Pins and needles

11 May 2011 | Essays, Non-fiction

In these pictures by Ulla Jokisalo and texts by Anna Kortelainen, truths and mysteries concerning play are entwined with pictures painted with threads and needles. Jokisalo’s exhibition, ‘Leikin varjo / Guises of play’, runs at the Museum of Photography, Helsinki, from 17 August to 25 September.

Words and images from the book Leikin varjo / Guises of play (Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova and Musta Taide, 2011)

‘Ring dance’ by Ulla Jokisalo (pigment print and pins, 2009)

The playing hand is true as only the human body can be true, but in play the hand is something else. It is a new creator, accepting and gentle, arousing the lifeless to life. Everything has its meaning, for play is always about something, something of significance. Play is a mysterious celebration for at least one person. It is passionate improvisation on a long-term dream.

‘Invisible hand’ by Ulla Jokisalo (pigment print, original: cut-out paper, watercolour, 2005)

In play, everything is given a name and the connections of things are revealed in the fresh naturalness of a new-born world. The mysterious alliances and mergers of play feel as if they had always been intended for each other.

Play chooses its own means, metaphors and details. It selects its illusions and secrets. It cannot and must not be ordered by anyone. It is always on the side of dreams, reverie, ideas and possibilities.

In play, rules give freedom beautiful, harmonious, transient, and thus vanishing, form. Enveloped in harmony one can even bear chaos. The right hand of someone in my left hand, the left hand of someone in my right. The rhythm is the same, gazes meet and cross within the circle: the same and truly shared play for all of us. No one gives orders, for the circle is shared in a perfect manner by all its members. The players are enthralled by the dance, but in a shared and joint manner. The circle rises and takes flight, for no one restrains or disturbs the play. It has a conscience, and for that reason, too, it is absolutely real.

Playfulness expands our idea of what is real or contiguous in life. What is meaningful? Play gives the answers. Play with perfect motion is replenished all the time, in its order, content and narrative. Play stops us from sinking into indifference or numbness. It is the arch-enemy of asceticism, denial of life, and being a bore. It defends mad order, the lack of discipline, unruliness, anarchy, utopia.

Scissors and thread

We embroidered and embroidered, stitched and stitched, heads lowered, backs bent, cheerfully looking out of the corners of our eyes, losing our sense of time….

‘Marjatta. Point of view III’ by Ulla Jokisalo (embroidery, thread and needle on pigment print, 2008)

The sound os the scissors is best heard against a tabletop: they bite chew and crush the cloth. The tabletop amplifies the sounds, lent rhythm by the metallic clash of the scissors. The solid surface of the table is revealed from under the cut fabric….

‘To stand on her own two feet’ by Ulla Jokisalo (cut-out pigment print, embroidery, thread, needles and pins on fabric, 2004)

You know you have to look out for a needle. A weapon and means of torture, yet something that heals and mends.

But thread is even more. Fear can be touched within beauty. Thread can be a soft support, giving way and breaking if it’s really necessary. It can be a slashing line, cutting without mercy. Twist it the wrong way and you can separate its strands to be seen. Long ago it was tamed into the cells of waffle cloth, when it played one-dimensional, curved to make angles and pretend to obey. Cross-stitching also put magic thread in place, shackled it and made it serve images.


According to Francis Bacon, ‘poetry is as a dream of learning’. Unattainable, coherent and true learning lies somewhere in the depths of dreams. Poetry has the ability to reveal it, byt only for a fleeting moment that cannot be expressed in words. But after that moment one will no longer desire the frightened obedience of the weather-vane. This moment freezes history into a smiling face whose forginving honesty hurts the heart. Let it hurt.

Translation: Jüri Kokkonen

‘Well-read’ by Ulla Jokisalo (cut-out pigment print, embroidery, thread, pins and needle on fabric, 2010)

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