What does a failure and an abandonment mean? Does giving up equal to failing? And when is it right to let a project go?

Lately I have been thinking about failure and what does it mean for me personally, specifically with art works and my long project with the Aral Sea and the Post-Soviet landscapes. Should I let the project go and start fresh? I have felt lately that my project makes very little sense to me anymore – or to others; this has been a repeating problem during the development of this project, and I have felt more and more disconnected from it and the reasons I wanted to work with it in the first place.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to have a consultancy with sculptor and Camberwell BA Sculptor Course Leader Matt Franks during which we talked about my role in this project. I could not answer the question, and I found myself saying “I don’t know either”. The same issue was brought up in my last pecha kucha presentation as well as during my last practice analysis – that maybe my role was more to do with journalism and documentary making than art.

After my consultancy with Matt Franks, I went to work to ceramics studio with a recent sculpture commission work, and at some point during working I realized I was far more excited about this work than about my Aral project. Later in the same night, I made a list of over 20 projects and ideas I have started but either left unfinished, unrealized or which I have abandoned during my MA course and the reason why. I selected 10 to give an idea of what the list contained

  • 365 project: make one clay work each day of the year (even when out of country)
    boredom or confusion, it stopped making sense after 3 months
  • Salt sculpture installation, 50 10x10x10 cm salt cubes on light boxes on floor, filling up one dark room
    cast a few salt cubes using silicon moulds but the project didn’t seem to mean or do anything except some level of material experimentation.
  • “AALTO”, wave light works (neon light) placed and filmed in abandoned, water-related sites (empty public pools, dried river banks)
    forgot or got bored with the idea, seemed pointless or naive. My role unresolved.
  • Fishnets, crystallized with salt, nets collected from Kazakhstan or Finland
    I couldn’t resolve my role in this one, also idea doesn’t work in London, maybe at a location connected to (past)fishing industries such as the Aral Sea or the Baltic
  • Salt crystallized clay ships, making thousands of them and filling a space with them
    Started making the ships, stopped at 100 as I lost interest in it, couldn’t solve my role in it. With the 100 ships I made, the installation didn’t work at all, too small, too quiet, blah
  • Ice sculptures with D. Trump tweets about climate change, melting in space, filmed
    This one, I still find quite funny, I might try out making one big block of ice or a hundred small ones. With this one, my role doesn’t worry me, humour is the connection, things you find funny might be enough for an art project. Also, social media is closer than Kazakhstan.
  • Shipwrecks printed on metal
    I made two prints, one small and one large, however, they didn’t seem to work at all, I still found that a photograph, sound or a film were stronger than the print
  • Burying jars in formations, lids labelled with names of toxins and diseases found at Aral Sea
    not sure why I gave up with this one, seemed too literal. Wouldn’t make sense to make a work about Kazakhstan in London
  • “White Gold”, installation consisting of thousands of cotton stems, the stems hand modelled ceramics, authentic raw Uzbek cotton filling the stems and spread to fill a room as a massive cotton carpet (I already contacted a supplier in Uzbekistan, thankfully they never replied so at least I saved the money)
    I liked the idea of the visual aspect, but the motive and my role within the work is completely unsolved and problematic, it vaguely connects to the Aral Sea project but otherwise, doesn’t make a personal connection nor sense
  • Collecting and archiving snow, “future archive” post-climate disaster
    It doesn’t make sense to collect snow in London as a foreigner, maybe in the Arctic circle but the idea didn’t continue being interesting or exciting

 

I think I am tired trying to solve the issues the Aral project has. I feel that my role as an outlandish witness of the Aral disaster isn’t enough to make it a successful art project, and I do feel I am losing my interest and drive trying to make it work. But at the same time, I feel that I needed to figure this out and make the decision on my own, so I needed to take my time.

After going around a full circle back to the beginning, I think my next and final term focuses on a very simple matter: my role as a Finn and as an immigrant in pre-Brexit London, exploring the meaning of “home” for a foreigner; what makes a home and how to make a foreign country your home. Where have you felt “at home”? What is “home-sickness”? To make our surroundings “homey” we surround ourselves with familiar objects, sounds and smells, bringing us comfort and security. the smell of pine takes me to the Finnish forest, singing of Pied Flycatcher takes me to my parents’ garden in Finland, lupin flowers remind me of my grand-mother’s Nordic, piilopirtti (hermit cabin usually far from cities, literal translation “hiding cabin”, which were used especially during wars).

I have some ideas which I am going realize while I’m in Finland, recording sounds and sceneries which make me feel “home”. Finnish word for home, koti is an extremely powerful word, saying it makes me to miss forest and its sounds and smells. I want to use the word koti in my next work, just because the meaning of koti is powerful and sensitive at the same time, concept which is universal. The word koti placed and photographed in landscapes which for me are home.

It would be a gamble and a massive risk to potentially change my project and my whole project research this late of the year, but I do feel change could bring me confidence and meaning I have lacked. Or, at least, it would allow me a break to try something else and see, if it would work better for me. It also might be, that now I am just mentally stuck, that a break and a bit distance from the work would help me to re-find the reason I started the project, solving the doubts about my role within it. It might be just an issue with my confidence – doubt often stopping me realising ideas and finishing projects. Standing behind the work with confidence is a massive task, but it is a huge part of working in the creative industry and of being an artist, that just needs to be grasped.

 

Marianna Peltonen