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KNOxOUT air cleaning paint

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Tapio Snellman’s movie on the Collage House in Dezeen  is a beautiful work of art in itself, and honors the work of architectural designer Jonathan Tuckey when he transformed a 19th-century steel fabricator’s London workshop into a home for his family.

But it is not about Tapio Snellman the film maker that I want to write about, not even Tapio Snellman the architect. I want to write about Tapio the artist.

I met Tapio in Manila in March 2012 when he was commissioned by Boysen to paint one of the large-scale artworks in the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, Manila’s main arterial roadway and the focal point of the Boysen KNOxOut urban renewal initiative called Project: EDSA.

The Boysen KNOxOUT Project: EDSA mural at Cubao by Tapio Snellman
The Boysen KNOxOUT Project: EDSA mural at Cubao by Tapio Snellman

Sitting across the table from me during dinner one night, Tapio talked about how he came up with the concept for the artwork he called Cubao Incision.

Tapio’s Story about the Project

The proposal for me to come to Manila to create a mural for Boysen in 2012, came completely out of the blue during a time when I was looking for a change in my working life and was hungry for a creative challenge.

I first thought the curator might be mistaken with my identity though as I didn’t really have any experience with murals. But when I was told that my film work on cities was the basis for the choice, I got excited and agreed to travel to Manila. I made a radical decision to leave London for a whole two months to see what the Philippines had to offer. Amazingly, my partner Diego was able to work remotely on his ongoing theatre projects and decided to join me.

I started familiarising myself with Manila and came up with a preliminary concept for the mural before traveling, but nothing could prepare me for the reality of it. 

We spent the first days walking across the city, looking for a place to stay and making sense of it all. We took trains, buses and jeepnies to get close to people, and walked through crowded neighbourhoods and deserted gated communities. I really wanted to be infused by the culture and people and see if I could do something specific to the place.

The site of my artwork turned out to be one of the most intense places I’d experienced: The amount of activity and humanity crossing its way at that specific point was overwhelming. Pedestrians, streetmarkets, cars, trainlines, informal dwellings, lovehotels  and a bus interchange all exist on different levels.

The first task was to measure the ‘canvas’. We bought a long measuring tape and spent hours walking up and down the 300 meter long underpass drawing up diagrams of the side walls of the underpass, taking photos, nearly sacrificing our lives and almost getting arrested while at it. The noxious air, heat, noise and humidity gave me an instant headache.

It’s a kind of hell on earth and yet I fell love with that place.

Tapio’s Experience in the Philippines

I had an amazing time in Manila, walking and exploring the most unlikely of neighbourhoods with my camera in hand. Coming to our Makati condo and frying lapu lapu fresh from the market, for lunch. Then meeting with a friend for a casual and unplanned dinner only to be attacked by another 16 work colleagues, family members and next door neighbours joining in for what turned out to be a major culinary feast. For a shy and reserved northerner that was challenging at times but I miss it sorely now.

I loved my time at the Boysen factory where I spent hours with the chemical engineer mixing my KNOxOUT paint to get the exact hues I needed without compromising on the air-cleaning properties.

We made an awesome escapade out of the city in a rented car. Everyone advised us to take a driver and a guide but being used to self reliance we ventured out of the city without, for what turned out to be a 2,000 km long exploration of Luzon.

What I remember is navigating by Jollibee billboards announcing distances to next towns and cities, then arriving in typhoon conditions in an all but evacuated Aparri. Other images that have stayed are that of pushing our drunken Ifugao guide up a muddy hill in Banaue on New Year’s Day and being massaged simultaneously by two elderly ladies using the opportunity to share a year’s worth of gossip over my oily body.

The landscapes were other-worldly and in each village we seemed to make new friends, even if driving for two hours just to discover a dead end due to to a collapsed bridge across the Cagayan River tested our patience.

I sorely miss the Philippines, its warmth and the endless generosity. It couldn’t be more different from the cool and reserved Finland of my childhood but has become a home nevertheless.

Meeting Artists

I really enjoyed talking with Tapio and Diego, who was also trained as an architect and interior designer but pursued further studies to become an international theater designer. One of these days, I will write about Diego too.

Diego and Tapio
Illustration by Diego

There is something very special about artists. When you talk to them and follow them into their world, it suddenly seems that this world you are in changes in dimension and depth. Colors are more intense, and you are somehow drawn into another way of perceiving things. Their observation powers are certainly remarkable. Especially if an artist is as eloquent in words as he is in the medium he has chosen for himself, you come out of the encounter with your own world expanded and your senses sharpened.

Tapio was born in Finland but he has lived in London for nearly 20 years. When I asked him what his name meant, he said, “Tapio means forest god in Finnish.”

Finland is poised to become the world’s most sustainable nation in the world, and follows an ambitious agenda to be able achieve this. It is just fitting that a Finn came to the Philippines to help us in one of our sustainability efforts.

To this Filipino Finn, I say Mabuhay.