhood at first, but when my neighbours saw how my garden was flourishing, even during periods of drought, they switched to permaculture methods. I also practice companion planting, where you pair plants that can support each other with nutrition and healthy insect populations; my strawberries grew together with spinach, for example. It’s pretty in its own wild way.

Aron selling at the Farmer’s Market – from chai and chutney to wine, 2017.

Aron selling at the Farmer’s Market – from chai and chutney to wine, 2017.

Q: So your food brand evolved almost by accident?
A: Yes! Suddenly we had all this surplus produce so we started making condiments to sell at the farmer’s market. We made our own labels and suddenly we had a brand!

Q: What came next?
A: One day, Aron announced, “Do you realise we are living in one of the world’s very famous wine growing volcanic regions? We should make wine!” My response was a hesitant ‘OK…’ Aron went to work for a local wine maker, to learn the ropes. A year later, Aron made his first wine, a ruby coloured Pinot Noir. We made 300 bottles. It was excellent. We couldn’t believe it. It was like we had the volcano gods on our side!

A selection of PAP Wines.

A selection of PAP Wines.

Q: And it’s organic?
A: The wine is organic, yes, and with a low sulphite content, but for us it’s not about labelling our product as ‘organic’ or getting expensive certifications, it’s just about being true to the traditional, artisanal wine-making methods. We want to make the most honest and highest quality wine we can, while caring for the land. Many of the new wine makers here follow regenerative farming methods – it’s far less costly and far more effective.

Aron in the kitchen, January 2017. Photo by Alexandra Heim.

Aron in the kitchen, January 2017. Photo by Alexandra Heim.

Q: When did you decide to open the restaurant?
A: Our wines became commercially successful within 2 years, and our garden was abundant. It was a natural progression to pursue Aron’s dream of having a small restaurant. He is an exceptional chef, albeit with no formal training. Aron had learnt to cook regional dishes, in Tamil Nadu, in the south of India, and in Himachal Pradesh, up in the North, in the foothills of the Himalayas. This influenced our concept – Indian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean vegetarian tapas-sized dishes served with  local wines . We just offered our own home cooking. We opened for guests last summer and it turned to be the busiest summer of our lives!

Q: How does your life today compare with life in the city?
A: Countryside offers an unveiled life, a connection to oneself and the systems that let you survive. Leo Tolstoy wrote about the division of intellectual and physical labour, and the need to experience both to acquire true wisdom. I couldn’t agree more. I scribble away about sustainability, but I feel that it is the experience of working the land and being part of a community that entitles me to write about sustainability.

PAP’s ceramic plates and Aron’s samosas. Photo by Alexandra Heim.

PAP’s ceramic plates and Aron’s samosas. Photo by Alexandra Heim.

Q: What are your plans now?
A: I want to continue writing and consulting. I still have more questions than I have answers, and I get the feeling others do too. But we need to ask the right questions. If I can attend to the vineyards and the garden during the season, run our little home restaurant, and write for the rest of the time, I will be a very happy and lucky person.

Karina and Aron, Pinot Noir harvest 2017.

Karina and Aron, Pinot Noir harvest 2017.

Q: Any advice to someone wanting to make a total change in their lives?
A: Dream! Plan big and trust your intuition. Life is unpredictable but it’s also full of opportunities. You just need to have the courage to believe in yourself.
These days, we have a false sense of security because of social transparency, where events and emotions that used to be very private are always on a display on social media. We have an impression that we are emotionally connected to other people, which also gives the false impression of a safety net. I find that such a net, if it indeed exists, is very thin.
Despite social media, we are more dependent on relationships in our physical communities than we realise – and the support that they can provide. Nurture real connections. Value where the things in your life come from and go to. When taking a life changing step, make sure your ties are offline as much as online.

Text by Tanya Kim Grassley & Karina Vissonova
Images: Alexandra Heim and otherwise, Karina’s own.

Links
Karina’s design and innovation consultancy https://www.vissonova.com/
The restaurant Pap Wines https://www.papwines.com/
https://www.facebook.com/PAPwines/
https://www.instagram.com/papwines/
Photographer Alexandra Heim www.heima.hu

 

 

 

 

 

 

The power of informal networks.

Lighthouse Relief volunteers, Joanna Ågren and Jonny Bradford, have really proved that a few determined people can make a massive difference to so many. They have helped move 48 people out of refugee camps and into apartments to begin a new life. For every social media post, the informal network raised up to 20,000 SEK that went directly to buy provisions for refugees, mostly via the mobile app Swish in Sweden.

See the Facebook page in Swedish, and the blog, in English. Their testimony shows how much of the help in Greece actually came from independent volunteers – private individuals mobilising themselves, without any formal help. These volunteers took it upon themselves to go to Greece, often not knowing what they can do to help until they arrive and meet other volunteers on the ground (including the refugees). In addition, the response of the local Greek population is very moving.

The official refugee camps were not humane places, not well equipped. They are lacking in food, supplies, amenities, not to mention medical care. They are policed and fenced in, and many of the refugees fear being imprisoned indefinitely in these camps.

While governments in Europe spend extraordinary amounts erecting fences along their national boundaries, not one government penny has been spent helping the refugees flee war-torn Syria and Iraq. Not one penny on food and supplies in Idomeni or the shores of Lesbos. Even worse, our governments’ response has been to add to the challenges the refugees face, blocking them from applying for asylum- which, until very recently, was deemed to be a very basic human right.

The blanket decision to demote and declassify all non Syrian and Iraqi nationals to “migrant” status (as opposed to refugee) blatantly ignores all the international humanitarian laws and mandates that have been set up since the second world war. This is not a “refugee” crisis, but a crisis of neglect, an ethical crisis. The inability of the EU to respond rationally, with problem-solving solutions and long-term planning, is only increasing the crisis incrementally by the day.

How many days can a person go without adequate food and shelter? The official hotspot camps set up by the military are full to bursting. At the same time, Jonny and Joanna estimated that around 40 percent of the refugees they saw in the camps in Greece (official and unofficial) are children under the age of 12.

This week’s blog post is the story of one family’s journey from Syria, written by a refugee, Mohammed Abdi, who helped Joanna and Jonny translate at Idomeni. I urge you to spend 5 minutes reading it. May his testimony serve to dispel any doubt you may have in your mind about the urgency of the crisis, and the responsibility the international community has to avoid an atrocity of wilful neglect.

Thanks for reading.

idomeni

At home, in exile.

Here is an article that first appeared in The Forumist in December, 2014.

At home, in exile.
Changing Places with Ninos Dankha, Prince of Assyria.

It’s easy to compare Ninos Dankha’s sultry tones to the searching expression of Nick Drake, or the pared-back honesty of Tim Buckley. It’s certainly in that Hall of Fame that he belongs. His cathartic approach to music conjures unmentionable longing: all the joy and sadness of the world. His voice has a natural, emotional intensity and restraint that can’t be feigned. The rhythm is definite, but slightly reticent and offbeat. The melodies are original, yet hauntingly familiar. Changing Places is an album that you will revisit, with renewed meaning, time and time again.

“I wanted to say ‘I am the Prince of Nothing, I’m not from anywhere.”

NINOS DANKHA  PRINCE OF ASSYRIA

NINOS DANKHA PRINCE OF ASSYRIA

Photo: Truls Andersen

Q: The name, Prince of Assyria, was it intended as a provocation?

A: At the time, I think it was. But you know, the name – it was in 2007. It was more tongue-in-cheek and less loaded somehow. I just wanted to say ‘I am the Prince of Nothing’, because Assyria doesn’t exist. I wanted to say I’m not from anywhere. I’m brought up here in Sweden, and have been here since I was one year old, but I’m always asked where I am from. For me to say I’m Swedish would have been the real provocation.

Q: And now more than ever, that’s a provocation?

A: Yes, I think it still is. Europe is freaking out again. Blaming a whole range of complex issues on immigration. It’s the easy answer that sounds logical and believable, but it’s dangerous to opt for easy answers in challenging times. We need more critical thinking. More solutions. At least now there is a public debate. When there is no dialogue opinions go unchecked and never get challenged.

Gates of Ishtar at the Pergamon museum, Berlin

Gates of Ishtar at the Pergamon museum, Berlin

Photo: by Ninos Dankha

Q: So what is the solution?

A: That’s the discussion we should be having, especially in the media. I hope it’s time for a more intelligent discussion on what the solutions really could be. Most of all, I hope that the new generation can find the confidence within themselves to design these solutions. The issues today are diverse: restrained resources, failing economies based on an outdated model. We’ve turned ourselves into consumers heavily reliant on cheaply produced, throwaway goods. It isn’t sustainable. This is happening and neither Europe nor Sweden can blame it on the ‘outside.’

Q: In a way, Sweden needs to believe the story about itself that the rest of the world believes. Are you also still defining your place in the world?

A: Yes, in more ways than one. I used to dance. Making music was a natural progression. It’s just about creating something, letting whatever it is inside you flow through you – even if it is blocking you. If you focus on just the blockage, or the problems, you lose your focus and can’t be creative anymore. Being creative is the way out for all of us. The difference is, in dance there can be total silence while the movement continues. This is hard to do with music. I’m still learning how to not overexpress – to be more confident and transparent in silence and slowness. It’s a thin line.

Ninos Dankha

Ninos Dankha was a dancer

“In dance there can be total silence while the movement continues. This is hard to do with music.”

Photo: www.hotelpalmer.com

Q: What music are you listening to now?

A: So much Ryuichi Sakamoto today, it’s the weather! I also listen to folk music like Karen Dalton. I had 16 Horsepower on just now.

“I think I am letting go of the commercial make-up. Changing Places
is self-produced, but besides that there isn’t too much post-production either.”

Q: Your music has been described as ‘Swedish Melancholy’. Is there such a thing?

A: Yes, I suppose so. I think I’m trying to tap into some sort of universal mix of joy and sadness. That’s melancholy for me. When I think about Swedish melancholy I think about gentle, melodic voices. A shift from major to minor. In Egypt, they sing their heart outs with so much sadness! In Mexico, they celebrate death with joy – but it’s all the same feeling in those blue notes, wherever you go. It’s just a matter of rhythm or ‘touch’ that defines the cultural aspect, and even the cultural differences are not confined by national boundaries. Very little is.
Q: It’s more of a changing landscape. So it’s apt that Changing Places is the last Prince of Assyria album?

A: Yes. The first album Missing Note was well received, and I’m really grateful for that. There have been a lot of great people involved in Prince of Assyria. But now I have to find out what’s next. I think I’m letting go of the commercial make-up. I’m trying to learn how to have far less production. Changing Places is self-produced, but besides that there isn’t too much post-production either.

Photo: Ninos Dankha

Q: Yes, it feels closer. Your version of Song to the Siren in particular: You can feel the air. What are you working on now?

A: Right now, I’m writing lyrics for the third album. It will be called Prince of Assyria, by Ninos Dankha. It’s a transition. After that I can finally leave the Prince of Assyria project and see what I can do. Mentioning Assyria makes people scared and it scares me too. If I let go of that identity what am I?

Q: Maybe it’s enough to start being Ninos Dankha and see what happens?

A: Yes. That’s more than enough for anyone! There’s no need to go on justifying my existence. From now on it’s just about the music.

Text and interview by Tanya Kim Grassley

Bring along joy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDCdS0P-4kE

Tears of joy:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Irui1E-mcPk

Press contact:

info@princeofassyria.com

Prince of Assyria Website: http://princeofassyria.com

 

Light is a resource

Back from London and the Photon Symposium, and seeing the prototype of an all glass living pod that will be one of 9 pods in a proposed Photon Village at Oxford University. The concept was conceived by Brent Richards of Transpolis Europe and executed by Cantifix, an advanced glass engineering company based in the UK.

Brent Richards describes the project: The Photon Pod has been designed to maximise daylight for the inhabitants in order to carry out scientific research into “the effects of daylight on human biology”. The 4 year research period will involve 8 Photon Pods and allow 300 participants to be tested in a Photon Village. As a control two of the pods will be “dark” with only 12% of the surface transparent, which equates to the average amount of glazing in a typical home.

The shape of the Photon Pod has been designed to minimise the reflection of light waves by keeping the surface of the glass perpendicular to the sun when the building is orientated north/south. The make-up of the double glazed units uses the latest technology to increase the insulation properties, whilst reducing solar gain to maintain a comfortable living environment in most climates.

The interior facilities were considered in relation to the length of stay for each participant and the fact we didn’t want the research data to be influenced. In the majority of cases a participant will only have to stay for 3 weeks and therefore basic facilities of a kitchen; shower and WC; bed; desk; and seating area were considered sufficient.

Philips were invited by Imaginary Life to design the lighting in the Pod to show how a combination of natural and design light should be combined to enhance the wellbeing and to harmonise the practical need for artificial light with the biological need for natural light. For the purposes of this launch, Hue, Philips connected lighting was programmed to create a compelling and dynamic experience, as well as enhancing the architecture of the innovative structure.

Russell Foster, Professor of Circadian Neuroscience at the University of Oxford University states: “The recent advances in our understanding of the brain mechanisms that generate and regulate sleep and circadian rhythms, and a growing appreciation of the broad health problems associated with their disruption, represents a truly remarkable opportunity to develop novel evidence-based treatments and interventions that will transform the health and quality of life of millions of individuals across a broad spectrum of illnesses.”

The Photon Pod is a means for collecting data on how light effects the mind, body & soul. Photos by George Sharman.

The Photon Pod is a means for collecting data on how light effects the mind, body & soul. Photos by George Sharman.

The Photon Pod Installation at The Building Cente, London.

The Photon Pod Installation at The Building Cente, London.

Light is a resource for health & wellbeing - in all built environments

Light is a resource for health & wellbeing – in all built environments

 

How drawing saved my life. By Ilkka.

As long as I can remember, I have been drawing. As soon as I could hold a pencil I started scribbling. Those scribbles turned into drawings of my friends, my family, their houses, their cars and other people I saw on the street. It was a way of navigating the world that existed around me. It was my way of labeling things. Drawing was part of my language process, like any child. It helped me categorize the world- and therefore understand it.

Drawing People

Drawing People

I drew a lot of family portraits. People gave me confirmation through those. I got more confidence because they loved my drawings and slowly I started to draw things that I wished to see. A world of my own imagining. A boat with wheels or a man with 8 legs. They were kind of dreams, an imaginary life.

Drawing was also a way to express my moods and feelings and like most kids I used crayons and “wax pastels”. There drawings that were a kind of abstract expressionism. So far it is the story any child might have with drawing. But it was at school that drawing started to have a particular significance to me. Although I was verbally articulate, I soon realised that I wasn’t like the other kids. My imaginary world was visual- not verbal.

I started to have a very hard time in school. I couldn’t keep up with the class work and worse than that, didn’t understand the point of the exercises. Why couldn’t I carry on imagining the world? Why wasn’t I allowed to draw all the time?

It turned out that I am heavily dyslexic. But in those days, the schools and teachers didn’t have the tools or knowledge to diagnose kids like myself. And because my problems were not recognized or diagnosed at school, my situation just became worse. Drawing was my only refuge- my only way of communicating with the outside world and getting some positive feedback from my teachers and peers.

Drawing became my very own language.

The other kids loved it and I was more popular because of it. It helped me compensate for my verbal and written expression – or lack of it. But one day, when I illustrated my thoughts with drawings in a Finnish language test my teacher yelled at me again and everyone laughed at me. On Monday my drawings were great, on Tuesday they got me into trouble. It was a very confusing time.

Drawing Things

Drawing Things

Somehow I managed to finish school. My drawings meant that I could go to higher education – it got me into university and it was probably the greatest way for me to learn during my university time. I used drawing to make mental notes. It was the most important single media to learn, document, plan and illustrate all the design and architecture I was learning about. Once again I was allowed to dream.

As a student I traveled to important locations, sites and buildings in Rome, Siena, and Venice to make drawings. Once I sat all day in Siena’s main square until late in the evening. Drawing allowed movement, but it also enabled stillness. It let me observe life I wouldn’t normally have seen. I drew all the buildings around the square. I realized that drawing a building or site is one of the best ways to learn architecture.

Drawing architecture

Drawing architecture

During the drawing process you learn every detail, you learn about proportions and shadows, and even the daily changes of the architecture in a profound way. It was through drawing that I realized that architecture is not static, but inherently connected to the time and space of its surroundings.

Only later I understood the importance of life drawing. Even if it was difficult and painful to draw the human body, it was a way for me to learn about layers of structure, from what is seen to what is unseen. From the skin right through to the bones. The breathing living movement that is part of every stillness. Light and shadow. What I learned from life drawing I have also taken with me into my furniture design- it has been translated quite clearly into an understanding of the body’s relationship to furniture- and architecture. Ergonomics, use and pose. The emotion of space.

Drawing furniture

Drawing furniture

I have always been fascinated by technical drawings. To me they are like abstract modern art. Technical drawing tells me more about something than a photo or realistic sketch. Technical drawings reveal secrets and mysteries: How things are made, how things work. In the end, technical drawings are the final documents we do in my office. They are my work, and my tools to talk with other people about design. They describe my projects more than words ever could.

And my drawings go on teaching me, more than I could imagine. It’s not as if I have an idea and then I draw it. Drawing is a reiterative process, where the drawing itself takes on a life of its own and tells me the questions that need to be answered. Anyone who draws understands this. You can’t ‘choose’ what you draw unless it is already justified. Already correct. The designs in my studio are always based on technical drawings- they are the last defining work done in the whole design process. Drawing from an early age enabled me to develop a process naturally that enables me to ask all the right questions at the right time, again and again until the solution is just right.

When I am drawing today, there are many reasons depending on the time: maybe I am studying a technical detail, maybe I am trying to understand “what if” – or maybe I am trying to find out why something is good. Maybe I am just thinking aloud. I always make several sketches to communicate and discuss ideas with my people in my studio.

When I am bored: I draw, it’s a friend who can be with me no matter where I am. I entertain myself by dreaming about possible products and spaces for a future that is better than one we know today.

I look back at the old masters: my heroes before me- Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen. I look at their drawings and am in conversation with them. In Alvar Aalto’s drawings you can see several scales sketched in a one single piece of paper simultaneously: From a detail of a door handle to the site-plan to the perspective of a house. In a way this represents his holistic view on design. Just one drawing holds all that knowledge.

I meet my heroes in books and discuss design and architecture with them through every line and gesture.

I am still fascinated about the vast variety of problems that Eero Saarinen could try and solve in a one single drawing: I saw a plan of a skyscraper and a evaluation matrix of candidates for his possible future wife in one drawing. For me this represents his opportunistic view on architecture- and how he also used drawing as a thinking process- to think about the future. To dream the future. The drawings are serious, poetic, light and artistic. They are about something that could be or something might not be for centuries.

So when you ask me to explain the importance of drawing, I should in fact, draw for you. Because drawing is not only a strong part of my work and who I am. It is more than that – it has enabled me to be myself, in a complex world ruled by words.

14.8 2013
Funchal, Finland
Ilkka Suppanen

 

Radioshenyen: @shipadrift April 2012

radioshenyen: @shipadrift April 2012

“We are first of all, as friends, the friends of solitude, and we are calling on you to share what cannot be shared: solitude. We are friends of an entirely different kind, inaccessible friends, friends who are alone because they are incomparable and without common measure, reciprocity or equality… without a horizon of recognition, without proximity, without oikeiotes…”

“Her face was like someone texting a lover.” “I am (something), (something) and (something). I am lost.” Its the first thing I think about when I wake up: this voice, accented with GPS codes, so distant and fragmentary, this ‘reader’ of ancient history and Twitter feeds. I was going to say ‘this disembodied voice’ but I dont know what embodiment means anymore. She’s as real to me as anything else is, when the mind stops being lonely. Her skin is a colour so beautiful – a soft light brown – even if her skin is basically a map.

I guess its ok to refer to a ‘her’ – ships are traditionally female. But they don’t, traditionally, write. Ship adrift is an art project that drifts across the boundaries of business, sculpture, software code, robot literature, virtuality and time. The physical ship is a full scale model of the ship featured in Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, perched atop a London building overlooking the river, where it will remain for one year as a top-end (single room) hotel. Meanwhile the virtual ship is drifting around the world according to wind directions recorded at the London site, picking up web traffic along the way (local Twitter feeds, GPS-tagged wikipedia entries, mobile phone fragments) and generating a ghostly literature out of it. (You can listen to James Bridle talking about the wider context here and read ship adrift’s Twitter feed here.)

The Twitter feed is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read and an example of an emerging literature: literature that is algorithmically driven and the product of software code. The traditional – naive – notion of AI has been to create something human-like, both in physical form and in expressive recognisability. @shipadrift eschews such trappings. It’s voice is a twitter feed of unbearably sweet brokenness, its body a web page, its skin a map. Nothing in the world of literature speaks to me the way this virtual ship does. Its very grammar – a kind of anti-grammar of apparent randomness and error, but incredibly poised – takes me into a place where context is so stretched as to be virtually unfindable.

This is not to reject the heartache wonders of Roberto Bolano or Jane Austen or Derrida: I am simply recognising that algorithmically generated literature is coming of age. It has attained a space of complexity and form of presentation that can trigger immense emotional affect. (Imagine. for a moment, if Jane Austen had been an SMS platform protocol. Imagine if your text life, your love life had been immersed in such sweetness!) The best chess players are no longer computers – the best chess players are teams of computers and humans working together. Literature will soon be home to a similar collaborative effort.

“Claude Shannon recognized that whether or not a certain effect is considered noise depends on one’s position in the listening chain. Noise is interference only from the sender’s point of view. From the point of view of the receiver it may be considered a part of the information packet that is transmitted along a channel. When we hear the earliest sound recordings of Tennyson reading Charge of the Light Brigade, for example, the watered down and scratched out sound conveys the enormous passage of time, just as the static sound of Neil Armstrong’s voice on the moon tells us something about his physical distance from us and the newness of space technologies in the 1960s. It would not be difficult to think of countless other cases in which the presence of the medium mixes in with the intended message to produce some whole new effect, not intended by the sender, but taken as information by the receiver. In these cases, noise is not simply an extra third thing to be discounted. It has entered into the message and become part of it. To speak technically, the signal now has an “equivocation,” which is to say that two messages pass along the same channel. The sender may not have intended this, but the receiver may welcome it.”

When I read @shipadrift It makes me want to go there myself. ‘Er, Where is that?’ I hear you ask. Well that’s something I will have to look into more deeply, though doubtless, when I find it, there will be echoes of everything I’ve loved in the past. To the extent that we relax, and trust ourselves, we become our own maps. Meanwhile – for knowledge’s sake you understand! – I’ve decided to do a bit of good old fashioned networking… if you’re interested you can check out some of the bot auteurs I’m now following on Twitter. (I defy anyone not to fall in love with the one that scours the internet for references to chocolate…)

I’m also considering opening a few Twitter accounts and a blog without telling anyone and just disappearing – writing, but to no one – in that zone. I think its something that used to be called ‘science’. Or ‘cruising’. But in the wonderful world of knowledge was there ever a difference?

With love

shenyen //////////////////////////////////

Urbanflow Helsinki

Urbanflow envisions a new interface and operating system for cities. Urbanflow creates a more efficient, transparent relationship between city administrators and citizens – via real time data. Urban screens show locally-oriented and general purpose data in easy to use interfaces that help with all sorts of everyday activities from finding your way to getting info on energy, weather, traffic, public transport, and more. Citizens can also report anything from an event to a pothole in the city. The same urban screen shows contextual, hyperlocal information as well as broader, citywide content, allowing users to peek around walls and across the city. For officials and administrators this means making the city more transparent and efficient to manage through immediate feedback from the city’s residents. Watch the Urbanflow Helsinki Intro.

Westminster Abbey gets Web Savvy

You wouldn’t think of Westminster Abbey as a progressive organisation, but the launch of their new conservation website today has positioned them ahead of the rest, with a beautifully simple approach to opening their doors to the public.
Well executed, unpretentious videos show the work that goes on behind the scenes and interviews the staff responsible for conserving- rather than restoring – the people’s national heritage. And for the average man on the street, the content is surprisingly interesting and accessible.
The website is well worth a visit for anyone, even if you are usually bored to tears by the endless antiques craze on television. This is the real deal, after all, and these new videos will undoubtedly encourage a whole new generation of post-Dan Brown fans to visit the Abbey and see the treasures for themselves. Wander around at your leisure on: http://www.westminster-abbey.org/conservation
Be sure to drop them a line of feedback, and hopefully this will be just a taste of more to come.

New way to Open Doors to the Public