Warjakka Art Path – an urban street art installed into the forest and adapted to its aesthetics – has officially opened and will run until the end of August. You are welcome to explore and contribute to it – Warjakka Art Path encourages its visitors to create art pieces, celebrating the evolution of connection between audience and art.

Free tours are available starting 5th of July until the 23rd of July on weekdays at 12:00, departure point is Cafe Hulina in Varjakka harbour.

TaikaBox’s partners on this project are Culture House Valve and Varjakka-based artist Mirjami Mäkelä, the artistic mistress of Varjakka forest who has created the majority of the art pieces and is guiding visitors through the Art Path and into the process of art-making in the woods. 

In this TaikaTalk Mirjami Mäkelä talks about combining the urban and the natural in an interdisciplinary artistic effort to unite the community around being creative and eco-friendly.

Mirjami as the Spirit of Warjakka – photo by John Collingswood

TaikaTalk: Do you recall a moment when you decided to become an artist and what was most challenging on this path?

Mirjami Mäkelä: I’ve been wanting to be an artist since I was a teenager, however it feels I’ve been doing art my whole life: starting from drawings and carrying on with poems, stories (most of them were Harry Potter related fanfiction…), photography, movies and ending up with textile arts… It’s been quite many years since I decided to become an artist funded by grant organizations – I enjoy doing my own – very different – stuff. 

How did interdisciplinary arts bring you to making installations in the forest and making one your gallery?

It indeed is! I started creating the Art Path because I like street art and I live by the forest, so I decided to put art pieces into it so that people could see them while taking their dogs out or cycling. It’s a lot of fun to have art in totally weird places. 

You’re bringing urban arts into the forest, have you thought of trying vice versa – installing the forest into the cityscape?

Not yet, but that is an interesting idea. I have done some textile art and spray paintings in the city – not in Oulu, but in my home town – Kankaanpää. 

What brought you to Oulu and Varjakka and do you feel any special Nordic vibe in the local arts scene?

My boyfriend brought me here – he lived here and I was finishing school in Tampere and decided to move and see how things will go. I really like living in Oulu – I feel there’s much more culture here. I met a lot of people from the art and culture scene here in Oulu, and this scene does feel bigger than Tampere… Varjakka seems magical and inspiring to me. I’ve been walking around and it was clear for me from the beginning – two years ago: I will do the art path in the woods, and people will be able to take part in it. Last Summer it came true. 

How do you feel about the community reviving through art in Varjakka – the place has been abandoned for decades after the local sawmill closed in 1929?

Although I’ve been living here for only three years, I did feel the community was quite broken, and I do hope the Art Path lights it up at least a little.

Do you feel the Corona reality might have triggered a boost of community-based art making? 

I can’t tell much about the tendencies since I’m really not sure what other artists are up to. However, people this time obviously want to come outside, the Art Path was visited by nearly three thousand people last (first Corona-marked) Summer. Nature calls on people much more these days, and they appreciate doing more than just walking and seeing things. They seem to be longing for creating…  

There’s a lot of tenderness in your artwork – you’re putting sticks around trees in a way that feels you’re hugging them, and you’re tying scarves around trunks in a way a mother would wrap her child in a scarf, – you’re basically bringing in a symbol of human care to the forest. Meanwhile, much of the ecological-friendly rhetorics involve aggressive elements – Greenpeace’s scaling oil ships being a remarkable example. How did you choose the other side of eco-friendly policy?

I’m a true nature lover. I was convinced of it when I moved to Varjakka – in Tampere I used to live in the city centre, with a constant city noize and just a few trees. When I first came here I was overwhelmed by the difference. Then I sensed the peace of the forest and the connection to it.

I want to preserve our nature. I’ve been picking up trash around here and encouraging people to do art in the forest from the materials we have around us – that also reduces buying paints and creating waste from the package material. You don’t have to buy new stuff to do art. The idea of putting scarves around the trees came up naturally – I thought it was a very easy way for people to participate, many people have donated scarves and keep donating.

Your artwork is full of care towards nature – yet it can also be destroyed by it: the little fairy house in the roots or a tiny fire station in the moss can be just washed away by rain. Did nature inspire you to let go and accept the risk of losing the art you produced?

Yes! And I do so much stuff, that if I cared about keeping it safe, I would quickly run out of space (smiles). That’s one of the big reasons I started to create art in the forest and let it go. The point is to take a moment to enjoy just doing the piece – a mandala on the ground for example. 

That’s the thing about mandala after all – you create it to then destroy and let go.

Yes, it is totally about the process. 

What’s your favourite piece of art you’ve ever created within the Warjakka Art Path – whether destroyed or still existing? Mine is definitely the sign on a tree saying ”Ready to Fly” – the least expected thing to be seen on a tree. How did you come up with it?

That’s just one of my basic ideas (laughs). I like rainbows, the Art path is in a way a rainbow path – rainbows are so positive. My favourite piece is a rainbow sign on another tree saying ”Luon Utopiaa” – The Utopia of Nature, because that is something I am trying to create. Another favourite thing is putting sticks around the trees. For some reason I find it fun, and I also like to collect stuff. Everyday I add more sticks and all together they become fortune and wishing wells…  

What would be your artistic wish?

I want to create art spaces in weird places. Installations in the forest where you can walk in and see stuff. Since I was a child I was very upset that when you go to a gallery you can’t touch things. I knew that when I do art, everybody can touch it. 

The rainbows in the forest also bring in the urban pride aesthetics, being the symbol of love and freedom and the struggle for them within LGBTQ+ community. 

It is nice to feel that connection, although I’m not a very political person and see many of the political processes in grey colour. Yet the rainbow is very obvious and pure.

You break a number of artistic traditions: challenge the gallery space concept, where you can’t touch things and often have to obey a certain number of rules; openly share your artistic methods, subject art pieces to take survival risks out here in the nature site – your revolution, however, feels very kind…

It is! (all laugh) I enjoy filling the forest with art and encouraging people to decorate their environment. The art path is tricky in terms of uniting the community – you can come here anytime and not actually see people around. But you do see their contributions. This Summer the Warjakka Puutarha (Warjakka Community Gardens) is having a special poetic guest book – people write things, and it will become a poem in the end… 

Corona emphasized that ”distant” doesn’t have to equal ”disconnected”, especially when you’ve mastered patience. Where do you find yours when doing the pieces involving threads?

I can knit stuff all day long, and I’m also quite fast. Doing crochets is also a form of meditation: it brings so much peace, releases anxiety and just makes me happy. 

What’s the one nasty thing in the world that brings you anxiety – the one that would make you want to knit for the longest time? 

When people don’t care and think too much about themselves. I’m worried about the private sector blocking the pass to the sea or generally to natural sites. It upsets me a lot when people are not allowed to go through landscapes the way they would like to. Here the beautiful mansion of Varjakka bay was under such a threat… No care can be big or small, like trash on the ground, – and it equally upsets me. 

Narcissism – though it sounds so nature-friendly because of the daffodil – narcissus – origin… What would you tell your younger self who decided to become an artist?

Just do the work…

That’s tough.

Yet I believe the more you do, the more pearls you’re likely to discover. I’d also suggest myself to be brave and maybe not so judgemental towards my own art pieces. I’m a very tough self-critic, the others are kinder to me than I am to myself. 

Nature – your inspiration – accepts itself though. Was it hard to learn this lesson after having moved from the big city, with its noise and fuss distracting you from facing yourself?

Oh yes, at first I didn’t know what to do! Facing the forest came first, and going there and starting to put sticks around trees helped to reconnect with myself. Spending time in the forest forced me to work on my fears towards spiders. I didn’t like them at all and couldn’t relax because I’d worry where they are. Then I got fed up with that anxious thinking and started to accept them little by little. When working in the forest I need to be one with all the living. Bugs, ants, mosquitos… After all, I am the guest there!

Warjakka Winter Art Walk in early 2021

Mirjami Mäkelä was talking with Lölä Vlasenko

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