My trip to Helsinki was in March, 2017 but I’ve never gotten around to writing about it until now. Blogging has been something I haven’t had much time for anymore. My priorities have changed as well as my readership’s, but I keep this blog as an archive so it is important to me to get this written down. Better late than never, right?
Blackheart Bettie– Bettie came to Paris to perform in a burlesque festival in February 2016. She contacted me because she wanted to collaborate on a tattoo project. She sent me many reference images, and a clear description of what she wanted, plus the freedom to interpret her idea as I saw best. Just how I like to work!
Here’s what I did on her.
We share many of the same passions and are attracted to similar imagery; costumes of the Follies Bergère, boudoir imagery, lithography of the 19th century. During the tattoo process, curious to go deeper, I tried to learn more about her, seeing as how we had similar tastes. I learned that she was a painter too! I asked her to show me her work, I loved it and was also delighted to find out that she is appreciated by the contemporary art world in Finland. She has shown in museums. Her artist name is Petra Innanen.
Later she contacted me and said she wanted me to somehow participate in the, Helsinki Burlesque Festival, that she organizes with her husband Frank. It would be the 10 years anniversary, also the last year. Bettie feels that Burlesque has changed and has lost some of the magic that made her love it in the first place. Bettie explained to me that she and her husband had fell head over heals in love with New Burlesque during a trip to California where they saw The Velvet Hammer. Maybe were present together at the same show? Funny how small the world is.
Backstage- hanging out backstage in theaters is magic; time stands still, the energy is high and you get caught up in the vortex. It’s a world not many outsiders get to see. I was very lucky to be invited backstage as I wasn’t performing. I asked to take photos and it was a good way to start a conversation with some of the artists.
Twirling fire tassels- Satan’s Angel was the first person I met after Frank, my host and Bettie’s husband, who picked me up at the airport. She made a strong first impression; she asked for help with her corset and then helping her, she yelled at me to be careful of her hairdo! She almost immediately mentioned her “wife”. After getting dressed she told funny stories about the Hell’s Angels in the car ride to the venue. I had asked if she had any contact with them in the ‘60’s, she said not much but told us some small antidotes. Satan’s Angel created the gimmick of the fiery tassel twirl. (The tassels being on the end of pasties on otherwise bare breasts). She also taught Bettie who later took it to the stage of the Helsinki Opera. Satan’s Angel passed away in April 2019. there’s a film about her called “Satan’s Angel: The Movie” and an obituary written in the Los Angeleno.
Lobby characters- in Hellsinki people of the audience like to get into the spirit by dressing up too! Here are some photos of some of the colorful characters I met. Nice to get a glimpse of Hellsinki’s underground night life. I don’t feel the same enthusiasm in France.
My impressions of Finnish architecture- I found the massive stone fascades fascinating and revealing about the strength of the Finish people (they can survive such brutal winters!). I remember apologizing to her for making her pose for a photo of her new tattoo outside (it was winter in Paris) she said “don’t worry I am Finnish”. I found out it may be what it is called “Jugendstil style, using nationalistic-mythological symbols which were important expression in the fight for independence. I don’t know much more about this, but I’m always curios about the distictive characteristics of each country I visit.
Kaapelitehaus Nokia Wharehouse art studios- Bettie has a studio in an amazing art and theatre complex. She paints here but also gives classes on burlesque dancing and positive body image. I did a few tattoos in this studio. There is a very nice café downstairs where I had lunch with a view of the river.
There was a photography exhibit down the hall from bettie’s studio featuring photos of the performers from the festival the year precedent. Photos by Mikko Kaivos. There was even an art supply store on the same floor!
These shoes were to be featured in an installation she did at the Mänttä Art Festival.
Check out her photo here.
Home decorating- I loved Bettie’s home and wasn’t surprised to learn she was going back to school to get a degree in interior decorating. She will be graduation this summer. She has collected lots of items from her travels that fit into her world. She has custom decorated quite a few pieces of furniture.
Museums- I was lucky to have the time and the city is small enough that I could fit it all into one day. I recommend:
1. HAM- Tove Jansson- Moomintrols, Ilari Hantamäki: Greenwall, Modern Life
2.Ateneum- modern art and permanent collection https://ateneum.fi/
3.Natural History Museum- has been modernized but not too much.
4.Medical museum at University of Helsinki- very informative, interesting cabinet of curiousities.
At the Gallery Taidehalli- I saw designer duo Gronland & Nisunen’s exposition mixing art and science. A motorized track that keeps a huge stainless steel ball rolling in continuum. Futuristic laboratory ambiance, light and electricity.
Performance art- Bettie has also worked as a museum guide, she created a persona called LeilaHalkeama the museum docent, with a high falsetto voice, a blond beehive, blue eye shadow and paint stained smock, an artist who explains the work in museums, docent work taken to a performance art level. I was so inspired and fascinated by her creation. Here’s a video of her tour of a Tom of Finland exhibit. I love how she approaches the sensitive subject matter with humor and tolerance. She gave toy musical intruments to people who might have a hard time expressing their feelings in words.
Here’s a logo I did for Bettie Blackheart!
Some other cool things we did-We took a dance class with Pearl Noir at the Studio Shangri-La (Turrrbo Cherry’s dance studio). Pearl Noir has the most incredible stage presence. She is a force like electricity, you cannot look away. She showed us how to hypnotise the audience.
We saw the film about Tom of Finland. I can’t believe my luck to have that film be released in theatres just when I happened to be in Finland! And it had English subtitles, the Fins are very conscientious! I’ve never seen a French film in a cinema in France with English subtitles!
We went naked in a sauna with Dirty Martini and Ophelia Flame at Sauna Yrjönkadun Uimahalli. I’ll never forget swiming in a public swimming pool in the buff! (women only)
Other super talented artists based in Helsinki: Miikka Lommi, Katja Tukiainen, and Turbo Cherry.
We had a big dinner with all of the foreign burlesque artists at Kosmos Restaurant. In the ’30’s this was a bohemian gathering spot for artists and intellectuals.
I wanted to write about this trip because in hindsight I realize how much it influenced what I’m doing right now; my desire to return to performance art, the importance of dressing up, wanting to go back to school, that big tiger head, and the monster toes! The results of this inspiration will be unfolding here very soon, with my new performance piece, my huge tiger painting and future installation/video work.