torstai 3. toukokuuta 2018


Today, there is

1. art that's directly tied to real issues, thus equipped with urgency and agency, and
2. everything else, ie. empty representation & bandaid for liberal capitalism.

Unfortunately, almost all the exhibition spaces and art institutions follow the logic of category 2, so even when they show work from category 1, it will mean or do nothing.


What is needed are art spaces with urgency and agency, directly tied to real issues.

maanantai 9. huhtikuuta 2018


Exhibition spaces, from tiny galleries to major museums, all fail under the same basic conditions. I've outlaid those conditions here though three questions. If an exhibition can't give a meaningful answer to these questions, it's doomed.

1. Who loves this?

Museum exhibitions rarely response to this most fundamental question. If no one who did the show loves the show, why would anyone else want to see it?

You could consider the concept of self-love or self-care here, too. If an exhibition space doesn't love itself, ie. care for itself, why would we? Although it is usually we, the audience, who is made to perform the labor of care. 

This self-lovelessness leads to emotional labor on the part of the body visiting an art space. I have to partake in its activities to make the space seem alive, I have to talk about it because its directors don't want to engage, and it is I who must find something worthwhile in the art works as if experiencing art is an emotional riddle akin to a confusing Tinder date. 

The latter point comes out pretty clear on art world related ad campaigns and PR talk where the idea "all interpretations are equal" is always being cherished. This is not inclusivity, but irresponsibility: we don't know what we've done, tho maybe you like it? This is how male privilege also works: You just do stuff and other people are forced to make sense of it, but they are not rewarded for the meaning that arises from their work; you are.

Sometimes artists don't love themselves but hope that curators would, with the chorus from Evanescence's "Bring Me To Life" ringing in artists' heads (or if it's 2015, in their video works). 

Just like art spaces, artists are not sure if what they do is valuable to anyone, but because they have their MFA degree and their exhaustive run as a tireless go-getter networker, they can't stop to contemplate how they really feel about their own workings but keep on offering it on autopilot to curators and directors and journalists to suss out. 

Self-love is not only self-care but respect towards other people. if you show us things you don't love, you're asking us to do the work, to carry your problems, to do your dirty laundry. 

2. Why here?

The second point is made of two equally important words. Sometimes the "here" part boils down to nothing but random professional reflexes. This art is here because I, the director, met someone at a bar during my trip to an art fair and they gave me an offer I couldn't refuse: Say, a dirt cheap touring exhibition by a celebrity artist or a famous dead painter. 

Or maybe it's just capitalism. You need to produce something all the time, and there's never any time, so you're left to operate on your survival instinct, a peculiar state for producing something (art) that fundamentally does not need to exist in the same non-negotiable way as nutrition or clean air. 

We humans are great at putting ourselves willingly into situations where we feel we don't have any other options. Art can be literally anything, but artists, or anyone working in the art industry, tend to produce work that requires way bigger budget than the one they have. 

When a government official, usually completely unaware of the more exciting avenues of contemporary art thinking and doing, instruct directors of art institutions to provide meaningless data or perform cuts or adhere to a new neoliberal trope such as participatory art or ecological art or art and science or artists as entrepreneurs, no one ever declines. We just tint our CVs to match the job description. We think the hoop-jumping is worth it, but six months later it's all we talk about to each other, complaining about the exhaustive, maze-like policies in which we need to navigate.

We never form a front and work collectively to say no, but simply leave each other to deal with the ever-changing, neoliberal, austerity policies on our own. Best of luck & see you in Venice if you still have a travel budget.

We could begin by asking why: Why are we committing to a series of perpetual compromises to secure funding for something that will burn us all out? You could say "because of our livelihoods", but I'd rather not begin this discussion by encouraging everyone working in the arts to find a new profession. 

Instead, we could talk about what could be done differently. The answers are highly different for everyone, depending on the country and context you're working and living in. This could provide an ample opportunity to say no to each other, too. If an artist suggests something ludicrous, maybe our first instinct is not to find a way to accommodate their ideas, but to ask why would you want to do that. 

Now we can move to the "here" part of the second question. If the "here" equals an art space belonging to the official contemporary art world (ie. able bodies having gone to prestigious art school proving themselves to each other), it means that whatever is shown there, it will be experienced through passive consumption as part of a larger economy targeted to exploit our desires and leisure time. 

You can show the most jaw-dropping, ultra-critical work, but if it's shown in an art space, it will only mean that you & your institution are now seen as "progressive" or on the right side of a symbolic battle that is rhetorically tied to concrete battles, while being made possible by capitalist logic itself. And the same goes for the audience: by witnessing highly political work, I am rendered political. There is absolutely no initiative to do anything. Art could thus be renamed to lip service industrial complex.

People like myself, the privileged ones who have time and resources to think about things and the power to choose how to spend their time, know so much yet do so little. It is true of experiencing art, as well. Imagine you see a politically charged work at an art space. You see it, greet it with your emotions, and move on. It can have a temporary effect, but without repetition, it is as memorable as a one-time ad campaign on the metro. Nothing really happens "here".

For example, as undeniably important as the work of Forensic Architecture is, I'm not sure if seeing the documentation of their cases in an art space is any different from seeing neon-colored plastic poles laying diagonally in a stack on the floor because some artist couldn't think of anything else to do and so decided to cherish their confusion as a guiding principle. I dislike saying this because I admire their work so much, but when I saw the FA show at ICA in London, I couldn't help thinking about the gruesome flattening effect of the exhibition space, or any art space. 

It's not the fault of anyone really, that's just how these venues function: more often than not, it seems to treat everything as same. These spaces or display practices strip objects and actions in them powerless. 

You could argue that maybe this requires pack-of-wolves style anarchist thinking, in the style of Federico Campagna's The Last Night, ie. FA is using the resources they have to gather more attention and thus funding for their work which then leads to them being able to take in new cases, and sort of bypassing the question of artistic merit. In this case, the exhibition is a showcase or an ad campaign, which is a more sober approach than the wishful thinking exhibition-making usually is tied with (ie. let's hope these objects together magically mean something to someone). And I think that's 100% legit tactic, as well.

disclaimer: I do feel like I'm looking at this the wrong way, but for better or worse I wanted to explain how I feel about these things, for what it's worth.

Before I carry on, it's worth sitting on the idea of repetition and its power for a bit. 

Art today is broadly based on the idea of individualism. It means every artist has to do their own work and then copyright protects other artists from continuing the work of that former artist. Since there are a limited number of things you can do to stand out, it has been decided that the best way to stand out is to be yourself, ie. turn your unique identity into a brand. This logic is then scaled to fit institutions alike. 

For this reason, nothing in the art world resembles what an international boycotting campaign or a general strike does. The latter two bring people with wildly different opinions together behind one shared cause, then a form of action is chosen and the activity repeated to use the power of mass and repetition against, say, a corporation, or a state. 

By design, artists and people in the art world can not do that, as long as they adhere to the basic tenets of modernism: individualism, autonomy, objective taste. We can't repeat a message because our careers and existence is based on the idea that we all have an individual message in the marketplace of ideas where we compete for attention. 

So if we want to change things, there's no way around it: We need to change the conditions under which we experience and produce art. It's not a matter of what kind of art is being shown if the prevailing logic of display stays the same. And yes, this change would mean that we can't just be producing work independent of each other, coming together only for a thematic group show.

Homo sacer

Think of the ancient Roman concept of Homo sacer as made popular by Giorgio Agamben. Homo sacer is a man who cannot be sacrificed but can be killed without consequences. This is what art means in society: its funding cannot be entirely cut to serve some other purpose, and we cannot sacrifice its freedom of speech, but the ideas it spawns can be killed immediately by anyone. 

At this point, those ideas don't even need to be killed because nothing art produces lives long enough to impact anything. Which is why we need to churn out new concepts, themes, and trends season after season, only to replace them with new ones as soon as everyone has lost interest with whatever it was we were talking about last Fall. 

And to add to that, just like Homo sacer was first banished from society and then labelled as sacred, artists are respected as special creatures whose actions do not really have any real meaning in the society other than to perform the role of something sacred.

So why is this here? Is this the place where these ideas will generate most impact and resonance? Should we really be here in the first place? What happens when we are here, in an art space? Rather than beginning with thinking about what kind of art and artists you want to show in your space, consider this first: How does this space works and what could & should be done in it?

3. For whom, by whom?

This last question is tied to the previous one but highlights a more broader issue: Who has access to this show? People running exhibition spaces are usually nowadays aware of physical access, so they inform visitors about stairs, bathrooms at use and other such issues. Still, we never talk about mental or societal obstacles. 

I could think of who is able to be aware of my blog, and then read or listen to this text, and finally to make sense of it. While making an exhibition, one could think of the same questions. But for some reason, we show contemporary art as is, as if you could just "get" it, simply by coming in.

We won't tell people that, really, you should've read at least three Sternberg Press releases, seen a handful of exhibitions showcased in Contemporary Art Daily, and gone to a university to study art history if you want to get something out from this exhibition. And of course you need to speak English and have the other capacities and resources required to having consumed tons of culture.

This issue is very hard to address. Which is way the art world has chosen to talk about how everyone's interpretation is as correct as someone else's, as I mentioned earlier. This is of course as far from the truth as possible. 

Contemporary art, for most parts, is made for other people in the art world, and the non-art people who come to witness an exhibition is regarded either as collateral or a force of nature one needs to deal with, even though we'd rather not. 

Just like everyone else, most of us working in art-related jobs would rather be just left alone to do our thing with like-minded people. And just like every other human on the planet, for most parts, we drag ourselves into the world to deal with other people so we wouldn't seem so selfish. This is a caricature but I trust you understand what I'm after here.

Artists who have figured out the repressive structure of art-making usually end up choosing more intuitive approaches, or working with spiritual concepts, or whatever feels like the most suitable way out from the exclusivity that informs one's becoming of and being an artist. Even if you start making work that doesn't require those things I mentioned, it's still taking place in a context that is fully informed by such logic. 

Such transcendent approaches might create hope and offer a place of rest for both the artists and the (professional) audience, and I've truly felt that hope myself, too. But we can't not to note that for an artist to be able to make such choices, you usually need a considerable amount of funding and career pedigree to feel like you can exchange career survival for a more laidback position.

And since we live in predatory capitalism, any practice with the best of intentions can be co-opted and turned into a careerist format in a split second by someone willing to do so, as happened with relation aesthetics in the 90s. 

Lastly, since art is about individualism, usually all practices and gestures get "trademarked" in an unspoken way, as in burning candles in a gallery "belongs" to the artist most visibly and successfully practicing it. Which is why none of our aesthetics approaches ever have any real power because no one else can't pick them up lest they be guilty of imitation.

Maybe if we begun from admitting artists are just as horrible as anyone else, and our motives are just as low as other people living under capitalism, we could get rid of the idea that art is inherently good, because this aura of righteousness that surrounds art also stops it from having any real societal power. 

The fact that art is deemed good by default makes you seem good by simply consuming it. It's akin to the problem of ethical consumption: people who buy an expensive "CO2-neutral" electric car are said to then fly carelessly because they've done the good deed already, ie. I saw an exhibition dealing with a real issue, I'm now aware of the problem, so please leave me alone.

Capitalist realism

Art still comes down to "something by someone special to someone less special", and it's this line that provides us with the real challenge. Can we change that formula? We badly need new narratives and relations, since everything we do now falls under the grinding logic of capitalism, where all our activities are measured and then turned either into profit or loss, ecstasy or guilt, inclusion or disavowal, heroes and losers, makers and consumers. (pls don't mention prosumers pls)

Of course, I can't or wouldn't want to say for certain whether this or that exhibition is "doomed", as I claimed in the first paragraph, it's just how I feel nowadays when I visit any kinds of exhibition spaces. There are no better or worse exhibitions, since all art today is capitalist realism, just like all art under Soviet rule was socialist realism (unrelated to Mark Fisher's use of the term, or might be related, I don't know tbh, unfortunately I haven't read the book by the same name).

Even the most transgressive, critical work simply provides the state, or some other entity that is allowing for art to happen, with a license to carry on the wars for freedom, to destroy everything that is not bending to its ideology and will. Maybe the only way to fight against this hegemony is to challenge the very foundations of our production of knowledge ie. what is meaningful, what is "good", what is worthy, what must be seen and what will be made invisible. Or even better, to think of new things to desire for.

I don't know how to do it but I'd love to do it with you since today I am still failing and I'm alone.

p.s. A friend referred to me this thoughtful piece by Lucinda Bennett, and I truly recommend you all read it. Whereas in Finland the problem sometimes is the lack of love due to our love of bureaucracy and empty representation originating in nationalist self-image paranoia, it's good to remember that oftentimes the idea of "loving what you do" is greatly exploited to justify precarious working conditions.

an image of a beetle sculpture sitting atop a square pedestal, with the text Culture is a curse sprayed on the pedestal
Graffiti somewhere in East London. pic by me.

sunnuntai 11. maaliskuuta 2018


a statue of a body that is cut from its pedestal

This blog begun from my desire to write reviews of art exhibitions. I wanted to write in a way that would be honest to my experience. My rules were these: 1. not shying away from academic references since I like to read that stuff, while still striving to 2. use non-native, easily understood, sub-standard, non-rich English, 3. steering clear from personal descriptions of artists themselves, 4. always using they/them unless I knew that someone whose work I'd write about preferred otherwise, and 5. aiming to show how the political in art is very much in the presentation and experience of art, and less so in the content. 

But most importantly, I did and did not want to believe the artist. You try your best to understand their work but also look past the facade they've built. 

After I had written about a few shows (this has been my personal fave so far), I had ran out of steam. There's nothing to add, although I wasn't sure if I managed to say what I was after. 

Only thing left was to criticise the celebration of certain minds, cognitive capabilities, education, and bodies over others. But the more I thought about it (for example, criticising every show in a museum or a gallery in Helsinki based on who they want to, literally, show), the more inadequate I felt in putting it into words. 

But it wasn't just that. What happened was I had lost my interest in pointing the faults of the art world. Their fights are increasingly not mine, and their aims are so far apart from my targets that the risk of a fatal ricochet begun to run high.

Not that I'm out of that world: I am currently in Liverpool for a residency at FACT, and the artist duo I'm in, Biitsi, does shows and other things in galleries, museums, and so forth. But those spaces are simply my equivalent of an office, and people rarely care for their cubicle that much. I do love the people we've had the chance to work with, and feel gratitude for being able to work in the creative field (I don't differ between, say, graphic design and art), all of its problems notwithstanding.


The arguments I've made about art's failings could be directed towards the projects I'm involved in, as well. Basically, those failings consist of either representation of worldly problems to advance your career & look cool/clever, or claiming you have a universal right to do art that is uninviting for everyone else (you do, but why should we come see it?).

Art's also just work, albeit the kind I usually enjoy doing. But I don't feel any connection to people anymore just because they're artists, too, or work in the arts.

I used to, though. Having always been an anxious traveler who would shy away from any sort of interactions with basically anyone local, I found art spaces everywhere to be approachable. I'd ring the doorbell of a private apartment, because someone told me there's a show there, without the slightest sense of panic. 

Initially, I thought this was so because of a belonging to a tribe of artists, but later on it became evident I've witnessed the manifestation of the same-same logic of capitalism's global nature. The connection could've been anything.

Almost all of us live in the same consumerist world, unless or until we can't afford to be in it (anymore). The sort of connection I felt is not a sign you're carrying the torch for the History of Art, but a learned reflex that is being supplanted and tightly regulated by arts education, art writing, and other artists, just like any matter of taste (think of pop culture or subcultures) is prone to be, under our current way of the world.

This is connected to aforementioned pitfalls of contemporary art: its political quality is, for most parts, a show put on for other "active citizens", who are able to participate in these showings that usually refer to the troubles of those who can't be there, save for when they've been transported by an art institution for the photo-op at the opening. The connection I described is mostly a sign of shared class position, or of both you and your art world peer having access to the same cultural capital. This issue is way multifaceted than this but anywaysssssssss

There are exceptions (and things does not have to be perfect to be effective -messiness is a given). All of the expectations I know of seem to treat art as a highly practical-yet-potentially-poetic-as-life-truly-can-be instrument for change, not as your art-degree backed chance to drain the energy from others to shed light on your personality and thinking. Which is what I've done for most parts, and so has literally every artist I am aware of in my circles, let's stop lying hooray!


It wasn't only the secret handshake between artists when visiting art venues in foreign cities I had lost. It was also the connections back home that got disconnected. Or more precisely, it's not art that connects me to other artists anymore: it is other things in life. Showing my sympathies feels forced for art-related struggles, as in whether a gallery receives support to keep running things exactly like they've always done, or if a sea-themed biennale happens or doesn't.

Saying this probably just alienates me even more from you. Those who want to think of me as a self-absorbed twat can surely read this in a way that serves that purpose, while those who project their faltering hope on my supposedly offhand remarks might interpret my words so as to encourage them to continue fighting the lost (?) cause. 

I love everyone nevertheless (aside from the ones I hate), and I am not trying to say please don't talk to me. Quite the opposite, I want to encourage us to look beyond the need to represent a professional face and instead talk about, I dunno, "money and blood", to quote Grace Paley, or feelings, to quote most of the people I relate to. 

And I still love art, too. It will take a while before I manage to reconfigure it, but in the meantime, I keep doing it, ditto. There is no stop button, unless you can afford one. 

I might not be coming to see your show, and I would never ever feel hurt, not in the slightest, if you wouldn't come and see mine. But if you need help setting it up, or with something else, I'm (more) interested.

P.S. I asked someone "so what do you do" a few weeks ago and I still regret it so much. If you're reading this, please accept my apology. The situation caused me to panic and then overcompensate by talking too much.

tiistai 23. tammikuuta 2018


image of a pizza with text overlay: Finnish for curators: tosi kiva (in any situation)
Tosi kiva = nice, good

ok so a new biennale is coming to Helsinki, beginning in 2020 (couldn't find an English link to the news sry but here it is in Finnish). I wrote about biennials and international guests already on Facebook 

It's a project that was seemingly proposed to attract more tourists to Helsinki. And if you compare it to the city's new cool strategy website, it swims (sorry) along those lines pretty well.

things i have heard about this new biennial/biennale: 30-60 artists, xxxxxx target number of visitors, and that it connects to the fact that Helsinki is on the sea and there are islands there and it's nice to walk by the water. So basically we are looking at a bunch of "internationally legit" contemporary public art in close viscinity to one of the world's most polluted seas, the Baltic Sea.

before i share my opinion on this whole thing, let me describe you a situation which is telling of Finnish art scene.

Juha Huuskonen (we've known each other for ten years or so), the director of HIAP international residency programme, an org that excels in bringing tons of talent to Helsinki, wrote a public FB post asking how is it possible the city has not consulted with any of the grassroots agents of the local art scene who have lots of experience with all that goes in doing stuff like this, albeit in a smaller scale. Executive Director of Helsinki's Culture and Leisure Sector, Tommi Laitio (who recently visited an organisation I am in connection with) responded very reasonably that they will do workshops and talks to include such orgs and peeps. The Director of helsinki art museum (HAM, in which i had my solo show at their non-curated gallery space) Maija Tanninen-Mattila, who works under Laitio's office, said that HAM is leading this as the city's expert art org, but that this could be a chance to make the scene stronger and more well-known. and yes workshops yes. Raija Koli, who directs Frame, the import/export foundation for Finnish contemporary art, said something similar and added that shouldnt we let HAM do some planning first, like, they know what theyre doing.
Others, like Hanna-Maria Anttila who runs AV-arkki, the Distribution Centre for Finnish Media Art (I’m their board member, and Anttila in turn sits in Frame’s board), commented that people just want information, communicate more/better. Artist Kari Yli-Annala, who just received the AVEK prize for media art, i was on the jury, and AVEK also supports AV-Arkki etc you already get what I mean, said that Harakka island's artistic community is planning a 30-year celebration exhibition which would provide a good way of stepping outside of the star artist -format of biennials, and with this comment made the first public offer for collaboration. Artist Lisa Roberts called this maritime theme kitsch, but Suvi Saloniemi, curator for the Design Museum, defended the theme and saw it as a promising setup. After being kind of cornered by some, Huuskonen stepped back a bit and said of course we all want a great art event to take place in Helsinki, and everyone was like yes yes let’s do biennial, let’s workshop and take everyone’s opinions and expertise into consideration.

firstly, this is what you miss when you don’t speak Finnish in Helsinki art scene. And most of my colleagues here speak English instead. 

i mean sure i guess at some point this info will ”trickle down” and everyone can get, mmm, involved, but much of the connections are made in these informal situations such as facebook threads, and art associations’ and institutions’ boards have, to my knowledge, very few English-speaking members although so many of them work internationally, like AV-Arkki, Frame and I imagine HAM too.

Hopefully my explanation of the links between people shed a little light on this web. I included explanations of my own relations there so you'd know where I stand in this, not because this relates to me in any particular way.

When you look at who knows who in Helsinki, you begin to understand how collaborations on a higher level happen and how impossible it is to break into these systems if you a.) dont speak Finnish, b) didnt go to Aalto or Uniarts (or their former versions), or c) studied art history in which case you can go and run the museums and defend modernist ideas of autonomy and the artists' right to be horrible to everyone around them.

Disclaimer: it's good to understand that when we talk about money and art, the money is relatively small so even the highest level I mentioned there is still peanuts compared to other areas of society.

(cutaway: in theatre, the people running the theatre houses are oftentimes artists themselves, ie. directors, playwrights, actors, which sort of gives this we’re-in-this-together feel to working in theatre, since everyone there knows what it means to run a small company and clean its floors and apply for funding to pay your own salary, whereas in museums there is a stark division between the curators/executives, technicians, and artists in how dependent they are of such knowledge...I wonder how this scene will change if we finally get curators, who studied curating instead of art history, and ran galleries or were artists, to run museums)

(another side note: i try write this in a way that would be as close as possible to me telling this to you at a bar)

ok so here’s my hot take: i don’t think in biennials. I don’t speak biennial. I feel nothing when I think of that format. I could talk about whether hockey+sculptures is a suitable concept to push forward in Helsinki 2020 instead. To my ears, beginning to plan something with such facts as 30-60 artists, x audience target, and maybe at these locations, with ”sea-ness” as starting point, sounds so anti-art, because all of those things are so mind-numbingly interchangeable. Why 30 artists, instead of 5 or 100? Why this, not that audience target? why have this maritime backdrop, why not...ok that one is simply a question of the city branding itself nvmnd.

Sure it can lead to exciting results and most likely this is how you sell an idea to the city council and some vampires who run the show, maybe everyone who is enthusiastic about this knows this and I'm just an obnoxious child.

Let’s be absolutely clear: I have nothing against someone doing a biennale, and I have no need to cry over the hundred of thousands of euros (or millions) that will be spent on it, at all.

It’s a project meant to attract tourists and to forge stronger relations in and create more visibility internationally to the Helsinki art scene. But these basis confuse me: I don't know what's particularly great about the scene, like I'm not saying it isn't, but no one ever bothers to state what they actually are excited about. Furthermore, I can't see what good things international recognition might bring to art.

I get tourism though, that's super interesting, and marketing makes total sense to me too and I have nothing against it because I do it for living, but could we think about these things in a way that would both compliment artistic thinking AND branding strategies? Because I feel that the current discourse diminishes art's creative potential to a monolithic facade, and the artists are left with the job of bringing in "vibrancy" to an otherwise uninspired project.

Maybe this is so because artists are usually a little scared of and opposed against the commercial world, especially here in the North where grants come and go like Volt orders, and where art professionals want to hold on to the idea of art being an end to itself ("it says so in my master's degree certificate"). As I recently said, it's ok to want power! This want is in line with, well, over 100 years of revolutionary histories.

So yes, I believe it's absolutely possible to do a little branding, promote the city's interests, and create exciting art all at the same time. But that requires we want something and talk about these desires, instead of just nodding along to seem we're playing ball. If we don't speak up, the most boring, mindless version of things will always win.

In Helsinki, as I wrote last year (see: "This is Where We Differ"), everyone will collaborate with everyone, unrelated to what each party really wants to do, because to not collaborate is seen as act of war in this consensus-addicted Nordic city.

dear peers: do you seriously feel like a biennale is a good platform for your thinking? have you heard good things from small orgs collaborating with such things? do you think it will be a useful way to spend your very limited energies? is that what you want to do in life? if yes, cool, totally nothing wrong with that, just checking, hope you score some €s and get to do what you feel needs to be done.

and you know, sometimes i do visit biennials and it can be fun, just like the zoo if you can live with witnessing exploitation masked as conservation.  Personally, I don't feel it’s the same field in which i work and think and feel. I'm not into creating cages to show precious things to mass audiences.

Let's end with a proverb: Museums and biennials are to the kind of art I'm into is like alcohol is to hanging out with friends: we might enjoy the former within the latter, but it should by no means the reason why we come together or if we do then it's just sad.

bonus: this article by Ann-Derrick Gaillot about Vine stars moving on to new platforms explains the relation between form and content pretty well, check it out.

screenshot from wikipedia, an image of an illustration for fables by Gustave Dor'e depicting a cat with a bell, titled "Who will bell the cat?"

maanantai 15. tammikuuta 2018


image of diving board with stock photo text
I remember when Bruno Latour's "We Were Never Modern" got either translated to Finnish or started to do the rounds in Theater Academy in Helsinki, where I studied in 2000's. Maybe it was that book, or mostly its title (because we mostly read titles) that made us sceptical of modernism. (btw u don't need to know the book to continue reading)

me and my fellow chain-smoking students, disillusioned yet eager to please and be accepted, were already aware of how to dismiss, and also how to really be into things most people are not and to do this in a way that both insulates you from the world and makes you paranoid of your standings.

ok why am i writing we, let's just say i, but ok still i do feel like this was a shared sentiment. anyways so we needed something to blame and we chose modernism. we didn't choose (all of) our professors, nor the great white men who came before us because we couldnt bear the idea of breaking up with our first loves. i still wanted to love carl andre because i didnt yet know who ana mendieta was.

hating modernism was the rebounce, the hookup, that simply made my horrible lover look more appealing, because he also hated him. that lover is called Conceptual Art. my friend put it well today when they said "conceptual art made it impossible to have stuff in the exhibition space without it becoming art". i dont know if it's true but that's exactly what bugs me. like people can't just come together and do stuff that's creative, fun, and subversive and potentially meaningless and very useful at the same time. art that is functional isn't necessary socialist realism.

although i would love some socialist real-ism in my life.

this is not a manifesto from which some hack can create a snub video piece with tilda swinton for museums who dont know any better but recognise production value when they see it. this is a soft break-up, the kind that makes both parties realise there's more to life than...ok i dont think conceptual art will never realise anything. it will count the visitors and call it a counting piece, after which it moves to count its money and not call you anymore because he's too busy hanging out with influencers.

maybe you get this maybe u dont. maybe u wana do art where you have an idea which you present in a way that makes sense to anyone who knows either the basics of modern art or then the very latest and rarest undercurrents of late-capitalist philosophical concepts spoken in rapidfire succession in some cafe in a capital city of your choosing.

i dont know. i am not living a life where i have the emotional space or the time to think too long about this. i dont have the regime that lends itself to deconstruction or deep critique. but it's ok or even if it wouldn't be, this is still real. these words are energy regardless and the way this line draws to it end resembles a diving board.

so what is wrong with conceptual art god i'm tired sorry. i am made tired by the demands of contemporary art to always be critical, to compare a to b, to think of the form but also of the context, to demand more from the technical execution, to remind my friends this was already shown earlier in Wien, to rush through an art fair giving snap judgements and feeling a sense of connection from our matching adjectives*. seriously, your project is not better than mine, there are no good and bad artists, there are just people at different stages in varying conditions.

i want an insurance that covers the emotional violence inflicted upon us by the institutions we work with. if you show art that requires animals to be killed because the artists wants to "question and examine the way we think about animals and the aesthetic governing these representations", you are not an animal lover, you know? If a conceptual artists demands you get ten tons worth of blood oranges to a square and you say yes even though you dont have the money and dont understand why the city you live in would need that, you create future depression that people below you will pay for with their burnouts and voiced but unheard resentments and morose blog posts.
please dont respect artists and their ludicrous blood orange ideas, or then let other people working in the building do what the fuck they like, too. the person in the lowest pay grade such have the same rights as the artist, if not then your institution is violent, and if you do shows that mention anything close to ethics, then it's also a hoax.

rly, i cant write art criticism anymore, unless someone starts to do something more than clever representations of discourses and questions without showing any intent to deal with those issues in any meaningful way in the space which they show these representations. i mean i know there are ppl doing that.

id like to set all my art world meetings at mcdonald's, because if you can't deal with that, you shouldn't be dealing anything in the first place. sounds petty i know, but i am way pettier in person.

*i really felt that connection it was real, regardless of all

tiistai 19. joulukuuta 2017


Kimmo Modig: Untitled  (made in concert with the collective group show (HYPER)EMOTIONAL: YOU, EKKM, Tallinn, 2017)

DISCLAIMER: This text is way incomplete. Anyone can blow my arguments down with one puff, I imagine. I am signalling those of you who feel the way I feel. Additionally, I am interested to discuss more concrete, albeit technical changes that could take place: For example, instead of giving out grants, foundations and others could simply hire people to do artistic work or research.

Unlike almost anywhere else in the world, artists in Finland, like their colleagues in other Nordic countries, can access numerous grants that come from both private foundations and public funds. This is truly amazing and worth applauding for. I won't break down the numbers here, but the amount of open calls and money given out is staggering to say the least. Application deadlines give a rhythm to the year, a bit like seasonal work at farms. Artists post Facebook updates both when their number is called and when nothing gives. There are a bunch of deadlines in the Spring and then again come Fall. Sometimes we gather together to support each other in order to get the applications done. You can apply for anything from small 200-1000€ travel stipends to a full-time 1 to 5 years artist grant for 2300€ per month.

But here's the thing. These grants don't, in most cases, lead to a larger change in the realities of the applicants, save for a temporary fix. When your funding runs out, you're back to where you started, back to competing with people who are 20 years older or younger than you. The only thing that's equal about it is that everyone's put into equally precarious situation. And since we're talking about art, there are no objective criteria to speak of.

You could be wildly successful (as in having international museum shows that don't pay, for example) and still that would not mean you'll get funded. This highlights one part of the problem: foundations all rely on anonymous jurors who are usually renewed annually. As an applicant, you have no idea who will be deciding on your grant and what they value. I get why they do this, but I suspect if being open about the jurors would make people bribe them or otherwise corrupt the process. Foundations do offer guidelines for the applicants, but in the end it is up to the incognito reviewers to choose who they want to support. Their suggestions are then affirmed by the board, but I've never heard of them doing any changes to the lists provided by the called-in experts.

There's no way for applicants to know if what they're doing will be awarded with a grant or not. If I as a reviewer (note: I've done this job for almost all of the foundations and public councils) feel ice-skating as art is the new thing and should be buttressed above everything else, then that's what's gonna happen. And then if you're a multi-disciplinary artist, a representative of a festival, or, say, a producer working for your town's cultural office, and you choose to read this as sign of times, thus shaping your next year's application to be more responsive to the current trend of ice-skating in order to keep your project running, there will be someone else reading your pleas this time around and deciding it's time to support oil painting instead. And so it goes.

Even if you would be perfectly suited for the changing trends, the money you receive is not seed money. "Apuraha" in Finnish means literally "help money", the original idea being, I assume, that the grant helps you to do something, nudging you forward a little. But this is not how it works: you need to spend all the money you're given in a way that doesn't generate more money, and in almost all of the cases you cannot invest the money into something like real estate that would, for example, give your art organisation a more sustainable future.

The deciding bodies handing out the grants tend to emphasize two things: the money they give is meant for non-profit activities, and that it's not allotted based on social reasons (ie. the applicant is poor and needs to pay their rent). Basically, the grant system stops you from being a capitalist while keeping you living in the capitalist reality of attention economy, where you need to prove yourself and rely on ever-fleeting grants indefinitely. Secondly, why else would anyone apply for money other than socio-economic reasons?

You don't need to know economic theories by heart to understand that the only way up for the lower classes is by owning the means of your production, and/or the ability to collect rent (ie. accumulating money out of what you have already). By examining the grants system, it becomes evident how the art industrial complex works like any other of its kind: it gives people rope while keeping them under stress and tied down in their class position so they wouldn't take over or do anything to unbalance the neoliberal order and class positions. As a side product from keeping creatives in check, the art scene accumulates capital: rents to go up in neighborhoods with galleries, artists take over the functions of care work after the neoliberal regime has cut public services, and in some cases firms can culture-wash their reputation, and global tourism business attracts more clientele.

I regularly receive grants. But I shouldn't say "receive" because what happens is I take them. And when I do, someone else can't have it, just like with higher education. I can take it because I'm suitable to play the part, not too strayed from the norm, not too impossible. And through such rituals as award ceremonies and affirmation letters printed on expensive-looking paper, we are made humble. We must always tell everyone how thankful we are that we were able to recei..take the grant. As exceptional the grants system is with all the extraordinary things it has made and is making possible, it is ultimately, for most parts, not doing anything to help the core problems and inequalities in our society. Should it? Could it?

This would require a fundamental shift in thinking, and a re-positioning of the artistic work away from giving the society bonus points for being so civil as to support a handful of "special people" (ie. artists worth supporting of), towards localised, engaged work that thinks hard about sustainability and universal access to production and benefits, something which is actually taking place within some funded projects already.

It would not be easy by any means, and I don't know how it would look like, nor am I actively pursuing it apart from writing this. But then the grants system as it stands today didn't just happen one day, but was part of a larger societal change and rooted in specific ideologies. By awarding money to certain people in society for something as abstract as being artists, the grants system seemed to have followed the global trends in the West to dismantle the welfare society and replace it with a neoliberal one, in which individuals are celebrated over equal opportunities and social security. Even if the people working in these institutions giving out grants would not share such right-wing values, as they almost never do in my experience, quite the opposite-I've met some of the most kindest people working tirelessly to advance the prospect of arts & sciences and civic discussion at large-, their institutions become complicit in the bigger scheme of things.

Going to back to humility bit, it makes sense to point out that most foundations and public bodies won't pay you to review their applications. It is also deemed as an honor, or as taking one for the team. Problem is, it is not helping my team.

Paging team: We need to stop lying to ourselves this is healthy and worth the anxiety, depression and seeing colleagues drop out. We must resist being complicit in a system that is catering to the ultra-competitive anti-welfare dream society of the right. Recent events in Finnish politics, from granting the wishes of neo-nazis and collaborating with them in human rights violations to the humiliation of unemployed citizens by cutting their subsidies should make it clear to anyone that we are already in the midst of an unspoken class war.

The right simply doesn't want to label it such because for most of them, their whole idea of society is based on the idea of suppressing the dissent voices and people with random inclusion and benefits just enough so that business can go on as usual. For example, there will never be 100% employment because if there would be, the workers would have the upper hand in negotiations. When work is scarce (but not too scarce), it makes us grateful to have job in the first place. This makes us lower our standards when it comes to job benefits etc, while the exclusion of publicly funded safety nets and deteriotion of unions (sometimes of their own making) make us unwilling to go on strike. This logic is reflected in the art world, as well.

Maybe you're a liberal leftie, or Green party voter, and you don't like the sound of class war, but if you think about the way the rich are taking the money from the poor through tax and subsidies cuts, almost everywhere in the world, what other term could come close to describing our reality?

I am very glad to see there are still individuals and organisations willing to support the arts and sciences in Finland. But I believe we need to have a conversation about what the grant system adds up to, and what everyone wants. Here's my aims: I want long-term wealth and power to everyone who is being suppressed -some obviously more heavier than others- and wants to support the fight for a more just world. I don't want for anyone to live under constant stress caused by the arbitrariness of systems that decides for your fate, and by the rat race for the temporary chances held up in front of you. I don't want to gamble, I want to burn down the casino.

sunnuntai 17. joulukuuta 2017


Feminist Forum exhibition, installation view. Courtesy the artists. Image: Kimmo Modig
Feminist Forum exhibition, installation view. Courtesy the artists. Image: Kimmo Modig


"not only is contemporaneity about the engagement with the urgent issues of the moment we are living out, but more importantly it is the moment in which we make those issues our own. That is the process by which we enter the contemporary."
-Irit Rogoff: The Expanded Field

"I don’t believe there are enough good people in the art world who speak on a level and think about legacy/about policy/who go to council meetings and have a worthwhile presence and do something without prioritising their own gains of being a Gap Yah-type, look I work with Real People in my art-type dickhead”, wrote the White Pube recently. Later on in the essay(1), they recommend art institutions to have obligatory local advisory boards: "With such boards, art spaces of all scales might be responsible and accountable then; social, local, good. their activity would be considered, wanted, attended, and shared. yep ok thats the art world i wanna see. can I have that for christmas please."

If I wish for art to make sense locally, it’s worth to ask for whom art is usually made, then? Most shows I see are targeted for other artists & art pros, like the ones I’ve done myself because I have no idea how to talk to anyone else. Attempts to cater for larger audiences usually fail, as essentially no one (=”laymen”) cares enough to see something new, or perhaps, and most likely, the work was not really made with any understanding of any other audience than your peers.

But I know so very little of audiences and communities to begin with. In this case, my point of view is that of a  professional-seeming(?) art worker(?) who goes to see shows and then talks about them privately with their peers.

And I wonder why most of my friends say they don't feel anything when they see art. The art we witness in Helsinki and elsewhere is almost always about showing that you can make “an art thing”. It is proof, as I’ve claimed elsewhere(456). There’s rarely any entrance into the work because the work is made to be acknowledged, not experienced.

All this I say so I can lay the foundation for discussing the exhibition mentioned in the title of this post so hold tight.


Also, and by way of reminding you I don’t hate museums, although I doubt you would care if your snap judgement on my snap judgements is balanced, and not that I was talking about museums this time, but anyways let’s set the record straight: no, it's not that museums should solve all the problems of art+audiences. Quite the opposite imho, I would love them to have the ability to focus on fighting forgetting, that is, doing archiving work (which then would allow you to dissect the ideologies guiding such enterprises, something that is way more urgent than to talk about being depressed by what’s on).

For some reason, museums have been burdened with the task of being the main place you go for all things contemporary art here in Helsinki -maybe because this is such a small place and there is no discourse that would enable more analytical takes on the roles of different institutions, so it is very hard to avoid talking about museums when you talk about contemporary art.

Or actually it is very easy to avoid talking about museums, just look at something else, like the FemF show I am slowly getting to here.

---Which is so weird, that bit about having to talk about museums, because museum shows here very rarely have anything to do with the issues and ideas me and my colleagues deem pressing. No, we don't decide what is worthwhile in general, of course, but I am depicting my reality, so that you would understand where I'm coming from with this and how it potentially visualizes a larger contemporary art discourse. I don't see most museums and their personnel working with the same questions with me, whereas with my precarious colleagues who are critics, technicians, writers, whatnot, I feel a connection because it is based on a situation, a position, instead of a genre.


And also why do Helsinki-based art institutions collaborate with each other when it's pretty obvious that the actual_people_working_in_these_institutions have vastly different, even if unpronounced aims?

Why do independent, fiercely critical festivals, galleries etc. want to work with bigger institutions when they are looking for very different things?

I mean, go to a bar with people who work for any highly visible and/or cool independent art org, and listen to them bleed their hearts out on how disappointed they are with these seemingly required collabs, and you will bloody well learn what the differences are.

I must admit one reason I was positively surprised by the Femf group exhibition was there was no mention of the usual suspects Frame, Kiasma, University of Arts, Taike, Kone Foundation, etc. I mean of course I am not saying this was from the organisers’ part an act of opposing or turning down offers, how could I know, but merely am pointing this out as a visitor who reads the handouts and looks at the Facebook event texts and regards this sort of info as part of the experience.
This fact made me feel hopeful, although I could just as well imagine the people doing this show wouldn't mind the collab/access because it means money and other resources, so obv this is not a clear-cut issue that somehow got "solved" here, or that there wouldn't be structural racism and the like in Finnish art institutions and everyone can just "choose" whether to collaborate/take the money or not.

And lastly, this was an exhibition to go along the Feminist Forum that had a lot of other programme from talks to workshops within it, and from what I understood the Forum is produced with voluntary work. But what I saw was not just something on the side, a fringe event, but one of the most compelling exhibitions in a very long time.

I've recently been reading a book edited by INCITE!, titled “The Revolution Will Not Be Funded - Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex” and I guess that has influenced me quite a bit in terms of understanding how support structures co-opt ideas and movements and energies and what sustainable alternatives are out there.

What this collabo-reflex means in practice is that representatives from the same institutions are present in almost all of the boards, from festivals to artists' associations, to residency and grant juries. Because, you know, it’s “good” for networking to have someone from that museum or this money-laundering business amongst us. Everyone has to be ready to play ball with each other, leading to uninspired, numbingly polite-yet-eerie-cold atmosphere, where any issue gets quickly taken over by the formal, hegemonic production methods (and thus knowledge and value systems).


As Grace Kyungwon Hong has explained(9), inclusion is leverage for the capitalist, or any hegemonic system to protect the power balance, not to change it. By inviting a "suitable", acclaimed individual in, we can stop to think about literally everyone else who is still left out because now we have a visual representation from a given repressed minority. (This is way more clumsier put than how Hong phrased this but maybe you know what I mean.)

On the other hand, "we" have this myth of supposedly needing to pull together, as some afterthought from art-as-nationalist interest that no one sincerely believes in, save for evangelists of entrepreneurial credo such as designer, artist Paola Suhonen(4, in Finnish), but it's still lurking very heavily everywhere in the Finnish intellectual scenery, nevertheless.

But no one needs to pull together on everything imo. Save that for large-scale issues, like fair pay, human rights, and fighting fascism. I think it is crucial to know the difference between when and where to join forces, and for what causes, and when not to, because empty, habitual collaboration simply muddies the waters and makes it impossible to understand what we or you or I or whoever was trying to do in the first place.

I want to find ways to cross over the limits of the cultural-economic boxes the neoliberal reality wants us to stay in, and find out larger societal connections. That would be brilliant, yes, instead of the aforementioned people-with-degrees-and-invites playing the game of performative inclusion. This I want, instead of watering down one’s agencies into a soggy compromise based on contrived locality forced in place to suit the needs of some puny grant the Arts Promotion Centre is wrangling in front of you.

The mere fact that two things exist in Helsinki does not mean they need to collaborate, as much as we like to "meet to have meetings."(5) This kind of thinking comes from the same tainted well as measuring everything by audience numbers, treating institutional collaboration as an ends to itself, and the fantasy of knowing what’s going on because "Finland is so small you quickly get to know everybody"? Really, you know everyone? Who cleans your office and what was it that you said about actor-networks? When was the last time you saw art made by someone who doesn’t have 50+ FB friends in common with you? I am asking this from myself, as well, and I need to keep asking it ffs.

But yeah so, more standing apart when it comes to doing your own thing and more coming together when it really matters we show the power in numbers.

It is why sometimes the cost of making compromises is the losing of the impossible, the radically different way of that which does not figure in the current neoliberal logic or in your organisation's strategy. Hong brings up affect as on opposing force, quoting Kara Keeling in how it “points toward the ways that whatever escapes recognition, whatever escapes meaning and valuation, exists as an impossible possibility within our shared reality.”


What does impossible look like? Does it look like the exhibition curated by artists Ramina Habibollah and Nayab Ikram, which seemed at first glance a familiar affair with its removable white walls, photographs, few installations, a book on display, paintings, and videos? Finding the time and energy to open up to anything is hard, I feel, so you look at the simplest visual cues and make a quick categorisation and move on to think about eating something soon. I think I spend maybe 2 hours in the show, and around the second hour I started to overcome and leave behind my learned taxonomies and other preconceptions, as much as that is even possible, or desireable.

Nora Sayyad: Finding Forgiveness, 2017 (photobook). Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig
Nora Sayyad: Finding Forgiveness, 2017 (photobook). Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig

For only two days, mere hours really, with the first day filled with performances I sadly missed, and the second day hosting talks by some of the artists, the exhibition was open at one of the spaces at Cable Factory in Ruoholahti, an eerie area of south-central Helsink, populated by successful IT companies, with apartment blocks scattered around the channel built there in the 90s, when the area started to be transformed from a warehouse area into a residential zone. I never enjoyed visiting Cable Factory: it feels like someone is cementing an idea what artistic labor should look like.

When I went to visit the show on Saturday morning, it was still quiet (it got busier later on), and then a colleague showed up. We chatted a little. They were very impressed by the choice of videos and were hoping the curators would put together a screening later on (which they did because, well, isn’t it the right thing to do. Go see it, it's at Third Space in Punavuori, until Saturday 23rd of Dec 2017). The entire runtime of the videos was hours: I am not sure if it would've been possible to see them all during the weekend.

That the show cannot be experienced at whole drives home an important point about knowledge and objectivity: You cannot have the full view. First sign of the impossible? This was similar in spirit with having Nora Sayyad's thesis or graduation work (opinnäyte), with photos of Sayyad's father and his family in Palestine and research on multicultural families at large, on display amongst the other pieces. One wouldn't read the thesis there and then, and I merely glanced it while running around trying to see "everything", but it felt like a useful thing to have there, like this someone could surely use this for something, this is real, lived knowledge. It managed to do that thing people seem to try to do with placing books in exhibitions: the suggesting of another piece of knowledge, to be experienced elsewhere, but accessed partly from this space, like a wormhole, or the echo of a refrain from another song.

Man Yau: Planet HER-BB, 2017. In the background: Kuralay Kin: Woman Dancing, 2017. Courtesy the artists.  Image by Kimmo Modig.
Man Yau: Planet HER-BB, 2017. In the background: Kuralay Kin: Woman Dancing, 2017. Courtesy the artists. Image by Kimmo Modig.

Aside from the videos, shown on two spots in the show, there were lot of drawings, photographs, and paintings. As much as I enjoyed looking at them, I couldn't stop hanging out with Man Yau's porcelain sculpture "Planet HER-BB" (see pic above), which was like an oasis of mutating visual references I couldn’t quite place, or, say, study materials of a biology class from the year 2158. Having in the middle of the exhibition turned into a command center from which you navigate.

Carmen Baltzar's video piece "GYPSY", from 2016, depicted white Finnish people talking about their preconceptions of Romani people. Sadly I didn’t have the time to see it in full, only for few minutes, but what I saw stayed with me: the casual ways you, if you belong to the/a norm, let yourself judge other people outside of this norm while seeing yourself as merely observing the world, the inherent violence of this rhetoric coming through on full force in Baltzar’s video piece.

Even something as fleeting and easily unnoticeable as paintings from a workshop Globaalinuoret & FemF had organised together felt compelling, because the piece was swimming amongst the other, more "refined" works (as in, I imagine the workshop was a short one, perhaps not made to produce art only, whereas the other works I guess were made by practicing artists, but rly I don't know anything about the workshop this is just how I read it), exchanging some of the resonance of their immediacy for the gravitas of the more pronounced pieces.

Those made-up juxtapositions between workshopping and working made (and makes) little sense as an interpretative device, something that become apparent with Shieko Reto's drawings, one of them detailing what seemed like a demonstration against Finnish government's necro-policy of forced sterilisation of transgender people. Reto’s drawings felt at the same time as just a thing one does on the side, and like a work that has been coming up, and lived through, for years. Earlier this year there was an eye-popping window painting by Reto in Kaisaniemi(1000).

Shieko Reto: HelzPride, 2017. Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig
Shieko Reto: HelzPride, 2017. Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig

I rarely experience shows through singular art works, but instead as an immersive encounter with multiple modalities, so I won’t usually write so much about specific pieces. And it would be exhausting to go through even half of the pieces in the FemF show.

Additionally, very rarely an aesthetic enters my body with such decisiveness that I cannot do anything but fall in love. And I don’t even think that phenomenon as some applaudable feat, more than simply a sign that me and the artist have similar class/race/gender experiences or taste or something something. We all need to hear the chorus sometimes, of course, so like anyone else I enjoy those moments of deep (or shallow) resonance. I like that feeling but there’s very little I could say about that, or?

This time, I wasn’t even thinking about this whole did-I-felt-it-in-my-stomach -trope so much, because the FemF exhibit was one of those shows that make all the works in it shine brighter (meaning the works didn't have to compete for your attention if that makes sense), instead of dimming their power in order to hammer home some savvy curatorial concept.

Not that there wasn't a concept. It was clearly spelled out that the exhibition displays works made by racialised artists (or artists of color). I understood the curating had been done by combining different approaches: there was an open call, and additionally they handpicked some of the artists, especially friends whose works they wanted to show, plus there was some collaboration with Koltuor, an "Instagram based gallery where we want to highlight and celebrate non-white artists, writers, poets, performing artists and filmmakers mainly in Scandinavia", who did the graphic design.

It was possible to think to whom this show was for and what it set out to do, but this info was put forth in a way that allowed the exhibition to do other things, too, and people experiencing and visiting the show could then set their coordinates accordingly in relation to where the show was located on an intersectional map.

This exhibition, for me, was also an example of how the method in itself doesn't dictate the potential of the results (I could complain about open calls in general for weeks on end) but how you implement it, and what you are trying to do with the method you’ve chosen or found yourself working with.

What a joy it is to stroll around in an exhibition that trusted its artists while having a very clear, and stated, agenda governing it. Maybe the most important thing to get right really is your reasons for doing something.

---OK so yes I am using somebody else's labor to further my own claims. That's what I tend to do with art, which in all honesty has no intrinsic value for me (I think?), only use value. Art works almost always mean something to me only after I have figured out how I can use them (or vice versa), or understand how they are being used by someone. So for example this exhibition became a companion piece to some stuff I’ve been thinking about and going through lately.

Obviously I wasn't getting something out from all of the works, but why would that matter? What is that even, like sitting comfortably on each sofa at a furniture store? In my mind, the show would have not been better or worse had you change one work for another.

I think the curator is always the only person who loves everything in the show they have put together, while the rest of us like what we like.

Why do I say some other work wouldn’t make the show different? Because the curators and everyone involved in the FemF show managed to create a temporary situation, a system*, really, in which everything placed in it became enforced with vitality.

The thinking, energy, and lived experiences that goes into making a show is what protects it and gives it its aura. And if this protective ritual fails, then there’s nothing an art work, press release, installation pics or online hype could change.


This is what happens when I live through an exhibition: My emotions measure the distance between what I want and what the show seems to be. Then, I need to either accept the show or deny it. I can then either carry it with me to future situations (accept it), or try to leave it behind (deny it). But the latter is sort of ruled out at this point, because the show, like any experience, refuses to be left behind without strings, or slime, or threads, or cords attaching it to me.

Whatever happens next in my life, the show hangs on, usually through negation, or as a shadow, or a ghost, because I was there already, I can not not be there anymore. But if I accept it, then I endorse it, protect it, or maybe wear it out so as to make you think it’s been with me for a while, like a denim jacket.

Sometimes, the distance between myself and the show is too big, and I don’t even try working at it. I walk out, I forget it, only a very feeble thread hanging loose from my mind.

In the FemF case, the distance I needed to travel to accept the show varied, but finally the way in was provided by artists whose work I already knew, as is often the case. The first thing I did was I sat down to look at an engaging documentary video about the activist-artist group Mahoyo and their travels & projects, which was kind of advertisement-y as in selling something to me, but that was precisely what I found curious and nicely conflicting and kind of real. Then a video by artist Sepideh Rahaa followed but I thought well I like Rahaa's work already so let's see what else is there and moved on to look at paintings and such, deciding to carry this show with me where ever I'd go next.

Mahoyo: The Mahoyo Project, 2015 (video). Courtesy the artists. Image: Kimmo Modig
Mahoyo: The Mahoyo Project, 2015 (video). Courtesy the artists. Image: Kimmo Modig

“We will follow any hint of energy, at least for a little while. When something happens, we swarm toward it, gaze at it, sniff it, absorb its force, pour over its details, make fun of it, hide from it, spit it out, or develop a taste for it. We complain about the compulsion to participate. We deny its pull. We blame it on the suburbs and TV and ourselves. But we desire it too, and the cure is usually another kind of swarming, this time under the sign of redemption: a mobilization for justice, a neighborhood watch committee, some way of keeping our collective eyes open. Something to do.” 
-Kathleen Stewart, “Ordinary Affects”


One particularly enjoyable thing about this exhibition was its size. Even though it was a group show with a set concept, it didn’t require tons of intellectual-emotional-physical labor to go through it -not to say the works would have not been complex or worth diving deep into, or that I "got" it all, but that everything was not overly complicated merely for its own sake.

I mean it is the dark season in Finland, 24/7 cognitive capitalism reigns over everything, and everyone I know is tired. When you create a show, the amount of info/triggers/cues you put into it for viewers to digest tells us what kind of life (diet, schedule, abilities) you expect the audience to lead, you know, in order to have the surplus energy and cultural capital necessary to take in your vision. Maybe that should be spelled out at exhibition entrances?

--But like this is coming from a person who just wrote a long winding freewheeling text so---

In general, not having chairs while showing long videos is a way of saying you must be healthy enough to stand here for 30-60 minutes to watch my art without losing your concentration. But since the videos in this show were shown as collections (and there were a few chairs there), I didn’t feel them imposing a certain kind of spectatorship onto me. It was more like a YouTube a playlist, like here are the names, take the handout home and look them up, or alternatively see what you have time to see now, and then do what you want. And the fact there is now a screening of those work is great news.

Jon Ely: People who deserved to be on the Swedish hundred-crown bank note instead of Carl von Linné, 2017. Installation shot. Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig
Jon Ely: People who deserved to be on the Swedish hundred-crown bank note instead of Carl von Linné, 2017. Installation shot. Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig 

Jon Ely: People who deserved to be on the Swedish hundred-crown bank note instead of Carl von Linné, 2017. Installation shot. Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig
Jon Ely: People who deserved to be on the Swedish hundred-crown bank note instead of Carl von Linné, 2017. Installation shot. Courtesy the artist. Image: Kimmo Modig
Artists in the FemF show: Aka Niviâna, Ana Gutieszca, Carmen Baltzar, Caroline Suinner, Crystal Z Campbell, Diana Soria Hernandez, Ding Yi, Dzamil Kamanger, Elise Mattisson Chue, Jay Mar Albaos, Jon Ely, Karoline Montero Araya, Kemal Koçak, Kuralay Kin, Lolo Arziki, Mahoyo, Man Yau, Mona Eid, Müge Yildiz, Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro, Nora Sayyad, Razan Abou Askar, Saadia Hussain, Sabah Ejaz, Sepideh Rahaa, Shieko Reto, Vishnu Vardhani.

1 =
4 =
456 =
9 = Grace Kyungwon Hong - Death beyond Disavowal: The Impossible Politics of Difference (introduction + chapter 2)
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1000 =
* = for more on how exhibitions could be understood as systems, see and interpret Reza Negarestani’s essay Frontiers of Manipulation as a piece on that topic, if you want, albeit it talks about material organisation and conceptual modelling but I think it could apply for what I am saying here, but maybe it's worth to elaborate on a wholly other review.