Subscribe to our newsletter

Highlights From the Previous Week, Partnered Events and Haikus. View our Newsletter archive

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’

Scroll right to read more ›
Text by
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

Articles you also might like

Ernst Gamperl

Since winning the LOEWE Craft Prize in 2017, Ernst Gamperl has been pursuing more essential & archaic formats. ‘Tree of Life’ is his once-in-a-lifetime project, as he transforms a huge 230-year-old oak tree into 67 wrought vessels that embody his excellence in woodturning and experimental patinas.

With a shared obsession with the organic and an instinctive relationship with raw material, the two distinct practices of designer Lionel Jadot and photographer Serge Leblon are united under a common thread in Spazio Nobile Gallery’s latest exhibition. 

Collaborator of our sister gallery Spazio Nobile, Matthias Kohn, developed a project about home, nature, and hospitality. In essence, the concept is based on the idea of placing furniture, most often used in private interior settings, thus adapted for this type of use, and suggesting comfort, in exterior settings, where the impact of the piece on the respective surroundings is allowed to develop fully.

On her old wooden loom, Marie Hazard weaves stories with miles of thread. Through a long and complex process, she brings together traditional hand weaving techniques and digital printing technology to explore contemporary social and cultural conditions.