Siiri Haarla on the Schöneweide Art Niche, the Power of Banal Experiences
Siiri Haarla considers Berlin a place that allows one to flourish as an artist, while also providing a certain freedom to explore different other environments without the pressure of a career. While studying at the Art Academy in Helsinki, Finland, she lived abroad, enjoying an open-minded year in the rebel city of Krakow. Fascinated by German Expressionism, and inspired by the Old and New Leipzig School movements, she decided to take up residence in Berlin for good.
I met Siiri working events where we both occupy a part-time job. Like most of our fellow Berliners, we find ourselves at times working small jobs to sustain our livelihood of that dream which fuels everyday sunrises.
But without dramatizing the artist’s path to success or the compromises one has to make in life, I find myself surrounded by an army of people wearing the “normality” mask, while quietly and humbly doing what brings them joy. Siiri is one of them.
Two tram stations away from S-Bahn Schöneweide, we visit Siiri’s atelier located in the AEG industrial building complex. Known for the upcoming Art Festival Kunst am Spreeknie (starting this Friday), it is also an emerging reused space for world-wide artists sharing Berlin’s no-so-hip spaces. Meanwhile, the complex is a protected monument, merging heritage and modern use.
How did you find this place? Schöneweide is not necessarily the closest and most renowned place for making art.
I found it easily. There are still affordable spaces here, a bit outside of the city center, but which already attract hundreds of international artists each year, at least for the Art Festival. But it was also because I immediately fell in love with the industrial complex. And I was interested in going outside of the “hip and cool” center of Berlin.
We were talking in S-Bahn on our way here that it’s not only really hard to express what art is in simple words, but there’s the added challenge of presenting it. Because the huge input of marketing and advertising which helps in promoting it but ends up distracting from it as well. How would you present your own concept of art, without that pressure?
What I meant was that people are searching much more for a certain purpose, a goal or “usefulness” of the art pieces. And it can be a disappointment that it’s not possible to find them, because art serves its own purposes. Or how I see it. At least my art.
And what would that purpose be?
It may sound very formalistic, but, for a painting, it is about the fact of being as good of a painting as possible. But for me it already includes the fact that it should reference the reality we live in. So the content, in that way, is a part of the form of the painting. You have to be truthful. Honest to yourself.
I find that really interesting. Because this is also similar to other forms of artistic expression, such as photography, or writing: the need to keep a balanced perspective. How do you handle this as a painter?
As an artist, you feel pressured to make some sort of “brand” out of yourself, an easily recognizable style. But still, that can contrast to your own purposes. When I start a canvas, I think that all I’ve done before is only a limitation in remaking myself every time. That is what being an artist for an audience, or within a society, means. But, I feel I am quite free from this responsibility or moral statements. All the elements, they become metaphorical.
What is your creative process?
When I start painting, one part generates the other. And of course, during the process, my mind brings me these impulses, and whether I accept them or reject them, it’s a matter of choice, of endless material in my knowledge system. Then I have to correct it. I have to have some sort of picture in my head; otherwise I wouldn’t be able to choose it in the first place. In that sense it is a journey.
It’s a refreshing idea to view an artistic process outside the pressures of producing something that is instantly relatable or consumable.
I don’t even feel the pressures of a painting to be understandable to myself. Sometimes it isn’t. A picture can lose its interest when it’s totally understandable. I don’t like the word “mysterious” because it’s too spiritual, but there are no final answers.
Before I’ve seen your paintings, you mentioned you want to stay away from being considered a political artist. Why is that?
I meant, that one shouldn’t look for a statement from this [my art]. That there is no categorizing the good or the bad. I don’t know useful solutions for our everyday problems.
You place the woman as a central piece in some of your paintings. Is that a comment on femininity?
It’s about that ways women are seen, put on the higher ground. I see a lot of hypocrisy in the idea of womanhood. For me the idea of feminism relies too much on the significance of gender, which I don’t agree with. But it’s very much present.
Where do your most inspiring elements for the creative process lie?
Maybe it is the contradicting elements, like the Swedish girl fighting alongside ISIS in Syria. Because you can’t grasp it. How should I look at this disturbing story? It includes morally suspicious elements, but no “right” answers.
We met at an event doing a Nebenjob. It wasn’t necessarily the most creative place, but it’s an experience that provides a new perspective or an escape from the creative pressure, or perhaps leads you to a comfortable numb place too. Is that an inspiration for you as well?
There was something I brought into my atelier from work: a woman working in a bar, painted in gold, dancing constantly for five hours in automatic moves. She is also a performing artist in the broader sense. Yet, it made me feel that people in any position can be used as tools to serve mechanical purposes. In service, you are like an item. It’s a bit dramatized, but ... it forces you to see whole humanity with different eyes. It’s useful for a period of time.
You can find Siiri Haarla’s art exhibition at this week, as well as open doors event:
Facebook event: Vernissage – Das Archimedische Prinzip
Part of Art Festival Kunst am Spreeknie
Where: Kultur und Technologie Zentrum Rathenau
Wilhelminenhofstrasse 83-85, 12459 Berlin
When: 8 and 17 July
Interview, Text & Photography by Eliza Marin