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Diving into arts in Helsinki

Posted: 2008-10-31 01:08:50, Categories: Travel, Finland, Hospitality exchange, Helsinki, Literature, Movies, 730 words (permalink)

Computer art installation at Alternative Party. When traveling, I'm breathing in a new environment every moment. In Helsinki, I'm familiar with the surroundings and how the system works. Part of that is easy access to information what is happening around. As a result I end up going to more concerts, festivals and other cultural events than during my travels.

The most interesting event happened through a CouchSurfing guest. I hosted Kevin who came from Berlin for the Helsinki Festival of New Juggling. The opening show was officially only for festival participants but the organizers kindly let me in with him. That was one and a half hours of most amazing juggling — in a nearby school gymnastics hall. :-) You could really feel the good vibes in the whole crowd. I also went to both public shows attached to the festival. The French group Compagnie Non Nova's Jongleur pas confondre on Saturday was a disappointment, but Ville Walo's and Kalle Hakkarainen's Puun syy was beautiful.

Love and Anarchy film festival took over the screens as usual in late September. The Icelandic comedy Astrópía offered the best laughs and was my favourite this year. Death Note came second by exploring the dark side of human mind in somehow very Japanese way. Some fans of the Death Note manga (comic) didn't appreciate the movie too much though. I should also mention the animation Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (Kaze no tani no Naushika) which is one of my favourite movies and comic books from all times. It was in the festival program, but as I had already seen the film and the hour of the screening was bad I skipped it this time.

Last weekend my friend Tuula came in Helsinki and we went together to the yearly book fair. Lectures were the most interesting part of the event. As adventurers and explorers in our own lives we both connected with the theme Vieraat kulttuurit suomalaisin silmin (Foreign cultures through Finnish eyes), and talks about happiness and personal choices in life. Marketta Horn told how she loved meeting people in the lively cheapest classes of trains during her travels in Asia and Australia. – Tän pitäis olla Kela-korvattavia asioita (This should be subsidized by the Finnish social security system), laughed Risto Lindstedt about the therapeutic value of his motorcycle travels. Parliament member and avid cyclist Osmo Soininvaara sitting besides him seemed to agree. – Hulluus tarjoaa helpotusta (Craziness offers relief), suggested Timo Airaksinen in his lecture. – Naisen sydän ei ole yhteensopiva nykymaailman kanssa. Voisiko hän muuttaa maailman sydämellisemmäksi? (The heart of a woman is not compatible with the modern world. Could she change the world into a more heartfelt one?), asked Hilkka Olkinuora, who touched the audience telling how women in particular submit too easily into the busy life expected by the society.

Tuula also joined me on Saturday to Alternative Party, where people come together to celebrate weird computers, music and funky digital arts. This year's event was bigger than ever but it had managed to preserve its friendly atmosphere. Front 242 did a great live concert on Friday night and Brad Templeton from Electronic Frontier Foundation was the guest of honor on Saturday. To my surprise Tuula also found the visit interesting and funny. She was probably more open minded towards the event than me. I realized how I had categorized Altparty as a nerd gathering which others wouldn't understand, and presented it as such.

During October I've also visited the Ateneum Art Museum, the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art and the Sinebrychoff Art Museum in Helsinki, plus Museum Centre Vapriikki in Tampere. It was a good reminder that museums are not static: all had plenty of new things to see. I particularly liked the Japanese wood prints in Ateneum and some works playing with light and colors in the Full House exhibition at Kiasma. Hint: Entrance to both Ateneum, Kiasma and Sinebrychoff Art Museum is free of charge on the first Wednesday of every month at 17-20 in the evening.

Settling down after the summer travels has been faster than it was after spending a whole year on the road. I've been meeting with friends, family and relatives, participating in club activities and spending countless hours reading and writing email, as usual. I also have a job again, but will write more about that later.

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Manufactured Landscapes

Posted: 2007-12-04 23:47:55, Categories: Ecology, Movies, Politics, 373 words (permalink)

Rice fields on Noto peninsula, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan. Recently there was a small movie festival in Helsinki focusing on climate change and environmental problems. The films were good, advertising a bit less successful. Most showings drew only a few dozen spectators despite the very low price of one euro per ticket.

In my opinion the most impressive film was Manufactured Landscapes. It doesn't preach or make naive observations what is right or wrong. It simply shows examples of human activity changing the nature, and landcapes formed by human activity alone. Some of the views are beautiful, others gruesome. Many times the camera starts from a small detail of a high resolution still photo, zooming out to reveal the enormous scale of the scene. I've never seen mass production presented in a more concrete and memorable way than the first few minutes of this film, with a camera sliding along a corridor in a Chinese factory. Highly recommended.

Other films included two Hollywood takes on climate change: An Inconvenient Truth and The 11th Hour. Of these two, my vote certainly goes to the Inconvenient Truth. It's built around lectures by Al Gore, which sounds like a bad idea at first, but the message comes out in a very clear and convincing way. While not an artistic masterpiece, it might be one of the most important movies of this decade.

The 11th Hour, on the other hand, tries to present so many opinions from various experts that it becomes a heap of scattered pieces of an unsolved puzzle. Of course many of the interviewed people have interesting things to say, which saves the film from being a complete disaster. I especially liked the ideas of Thom Hartmann, Oren Lyons and David Suzuki. However, I couldn't help thinking that a 15 minute film by one of the scientists could have told the story deeper and better than The 11th Hour did in an hour and a half.

Only one of the films in the festival was Finnish. Paratiisi — 3 matkaa tässä maailmassa by Elina Hirvonen was a though-provoking story about immigration. As a nice surprise the director was present for a very interesting Q/A session after the showing.

The photo of this blog entry shows rice fields on the Noto peninsula, Ishikawa prefecture, Japan.

Geishas, manga and anime

Posted: 2007-09-28 13:59:37, Categories: General, Finland, Hospitality exchange, Japan, Helsinki, Literature, Movies, 786 words (permalink)

Manga artist Keitaro Arima drawing a picture for fans. During August and September I again noted how Helsinki is full of festivals, concerts and other cultural events. I participated in quite a few, especially in events somehow related to Japan.

First there was a performance by three geishas from Kyoto, a promotional event by Finnair and the travel agency Ebookers who are increasing their frequency of flights to various Asian destinations. The traditional dances weren't anything new for me but the geishas also performed a rock, paper and scissors style game designed to entertain sake-drinking customers in the geisha houses. And of course virtually all of my old friends from various Japanese related societies in Finland were there. I compiled a small picture gallery of the event.

My longest trip in August and September was just a cruise to Stockholm, with a Japanese theme organized by the Japania ry society. I wrote a travel story with a few pictures (in Finnish) of the cruise too.

Shortly after the cruise I was asked if I could help the yearly Helsinki Comics Festival by hosting Keitaro Arima, a Japanese manga artist who was one of the main guests of the event. I didn't have to think twice, getting a rare opportunity to spend time with a person from the center of the manga culture (which is very popular in Japan), practising my Japanese and meeting several Finnish comics artists on the way.

It was a very nicely organized festival with a huge variety of interviews, shows and comics from all over the world, naturally emphasizing the Finnish scene. I especially liked that all the evening parties were open for everybody (with the exception of one dinner on Saturday), so one didn't need to be an insider to meet the artists and organizers also outside the daytime program of the festival. Manga fans were certainly happy with Keitaro Arima's signing session — he would not only give his signature but draw an individual picture for every fan in the queue. The session which was originally planned to last for an hour eventually became 3.5 hours.

Arima was staying in a hotel, but in Hospitality Club and CouchSurfing language hosting means offering a place to stay for someone. I've been quite active recently also in that, perhaps even a bit too active. I just counted that 21 people stayed at my place during the last two months. Almost half of them were cyclists and all the continents except Antartica were represented by at least one person. I didn't have a single bad experience and many of the guests were wonderful people, but too many is still too many. I think I'll have a break from hosting now, perhaps not completely closing my door but at least having less guests. It might happen naturally by simply getting less requests, as October and November are not the most popular months to travel in Finland for quite obvious reasons.

The latest chunk of Japanese culture I got in the Love and Anarchy film festival, which faithfully to its traditions featured a good selection of anime and non-animated Japanese films among other good movies from all around the world. I didn't see many movies during my year on the road so now it was a good time to catch up. Especially as the movie theatres in Helsinki are becoming more and more controlled by one single company which shows little else than the latest Hollywood blockbusters.

The animations Paprika and Tekkonkinkreet were both beautiful, although I didn't like the character drawing style in the latter too much. I didn't see yet Tales from Earthsea, the latest offering from Studio Ghibli, but it's one of the exceptions which will come to the mainstream theaters soon. Festival veteran Takashi Miike's this year's flick Like a Dragon was only mildly entertaining, Sakebi's Retribution was better but not exceptional. Same rating for Lost in Beijing by Ping Guo, the only Chinese film I went to see. Korea is producing more and more interesting movies, this year's good picks being Kim Ki Duk's Breath and Chan-Wook Park's I'm a Cyborg but That's Okay, which was a delighfully refreshing take on a difficult topic, my favorite this year. Año Uña was an interesting Brazilian experiment to do a film based on still photos, well done but still not really to my taste. The discussion with the director after the film added a nice personal touch into the viewing experience. Eastern Europe offered some of the darkest but well-done and realistic films this year, with the Cannes Golden Palm winner 4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days directed by Christian Mungiu from Romania and and The Trap by Srdjan Golubovic from Serbia. The Georgian-French joint production 13 Tzameti had the most stylistic black and white shooting.


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Copyright Arto Teräs <ajt@iki.fi>, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
(Unless otherwise mentioned in individual photos or other content.)