Octavio PazIn the current geopolitical situation, the fragility of a present that actively engages with diversity is undeniable. With uusi nykyisyys | new present curators Hamm and Kammanger underline the diversity within the Finnish art scene as a direct comment towards the multiplicity of voices latent in its social fabric. The exhibition also reminds us that an open assessment of plurality is crucial and urgent, allowing us to avoid the limitations of encapsulating diversity solely through the discourses of identity politics and nationalisms.
The following texts commissioned to Maryan Abdulkarim and Pauliina Feodoroff, Sezgin Boynik, Airi Triisberg, and Third Space are part of an attempt to further explore the critical questions that emerged from both the curatorial discourse and the exhibited artistic works. The writers explore the necessity and power involved in owning one’s story to bring forward other narratives and desires (Abdulkarim & Feodoroff); the role of culture in the reproduction of state ideological apparatuses and the urgency to emancipate art from culture (Boynik); what can be learned from the collective struggles against precarious labour and re-imagining art as potential sites for post- and non-capitalist practices (Triisberg); the importance of queer and feminist politics in order to challenge the normative roles that regulate our dwelling and reproduction (Niemelä); and acknowledging the multiplicity within (Third Space; Grey Violet)A new present is always a possibility in a state of becoming. These possibilities can become alternatives through which to narrate and nurture our futures, reminding us of how easily they can also become silent stories and forgotten pasts.
See. Everything around you is a story.
You will be pierced by thousands of story impulses, experienced, resistant to ambience, manipulated into you, planted, left for open interpretation at every moment. You seek them all the time. If no one has prepared you a story, you do it yourself.
Ǩiõčč. Puk tuu pirr lij maainâs.
Tuu čõõđ jåʹtte dohti mieʹldd maainâsimpuuls, koid leäk ǩiõččlâsttam, koid leäk jeällam, kook lie tuʹnne pijjum, kook lie tuʹnne išttuum, kook lie tuʹnne eʹtǩǩuum, kook lie tuʹlǩǩmuužž vääras kuõđđum, juõʹǩǩ poodd. Ooʒʒak mainnâz ǩeeʹjjmieʹldd ääiʹj. Ǥu ij ni ǩii tueʹjjed tuʹnne vaalmâš mainnâz, raajak tõn jiõčč.
The story is borne from the fact that there are names. Appoint them. The Appointment has a story. Where did this come from? How did it come to be? Why? What is it capable of? And there you have it. When it is known that it is a fact its potential will start to happen. Then this happened. And there is a story related to it. It was borne from that. It led to this. And so we have an entire world, complete worlds. And to them stories of how they came to be reveal what it consists of. Why does it consist? What is it?
Maainâs šâdd tõʹst, što lie nõõm. Nõõmtet. nõõmtumuʹšše lij maainâs. Koʹst tät šõõddi, mõõn diõtt tõt šõõddi, da mõõzz tõt pâstt. Da tõʹst tõt lij. Ko tieʹđet, što tõt lij tõt, da tõn potentiaal, älgg šõddâm. Ko de ǩiâvi nääiʹt. Da tõõzz õhtti maainâs. Da tõʹst šõõddi tõt. Da tõt jååʹđti tõõzz. Da nääiʹt meeʹst lij ceâl maaiʹlm, määŋg ceâl maaiʹlmed. Da tõid šâddmaainâs, kååʹtt čuäʹjat tõn, mäʹhtt tõt nårrai. Mõõn diõtt tõt nårrai. Mii tõt lij.
This story gives you a guide to the world. The guide is either in the story or the story. The guide is clear, but it cannot be said more briefly than the story. It cannot be removed from the story. The whole idea of the language is in the story. That we can say out loud what is. Where is. And what is not. What we do not want, that it is. We can evoke it. We can drive it out. The story is the intellectual substance that drains from our mouths with the respiration, it is a sound wave, somewhat heavier than the spirit, it flows through our hands on the keyboard, paper, stone cave wall. It is a matter in which our minds understand themselves inside and outside. It is a matter that accumulates in our minds that we can share, to force, to steal and recycle each other, for each other, endlessly.
Tät maainâs oudd tuʹnne vuäʹppõõzz leeʹd maaiʹlmest. Vuäʹppõs lij juʹn-a mainnsest leʹbe maainâs. Vuäʹppõs lij täʹrǩǩ, leâʹša tõn ij vueiʹt särnnad vuäʹnkubun ko mainnsen. Tõn ij vueiʹt pååđted mainnseʹstes. Ceâl ǩiõl juurd lij mainnsest. Što vueiʹttep särnnad jiõnnsa tõn, mii lij. Koʹst lij. Da mii ij leäkku. Mõõn jeäʹp haaʹled, što lij. Vueiʹttep kåččad luzz. Vueiʹttep pääkkeed åålǥas. Maainâs lij aaunteʹmes aaunâs, kååʹtt kålgg åålǥas mij njääʹlmest vuõiŋŋmõõžž mieʹldd, tõt lij jiõnnparru veeʹrd lossääb ko jiõgg, tõt kålgg mij ǩiõđi pääiʹǩ puällpårdda, põʹmmai ool, ǩeäʹdǧǧskuõr seeiʹn ool. Tõt lij aaunâs, koin miõllan fiʹttai jiõccsees siiʹsǩpeäʹlnn da tõn åålǥpeäʹlnn. Tõt lij aaunâs, kååʹtt nårrai miõleen, koon vueiʹttep jueʹǩǩed, pääkkted, suâleed da kâârvted kueiʹmm kueiʹmineen, kueiʹmeen, ǩeeʹjjtemma.
That is why we love stories. Because you understand them. Because you understand about them.
Tõn diõtt ton räʹǩstak mainnsid. Ko fiʹttjak tõid. Ko fiʹttjak tõin.
You have grown up soaked with other people’s stories. Your have been shunned from your own story. My story is not nothing. Because there is no canon. Since it cannot be seen. It does not even exist.
Leäk šõddâm jeärrsi mainnsivuiʹm. Da jiijjad mainnâz õhcclõõččeeʹl. Jiijjad maainâs iʹlla ni mii. Ko tõt iʹlla mainstum ouddâl. Ko tõn jie vueiʹn. Tõt ij ni leäkku.
It is just a travesty, someone else's story, someone that saw you, and whose story sometimes is tangential to yours. And because their story exists, it is believed that nothing more is needed. That this be enough for your story. Someone else's story about you. And you hate it. Because the canon of your own story is not in your hands. And since everyone else has a story but you, you start to think that you are not even worth a story. That you do not have a birth. That your nonexistence does not serve any purpose. That you have no place, purpose and mission. That you are not. And alienated from your own life even further, you disappear into the stories of the others. Because you cannot trust your own your judgment, because you cannot trust any of the findings, because they cannot not be, if you do not have names, which could be related to objective, merge, knit together. You are not. But, you do exist, even memoryless.
Lij tåʹlǩ veʒʒjeei kartt, ǩeän-ne jeeʹres oummu maainâs, kååʹtt vueiʹni tiʹjjid, tuu måttmešt da kååʹtt nääiʹt jåått tuu rääi. Da ko suu maainâs lij, juuʹrdet, što jeeʹres mainnâz jie taarbâž. Što tät rijttjeʹči tuu mainnsen. Nuuʹbb oummu mušttlem maainâs tuu pirr. Da vâjjääk tõn. Ko tuu jiijjad mainnâz kaanon ij leäkku tuu ǩiõđin. Da ko pukin jeärrsin peʹce tuʹst lij maainâs, juurdčeškuäđak, što jiõk ni leäkku mainnâz šoora. Što tuʹst ij leäkku šõddâm. Što tuu šõõddteʹmvuõđâst ij leäkku mieʹrr. Što tuʹst ij leäkku sââʹjj, iʹlla mieʹrr, ni tuâjj. Što ton jiõk leäkku. Da versmak õinn jäänab jiijjad jieʹllmest. Da läppjak jeärrsi mainnsid. Ko jiõk vueiʹt naʹddjed jiijjad ärvstõõllâmsilttõʹsse, ko jiõk vueiʹt naʹddjed ni õõut tuu vuâmmšõʹsse, ko jie ni tõk vueiʹt leeʹd, jõs jie leäkku nõõm, koid tõid tõk vuäitče suddõõttâd, kååđđõõttâd. Ton jiõk leäkku. Leâʹša kuuitâǥ leäk, håʹt muuʹstʼteʹmmen.
Dodge your story, quote other stories, learn all of them. Make your identity the storage place of other stories. You will manage for a time. And in the end you realise that what could have been your own story line, the start, has been perfected into other stories, edges ground into other stories, and it no longer exists. There is no longer a beginning, birth, cause and a consequence. Whether you're light as a snowflake? Cultivated man? Or are you a leaking hole, hole, which sucks in everything in an endless hunger for anything?
Kââʹrv jiijjad mainnâz, laiʹnne jeärrsi mainnsid, da mattu pukid tõid. Tueʹjjed jijstad järrsi mainnsi ääiʹt. Nääiʹt piʹrǧǧääk - vueʹzz ääiʹj. Da looppâst hoʹhssjak, što tõt, mii leäi vueiʹtted leeʹd jiijjad mainnâz alttõs, lij kâkkjam meädda jeeʹres oummui mainnsi mieʹldd, da tõt teänab iʹlla. Iʹlla teänab algg, iʹlla šõddâm, iʹlla tõt mõõn diõtt da mii tõʹst šâdd. Leäk-a mâŋŋa ǩeäʹppes mâʹte muõttčâlmm? Jeäʹrmmooumaž? Avi leäk-a kolggi reiʹǧǧ, kååʹtt njeemm looppteʹmes neälggses puk?
The story. The story can mold realities. The story of what happened a moment before I entered here, the story of how this object came to be, the story about how someone has spent a day of their life, or a year or a decade. The stories have power. Stories shape the realities and the way we see the world.
Qiso. Qisada waxay badalikartaa xaqiiqda sida aan u aragno. Qisada waxay tilmaami kartaa wax yar ka hor wixii dhacay. Halkan intaan iman wixii ka horeeyey. Qisada waxay khuseyn kartaa alabtaan i hor taalo sidey halkan ku soo gaartay. Siduu qof saacad noloshiisa u noolaa, ama sanad ama toban sano. Qisada quwad ayeey leedahay. Qisada waxay badali kartaa aduunyada sida aan u aragno iyo xaqiiqda aan ku nool nahay.
My understanding of myself depends on what stories I am told, what I believe. Credible stories are those which support the existing story. The main narrative, which defines the reality. The stories may exceed the limits that won’t be crossed in the physical existence. Stories are at the same time very real and untrue, descriptive and yet images and memories generated by a trace.
Sida aan anima isku arko waxaa badali kara qisada la ii sheego, taan aamino. Qisooyinka sahlan in la aamino waa kuwa u dhaw waxa aan ognahay oon run u heysano. Qisada maamusha sida aan aduunyada u fahano. Qisooyinka xadad lug aan laga dhaafi karin ayeey dhaafi karaan. Qisooyinka waa dhab, isla markaana waa been, waxay tilmaamayaan waxaan aragno iyo waxa aan ku riyoono, xasuusteena.
When narrating a story, we describe it as we saw it. As we experienced it. We describe arches, wings of movements, colors and shapes, as we saw it ourselves.
Qiso marka aan sheegeeyno, waxaan arrimaha u tilmaamnaa sidii anaga aan u aragnay. Sidii aniga aan u arkay, Waxaanu tilmaamu dhaqaaqa baadka, kalarada, foomka sidii aan anaga u aragnay.
The main story is narrated and edited by those who have power. They say what they saw and how it felt, how we felt even. This is a story that is repeated again and again and again. Until we all believe in it and adapt our memories to fit it. Embrace it and see it as the only story. The story is strengthened through art, through religion. With anything. As long as it sells and the masses become believers.
Qisada qisooyinka maamusha qofka sheegaya waa ka ugu quwada weyn. Wuxuu inoo sheegi waxuu arko, sida ay isaga la tahay. Tan waa qisada naloogu soo cel celiyo, hadana, hadana, hadana. Ilaa aan anaga oo dhan ka rumeyneyno qisadaas. Ilaa ana qisadaas tan kaliya aan ka dhiganeyno. Qisada hido iyo dhaqan iyo diin ayaa lagu adeekeeyaa. Waxaa u muhiimsan bulshada weyn in ay aaminto.
The story explains the birth of the Earth. The story is about my mother's childhood. The story is about why we eat as we eat. The stories are not created in a vacuum. They are generated, nurtured and place in the world. The story says that having the strongest voice reaches the most listeners. The story also says that the strongest voice has been bought, stolen, exported cunningness and an open declaration of war against the disbelievers.
Qisada waxay micneyn aduunyada sidii loo abuurey, hooyaday caarurnimadeedii. Qisada waxay inoo sheegi sababta aan u cuno waxaan cuno. Qisooyinka waa la dhalaa oo la xanaaneeyaa kadibna aduunyada ayaa loo diraa. Qisada waxay sheegi qofka ugu codka adag in qisadisa dadka ugu badan ay gaari. Qisada waxay sheegeysaa ookale in codkaa la iibsankaro, in la xadikaro, in khaa’inimo iyo dagaal furan lagu dhuufsankaro.
Stories have been told for as long as there has been the existence of story tellers. As long as there has been those who remember. The story is a description of our memories or imagination. The story of our time describes god as a straight white male.
Qisooyinka baniaadan intuu jiro ayaa la sheegi jirey, inta baniaadan uu xasuus lahaa. Qisada waxay tilmaami kartaa xasuusteena ama maskaxdeena waxaan ka alifano. Qisada waxaan ku tilmaamikarna ilaahay in nin cad uu yahay.
Art comes from these stories, is surrounded by them and is rich with them. Art, like anything else experienced, is not free of the realities created through stories. We build realities in each other, we are looking for ways to break the pattern, and the more we ache to break them, the more we are stuck in the story. The story teaches us that there are heroes, there are revolutionaries and there are pillars of society, and the villains of the story are the disbelievers. The story tells us what happened to the past generations. The story is about how to present it. The power and possibilities of the story as well as its shortcomings and limitations are in the narrator. The main narrator. Today’s storyteller.
iyo dhaqan waxay ka dhashaan qisooyinkan, dhaxdooda iyagoo
hogaaminaya. Hido iyo dhaqan, sida wax kasta, xor kama aha xaqiiqda
qisooyinkan ay dhisaan. Xaqiiq ayaan xaqiiq ku dhax dhisnaa anagoo
raadineyno si aan u jabino qorshahan.
Maryan Abdulkarim (1982) is ethnically Somali and a Finnish citizen who works as an activist, writer and norm critical educator. Abdulkarim collaborates actively with diverse NGO's and in the field of culture.Pauliina Feodoroff (1977) is a Skolt Sámi activist, director and writer. She is currently the art director of Rospuutto theatre group and chairwoman of Skolt Sámi culture organization Saa´mi Nue´tt.
Then in the year 1504 a terrible fire broke out in Venice, near the Rialto bridge, in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, which was completely burnt out with all its stocks of merchandise, to the great loss of the merchants. So the Signoria of Venice decreed that it should be rebuilt, and this was done very quickly, with far better accommodation and with greater magnificence, adornment, and beauty. Meanwhile, in view of Giorgione's mounting reputation, those in charge of the project, after discussing the matter, ordered that he should colour it in fresco as he wished, provided only that he did it all in his power to create a first-rate work, seeing that it was for the most beautiful place and the finest site in the city. So Giorgione started work. But he thought only of demonstrating his technique as a painter by representing various figures according to his own fancy. Indeed, there are no scenes to be found there with any order of representing the deeds of any distinguished person, of either the ancient or the modern world. And I for my part have never been able to understand his figures nor, for all my asking, have I ever found anyone who does. In these frescoes one sees, in various attitudes, a man in one place, a woman standing in another, one figure accompanied by the head of a lion, another by an angel in the guise of the cupid; and heavens knows what it all means. Then over the main door which opens into the Merceria there is the seated figure of a woman who has at her feet the head of a dead giant, as if she were meant to be Judith; she is raising the head with a sword and speaking to a German standing below her. I have not been able to interpret the meaning of this, unless Giorgione meant her to stand for Germania (Vasari 1965: 274-5).
In 1967 Carl Andre wrote this statement which I think is the most precise introduction to the ‘politics’ of conceptual art: “Art is what we do; culture is what is done to us” (Andre 2005: 30). This is the best way to introduce the thesis of this article: only with emancipation from culture can art gain what belongs to herself. Defining the thing that belongs to art is not the agenda of this text. Instead, the topic is, what does culture take from art?
In this current state of affairs, it is art which delegates what usually belongs to culture: nationalism, leisure, mythology, a feeling of community, identity, identification, government, and folklore, amongst other things that have to do with the reproduction of the prevailing ruling conditions. Or to be more precise, the things which reproduce the context do not separate the ruler from the ruled. Or to paraphrase Louis Althusser, we could say that culture reproduces the conditions of capitalist production based on exploitation of labour forces. This is reproduction taking place within ideology, operating as the continuous regeneration of a subject that is supposed to be ahistorical. This happens in everyday life as well as in exceptional situations, for example when someone who fights for her bread comes to understand that there is something which goes beyond the struggle to feed hungry stomachs. This understanding is embodied in culture. The context of culture is so great that it can absorb everything, even the attempt to fight against exploitation, repression and inequality. We heard and still hear that there is a culture of working class, proletariat and poor people that have specific likes, dislikes, hopes, and routines. In this cultural understanding of poor people’s struggle against exploitation, politics (that is, collective action against exploitation) is seen as nothing more but one of the possible expressions of the human condition. The silent assumption is that regardless of the different attempts to fight against prevailing and ruling forces, all are doomed to fail because they are underpinned by a commonality called 'culture' which unites us as human beings with trivial differences. This is one reason why projects based on multi-culturalism are conceptually redundant; any attempt to define, use or apply 'culture' is a way of synchronising antagonistic pluralisms. Culture works to homogenise—blend and mash-up—not only different groups that have different expressions, but also the different expressions and forms in one prevailing and ruling tendency. Technically, this means that culture absorbs not only political but artistic struggles and present them as niche.
Pierre Bourdieu defended this niche as anomalies of tastes and interests. For example, Bourdieu does not consider the formal, conceptual and heuristic differences of art tendencies as constitutive of their practice, but rather as instances of mere strategic anomalies or niches: “The names of the schools or groups which have proliferated in recent painting (pop art, minimal art, process art, land art, body art, conceptive art, arte povera, Fluxus, new realism, nouvelle figuration, support-surface, art pauvre, op art, kinetic art, etc.) are pseudo-concepts, practical classifying tools which create resemblances and differences by naming them” (Bourdieu 1993: 106). According to this ‘sociological’ or ‘cultural’ interpretation of art practice, the difference between Art & Language and Hans Haacke, or between Eija-Liisa Ahtila and Black Audio Film Collective, is a mere trifle in the scheme of this ubiquitous cosmos of culture. It is obvious that my intervention of writing this is against these simplification and reductionism.
Fredric Jameson, Marxist theoretician of culture, wants us to imagine this cultural ubiquity as a kind of explosion: “a prodigious expansion of culture throughout the social realm, to the point at which everything in our social life—from economic value and state power to practices and to the very structure of the psyche itself—can be said to have become ‘cultural’ in some original and yet untheorised sense” (Jameson 1991: 48).
In the seventies, this unconsidered and automatically absorbed culturalisation of politics was discussed within the publications of Birmingham’s infamous Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, where it was considered to be an ideological effect of “the 'utopian' substitution of cultural politics for politics proper” (Jameson 1998: 27). Stuart Hall, a leading theoretician of cultural studies, (his earlier work, Resistance through Rituals, dealt with youth sub-cultural movements) described the omnipresence of culture in direct relation to the ways in which ideology operated.
It is precisely its ‘spontaneous’ quality, its transparency, its ‘naturalness’, its refusal to be made to examine the premises on which it is founded, its resistance to change and to correction, its effect of instant recognition, and the closed circle in which it moves which makes common sense, at one and the same time, ‘spontaneous’, ideological and unconscious. You cannot learn, through common sense, how things are: you can only discover where they fit into the existing scheme of things. In this way, its very taken-for-grantedness is what establishes it as a medium in which its own premises and presuppositions are being rendered invisible by its apparent transparency. (Hall 1977)
For Hall and others based in Birmingham, this clarification was crucial not because they were interested in advocating for the political language of the times (their efforts largely adhered to abstract political-Marxist logic that helped clarify their position as authentically political), but rather because they wanted to be seen to be challenging the perception that culture was analogous to politics. They were careful not to identify their struggle with ‘proper’ political engagement and instead framed it as something like a new expression for new times: a political adjustment for new cultural tastes. Usually this presents as commodity and consumption based politics—every newly appearing commodity style (rock, hippy, punk, disco, yuppie, etc.) finds a new ‘style’ or language of politics. This was particularly important to Hall and his colleague Paul Gilroy because they knew that an act of politics should be understood not only in a terms of the violence and oppression happening to them as blacks, but more pertinently to them as working class blacks. Any attempt to delegate that 'violence' to culture and to seek emancipation from this culture did nothing but hark back to a familiar understanding of 'culture' that the average Englishman felt at home with. “. . . all the characteristic activities and interests of a people. Derby Day, Henley Regatta, Cowes, the 12th of August, a cup final, the dog races, the pin table, the dartboard, Wensleydale cheese, boiled cabbage cut into sections, beetroot in vinegar, 19th Century Gothic churches, the music of Elgar . . .” (Eliot 1963) It was this definition of culture put forward by T.S. Eliot that Hall and his colleagues opposed. They were also aware that any attempt to save culture via a detour around Eliot would sooner or later serve the nationalistic purpose of showing the place to those who are not sure of their whereabouts. Simply, the culture would embody the banality of barbarism.
It was not only England who advocated for this homogenous definition of culture. France too made sense only through the filter of this high-and-low unity of bourgeois culture embracing all people’s likes and styles. “The whole of France is steeped in this anonymous ideology: our press, our films, our theatre, our pulp literature, our rituals, our Justice, our diplomacy, our conversations, our remarks about the weather, a trial, a touching wedding, the cooking we dream of, the garments we wear, everything in everyday life is dependent on the representation which the bourgeoisie has and makes us have of the relations between men and the world” (Barthes 1972). Eliot's defence of culture was a reactionary and conservative position. Today these kinds of anti-industrialist and anti-Marxist positions of ‘longing for the good old days of living together in a nice community’ is not different from a classical fascist who calls the police after seeing a black man from their balcony. There are unfortunately still many of these types of people. But what is alarming is that the culture for which Eliot advocated is still influencing a broad spectrum of minds, from the local restaurant owner to the most contemporary of art practitioners and theoreticians.
It is interesting to look at Clement Greenberg's reading of Eliot's conservatism. It is known that Greenberg, as an editor of American left-wing magazine Partisan Review and an advocate of formal inquiries into abstract expressionism, understood well Eliot’s “plight of culture—his notorious opposition to industrialist kitsch can be seen to be an anti-Marxist reaction. It was a cultural action against class struggle! But contrary to Greenberg’s reputation as having a nose for 'new things', art critic Barbara Reise's text makes clear that Greenberg’s sole intellectual capital was the anticipation of Jackson Pollock's market success; once he lost the gamble of predicting the future of conceptual art, his famous authority was severely diminished. Greenberg identified that due to the industrial revolution, workers had more time for leisure and thus more time for culture. In the vernacular of Eliot, this meant that a ‘new lived religion’ among the working class was taking shape, which necessitated the emergence of a new culture. Here is how Greenberg sees things:
“[As Marx predicted] … With work becoming universal once more, may it not become necessary—and because necessary, feasible—to repair the estrangement between work and culture, or rather between interested and disinterested ends, that began when work first became less than universal? And how else could this be done but through culture in its highest and most authentic sense?” (Greenberg 1961: 33).
We have gone full circle, from work and labour (via a struggle for bread) to culture as a field of negotiation repairing the bonds of a scattered society. But as we made this circle, we passed unnoticed from politics through to art. This was possible because culture has the capacity to not only unite different political and artistic forms, but to also to repair the schism between art and politics. The problem is that when culture does happens unequivocally as culture; there is no longer any room for art or politics.
This is why I insist on the emancipation of art from culture. Experimental filmmaker and theoretician Peter Gidal has written that the gravest mistake an avant-garde artist could make was to position culture as a central reference point in their work. Even worse was insisting on being the centre of their culture—for Gidal this is nothing short of cultural chauvinism. The usual debate on whether contemporary art can be nationalistic takes a rather different bent when we switch this debate to the more refined question of whether there is any difference between nation and culture?! “European filmmakers are wary of the structure and ideology which might create the conditions for cultural imperialism in the area of filmmaking. They are, therefore, involved in a redefinition of the nature and function of filmmaking that differs from those of the Americans who are making their way gradually towards the center of our own culture” (Gidal 1989: 162.)
By not being at the centre of their own culture, artists refuse to be part of the ideology of cultural imperialism. But this thesis has some peculiar difficulties which I have saved for the end. If we say that the state and the nation’s expansion instrumentalises artistic creativity as a backup of imperialism—for example as in the thesis of Serge Guilbaut that posits abstract-expressionism as a cultural longhand of American economic imperialism during the Cold War—then we are forced to ask a difficult question regarding the boundaries of where the art starts and culture ends. This assumes it is possible to agree upon some geometrical relation between the two that is disturbed by external political intervention. In analyses made by conceptual artists this is clearly not the case. There is no dialectic between culture and art that is mediated by politics. On the contrary, the cultural invasion of artistic practice is happening inside and without the state’s intervention. The faction of conceptual art that included Carl Andre and Art & Language were considering this question. Andre’s aforementioned statement is more ‘radical’ than his involvement with the Artist Worker’s Coalition (AWC) struggles for better wages and proper representation of artists in cultural institutions. Otherwise, the liberal coalition amongst the various factions of artists that make themselves available to fight against capitalist repression mimics the same strange geometry where the boundaries between art and culture are no longer clear. To say that culture is forced to dictate from the outside, as Andre claimed, is only one step toward emancipation. Another step is to face the material effects of this emancipation and make a break.
Art & Language understood this as one of the most important questions for art practices. The reason why they refused to join the AWC ranks in fighting against capitalism was that this was a liberal coalition aiming at silencing the real and inherent contradictions of art for the sake of cultural action. In Mel Ramsden’s text ‘On Practice’, published in the first issue of The Fox in 1974, he insists precisely on this understanding of the ‘practice’ of art as something that works in contradictions. This means that a claim for the emancipation of art from culture should not necessarily imply the bourgeois bureaucratic formalism that reduced art practice to self-approving positivism which Victor Burgin aptly described as “the anachronistic daubing of woven fabrics with coloured mud, the chipping apart of rocks and the sticking together of pipes—all in the name of timeless aesthetic values’ (Burgin 1976).
The first point is to challenge the ways we engage with the artwork itself—the modes of representation, its relation to culture, the reproduction of prevailing bureaucratic structures, and the existing ruling norms of ideological relations. Secondly it is crucial for us to understand that any artwork, even the artworks that claim to be emancipated from representational culture, are also operating as a practice within culture. There is no strategy of emancipation from culture that can also introduce art practices on clean plates. The difficult work of devising a ‘radical’ break from culture is at the same time dirty work; the impurity of this practice is what makes art more complex than any other cultural and ideological representation. “My point was you just can’t descriptivistically treat culture as an object of contemplation. It is something you and I do, not something we discover and then contemplate” (Ramsden 1974: 80).
As a solution to the shortcomings of Andre’s formalism, in 1973 Art & Language proposed a correction to his statement with a counter-statement: “Art is what we do, culture is what we do to other artists”. It is clear that emancipation from culture is not something that implies art will ascend to higher and safer spheres, but instead turns art practice into a combat formalism which works within ideologies overdetermined by contradictions. For Art & Language, this was not an easy decision and they knew perfectly well what it meant to claim that ‘having-your-heart-in-the-right-place-is-not-making-history.’ It meant that the hearts that call for a culture that ushers forward a better life in which barbarism or fascism will not have a say, could also be calling for a better and more bearable fascism. Culture provides this through all gamuts and tricks. For all those good bourgeoisie people who are trying to substitute Rosa Luxemburg’s slogan “socialism or barbarism” with “culture or barbarism” in the hope of imagining a changed world without antagonisms, I am ending this text with the last lines of Brecht’s famous poem, The Interrogation of the Good:
But in consideration
of your merits and good qualities
We shall put you in front of a good wall and shoot you
With a good bullet from a good gun and bury you
With a good shovel in the good earth.
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005, 30.
Barthes, Roland. Mythologies. London: Paladin, 1972.
Bourdieu, Pierre. The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993, 106
Burgin, Victor. ‘Socialist Formalism’, Studio International, March/April, 1976.
Eliot, T. S. Notes Toward a Definition of Culture. London: Faber, 1963.
Greenberg, Clement. ‘The Plight of Culture’, Art and Culture: critical essays. Boston: Beacon Press, 1961, 33.
Hall, Stuart. 'Culture, the Media and the “Ideological Effect”, in J. Curran et al. (eds.) Mass Communication and Society. London: Arnold, 1977.
Jameson, Fredric. The Cultural Turn: Selected Writings on the Postmodern, 1983-1999. London: Verso, 1998, 27.
Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism: or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. London: Verso, 1991, 48.
Michelson, Annette and P. Adams Sitney. “A conversation about Knokke and the independent filmmaker”. Art Forum, 1976, 13.9, pp. 63-66, op.cit. Peter Gidal, Materialist Film. London: Routledge, 1989, 162.
Ramsden, Mel. ‘On Practice’. The Fox, No. 1, New York, 1974, 80.
Vasari, 'Giorgione de Castelfranco', Lives of Artists, translated by George Bull. London: Penguin Books, 1965, 274-5
Sezgin Boynik (1977) lives and works in Helsinki. He has completed his Phd in Jyväskylä University Social Science department on the topic of "Cultural Politics of Black Wave in Yugoslavia from 1963 to 1972". He has been publishing on punk, relation between aesthetics and politics, cultural nationalism, Situationist International and Yugoslavian cinema.
The challenge of organising dispersed workers is obviously not new. It was an ongoing concern within feminist activism and theory during the heyday of 1970s trade unionist struggles. In addition to efforts to identify unpaid reproductive labour as a key resource of capitalist accumulation, feminist politics strived to expand the location of working-class struggle beyond its privileged site of the factory. This ambition corresponded with the newly developed concept of “social factory” that emerged in autonomist Marxist theory in the 1970s. It suggested that the Fordist mode of production is a social system that reaches far beyond the walls of factory to also include the unwaged workers of capitalist society. Nevertheless, the feminist agenda of organising wageless domestic workers did not easily fit into the matrix of trade unionist strategies. For example, major difficulties emerged when feminist activists tried to mobilise domestic workers for strike—women refused to interrupt their care activities due to its effect on the wellbeing of those they cared for.
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that recent writings about precarious labour present a growing interest in the similarities between art and domestic work. According to feminist theorist Marina Vishmidt, both realms are positioned as being somehow outside wage-labour relations. Unlike other forms of work in capitalist societies, they are not considered to be productive and are not socially recognised via wage, contracts and regulations. 1 In other words, both the art and care sectors are marked by a certain ambiguity in which the distinction between “work” and “non-work” tends to implode. In the context of trade unionist politics this is certainly a problem—the model of labour organising is not particularly effective in mobilising wageless workers isolated in their kitchens, bedrooms and homes. But perhaps this apparent incompatibility can be conceptualised as potentiality rather than failure, directing us towards forms of struggle constructed from the experience of unwaged and precarious workers. So how to imagine wage struggles that are anchored outside of conventional wage-labour relations?
One interesting example of such political imaginaries can be found in the 1972 Wages for Housework campaign. Founded in Padua, Italy, it issued a demand for recognition of women’s hidden social labour through wage. As Silvia Federici writes, Wages for Housework was guided by the understanding that a wage is not simply a paycheck but a political means of organising society.2 Accordingly, winning a wage was not considered to be the revolutionary goal but a revolutionary strategy that calls for the reorganisation of capitalist social relations and undermines the role that is assigned to women in the capitalist division of labour.3 Thus, instead of seeking admission into the conventional wage-labour relations, Wages for Housework was essentially engaged with the politics of struggling against capital rather than for it.4 This difference between for and against is the crucial element that distinguishes the Wages for Housework campaign from the trade unionist politics of wage negotiations. Furthermore, it is the conceptual nucleus of the political perspective that autonomist Marxism has to offer for workers who strive for autonomy from both the capital and the state. How then to make sense of this political perspective in light of the art workers’ struggles against precarious labour?
Throughout my experiences of art workers organising, I have often witnessed the beginning of a cycle of struggle. This is a moment of making choices—of setting priorities, articulating objectives and agreeing on strategies. What frequently gets discussed in those situations are questions of whether to speak from the subject position of workers or artists; whether to start wage negotiations with particular art institutions or engage directly with levels of political decision-making; whether to organise in trade unions or informal networks; and whether to remain anchored within the boundaries of the art sector or create cross-sector alliances with other precarious social groups. Among those reoccurring choices is one that gets dismissed more frequently than others—the choice of developing self-organised community economies which counteract precariousness by sharing resources, housing and care.
I would now like to take another look at the ambiguous position that art and care workers seemingly share in relation to conventional wage-labour relations. A critical engagement with this phenomenon is often oriented at overcoming this apparent in-between status, for example by underlining the necessity to recognise art or care workers as workers. However, it is also worth asking what do unwaged workers have to gain from such resignification? After all, work is not liberation. As Silvia Federici writes, “Work in a capitalist system is exploitation and there is no pleasure, pride or creativity in being exploited.”5 Perhaps the dilemma of politicising the wageless in-between position of art and care workers can be resolved in a different way? One options could be by radicalising art and home as sites where post- and non-capitalist practices can emerge.
The very last time when I entered an art workers’ assembly, I ended up joining a housing collective. Compared to the routine practice of art workers organising, it is a completely different political project which is based on the notion of refusing wage labour rather than trying to improve its conditions. However, the gesture of withdrawing from the social order that is so deeply subordinated to wage labor is only one side of the coin and is intertwined with the politics of transforming existing social relations. In the context of communal living, the counter-hegemonic project of constructing other economic realities is rooted in the realm of homemaking. This implies that the horizon of imagining and developing alternative ways to sustain our lives is closely linked to the fulfilment of basic needs such as food, housing, care, etc. In the frame of communal housing initiatives, this can include practices such as commoning property relations and developing modes of collective ownership; collectivising reproduction and care tasks; queering kinship relations; and striving for food sovereignty. However, perhaps even most importantly, the collective pursuit of economic experimentation is connected with the laborious process of changing the economy of our desires.
economic geographers J.K. Gibson-Graham underline that in order to
fulfil the desire for other economies and other worlds, we need to
make ourselves “a condition of possibility for their emergence.”6
According to Gibson-Graham, this demands a daily rehearsal of
re-educating and convincing our bodies and intellects to adopt
fundamentally different attitudes and affective relations to the
To conceptualise art or home as potential sites for post- and
non-capitalist practices would thus require a politicisation of these
realms as spaces where the production of new subjectivities and new
economic practices takes place. In relation to art workers’
struggles against precarious labour, this could for example imply a
shift away from the aspiration to improve the consumer status of art
practitioners within capitalist economy and instead move towards
experimentation with forms of self-organisation that are built on the
desire to imagine alternatives to capitalism.
Footnotes:1) Vishmidt, Marina. ‘Self-Negating Labour: A Spasmodic Chronology of Domestic Unwork’, in Choi, Binna, Tanaka, Maiko (Eds) The Grand Domestic Revolution – User's Manual. Utrecht: Casco, 2010, pp. 53-88.
2) Federici, Silvia. Revolution at Point Zero, Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle. New York: Autonomedia, 2012, p. 7.
3) Federici, Silvia. ‘Counterplanning from the Kitchen’ (1975), re-published in: Revolution at Point Zero, p. 39.
4) Ibid, p. 29
5) Federici, Silvia. ‘Putting Feminism Back on its Feet’ (1984), re-published in: Revolution at Point Zero, p. 59.
6) Gibson-Graham, J.K. A Postcapitalist Politics, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2006, p 7.
I returned to Finland in 2010, perfectly in time for the True Finns election victory. In a sense things did not feel to have gotten much better during my absence, not at least when it comes to political conservatism.The discussion on population size seems to focus on dividing people into good and bad, to those who produce and those who do not produce. As a result there are “too many” of certain individuals and too few of others. Birth rates worry economists: as the population ages, there are not enough young people working to pay the taxes. Still, I wonder if there are actually people who are so concerned over the governmental budget deficits as to internalise them on such a personal level as having more children.
Yet, what really concerns me is not governmental initiatives trying to interfere in our personal reproduction choices while at the same time making cuts to child support and other structural support for families. What worries me is that concerns on population growth have a darker side, namely the concern over racial purity. Looking at population figures on a global scale is avoided at all costs. The fact that the world already has more than enough humans is seen as having nothing to do with one's own country.In this sense birth rates are clearly a nationalistic pursuit, even a nationalistic tendency to try control sexuality. However, it is not as simple as that. On the other hand, it seems that nationalism in terms of sexuality is mandatory heterosexuality, which sets women as birthing machines in order to get new white-skinned citizens. This means strict gender roles, and a strong dualistic understanding of gender.
On the other hand, when watching the work of Jaanus Samma, with Alo Paistik, on display at Mänttä Art Festival, I cannot help but think about the strong connection between nationalism and homosexuality. The homoerotic images of men hunting and doing outdoor work highlights solidarity among men and glorifies physical strength, as any far-right group would declare. Therefore it is also not too surprising that pictures of Vladimir Putin on a fishing trip could also be found as decoration images for a gay club.Homonationalism is a term describing how certain homosexuals are perceived valuable enough to be protected on a governmental level, thus mixing together the government and sexuality. This is then wrapped together as “western values”, which are then used to justify practices of racism and even invasions into foreign countries. Yet, violence and discrimination happening within the nation’s own borders seems somehow less relevant. Thus, it is fair to ask how much on the side of sexual minorities right-wing politicians truly are, despite using them to justify their fear of Islam.
is in its part an attempt to separate sexuality from governmental and
commercial interests, which produce normativity in our society.
Acknowledging and questioning these norms is fundamental, if our
ultimate goal is to equally fight all sexual and gender oppression, and
not have our sexuality intrumentalised as political tools.
In the end, the question is not even about homosexuality as such, but the norms that govern us as a society. From a neoliberal and nationalist perspective it is not surprising that we see at the same time marriage equality laws going through, but face threats to our basic reproduction rights, such as restrictions to abortion rights.
Isola, Anna-Mari. Kapitalismissa rotuhygienian siemen, 2014, in:
Puar, Jasbir. Rethinking Homonationalism, 2013, in:
The very concept of migration is based on a fundamentally repressive thought pattern which defines life through the state and commune; through family and friends; through workplace and local bar; and, finally, through personality and identity, which can never be the same.It is the same repressive structure that invented state passports from one side and such an entity as the “artist” with their personality, story, branded and symbolically or really sold name-image...
What makes a situation more “immigrant”? Сhange of country? Сhange of address book and social network account? Or, maybe, change of professional community? Had that community ever existed? Change of hopes? Change of fears? Change of language? To what extent has spoken language actually changed?
“Homeland”, “home”, “memory”—but does the very definition of “home” makes sense—do i—or do you—have any real connection with it? If that connection exists—does geographical distance make it lighter, less intensive, less visible?
Consider memory not as a bunch of layers, not as a linear book, but as a network, permanently reconstructed, rebuilt, reinvented as an image, feeling, narrative—“past” as never the same, past as a land being permanently unexplored.
No migration, immigration, emigration—no process, no force, no beginning and no end... Just a movement of a network, part of which is forced to be called “self”—creation of new connections and territories within it, of losing some others, interactions with new-old agents, here, there and whateverywhere.
* This text is part of Third Space intervention.
Grey Violet is an anarchist, text, color, etcetera from the neutral zone. It reveals itself through focusing on sabotage of the most basic socio-cultural hierarchies. It has taken part in various activities including actions of Voina group, curation of Media Impact (Queer section) and different kinds of performances, actions and text throughout radical theory and practice.