4 Of Our Favorite Things About The Mänttä Art and Music Festivals.

By Posted in - Europe & Festivals & Travel Blog on October 30th, 2014 4 Of Our Favorite Things About The Mänttä Art and Music Festivals:

To me, you can boil down an artistic lifestyle in three ways:  you can either create it, carve out time to see a little bit of it, or you can live in it for a week and visit the Mänttä Art Festival. Here’s four reasons why you should visit.

1. Art is Everywhere – On the Church and in the Trees

Mänttä is like a quiet little university town full of art. I attended art school for college, so I was really at home in Mänttä. Sadly it also made me realize just how much art has been removed from my life. I obviously work with photography but I no longer paint or draw. I still play the piano, but since I don’t have one where I live now,  I only get to play a few times a year, as opposed to the few hours a day I spent on it before we started traveling and had I put my beautiful blue piano in storage. Sewing Speakeasy travel scarves has given me a way to reconnect with the tactile nature of making things, but I still miss all of the blankets, scarves, and hats I used to crotchet for friends and family. Plus, all of my artist friends? They’re still in my life but it’s so rare now that we get to meet up and talk, let alone play music or work on an art piece together. Where has the art gone in my life?

For me, this was the best part of the festival–being in a small town literally surrounded by art. Everywhere I looked there was art and living within that type of environment makes a difference in your life. It affects your mood, how you view the world around you, and it changes the ambiance of a place. So to be surrounded by it was nothing short of amazing. There were several installations throughout town, including pieces in the woods and on the lake, but the church was by far my favorite in town installation piece.

For me, this was the best part of the festival–being in a small town literally surrounded by art. Everywhere I looked there was art and living within that type of environment makes a difference in your life.

Created by Finnish artist Kaarina Kaikkonen her piece is title The Spirit Of Truth, which is a popular hymn in Finnish schools. The installation itself is actually hundreds of shirts pieced together that form, what looks like to me, prayer flags. This art piece is draped over the town’s church and it is stunningly beautiful. It’s so unique and inviting it actually makes you want to go to church. In fact, I was thinking if any churches or civic buildings are suffering from a lack of participation they should probably bring Kaikkonen over to help them. This church was busy all week with people stopping by to check out this art installation.

All of the shirts were donated from Mänttä residents and although the clothing from most of her work is donated to the needy, these shirts will be recycled into paper which is fitting because this entire town was created from a paper mill mogul who made toilet paper. If you do a quick Google search of Kaarina Kaikkonen’s work you’ll find that she has created similar masterpieces all around the world–using color and clothing to express her memories and thoughts in way that correlate with the environment.

Perhaps the best way to get a feel for her work is to hear how she describes it:

“Countless works and installations I have built, mostly straight into their spaces. Through my work I try to search my constantly changing outline. I need an outline to understand myself more clearly – to understand where the internal ends and the external begins.”

If you’re intrigued by her dreamlike and recyclable work, I recommend checking out her book, which does a great job of capturing the spirit of her installations in print or visiting the Kaarina Kaikkonen website, where you can see videos of people interacting with her pieces.



2. The Viola Organista – DaVinci’s Organ of Dreams

If you build it they will come.

And if your name is Slawomir Zubrzycki, they will come in droves to see the organ you built from DaVinci’s drawings.

The Mänttä Music Festival (early August) has it roots in classical piano music. It is the only yearly international piano festival in Finland, and with 10 shows in 5 days, it showcases amazing classical pianists from around the world, like Anna Vinnitskaya and Laura Mikkola, among others. If you are into classical piano, you will most certainly recognize their names. I loved watching the different pianists perform because in the modern world you just don’t get the opportunity to hear this level of musicianship very often. With that said, one of the classical music highlights for me at the festival was based around an organ not a piano.

Polish pianist and composer Slawomir Zubrzycki performed on his hand built Viola Organista that he brought all the way to Mänttä. This highly anticipated performance was one of the best I had seen during the festival and the flurry of people who came in and out to see this instrument was nothing short of amazing.

And rightly so, in 2009 Slawomir discovered Leonardo DaVinci’s handwritten notes, designs and drawings from 1489 -1492 for the Viola Organista. DaVinci never did get the chance to build one himself, and although several attempts have been made over the past 500 years to create the instrument, none of them ever won the hearts or approval of contemporary musicians. That is until Slawomir decided to give it a go.

What resulted was a media sensation that spanned the entire world–a video of the first concert played upon the Viola Organista has over two million views on YouTube. This might just be most popular organ of all time. Slawomir’s performance was haunting and beautiful. The organ sounds similar to a harpsichord and the setting inside the Mänttä Church could not have been more fitting. I think DaVinci would have been quite pleased.

Slawomir Zubrzycki performing on a Da Vinci-inspired organ at the Mantta Church in Finland.   An organ made from Leonardo Da Vinci's drawings.

Slawomir Zubrzycki, at the Mantta Church during his performance with a Da Vinci inspired organ.


3. Hey musicians, guess what? You’re smarter than the average bear.

I wasn’t expecting to get my classroom knowledge on at an art and classical musical festival but I did! During the festival, we stumbled upon a talk by Swedish neuroscientist and pianist Fredrik Ullenin about brain development in musicians. I had a gut feeling this was going to be interesting and I was right.

It was an obvious and utter delight for me to discover that I am officially smarter than Randy.

I have been playing the piano since I was five,  and I actually taught myself how to play and read music. My father taped letters to the keys of an organ we had at home and I used easy-read-sheet music to learn which key correlated to each note. The greatest gift my parents ever gave me was a piano for my 18th birthday after I had literally begged for one for years. If I hadn’t become a photographer, I would’ve become a musician and sometimes still dream about it.

So when Fredrik announced that musicians actually have bigger brains that other people, Randy buried his head in his hands, because he knew he was gonna have to hear about this one for a while and he was right. I bring it up all the time.

This talk was actually interesting on a variety of levels, it wasn’t just a feel good moment for musicians but was really more about the Flow state. What it is, how you get there and what happens when you’re “in the flow.”

For starters “the flow” is a very real and highly studied topic, and it happens with a lot of intense practice, concentration and true ability. When you are in the flow, you lose track of time and most things around you. If you’re a musician you may sit down to play one song and then hours later realize that you’ve missed an appointment or date. Don’t worry about it, you were in the flow. Of course this doesn’t mean people won’t be upset with you, but you can console yourself by knowing this is a period of real growth and part of what helps to make your brain larger and smarter.

The one thing about getting into the flow is that you need to have the ability to go along with the concentration–it’s only if you have the ability that you can enter the flow and forget about time and space. If you were constantly screwing up your notes you would not be able to get into the flow, but instead be consistently frustrated and hyper aware of your situation.

Not a musician? Don’t worry, all is not lost. You can achieve ‘flow’ in a variety of ways–sports, games, etc. Although, it’s most common with musicians and athletes basically it boils down to this: If you are good at something and also love to practice it you can eventually enter the flow state while doing it. The more often you can enter the flow state the smarter you become. So put down the computer, and go get your flow on.

Fredrik Ullenin speaking at the Mantta Music Festival in Finland about the Flow State.

4. A Trip To The Pekilo Gallery – You’ll take away more than what you came with.

The reason we didn’t feature the Pekilo Gallery in our write up of museums in Mänttäi because it is only open seasonally for the Mänttä Art Festival (June-August). The Pekilo gallery is housed in a former industrial building that prepared animal feed. The building was renovated into an art space in 2001 and is the perfect place to get a feel for the current art scene that is happening throughout Finland. Each year the works are different and are chosen by a different artistic director. This year the gallery was curated by Minna Joenniemi. All types of contemporary art are featured here, from sculptures to photographs, videos, paintings, and works of wild imagination.

The theme for this years gallery was Hetkinen, which when translated means “A Moment.”

Given that my Somewhere In Time photos all revolve around the theme of a moment in time, this gallery was right up my alley.

Perhaps my favorite art piece of the day was Balance by Finnish artist Saarh-Maria Kariranta (See photo #2). This was a room that looked like a tornado had come through it–a desk was flipped over, a chair was sustained off the floor with dripping wax legs, wood flooring covered the walls and part of the floor. Hanging from the ceiling was a spinning mirror and only in the right light it reflected the words written in the dust:

“I hope we all could die in the same moment.”

I liked this catastrophic sentiment, because although it means that obviously a terrible thing has just happened, it also means that ultimately there is no loss, and there is no suffering,  because there’s no one left to feel it. I’ve suffered through a lot of death in my life, and I guess I can see the beauty in everything ending together, instead of staggered pain for every single individual on earth, so this piece resonated with me.

On a more happy subject–one of the most unique installations in this gallery was Kaffeland which literally means “Coffee Land.”

This was a very interactive and imaginative work of art. How it worked was that you walked into a tiny room with a large coffee dispensing machine (See photo #4 below). Using an iPad you chose an emotion that reflected how you felt that day–happy, curious, liberated, sad, etc–there were a lot of different emotions to choose from and some of them were very abstract. After choosing your emotion, a machine spit out the definition of that emotion and informed you of the number (names of the coffee weren’t identified) to choose from the machine. After you got your coffee (or hot chocolate, depending on the emotion) you follow the instructions that come with it.

At this point you walk outside to a roof top deck that is filled with various implements of imagination, and each one correlates to a certain emotion.

Randy had received “Liberated” as his emotion so he was directed over a flagpole. He had to take off an article of clothing and hoist it up the flagpole while drinking his coffee (See photo #5 below).  Some other emotions included riding a bike in place, throwing a cup of coffee at a silhouette among others. I actually don’t remember what my emotion was, I think it was calm and my task included looking down a large hole that had a mirror at the bottom. This was a really goofy and fun exhibit, and definitely not one I had ever seen before.

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One art installation that caught my eye was a video travel blog of a woman who traveled to Argentina and took mostly mundane videos of herself reviewing different items from her trip, such as bus rides and steak dinners. Randy and I watched this for quite sometime pretty baffled that this was considered art, since in my opinion there was nothing really interesting or unique about it. The subjects, compositions, video editing and topics were, to be honest, dull and boring to watch. Plainly put as a travel blogger this woman would not make it far, but here as an artist she was celebrated in a museum. I know that appreciating all types of art has a large part to do with appreciating the artist and their trials, tribulations and glories, and I know nothing about this woman, her history, or what made this piece stand out for the curator.

But what I do know is that while watching this little travel video unfold under the guise of art made me realize that although I’m not surrounded with as much art in my life as I used to be, maybe I’m not that far away from it after all. I create art each day that I take and edit photos and put together blog posts. I curate art every day when I choose which photos I will allow on our Instagram feed, or how I design the look of my Pinterest boards, ebooks and Pin-Up Live! chats. As an artist and curator, what  you leave out is just as important as what you make available for viewing and that’s something I do every single day.

I work and collaborate on projects with artists from around the world, in fact the whole reason we were in Mänttä for the Music & Art Festival was for the Must Love Festivals blogger project–a collaboration of travel bloggers discovering the best and quirkiest festivals in Europe. There was a large group of us scattered around the continent making videos, taking photos and writing–the only difference is that we go by the title of Travel Blogger instead of artist. Our work is made to hang not in a gallery, but on the walls of the internet.

Many times you’ll find several travel bloggers living for months in a foreign town that has cheap beer and rents. I always dreamed of living in Chang Mai with some of my cronies. Their descriptions of these group ex-pat adventures always brought to mind turn-of-the-century Paris, when artists and writers gathered together and made Montmartre what it is today.

Our work is made to hang not in a gallery, but on the walls of the internet.

But maybe this is the new art.

Maybe in 100 years they’ll have a name for this type of art revolution–a constantly changing and revolving online museum that speaks of internal struggles and external elation. An art that means bearing witness to the world around us and sharing those stories with the world, instead of keeping them to ourselves. Through our own words and photographs, we become the voice for people and places in far flung lands, yet in our jobs, it is almost impossible to be unbiased. Everything we create and curate, both physically and socially, comes from within and is a direct result of the experiences and views we bring with us as we travel across borders, cuisines, and cultures. We cannot remove what it is we experience, we can only build upon it.

The real truth is that I am surrounded by art every day.  And although I didn’t realize it until now, maybe I’m actually something that I always dreamed of being during my days at school: a true working artist.

Want to discover more unique festivals? Follow our friends and fellow travelers as they share their journeys from this summer and fall with Must Love Festivals and through the #MustLoveFestivals on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Disclosure: Visit Finland is a Must Love Festival Partner, and provided our accommodation and transportation while we were in the region to cover the Mänttä Art and Music Festival. As always, though, our thoughts and opinions are entirely our own.

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(2) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Abi -

    November 7, 2014 at 3:23 pm

    Oh, I’m so glad you carried on until your conclusion at the end…Because right from the start I wanted to cry out “but there is art almost everywhere in what you do!”

    It’s a funny thing this blogging life and the words and ideas that people seem determined to stick to it. Some want bloggers to be reporters, other service providers…and I think that there’s definitely room for both. But most are artists, whether good or bad, interpreting the world as they see it and life as they see it and trying to reach others in doing that. I wonder how differently people both in and outside the industry would look at the work if they saw it described as art instead of content, produced by artists instead of “content providers” (oh, how I hate the term!)

    Anyway, enough navel gazing from me for a bit – better get to work! Lovely to read your words about the festival and, as ever, indulge in the photos.

  • Andy -

    November 7, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Hi Beth,

    I love this introspection on art, and it’s great you remembered YOU ARE an artist and you’re surrounded by it everyday. Yes, what we leave out, as artists, is just as valuable as what we include. I like your thoughts on the finish ‘Balance’ piece too.

    I also miss playing the piano. I recently sold my digital keyboard as it’s just not the same as tickling ivory keys. And I dream of ‘settling’ a bit more just to own my own piano. Great to know that it really is exercising my brain too (when i do it) as I need all the help I can get.