A conversation during Idea Parade on personal identity, confidence, and where one comes from and where one belongs.
Photography by SCOTT ELLIOTT
LOTTA Nieminen wears a gold bracelet, a colourful button down print of birds on branches, and a loud green miniskirt. As an image, she aesthetically challenges the somber summer grey of Nürnberg. Off a plane from Paris, she just finished presenting a discourse on “duality” as part of Verena Hennig’s multidisciplinary Idea Parade event and she’ll be off to Finland in a couple hours. To stay in touch, she has a Facebook account but you’d be fortunate to receive an answer – she’s a woman on the GO.
Having carved her way through Trendi, Pentagram Design, and RoAndCo Studio, this New York-based Illustrator and Graphic Designer from Finland set herself up as a full-time freelancer in 2006. Since then, she has received the Art Directors Club Young Guns award and PRINT Mag’s note as “top 20 under age of 30” in their annual New Visual Artists review. Ergo the request to participate at Idea Parade.
For the time being, I manage to peel her away from her contemporaries, enticing her with a noon drink. We sit outside the vast concrete hulk of the AEG factories with freelance Art Director Suvi Haering and Berlin-based artist Scott Elliott. She takes the seat across from Suvi, “the other Finn.” For three of us, New York runs in our veins and I ask how that city fares of late.
LOTTA : Our relationship is turning three in August!
SUVI : Oh, so you went there for a boy huh?
LOTTA laughs and reluctantly clarifies : No, actually I was talking about my relationship to New York. I didn’t go there for a relationship; I walked away from one unwillingly. Dismissing the past with a laugh, she points at GABRIEL. Anyways, we actually lived right across the street from each other. He just told me, “I miss Brooklyn, I used to live on south eleventh.” And I thought “Yeah, south eleventh. Oh wait, south eleventh, I live there!”
SUVI : Gabe and I were also in New York at the same time! I was living just north of McCarren Park. We used to go to El Beit for coffee. But we didn’t know each other right? Afterwards we find out we could have met earlier.
Prosecco appears out of the corner cafe with SCOTT and we eagerly accept. “Good friends, good friends.” LOTTA asks if we all freelance. SUVI confirms and I, in architecture and journalism.
SUVI : Duality, the topic of the day! This was also interesting in your presentation with graphic design and illustration – this brain that’s divided.
LOTTA : I have clients that sometimes want me to do both.
GABRIEL : Do you?
LOTTA : Well technically I could, but I don’t want to. It’s not the way I design. I feel like my illustration is such a different world, it’s not the kind of illustration I would want to use. No offence!
GABRIEL : In your discourse you made a point about having to change your personality and not appearing so humble in New York.
LOTTA : Yeah “humble.” That’s what we call it in Finland: “humble mumble.”
SUVI can relate : There, you’re really an ass if you are saying something good about yourself, an arrogant bastard.
LOTTA : True, if you’re saying anything positive, people immediately think: “You’re so full of yourself!” For example, I was doing an interview for a Finnish magazine. I was living in New York so they interviewed me because Finns are always interested in Finns that live abroad – suddenly you’re something very special.
SUVI : Someone who escaped! How did they slip through our fingers?!
LOTTA : Well you’re one of those too! But by that time I was in New York and used to promoting myself. So we did this interview where I basically said that I applied to the five jobs that I really wanted, they all offered, and I chose one. Afterwards I see it printed, and knowing Finns are reading it….I should have just downplayed it.
GABRIEL : So you built confidence in New York. Do you need it to be taken seriously?
SUVI : It’s not about confidence, well you need that too, but how you show this confidence is what matters I think.
LOTTA : You also need to be able to tell differences. In a place like New York there’s obviously people who are very confident and they’re very good at being like that, but there’s also a lot of arrogant pricks.
GABRIEL : Oh there’s definitely loads of those!
SUVI : But you’re not always confident. The fact that you play confident doesn’t mean that you are. And that’s the game. You approach it from completely different ends, two worlds.
SCOTT temporarily puts the camera down and with his softened Irish lilt, dramatically sparks into the conversation. It’s totally the Embarrassment Gene! We were born with this gene that stops us from recognising our potential. As opposed to terrible people without this gene that promote themselves like whores: “I’m uh-MAAAAAAZing!”
With sarcasm and humour running high, LOTTA visibly relaxes. Her hands, previously fidgeting with the elastic band of her notebook, now comfortably gesticulate as she speaks.
LOTTA : Well when you’re doing creative work, you’re really putting yourself out there right? It’s tough. And Finns are lousy at selling! I mean if it’s hard for you to say anything good about something, it’s quite impossible to convincingly sell it and get someone to buy it. So that’s why I believe every Finn should live abroad, at least for a little while.
SUVI : Do you feel like your work becomes more rooted in your heritage? If you live in Finland, I know you look elsewhere, to other places to something different. But once you leave, you suddenly find that you honour your heritage somehow.
LOTTA : I agree with that. I think it’s something that resurfaces, and not on purpose. There’s a lot of great graphic design coming out of Finland. But it’s easier to respect and appreciate it when you’re looking at it from further away.
GABRIEL : So how does Helsinki balance with your New York identity?
LOTTA : It is definitely the dual thing again. I think in New York, it’s easy. Everyone is always from somewhere else. So it’s easy to keep a nationality. Even Americans, born and bred Americans, like to say: “Actually I’m one sixteenth Irish.” People really embrace where you come from. In France where I’ve lived for five years, it feels more natural to adapt and you slowly become French.
When I’m in New York, I feel more Finnish than when I’m in Finland. When I’m in Finland I don’t feel very Finnish. I talk too much, I laugh too much, I’m too loud, and I’m too happy, and I enjoy life too much to really feel like a Finn when I’m there.
SCOTT : Because you’ve left. When you come back you’re “one of those.”
GABRIEL : I’d say that applies to us all here.
LOTTA : And it’s weird how you never realize it until you’ve left and you come back. And you’re like “oh my god, how did I ever…” Not to whine! Actually moving was quite an easy decision to make. Though I was quite distraught with the amount of people who told me “You’re so courageous, I could never leave my family and friends behind.” Well first of all, I’m not leaving anyone behind…
SCOTT deadpans : Exactly, you’re not dying…
LOTTA : Yeah, so quit it with the guilt trip! But none of my family was that way. We were in France when we were kids and now my parents and younger sister live in Lisbon and my middle sister was in London for a couple of years and now in Paris.
In that sense, my family is not in one place and having traveled as a kid, home is not that much of a physical place. It’s very much a mental state of the people around you.
EDITOR’S NOTE: With that bit, LOTTA leaves to squeeze in another interview before her disappearing act to her home(?)-land. We shake hands, then decide on an all around American hug after which we promise drinks in New York. Given our vice for journeys, I briefly wonder when that may be.
Nonetheless, thanks to her Finnish crimes of talking too much too loudly, and being too happy at living life – it’s what she makes of her innate duality – LOTTA belongs to an obscure breed of mortals that balance creative work with an enjoyed quality of life. Even rarer is the later determining the former for her.
And who of us wouldn’t want that?
For details on Lotta Nieminen and Idea Parade: