Meet Outi Martikainen in our Artist Showcase

Meet Outi Martikainen in our Artist Showcase

Know the Weaver # 18

Outi Martikainen is a textile artist with a classical education. Her works contain influences both from craftwork traditions and the observation which is so central to art. A distinctive feature of the works is the recording of small perceptions and memories in a concrete form.

They may be individual works composed of minor details or larger installations made up of big panels. But they all have in common a certain intense clarity that allows viewers to make their own interpretations. Martikainen often finds her materials in everyday life and gives them a new life in her works. It is not easy to define the individual works displayed in her exhibition projects.


1. What is it about weaving, both as a process and the outcome of it, that interests you?

I learnt weaving at a very traditional school for handicraft and design before pursuing further studies at the University of Art and Design. There, we made products like blankets, a five-meter long textile for a mantle or 12 linen towels etc. out of different weave structures. In the beginning, I was amazed at the qualities of different weave structures and how cleverly they were working for different purposes. Lately, I have also been enjoying the aspect of physicality and how to apply digital weaving to other art forms.

The Lacemaker

2. Many of your creations involve innovative use of everyday materials –bread bag fasteners, detergent bottles, laundry tags. What draws you into choosing unusual materials? Can you tell us about a few of these projects?

The use of everyday materials, nowadays called recycling, I think is a very Finnish concept and a real design doctrine where the creativity lies in finding more from less. I just found out how much good material went into garbage after a short usage. Very soon, apart from our garbage bin, there will be different boxes for recycling materials like bread-bag fasteners, detergent bottles and other plastic containers and ribbons for example.

I started to cut plastic bottles and braid the bread-bag fasteners for different objects. Braided bread-bag fasteners started to resemble the outer skin of a birch tree. Birch is of prime importance for the Finns. After one exhibition where I had a work which was braided with bread-bag fasteners, I was suddenly contacted by several people from different associations with bags and boxes filled with bread bag fasteners. This was something that I felt I had to work on – for the sake of those people who had found me and brought their bread-bag fasteners to me. It’s the kind of project that lives by itself and to which I just lent my hands during one phase of the project.

Virsut Shoes

Laundry tags that are based on the system of laundry in Finland are purely a part of the Finnish textile history. Each day, the laundry that came in had a different color and the series of letters and numbers told whose laundry it was. The tag was originally a beautiful small-scale plain weave woven textile, which I think was the smallest kind of textile being put to everyday usage. I found this system of usage to be so intelligent! I contacted a small laundry service where they explained to me the entire process of laundry tags. I persuaded them to pull off the tags for me which they would eventually have done anyway as they were bringing in a new kind of system by using plastic tags. I sewed these tags onto a starched cloth to form a big necklace, which to me were like the pearls of the days gone-by or the jewels of our textile history – a “minimal of minimalist” piece made of a weekday textile on a vital application.

3. Are there any individuals or experiences that have influenced who you are as an artist? Could you tell us if these influences reflect in any of your works?

I think it is just the people and happenings with them that influence my work in its entirety. In this group there are artists as well. The series of weavings called Paradise Tramps were inspired by a Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren. Her memoirs really touched me,while her books were such a consolation to me as a child. It was quite clear to me that I had to make a series of children’s images while there is still so much violence and misery in the world that children have to live with every day. I designated the works with the kind of names that are characteristic to Astrid Lindgren. She was a writer who devoted all her life to children.


The Knight of the Teeter

4. You’ve worked on architectural projects, which perhaps requires a completely different scale of visualization, be it in terms of assessing space, light, acoustics or even in the use of materials. What are the aspects that you keep in mind when working on such projects?

Working on an architectural project requires a highly level of co-operation and my work on a project is always one part of the whole. On one hand, design work is about problem-solving and on the other, it’s about giving character. Working with architectural projects has affected my artistic work, and on the other hand, my experiments with materials for my artistic work have given me some inspiration or the understanding of real methods for usage in architecture.

My contributions have mainly been towards designing patterns for glass facades that work on diminishing the sun’s warming-up effect. For a few projects, I have designed the interior walls that allow for better acoustics or have added some textile elements for adding a variety to the materials being already used. The size of the work when designing for architectural projects is always a challenge. The patterns have to work both from near and from a distance. And this is achieved by a precise and thorough process of working with samples.

My latest co-operation was with SARC architects, for the Jorvi Hospital in Espoo. The façade of Jorvi Hospital is the first to have been produced by inkjet printing. This meant that each glass was different from each other. This released me from designing one repeating pattern. It was also very interesting to experiment with the color transparency.

Jorvi Hospital West Wing

The wall at the entrance of the emergency duty at the Jorvi Hospital was designed as a “soft” wall. The task was very demanding due to the materials that were to be used in the hospital interiors. And the solution was an inkjet-printed image on a synthetic carpet material. The objective was to widen the perspective of the room by using this image and to create a different substance. A specially-designed bench was placed in front of the wall for the clients to sit down and rest their backs on something soft while they were waiting to be guided further on to the ward or to be transported away from the hospital.

5. In your opinion, which direction is the contemporary Art scene in Finland heading?

It is a bit difficult to see where the Art scene in Finland is going because in Art, the common trends and winds are to be seen with a few years’ delay. But it’s quite obvious that much of it will be dealing with climate change, crusades of people from war-torn areas and from hunger and humanity.  I see that textiles are appearing more and more in Art and I think that this is much to do with the ease of using digital technology for textile production. Almost anybody “can” weave.

I also see a variety of styles of Art which the different galleries are showcasing and it’s interesting to see the diverse audience which gather around them. It’s good to see that there is a wide variety of galleries at least in Helsinki and also smaller community-run art practices within the rooms of a mansion house out of Helsinki like Voipaala Art Center in an old rural Finnish countryside in Sääksmäki, where I had exhibited my works last year.


6. Public art commissions have been a part of your creations – what is your experience when working on such projects? Is there any one project that you thought was particularly interesting?

Working with textile material and digital weaving is always an interesting contradiction – it’s about combining a soft-homely handicraft feeling with contemporary content. There is a steady rise of well-known and established textile artists around the world. And what makes me wonder is that it took these remarkable artists a long career to get an international lift. Even though I think that I am fairly experienced with architectural spaces, I have seen way too many walls that are just crying for something “textile” to be placed on them and I still have to struggle to get every commission.


Last year, I was guiding a community art project where volunteers in a parish were producing a whole range of liturgic textiles for a new chapel. The starting point for the project was finger prints of the members of the parish. The chosen theme of finger prints articulated well the wide range of people and their needs for visiting the chapel. The finger prints appeared on the clothes of the priest and on all the textiles for the altar. The liturgic symbols were chosen and designed by me and all the embroidered patterns were chosen according to the talents and styles of those people who carried out the work. I enjoyed working on this project in the same manner as that in the renaissance bottega workshops. All the embroidery work was completed during the workshops and people who worked in the project got a talent that would to work on their own in the future.


7. How has the Thread Controller loom been as a tool in realizing your creations?

Digital Jacquard weaving took my feet under me. I found out that I could continue to go way ahead with weaving from the point where the traditional looms had left me. The TC-1 has brought about a vital change in my career, although I already had an immense love and appreciation for weaving, where I am now turning back. I am proud to be in the continuum of traditional weaving, with today’s material investigation and contemporary content. Every morning, as I start working in the studio, I do feel thankful for the ease that digital weaving provides me in terms of realizing my art. I can also use materials which are my own concepts and experiment with light and other sensory materials. And to be free to use it in a “wrong” manner by enlarging the weave structures so as to reach the more sculptural rich surfaces to play with different light conditions.