Oodi art rugs
Oodi features seven large art rugs to liven up the premises and tickle your imagination. The visuals of the rugs were created by Finnish designers Laura Merz, Aamu Song and Johan Olin, Marika Maijala, Piia Keto, Matti Pikkujämsä, Sakke Yrjölä and Jenni Rope. The rugs were handmade in North India with respect for centuries-old handcraft traditions. The art rugs depict Finnish literature classics from Minna Canth to Aleksis Kivi and from Mika Waltari to Tove Jansson. The art rugs are located in the Book Heaven on the third floor, except the Mika Waltari rug which is located on the second floor.
Tove Jansson’s colourful life and visual and literal heritage that speaks to all Finns was a very inspiring starting point for my design work. I illustrate children’s books, so Jansson was almost too predictable a choice as the theme author of my work. It is obvious that the artist’s masterful illustrations and exciting stories have left an impression on me ever since I was a child.
However, what inspired me the most was Tove Jansson’s philosophy of life: an open-minded and empathetic worldview that is conveyed through her stories and way of life. It took great courage to live openly in a relationship with a woman in a time when homosexuality was a crime and commonly seen as a mental illness. Tove did not care about the prevalent norms. Instead, she lived and loved in a way that she found natural. Her way of life was a statement for love and the freedom of expressing it: love has no bounds or laws and, in its different forms, it is the most human thing in the world.
I have been thinking for a long time that the significance of this artist’s life and work to sexual minorities in particular deserves considerably more recognition than it has received. As an illustrator specialising in children’s culture, I am saddened by the fact that her sexual identity has often been overlooked or concealed, especially when talking about her life to a child audience. For example, her long-time life partner Tuulikki Pietilä has been presented as a friend or left unmentioned altogether. Fortunately, we are now living in an era in which the prevalent attitudes are finally taking a turn for the better.
Some of the characters of the beloved Moominvalley serve as a subtle depiction of love that cannot be expressed freely. Thingumy and Bob speak their own language that no one else can understand. These whimsical, endearing characters go to great pains to hide their precious treasure – a huge, beautifully sparkling ruby. The jewel depicts the duo’s special love: it is sparkly, strong and genuine, but must be kept hidden from the rest of the world. The themes of difference and loneliness that are present in many of Tove’s stories and her characters’ mindsets speak to everyone. However, they speak especially to people who feel like they have to constantly hide an essential part of their identity: their way of loving.
Love is a theme that permeates all of Tove’s life, work and output, and that is what I believe her widespread popularity is based on. Her warm and accepting values have always been close to my heart, and they have also influenced this design project. I admire Tove’s ability to create colourful worlds and exciting atmospheres through words and images alike. These worlds – such as Moominvalley, the creation of which was Tove’s way of escaping the horrors of wartime – remind us of the importance of adventures, friendship and dreaming. At the same time, they also encourage us to accept differences, respect others, care about those close to us and have empathy. I fervently wish for more of these values in today’s life and discussion culture. I wanted my work to feature a world where eccentric, slightly peculiar yet warm and friendly characters are having an adventure in a setting inspired by Tove.
The artwork is based on Aleksis Kivi’s death cabin in Tuusula, Southern Finland. We wanted to use the cabin to bring up the zeitgeist and the living conditions in which our national author spent the last years of his life.
The death cabin is displayed on the rug in its actual size. Walking on the rug gives you a glimpse into Finland in the 19th century. The furniture of the cabin is captured in the artwork in its entirety.
The image also features the host family, i.e. Aleksis Kivi’s brother with his wife and four children.
I still remember the moment when I learned how to read – but I remember even more clearly when I was taken to a library for the first time in my native Otava. Rows and rows of stories on the shelves! I would carry bags of books home, read everything in the mobile libraries and start coming up with stories of my own. I liked fairy tales in which animals spoke and the boundaries between worlds were crossed effortlessly. The power of literature and stories has inspired me ever since; their ability to change us and the world and bring down barriers and prisons, both mental and concrete.
For the Oodi library, I wanted to design a forest green rug on which both young and older visitors to the library could stay, read and imagine stories of their own. For the artwork, I went to the Pasila Library to borrow a collection of Finnish fairytales (Suomalaiset kansansadut 1: Ihmesadut, Pirkko-Liisa Rausmaa (ed.), SKS 1988) and let those stories get mixed up in my head. Generally speaking, my favourite part of illustrating is the creation of characters, which is why I picked some of my favourite characters from the stories for the rug: a gluttonous giant girl, a boy who grew a horn on his head after eating a magical apple, children who turned into birds and a girl who wore iron boots.
The cavalcade of characters in the stories, much like in the library, is varied and not just a bunch of princesses and peasants.
I wanted my art rug to represent Minna Canth, whose important work for equality has left a great impression on me. As a woman living in today’s society, it is hard to understand how courageous she was in her time. I went to the library to borrow at least half a shelf metre of her works, the contents of which I proceeded to devour while lying in bed. Sometimes I would cry and be distraught, other times I would laugh. I could see the city alleys and people’s patched-up clothes in my mind’s eye. I was torn by despair. People’s cruelty and self-interest felt ruthless to me. Yet at the centre of everything was hope. Sometimes it would only be a small spark, but it was somewhere in there.
After immersing myself in Minna Canth’s time, I noticed that certain themes kept coming up repeatedly. This was women’s role in handicraft. I grabbed the end of this thread and contacted the Craft Museum of Finland in Tampere. They provided me with a ribbon pattern that was most likely woven by her contemporaries.
In my rug, the other end of the ribbon turns into a fire-breathing dragon. “Let not all women do handicraft work,” Minna Canth wrote in her letter in 1884. In my thoughts, the dragon with a fiery tongue is Minna Canth herself, not mincing words and saying what she deems necessary. The voice of poor Finnish women is conveyed through Minna Canth for everyone to read.
There is no doubt that Minna Canth was a courageous and strong woman. However, I wanted to use the colours I chose to emphasise that all of us can be strong. Changing the world can start from a single thought, a single person, and you can be that person.
My piece Tuonen hauki was inspired by the rhymes describing the northern pike in Kalevala and the mythical powers associated with it. The northern pike was considered a mythical spirit creature by the prehistoric people of Finland. In our mythologies, this ‘dog of the waters’ has been associated with death. The northern pike was believed to be able to go between the world of the living and the world of the dead by entering the underworld through the bottom of the lake.
Instead of being sent to the world of the dead, a dead person could be sentenced to oblivion in the bowels of the northern pike. Once there, the dead person could no longer be reached, and not even sages could save themselves from there.
I was also inspired by Akseli Gallén-Kallela’s Kalevala-themed paintings and frescos. In terms of style, my work is a deliberate combination of national romanticism and symbolism, updated to fit our time.
In the poems, the monster pike is faced in battle and killed. Nowadays, there is no need to prove your masculinity by shedding blood and beheading mythical creatures. Now, I just want to focus on honouring the impressive apex predator of our waters and marvel at its beauty. I understand that large predators play a highly important role in preserving the diversity of nature in its ecological niches. Even though the northern pike has been an important source of food and is one of our most delicious species of fish, large specimens should not be killed.
For the theme of the rug, I chose Mika Waltari and his early travel book Yksinäisen miehen juna (‘Lonely Man’s Train’) from 1929. Like other members of the Tulenkantajat (‘The Flame Bearers’) literary group, Waltari was fascinated by eastern exoticism, and the destination of the journey of the book was Istanbul. I would like to travel to Istanbul myself, but I ended up researching the theme through the internet.
For the last few years, I have been interested in continuous patterns in textiles, for example, and I started by studying historic Turkish painted tiles and their decorative patterns. I fell in love with ‘blue star’ tile patterns from the 13th century Seljuk era and started to paint new versions of it.
Eventually, the paintings began to form round forms resembling train tracks, and at the end of the process, not much of the influence of the original pattern was left visible.
In the book, Waltari did not find the eastern world of his dreams in Istanbul – in fact, he was slightly disappointed with the neatness and western look of the city. In the final rug, the theme of travel is given the greatest emphasis. Children using the first floor lobby area can use the train tracks on the rug to travel to the cities of their dreams.