Nico Feragnoli, Huib Haye Van der Werf and Maria Hlavajova discussing at the ‘Pilot Encounter: Institutions – Between Body and Machine or Art and Management’ event.
In ”Feminists, go ahead, be the spoil sports”, her interview in Finnish magazine Image, Professor Anu Koivunen names liberalism and nationalism as the two dominant ideologies of our time, to which feminist critique can present critical alternatives. Feminism has certainly been, and still remains, a critical framework that has facilitated the emergence of many new forms of identity politics – identity politics, which in turn can help to liberate marginal identities from the oppressive power of nationalist and neo-liberal narratives. Arguably, however, in emphasising the importance of individual identities, the identity politics have also served to effectively bolster the neo-liberal agenda, the current dominant brand of liberalism, much to the detriment of possibilities of contemporary class struggle.
I have been thinking about alternatives to neoliberalism and nationalism as I’ve followed the recent political and social events in Finland as well as the arts sector here and in continental Europe. My time on the De Appel curatorial programme has also allowed me to engage more closely with my own role as a Finnish citizen and a recipient of Finnish funding.
Nationalism, and its close bedfellow, fascism, currently appear to enjoy the protection of many European political elites fearful of their electorates. Mainstream social and ideological currents are now more accommodating to speech that seeks to downplay the threat they pose. It is difficult to envisage that even just a couple years ago the Finnish president could have to condemn anti-fascist demonstrators during Finland’s Independence Day, while opting to make no mention of a nationalist and fascist protest march that also took place.
What makes this so painful for someone like me, who is engaged in the arts sector and society more widely, is that I remain dependent on these same structures underpinned by nationalism and the nation state.
My work at the De Appel curatorial programme is supported by the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux through a Finnish Cultural Foundation grant. This funding was made available for one Finnish curator, subject to a successful outcome to the De Appel curatorial programme application. One of the aims of this funding, presumably, is to build a narrative of the successful Finnish curator, actively engaged on the international art scene. Indeed, a grant funding system focused on generating Finnish narratives of success has become such an entrenched part of the country’s arts scene that it is now almost impossible to imagine an alternative to it.
In his article Kansakunnasta kansalliseen kilpailukyky yhteisöön – Suomen kulttuuripolitiikka suhteessa globaaleihin ideologioihin ja kulttuuripolitiikan virtauksiin 1800-luvulta nykypäivään (From a nation to a national competition community – Finland’s cultural policy in relation to global ideologies and cultural policy trends from the 19th century to present day), researcher Olli Jakonen writes that, in a competition state, the public sector assumes a new role, facilitated by its economic policy, to implement outcome-centred, free market mechanisms across society, including in the education and cultural sectors.
This is perhaps not an entirely fresh observation or a new phenomenon to those engaged in the arts and culture sector but it serves as an important reminder of the types of political forces that we are all faced with.
Another tool in the competition state’s box is to appropriate the ”successes” of anyone carrying its passport into the nationalist-capitalist narrative and harness it to drive up competitiveness. Seemingly, the political forces engaged in this also include the Finnish “stands” managed by the Frame Visual Art Finland in collaboration with the Helsinki-based galleries at ARCOmadrid and Untitled Miami art fairs in 2014. For the political elite, the media visibility and art sales generated by their participation were a validation of Finland’s competitiveness in keeping with the competition state narrative.
This now poses the question whether alternatives to these cultural and political narratives are possible and whether institutional, curatorial and artistic practices can influence the arts organisations and structures, whose existence is currently geared towards the national ”interest”? This past autumn, I have come across two inspiring glimmers of hope, that to me appear to point towards new opportunities for alternative thinking. Both of them offer narratives that reach beyond the nationalist and neo-liberal logic.
The first is the Laboria Cuboniks collective’s xenofeminist manifesto Xenofeminism – a Politics for Alienation. The manifest seeks to update feminist politics and thinking in an age of accelerating technological and economic abstraction. For me, one of the key assertions made in the manifesto is that we cannot cling to the locally-oriented, geographically-specific framework provided by the nation state in an era when our social relationships are determined by the ever-accelerating abstraction of capital and technology. The philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato has described this idea in his book Governing by Debt. In it, he argues that current financial capital is a social relation generated by human and non-human technological engagement.
Another supranational narrative was served to me by Maria Hlavajova, artistic director of the BAK contemporary art institute. Speaking at the Pilot Encounter: Institution – Between Body and Machine or Art and Management discussion event at the De Punt in Amsterdam, she said present day arts institutions would do well to remain aware of three developments currently underway globally.. In her view, our prevailing belief in progress has been replaced by a focus on survival and criticism is being eschewed in favour of critique, generating new alternatives. In addition, she calls for a re-think on the prevailing western attitude of distinguishing between nature and culture as two mutually exclusive concepts.
Rather than continuing to perpetuate the nationalist and neo-liberal narratives, arts institutions based in Finland and in receipt of Finnish funding could perhaps commit to long-term collaborative relationships with other arts sector professionals and organisations engaged in generating critical supranational narratives in a world that finds itself in the grip of an economic, social and ecological crisis.
Read Aleksi Malmberg’s response to Koitela’s text here.
Blog post of January 2019: In 2018, the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s programme focused on Transition. In 2019, our theme is RE/definitions.
For some years now, I have tried to live my life with this principle in mind: because everything around us is constantly in transition, almost anything can become a reality. By this I mean our fears as well as opportunities, both the positive and negative ways of thinking about the future of our world. Personally, I would like to believe that we are capable of moving towards a better tomorrow, even if reality as filtered through our daily newsfeed often seems to contradict this.
Blog post of December 2018: How did you wake up this morning? Maybe to an alarm on your cell phone? What was your first thought? For many of us it’s “Can I sleep for another half hour?”. And, what was your last thought of the evening? Maybe you thought about whether you could watch just one more episode on your streaming service or whether it was really time for you to go to sleep. In fact, it is likely that these were the first and last risk management decisions of your day. Each of one us makes hundreds of risk management decisions whether we are at home, in our free time, or at work. Do you know the kinds of risks you are taking while navigating the digital world in our everyday life?
Blog post of June 2018: What if the future of music came from the Far North? There is no doubt that Nordic and Finnish musicians play an important role in the international music scene. Every category has a Nordic touch : vocal and instrumental music, metal, traditional and contemporary music, and jazz. Unlike here in the South, there are no fixed boundaries between musical languages in the North. Every musical genre finds its place between tradition and modernity, fusing into a fertile synergy without losing its own character. This is one of the cultural strengths of the Nordic countries.
Blog post of May 2018: For several years, this small international festival has been experimenting with new curatorial practices in a fierce and open way. The festival distinguishes itself by introducing co-curating, by politicising curatorship, and by rethinking the international. Baltic Circle hereby positions itself as a forerunner and is an ideal ground to visit with students who are themselves operating in the field of “expanding curation”. Three students, their tutor (Lara Staal, independent curator and publicist) and artistic director of DAS Theatre Barbara Van Lindt visited the festival and proposed some moments of exchange. In January we invited artistic director of the Festival Satu Herrala to visit us, and engage in a conversation where we reflected upon our visit (and already anticipated a next visit, in the autumn of 2018…)
Blog post of April 2018: Less than two months ago I moved from Tokyo to Brussels, straight into the heart of Europe and the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s great programming for 2018! We have our excellent previous Director Aleksi Malmberg to thank for carrying out the preparations for the start of the year, as well as our amazing team, with whom I now have the privilege of adding new initiatives and ideas to the programme.
Blog post of February 2018: “Okay, so there’s nothing here on the Sami people”, I noticed at the end of an introductory tour of the House of European History. I was visiting the relatively new House of European History at the beginning of February as part of a group of twenty odd individuals involved in the Remembering 1918 programme. Each one of us had the task that day of leading our own public tours of the House of European History. After the introductory tour, we were given a few hours to prepare to offer our own views on the museum’s exhibition which deals with European history.