„SarkandaugavISM”. Finnish artist reviewing Sarkandaugava project

„SarkandaugavISM”. Finnish artist reviewing Sarkandaugava project
sarkandaugavai.lv . Finnish artist Heidi Hänninen
09-09-2013 A+ A-
This summer, a Finnish artist Heidi Hänninen visited Sarkandaugava for a one month residence where she created three large-scale street art works. She went to Riga after getting an invitation from „Orbīta” literary movement to take part at the „Rīga 2014” Foundation project „Riga Poetry Map”. One of her paintings „KAĶISMS”, dedicated to poet Aivars Neibarts, served as an inspiration source to make one of Sarkandaugava objects at this year's „White Night”. Heidi wrote an essay where she described her project experience.

I'm an (finnish) artist. I have done my bachelor-studies in art pedagogy, in the University of Lapland (2010) and started my MFA- studies in Finnish Academy of Fine Arts (sculpture-department) in autumn 2011. Since 2007 I have been actively concentrating on making art and being an artist. Being an artist and an art teacher goes hand-in-hand in my thinking and they are both important parts of me, in my point of view making art and teaching it can work together reflectively.

Through discussions and working with other people I get more perspective to my own art-making process too. For me, art is the lifeblood.

Art is another, more humane, point of view in our capitalistic societies that depend on the constant growth of economy. This efficiency - thinking is limiting creativity and I think that art can be a healthy alternative for all of us, one way or another. Children's culture in whole is one of the most inspiring fields for me and I really think that in toys, films etc. offered to kids we can see and really strongly feel the atmosphere of surrounding society with it's (hidden) aims and (unspoken) values.


I use many different materials and techniques in my art. Past few years I have been concentrating on three-dimensional works and sculpture, mainly I have been casting concrete. I use many other medias too, like photography and video and I like to ensemble them with my sculptures. After studying in the State academy of art and design in Saint Petersburg, in the faculty of monumental painting (2008-09) I have been activly painting on big scale: making murals and street art in Finland and abroad. I'm also a member in the street art collective called Multicoloured Dreams which is organizing legal walls for artists and citizens to paint on.

The aim of our group is to give a voice for developing creative visual culture in public space, but not illegally and by damaging property.

We are demanding walls to be opened to all possible visual markings and developed a procedure that can be accepted by all parties, including city authorities and owners of the construction sites. Permission for use of each wall are sought from both of these parties, and artists are first asked to make a sketch of their work, before implementation on the temporary construction wall. MCD is also painting it's own street art and actually the latest mural we painted in Estonia, Pärnu during the Sõnum seinal festival 10-14.8.2013.

Our neighbour-country Russia is a great source of inspiration for me. It's culture (language, art, architecture, animations, toys), history with soviet past, politics, people, places, the way how people for example take over the surrounding space and deal with the death, are all interesting aspects for me when I look at Russia.

But as for many my relationship towards Russia is also full of contradictions.

However, in Russia I have found a concrete landscape of my own mind. Through aesthetics, culture and politics I travel to these views of my mind over and over again, deeper and deeper. I hope that these views that I’m presenting in my art, can bring something new to someone else’s lives as well. Maybe even offer a different kind of aspect to the everyday life. Considering my unusual artistic past with Russia and Russians it was very interesting for me to get to know Latvia better. I knew that it's a post-soviet country with a big Russian minority and I hoped that I could survive there with my russian. In the end more often I started my conversions with locals in english instead - just a bit more safe way to start - if you really want to survive!


I was spending time at Riga for one month (4.7-3.8.2013). First week I was orientating to my neighborhood Sarkandaugava and started to find out possibilities there for my work: legal walls for my street art -project related to Orbita's POETRY CITY MAPPING - residency program. There was a lot of possibilities, as much as problems too.

The whole Sarkandaugava-area is full of my dream-walls: grey concrete- walls which are just shouting for art! 

But it seemed that locals were not so used to quality street art in Sarkandaugava and trusted the policeman more than the artist. However, their reaction is understandable for many reasons. First of all Sarkandaugava used to be an area for factories and their workers to live. After the collapse of Soviet Union many of these people lost their jobs and started to have problems in their lives, some of them fond the salvation in alcohol, for instance. In addition the symbol of  the area is actually notorious mental hospital with wide territory in the very heart of Sarkandaugava. Locals are having strong conceptions about this hospital and it's territory. Some of them are amused by the fact that there is an area for people who have lost their minds, some are more afraid, but they all are more or less reserved.

I was personally more afraid of the Sarkandaugava people around the hospital than those ones inside it.

But this previous working-class suburb is also an area of possibilities to become a bohemian place to be and act. And it's not spoiled by the capitalism - yet. I was introduced to the activists of Sarkandaugava who showed me the area and told me about it's past. They have been already doing there a lot, including info-desks telling people about the history of Sarkandaugava, and showing the problematic polluted spots too.

I think it's very important to talk about the past so that we could value those things what we have achieved or try seek for the better future and living- environment and atmosphere. Through my artistic contribution I really wanted to support the nicely started work of these local activists.


I'm very fascinated by different ideologies and „-isms” which we have actually quite a lot in our languages. As the residency program was related to poetry, I got inspirated especially by the very ending of these words: ism. And so I started to create different kind of isms. First of all I wanted to paint a work called „Daltonism”: words capitalism and communism on top of each other so that capitalism is on green and communism on red and in the same time when these two colours get together they start to argue - so much that if your eyes are sensitive enough they might even hurt a bit. Clever audience can interpretate this feeling/work as they see best.

As a neighbor-painting for Daltonism I started to paint a work called POINT ILL ISM. Unfortunately I was interrupted by very unsatisfied owner of this wall and I didn't have possibility to finish it. Anyway I'm quite happy with it, but still I would have like to paint/underline the word ILL on red. What can you do, I thought that the permissions were fine and I was really confidently painting my slow-motion-style- street art with taping until the state policemen were called to join me and started to ask strange questions like: „who are you against”? or „whose side are you on?”. That's really pity because that concrete garage-wall was the best and most beautiful wall I have ever painted this far! For me it was almost like making of new concrete sculpture, even though usually I'm casting it from the very beginning. This was ready-made but nice indeed, with the rough soviet touch!

After not-so-successful start of this ISM- project we ended up a to ask permission from the director of the previously mentioned mental hospital. It went more successfully and I could finally start to work in legal and proper way - on the hospital wall in front of the urban garden made by local activists. 

In total I painted approximately 25 (?) meters of their wall and that became the main-work of my residency-visit. Locals were writing about me and my project in Sarkandaugava's facebook - page and blogs and taking photos. But it was mainly the young, active and creative generation who were interested about my art in positive way. It was extremely difficult to work in area where people tend to be aggressive and don't know a thing about art or altruism (actually It's not very popular word in these individual times). Local activists and artists said that I was making important job while being the very first street artist working publicly on Sarkandaugava walls but for me as being the first, and the foreigner speaking in Russian, I had quite rough times answering and explaining people interrupting my work time after time and trying to work in safe way. All together I was in trouble with police 8 times, thanks to the angry Latvians whore were constantly calling them around. But this reaction was understandable too- I think that what ever picture I would have chosen to paint on this hospital wall it would have been bad idea for someone's opinion.

The place itself is too sensitive, too volatile. And on the other hand, it's just the one and only right  place for art.

Of course working in such neighborhood was very instructive experience for me and more interesting than working for example in the turistic center of Riga.  On the hospital walls I implemented three separated paintings: POETRISM with my Birdman - character who have been seen in many cities including Helsinki, Berlin and St.Peterburg, WE


As the „sugar on the top” I painted a mural called KAĶISMS dedicated to the local poet A. Neibarts with my colleague Valtteri Halmetoja in romantic old street in the „main-block” of Sarkandaugava's center, quite near by the house where I was living. If compared to the hospital there was really easy-going atmosphere and we got some nice and positive feedback, like: „Finally Sarkandaugava is part of Europe!!!!” or: „ IS THIS BERLIN OR WHAT!!!!???”. Working on that site was really nice end for the project and for my month in Sarkandaugava. Thank you and take care, SarkandaugavISts!


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