The idea of coffee

I have been a coffee drinker since my first exams at the university. Apparently, this is quite a common time to become one. You struggle through long hours and try to desperately stay awake by what ever means you can come up with. – The ‘eternal darkness’ surrounding you during most of the academic year in the Nordic countries is tiring as it is, making you want to curl up in the sofa and hibernate through the cold season.

I never used to like coffee. When I was a teenager and visited my maternal grandparents, who lived near by, they would always ask before offering my usual cup of tea, “So have you learnt to drink coffee yet?” It seemed to be assumed obvious, that nobody would inherently like coffee; you had to ‘learn’ to like it.

When I had my first cup of coffee, it kept me up whole night. Years later that’s just a distant memory; I could drink the whole pot and it would only result in heart burn, palpitations and a headache. Though, those things do keep you awake better than a caffeine rush. I remember reading recently from somewhere, that most of coffee’s alertness inducing effect is in fact, just placebo.


You can imagine the idea of a perfect cappuccino and Plato would have agreed.

Over the years I have finally come to the conclusion that the idea of coffee is more enjoyable than actual coffee itself. On a cold morning, when I wait for a train, the hot paper cup warms my hands pleasantly. The smell is comforting. If I really concentrate on the taste and complex flavours of the coffee on my tongue, do I like it? – Not really. Most of the time I don’t even finish my drink. It isn’t just coffee, though, it’s many things. Long time ago I considered a luscious hot chocolate as a treat I’d allow to myself as a reward after completing a piece of course work or an exam. On my way home I’d stop outside the coffee shop, stare through the windows for a few seconds and then decide otherwise; I didn’t fancy the reward after all. The idea of the reward had been enough.

When I was in my mid-teens, I had a serious weight problem. According to my BMI, I was almost morbidly obese. I eventually tackled comfort eating by suddenly realising, that eating was actually not comforting at all. I’d feel so guilty in advance that I didn’t enjoy what I was eating, so I stopped. There was just no point at all in having a double chocolate muffin if it was going to make me miserable in advance, during and after eating it. As a result, I lost a lot of weight. If ideas had no power the advertising industry wouldn’t be doing so well. My wardrobe is bursting from clothes that I like the idea of myself in, but don’t actually wear. We all have a powerful sensory memory. I can recall the smell of my granny’s perfume from my childhood just as well as I can reminisce in how my old English sheepdog’s rough fur felt against my fingertips, when I pushed them through her long hair.

I haven’t had a coffee for a month now and I don’t miss it. Instead, I have regularly enjoyed the idea and memory of the smell of coffee. It has made me equally satisfied. In the world where we are bombarded by advertisements and what we are supposed to want and need, I  think we’d all benefit from concentrating on ideas more.

Contemporary art for the broken heart

I just came out of a relationship. It wasn’t a long one, merely three months, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is, that it wasn’t my choice. It wasn’t a result of a long and fruitful discussion that ended up in a mutual agreement and understanding. In fact, it was quite the opposite; abrupt, sudden and even worse, done in an email.

I love art and always have, but modern art is something I feel apprehensive about – I don’t ‘get it’. Some time ago I mentioned to my now ex-boyfriend how I had been to Tate Modern and liked it, but at the same time it made me emotionally exhausted. “Modern art is so depressing”, I sighed. “I know exactly what you mean”, he responded. I’m a real sucker for society critique. I quite like to feel important and clever by sitting in a coffee shop with my newspaper or a current affairs magazine, reading a column and thinking, ‘Nuff said’. But seeing society criticism in a visual form is a much more powerful stimulus, that it seems, my brain has difficulties handling. And that’s what I feel most modern art is, critique.

So I felt a little uneasy when a friend I was visiting in Nottingham suggested we’d go to the Nottingham Contemporary. Would I be able to handle it? I wasn’t sure about the differentiation between ‘modern’ and ‘contemporary’. The rawness of my internal hurt is still very much on the surface. Only a week or so earlier I had felt the excruciating pain of having to go shopping to buy someone a present and a card. I spent half an hour in a book shop trying not to pay attention to the sentimental music in the background. It seemed my emotional overload extended to all of my senses; even looking at post cards hurt. I had never thought before how huge of an impact the emotional landscape of a visual piece of art can have to our feelings and minds. Of course, I couldn’t find a card I liked. Eventually, after going through four different shops, I found one with a black and white picture of a flock of birds rushing through the brick-made arches of a bridge. So no music, art or romantic and relationship-y films for me for a while, I concluded.

It turned out I was wrong with my doubts. The exhibition I saw with my friend left me with only positive and hopeful thoughts. The pieces were largely audio-visual. Sadly, I had a long distance train to catch and didn’t have a chance to watch through more than a fraction of each film, which is a shame. Agnieszka Polska’s film ‘I am the mouth’ showed large, red, animated lips in water, speaking in monotone. This was especially comforting, resonating back my feelings of confusion without the emotional manipulation I had felt imposed upon me, when having gone through the mentioned post cards.

I experienced very much the same with the works of Raphael Hefti. I could have spent much longer walking among the coloured and sculptural tubes that formed his work ‘In Various Threaded Poles of Determinate Length Potentially Altering their Determinancy’, inspecting the raised patterns and spectres of colour. What I realised, was that I had been given an outlet for those negative feelings I couldn’t express, in a visual form of something that can be interpreted as anything. I have been job hunting for something better for a while, hoping to relocate somewhere where I can have hobbies and more friends. By losing the relationship I lost the last bits of feeling I had any control over any aspects of my life. The exhibition was a blank canvas for me to reflect my own innermost feelings onto. Who am I now? Where am I going to go from here? What is it that I want? Those were some of the questions I asked myself, when I looked at Hefti’s giant photosensitive papers on the wall, which he had turned into swirls of striking colours and patterns by exposing flammable moss spores to light. In the accompanying booklet Polska tells about one of her films: “The atmosphere of the film is an echo of the experiences of my trip. Firstly, from the sense of isolation, and secondly from the stubborn, exhausting thoughts of the ultimate questions that come to you in times of prolonged solitude.” I’m not any closer to knowing the answers to my questions, but it made me feel better.


Raphael Hefti “Lycomorph”, Photograph by Gunnar Meier

Raphael Hefti and Agnieszka Polska’s exhibition is running until Jan 5th, 2015. Do go see it if your heart is broken too. Afterwards, you can familiarise yourself with a very respectable selection of emotionally neutral but beautiful, contemporary post cards available in the adjacent shop. If this is how contemporary art makes me think and feel, I want to see more of it.