Elina Eihmane is a Latvian artist and mother living in Taipei. She creates visual poetry, lately quite literally.
We asked Elina a few questions about her work...
Last year you started writing poetry, can you tell us how you first began and how this has now changed your artwork?
In a poem I wrote a year ago I saw an end to my pain and suffering: it contained things I didn’t know and most importantly it contained the end of a big struggle. I didn’t feel it coming. So it was huge. It was such a relief, and it came so easy so I kept writing. Taipei Poetry Collective’s regular meetings are great support for accountability and keep me motivated.
Poetry to me is a simple and precise form, I find it easy to leave it as it is, unpolished. Poetry brings out the best of hunter and gatherer in me, an ancient connection, a primal instinct – light and easy. Writing poetry made me realise I have a lot to say.
Most of my poems are walking poems – ideas that come to me while my body is on the move: hiking, walking in the city, circling around the park while my son is playing. Walking helps to move feelings around. I am a hunter and gatherer – I write what I see, I collect images, impressions to convey emotions.
Poetry brought more freedom and letting go of perfectionism. I hadn’t experienced this level of ease of being done and letting go with other forms of art I’ve done, like film and photography. So this is also what I’ve been selling - I combine visual poetry. I love how poetry captures feelings, fleeting moments you can sense in the poem. Experiencing the artwork is how I function. Experiencing life with all my senses, this is what I’m trying to do with the visual poetry books I self-publish.
It’s all about the process. I love meeting people who are genuinely interested in my work. To slow down and connect. It’s interesting to me to be in a market setting and see all the different kinds of people that gravitate towards certain work. Soul-searching. Seeing themselves or people they know in the work I have created. It’s beautiful. I think I can sense the meaning of my work grow and change too with the people who bring it home. The added meaning. I enjoy writing and hand-making books, it brings so much joy.
We really like your screen prints, how do you know when choosing photographs, which ones will work well as a screen print? What is your selection process like?
I try out and see. Trial and error of multiple combinations, although I print a few versions. I draw for linocut or use photos or draw from photos. I like the freedom of combining technics. My process is very simple: I select a bunch of photos and then turn them black and white, and turn up the contrast. That’s it. I print it on paper and see. I choose some figurative and some photos that might work as an abstract background or detail.
I wanted to make this handmade book ‘Cut’ about my experience of birth and living with a new-born without using photographs, as babies are stereotypically considered cute, and my experience wasn’t cute. So I turned the photographs of me and my new-born son into screens and printed the book in a more abstract colour way. I usually work with stories instead of single images. I think in consecutive images, in books, this is why poetry works for me so well too.
Your art books are hand bound, what materials, techniques and stitches do you enjoy working with?
I like Japanese stab binding, especially the visual elements in Becca Hirsbrunner’s patterns. All elements of bookmaking are important to me, all of them need to contribute towards moving the story forward and conveying meaning. Therefore, I choose to bind with symbolic meaning too. I like to choose my papers very carefully; the feel of the paper is very important. The books are meant to be touched, smelled. I take great satisfaction in seeing people rubbing paper between their fingers and smelling my books. I like to add handmade elements, like dried plants glued between sheets of paper. I like accidents, I accept the challenge and invitation to expand the perception and cut that perfectionism that the accidents bring.
Your artist book titled ‘Picking Sides’ is a collaborative project with your son, how did you work on this project together? Why was it so important that both of you were part of it?
I needed to find me in motherhood, I felt lost, it was so different from anything I had ever done, and I needed to find love and connection with my son – I simply could not go on like that. So I joined a masterclass and I gave my then 3.5-year-old son a film. Taking photos together made me see how we share this world together, it brought us closer. My son took dearest photographs of me that I love so much because he saw the real me, I can see the real me in them. This project helped to release some pain. Parenting to me is about change, about growing together, adventures and love.
A lot of your recent art work focuses on motherhood – What work were you creating before your son was born?
The birth of my son changed the way I look at things, but I still speak about the same subjects. I allow more vulnerability and pain and love to be in my work. I have always worked with personal, diary, daily magic, and nature. I have created stories about people that are close to me. Since I’m in Taiwan – a tribute to Taiwan.
I’m adding my voice to mother artists, women artists, and love that reaches far beyond romantic love. I think love in art sometimes is deprived of its full meaning. I wrote this collection of poems ‘Dragonfly Morning’ as a realistic love book for my now six-year-old son, and I think it could speak to anyone who has ever been a child.
I want to talk about the situations I can’t walk away from, being in the process, being the change. Each experience is unique and at the same time part of all human experiences. It’s important to me to keep going, to keep speaking. There’s always at least one person who would be interested, but usually there’ s more.