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When Migraines Lead to Art: Kustaa Saksi’s ‘First Symptoms’

Subverting the negative connotations surrounding migraines, Kustaa Saksi turns his chronic suffering into colourful tapestries in his series ‘First Symptoms’

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Photography by Jussi Puikkonen

When one thinks of a migraine, usually images of throbbing pain, discomfort, bedridden days and aggressive delusion come to mind. But for textile artist Kustaa Saksi his lifelong suffering of migraines and the isolation from the world that these periods cause has been a source of inspiration. Within the solitude of this chronic disorder, Saksi has found beauty and intrigue which led to his newest series of tapestries entitled First Symptoms.

The six tapestries—titled In Full Bloom, Attack, Aura, Aftermath, Sprout and Archetypes—explore the behavior of migraines through the jacquard weaving technique. Through this technique the artist plays with dramatic contrasts in material, textures and patterns that materialize the extremities of emotions and sensations of an migraine.

Saksi describes his personal relationship to the recurring headaches: “I have had migraines for most of my life; the first attack I remember occurred when I was coming home from school at age seven. I had borrowed a stack of comics from my friend and couldn’t wait to get into my room to read them when it happened: a brilliant, shimmering light appeared to my field of vision. It expanded, becoming an enormous shimmering circle, with sharp zigzagging borders and brilliant yellow and green colors. I was frightened – I could no longer read as the letters were skipping or disappearing entirely leaving blank spaces on the pages and my left hand had gone numb. A throbbing headache appeared and from then on I knew I was going to continue the curse of my family: being a migraineur.”

Despite referring to this as a curse, the brightly colored tapestries tell a different story. Produced at the TextileLab in Tilburg where Saksi has been working the past seven years, the pieces combine materials such as cotton warp, mohair, silk, alpaca, wool, velvet, rubber, viscose, copper and transparent polyester yarns. The result of these unusual combinations are richly layered textiles that merge scientific illustration with tribal motifs and recurring patterns. Through his visual language, Saksi has attempted to capture what a migraine looks like to him. He states: “What fascinates me, are the visual delusions connected to the attacks. Usually pattern-based, kaleidoscopic, identical structures sometimes flickering, forming and reforming all over the visual field.”

Saksi’s psychedelic-looking artworks, align with the description of a migraine which the neurologist Heinrich Klüver (1897-1979) described as “geometrization” or “geometrical-ornamental” in his book Mechanisms of Hallucination. Saksi describes this experience as “geometric structures that cover the whole visual field: checkerboards, transparent oriental rugs, tribal patterns, ornamental spherical objets d’art like radiolaria or bacteria, repeating wallpaper designs, spiderweb-like figures or concentric circles and squares, architectural forms or decorative paper-cut snowflakes, mosaics, spirals and swirls.”

To this day, migraines remain a scientific mystery with only a primitive understanding of how and why they occur. It is thought that the study of migraines may reveal something about the spontaneous self-organization of visual neurons and how our sight is coded through fractal-like mathematical patterns and universal formations.

Despite the scientific ambiguity and the isolation of a migraine sufferer, Kustaa Saksi’s First Symptoms give us a glimpse into the unique world that exists behind his eyes.

‘First Symptoms’ will be on display at the Finlands institutets Galleri, Stockholm from February 6 until March 3 with the Vernissage on February 5. Following this, Spazio Nobile will hold a solo show of Kustaa Saksi’s tapestries from May 17 until September 8, 2019.

Sprout, 2019, Jacquard Weave, 170 x 250 cm. Mohair, Cotton, Rubber, Acrylic, Polyester, Trevira, Edition of 6
Attack, 2019, Jacquard Weave, 170 x 250 cm, Silk, Mohair, Linen, Polyester, Rubber, Wool, Elirex, Trevira Edition of 6
Aftermath, 2019, Jacquard Weave, 170 x 250 cm, Mohair, Elirex, Wool, Acrylic, Trevira Edition of 6
Aura, 2019, Jacquard Weave, 170 x 250 cm, Mohair, Wool, Cotton Velvet, Acrylic Edition of 6
Archetypes, 2019, Jacquard Weave, 170 x 250 cm, Alpaca, Mohair, Cotton Velvet, Wool, Acrylic Edition of 6
First Symptoms
In Full Bloom, 2019. Jacquard Weave, 170 x 250 cm, Mohair, Cotton Velvet, Acrylic, Cotton, Wool, Trevira Edition of 6
Kustaa Saksi
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