Humble Mumble in NYC
Lotta wears a gold bracelet, a colourful button down full of birds, 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” 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 ever receive an answer – she’s a woman on the go.
Humble Mumble in NYC
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 attempt to peel her away from her contemporaries, enticing her with afternoon champagne. It works. We sit outside the vast concrete hulk of the AEG factories with Berlin-based Finnish Art Director Suvi Haering. Lotta takes the seat opposite Suvi, “the other Finn.” For all three of us, NYC runs in our veins and I ask how our beloved city fares of late.
Lotta: My relationship with New York is turning three in August. By the way, what do you do?
Mr. Vagabond: A bit of architecture and a bit of journalism.
Suvi: Ah duality, the topic of the day! This was also interesting in your presentation Lotta, with graphic design and illustration. This brain that’s divided.
Lotta: I have clients that sometimes want me to do both.
Mr. Vagabond: And 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 offense!
Mr. Vagabond: 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: There, you tend to come across as arrogant if you say anything good about yourself.
Lotta: True. 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 extraordinary. But I was already living in New York and used to self-promoting my work. 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. After I saw it printed - knowing that Finns were reading it - I felt like I should have downplayed it.
Mr. Vagabond: So you built confidence in New York. Do you need confidence 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.
Mr. Vagabond: 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.
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.
"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."
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 honor 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.
Mr. Vagabond: 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.
Mr. Vagabond: I’d say that applies to most foreigners that have left their homeland. At least to some extent.
Lotta: And it’s weird how you never realize it until you’ve left and come back. And you’re like “oh my god, how did I ever…” Not to whine! 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 never in one place.
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.
With that, Lotta excuses herself to squeeze in another interview before her disappearing act to her homeland. We shake hands but feeling silly, decide on an all American hug after which we promise drinks some day in New York City. Given our vice for journeys, I briefly wonder when that may be.
Text: Mr. Vagabond
Photography: Scott Elliott