Photo: Office d’Art Contemporain, Bruxelles / Matyas Matyas
I am an aging Finnish painter, committed to my vocation and a stereotype of my field. With age I have found myself a suitable hobby: fucking around on Facebook. It is the home of a new subspecies of know-it-alls and suits, besides my age, my character too. And, to some extent my profession.
Being an artist is lonely work. Mainly, it involves dealing with yourself by yourself. And as much as you would like to believe that in your artist’s studio you can smash the world to smithereens or magically turn it into a rose garden, the world outside your workshop just stands still, in one piece behind the window, unchanged.
That is why social media is such an excellent tool. The artist can leave his workshop without leaving it. The rest of world is suddenly right there. For an artist who does not leave his sanctuary to brag about his brilliance with his works–yes, his brilliance, for deep down every single artist is brilliant – he leaves it feeling frustrated, nervous and anxious. This has a snowballing effect. Rimbaud took a bullet from Verlaine, and Frederik was punched square in the face in the artist’s restaurant Kosmos with the retort “few of us are made of iron”. Many others had beer poured on their heads. Now, Facebook offers another degree of reality and even a bar brawl can take place on social media. There I look for different snippets of discussions that I latch onto with a devilish eye. I provoke. Particular treats are the political economy, immigration and Europe. And art.
My hobby demands some effort and also, in fact, some familiarity with the subject, since a successful know-it-all requires both knowledge and savoir-faire. At its best, it allows you to toy with your opponent who tosses and turns in a surge of emotion. Then, while the forum is brewing its revenge, you can increase your own knowledge on the subject. And strike deeper.
Usually I find it easy to smile. Until this goddamn Brexit came about, and I made the mistake of making fun of the populist factions of my own field by raising the flag of a united Europe and a common currency. I repeat: the populist factions of my own field. Surprisingly, nationalism and Euroscepticism find ground not only among the True Finns who rebuke postmodern fake art: but among the very producers of postmodern fake art.
Then it rained down on me: “How could you, Mikko Paakkola, an ordinary artist, take the side of the elite and defend the European Union and the euro?” A bull’s eye and complete rubbish.
An ordinary artist. Goddamnit, not a single true artist is ordinary. We are a gift of the gods, a bottomless chalice of poetry and the dawn after a sleepless night. We make your nightmares come true and turn your reality into a nightmare, and when you sink into the swamp, we are the will-o’-the-wisp at the height of your nostrils. We are the heroes Väinämöinen and Joukahainen, the candle of the heavens and that rocket engine that does not know where it is headed. This kind of being. Quite far from ordinary.
An ordinary artist. You cannot sink any lower than that. An ordinary artist is the hard core of mediocrity and the height of platitude. An ordinary artist does not aspire to virtuosity and does not succumb to decadence. His creations aim for the average and to stand out is a sin. The ordinary artist draws correctly and plays the right notes, he does as his teachers say and what the audience asks, and leaves behind only the wish that life were somewhere else. Quite far from the gods. So that kind of being.
And this is where Brexit led me.
I have had some kind of ordinary Finnish artist’s warped perception. I have thought of art as an axiom of internationalism, since I have experienced art as a means to reach the very core of humanity, a core that does not recognise national borders. What a wonderful instrument the European Union offers to achieve this. It is a message that was shared by the British artist community who, with Anish Kapoor as a mouth piece, noticed how Brexit served to replace openness and tolerance with narrow-minded hard-heartedness. But a Finnish artist is not a British one.
Euroscepticism nestled itself into our artist community before our joining of the European Union, this I remember from the background discussions. As a reason, I have to offer but a handful of assumptions: One of these is the fear of losing funding. Another is related to international competition, and perhaps in the background there looms a concern for the independence of cultural politics and the welfare society.
All of these are entirely topical concerns. Still, one can respond to them: funding, just like value added tax and social politics are determined on a national level and international competition should be seen more as an opportunity than as a threat – even if Anselm Kiefer, Ai Weiwei and other millionaire artists take over our exhibition rooms. We can fill other rooms elsewhere and even so, the true elite would be more within reach with open rather than closed borders. Perhaps the worry about Europe is really a worry about the position of the local elite and the artist community’s concern has really been a concern about the disappearance of this elite.
My own point of view departs from the grassroots, far away from any elite. It is also influenced by the economic recession of the 1990s in Finland preceded by the Accession Treaty. That was done to Finland by Finnish bankers, who gained access to Wall Street when the financial markets were liberated. The Finnish mark was devalued, the banks crashed and unemployment exploded. And all this was patched by driving down the social sector and the Nordic model of the welfare state. That was accomplished by Finnish politicians, all by themselves. Of this they have a long history. Actual budgetary discipline and the glory of an independent currency were already experienced in the famine years of the 1860s. Cold and frost and our own Finnish mark killed 150 000 of our nationals. Thanks to the local elite.
My perspective is also influenced by my background. I studied and worked as an artist before Finland’s membership of the EU. And that meant visas, tolls, queues, border controls, residence permits, banking arrangements, forwarding charges, currency exchange, and all those other things that I do not long for. Neither do many others, I believe. Such things are simply unaffordable for us ordinary artists.
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.