Everyday Alchemy

Everyday Alchemy

Jaana Partanen’s extensive photographic trilogy “Everyday Alchemy” was completed in stages in 2000 – 2007. The opening part Tuhkimo (Cinderella) emphasises the dignity of everyday life. The works of the exhibition deal with a child’s birth and early years of life, the change of the family community and the father’s role in particular. The other part of the exhibition, Ruusunen (Sleeping Beauty), in turn examines aging and the theme of renunciation. In the centre are old women, from among whom Ms. Partanen finds the good fairy godmothers, those who have the ability to share their experience and wisdom as a gift to others. The third and last part of the exhibition, Oikea prinsessa (A Real Princess), delves into the relationship between a pubescent girl and a middle-aged mother. It also deals with change, renunciation and finding something new.

All three parts are products of interaction between the photographer and the people she is portraying. The process was long, slow and laborious. It began with getting to know each other and continuing through conversations to the stage of mutual trust before finally developing the works that are characteristic of each series. These manipulated photographs contain allusions to both the Christian tradition of icon painting and the pictorial world of ancient Egypt. Video works in which there are no human figures are used to guide the themes of the still pictures on a more general level. At the same time as the people as individuals are working on their own story of survival, the large pieces of which the world is composed fit together and fall apart like children’s building blocks. The aesthetics of destruction is never very far away.

The texts are based on Riitta Raatikainen’s writings. The original texts have been published in the book by Jaana Partanen, Arjen alkemiaa (Maahenki, 2007).

Alongside photographic works and the book, the Arjen alkemiaa (Everyday Alchemy) set includes video works, installations, a document and a theatre performance. The exhibition set has been on show in individual exhibitions, for example, in the Finnish Museum of Photography and in the art museums of Kajaani, Lapinlahti and Varkaus, in Photographic Centre Peri and in VB Photographic Centre. The set has been seen in joint exhibitions in Finland and abroad, for example, in Germany and South Africa. It has also toured international festivals, for example, in Spain and several Latin American countries.

Cinderella Sleeping Beauty A Real Princess



The opening part of this trilogy, Cinderel­la, is concerned with the birth and early years of a child, the change brought about in the family and in particular the role of the father in all this. It places especial empha­sis on the dignity of everyday life, the vital importance of the sometimes dirty and frequently overlooked chores that Cinderella has to carry out in order to get through each day.

“Alchemy is the attempt to produce gold. Everyday Alchemy (Arjen alkemiaa) is my attempt to raise small everyday moments to the value of gold”, says Jaana Partanen. Viikko-Savo, 9 January 2002

Artwork from the series Cinderella, part of triptych, 2001, mixed techniques, size: 39 x 139 x 2 cm. Photos: home albums

Every moment is unique

Cinderella is the story of a family, common to all and different for everyone. When the first child is born, the world changes. The child is a revolution that extends to the parents’ every cell and moment.

Ms. Partanen has used family album pictures as the image material of the Cinderella work set and added gilding to them. Gilding emphasizes the significance of each moment, the dignity of each person and the importance of each human relationship. The works underline the change of the concept of family and particularly that of the father’s role. Art history abounds with images of women nursing children, but men nursing children cannot be found.

Today it is no longer difficult to find pictures depicting fathers successfully looking after children in the same way as mothers.

Artwork from the series Cinderella, part of triptych, 2001, mixed techniques, size: 39 x 139 x 5 cm. Photos © home albums

In the works contained in the Cinderella section the photographic elements are restricted to people and are located against backgrounds fashioned from gold leaf or golden-colored beaten metal plates. The originals are as thick as gold sovereigns, ingots fashioned from ordinary pictures of ordinary events, for it is in pre­cisely this way, gilded and golden, that we are apt to remember those childhood years when once they are behind us.

Artwork from the series Cinderella, part of triptych, 2001, mixed techniques, size: 49 x 99 x 5 cm. Photos © home albums

Every step at that time had a significance of its own

Again, video installation

The video work Again, associated with the Cinderella series, had its beginning in September, 2001. At that time, the number one item of world news was the collapse of the Twin Towers of New York’s World Trade Center. The game about the building and falling down of a town of blocks became real in a tragic way. News broadcasts kept resending the crumbling down of the towers, but why was just this video image so strongly engraved in our minds?

Uudestaan-video artwork and Golden City -installation, Väsby Art Hall, 2017.

Still-images, Again video installation, 2002.

Again video installation, Lapinlahti Art Museum, 2004.

There is always something that comes along to turn our own little world upside down

Golden City installation

Golden City is a large installation of gilded blocks, associated with the Cinderella set, which forms in the exhibition space an urban structure on a red base. The builder’s task is great and so valuable that in Golden City it can only be performed with white gloves on. The installation invites to try out and touch. Both little and big people can experience again the wonderful moment in which the block tower begins to collapse.

Golden City, Kouvola Art Museum Poikilo, 2018.

Golden City, Kajaani Art Museum, 2008.

Build your own installation

Crusade after rain

The exhibition is a playing adult’s comment to the crusade fervour swelling in the world.

How much money do we spend on the arms trade? Who has the war as their motive? What kind of global business starts after the bombs drop? Who benefits from the destruction? How about non-profit organizations and re-builders, don’t they benefit from the tragedy? What is the reach of these shockwaves?

The production is opened by a mind game: what if bombs would be good and unifying acts priced equally with these weapons? What kind of positive shockwaves and prosperity would this create?

Crusade after rain and Like earth like heaven, Varkaus Art Museum, 2002

Crusade after rain, 2002 (detail), installation, size 2,5 x 2,5 m

Kaaba opened

What is hidden inside Kaaba? Why the different rules when it comes to wrapping it between men and women? Why religion finds it so important to leave women out of the higher ranks of society?

The holiest place in Islamic world is comprised of legos in this production. You can find this common material in almost every household and it gives an opportunity to explore the thematics thru the play of creative adult. Kaaba opened makes a statement on Iraq war and Islamic values and compares them to values of the western countries. These matters are still relevant in todays world.

Opened Kaaba, Poikilo Art Museum, Kouvola, 2018.

Opened Kaaba, detail.

Cinderella, theater performance

Cinderella is artist Jaana Partanen’s and audio artist Juha Valkeapää’s commissioned work for the Hämeenlinna Children’s And Youth Art Festival. Cinderella’s visual and spatial bases are Partanen’s works exploring Everyday Alchemy, installations formed of gilded everyday objects that Mr. Valkeapää uses in his performance.

Mr. Valkeapää’s two separate performances are formed of improvised dances with sound in which Valkeapää dances the brush dance, the billet dance, the mirror dance, the bean dance, the foam dance and the toe and heel cutting dance and sings the welcome rap. Cinderella’s prince does not for once fall into absolute despair. The sun shines on ashes!

Cinderella, theatre performance, Hippalot, Hämeenlinna, 2003.

Cinderella, theatre performance, Sanataidepäivät, Oulu, 2005.

Cinderella is a song of praise to everyday princes and princesses!

Cinderella, theatre performance, Hippalot, Hämeenlinna, 2003.

What if there is no final destination?

Sleeping Beauty


The second part, Sleeping Beauty, is a study of ageing, of the logic of old age and the art of giving things up. It is from among old women that she finds the fairy godmothers for Sleeping Beauty, people with the capac­ity for sharing their experience and wisdom freely with others.

Sleeping Beauty deals with the frailty of existence and the strength of man. The series had its start in several discussions with women of 75 to 90 years of age in the winter of 2003. The result was silverised imaginary portraits of wise aged women. In them Ms. Partanen sounds the secret of active old age, the elixir of life, the stone of wisdom. The works combine the traditional manually processed black-and-white image, the icon silverising technique and the illusion of tridimensionality characteristic of Ms. Partanen’s photographic art.

Artwork from the series Sleeping Beauty, 2004, mixed techniques, size 78 x 120 x 6 cm.

Who is Sleeping Beauty?

To learn more about old age, Jaana Partanen began visiting the old women repeatedly to chat about the things that were most important to them: their life his­tory, its joys and sorrows, its fulfilments and pains. They also spoke to her of friendship, sexuality and literature, as naturally and straightforwardly as only a person who has lived for nearly a hundred years can speak to another person.

These conversations helped the artist to form a pic­ture of the personal qualities of each of the women. Each had her own source of inner strength and her own means of coping with all the trials that befell her. One would approach them with a sense of humour, an­other with humility, and so on. These were the means that had helped them to cope earlier in their lives, and they relied on them in their old age, too.

It was through these conversations, too, that the Sleeping Beauty sequence began to take shape. She photographed the women in their own home surroundings, using black-and-white film, large-sized negatives and studio lighting, as this seemed as obvious for photographing old people as snapshots had done for families with children. They then discussed ideas for their presentation and modified the pictures accordingly. Again the original backgrounds were cut away to leave only what were regarded as the essential elements.

Artwork from the series Sleeping Beauty, 2004, mixed techiniques.

Is this what the end of life is like? Can one not be happy in old age?

Teos sarjasta Ruusunen, 2004, sekatekniikka, koko 58 x 115 x 4 cm.

Artwork from the series Sleeping Beauty, 2004, mixed techniques, size 63 x 63 x 3 cm.

We feel ageing in our bodies and it is visible to others, but the soul does not age, it merely matures. A long life gives one a new breadth of vision and teaches one to be more tolerant, more kind and more liberal. Jaana Par­tanen’s Sleeping Beauty grew in the wisdom of her fairy godmothers, from the gift of their experience of life. The women she photographed remained her friends after the work was completed, even though the new times brought new projects with them. The theme of old age in fact left her in peace only after the Crystal City had seen the light of day.

Crystal City

2004, three-part video installation, looping

Crystal City is a video installation that deals with the beauty of frailty. It is formed of old, used and gilded glass ware with cracks, scratches and fissures. In the video work dishes fall, crumble, grow together and rise again.

On the video white fingers cased in gloves step cautiously ahead in ruins of broken pieces. The work has its origin in the Iraq war that shook the world, the destruction of an old and fragile culture. Crystal City cuts the same aesthetics of destruction as the Again (Uudestaan) video work: man builds and time breaks up, again and again.

Crystal City, video installation, Iisalmi, 2004. Photo © Hannu Miettinen

Crystal City, video installation, Finnish Museum of Photography, Helsinki, 2007.

How easy it is to break something that already has cracks in it

Crystal City, video installation, Kouvola Art Museum Poikilo, 2018

Is our life just one big misunderstanding?

A Real Princess

The third part, A Real Princess, delves into the relationship between a teenage girl and her middle-aged mother. This again is a question of change, giving something up and finding something new.

A Real Princess combines movement and stagnation, separation and staying still. Real Princess crystallizes the cross-pull between mother and daughter – pulling out, yet attached to each other – in one moment under water. It has toured the world’s photographic art exhibitions and festivals as far as Latin America and Africa.

A Real Princess, moving still images, 2007, digital art, detail.

All you can do under the water is blow out air and touch the other person

Four mother-daughter couples participated in the making of Real Princess. Ms. Partanen discussed privately with the mothers and daughters and photographed after that their encounters in the water. Underwater the encounter of two close women parting from each other formed for a moment a peculiar relationship which it is useless to even try to imitate over ground. The mothers and daughters met with eyes closed, only with the sense of touched – and sought each other’s lap.

The moving still images are almost stagnant, but still enigmatically changing: sometimes the water in the background stirs, sometimes a fine strand of hair.

The sequence A Real Princess that brings the Everyday Alchemy trilogy to a close consists of a series of digitally processed photographs and videos in which the subjects and their backgrounds have been shot separately and combined at a later stage. It follows in the footsteps of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty except for the fact that their photographs printed from negatives and their gold and silver backgrounds have been replaced with digital files and they attain visible form only through the medium of a computer screen or projector. This produces digital images that are powerful and large in size but at the same time vulnerable.

A Real Princess, moving still images, 2007, digital art, detail.

What role is left for the mother bird to fulfill once the nest is empty?

A Real Princess, moving still images, 2007, digital art, detail.

A Real Princess, media artwork


“Children grow apart from their parents and parents from their children. It is simultaneously fascinating, liberating and frightening.”

The Real Princess video work is a part of the series of works of the same title that as a whole forms the concluding part of Jaana Partanen’s Everyday Alchemy (Arjen alkemiaa) exhibition trilogy. Each of the independent parts of the trilogy, Cinderella (Tuhkimo, 2001), Sleeping Beauty (Ruusunen, 2004) and A Real Princess (Oikea Prinsessa, 2007) deals with the points of change in human life and the transformation of everyday things into something more significant than their appearance. In the turning points of life and as age accumulates, everybody changes into someone else, still preserving something same in one’s innermost.


A Real Princess, Kuopio Art Museum, 2008

Oikea prinsessa -mediateos, Gigantti, Pohjois-Savon taiteen aluenäyttely, 2008.

You will never be able to return to the golden days of your childhood

Oikea prinsessa -mediateos, Kuopion taidemuseo, 2011.

Bubbles, video installation

2005, video installation

The Bubbles video installation was produced alongside A Real Princess. Its theme is connected with the tsunami accidents that occurred in Southeast Asia at the end of 2004. The tsunami caused by a submarine earthquake claimed thousands of human lives. Video techniques are used to combine a huge expanse of gently swelling, beautiful blue water with a small screen on which the same water is seen in a threatening blood-red color.

– Tragic things happen, and we have to live with them. After the tsunami I stopped to think who helps whom in such a situation. Underwater man acts guided by his basic instincts. When time ends, we concentrate on the most essential, says Jaana Partanen.

Still image from Bubbles video installation, 2005.

But what is most essential?

Still-kuva Kuplat-videoteoksesta, 2005.

Love, surely.

A Real Princess, document

2007, 3 min 37 s

The musical documentary, “A Real Princess”, illustrates the production of the complete “A Real Princess” under and on the water, in imaginary and everyday states through the use of captions / music / and visual effects.

Everyday Alchemy publication

The photographer Jaana Partanen’s trilogy Everyday Alchemy, produced during the years 2000-2006, confers a gold and silver tinged value and significance on the various stages in human life. The commentary by Riitta Raatikainen explains the background to these parts of the trilogy and goes more deeply into Jaana Partanen’s art.

Arjen alkemiaa – Everyday Alchemy, Maahenki, 2007.

ISBN 978-952-5328-99-8
Binded, 104 p., Size 27 x 22 cm, four-color painting, hard covers
Languages: Finnish and English
Price 25.00 € (VAT 0%) + shipping costs

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Arjen alkemiaa - Everyday Alchemy, Maahenki, 2007.

What exactly is life?
Does life exist beyond our human perception of it?


Jaana Partanen

Partanen & Lamusuo Ltd