The idea of Jörn Donner. On September 16th, 2020 Globe Art Point organized a Morning Coffee (meeting) where Helsinki’s Municipality new Director of Culture, Mari Männistö, presented the Vision for Art and Culture in Helsinki 2030 (pdf). This last was proposed on August 18th (video), by an independent committee. The initiative to leave the Vision in the hands of an independent committee, according to Mari, was proposed by the former Municipality’s Council Member Jörn Donner. The Donner’s proposal represents a clear tendency of Helsinki’s Municipality to involve the community on the decision making process, starting from the Vision, or, in other words, from its basic conceptual and methodological framework.
Involving community and artists in power. In this blog is documented (in Albanian) the same tendency to open the decision making process and involve the community several times, for several years, but especially in 2016, where the Municipality of Tirana invited the starchitect and green-washing master Stefano Boeri (actually, according Boeri, was the Albanian Artist Prime Minister to invite him) to work on city’s Masterplan (no competition needed in Albania as one can imagine, because the global political leaders of the village know everything!). As a façade, covering the lack of transparency, covering the corruption as well as money laundering, the Municipality organized an open public event, but the “openness” consisted in inviting only Municipality’s departmental directors and employees and one independent representative of cultural scene personally related with the Mayor and his entourage. Of course, through all this long introduction, the intention is not to compare Helsinki with Tirana, because first of all the writer of these lines lives in Finland from 2019 and has not sufficient knowledge regarding the context and, secondly, it is hard to imagine that in Finland, not only for the art and culture vision 2030 where the amount of money on the plate reduces the conflict, but also for Helsinki’s Urban Plan for example where the amount of money it is tempting to speculators, people will be treated like in Albania: thrown out of their houses in the middle of the night, handcuffed and imprisoned, their houses bulldozed by Municipality and Police, all these in front of children eyes (link). So, this is only a warning: these things can happen, not only when the artists’ community is involved in decision making, but also when artists are the decision makers such as in the case of Albania and its artist Prime Minister. Thus, it is important to prevent that arts, culture as well as artists and cultural operators serve intentionally or unintentionally the mob, oligarchs, or particular group of interests or even the established political and financial powers. Therefore, this text, following the natural essence of art, as resistance, and culture, as cultivation of arts, intends to highlight the necessity of maintaining a sort of distance from certain illusions, such as the involvement of community or leaving in hands on artists and cultural operators the decision making process.
De-institutionalizing and overcoming political representivity. Thus, with in mind the necessary doze of disillusion, the first thing that can be evidenced regarding the Donner’s idea is the way in which this very good tendency to involve the community, starting from the Vision, initiated by the Municipality of Helsinki, is somewhat blocked at a level of institutional representation, considering the participants of the independent committee, all coming from established institutions:
chairman Aleksi Malmberg (General Manager of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra) and the members Leif Jakobsson (Emeritus Director of the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland), Gita Kadambi (General Director of the Finnish National Opera and Ballet), Elina Knihtilä (Professor at the University of the Arts Helsinki), Emmi Komlosi (Planner-teacher at the Helsinki Adult Education Centre), Sonya Lindfors (Choreographer and Artistic Director at UrbanApa), Teemu Mäki (Artist, Doctor of Fine Arts and Chair of The Artists’ Association of Finland), Eeka Mäkynen (Managing Director of Finnish Metal Events Oy), Sara Norberg (Managing Director of Cinematic), Veli-Markus Tapio (Senior Advisor at the Finnish Cultural Foundation).
The independent committee, considering the provenience of the members and the lack of questioning of their status, starting from the Vision, shows two faces of a same problem: institutional and representational (political as well as artistic and cultural), which contradict the tendency of Donner’s proposal and Municipality’s initiative.
Firstly, the Donner’s idea regards de-institutionalization, from the institution of Municipality Council to a non institutional independent committee. How does the independent committee build on this aspect of Donner’s idea and pushes further de-institutionalization in the Vision remains unknown.
Secondly, the Municipality’s initiative is a clear tendency to overcome the problem of political representation of majority of parties (which are represented by the members of the Municipality Council) by involving a wider community, represented by the independent committee and, through them, involving the public, the electorate, part of which are also the minorities not represented in the Municipality Council. How does the independent committee build on this tendency of overcoming the representivity and how each member problematizes and pushes further this aspects remain also unknown.
It is exactly this tendency to de-institutionalize and overcome the political and consequently artistic and cultural representative and representational problem, which must be fundamental or the basis on which the independent committee should build and push further the Vision for Arts and Culture of Helsinki 2030. Without pushing further this tendency, the Vision will confirm the status quo, which no artist or cultural operator can represent better than a career politician or a Municipality Council. Consequently, this exceptional occasion where an independent committee designs the Vision will be a lost occasion like tens, hundreds or thousands others happened not only in Helsinki, but also in Finland and other parts of the world.
Yet, let see now how the Vision is further articulated (the reference is English version).
Vision with metaphors from industrial and anthropocentric thesaurus.
The first chapter and sentence of the Vision is a proclamation: “Helsinki holds art and culture at the hart of good living and city development”. The “good living”, although not very clear (do Helsinki’s citizens share a common understanding on “good living”? any reference?), seems a metaphor regarding the psycho-physical conditions of Helsinki’s citizens. The meaning of “city development” is clearer. It regards urban development. Development as a concept belongs to the logic of industrial development, being this last clearly related with the bourgeois industrial capitalism (and infinite consumption of superfluous goods would have said Pier Paolo Pasolini, to whom I refer regarding “development”‘s genesis: “Uno ‘sviluppo’, però, la cui figura si è ormai formata e fissata nel contesto dell’industrializzazione borghese.” Scritti corsari). Therefore, “city development” regards the urban densification and its built space enlargement.
At this point, if the reader follows the Vision‘s metaphor, art and culture at the hart of the citizen and industrial urban development, it is clear that art and culture function as pacemakers. Art and culture seem perfect technologically reproducible mechanisms (Walter Benjamin echoes!) supporting the rhythm or regulating the heart beating of the citizen and the way city is developing and will develop in 2030. Considering this ambitious approach, it is interesting to see how art and culture will regulate the rhythm of industrial circulation and consumption of goods as well as how, through consumption of goods, achieve the “good living”, which is basically the fundamental idea of industrial capitalism.
The first paragraph of Vision‘s first chapter, presents the challenges: “the environmental crisis, demographic changes and technology“. These are finely seen as “customary mindsets and practices“, through which the specialists of pacemakers – artists and cultural operators – are supposed to face 2030.
The other paragraph, presents one of these pacemakers, the art, as instrument of knowledge and imagination for “alternative worlds and build paths to the future”.
The next one, defines “the hart of Helsinki”, made by “[t]he people […] and their diversifying (sic!) cultures”, which “is important engage in a dialogue” with each other and create the “common spirit of Helsinki”. In other words, the cultures – as pacemakers or industrial mechanisms – jump from physical to metaphysical sphere. Yet, a question rises: despite the fact that there are pure and impure spirits, wasn’t better instead of unifying, concentrating or homologating all citizens under one spirit to use spirituality, which seems a wider and not fully defined term?
Proceeding further, Helsinki 2030, apart from heart and spirit, demonstrates also to have consciousness:
Helsinki knows how to use the skills and thinking of artists to help in building a good city: in enhancing the well-being and health of the people of Helsinki, in ecological reconstruction and in recognising new opportunities.
It is interesting to know from the independent committee how Helsinki can “use the skills and thinking” of artists to enhance “the well-being and health of the people”, where the art can be beyond good and evil (Nietzsche), or beyond the pleasure principle (Freud). Therefore, the concept of well-being, like the one of good-living, is not clear or at least is limitative, especially when considered at an artistic level. To make an example: is it too harsh to affirm that the last thing which comes in mind to someone in front of Picasso’s Guernica, hearing Alban Berg’s Wozzeck, reading Franz Kafka or Virginia Wolf, seeing one of Kaurismäki’s film, or experiencing Aalto’s Finlandia Talo (beyond the architect’s intention), is well-being or good-living?
“[T]he ecological reconstruction” seems a confirmation of the above-mentioned idea of “city development” and sounds like referring to the last urban plan and more precisely to “Boulevardisation of Helsinki”, which, consisting in transformation of “motorway-like routes in boulevards”, are more or less human-centric, but are still to be proved as ecological (there is no published comparative study which supports the idea of transforming motorway-like routes in boulevards with more buildings as ecological). So, it can be said that “the skills and thinking of artists” will be “used” to change from an industrial-Fordist city (motorway-like routes are its classical distinctive features) to a post-industrial(?) city, where the “recognized new opportunities” consist in industrialization of artists creativity.
Finally, the chapter closes with “[a]rt and culture open[ing] the way to a creative [industry? industrial?] Helsinki, where all can experience joy and hope in their lives”.
Blurring Vision. Taking in consideration the Vision from a managerial point of view, beyond the metaphors – which would be nice if the independent committee clarifies in their concrete meaning offering a minimal syllabarium to understand it better -, after the highlighted challenges such as “environmental crisis, demographic changes and technology” it was expected to see DESIGNED priorities to cope with each one of these challenges. In addition, after the priorities it was expected to see designed TAYLORED objectives for each priority (During the presentation of the Vision on YouTube several times were mentioned, without any specification, the objectives, but in English pdf file version there is no clear objective evidenced). Moreover, after each objective, it was expected to see the measures, which permit the achievement of each objective.
But, the Vision, unfortunately, continues with other proclamations, which are somewhat related, yet not clearly focused on the challenges.
Of course, the articulation of the Vision has its own logic and a sort of consequentiality, but does not maintain fully its consistency connecting the idea of Jörn Donner (de-institutionalization, overcoming the problem of political representation), priorities/challenges (environmental crisis, demographic changes and technology), as well as aims (promoting environmental crisis, demographic changes and technology challenges as virtuous customary mindsets and practices). In general, the text can make sense for those who participated in its writing, but, beyond a metaphorical interpretation, without a syllabarium it is difficult for someone to understand it fully. And this is not a problem only for the present, but could also present a problem for the future, because if someone wants to build over this Vision after 2030 will find the same problems of de-codification.
The only consistency of the text, seen from a managerial structure perspective, is represented by the chapter “The proposed measures to achieve the vision”. But, even in this case, the “measures” present questionable qualitative and quantitative measurability, do not present parameters, numbers, transparency, and, being limited in proclamations, can be easily open to different interpretations. And, by the way, the experiences of the writer of these lines, especially in Tirana, Albania and Bergamo, Italy, teaches that a foggy vision with terminological and conceptual vagueness represent the perfect scenario for political representative bureaucrats to easily promote and disseminate as achievements reports plenty of smiley faces, colored green-washed and art-washed pictures followed by rhetorical and logorrheic emptiness.
Towards a syllabarium.
Creativity. When the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze tried to define an art work he started from its basic creative act. For him, a creative act is an act of resistance and an act of resistance is a creative act (link). Therefore, there is nothing wrong, on contrary, it is perfectly coherent the statement of the Vision “art and culture open the way to a creative Helsinki”.
But what is resistance in creative Helsinki of 2030?
Resistance is a Latin word: “re”= means “back” or “before” and confers the idea of opposition; and “sistere” is made of “si” a morphological particle which defines the doubling (reinforcement) of the radix “stare” which means “stay”, thus “sistere” = means “stay firmly”.
Thus what is concretely the firm step back of Helsinki 2030?
For an answer it is necessary to start again from the beginning. What are the challenges of Helsinki 2030? Once more: “the environment crisis, the demographic changes and technology”. Therefore, the challenges of environment crisis, demographic changes and technology need a resistance intended as a solid, firm and immovable step back.
Environmental Crisis. Considering that the Vision was conceived during a global pandemic situation, the independent committee could have easily clarify the idea of this resistance and connect it with the causes of the environment crisis – bourgeois industrial capitalism based on infinite consumption of superfluous goods – without being dispersive and without intending it in generic terms. Today is easier than ever to highlight, demonstrate and understand that the problem is the way human societies developed and/or are still developing. COVID19 exploded in China, caused by intensive, antagonistic and positivity-driven consumerism combined with urban densification. In other words, humans pressuring other species and natural space: less space for animals (bats are the wild animals from which the spillover occurred causing the pandemic exploded initially in a market of Wuhan); more space for humans or humanized space or anthropocentric space (Helsinki with a heart, spirit and consciousness!!!). Considering that the Vision suggests the environmental crisis as customary mind set and processes, and to make it more concrete and less generic for the context, by changing only the name of the bird, from bats to mallards, and the name of the city, from Wuhan to Helsinki, what is the difference in terms of intending the urban development model? Helsinki, same as Wuhan, is going towards densification, maybe using ecological material such as wood in high buildings of Kalasatama, Tripla or Länsibulevardi, but this will enlarge or diminish the space for mallards? Does a member of independent committee ask this question? Does the institution of provenience of each member ask this question? How creative are they in terms of resisting firmly by stepping back, so not only reducing impact but making space for animals, for the nature, for the otherness par excellence? It is complex, especially for a not so complex context such as Helsinki and Finland in general, but the world is complex and as pandemic teaches daily no one anywhere has the luxury to feel safe and enjoy a romanticized simple life plenty of well-being and good-living. So, are Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra, Swedish Cultural Foundation, Finnish National Opera and Ballet, Helsinki University of Arts, Helsinki Adult Education Center, UrbanApa, Artists’ Association of Finland, Finnish Metal Events, Cinematic, Finnish Cultural Foundation, Helsinki Cultural Service dealing concretely with this question? How? Is the response appropriate? Is it enough?
Demographic Changes. There is also another challenge which cannot be understood vaguely and in generic terms: the demographic changes. What are we talking about?
What does demographic changes mean in Helsinki? Means that the Finnish citizen of Helsinki are making more children? Isn’t better to face the problem and say that there is an IMMIGRATION challenge from now to 2030? Why in 32 pages of the Vision the word immigration is mentioned only ONCE/1? And again, considering that the Vision suggests the demographic changes as customary mind set and processes, what does it mean in creative terms, in terms of resisting by firmly stepping back, for the independent committee and their institutions of provenience? How do they concretely respond to this challenge? Is it appropriate? Is it enough involving one Albanian, Afghan, Somali, or Chinese responding to the challenge of demographic changes? Or it’s again a problem of making space without predetermined definitions, not for the animal and the otherness, as in the case of environment crisis, but firmly stepping back to make space for the human and the other? Isn’t it about welcoming and not only hospitality of the other and otherness? (The first measure of the independent committee’s Vision, “Helsinki will support distinctive, resident-initiated culture in residential areas”, sounds hospitable and welcoming towards the other like an automatic e mail from MIGRI office!)
Technology. To avoid questioning rhetorically once more the members of independent committee how they and their institutions of provenience (could) approach the technology challenge and turn it into a customary mindset and process it would be easier to remind that for Aristotle art is technê. In other words art and technology as well as artists and technologues/technologist are indivisible and indiscernible. Moreover, technology is basically projection of human body/organs (brain included) in space (Ernst Kapp, Elements of a Philosophy of Technology). Therefore, an artist using technology as part of its art work, without having its own corporeal (physical/mental) knowledge on the used technology, is not producing art work, but reproducing passively an alien and alienating technology as a consumable aestheticized good. This good, of course, can have an elementary intelligence and produce and reproduce by accelerating, as a pacemaker, pleasure intended as cultural identity enjoyment of a homogenizing ego (Roland Barthes), but cannot bring (to) “joy” (a perfect word used in the Vision), which is strictly connected with jouissance and beyond pleasure principal, with transgression of limits and de-territorialization, bringing the spirit towards the unknown and, in this manner, enriching its spirituality. Is it clear therefore what kind of creativity intended as resistance or firmly stepping back is needed for Helsinki 2030 in terms of technology challenge, especially knowing that this last is strictly interlinked to the environmental crisis (the otherness) and demographic changes (the other) challenges? Is it clear that art/technology cannot be limited in industrial gamming, with its losing-winning logic, but should be intended as industrial playing, involving and stimulating the plentitude of the human potentialities to explore the otherness and the other?
Last but not least. There is a last specification to highlight in this (by no means exhaustive) text regarding the Vision. It regards the distinction between “different” and “diverse”, which is somewhat given for granted in the Vision and, as conceptual and terminological definitions, are sometimes used in an obscure manner (e.g.: The city’s art sphere comprises a diverse set of different operators and the connections between them). In general it can be said that “different” it is about distinctions from the host, from the city of Helsinki 2030 in this case (human/animal; Finnish/non-Finnish; citizen/non-citizen; resident/non-resident); “diverse” is about change and not being hostage of the logic of the host, because the “diverse” has and uses another verse, code, rhythm, regime of doing and processing things. Trying to follow Donner’s idea of de-institutionalization and overcoming political representative and artistic representational aspect and maintaining the focus on environmental crisis, demographic changes, technology challenges as well as making them customary mindsets and processes, for the creative Helsinki 2030 wouldn’t be more consistent to change the mentality from a city which tolerates and accepts differences to a city which stimulates the potentialities of diversity? Of course for the bourgeois industrial capitalist mentality, focused on the accumulation of the value and financial profit, it is hard to sustain this change of mentality. And it is exactly the sustainability of a diversity-driven Vision in terms of accumulation of value and financial profit which seems insurmountable even for the artists and cultural operators. But someone, somewhere has to dare and, considering the privilege of scarce financial conflictuality and complexity, compared to other global situations, Helsinki seems an appropriate context.