IMG_0993-kleinPlease meet lovely Virve Laakso, number 19 of this interview calendar. She is an artist with a strong personality.

Are you originally from Helsinki? Yes and no. I was born in Helsinki, but then we moved to Espoo when I was three. I lived there until I was 21 and then I moved back to Helsinki. But, you know, we came to Helsinki every now and then; so already at that time it was part of my life.

Did you study here? Yes, I studied marketing and advertising. Now I’m studying again. In between I worked almost ten years in advertising, in films. I used to be a casting director and I created outfits, mainly for TV commercials.

What are you studying now? I’m studying fine and media arts. So the truth is that I’ve been dreaming of doing art my whole life. But then I stopped at some point. I didn’t draw one line for more than ten years. Working as a casting director in the commercial world is really, really stressful! Then I got sick, they found multiple sclerosis in 2007 and I started to think, okay, this disease might take my eyesight or I might not walk again, so what do I really want to do in life? It made me realise, this is the only chance I got here so make wise decisions, don’t wait.

How was it, when you got the diagnosis? Did you have time to prepare yourself? It happened really quickly. I was working, a healthy, young woman and then, all of a sudden, my legs got really weak and I started to loose my eyesight. In the end I was admitted to the hospital, because I couldn’t swallow properly. That’s a really scary thing. Then the doctors started searching for the reasons and after two weeks they said you have multiple sclerosis. I didn’t even know what MS was. It was a huge shock. I’m not sure if I’m still over it. I took a while to get up again and walk. With MS you don’t know what ability you might get back. It comes and goes, in the end you might be paralysed for the rest of your life, or not. Nobody knows.

What have you been proud of lately? I’m proud of surviving my life so well in a wheel chair, because it’s really a challenge. I’ll be walking again, as soon as I get my muscles trained again.

Do you feel that people treat you differently, with this wheel chair? My friends didn’t change. But in general, things changed more in my head. It can be really challenging identity wise: Who am I, when I’m not capable of doing certain things? Am I still enough to be here? But I really recommend everybody to try to sit in a wheel chair once in their lives. Of course, I don’t wish this to anyone. But it gives you a new perspective, and you don’t take certain things for granted anymore.

Do you think you are a strong person? I don’t know. Maybe. But sometimes I feel really weak. People usually tell me that I’m strong.

How do you like Helsinki? I love Helsinki and it’s getting better and better. For instance, it’s becoming so international. The thing is, we’re really individualists here, in my opinion way too much, because that makes us unhappy. Young people in Helsinki, like the next generation, people who are teenagers now, are really open-minded. They’re totally different. Compared to them, I feel like a grandma (laughs).

You’ve been living here for such a long time, now I’m curious, what is your favourite place? There are so many, but one place that always comes to my mind is Tervasaari. It’s a really, really small island and it’s close to Katajanokka and Kruununhaka. In my twenties I used to live in Kruununhaka, so I was always biking to Tervasaari, sun bathing and hanging out. It has this special place in my heart. It’s just a cute little island.

At the moment I also like the area of Suvilahti, there is this café Ihana Kahvila. It’s by the sea and there are these graffiti walls, where people are allowed to spray. It’s my big dream to paint graffiti.

IMG_0994-kleinSo you already started to answer the next question, what is your dream? That has been my dream for the last four years. At that time, just when I started to paint graffiti, I broke my knee. But anyhow, that summer it was my plan to travel to Barcelona. I told my friends, I’m going to Barcelona and I will paint graffiti. You know, a 30-year-old woman (laughs). And then I went there and I met this guy who was painting illegal graffiti and I was like ‘please, take me with you’ and he was like: ‘no, I don’t want to get caught because of you, slowing me down’. So I didn’t get to paint.

Then I came back to Finland and I found this really good teacher who has been painting for 30 years and he has a gallery at Suvilahti. So I was painting a bit, but with a broken knee it wasn’t so easy. And now I’m in a wheel chair, so my career is not so brightly developing here (laughs). I’ve painted a few and I’m really proud of it.

If you could travel back in time, where would you go? I would go back to the time when I was 21 and I would say to myself: do whatever you want to, whatever is your passion, just do it! Don’t hesitate. It doesn’t matter if it makes sense or not.

Imagine you could be a different person for one day, whom would you pick? There is a lady named Teal Swan, an American, who works as a spiritual catalyst. She sees colours and auras of people, so she perceives them in a totally different way, and based on that explains how she sees the world. I’m also a sceptic person, but at the same time listening to what she is telling about this world, it makes sense. It would be so cool to see this world with her eyes.

Thank you, Virve!


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