There's something in the woods...
When we think of folklore, we depict a thing of the past, labelled objects behind a glass, and traditions which only exist on the countryside. To put it shortly, a shadow of what it used to be. Or is it? My work explores Estonian folklore, intervowing shadows to be part of the book through interactive pop-up pieces which show their true nature when the reader uses flashlight on them. My goal with the shadow pieces was to explore how illustration can expand outside of the book, and can have an animated nature without a screen. The atmosphere is fitting: Estonian folk tales are rather gloomy, painting the picture of forests full of spirits, devils, wandering souls and shadows.
Estonian Week Budapest,
Turn your room
into a mysterious
DIY Shadow exhibition
How does it work:
During the pandemic, the ways we used to engage with culture changed. Visual art migrated from gallery walls to our screens, concerts happen on facebook live, events and talks gave up the stage for IGTV.
When I created this project I meant it to become something interactive, despite interaction being a thing we all had to limit in the past year.
Luckily, the key point of my artwork is something that everybody can summon and safely engage with: shadows.
I invite you to join, and lend your
walls to this exhibition!
The story: 3 trips,
100 folk tales
How I created a book about Estonian folklore as a Hungarian
"Why did you edit the picture?" asked my friend, when I sent her the snapshot I just took through messenger. In fact, the photo was untouched, and depicted exactly what I could see with my eyes: the bright red floor of a forest with trees of orange bark and green needles covering only the top as elegant hats. For unsuspecting Hungarians this is a surreal colour palette indeed.
If a forest is a kingdom, this was definitely ruled by pines, and they were not eager to share it with other plants. Trees having personalities is an idea that roots deep in Estonian folklore, and looking around me, I couldn't help but follow the same line of thought. The pines, with their heads in the clouds, gazing around like mighty aristocrats, meanwhile the birches felt more humble, bowing their balding heads to the wind.
And then, there was an unexpected guest, a single hogweed sprouting from among the needles —
"Intruder!" hissed the pine as it glanced at it from above. How did that hogweed get here? Yet, it was the character I could identify with the most in the story of the forest kingdom.
So, how did I actually get to Estonia? Long story short: I was fascinated by the language, then by the nature, then by the culture. In the beginning it was amusing to find links between Hungarian and Estonian (despite the fact that they are completely different in every other aspect). For example:
Szem — Silm (eye), Vér — Veri (blood),
Kéz — Käsi (hand), Méz — Mesi (honey)
However, it is obviously hard to learn the language when all you can rely on is Google Translate (or, altervatively, there is an UFO-themed online class at keeleklikk.ee). Luckily, I made friends too, and other than helping with grammar, they made the whole "Estonia experience" feel more real.
I paid two visits to Estonia, with the intention to do some research, and build a base for the project that later grew into my diploma work. Of course, I browsed through articles and went to museums, but the most importantly I talked to people.
It went well, as much so that the third time I visited, I stayed for a whole year.
The making of this book took unexpected turns. After my second research trip, the COVID outbreak happened, and I was left in the company of my printer, papers, pencils and laptop to revive the atmoshpere of the mythical Estonian woods.
It wasn't easy to get in the mood from rural Hungary: it was April, so everything was in vibrant flowers all around me, the temperatures sneaking higher day by day — quite the opposite of the dark and gloomy image Estonian tales paint.
It was with the help of my friend, Karl Kaisel that I could still make a book which feels authentic. He didn't only lend me photos he took of the Estonian landscape, but also shared his memories growing up in the countryside, connected to nature.
In the end, I wanted to create a book that weaves together the past with the present, myth with reality. Big words to use! I'll let you decide whether I succeeded.
There are seven chapters, a pop-up piece belonging to each. The book itself is ~250 pages long, so the pop-ups are designed to have simple structures in order to be compatible with the average thickness of the pages.
When creating this project, I avoided evoking the sense of nostalgia over the olden days. I wanted to create something more alive — something that moves. However, achieving movement is challenging as I mainly work with printed material, and this project is no exception. I focused a year's worth of research about Estonian folklore into a book, and as a result it became an entrance to a world full of hiding spirits, lurking creatures, murky forests and magical lands. I made them move by adding pop-up elements, and the reader is free to interact with them: casting their shadow with the help of a flashlight fills them with additional meaning.
On the forest spirit's trail
Once, a man went into the forest to fetch wood to make sledge runners. He left his horse in a clearing and went on foot to cut down trees. He’d gotten enough wood cut and ready, and wanted to leave the forest to load the wood onto his cart. He walked and walked, but just couldn’t seem to get out of the forest. Finally, he realised he was lost and going in circles. He saw that he kept on coming back to a half-rotted aspen stump.
He continued walking and arrived right back at the same aspen stump again. He came around to the stump seventy-seven times like that, but couldn’t get any further.
Night fell and the cold was about to freeze the man. He finally sunk his axe into the stump in anger and desperation, and said: “Be there ninety-nine evil spirits in my way, I’ve still got to get out of this forest.”
As soon as he had said this, a black figure rose up before him and disappeared. Then, it was as if a heavy veil dropped from his eyes. He saw his horse right there nearby, and got out of the forest in a few steps.
builds a home
Vanapagan wanted to build a house, and went to God to ask for logs. God promised him the logs, but set a condition that Vanapagan agreed to: “You may not take thick or thin logs, nor may you take straight or crooked ones.” And: “You may cut down every tree in the forest, but only when the oak has no leaves.”
Vanapagan gathered his workers and went into the forest to cut logs. After searching high and low, he reckoned he had found one that was neither thick nor thin, straight nor crooked. He wanted to cut down the tree, but saw that the oak was still wearing its leaves, Vanapagan waited for the oak’s leaves to fall. But the leaves did not fall.
Finally, Vanapagan got tired of waiting and left the forest, but before he did, Vanapagan clawed at the tree and shredded its leaves. To this day, the oak’s leaves look as if they have been clawed by a cat. This is Vanapagan’s doing for not getting logs for his house.
So, Vanapagan’s house was never built. Even now, he still doesn’t have a house, and roves around the world.
A man went into the forest on Midsummer Eve looking for his lost horse. He searched and searched, but couldn’t find it. He came upon a patch of ferns. Suddenly, the dusk around the man turned bright white. The man looked: what appeared to be a little ring of fire was spinning among the ferns before him, shooting off sparks. The sparks illuminated the surroundings like the sun in daytime. The bright light shone into the man’s eyes, making him rub them. When he took his hands away, he saw the whole forest was dim again, just like it was before his vision. The man couldn’t work out what the ring of fire he’d seen was.
Since he hadn’t found his horse, he started heading home. Soon, he saw wolves and bears were close by. The man became afraid and started running towards home. But he couldn’t shake off the wolves and the bears: they kept getting closer to the man.The man ran even faster. Suddenly, he was surrounded by a river he’d never seen before - the man couldn’t go any further. What should he do now? A voice called out from behind him: “Kick off your shoe! Toss back your shoe.”
The man looked behind him: the wolves and bears were quite close. Again, voice called out from somewhere: “Kick off your shoe.”
The only choice the man had was to untie the straps of one shoe and take it off. Something white fell out of the shoe. In the blink of an eye, the wolves and bears charged at that white thing, snatched it, and disappeared. The next moment, the river had also disappeared and the man made it home, unfettered.
Only now did the man realise he’d happened upon the blossoming of the ferns in the forest, and a blossom had ended up in his shoe without his knowing. The wolves and the bears that were chasing him naturally wanted to get it back from the man, and that’s why they demanded he take off his shoe. They weren’t proper wolves and bears though, of course, but probably some kind of spirits.
Thank you for coming with me on this journey!
If you have any thought, questions or ideas, feel free to contact me at . Pictures of your version of the DIY exhibition are always welcome as well!
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