Åbo/Turku: Sites of Learning

art, recent work, time-out

Leaving Stockholm on Sunday evening, May 14th, sleeping across the Baltic sea and waking up early Monday morning to sunrise over Åbo/Turku… In 2010 and 2011 I made this trip quite a few times, when engaged in the Nomadic University project at Åbo Akademi. Now I’m back to take part in a conference hosted by the Donner Institute and the University of Helsinki: Religion and Spirituality as Sites of Learning.

Nice to trod the streets of Åbo once more…

..and nice to be back in the facilities of Åbo Akademi University. Niklas the caretaker helps me to arrange a poster exhibition that I’ve brought for the occasion. Soon, conference guests begin to arrive and register. Then: coffee time, and next the welcome introduction by Ruth Illman, research director of the Donner Institute, and professor Terhi Utriainen from the University of Helsinki – followed by a keynote speech on Unlearning by professor Kim Knott of Lancaster University; a productive opening to three days dedicated to learning.

The conference proceeds with three parallel sets of lectures throughout the day. Among the presentations I manage to attend is Jaana Kouri‘s research on Learning in contemporary shamanism (carried out congruently with her own shamanist practice); among the ones I’m sorry to miss out on are Miriam Feldmann Kaye‘s Learning as Idea: ‘Hospitality’ from a Philosophical Perspective and Emine Neval’s Where are the Women?.. This first day  is wrapped up with a reassembly and panel discussion on Eastern Spirituality in Arts. Panelists Nina Kokkinen, Måns Broo, Linda Annunen and Ville Husgafvel open for a highly interesting and well-grounded discussion along the themes of Inspiration, Appropriation, Conversation… upon which follows a get-together reception and the awarding of Donner Institute Research Prize 2022 to Maija Butters for her book Death and Dying Mediated by Medicine, Rituals, and Aesthetics.

Leaving the gusto of seventy researchers gathering ‘in real life’ for the first time since covid 19, to enter the calm atmosphere within the Bridgettine sisters’ guesthouse… where a modest room is waiting for me, and the singing of psalms accompany Tuesday’s breakfast.

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Morning choir at the Bridgettine Convert’s guesthouse

The second day of conference begins with researchers from the University of Helsinki sharing conclusions from their project Learning From New Religion and Spirituality. In addition to informal talks and tasty lunch (the menu is all vegetarian), I enjoy and learn from Lena Roos and Laura Wickström lecturing on, respectively, The Green Sabbath Project and Learning about the Environment Within Islamic Tradition – just to mention two out of many appealing themes.

The third and final day starts directly with the sets of parallel sessions; in Auditorium Källan – the Well – we delight in multi-skilled university lecturer Mikko Autere reciting Sufi poetry in Urdu (or was it Hindi?) and introducing us to South Asian practices of aesthetic and mystical cognition; his talk followed by doctoral student Olivia Cejvan, reporting about secrecy as a didactic tool in a Swedish esoteric society. I feel very favoured to be the third one to present in this sequence – even more so, being the one non-academic person to attend the conference. My talk takes place by the entrance, in front of the poster exhibition; retelling the story of Interfaith Dialogue in Images (a  workshop in two parts, which I conducted in the autumn of 2019), presenting the concept of Pictorial Reasoning and inviting feedback from a researcher’s perspective. Again, I’m privileged to get insightful comments and questions from such an extremely qualified audience. Two of them to appear on stage a little later…

After the coffee break, with continued discussions, it’s time for professor Mulki al-Sharmani to hold her keynote speech on Women Living with, Learning from, and Reasoning with the Qur’an – sharing experiences from long-time engagement with a number of Muslim women. Some of her informants belong to the islamic minority in Finland, others to the majority in Egypt; some are fairly well-off, others underprivileged; each one of them possessing deep resources of judgement and agency.

Next out, in the closing set of parallel sessions, is Laura Hellsten, dancer and doctor in systematic theology. The subject of her lecture is Dance as a Spiritual Formation Practice… partly treated in connection to her project The Praxis of Social Imaginaries; Cosmologies, Othering and Liminality, which has recently been launched in collaboration with Lindsey Drury (PhD at Freie Universität Berlin/ University of Kent). I’ve already had the pleasure to take part of Laura’s and Lindsey’s work within the framework of the Nordic Summer University. More to follow there…

And so: time for some closing words, and one more cup of coffee before we leave. The walk along the Aura river, on my way to the ferry , brings me close to the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art, where a rich retrospective of Jan Kenneth Weckman’s painting is on view. I cannot just pass by, of course; after three days of intense listening, I need to wash my eyes in colour to see again. Need to pay respect to Jan Kenneth’s corpus; to art as materialized thinking.

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Jan Kenneth Weckman: Mother of God (2016); oil on canvas

What, then, do I remember from these sites of learning in Åbo/Turku?

…from Jan Kenneth: to focus on painting, not on the picture.

…from the sisters’ guesthouse: A key. Clean surfaces, plain clothing, sparse colour, morning oats, singing voices converging to the unison. Austerity and care. Time stripped bare of signs of change.

…from the conference: the Q’s and A’s. Living world transformed to words, aligned according to rules of logic. A poem in urdu (or was it hindi?), ungraspable by logic. Delight in meeting, delight in sharing. The beautiful sign on the restroom doors.


art, painting

A painting long forgotten. Until, one day, it caught somebody’s attention; a customer, as it turned out.

A painting long forgotten, then remembered. Re-membered, integrated: additional lapis lazuli pigment to deepen the colour blue – “light coming into being“. More of the all absorbing, finely ground charcoal for the black circle. The floating tadpole figure outlined anew in charcoal, and graced with gold leaf within. Overall proportions trimmed before mounting between acrylic glass sheets, cut to shape. Then carefully packed for transport…

…and delivered to a private home, situated on an island in the archipelago of Stockholm. Here, a number of smaller artworks were reshuffled along the walls to make space for this one. Good neighbours they will be, for sure… Two windows are providing daylight – one facing east, the other south. Outside, the sky is clear and trees are leafing. Indoors, sunlit rooms still echo from a grand piano long time gone. And so, the painting finally has found its place.

Thank you, B and A, for your hospitality!

This I Know (monterad)

This I Know (final version); tempera, charcoal and gold leaf on paper, 200 x 120 cms

Musical Quarter Interlude: Art and Spirit

art, curating, painting, recent work, time-out

“Art and Spirit – like a twelve-tone scale, the works of eleven artists sound in the Musical Quarter. The exhibition takes place on all floors within the building​ – in the doorway, the entrance hall​ and​ stairwells, ​in the foyers and the concert spaces.”

A one-day-only exhibition at Stockholm’s Musical Quarter, curated by Tobias Sjöberg – up and running from noon at Saturday, March 11th, into the wee hours of the night when the last guests are leaving the party.

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Tobias Sjöberg at work; photo HHW.


participating artists:


Amanda Cardell

Beata Fransson

Helena Hildur W.

Jakob Sjöstedt 

Jouko Mario

Margrethe Sjöberg

Mats Adelman


Tiago Altink

Tobias Sjöberg

Viktor Kopp

– – –

Friday, March 10th: gathering together to hang the artworks. A colourful curtain – made for the occasion by Amanda Cardell – will greet every guest at the main entrance. In the Clara Schumann hall, works by Viktor Kopp and myself have found their place, waiting quietly for tomorrow’s artsy sounds, klezmer swing and late night disco. Manager Andil Dahl always seems to be in the right place to make everything run smoothly.

Hanging completed in the Clara Schumann hall; on display from my part are three diary paintings (oil on wood panel) and four monthly pictures (blood, ashes and chinese ink on silk).

In the first floor foyer, painted wood sculptures by Tiago Altink are put on display.  At the second floor, Jakob Sjöstedt’s sculptural sounding objects interplay with scenic elements of the locale. Missing on photo are Margrethe Sjöberg’s embroidered birds of fantasy, and Jouko Mario’s enigmatic paintings opening up to views of strange streets and buildings.

In the stairwells, Mats Adelman builds exquisite cabinets where the night fly finds rest and the barn owl can be seen flying…  The old and the new meet in the third floor foyer, where Beata Fransson’s  playful photographic sculpture echoes the brick wall of a building across the street.

Halfway down another staircase, Stefan’s self portrait is a world in itself; I’m humbled and grateful to have my cloud drawing placed next to it.

Missing here are Tobias Sjöberg’s Octave – watercolour paintings covering two huge windows, creating a quiet virtual space opening to pure colour; turning the room into a floating vessel, carrying living people and pale plaster muses along outside of time …

Saturday, March 11th: giving the installations a last finish; then removing tools and ladders, doing a bit of  cleaning up; and, the Art and Spirit exhibition is up by noon. At four o’clock,  the Swedish Wind Ensemble gathers for a sounding parade around the neighbourhood. When they return, guests are already queuing to get inside. Scendödsfestival sets off – let the party begin!


Musical Quarter Interlude

art, time-out, upcoming

Time to move on – from the digital dirtroad experience to an exquisite 19th century building by the waterfront of central Stockholm: the very first concert hall built in Sweden, patroned by the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. Today, the Musical Quarter is multi-functional venue hosting a variety of genres: from folk & world music (permanently housed in the old backyard horse stable) to early music, opera, jazz, philharmonic and purely experimental… in creative process, as well as in public performances and festivals. 

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Right now, the prospect of having rents increased by more than 55% threatens the whole initiative. The managing team then decided to mobilize all friends and good powers in Scendödsfestival – a full night’s total music and art experience, with free access for the public – happening on Saturday, March 11th.

I’m very happy to be counted among those friends; last week, I joined a group of visual artists – invited by our much esteemed colleague Tobias Sjöberg – to check out the site. What a marvelous place… 

…and what a kind, professional and receptive bunch of people to work with. Many of us had never met before – I’m eager to see what we’ll come up with together!

More to follow…

Bronze horse close to the Musical Quarter,
casted from a copy of the famous Byzantine horse sculptures in Venice;
an installation by Swedish sculptor Sivert Lindblom (1989)

Gallery Opening @Digital Dirt Road

recent work, time-out

For three weeks, the annual members’ exhibition of local artists’ association ARTiE has been on display within the city hall of Eslöv (Skåne county, in the south of Sweden). That exhibition closes today (Monday, January 30th) only to re-open in a digital version at the notable Digital Dirt Road Gallery – a ‘somewhat square and grumpy’ corner of the internet, according to the gallerist himself:

This virtual gallery is part of ARTiE’s longtime struggle for improving the cultural benefits of Eslöv municipality citizens. Supporting the initiative, I’m delighted to once more be invited to the party:

ARTiE Opening @’Digital Dirt Road’ Gallery
Opening on Monday, Jan 30th, at 5.30pm GMT+1
– open until March 31st, 2023


reconnecting, attuning, integrating

art, recent work

During the Exhibition and Life (reconsidered), a forgotten painting from thirty years ago was brought into the light… Someone found it touching, somehow – because of the lapis lazuli blue? the mere size and shape of the paper? the little “tadpole” figure? the black charcoal circle? I can’t tell. But there it was, for the first time publicly on display.

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from day 3 of ‘the Exhibition and Life (reconsidered)’

I was touched, too – reconnecting with the almost forgotten place in my life where this image emerged. A feeling resonating from there to now, setting me in tune again. Urging me to respond from another me. To review the elements – their size, brightness, depth, materiality, tactility; to rethink the proportions and composition; to find a new provider of lapis lazuli pigment; to find a way of mounting the large paper for permanent display.

The lapis lazuli pigment corresponds in an exceptional way with the changing qualities of light; from the midday or afternoon sky, or from electric lighting. An Orthodox rabbi’s wife passes me a quote from an artist whose name she doesn’t remember: “blue is light coming into being”.

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We’re still in the undetermined process of integration. Proceeding with care.


art, painting

The driving force of the Exhibition and Life (reconsidered) may have been about re-imagining an existing body of work, and co-creating in the here-and-now; yet, the creative drift is inseparably followed by a shadow called economy. Landlords and art material dealers rarely give their goods away; artists have basic human needs as well. Most of us therefore work part or full time in parallel professions (salaried). Hence, I feel the importance of recognizing when someone steps up, willing to actually pay for the artist’s work; especially when that someone is an individual with limited resources, who just happens to be touched by what they experience. This post is for you – to acknowledge the importance of your support; for the artist, it means encouragement and economic relief. For the artwork itself, it means fulfillment. 

above: Snowdrop (left); Spring snowflake (right);
charcoal, chalk and watercolour on paper,
each 120 x 175 cms
below: car packed, heading for home


Dear customers from near and far – I’m deeply grateful for our exchanges: for hours spent together under the hot studio roof, meticulously packing two large drawings for a long car transport; for the spirited talk and delicious ice chocolate cake shared in a beautiful 19th century Stockholm apartment; for all your sensitivity and recognition; and for the influx to my bank account, as well as to Médecins Sans Frontiers (as part of a deal). I hope your purchases keep giving you joy, each day to come!

191211 03b diary painting (Miriam Wolff)
diary painting 191211 03,
oil and blackboard paint on wood panel;
40,5 x 20 cms

final notes from the Nordic Summer University 2022


From the grounds and the chapel of Rønningen folkehøgskole
(August 2022)

This journey was finished already two months ago; I found the photos when preparing for the next one. A journey to unchartered places – announcements will be made in due time…  

In good company with Laura Hellsten