You belong to the city

Hello! Who are you?

That’s a good question, “define yourself”! (laughs) I go by the name Valari, that’s what my friends call me. I’ve been doing the Malmi Vice thing for 15 years now. Professionally, I’ve done a variety of jobs in IT business, the music industry, entrepreneurship, clothing. Lots of things, actually.

Are you from Helsinki?

Yeah, born and raised in the northern parts of Helsinki: Malmi, Tapanila, Oulunkylä. My parents met in Jakomäki, and my grandma’s house was there too. So I’m pretty much stuck in this neighborhood. (laughs)

You’re an expert on the evolution of the area.

I’m not an expert, but I’ve seen lots of things and got to meet lots of people over the years. So this feels like home.

What did you study?

As a kid, I was interested in computers. At some point I discovered MS-Paint and was drawing and painting a lot with that. I also could hunt for clipart from different places, print it out in my desk printer, and then I color it! (laughs) So in a way, the technologic evolution was what led me to art, through artistic software. I remember the first Corel Suite, back in 2003. I did so much stuff with that, it was so much more advanced than MS-Paint! So I learned by doing things, like logos and flyers. Around 2004 we were gathering at the now defunct Hotel Avión, here in Malmi. It had a nightclub, and we had rap parties there. I did many flyers for those events, and at some point I started to do logo mockups too. It all started there, and it’s been a hobby ever since.

Do you have any background in graphic design or art?

No, no formal education. Most of the things I’ve done in my life (graphic design, IT business, running a company) I’ve learnt by doing, and deciding whether I was up to it or not.

What did you do in the software industry?

Videoconference systems. I was in services management, planning concepts and systems for big companies. It was interesting, but I quit in 2015.

So Malmi Vice is a hobby for you?

Yes, it’s always been a hobby, ever since I made the first logo in 2005. I do it at my own pace, sometimes slower, sometimes faster. But always as a hobby.

How did you get the idea for this subversive style?

It was an accident. (laughs) We didn’t have memes back then (at least not like we have today) but I was doing visual puns by photoshopping friends’ faces on famous photos, and so on. At the time we were big fans of the Miami Vice series, so I photoshopped my friends’ faces over Crockett’s and Tubb’s. And then I thought “what can I do with the logo?”. That was an easy one: MALMI VICE! (laughs) So it all started from that. Then I continued playing with logos and evolving ideas. There was not a real purpose to it, it was just for fun. It began in 2004, and in 2005 I printed the first t-shirts.

Do you consider yourself an urban artist?

Not really, no. I never thought of putting myself in a box like that. I am a fan of street art (even though I don’t like that name much) and have always followed it. Graffiti culture (which arrived in Finland in the 80s) was a big influence for me too. But I wouldn’t call myself a street artist. Until now, no-one I know has considered what I do as “art”. So I guess people who see my stuff can judge for themselves if it’s art or not, for me it’s not important. Malmi Vice can be many things: stickers, posters, music, parties, whatever.

How did you end up exhibiting in Malmi Talo?

My first exhibition was really small, for the 10th year anniversary of the Malmi Vice project. Geezer’s The Shop (a long standing graffiti supplies shop) had this small space for art shows, so I had a small exhibition there, small canvas prints. But for the 15th year anniversary I wanted to do something bigger, so I considered likely places. Malmi Talo was a good choice because I wanted to be in this area rather than in downtown Helsinki. So I got in touch with them and they told me “we have our 25th anniversary coming, and we were about to contact YOU and ask if you wanted to do something here”! (laughs) I was charmed to know they were aware of what I was doing, it was a positive thing. They were supportive and wanted me to put up my things there, so it was an easy decision.

Your works are parodies and malapropisms, but they’re not cynical. In fact, there’s a certain tenderness in there.

I make observations and point them out in a playful, ironic way. I try to remark on certain things, or issues, maybe. But I don’t want to make it too political.

How political is your work, would you say?

I myself don’t follow politics, so the stuff I do doesn’t have a political agenda behind it. But the problem nowadays is that people seem eager to believe there’s something there, even though it’s not meant like that. It has not happened to me, but I know it could.

Nowadays stuff you said in the past can be used against you.

It’s true. Of course if you have done something bad in the past it should be considered, but to bring up stuff that someone said twenty years ago, what’s the point? We’re living in tricky times.

What changes have you seen during the years in Malmi?

Of course the environment is always changing, no matter where you live. Some places change faster, others more slowly. The economy plays a big role in that, and our country seems to be doing well. But regarding change, it can be obvious for someone who’s been away for some years to come back and notice what’s different, but it’s difficult when you live within the environment, day-to-day. Lots of things have changed, I guess. There’s more services, even though Malmi has always been central in Helsinki. Malmi Nova is new, but the old area is pretty old. I remember this toy shop called Malmi Mega Lelu, they even had ad on TV with a jingle! There may be photos somewhere…

They’ve built a lot of new stuff, a lot of new people have moved in. In general, things have gotten more peaceful around here. Even if you compare it to the early 2000s. When you walk around you see things, but it’s stuff you see everywhere, not only in Malmi. To me it feels more peaceful. Services are better, there are more stores, more choices. You can take care of your daily needs without going further away. From a nostalgic point of view, I wish the old Avión Hotel were still open, with its night club and rap parties… Although I’m not sure I’d go there anyway! (laughs)

What’s your connection with rap?

My friends and friends of friends used to perform at those parties, people knew about them. Around 2005 there were not many rap parties in Helsinki, so if someone threw an event, it was a big deal. Now there are several per weekend, there’s just too many. But then we had one per month, and people were coming from all over, it was a big thing. It was a short period of time, but those who have been in the music industry for long, still remember. Big names have done their first shows at the Hotel Avión rap parties.

What’s your process to create your pieces?

I often get an idea and I write it down. It can sit there for a long period of time. Then I try to develop it and decide whether it has potential or I should trash it. Many things I have come up with didn’t go anywhere. They looked good on my head, but that was it. I’ve always been fascinated by logos, fonts, and signs, they are beautiful. When I started to do this, it was so difficult to get fonts. Nowadays you can download anything you want! Back then you had to either draw everything or create a collage, cut and paste stuff. I remember when I discovered the Wingdings font, do you remember it? I was like “WOW, what is this? There are smiley faces and arrows! And you could blow them UP!” (laughs) Some years ago I created my own font made out of Malmi Vice logos, that was a fun project. I shared it online, so people could play with it.

Do you actively study art?

Not actively, no. If I see something which interests me I search the artist up and learn what period was he active in, what did he do, and so on.

What tools do you use nowadays?

I still use Corel! (laughs) I’m on a very old version, like 7 or 8 years old. In fact I’m starting to have problems because it doesn’t work well with the new operating system. I was thinking of getting a new laptop, but it might not support Corel! Since I’ve never done this professionally, the software I had was enough to do what I needed. I know Illustrator and Photoshop, but… Then I tried to upgrade to a newer Corel version, but they had changed everything so much that I couldn’t get around it. In this culture of updates, if you miss one, you’re out. I remember when we got our first PC, in the early 90s, I learned HTML, coding with Notepad! (we both laugh here) I really got into it, nesting tables within tables!

Then I have software that converts graphics into vectors. For the type of work I do is enough. It evens smoothens the images, which works for me. I create EPS files because I know I can blow them up as big as I need. Like I had this A0 for the exhibition, for example.

Are you selling any of your work?

Not much. I produced a ton of stickers, that I’ve given away; I see them around all the time. Then some t-shirts, but I’ve never considered it like a clothing brand or anything like that. It’s been more like, if I made a logo and there’s been a demand, or if people ask for t-shirts, maybe I’ll print some. The classic Malmi Vice logo has sold steadily over the years, but other than that, I only do small print runs. And I rarely do another run; once it’s gone, it’s gone.

Any posters?

After the show there’s been requests, through social media. But I’d like to find an easy way to sell them. That’s the main reason I’ve never tried to sell too many t-shirts. If I don’t have a proper channel, I know I won’t have the time or the patience to do it. Because I know how much time it takes, to arrange shipping, payments, etc. The way I do it now is, if someone asks me for a print or a t-shirt, it’s always special because it’s really a one-time job made by me.

Where do you print?

I print with DIALAB, in Kalasatama. It’s my friend’s family business. They’ve been active since ’84, and they can produce anything. I could have gotten it cheaper online, but I wanted to support them. They always give you new ideas and different angles on how to do the work. Almost everything at the Malmi Talo exhibition was printed with them.

Do people get the jokes, you think?

I don’t know. (laughs) Now that the things were hanging in Malmi Talo, a lot of people from different ages saw them. Some of them are familiar with my work and they came to talk to me. The fun thing was that every single one of them found something that they recognized. “Ah, this one I know! This one is from so and so, and that other one too…”

Only old kids like us can recognize Tales From The Crypt and He-man.

Ha, ha, yeah! But the Elovena box, or raisins, everybody has seen it. Maybe you don’t get it at first, but then you start to make the connection. Where have I seen that? So yeah, I don’t know how much people get the jokes. Before the exhibition here, I only spoke with my friends about my art, and they all said “it’s nice” so I was under the illusion that everybody likes it. (laughs). In the end, everybody found something they liked, and that’s a nice feeling.

Your concept seems both specific and universal.

Yeah, and it’s funny. There’s always been a demand from people far away. From the north of Finland they ask me “Hey, where can I get a Malmi Vice t-shirt?” What do they think Malmi is, New York? (laughs) Isn’t it curious to wear a t-shirt from a place you’ve never been to? Helsinki is a place you go to visit, but what’s the reason to travel to Malmi? (laughs)

Plans for the future?

There’s never a fixed plan. If I think of something I want to build, I try to do it. One thing I’d like to see is a big mural in the Malmi area. It doesn’t have to be a Malmi Vice thing, I don’t even want to paint it myself, but would love to design it with someone and get permission for it. I’ll keep doing logos, and see if there can be another exhibition somewhere. The Malmi Talo exhibition was a lot of work, and I couldn’t get everything I wanted done. I wanted more physical elements, like boxes of cereal and Coke bottles with the Malmi logo, things like that. In my original idea I wanted to create a shelf with products with my logos in them, but it was so much work. But it’s something that has been with me for so long, it’s not going away. It’s something for life. I don’t know in what form, but I know that it will come. Maybe I’ll publish a book.

As social commentary, do you have a positive view on all this?

I like to think it’s positive. Of course, when you see people suffer, it always affects you in a certain way. But in general, I like to think things are going well, and they can get better. As I said, I’m not into politics, but I like to try to affect the community I live in, to do something for the people around me. We have been organizing, for example, a charity event at Christmas time, at the Malmi square. Mikael Gabriel —who’s a big name in Finnish music, and originally from Malmi— is the originator of the idea. We give food packages and presents for the children. This is our 5th year, and it’s going to be bigger this time.

Who organizes this event?

Me and the guys from JVG, one of the biggest Finnish rap groups. We’ve been giving out like 300 packs of foods, and also books and toys. We recently registered it as an RY to build a more organized charity, and “challenging” more people to do this in their own neighborhoods. For me it’s been an important thing to do, even if it’s only one day. It’s a way to give back to the community.

You can follow Malmi Vice on Instagram and Facebook. Photos from the Malmi Talo exhibition by Joona Hauhia (@joonagraphics).