Minna Miettilä 20 May 2021, Helsinki
To whom it may concern,
this is a letter of support for Jessie Bullivant. It’s based on a commissioned work I produced for them as well as friendship that extends beyond this period of co-operation.
Me and Jessie first got to know each other in 2018, through studying in the MfA program of the University of the Arts’ Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. There I once said in a seminar that there are carpenters in my family. A bit after that, while the seminar was still continuing, I developed a minor anxiety attack, thinking I had accidentally used a wrong word. I thought carpenters actually meant craftspeople who make furniture or decorations out of wood. The relatives I referred to built houses, the skeletons of them, not the decorations for their interiors (or exteriors). In Finnish, there are two distinct words for those occupations. Now I know that the English word encompasses pretty much everybody making something out of wood. No differentiation between structure and ornament. Nor skilled craftsperson and “physical” worker.
Since I felt it was too late to go back to the subject, I kept regretting that I had unintentionally shared misinformation about my family history to the seminar group. I knew it didn’t really matter, it intrigued me though that it still felt like such an important issue.
I can’t remember if Jessie were in this seminar, but it’s probable they were. Much later, in 2020, they suggested that I make newspaper sticks to support their text ‘The Tower’ that was re- printed in newspaper format for the HIAP open studios in November 2020. I gladly agreed, since I was excited to collaborate with Jessie. I also had read and commented early versions of the text and acquired a copy of the first edition that was distributed in the group exhibition ‘Big Wet’ in Haukilahti water tower in August 2020.
Jessie wanted to present the newspapers in the space so that they were supported by newspaper sticks. They sent me some reference images, asking if I would be interested in making something similar. It was a challenge since even if I work with my hands in my own practice, I rarely make things that are supposed to fulfill a specific function or even turn out the way originally planned – if there is a plan in the first place. Also, I’d never done anything on commission before. The status of my contribution was hybrid-like, since I was working as an artist, making objects that weren’t exactly artworks, but rather a support structure for one. I had ambivalent feelings about making a sort of utensil, but at the same time curious and pleased to work in the context of somebody else’s praxis.
Now that I think of it, we never talked about why Jessie wanted to have newspaper sticks. They’re not very widely used anymore, and their functionality feels a bit questionable. You can definitely read a newspaper without it being attached to a stick, which most of us do, if we still happen to read printed newspapers. The stick is mostly used in public spaces though, or cafés, and one thing it does, is that it makes it more difficult to take the newspaper with you. Another thing is, that it keeps the pages together. So it keeps the parts together and the whole in place. It’s a device for attachments. During the Open Studios, Jessie made a few different installations, in which four of the newspapers, along with their sticks, were hanging on the wall and one of them was either lying on a table or hanging from a string attached to the ceiling – a double attachment. Attaching the newspaper to a hard wooden stick is a bit like framing a drawing. It makes a thing that can be crumpled or torn, and easily can become invisible or trash into a more solid object, harder, more serious. It’s a gesture of elevation and control.
Jessie were a very supportive and patient “employer” and throughout the process I felt I was trusted in every way. It made it easier for me to relax in the face of this new type of project. When I think of the collaboration, it feels like the gesture of invitation was the crucial part. I was invited by Jessie to make a series of objects, and then to write this letter. An invitation suggests an attachment, a commitment. By taking up the invitation, the suggested task, I agree to become attached to the project and Jessie as the conductor of the project. The invitation, of course, also is a gesture of support: morally, as a way of acknowledging my praxis and financially, as the work was compensated in money.
I noticed, working as a “free” artist, it was a nice to be given a task for change. And at the same time, there is quite an interesting dynamic between the one giving and receiving the task. I can’t quite put my finger on it but it connects to finding and relating to different types of resources that to me seems central in Jessie’s praxis. It also produces a heightened awareness of the exchange nature of relating in the context of art fields as nets of entanglement of overlapping professional and personal relations. I have great admiration for the clarity, accuracy and integrity of Jessie’s work. Also, I’ve always felt supported by Jessie, and from that perspective it was great to be able to craft a support structure for their work (and now this letter as a follow-up).
Later on Jessie sent me a screenshot of a message from their father commenting on the final installation. He was, without having further information, referring to me as a “local craftsperson”. I imagine myself as a skilled craftswoman, carrying on a hundreds of years old family tradition of carpentry, in my cozy little wood workshop in the close-knit little community on the remote island of Suomenlinna. I fantasize having my fixed position in the community; my skills are highly valued and I’m trusted and cherished both as a professional and community member.
My father isn’t a professional carpenter (of either kind), but he is a DIY man, who always has one or several house renovation, tinkering or repairing projects going on. He’s always lived in the town he was born in. Sometimes when I’m making something I consider “crafty” I send my father some pictures. It feels pretty much like the only way I can invite him to take part in what I’m doing. His comments are scarce and cautiously supportive at best. If I was more of a “maker” maybe we had more to talk about. But I’m just a slightly dislocated university- educated contemporary artist.
Trying to finish this letter of support, I’m thinking of our families in two different parts of the world. I’m thinking of support, attachments, ways to establish and manage them and how complicated that can be. On that note I warmly recommend anyone to engage in any type of collaboration with Jessie. I look forward to sharing more time and work with them soon.
With warm regards,