Feel felt and felt 25 years 1984-2009
A felt as an artist´s media - statements
In my childhood home we bathed once a week in a seaside sauna, which was dark and black with soot. The only bright spot was a red woollen elf which was always in a new place when we came to bathe. Because of the elf I took a tolerant attitude toward bathing, just in case, thinking the woollen elf might somehow bring luck to the bathers and the bathhouse itself, I thought the guardian spirit of the sauna lived in the elf. Other memories of trips to the sauna are the colder-than-cold antechamber, and the waters, both ice-cold and boiling hot and trying to find a suitable mixture of the two for washing in.
As a child I also learned that wool is a good substance and that woollen clothes are more valuable than other clothes. Swellings and other slight bruises were cured by pressing wool against them, wool helped cure my grandparents´ aches and pains, and woollen socks gave immediate relief to my own neuralgic (“growing-”) pains. Woolly felt boots were the only proper footwear in subzero weather if you wanted to avoid getting frozen toes. I got my first experience in felting when I made snowballs while wearing woollen mittens. Repeated rubbing with snow made the soft mittens into stiff felt ones.
As an adult, I continue to work with hot and cold waters, searching for the best temperature, but now I try to speed up the felting process.
Wool has become my most beloved material, for its healing and protective power, but also because the working process touches my most feminine essence. Felting is an alkaline process. We need alkali in order the wool to felt. Fertiization of a woman requires the alkali surroundings of the vagina. Felting is like giving birth. It cannot be an accident that words in Finnish language EMÄ (mother, dam), EMÄntä (hostess, wife), EMÄtin (vagina) and EMÄs (alkaline) resemble one another.
THE MOTHER FELT AND THE BIRTH OF A NEW FELT
In 1992 I had the honoured and opportunity to teach the forgotten talent of making felt-bootsmaking in West-Mongolia. In return I learned the local nomadic life and the skill of making large yurt felts drawn by a horse. Mongolia has received a name in my stories, The land of Mother Felt. The nomads call an old “helping” felt mother, who gives birth to a new felt, a daughter. The Oldest women traditionally have the responsibility of laying the wool on mother felt. Nomads say women have natural magic talents. These talents ensure successful birth of the new felt. All families of the Village and all ages from grandparents to small kids take part in the felting process.
On the slopes of the Altai mountain I comprehended and found a familiar feminine word: EME. The meaning of eme in Mongolian is feminine, wife, midwife, medicine and herb. The vegetation on the mountain slopes was low and prickly; the air was a mixture of scents of strong herbs. You could see small wool flocks caught in thorns around. When I saw this, I understood that in the early days the loose wool flocks from wild sheep were gathered to be used as padding for the sleeping place in the yurt. Of course The First felt in the world was created with love-making!
THE MAGIC OF SHEEP – FELT AS SACRED SIGNIFICATION
My experience is that only the wool from a live sheep felts. Felt is the oldest ennobled substance and the “second skin” of the man. It is living substance giving spirit and life to all art representations. Just as a tattooed skin is alive (also ancient nomadic art), felted wool is alive. Both serve to bring together man, spirit, nature and journey. The felting process itself is part dance, part trance.
Domestic sheep were not treated as totem animals, but they are very valuable. Their wild ancestors are described in ancient Mongolian felt a lot; a wild sheep is one of the most frequently represented animal figure. Sheep is also the most eaten animal in various rituals. The appreciation of the sheep is high also still in the present Mongolia: out of ten matters which the Mongolians regarded as most important, sheep is the first and surely not because of its nutritive value. From the living wool that is walking along, man gets materials for sheds, yurt and clothing, art and ritual. At the same time the sheep carries in his back a living story and knowledge of the days of ancestors.
Wool for me is a living agent with its own memory and physics. Felting works as a receiver, a navel cord, between knowledge, thoughts and feelings and the surrounding world, between the present and the past. My work with felt is a research about connection and knowledge between natural science, mythology and a living metaphysics.
Tuula Nikulainen c 1992/2004/2007