Critical Culture

In Finland, we are entering an age of artistic disruption. Today, experimental arts and grassroots organizations are shaping a new conception of contemporary arts and culture, as one that is critical, crafted, and maintained outside the traditional models fostered by the state and institutions. New forms of artistic practices have surfaced. These deal with living arts and culture that thrive in experimental methods and forms. This movement is aimed to engage with an emerging fabric of society where technology, multiculturalism and climate change are presenting opportunities and challenges, where deconstructing traditional artistic structures and forging beyond is the only available alternative.

The age of disruptive art is being led by an emerging generation of Finnish and multicultural artists, architects, and designers who are challenging the status-quo in a country facing digital, demographic and systemic change. Their practices are trans-disciplinary anomalies, yet have reached a critical point when they can no longer exist simply as subcultural activities, whereby new investigations and new commitments need to be embarked upon (1). These practices are of many types (that can hardly be called art from a traditional viewpoint) from a variety of community participated experiments such as Ravintolapäivä (Restaurant Day) & Siivouspäivä (Cleaning Day) in Helsinki, or Pixelache’s Trashlab (recycling public waste into art) & Money Lab (designing a new currency for Suomenlinna island) to Dodo’s urban farming initiative Kääntöpöytä in Pasila. Or for that matter, new forms of governance in a project Design for Government by Demos, a think tank that researches and builds projects around design and sustainability. In other examples, exploring general wellbeing in Light is History in Hakaniemi Market Square in 2012, where 16 families from Kallio shared their artifacts, energy and stories within a public museum installation; and Måndag’s Taidelinja project where in 2015 trams, tram stops, metro trains and metro stations were all transformed into art galleries, theatre stages and music venues in Helsinki.

Besides community-based arts, indiviudal artists and their multidisciplinary projects are also leading the charge, blurring the boundaries of the traditional arts complex: Italian-born Finnish artist Egle Oddo’s The Word for Freedom (2015) an installation-performance based on narrative as an art form at Mänttä Art Festival, a DIY experiment where industrial materials are combined with delicate handcraft, selected trash with fashion, precious minerals and ancestral recipes in a process- based object crafted to convey a ritual. Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s works such as Where is Where (2009) that explores human experience and suffering through new media installations. Pilvi Takala’s disruptive art Broad Sense (2011) where she places herself within a multinational institution exposing a lack of unity in the European project. Or, Iraqi-born Finnish artist Adel Abidin’s cross-cultural works where multicultural issues such as alienation and marginalization are addressed through video installations.

Between activism and art, there are other collectives such as the Finnish Bio-Arts Society, HackLab, Koelse, Future of Food ry. Their projects range from creative deconstruction of microbiology and farming, artistic installations of beehives, hacking of open cultural heritage, recycling electronics for music, designing food production and so on, all that engages the society through other disciplines. Here, artistic practices are enriched by digital media, decentralization, open source models, social networks that connect communities, and gamification that engage audiences in a mode of play. For them, transdisciplinarity and indeterminacy has become an inherent part of the artistic experience (2). These are participative practices that flourish via a process of double mediation: first by deconstructing the existing paradigms, and then through synthetic contradiction between a clashing of disciplines develop a manifest critique (3).

The institution that is affected the most by this disruption in Finland is the contemporary museum itself. We are migrating from the white cube to a multi-sensory public square and museums are on their way to become interactive interfaces, embedded with contemporary arts and connected to their user communities. The discourse of the ‘post-museum’ (plurality of experience) (4) and the ‘participatory museum’ (co-producing content experiences) (5) has raised the need for programming new trans-disciplinary spaces within the museum, to engaging audiences via embracing multimodality and participation. What before used to be the period room has become a space for co-production of new critical interpretations and what previously was the fairground exhibit is now a community lab surrounded by scanners, sensors and screens. For example, at Ateneum Art Museum, the Passio Musicae Open Source (2015) presented an interactive virtual installation that was a sonified reinterpretation of the Sibelius monument, where the audience participated to create a soudscape that is archived online. Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art & School of Activism’s Heimo project (2013) where artists collaborated with youngsters around the country based on their initiatives and activities resulting in fresh new art works. In 2014, Gallen-Kallela Museum made available their exhibition areas for community participated digitization workshops with the help of an open source digitizing robot. This resulted in a public domain digital archive for Akseli Gallen-Kallela and his artist friends and acquaintances named Haloo Akseli.

Museums are on the move. The internal appreciation and solitary contemplation has transformed into a critical social conversation. The inside of the museum is now on the outside. This challenges the romantic notion of a solitary author of an artistic artifact. Solitary authorship actually occupies a very small place in the history of human culture while collaborative authorship represents a norm rather than an exception (6). The contemporary museum is thus facing a systemic disruption that pushes it away from the static painting on a gallery wall to accommodate a pluralistic participative art in the public space. Just like in Chantal Mouffe’s agonistic model, the public sphere in Finland has become the battleground where different hegemonic projects (such as the museum) are being confronted. A reflective approach is emerging with social goals and not mere passive white cube consumption. Here, critical art is the art that foments dissensus, that makes visible what the dominant consensus tends to obscure and obliterate. Its constitution is a manifold of artistic practices aiming at giving a voice to all those who are silenced within the framework of the existing structure. Mouffe’s agonistic approach is particularly well suited to a multicultural Finland, to develop a new ‘Critical Culture’ inside and outside the museum, to grasp the nature of the new forms of artistic activism that have emerged recently and that, in a great variety of ways, aim at challenging the existing consensus (7).

I Critical Goals

The goal of Next Museum Lab is to foster this ‘Critical Culture’, to become its agent and through its agency represent this multicultural Finnish arts movement. Its role is to define and unpack the idea of agonism in Finnish visual culture—the frictive rub in between antagonism and consensus (8) in context of Finland and thread it through Finnish artistic practices. Thus, the agency seeks parallels, overlaps, linkages and even experimental clashes with Finnish museums and contemporary artistic practices. Not only does it pursue collaborations that lie on the border between activist, artistic and architectural activities (where they are subject to criticism, introspection, and analyses) but also encourages participative research-led initiatives and trans-disciplinary experimental projects that could lead to enriching cultural exchange. Next Museum Lab’s aim as an agency for ‘Critical Culture’ is to help ‘initiate a set of histories which then informs the development of a new collection of critical vocabularies for understanding artistic behavior’ (9). This emphasizes and demands new modes of curating, management and funding strategies for Next Museum Lab. Through tackling such critical histories, vocabularies and modes, Next Museum Lab intends to chart and share the age of artistic disruption with american audiences.
II Critical Histories

A new set of art histories are emerging in Finland. These histories are in early stages of documentation and are not collected yet in their totality. A comprehensive historicization could aid in the advance of understanding visual culture (10). Although Next Museum Lab as an institute is not equipped in a systemic sense to collect and hence historicize the emerging arts, it acts as an agent to facilitate and coordinate transatlantic collaborations with others who do so, the final aim being to build a body of cultural resource.

III Critical Vocabularies

Next Museum Lab aims to build a critical vocabulary to define the emerging arts in Finland more accurately. Such vocabulary become themes around which publications, exhibitions, festivals, seminars and workshops are arranged. The thematic consists of Interactivity (collaborative), connectivity (distributed) and computability (variable) in the visual arts (11). Next Museum Lab pursues the language of transdisciplinarity, disruption, process, ephemerality, clashing, confrontation and the critical examination of difference. It believes that a critical vocabulary for the arts constitutes an international language that can unite diverse cultures, because in the end they all deal with universal human values.

IV Critical Modes

Next Museum Lab has adopted hybrid modes of operations that are self-reflective and collaborative. Through an ongoing reflection in its own status as an agency, as a bridge and as a translator does it build a common operational language. Funding and resources are threaded within its cooperative model that is based on openness in systems of production and distribution of cultural content. Next Museum Lab encourages academic cooperations in education, among universities, participation by communities and collaborations between museums so that resources can be shared. Through co-production, co-curation and co-design with others, Next Museum Lab seeks to expand its funding base. It also nurtures a collaborative multilingual team that can translate between cultures, pushing beyond multiculturalism’s territorial constraints, moving freely among identities and affiliations, deciding to be both insiders and outsiders (12). Through this, it hopes that resolution or dissensus of cultural issues can come about by dialogue and connecting passionate points of view. Next Museum Lab thus aspires to go beyond mere philosophical laziness and categorization to transform itself as an agent for artistic understanding.

Notes

1. Kuhn, T. S. (2012) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. University of Chicago press.
2. Dietz, S. (2000) Signal or Noise? The Network Museum Retrieved September 1, 2015 from http://www.walkerart.org/gallery9/webwalker/ww_032300_main.html
3. Frampton, K. (1993) 20. Toward a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance. Postmodernism: a reader, 268.
4. Hooper-Greenhill, E. (2000) “Culture and Meaning in the Museum” Museums and the Interpretation of Visual Culture. Routledge.
5. Simon N. (2008) “Principles of Participation” The Participatory Museum. Santa Cruz, CA: Museum 2.0.
6. Manovich, L. (2001) The Language of New Media. London: MIT Press.
7. Mouffe, C. (2007) Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces. Art & Research, 1(2), 1-5.
8. Bielak, S. (2012) An Introduction to Agonism Volume 1. Walker Art Center Blog. Retrieved September 5, 2015 from http://blogs.walkerart.org/ecp/2012/03/28/an-introduction-to-agonism-volume-i/
9. Graham B and Cook S (2010) “Space and Materiality” in Rethinking Curating: Art after New Media. MIT Press.
10. Gere, C. (2006) Art, Time and Technology. Berg.
11. Frieling, R. (2008) “Toward Participation in Art.” In Rudolf Frieling, ed., The Art of Participation, 32-49. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Thames and Hudson.
12. Cotter, H. (2001) Art Architecture; Beyond Multiculturalism, Freedom? The New York Times, Published: July 29, 2001 Retrieved September 4, 2015,
Image Credits: Susy Bielak 2012, Walker Art Center, New York. from http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/29/arts/art-architecture-beyond-multiculturalism-freedom.html?pagewanted=1