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Kustaa Saksi: Hypnopompic

Abstract tapestries inspired by migraine-induced hallucinations and half-dream states

by Hans Aschim in Culture on 03 December 2013

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The way one sees the world informs their representation of it. This is true in all forms of expression—but especially in visual arts. Health ailments (from the severe to the commonplace) have oft-influenced the work of great artists. Amsterdam-based Finnish artist Kustaa Saksi is renowned for his abstract, dream-like illustrations that have been featured in galleries and museums across the world as well as his collaborations with brands like Nike and Issey Miyake. The artist cites chronic migraines as one of his chief sources of inspiration in his upcoming exhibition "Hypnopompic," a series of large-scale, wool jacquard weavings in his signature abstract style.

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"I've been suffering from migraines all my life," says Saksi. "I've been very interested in what's happening in the visual cortex during the attacks." "Hypnopompic" refers to a state of sensory confusion as one transitions from sleep to wakefulness, when dreams and reality are at a crossroads in the consciousness, creating a surreal reality. "One may experience the presence of—or see—creatures and animals, such as spiders, monkeys and insects," explains Saksi. "The hypnopompic state has also been affiliated with visual delusions caused by migraines. These graphic patterns, designs and textures are thought to have contributed to the traditions of ornamentation, mosaic and textiles."

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Saksi's work calls to mind a melange of antiquated art with a psychedelic folk aesthetic. Abstractions of animals in day-glow color palettes mingle with patterned landscapes. "It's been fascinating to read writings of Oliver Sacks and other neurologists who try to make sense of what's going on when the brain is doing tricks on us," says Saksi. "I'm interested in visualizing these confusing states." Saksi's work is an homage to the tradition of optical art, where patterns and spatial visual variations are both hypnotic and slightly disorienting, capturing Saksi's desired half-dream state with bold conviction. "Blending Art Deco with orientalism, optical art or psychedelia, futurism or folk art feels very natural to me in my visual storytelling," he says.

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Often known for his 2D work, Saksi's use of the jacquard weaving method allows for his complex style to be translated to a centuries-old technique. "I like the tangible and three dimensional effect wool creates with my designs. It's extremely fascinating to work with natural materials like alpaca, mohair and merino wool and mix it with synthetic hi-tech yarns made of nylon, viscose, lurex [and] metal." Integrating multiple materials gives the pieces even greater depth, creating another level in the already varied landscapes.

"Hypnopompic" is on display at Artifact gallery at 84 Orchard Street in NYC from 5 to 6 December, with nightly accompaniment performances by Finnish ambient electro band Husky Rescue beginning at 6:30 PM.

Portrait by Jussi Puikkonen, all others by Jussi Tiainen

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