Doing Differently is a practice, a method, an experiment, a meditation, a risk, a challenge, a privilege, a necessity – all this and none of this, at times and every time.
The starting point for this edition was to focus on Queering, of applying Queer theory into life, art and practice. Quite quickly though, the theme expanded in my thinking, as I was less interested in an academic and theoretical approach in curating this edition, and rather drawn to a more practical, more nuanced, and possibly more radical take through simply Doing Differently. This was in no way a theoretical take, but just a rough feeling I had of the great potential of simply doing things differently from the way they have been done or even as they “ought to” be done. My premise here is that, in a severely broken world brimming with injustice, oppression, exploitation, and destruction, things fundamentally need to be done differently.
I have curated these texts based on intuition, and also based on personal relationships. This is something that editors, curators and other gatekeepers are not too keen to disclose: that we often make decisions based on our personal relationships with the people we want to work with, or who we want to give the platform that we believe they deserve. So, full disclosure – I have a personal affiliation to each contributor to this edition. This is also the reason why I am addressing each contributor in this editorial by their first name.
I also realised now when writing this editorial that all contributions in this edition are from artists. Some of them wear other hats, too, but what we all have in common is that we are artists. Myself included.
In editing the texts for this edition, I have avoided editing the structure of them, respecting them as they have been formulated by the authors. In this editorial, I am writing about each text from the point of view of how it relates to Doing Differently in my opinion.
I learned about Marianne Heier’s work ACT during her presentation of it at OPI LAB, a course I am currently participating in at the Royal institute of Art. I was immediately struck by the multilayered rethinking and redoing – in essence, doing differently – during the process of a public art competition in Oslo, Norway, that Marianne was invited to participate in. I was tremendously inspired – what Marianne had achieved is something I often dream of doing in the process of making art: revealing and possibly even changing the structures in which the work is made. The power of art in biting the hand that feeds it and politely shaking it, too.
The particular power of contemporary art which makes me fall in love with it over and over again, is the fact that the form of the works that become documented, discussed and curated as art, can be those of other societal processes. In Marianne’s ACT, what she managed to do was to make legal processes advancing individual and possibly wider human rights a part of a public artwork. In my opinion, this is infinitely more than we generally know to ask for or expect from a work of art. This is the kind of Doing Differently that contemporary artists have the opportunity, the platform, the supporting critical structures, the art historical paradigms, to do with our art. This, if anything, is raw and concrete power.
”Through a series of court cases the goal of the project is to create a legal precedent for the recognition of the rights of stateless persons in Norway. In this way the work treats the legislation as plastic, sculptural material in constant change,” Marianne writes.
It is my belief that our societies as we know them are composed of mostly well-intending individuals constrained by the patriarchal and otherwise toxic structures restricting our social interactions, working life, and governance. The strength of contemporary art especially is in revealing these structures and releasing individuals into reparative action. This often happens through crisis and commotion, but no real change ever happens without some pain, right?
I am currently involved in a process where this is very much experienced by all parties involved, the Kiasma_strike. Besides working as an artist, I am also a Public Relations professional, with experience in crafting campaigns and doing strategic crisis communications, among other things in the field. Thus I have been helping out in designing and executing this strike, a tremendous challenge in terms of effective communications. To our surprise, what we expected to be a marathon is indeed not a sprint, but perhaps a 800 metre run. In a little over two weeks, we have initiated and nurtured a public discussion that has made the wheels of several art institutions turn, including the National Gallery which Kiasma is a part of. The ethical guidelines regarding receiving financial donations we are calling for are being drafted as we speak. Major Finnish media outlets have named Israel an apartheid state, for the first time ever even though the situation has matched that definition for a long time.
For the responsibility, resilience and relevance of art museums and other institutions in the future, this is exactly what we need – the embracing of the artistic process as a revelatory, even unhinged ethical challenge, an invitation to discuss that which generations before us have coined taboo for one reason or the other. What we as artists are now bringing into societal discussion in the sphere of art and its institutions, we hope will spread into a more general discussion about the ethics of financial dealings of the Finnish government come Spring and our next elections. What we start doing differently in the arts has the power of becoming doing differently in other areas of life and society as well.
As Marianne’s text about the process of creating ACT reveals the conditions of statelessness in Norway, Kolbrún Inga Söring’s and Sam Message’s text dwells into the reality of human rights in Gothenburg, Sweden. In both of these texts, the self-perception of the Nordic Countries as the forefronts of human rights are challenged, if not outright debunked. Perhaps it is all just mere propaganda created to subdue us, to lull us into not demanding the rights we pretend to uphold.
Inga & Sam
I first met Inga & Sam when we were invited with Speech Karaoke to participate at the Sparkplug festival they organised in Gothenburg in August, 2021. Their work made a great impact on me – organised, strategic, joyful and queer. I sincerely thought they had Gothenburg by the balls with their attempt to bring together the fragmented and straight-up segregated queer communities around the city.
I myself, as probably most of my peers here in Finland, have enjoyed my fair share of Sweden’s propaganda, and thus believed that if somewhere in this world, it must be in Sweden where human rights truly prevail. Luckily we have Inga and Sam to take us on a tour of the real Sweden, and while at it, show us what they are doing in practice to change it.
I must give a slight content warning for this text – the sarcasm in the beginning is thick af in spelling out, among other things, the rampant queer and transphobia in Sweden.
But from that particular kind of Swedish darkness shines a light ever so bright in the work of Inga and Sam. What they are doing in practice in Gothenburg is what I would love to see Doing Differently be in other aspects as well – creative, cheerful, confident and critically informed, all bundled together to create a future we can live true today.
”We take joy and play very seriously, but we know not everyone thinks this way. Some people argue that we are frivolous and overlook the seriousness of the challenges we face as a community. We know there is so much to be angry about, and trust me we are angry too. It sizzles and spits like a hot stone plunged into a stomach of acrid bile. This anger is important. It pushes us to act when we are scared or stunned and we must harness it in our struggle for rights. But our community – the reason we are fighting – cannot be built on anger. Community is not only motivation for our struggle, it is both a driving force and sanctuary. Anger will not drive us through the years of struggle stretching beyond us, joy will. Joy and play build the bonds of compassion between us. Ultimately, if we are fighting for a community which does not centre joy, compassion or care, then what future are we fighting for?,” they write.
And oh do they fight! Their text grows from the practicalities of resisting the ethos of patriarchic cis-het white supremacist culture of Sweden into dissecting the mythos of the professionalism and academics in art. And as such, this text is a beautiful bridge to smashing capitalism, of dreaming about degrowth together with Alexandra Papademetriou who is also currently based in Gothenburg.
Coincidentally, when Marianne could not continue the course with us at OPI Lab, Alexandra took her place and introduced us to her work in building a Degrowth Toolbox, created to provide artists and other cultural workers with the necessary tools to start building a new reality from the societal, psychological and especially economic structure of constant growth. In my opinion, degrowth should be one of the core focuses in Doing Differently on a societal level.
I like to think that avant-garde is not just a concept isolated to refer to the arts and culture, but that the true avant-garde is a process of experimenting and exploring alternative realities inside the arts that, if found feasible or sustainable, transfer from the arts to other areas of life. Alexandra makes this same argument, in a much more convincing and alluring way, when discussing the processes around degrowth we can explore and experiment in the arts and culture sector with the hope of seeing them proliferate in other areas of life as well.
”It has been my long-standing position that artists (and art workers more broadly), due to our particular training, have the potential to act as communicators, organisers, mobilisers, community-builders, activists. We have some freedom to be idealistic, questioning, radical even. We are also uniquely trained in communication, and our often peripheral position in society allows us to move between different groups of people, to mediate and to mobilise,” she writes.
I consider it a great privilege in many ways to be an artist. One primary reason is the possibility to experiment and test different ways of working, to extend one’s creativity and know-how into the methods and structures of conducting one’s work. Of course not all fields of art are equal or similar in this sense, but to a degree this is something that is a possibility to us in a much more extended way than I believe it is for any other profession. We have, in essence, a chance to live true to what we preach, and while at it create the methods and processes for others to apply in their sphere of life and work.
And this leads me to Valeria Zelvaggio, who wrote to us about life, art and Doing Differently as a film director working in the extensively collaborative art form still largely stuck in a male-dominated paradigm.
With Valeria we met in Rome, in a hostel dormitory during my visit to the city to attend the TaCo2022 taboo conference. It was one of those moments that I have experienced more than once in my only true home city – all roads lead to Rome and thus one meets people one most likely would never have otherwise met, and when the stars are aligned, so are friendships struck in an instant.
Valeria is from Lima, Peru, and we hit it off immediately even though we are from different generations and cultures. We talked about making art and I was intrigued and rejuvenated by her fresh perspective, by the effortless social consciousness that I as a millennial and the generations that came before me still struggle to fully grasp.
This is something I hold close to my heart and keep reminding myself of – we are products of our generation, in addition to being products of our culture, our experiences, our physiological predispositions and the friction caused by each of these. I noticed this already as a teenager, that certain things that I was able to truly take for granted – in a good way, not in the snotty entitled brat kind of way – were still being processed and grappled by my parents and other senior relatives and people in my life. For example, typing as fast as I thought was effortless, navigating certain kinds of user interfaces or comprehending the online lingo, came quite naturally as it did not require me to reflect and adjust these things to my habituated way of operating in the world. Thus, I have decided to keep an open eye and an open mind to the experience of our youth, as they will have grown to navigate in the world as it is, not as it used to be.
”Today, more than ever, with the popularity and rise of social networks, the viewer no longer has a passive role: they can directly contact the creators and actors, to have influence in how and what is going to be produced. The internet plays a very important role as a place to create a community and give a sense of collective belonging and identity to minorities,” Valeria writes.
In her text, we can see glimpses of what Marianne, Inga & Sam, and Alexandra wrote about. Staying true to your heart and your humanity, actively seeing each other and creating space for marginalised individuals, and centering community and playfulness. But instead of making an argument for these things, I see Valeria already being able to take these things as somewhat granted, as something she has the right to do and to have.
What I often lean on in the face of the injustices of the world is that what is radical today will be normal tomorrow. And when I am trying to change the world through art or activism, I don’t think I will be changing the minds of the people who have already decades ago gotten accustomed to the way things are, but instead I am attempting to influence those who have just entered the theatre and are on their way to the stage. It is the youth that will take for granted what we offer them as radical dreams, visions and manifestos, and live them true when it is their time to take the centre of the stage.
And so from the perspective of a young artist we move to the perspective of a young art. Last but not least, this edition has an embodied Doing Differently in the contribution of @pikakahvimemegirl, a tremendously popular meme account on Instagram.
I got to meet @pikakahvimemegirl during the first-ever meme seminar here in Finland we organised together with Saara Särmä and Aikku Meura at the Päivälehti Newspaper Museum in November, 2021. Pika was in the audience and stayed with us for the small afterparty of the seminar, and we got talking.
What I found common in our approach was a hypothesis of there being some kind of a consciousness emergent from the complexity of the internet, and that we are not really individual beings but constructed by our interaction with various online realities and entities. It is not often that I get to meet someone who is as much out there as I am when it comes to metaphysical hypotheses about the nature of the internet, and since then I have keenly followed what Pika is doing in her practice as an it, a posthuman memelord producing socially radical art from the rhizome of our socially and technologically mediated existence.
For this edition, I asked Pika to select memes she felt fit the theme of Doing Differently. These memes are in Finnish but translated into English by yours truly. I also wrote a short foreword which discusses the little storm in a glass of water that one of her memes sparked among art critics last March.
Thank you for your time and whatever you do – next time do it differently.