Creative Conversations: Heidi Hankaniemi

Heidi Hankaniemi appreciates the process of working by hand. Photo: Liisa Jokinen

Artist Heidi Hankaniemi moved to New York in 2010. In her practice she often works with fabrics, finding new purpose for discarded textiles. Currently, she is also preparing work for a summer exhibition in Sipoo, Finland and keeps busy with various commercial projects from illustration to visual displays.

How did you end up in New York?

I left Finland as a teenager to study fine arts at Central St. Martin's College of Art and thought London was where I was meant to be. Then I met my Canadian husband and we ended up in New York via Toronto and Madrid. The U.S. is the ninth country I’ve lived in.

Tell us about your art practice.

I use a lot of textiles in my current artwork. I love the handmade and tactile aspects of textiles and appreciate the process of working by hand. I find damaged and discarded handiworks at flea markets, and people send me things they don’t know what to do with. I mend them and construct them into larger pieces, in my “Mending Tapestries” series.

I just finished a commissioned piece for someone using their late mother's embroideries. Next I'll work with someone who went through a nasty divorce. She wants me to do something "empowering" with her hand-embroidered wedding dress. The dress has value as a family heirloom, but she doesn’t want to keep it as a dress.

Right now I'm working on a series of tapestries for a summer exhibition at Gumbostrand Konst & Form in Sipoo, Finland. I'm really looking forward to it. The place is very dear to me – I've travelled to our summer cottage nearby every year, no matter where I’ve lived.

Mending the cities of New York and Toronto. Heidi Hankaniemi, from the ongoing collaboration FixHabit with Maria Flawia Litwin. Courtesy the artist

Do you think New York is the right place for you as a visual artist?

I feel very fortunate to be here. The inspiration is endless: the energy of the city itself, its diversity, and its people. One can see big blockbuster exhibitions and go to obscure subculture events. It's all here. There are so many opportunities to learn: talks, seminars, workshops and open studios. Museums like Guggenheim, MoMa, and Brooklyn Museum have great programs, but I also frequent the Fashion Institute of Technology, Pioneer Works, Textile Arts Center, and Rubin Museum. 

There’s an expert for everything, and you can source any material you could ever imagine you'd need. I have a favorite art store, framer, hardware store, sewing shop. I have lovely suppliers at the flea market. Those things are important to me. It's easy to build your community here.

How has New York affected your art practice?

I approach ideas with more of an end result in mind. I've become much more aware of what I spend my time on. Costs are high and time is valuable – in comparison to, say, living in Madrid, where I felt a freedom to play and experiment to a much larger extent. The stakes are high, but so are the rewards.

They say the competition in creative fields in New York is fierce. What is your take on this?

There is so much incredible talent here, and I think it's important to connect with others, to raise the bar for yourself and the field in general. You can be anything in New York and you can do anything in New York, and if you do it well enough, there will be a demand for it. Become the best at being you, and don't focus on other people's paths. I'd like to believe that there is room at the top for everyone's individual skill sets. The pace in New York is ruthless, though. If you snooze, you lose.

Interview by Liisa Jokinen

Hankaniemi's recipe for making it in the city is simple: become the best at being you, and don't focus on other people's paths. Courtesy the artist