ARTS PROMOTION CENTER FINLAND – TAIKE’s openness and expertise in decision-making and the “cauliflower trust”. (Romeo Kodra)

The Webinar. A few weeks ago I participated in a webinar where two members of ARTS PROMOTION CENTER – TAIKE (Hanna Susitaival & Henri Terho) thoroughly presented and shared information regarding the new open calls for grants and subsidies. Yet, although the information was detailed I could not find anything new to help me ameliorate my four or five unsuccessful applications of the last year. So, I raised two issues.

The first was a provocation but strictly based on concrete facts. “Do you know that according to TAIKE’s eligibility criteria Vincent van Gogh, if he were alive, cannot be supported? And, considering that van Gogh died more than 120 years ago, don’t you think the TAIKE’s criteria are not very innovative?”

These are the eligibility criteria of the Project Grant Open Call 2021 but also of the “mobility” and “diversity” calls. The screenshot is taken from taike.fi (accessed 4/11/2-21)

The second issue, which is related to the first, was also based on concrete facts. “Considering that TAIKE’s does not give feedback to justify the decisions, how can I understand what I am doing well or wrong when I am writing a new application and how can I understand that the expert who evaluated my application is expert enough for the task? How can TAIKE guarantee to the taxpayers that there is no cronyism or corruption or, as in Albania, pure money laundering when there is no transparency in decision-making? I have noticed that there are people in Finland working in universities with their important academic titles, that are at the same time involved in politics, and have been granted from private and public institutions (TAIKE included), which for me demonstrates at least conflict of interest or even worst. So, what I wanted to know is how can TAIKE guarantee its expertise, openness, and transparency in decision-making?

The answers of the two experts were pertinent but cannot help anyone to ameliorate the quality of the future applications, which I think should be a concern for a center that is supposed to promote (promovère, move forward) the arts in Finland; to demonstrate the quality of its institutional expertise; to guarantee the openness and transparency of decision-making and make sure to avoid contamination from any unethical and/or illicit practices.

Basically, the experts agreed with the issues and admitted that there are some problems but also highlighted the independence of the decision-makers (not only of the experts of TAIKE but also its regional representatives as well as independent experts that evaluate the application). However, although one can understand and believe in the sincerity of the experts, it is hard to demonstrate TAIKE’s operational ethics. Firstly, because TAIKE – considering its legal framework – is a so-called Executive Agency and is directly under the control and influenced by the decisions and policies of the executive/government. So, to call it independent when TAIKE depends form the government is a contradiction in terms. And secondly, because there are no publicly known indicators through which can be evaluated TAIKE’s independence in decision-making. In other words, nowhere, on the website at least, are written clear indicators to measure the effective evaluation, expertise, openness, transparency, and independence of TAIKE. (It would be interesting to know if these indicators are mentioned in TAIKE’s Strategy or Statute.)

The experts of TAIKE highlighted also the fact that “the evaluators are artists themselves” and there is “empathy” in evaluating the applications of their colleagues. The romantic guy inside me appreciates it very much and thanks sincerely. However, the rational guy inside me does not automatically understand how can the empathy of the evaluators ameliorate the future application? Moreover, living in a period and a country where neoliberal cognitive capitalism is based exclusively on targeting and controlling biopolitically the sensorial processes and psychic perceptions, it is not sure whether the empathy (which, it is important to notice, is not of the institution but of the unpaid experts the institution exploits for the evaluation process) can be considered an appropriate indicator to measure and define the independence, expertise, and transparency in decision-making.

[By the way, I consider a scandal (which I did not know before this webinar) the exploitation of the evaluators, that are “artists themselves”, by a public institution that pretends “to promote the working conditions (työskentelyedellytyksiä) of the artists”. I know that private foundations pay their evaluators, at least Kone Foundation I know for sure does. I do not understand why should private foundations and not public institutions be good examples for the fair treatment of artists. How can artists and the public pretend not only transparency on decision-making but above all fair treatment of artists from private institutions when the public institutions must but do not guarantee these things? Is there, inside TAIKE, any concern regarding this ethical problem?]

The Values. After the webinar, I sent an email to TAIKE to ask whether there is a new strategy released beyond the old one visible on the website. The prompt reply informed me that the definition of the new strategy is ongoing and no clear date is given for its release. So, I tried to read the old strategy 2015-2020 online, in Finnish.

The impression in reading TAIKE’s old strategy 2015-2020 text is something in between reading a marketing and PR text. In addition, the strategy 2015-2020 confirms somehow the logic behind the creation of the Executive Agencies, such as TAIKE, as well as their degenerative weaknesses. But what exactly are the Executive Agencies?

Historically, the Executive Agencies represent the neoliberal institutional alternative response and setups/frameworks which proliferate after the accomplished mission of Thatcherism/Reaganism (lumpenproletariatization through precariousness of the Western working class) and accelerating globalization (based on the free market, intended as deregulation and privatization, government spending reduction, and tax cuts) after the destruction of the Berlin Wall. The first Executive Agencies appeared in the late ’80s early ’90s in the UK but today are also present in the EU (I often happen to work as a freelance evaluator of EACEA) and also in Finland such as in the case of TAIKE. The reason for their existence is the optimization and efficiency of government spending. So, considering that governments pressure for fast results (maximum four years because of the elections), the weakest point of these agencies (especially in the culture sector, which per definition needs time for cultivation) is the simplification of the results into ticking boxes. The logic behind this simplification is to demonstrate how the executive/government maintained the promises of the election campaign. And this is demonstrated only through its Executive Agencies reported results (not processes). But results without transparency of the processes are not good indicators to measure the efficiency of policies.

To make an example, let’s consider the hypothetical case of a party or coalition of parties that wins the election and has made during the election campaign, as part of its cultural policy programme, a promise such as “the integration of migrants” and consequently “democracy” in Finland through art and culture. After winning the elections, the Executive Agency, let say TAIKE in this case, to implement the policies of the government opens a call for “the integration of migrants” supporting projects with an amount equal to 10% of the overall budget which is proportioned with the migrant population in Finland (around 10%). A government with a restricted and limited horizon to its daily survival after its four-year mandate with this result (10% of the budget for culture dedicated to the integration of migrants which make 10% of the population in Finland) will be more than happy and will promote this result as a demonstration of its openness and democracy in governing the country and a good example for the whole world. Of course, it is important that nobody rises questions, and, even if it happens, it is even more important that nobody answers. So, nobody will care about how ethically acceptable is that an institution that supports “the integration of migrants” with 10% of its budget at the end of the day results far from having 10% of migrant personnel in its staff (How many migrants work in TAIKE? How “diverse” is TAIKE in this sense?). Nobody will also care to know how many of these supported projects FOR “the integration of migrants” were managed BY migrants. In this manner, “the integration of migrants” will remain only a number (10%) on paper, an empty word, which will cause discontent to migrants as well as Finns. In this hypothetical scenario, the only concrete outcome will be the futile government spending for “the NON-integration of migrants”. From here enters into play the well-known ideological ping-pong between the national sovranism and globalist neoliberalism of the last 30-40 years, where migrants and Finnish or other Western national precarious lumpenproletariats are used as cannon fodder.

This is only an example but “the integration of migrants” can be substituted with other fancy keywords such as “gender equality”, “diversity”, “ecological sustainability”, “democracy” and so on and so forth. In any case, important for me was to highlight the consequences of the empty words and empty policies and how, through these, can degenerate the Executive Agencies.

Reading the 2015-2020 strategy of ARTS PROMOTION CENTER FINLAND – TAIKE the situation is not much better.

The webpage of the 2015-2020 strategy consists of a text which is in between self-apologetic and marketization. This, of course, is expected by a center of PROMOTION that, as a term, clearly reveals its semantic belongingness to the market logic which by the way contrasts with a large part of modern and contemporary art practices and approaches (conceptual art, street art, institutional critique, land art, and so on and so forth, which are only a few examples for inclusion of which in government policies the ARTS PROMOTION CENTER FINLAND is limited starting from its definition). However, the worst part of TAIKE’s strategy consists of the so-called VALUES/ARVOT (in Finnish).

In English these values can be translated as:

EXPERTISE/COMPETENCE
OPENNESS
VALUATION/VALORISATION

In other words, the TAIKE’s values are exactly what it lacks to demonstrate and to guarantee to the public and to the applicants. To make it comprehensible, even for those who maybe wrote the strategy and policies implemented by TAIKE, an example from the market’s semantic thesaurus is needed. So, in other words, it can be said that setting up the values of an institutional strategy is the same as setting up the value of the exchange currency in finance and the economy. The lack of transparency in terms of values – in TAIKE’s case expertise, openness, and evaluation of the applications – in the free market means only one thing: HIGH RISKS OF SPECULATION! I hope the description of this arts and culture bubble in Finland clarifies the situation for anyone that cares about arts and culture.

The “Cauliflower Trust”. In 1941, a German migrant in Helsinki (What a coincidence!) escaping from the Nazi Regime, wrote a theaterstück, The Resistible Rise of Arthuro Ui. His name was Bertold Brecht. The play is a satirical allegory of Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and his use of the scandal of Junkers (in Brecht’s play the Junkers are the Trust of Cauliflower), corrupted landowners’ elite of Eastern Prussia that were maintained and have made profits thanks to the public funds from the central government of Weimarer Republik. Once in power, Adolf, although he came in power even thanks to the populist use of Osthilfeskandal, made sure to censure any mention to it in all the newspapers of the Third Reich because the elite of Junkers was meanwhile enrolled as zealous members of the Nazi Party. The end of Adolf, and the following elites, is known. Known it is also the end of the Third Reich.

I do not know if the coincidence of the play written in Helsinki as well as “the trust of cauliflower” brings to mind an analogy to the artists, researchers, cultural operators active in Finland (including the ones working for TAIKE and the government). And, considering that as far as I see it, in Finland more or less all the elite of artists, researchers, cultural operators of public and private institutions as well as freelancers can survive thanks to funds, the transparency on the decision-making of which is 0, this story perturbates a little.

But maybe, coming from Albania, it perturbates only me. In my mind, it brings me back seven or eight years ago. It reminds me of the rise to power of the new government led by the Artist Prime Minister Edi Rama, in 2013 (Our Artist is not like Brecht’s Anstreicher … we, as Albanians, are lucky because our Artist is famous and exhibits while governing even in Venice Biennial). One of its first decisions – January 2014 – was to close the National Art’s Center. This last was a corrupted entity under the competencies of the Ministry of Culture. Its function was to deliver funds for art and culture organizations, artists, cultural operators but above all to friends of the government. The decisions were taken by intellectuals, artists, and cultural operators of its “independent and empathetic” board. The new government, thanks to the plebiscitary elections, felt strong enough and instead of ameliorating, in terms of transparency of decision-making, the Center just closed it. Since then the decision-making is centralized and everything is delegated to the hands of the omniscient Prime Minister and Minister of Culture. Our Artist Prime Minister himself opened, within the institutional Prime Minister Building, an art center and gallery, called Center for Openness and Dialogue, an Executive Agency, for the transparency of which I invite the reader to enjoy asking directly to http://cod.al/en/. In may 2014 I published on this blog a manifesto, called Manifest: Transparency in and as Culture, and asked the active artists and cultural organizations to sign it. It was signed by ONE organization, with which I collaborated from September 2014 until December 2018, and TWO artists. The rest of the Albanian Trust of Cauliflower ignored and still ignores it.

The gold mine. The Executive Agencies are by definition agitators. They combine the best Eastern European dictatorship regimes of the XXth Century could express in terms of efficiency of institutional control of arts and culture for propagandistic use (a lesson learned thanks to the use the Bolsheviks made of the historical avant-garde art and artists after the Revolution), and the Western European bourgeois democracies could express in terms of efficiency of institutional commodification and marketization of arts and culture (starting from the ’50s abstract expressionism, all pop art, and up until today’s global system of “startists”). Yet, although in their worst versions these agencies seem exclusive instruments of top-down power control, there is a possibility not for a new model – because every new model has its laws and hierarchy of power control – but for a re-modulation of these agencies.

A re-modulation – turning back to the case of TAIKE – should start from data mining excavated from the documents of the applications and the rationales of the evaluation of the applications, the successful ones, and, most importantly, the unsuccessful ones because these last are the more accurate documents of the efficiency of the policies and accurate barometer of the state of the art. But to do this are needed researchers and institutions that recognize the value (know how to read, elaborate, and analyze theoretically, technically, and practically these gold mines of data) and most importantly do not limit their priorities in giving ready-made results to the politicians for their campaigns or to the corporates with interests in embellishing their profits through arts and culture financing.

Transparency of the evaluation process of Arts Promotion Center Finland (TAIKE) and comments on a survey of Center for Cultural Policy Research (CUPORE). Part IV. (Romeo Kodra)

THE PART D) of the Survey regarded Covid19 pandemic. This was the shortest part, which denotes the importance given by the designer of the Survey. As in all open calls for proposals I have seen in art and culture during the last year and a half even in this Survey the approach was paternalistic, where the pious Christian Spirit that has impregnated the Western neoliberal institutions welcome in meditation the confession of the sufferance of the poor artists during the pandemic.

“Has the coronavirus pandemic changed the way in which you work or led to new ways of working (e.g. remote work)?” asked the pious spirit of the institution. “Yes” was my answer. “If yes, describe how in brief:” said the voice of the institution. Then, I described my tragedy “I was cleaning during the night the public transportation buses for 1600-1700 euro monthly. COVID19 helped me a lot, because, beyond the scarcity of protection dispositives which was ‘normal’ for the context (all migrants depending on the fixed-term contracts for the working permits of MIGRI) and not able to raise the voice for better conditions, the people traveled less and there were fewer vomits and garbage on buses to clean. So, COVID19 helped me a lot.” As if didn’t like the answer, the spirit of the institution asked something less pertinent “Have you experienced problems regarding social security, unemployment or pension security during the coronavirus pandemic?” I said, “No!” The spirit insisted with another not very pertinent question “Have you switched professions or considered leaving the arts sector due to the coronavirus pandemic?” to which I also insisted with my firm “No!” because I was not less professional artist during the night shift as a bus cleaner as well as I have never thought the art as a sector, a section or a vivisection from which one leaves or comes. Tired, the spirit of the institution asked “How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your outlook regarding your professional future as an artist?” to which I replied, as he already seemed to expect, “very positively”. Surrendered, the spirit of the institution left me a space for “comments and additional information” which, unfortunately, was, once more, limited.

Therefore, here is the right place to say something more articulated that can make sense not only as a comment regarding the last section regarding the pandemic but also regarding the whole Survey and the major problem of transparency of the public institutions such as TAIKE and conclude this series of writing on the same argument.

To me sounds offensive even to ask artists how the pandemic changed their work (e.g. remote work)? What the fuck does this mean? Is this the “change”? The “remote work”? Is this the problem of the pandemic? I am sure that who designed the Survey knows very well that this is not the real question as everyone in the world knows and has the honesty to confess it. The problem of the pandemic is the space, its exploitation, and exploitation as such, the pressure on billions of underrepresented working slaves around the world, as well as the pressure on the animal life (the famous bats from Wuhan from which happened the spillover). As I see it, the real question even in Finland should be posted on these terms, in terms of space. But it is difficult to make it openly, in a transparent manner, because there are certain interests in investing in the space through the densification of concrete and asphalt in Finland such as in the case of Boulevardisation of Helsinki. And if the question is posted in this terms, openly and in a transparent manner, then the corporate groups that are making money with the Boulevardisation, the state that these groups hold hostage through political parties financed by them, will not have instruments to alienate the people thinking about the real solution – STOP INVESTING IN CONCRETE AND ASPHALT FOR PROFITS – , will not have even the instruments to predicate DEMOCRACY to China, to Russia or any other AUTOCRACY or OLIGARCHY around the world but concentrate on the Finnish ones.

It is a long run this writing, at times it may seem pretentious, started from the request to have transparent feedback from TAIKE regarding my application for an artistic and cultural project and concluded with a part of a Survey of CUPORE making questions regarding the global pandemic and my actual project on Boulevardisation. Yet, if someone reads it without the alibis we prepare for ourselves and our daily compromises I am sure it can make more sense and can clarify the context we live in, Finland in this case.

P.S. The Survey had a last PART E) regarding “Background Information” of the participant which is interesting only for the poor vivisectionists of CUPORE and TAIKE and not for the reader of this blog.

Transparency of the evaluation process of Arts Promotion Center Finland (TAIKE) and comments on a survey of Center for Cultural Policy Research (CUPORE). Part III. (Romeo Kodra)

THE PART B) of the Survey regarded the “Changing nature of being an artists”, which, as expected, did not specify the view on the topic of the institutionalized researchers of the institutions TAIKE/CUPORE that designed the Survey. So, the sub-questions under this topic, to which one could express its opinion from 1 likely/desirability to 5 unlikely/undesirability, regarded exiting themes such as “networking of the artists”, “employment/entrepreneurship”, “finances”, “utilization outside the field of art”, “blurring boundaries between art and other fields”, “multidisciplinarity”, “continuous readiness for change”, “broader expertise (e.g. marketing)”, “technology”, “digitization”, “social media”, “entertainment”, “impact on well-being and vitality”. The only questions I had in my mind during all the reading of this part of the Survey was “Where the fuck the researcher/s that designed this Survey think/s is living?”. The amazement to see how these people write cliches, characteristic obviousness that one can find in every banal discussion on social media among Sunday morning art amateurs, is depressing, especially considering that he/she/they is/are payed handsomely with public money. In my opinion, the people that designed the Survey do not understand at all and do not problematize the position from which are delivering the questions. In other words, beyond their paternalistic, psychoanalytical, and behaviorist approach that characterizes the contemporary cognitive capitalism, the person/s who designed the Survey do/es not question its/their position, its/their being within an institution and its/their being institutionalized. Luckily, there was a box where one could say something else, beyond the stupid asked sub-questions, where I wrote:

“Society is becoming more and more a society of the spectacle, where the policies are driven by the private interests of big corporate groups. These last control, through financing election campaigns, the political parties, and, consequently the public art and culture institutions as well as private art and culture institutions thanks to the philanthropic facade. The economic development will be controlled even more. Therefore, even the changes in working life and political power structures will pressure the artistic freedom to privilege the artists’ servility and the art-washing practices. The art and culture institutions thanks to, even”

but unfortunately the space to conclude a minimally articulated thought finished because of the limited characters.

THE PART C) of the Survey regarded the “Status of the artist in society” and was very interesting for its design. In my opinion, the researcher/s strategy and through them the institutions they are part of as well as the politicians/political parties which govern through these institutions, is to safely justify and save its/their ass/es from not giving appropriate feedback for the evaluation as well as take responsibilities for their decision-making. This strategy consists in asking immediately in the first sub-question “How important do you consider the following criteria in making funding decisions for the arts?”, which has 15 statements where one can evaluate from “1/very important” to “5/not at all important” or “cannot say”. Someone that does not know very well the logic of the neoliberal governmentality and how is delivered through the institutional discourses cannot understand the relation between the “status of the artist in society” and “criteria in making funding decisions for the arts”. So, why is our imaginary researcher that designed the Survey making this connection? It is simply to channel the attention of the people participating in this Survey to a supposed common understanding that the “status of the artist in society” is something that interest the artists themselves as well as the public, the taxpayers. After doing so, in the 15 listed statements we have all, again, supposed common understanding of the “quality and standards of the art”, “access and accessibility”, “intrinsic value”, “commercial/potential market”, “the role of art in promoting cultural dialogue”, “in promoting health and well-being”, “in promoting creative economy”, “the role of art in offering new perspectives”, “the role of the art in taking a stand”, “the entertainment value of the art”, “the importance of grants and subsidies as recognition and an incentive”, “the social impact of the art”, “regional equality”, “equality between different fields of the arts”, “the fair and equal treatment of applicants”. One could ask, why should I, as artist, need a status? For example I wrote: “The ‘status’ and ‘artist’ is a syntagmatic contradiction in terms”. Does it make any sense to our imaginary institutionalized researcher of TAIKE/CUPORE? Or why should I, as taxpayer, pay for art based on those 15 statements? Cannot be 16 or 1016 other meaningful statements? Or cannot change from time to time and periodically according to the spatial-temporal situation of the contexts (locally and globally)?

Then there were some claims that one could evaluate, not less stupid than the previous sub-questions. For example, “there is a desire in society to improve the status of artists” and things like that. One could ask, why is this statement after taking for granted in the previous section the “status of the artist in society” and the consequent 15 statements? The only thing with a minimal sense was regarding the universal basic income which do not make a distinction of status because it is universal. So, not about artists or any supposed elite … not about any division.

Yet, another example that underlined the perfidious strategy of the Survey was something articulated like “decision-makers have sufficient skills to respond to the needs of artists”. One could ask, if TAIKE/CUPORE do not give feedback on the evaluations and the rationale of the decision-makers that justify their decision, how can one evaluate weather those decision-makers have or not have sufficient skills to evaluate and take decisions? Isn’t it a way of the institution and neoliberal governmentality to abstract itself, to make a clear division from the people that work for the institution, the poor hard-working-industrious evaluators of TAIKE/CUPORE, and make pressure on them and their qualities thanks to the expected negative feedback of the participants of the Survey? Isn’t this a manner for the institutions TAIKE/CUPORE to detach itself from the people that work for TAIKE/CUPORE leaving them in front of the negative feedback. As I see it, the hidden strategic intention of our imaginary researcher that designed the Survey is that it is not the fault of the institutions and neoliberal governmentality which should survive intact (LONG LIVE THE NEOLIBERISM AND THE CAPITAL!!!), but of the evaluators and decision-makers that do not have sufficient skills.

However, I do not want neither to justify any person within these institutions, because I think that the evaluators that do not take position and accept to evaluate proposals without giving feedback are accomplices of the neoliberal institutions and governmentality.

Yet, at the end of the section, fortunately, there was another box where Survey’s depressed participants like me could add “comments and additional information”, and release their valve of depression as well as have their dose of illusion and feel better for at least 2 minutes:

“Every predefined “role” is a deadly coffin for every art and artist. The contemporary institutionalized ignorance seems does not recognize anymore the origins of the relations between art and institutions. In ancient Athens, the first institutionalized art form, the theater, was born as an acceptance of the total alterity/otherness, the animal reign of Dyonises, by the ‘demos’/society/people of Athens, and, by the way, the first awarded theater piece was Aeschyles’ “Persians” … so by the public was accepted not only a piece on the ‘others’ but also a theater piece on the enemies, the tragic fate of whose, after the defeat against the Athens, was able to move the spirit of the Athenian society.
This is easy to understand. But, I do not have any illusion in this regard, because the idiocy of a defined “role of the artists” as well as “status of the artist”, which by definition should resist any role and status, will appear in other calls for proposals, research papers, policies, etc.”

… continues with the last part.

Transparency of the evaluation process of Arts Promotion Center Finland (TAIKE) and comments on a survey of Center for Cultural Policy Research (CUPORE). Part II. (Romeo Kodra)

THE SURVEY. On 8th of September, I received an email from TAIKE and the Center for Cultural Policy Research CUPORE. Basically it regarded the request to participate by compiling a questionnaire about:

“the views of artists working in different fields of the arts regarding the future.
The questionnaire asks about new/changing forms of being an artist, trends that are affecting the work of the artist, the future prospects for artists and issues related to the diversity of artistic work.
The questionnaire for artists has been sent to one in three artists who applied for a grant from Taike in 2020.
The link to the questionnaire is open and can be shared. The link can also be found on the Taike and Cupore websites, as well as on the communication channels of various arts organisations (artist associations, foundations and arts information centres, for example).
We ask that you respond to the questionnaire by clicking on the link below by 30 September 2021. We hope that you will respond to all the questions and express your own views freely. The views of individual artists are very valuable for the results of the barometer.
Everyone who responds and provides their contact information will be entered into a prize drawing for the chance to win one of 20 Museum Cards.”

Fortunately, I was one in three lucky artists to receive the email and link directly.

The first part A) of the questionnaire was “Living and working as an artist”, a clear reference to the specific, well-defined and alienating capitalist category of the “ARTIST”, where it was required to tick the boxes of the “field” (architecture, visual arts, cinema, etc.). Within the same session was a specific question, “What is your profession as an artist”, to which I replied “visual art and cultural researcher” just to confuse the ideas of the “researcher” handling the questionnaires, for whom the life would have been much easier to see as a reply “painter”, “architect” or any other XIXth Century definition. There were also some claims:

“An artist is any person who defines them (I think it is a wrong translation because in Finnish is itsensä/itself) as an artist
An artist is a person who earns their main livelihood by doing artistic work.
An artist is a person who has received an art education.
An artist is a person who meets the criteria defined by an artists’ association in their field of art.
An artist is a person who receives artist grants based on peer reviews.
An artist is a person who receives copyright income.
An artist is a person who is recognised as an artist by the artist community.
An artist is a person defined as such by the audience.
A person is born an artist.
The profession of an artist is a vocation.
The profession of an artist is a profession among others.
Creating art is a livelihood among other livelihoods.”

to which one could tick the boxes “strongly agree”, “partially agree”, “neither agree nor disagree”, “partially disagree”, “strongly disagree”, “cannot say”. Accept the first claim with which I strongly agree, the large part of the other claims are still orbiting around the institutional logic of categorization of the ARTIST, or, as the last four, pure abstract definitions the use of which by professional researchers I cannot imagine.
In addition, there was another question, “Have you worked as an artist outside the field of the arts (e.g. education, social and health services, construction)?” and request for more specifications such as “financial reasons’, “personal interest”, “other reasons”. Moreover, there was the question “In addition to your work as an artist, have you performed other work that is unrelated to your professional skills as an artist?” and same specifications. Regarding both these questions I see some problems. Firstly, because although as any other I think that there were relations between my artistic practice and the position of cultural manager or university art lecturer, I did not think I was “outside” the field of the arts”. I also think that there were more relations between my artistic practice and the supposed unrelated work of loading and unloading trucks and cargo, cleaning public transportation buses of Espoo, testing colors in a textile dyeing plant laboratory, etc., rather than between my artistic practice and the practice as cultural manager or art educator. At least, if I have to chose to which category “I belong” (and, by the way, I would never chose to belong to any category!!!), I would say I related more to the category of migrant sub-proletarian worker rather than to the category of working artist or cultural operator supported by TAIKE’s grants. Moreover, I do not think am the only one of those supported by TAIKE to think the same way regarding their “performed other work that is unrelated to [their] professional skills”. (…continues)

Transparency of the evaluation process of Arts Promotion Center Finland (TAIKE) and comments on a survey of Center for Cultural Policy Research (CUPORE). Part I. (Romeo Kodra)

THE FEEDBACK. I decided a month ago to write to the Arts Promotion Center of Finland (TAIKE) asking for feedback concerning the evaluation criteria of an application for which I did not receive support. The first reply was that “Taike doesn’t give feedback on individual project proposals/applications. When applying a grant, please familiarize yourself with the call for applications on that specific grant”, which to me sounded like an answer with the intention to check my capacity of reading and understanding a text/the open call. So, I insisted. Then, I received another, more articulated, reply:

“Our criteria of evaluation vary according to grant. Here are some that apply to all:
You must be professional in the field, have artistic training from art schools or have good working experience.
Actively working on the field.
Interesting project plan.
Realistic budget.
For example, I work with Uusimaa region grants. There less than 10 % of applications receive a grant. According to my unofficial statistic 80 % would qualify for grant, they meet all the criteria mentioned above. There is no ‘if you tick these boxes you will get the grant’.
The peer evaluators (= selected artists) do a painful task of trying to sort out from the 80 % which 10 % get the grant. In the beginning of the process we do all discuss together what the process looks like: how many from which fields of art, young/old, region, which sections (composer, singer… painter, ceramic artist) etc. A very complex puzzle. For 2021: 837 people applied for Uusimaa working grant, 41 got the grant.
I do not know if this helps you at all.”

The first part of the email, regarding the “criteria that apply to all”, confirmed the priority given to the institutional+ized artists: “professional in the field”, “artistic training from art school”, “working experience”, “actively working on the field”. All concerning “profession”, in other words artists that profess and confess themselves as belonging or related to something (institutions, ideals) or someone (as disciples); “field”, as if the art was not an expensive “field” and for this reason impossible to define, confine and limit; and “working”, as if it was a clear criterion and not a process of becoming (for more information see the concept of inoperosity in Giorgio Agamben and its relation with genealogy of power and biopolitics in the Western civilization or better the living labor in Marx).
Regarding “interesting plan” I do not want to say anything because is self-evident as totally arbitrary criterion, and the “realistic budget” is not something that should represent any difficulty in giving feedback, as far as anyone understands that the numbers are numbers and not opinions.

The second part regarded the difficulties of the selection process, evidencing firstly the hard work of the evaluators. I am very interested in the archetype of the industrious/Ilmarinen in the Finnish mythology and consequently culture. I do not know why but this tendency of “trumpeting” its own work, paid with public taxes by the way, reminded me another occasion where I noticed a same tendency, the presentation of Municipality’s “Helsinki Art and Culture Vision 2030” (min. 18.44, accessed on 9.9.2021).

Secondly, the email, beyond the “painful task” and “complex puzzle” (which I sincerely believe), highlighted the fact that the “peer evaluators” were “selected artists” (of course by the institution TAIKE), as if the TAIKE’s “selected artists”, supposed belonging to the category of the ARTIST, automatically could guarantee the correctness and quality of the evaluation. Even this second part is very interesting for me, always related with the Finnish mythology (the mythologem of separation/conjunction) and consequently culture, especially for its illuminating construction of discourse, intended literally and linguistically, through which the political power, supported by the capital (private corporate groups), infiltrates the arts and culture, their academic institutions as well as artistic creativity and freedom in general. This kind of construction is a classical persuasive model of discourse through which the neoliberal governmentality and the Capital attract artists thanks to their non-elaborated egoistic and elitist character’s traits as can be noticed by the definition of “selected” and “artists”. Isn’t clear for everyone that my being artist does not guarantee neither my understanding nor my empathy or sympathy of other artists? Moreover, I may be prostituting art for the representational aspects of the art, for the facade of art. I may be deliberately selling myself for money by permitting to the political power the use of my image, status, authority for clear aestheticization of policies and consequently anesthetization of the masses. Do I guarantee the correct evaluation of other artists’ applications without a transparent justification/rationale?

In any case considering that I did not receive pertinent answers I asked again specifying that it was not my primary interest to question the result of the evaluation of my application, but to understand and make a better application the next time. In addition, I specified that I have some theoretical and practical knowledge on the processes of evaluation – making the examples of Creative Europe and Horizon Europe programmes of European Commission where the applicants receive feedback with the points for each criteria as well as its justification/rationale – but did not know if the same process is applied within TAIKE. Moreover I asked whether I was the first person to ask these question.

From 16th of August I did not receive any further information.

THE SURVEY. Yesterday, I received an email from TAIKE and the Center for Cultural Policy Research CUPORE. (… continues).

‘La Vie de Bohème and Dramaturgy of Boulevardisation. An Auto-Bio-Geo-Graphic Art Performance’, by Romeo Kodra.

THE IDEA: The performance, realized thanks to the support of ESPOO CITY and its CULTURE UNIT, is held in the framework of an ongoing artistic research project “Iconology and Iconographies of Boulevard: from Boulevard to Boulevardization and BoulevARTization”.

THE METHODOLOGY: Mainly, the topic imposes iconography as a method of the research, but also iconology, which will consist in collecting, classifying images (‘image’ intended as ‘bild’: see in Hans Belting) and discourses of boulevardisation through their cultural analysis. Altogether, this methodological approach serves to define the mythological archetypes (Carl Jung) inscribed within wider contemporary urban and cultural iconography, starting from the mythologem (Károly Kerény) of “opposites’ separation/conjunction” (the boulevardisation as a key passage from industrial to post-industrial paradigm) as well as the archetypal image of “the industrious”.

THE CONTEXT: Helsinki’s and Uusimaa’s last urban plan provides more densification, thanks to the concept of boulevardisation (transformation of highways in boulevards), seen not only as a solution for the challenge of a greener city but also as the solution of demographic changes (namely, the arrival of migrants). Yet, the plan lack to prioritize its challenges: by making more space for the green (densification of asphalt and cement is a contradiction in terms with a greener city); and assure the participation of migrants (none has asked the migrants if they would prefer a more dense Helsinki). Yet, assured, through urban densification, are the consequent profits for few corporate groups that will build the new boulevards. Therefore, future conflicts are easy to predict between migrants and Finns, passive spectators of the boulevardisation as well as environmental and cultural upheavals. For the performance, the chosen context is the iconic middle of Engel‘s North and South Esplanadi , the monumental Runeberg‘s and Suomi-neito‘s complex in Helsinki’s Boulevardi.

THE SYSTEMIC MACHINE: In underdeveloped transitional societies (HEAVEN FORBID!!! NOT IN FINLAND!!!) the systemic machine for corporate profits works thanks to the involvement of several “play-role-actors”:
STEP 1 – private companies with interests in densification/boulevardisation support politicians and political parties.
STEP 2 – the politicians/political parties propose the plan in the public institution/municipality/region.
STEP 3 – the public institution asks for advice from independent academics/experts.
STEP 4 – the independent academics/experts are supported with grants for their personal projects by private foundations owned by the above-mentioned private companies with interests in densification/boulevardisation.

THE “ROLE OF THE ARTIST”: The inspiration, or better to say the first modulation of the performance builds on Aki Kaurismäki’s “Boheemielämää” and his main character, the Albanian artist and illegal migrant Rodolfo, which in this case is re-conceptualized as a carnival perversion in a new postindustrial-bohemian-migrant-artist with no principles, convictions, or scruples (CAUTION: The performer was born in Albania, but any reference to the Albanian Artist Prime Minister – actually in his third mandate -, who, in 1992, the year of Kaurismäki’s film, was himself a “bohémien” migrant artist living in Paris, and especially any reference to his green-washing and art-washing urban development policies, are purely coincidental!!!). The performance is also a modulation of Carmelo Bene’s “Pinocchio”, a piece of wood/nature/otherness (evoking the “greener” approach of the boulevardisation), which from a migrant/other becomes, as Bene’s Pinocchio, a right-minded man and good member/artist of a boulevardized society. Lastly, the performance is a further modulation on Paul Klee’s works, but here the polyphony is based not on combining, stratifying, approaching the colors towards each other but erasing them and highlighting the line. For this, the starting point is the paradoxical polyphonic painting of Paul Klee “Ventriloquist and Crier in the Moor” as well as Klee’s belief that “A line is a dot that went for a walk”.

La prostituée du boulevard de Clichy et l’inspecteur qui la surveille ont tous les deux de mauvais souliers et tous les deux ont mal aux pieds d’avoir arpenté des kilomètres de bitume. Georges Simenon

Arti kuratorial si polifoni. Një ide kuratoriale. (Romeo Kodra) English Below.

Ç’ka vijon më poshtë është një metodologji titulluar “Arti kuratorial si polifoni”, nxjerrë nga eksperienca personale mbi procesin kuratorial si proces artistik. Si nëntitull i saj qëndron: “Një ide kuratoriale”. Kjo, në rradhë të parë, do të thotë që autori i këtyre rreshtave nuk e nënkupton kurimin si shërbim ndaj artit apo artistëve, publikut apo institucioneve, por ndaj vetes. Së dyti, nuk e nënkupton as si marrdhënie, por si hulumtim dhe racionalizim i hapësirës midis marrjes dhe dhënies. Për më tepër, ajo që kërkohet të vihet gjithashtu në dukje (nëntitulli) është ideja metodologjike e krijimit të një dispozitivi të prodhimit të kuptimeve nëpërmjet organizimit të hapësirave ekspozitive artistike. Në thelb pra, kjo do të thotë që vetëm një ide mbi artin kuratorial mund të gjenerojë ide artistike kuratoriale. Pra idetë artistike të çliruara prej një vepre arti brenda kuadrit të një ekspozite jo detyrimisht mund të quhen se kanë gjeneruar procesin kuratorial dhe janë vepër e një kuratori. Shumëkush mund të varë apo organizojë objekte brenda një hapësire të caktuar njësoj si në IKEA; po ashtu shumëkush mund të mbledhë miq artistë dhe t’u japë lirinë e organizimit të një hapësire apo duke i intervistuar duke thënë që po e bën në kuadër të një koncepti kuratorial njësoj si Hans Ulrich Obrist; por jo detyrmisht mund t’i quajmë kuratorë.

2017-11-27 11.14.46

Një kurator (pra, jo Interior Designer apo PR personnel) gjendet shpesh përpara një dileme mbi emërtimin e procesit kuratorial; pra, procesi kuratorial është kulturë? Është art më vete? Është të dyja bashkë? Përgjigjija ime – pra nuk duhet marrë si e vërtetë universale – është se ky proces artistik është kulturë dhe art. Por ç’do të thotë kjo, praktikisht?

Përsa i përket konceptit të metodologjisë, pra asaj ç’ka paraprin dhe themelon idenë e saj, duhet thënë se mënyra dhe mjetet e të prodhuarit janë krejtësisht kulturorë, ndërsa produkti përfundimtar – kuptimi/et që çliron hapësira ekspozitive – është artistik. Pra, arti kuratorial si polifoni është kulturë dhe art: jo njëkohësisht, por gradualisht, në mënyrë të njëpasnjëshme; në fillim kulturë e më pas art, ose arti si pasojë kulturore. Në pak fjalë, arti kuratorial si polifoni është një proces kulturor që prodhon rezultate artistike. Vetëm falë prodhimit të rezultateve ai mund të quhet art (kuratorial), jo vetëm si Τέχνη, pra art si në kuptimin greko-klasik të fjalës, por edhe në kuptimin bashkëkohor të saj (artin e nënkuptoj si akt resistence, siç është përcaktuar prej Gilles Deleuze-it; ndërsa kulturën, prej Jacques Derrida-së, si diçka të dyshimtë midis kultivimit dhe kolonizimit prej së cilës duhet patur gjithnjë kujdes). Por, kjo tingëllon si kontradiktore me çfarë u tha më lart. Pra, pse them që është art kur në fillim qenka kulturë dhe vetëm më pas art? E them këtë sepse, në vetvete, një qasje e tillë përbën një ide artistike mbi kurimin.

Pra arti kuratorial si polifoni është një postulat artistik që kërkon të modulojë procesin kulturor ku jam dhe që më ka lindur – prindërit, familja, shoqëria -, duke evidentuar të gjitha urat lidhëse apo kordonet kërthizore (ura në vetvete është edhe ndërprerje, e rrjedhës së ujit p.sh.) me kulturën e këtyre të fundit. Ky postulat, arti kuratorial si polifoni, paraprin procesin kulturor apo thënë ndryshe organizimin e hapësirës ekspozitive e cila bëhet nëpërmjet bashkëvendosjes së objekteve dhe subjekteve në të njëjtën hapësirë. Dhe, në fund, procesi kulturor paraprin dhe prodhon rezultate artistike.

Që prej herës së parë, kur vendosa të organizoj hapësirën ekspozitive për të përshfaqur “The Gut” – që ishte një produkt artistik edhe i imi (https://vimeo.com/110004456, ndërsa Studio 203 ka një version të vetin) – mendova se do të ishte e nevojshme jo të kuroja veprën e artit apo artistin/tët, që janë a priori të vetëmjaftueshme nga pikëpamja est+etiko-kuptimore, por të kuroja veten (jo si autor i videos me kamera i zhytur në Lumin e fëlliqur të Tiranës, por si autor i eventit) e më pas publikun me atë ç’ka ajo vepër kishte të pakomunikueshme, të ndërprerë, të dështuar, jo vetëm si qëllim i autorëve, por edhe si shkak i rastësisë (Videoja u prodhua në kuadër të eventit 100 KM ART, mbi të ashtuquajturën audostrada Tiranë-Shkodër, dhe u xhirua mbi dhe brenda Lumit të Tiranës dhe tre urave që e ndërprisnin atë).

Kështu, kuptohet që, së pari, arti kuratorial si polifoni nuk ka për qëllim kurimin e veprës së artit, por kurimin e kuratorit/ve e më pas publikut nëpërmjet aspekteve dhe efekteve të saj. Për rrjedhojë edhe interesi im si kurator nuk mund të ishte, nuk ka qenë ndonjëherë e nuk mund të jetë shitshmëria e veprave të artit të artistit/ve. Së dyti, arti kuratorial si polifoni nuk ka për synim kuptimin/et e veprës/ve s/të artit, por nivelin e tyre të kuptueshmërisë/për+shenjueshmërisë. Për rrjedhojë interesi im si kurator është të qarkoj horizontin e eventeve të kuptueshmërisë së veprave të artit në hapësirën kuratoriale, të qarkoj ato skaje ku gjenerohen apo shuhen kuptimet e veprave të artit, ku gjenerohet apo asgjesohet artisti-kurator si subjektivitet. Në këtë mënyrë, mendoj se evidentohet mësëmiri edhe qenia ime si kurator-autor në rravgim kërkimor, pre e rrjedhës së eventeve social-kulturore; si auctor por pa auctoritas, si sub+jectum (i nënshtruar) dhe ob+jectum (i nxjerrë përpara, ekspozuar) në mes të rrjedhës së pakomunikueshmërisë, ndërprerjes apo dështimit etiko-estetik të veprës së artit “The Gut”, induktuar prej rastësive por e amplifikuar edhe prej vetëqëllimshmërisë së auctorit.

Nga njëra në, kështu të montuara, materialet e videos “The Gut”, ishin thuajse të pakompozuara, me qëllim për të evidentuar materialin filmik brut, të papërpunuar – dmth të kuruar, por jo deri në fund -, për t’i dhënë rëndësi dështimeve, ndërprerjeve dhe pakomunikueshmërisë së falimentimeve kuptimore të synuara. Nga ana tjetër, edhe mjedisi i përshfaqjes së videos, nën urën e Kamzës, mbante të njëjtin tonalitet est+etiko-kuptimor, i cili nuk merrte veprën e artit si model por, nga pikëpamja est+etiko-kuptimore, e modulonte atë (në fakt video mbyllet nën urën e Kamzës, në vendin e përshfaqjes, ekspozitës) duke synuar dhe duke u sintonizuar me nivelin dhe kufijtë e saj të kuptueshmërisë (kuptimet që çlironte në marrje dhe dhënie me atë hapësirë specifike, ku rrjedha natyrore e Lumit dhe autostrada “kulturore” – si pjesë e kulturës urbanistike por edhe e eventit artistik 100 KM ART –  ndërpresin lidhjet dhe ndahen me njëra-tjetrën).

The Gut x 100 km Art

The Gut (presentation Tirana Art Lab – 100km Art – Kamza Bridge).

Kështu, duke konsideruar që hapësira ekspozitive (nën)Ura e Kamzës, ishte një mjedis jo tërësisht i kompozuar, ajo krijoi një sinfoni me zhurmat e videos si një rezistencë dhe denoncim i pamundësisë së kompletimit të saj. Në këtë mënyrë, mbetej në rravgim apo pre e rrjedhës së eventeve të pakontrollueshme të fatit (dispozitivëve social-kulturorë) të autorit dhe vullnetit të tij. E lënë kështu në tension hapësira ekspozitive nuk alienohej tërësisht prej Lumit të Tiranës, kontekst i veprës së artit. Ajo synonte, edhe nëpërmjet veprës së artit (si produkt që supozohet të pasurojë kontekstin e vet kulturor), kuptueshmërinë nëpërmjet nuhatjes, dëgjimit, shikimit të pakontrolluar por të stimuluar prej hapësirës në fjalë.

Kjo procedurë ishte një lloj sintonizimi me të gjitha tonalitetet e mundshme të veprës së artit (videon). Kjo e fundit nuk merrte kuptim tjetër pëveç amplifikimit të fshirjes, heqjes, mungesës, dështimit dhe falimentimit të çdo kuptimi (video u instalua nën urë paralelisht me rrjedhën e Lumit dhe spektatori i gjendur përballë kishte parasysh trarët pingul të nënurës që alienojnë botën e poshtme të Lumit prej sipërfaqes mbi urë). Në këtë mënyrë, mund të thuhet se duke u pozicionuar në një hapësirë limbike arti kuratorial si polifoni nuk është një dialog apo dialektikë me dhe nëpërmjet veprës së artit – për t’i dhënë një apo më shumë kuptime publikut – por një fugë purgatoriale pas sintonizimit est+etiko-kuptimor me tonalitetet e kuptueshmërisë së veprës/ave të artit.

The Art of Curating as Polyphony. An Idea on Curating.

What follows is a methodological concept entitled “The Art of Curating as Polyphony”, drawn from my personal experience. Its subtitle is: “An Idea on Curating.” This, in the first place, means that the author of these lines does not intend curating as a service to art or artists, the public or institutions, but to himself. Secondly, does not intend either a relationship (literally in Albanian “takegiving”), but as an exploration and rationalization of the space between taking and giving. Moreover, what is intended to be also evidenced (subtitle), is the methodological idea of ​​creating a device for the production of meanings through the organization of art exhibition spaces. Basically, this means that only an idea on curating can generate art curating ideas. So the artistic ideas coming out from an artwork, within the framework of an exhibition, cannot necessarily be the fruit of the curating and the work of a curator. Many can hang or organize objects within a certain space just like in IKEA; also many can gather artist friends and give them the freedom to organize a space or by interviewing them saying they are doing it within a curatorial concept just like Hans Ulrich Obrist; but not necessarily we call them curators.

A curator (i.e., not Interior Designer or PR personnel) is often faced with a dilemma over naming the curating process; so the curating process is culture? Is it art in itself? Is it both together? My answer – so it should not be taken as universal truth – is that this artistic process is culture and art. But, in practice, what does this mean?

As for the concept of methodology, that is, what precedes and establishes its idea, it must be said that the way and means of production are entirely cultural. While the final product – the meaning/s that liberates the exhibition space – is artistic. So The Art of Curating as Polyphony is culture and art: not simultaneously, but gradually, sequentially; first culture and then art, or art as a cultural consequence. In short, the art of curating as polyphony is a cultural process that produces artistic results. Only thanks to the production of results can it be called art (of curating), not only as Τέχνη, ie as in the Greco-classical sense of the word, but also in its contemporary sense (I intend art as an act of resistance, as defined by Gilles Deleuze; while culture, following Jacques Derrida, as something dubious between cultivation and colonization from which one must always beware). Yet, this sounds contradictory to what was said above. So why do I say that it is art when firstly it is culture and only then art? I say this because, in itself, such an approach constitutes an artistic idea on curating.

So the art of curating as polyphony is an artistic postulate that modulates the cultural processes where I was born (parents, family, society) by identifying all the connecting-interrupting bridges or umbilical cords (the bridge itself is also an interruption, of the flow of water for example). This postulate, the art of curating as polyphony, precedes the cultural process – in other words, the organization of the exhibition space – which is done through the co-location within the same space of objects and subjects. Thus, finally, the cultural process precedes and produces the artistic results.

From the first time, when I decided to organize the exhibition space to display “The Gut” – which was an artistic product of mine (https://vimeo.com/110004456, while Studio 203 has a version of its own) – I thought that it would be necessary not to curate the artwork or artist/s, which are a priori self-sufficient from the aest+ethical-semantic point of view, but to curate myself (not as the author of the video with the camera submerged in the dirty Tirana[s River, but as the author of the event); and then, hopefully, the public, with what uncommunicative, interrupted, failed, not only as a goal of the authors, but also as a result of chance the artwork already had and embodied (The video was produced within the event 100 KM ART, on the so-called Tirana-Shkodra highway, and was shot over and inside the polluted Tirana’s River and the three bridges that interrupted it).

Therefore, it is clear that, firstly, the art of curating as polyphony is not intended to curate the artworks, but the curator/s and then the public through its aspects and effects. Consequently, my interest as a curator has never been, it is not, and will ever be to sell the artist/s artworks. Secondly, the art of curating as polyphony does not aim at the meaning/s of the artwork/s, but at their levels and limits of comprehensibility/semiosis. Consequently, my interest as a curator is to circle the horizon of events of understanding of artworks within the curating space, to circle those limits where the meanings of the artworks are generated or extinguished, where the curator/artist is generated or dissolved as subjectivity. In this way, I think at this point it is clearly evidenced my subjectivity as a curator, a researcher adrift and of the drift, of the flow of socio-cultural events; an auctor but without auctoritas, a sub + jectum (subject, submissive) and ob + jectum (object, brought forward, exposed) in the midst of the flow of non-communication, interruption or aesth+etical failure of the artwork “The Gut”, induced by chance but also amplified by the self-intention of the actor/s.

On the one hand, edited in this way, the “The Gut” was made of almost raw film material – it was curated, but not entirely – to give importance to failures, interruptions, and non-communication of intended semiosis. On the other hand, the video presentation environment, under the Kamza bridge, maintained the same aesth+ ethical-semiotic tonality, which did not take the work of art as a model but, from an aesth+ ethical-semiotic point of view, modulated it (in fact, the video ends under the Kamza Bridge, in the place of display, exhibition) aiming and tuning in with its levels and limits of understanding (the meanings it makes in “takegiving” with that specific space, where the natural flow of the River and the “cultural” highway- intended as part of the urban planning culture but also of the artistic event 100 KM ART – break the ties and separate from each other).

Thus, considering that the exhibition space, Kamza’s (under)Bridge, was an incompleted environment, it created a symphony with the video noises as resistance and denunciation of the impossibility of its completion. In this manner, it remained adrift to the course of events and uncontrollable destiny of (socio-cultural dispositifs) of the author and his will. Thus, through this tension, the exhibition space was not completely alienated from the Tirana’s River, the context of the work of art. But aimed, even through the video-artwork (supposed as a product that enriches its cultural context), the semiosis through sensory sensations (smell, sight, hearing) that came uncontrollably from the space in question.

This procedure was a kind of tuning with all possible tonalities of the video artwork. The latter took on no other meaning than an amplified erasing, missing, failing of any meaning (the video was installed under the bridge parallel to the river flow and the spectator in front had – perpendicularly – the understructure of the Bridge that alienates the underworld of the River from the surface above the bridge). In this way, it can be said that positioned in a limbic space the art curating as polyphony is not a dialogue or dialectic with and through the artwork – to give one or more meanings to the public – but a purgatory fugue after aesth+ ethical-semiotic tuning with tonalities of the artwork/s semiosis.

COVID19 Grant for the artist Romeo Kodra (part IV).

I was granted as an artist, in December 2020, by Finnish Arts Center: “for the working conditions and professional employment of applicants who have lost work orders related to their artistic work or have been prevented from practicing their profession due to the coronavirus pandemic.” Considering that I do not think that my vomit cleaners fellows have had any grant “for the working conditions,” I wanted to maintain a sort of security distance from the institution that granted me, Finnish Arts Center, as well as all other Finnish institutions representing the Finnish State. In this manner, I will try to avoid the infection of being part of the generally accepted narrative of COVID19 out-break-out and the consequent system’s need of social “integration” (of artists, of migrants, etc). I wanted to avoid any kind of integration – mine and my work – within a system that needs “heroes” (because “someone has to do it”) to work by risking the infection (so, I do not deny COVID19 outbreak) to maintain the system working (I deny the narrative of COVID19 breakout, which I do not see in the life and working conditions of my vomit cleaner fellows). Thus, I tried to produce disintegrated and disintegrable artworks that do not refer to COVID19 as a meat grinder but as a consequently logical effect of a psychogenic meat grinder system such as the one I am used to living in since I was born.

[Déjà vu of Déjà vu. I do not know who said it first, but exists in Albania the story of a foreigner (maybe a journalist) defining the capital city, Tirana, more or less, as follows: “I have seen cities without a boulevard, but I have never seen a boulevard without a city such as in the case of Tirana.” A certain Andrea Bulleri, Italian urban planner, quotes it as belonging to Claude Arnaud, a French writer, that seems have visited Albania in the ’70 and placed it as the context of his 1994 autobiographic book Le caméléon. However, I am not quite sure as, to me, it sounds much more older, considering the echo of this phrase in my Albanian ears. Anyway, whatever the truth is, something is sure, the person who said it was somehow quoting Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and her thoughts regarding the Cheshire Cat: “Well! I have often seen a cat without a grin … but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!” Yet, the most curious thing, for me, is that the boulevard, as a grin, often is perceived as a smile, and maybe a large one in urban terms. But this smile is like the smile of Victor Hugo’s L’Homme qui rit. It is more like a cut, an erasure, if considered that the boulevard, according its etymology, was a fortification wall. Only after the destruction of Bastille‘s walls the boulevard was used, by the reactionary forces that came out of Congress of Vienna and Enlightened Absolutism (Haussmann’s boulevards in Paris and Ringstrasse in Vienna are perfect examples), as an urban dispositive of openness that glorifies the will of the political and economical power holders (ancien régime and the bourgeoisie) as well as their need of absolute control.
In Tirana, the dispositive of the boulevard was transplanted as a calcified method: alliance, between the Albanian version of the ancien régime (Albania’s self declared King Zog and his government) and bourgeoisie (Italian fascist government and Albanian collaborators); as well as a smiling grin, which erased unilaterally part of the original urban texture, vanished without traces (“this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.”)
In Helsinki, the boulevard is not anymore a method; from the last urban plan (2016), it is a methodology named “boulevardisation” (transformation of highways in city boulevards), which intends to make a more eco-sustainable city(?) as well as a more open city (?) to accept more migrants (neoliberal propaganda to justify the densification). In Helsinki the dispositive of the boulevard of course was transplanted calcified as an alliance as well as a smiling grin, but here, methodologically, the alliance is more complex as it comprehends almost all political parties (neoliberal and neoconservative), the academics (private and public universities), an army of artists and cultural operators with their representative institutions as well as private philanthropic foundations of private companies/industries directly involved with the urban development.]

I decided to respond to the psychogenic contexts through schizophrenic artworks (Los retablos de las maravillas – two photographs of two drawings/paintings; Entr’acte: El video retablo de las maravillas – video). This means that taken separately, the first component of these artworks – el retablo of the Albanian fetus – through its declared pathetism tries to tune the institutional pathos of helping artists (especially migrants, when the institutions are run by neoliberals) during COVID19; the second component – el retablo of the Finnish coffin – through its declared pathetism tries to tune the pathos of helping natural environment (especially within the national state borders, when the institutions are run by neoconservatives); and the third component – el video retablo – through its declared pathetism tries to tune with the overall theatrical pathos of the times we live in (In TAIKE’s website the last of three evaluation criteria, after Professionalism of the Applicant and the Working Plan, is Reduction in work and income due to the COVID-19 pandemic … for which my vomit cleaner fellows were happy considering that the reduction in work meant less vomit quantity to clean, which, by the way, did not produce reduction in incomes because they were payed according predefined/fixed working hours for the cleansing of all public transportation buses). Therefore, in these artworks, there is no originality, no new model, nor a new role of the artist within a larger social level. The produced artworks are schizo-modulations of already existing (often psycho-, but not always) models/roles such as my personal auto-bio-geo-graphy; the polyphonic paintings of Paul Klee; an unedited artwork of Dritan Hyska where is used the google translator voice to read the Italian Labor Law in a foreign (non-Italian) language; extracts from Antonin Artaud’s Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu. And, considering that my art started with a quote from Leibniz “conatus is to motion as a point is to space, or as one to infinity, for it is the beginning or end of motion,” and if for Paul Klee “a line is a dot that went for a walk“, then these artworks correspond to vomit that went for a walk, from Tirana’s Boulevard (Maternity Hospital, where I am born) to the boulevards of The Boulevardisation of Helsinki. However, although separately these artworks include the dichotomy neoliberal/neoconservative narrative, altogether, maybe because the of intrinsic denial of originality, models, and roles as well as the declared intention of schizo-modulation, these artworks, hopefully, are not reciprocally included in the mainstream narrative. At least this was my intention.

COVID19 Grant for the artist Romeo Kodra (part III).

I highly recommend to everyone the vomit cleaning work experience inside Helsinki’s and Espoo’s public transportation buses during the night shift for 10,67€ per hour (without calculating the taxes … please google the average wages in Finland). If nothing else, it gives meaning and a dream interpreting cipher to those, especially migrants like myself, disoriented within the real heterotopia of the world’s happiest country. Illuminating in this sense were also the personal stories of the workers (all migrants, of course): a Tamil that, eager to emigrate (destination: EU!), sold everything in his posses, paid 25.000$ to human traffickers which abandoned him in one of Erdogan’s concentration camps (operating thanks to EU funds) and constricted to pay another 25.000$ (he is still, after four years, paying his cousin from London that helped him) to “the officials” just for being thrown somewhere in an unknown Greek island; a Kurd journalist from Baghdad that have mentioned the corruption affairs of a politician in a daily newspaper and for this constricted to abandon his life in less than two hours; a Syrian that hates the socialists as well as the Americans and cannot understand why I “cannot see how socialist the Americans are” … but he admires Trump and sympathizes for a communist world (I think my friend’s weltanschauung is an interesting case study for geopolitical think tankers); a Bangladeshi, that was so incredulous when he learns that I know what kathakali is, for this reason, to change his shift only to talk to me about the dances of his country; etc. But the most illuminating was the outbreak of COVID19.

There was some terrible news, between March and April 2020, coming from my parents living in Bergamo, Italy. The COVID19 was causing deaths never seen in the livings’ memory. My father told me Bergamo reminded him of Sarajevo 1992, without bomb outbreaks but with COVID19 outbreaks, and, of course, more ambulance siren sounds. Meanwhile, in Espoo, I and my fellows had a problem: what to do with the alcohol tester, without blowing on which we could not start, clean, and fuel the public transportation buses? I contacted my supervisor that contacted the bus company office about this problem. “We will let you know as soon as possible” was the answer. Meantime, following the government’s advise, I and my fellows were informed by the company on how to wash the hands, how to use the hand sanitizer, and also how to wear a face mask. However, a week later we had a mouthpiece for the alcohol tester of 30 to 50 buses we had to work with every night. I told to the supervisor that this is not very intelligent considering that I will put the same mouthpiece in 30-50 different alcohol testers. After seeing him shrugging I thought was better to go directly to the bus company offices. There, when I asked for the mouthpieces, the desk officer thought I had lost mine and gave me a new one with the advice “Try not to lose it!”. I said, ” I need 50 mouthpieces!” after which the desk officer looked at me like I was joking. But when I explained the problem he understood. Yet, I could not have more than three mouthpieces that he had in his office. However, he promised the bus company “will find a solution”. After a week or so, I got a tubular junction for the alcohol tester mouthpiece.

“Is this a joke!” I said to the desk officer. “Yes? What do you suggest, though?” he asked after my rhetoric question. “I dream you could deactivate the buses’ alcohol testers,” I replied. “No, that’s not possible,” he said. “Why?” I asked genuinely. “Because of security reasons. Don’t you know that?”. I told him, “Yes, I know about your security reasons.” That was the last time I asked regarding protection dispositive for coronavirus.

I and my Tamil fellow got ill for four or five days each but nothing happened to us. The other fellows used to say that we were lucky because we already passed through COVID19, but I think it was just the normal flu, because of our low immune system, considering that the Tamil guy used to work 12-16 hours in two working places (he, after the night shift, worked in another place where he used to clean the cabins of the Helsinki-Tallinn ferries) and I used to walk (6+6km) to my working place to spare 120€ per month for the bus tickets. With my fellows we talked a lot about the outbreaks of COVID19, its genesis in a wet market in Wuhan, or the more or less conspiratory theory of the Chinese government intentionally spreading the virus, or its contrary according to which it is the US government spreading the virus. Yet, from all the theories we had the same result: the problem is the system. A system that pressures on animals (bats) living space and conditions or the superpowers’ (US, China, EU, Russia, etc.) antagonism for the supremacy within the system. The sure thing is that the system is not with and/or for us, because after COVID19 outbreaks, for us, there were no breakouts: we could not work remotely or just quit the job as we had to feed our families and ourselves. On contrary, strange enough (or maybe not so strange), COVID19 outbreaks eased and helped our job, considering that there was no vomit to clean and, generally, the public transportation buses were cleaner as, because of COVID19, fewer people traveled to avoid contact with other people.

On June 2nd, 2020 I quit my job as I was involved with the European Commission for the evaluation of research, art, and cultural cooperation projects (projects up to 2 or 4 million €) where I am paid better (450€ per day). Of course, it is a freelance job and the precariousness is always incumbent (one does not work every day), but in this case, unlike vomit cleaners, maybe because of the “nobility” or “elitist” kind of job, the system protects the employees.

Yet, because of the COVID19 travel restrictions, I feel like in Albania before 1996: in a coffin.

“I feel like in Albania before 1996: in a coffin.”
Mixed technique on paper (drawing/painting: gesso paint, ink, chunky graphite) 21cm x 29cm.

COVID19 Grant for the artist Romeo Kodra (part II).

A dream scene. That’s what it was. Once more, it was January 6th, not 1996, but in 2016 when I first came to Finland. Yet, to make sure that the perception was real and not a dream, there were -25 degrees … -25 windy degrees. It was challenging to maintain the same convincing and persuading capacity in front of my sister, to whom I, for months before, suggested to transfer with her one-and-a-half-year-old son in Finland. Why? Because Finland is the happiest country in the world, especially for the quality of the education system … even Michael Moore knows that … so, to continue our Bosnian-Albanian family muhaxhir tradition, I suggested “invade” Finland (see Where to Invade Next).

From Vantaa airport to Haukilahti there is 30 minutes drive. From Kehä 1 (Ring 1, which is the zipper axis that connects Helsinki with Vantaa and Espoo making possible the developing Greater Helsinki Region) to Länsiväylä (Western Highway) the landscape was a combination of forests and industrial or contemporary buildings. Once in Länsiväylä the sea appeared … frozen. At Tapiola’s overpass, the taxi driver entered Westend, taking Westendintie, which he left at the corner of Linnake (Fortress), entering finally Haukilahti. The view of Toppelundintie reminded me Tirana’s boulevard, but without buildings … only 20-30 meters high trees wrapped, frozen, in the snow forming a dense white wall. 200 meters ahead the taxi driver turned left and drove up to Pitkänkalliontie where a white building with prefabricates similar to Enver Hoxha’s scientific state socialism ones appeared to me as a perfect joke of someone or some unknown force to stimulate my absent childhood nostalgia. After unloading the luggage in the middle of an almost empty but very warm apartment, I turned at my sister and said: “I don’t know how and when, but I will not stay here only for this month, just to help you with the ‘integration and general settling’ … I will come again, because living here seems like living in a painting.” I still am not sure about the meaning of my sister’s facial expression, whether was related to the -25 windy degrees, to the worry of having to be alone after a month with a small child in a foreign country, or to the disbelief of having a brother so insensitive and out of his mind.

On May 25, 2019 I arrived with my one-and-a-half-year-old daughter and her mother in the apartment of Pitkänkalliontie, where the smiles of my sister and nephew were waiting for us. However, the above-mentioned facial expression of my sister of 2016 wasn’t gone. It just had moved on the face of my partner. Yet, the almost Mediterranean temperatures of Haukilahti’s summer of 2019 helped a lot to relax every one of us. In addition, in few weeks I found a job and everything was going in the right direction. Thus, with a work contract in my hand, I went to Helsinki’s MIGRI Office for the work permit and registration of residence. There, surprisingly, I found that as a migrant, and not an EU citizen (for whom the procedure is immediate), I had to wait from four to six or more months to have my Finnish Residence and Work Permit. I protested, kindly (considering the kindness of the officer), regarding the difference of treatment, especially when I am in posses of an EU Work and Residence Permit for Long Term Residents released by Italian authorities (as I lived in Italy for more than 10 years), which, by the way, are possible to have from the Finnish MIGRI Office if one is a migrants living in Finland for more than 10 years. The officer was so polite and kind to remind me that she was “very sorry” and “this is the Finnish law”, to which I replied that I was “more than sorry to have paid in Italy taxes for EU thinking that Finland was part of it”. The discussion regarding the meaning of “Finland is EU” went long and, neither she nor I won in the end.

[Déjà vu. I left the Albanian coffin on January 6th, 1996 to join INKER Zaprešić, a football club of the first Croatian League where I passed only a few weeks, because another club, HNK Gospić, came with an offer I couldn’t refuse: full-service accommodation in Hotel Velebno, 8000 Deutsche Marks at the beginning of the first year (which served for my sister’s ballet school fee in Baku), 7000 at beginning of the second year, 500 Deutsche Marks per month plus premiums per win and/or goal, as well as the possibility to play on free days (which was Sunday) for the lower league team of Novalja where I could gain some extra per game. Yet, after my parents moved from Albania to Italy in March 1997, my father got badly injured risking both his feet in a factory, in Grasobbio, where he was working. For this reason, at the beginning of 1998, I decided to move to Italy and sign for US Leffe, an Italian club of Serie C. The move was a bargain for the club, because of a special law (being under 21, I benefited from Bosman Ruling and one of its commas, regarding the players that have signed the contract at 18-years-old or less). Because of that law, I could move without US Leffe having to pay for the interruption of my contract. But above all, it was a bargain for me, considering that I could stay finally in Bergamo with my family, which from 1990 was somehow scattered here and there because of the Bosnian war and Albanian State collapse and consequent migratory experiences. But, when everything seemed done, an Italian law impeded me to sign the contract as a non EU player/migrant with less than two years of residence in Italy. So, if I wanted to play in Serie C, I had to wait two years before playing the first game (Three years later a Nigerian player sued the Italian Federation and changed the law). It was strange, because as a migrant worker one could have the residence and work permit immediately after showing the contract, but as a professional football player this was not possible. I don’t know whether I was more angry or depressed. Yet, Roberto Spagnolo, a good man, Leffe’s director now having a lot of success in Atalanta, encouraged me by saying that two years were nothing and I could still sign with the team, and meanwhile play for a “dilettanti” team without losing a penny of my stipend. Yet, just the name “dilettanti” for me was a joke, especially after dreams with UEFA or Champions League (there were some talking between the HNK Hrvatski Dragovoljac and Gospić). In four months I was so depressed that I remember vaguely having left the apartment even for a walk around “le mura di Città Alta”. However, in the summer of 1998, a shocking image saved me: Ronaldo, il Fenomeno, descending the stairs of the airplane in Brazil after risking his life and still playing on the same day of the World Cup Final in 1998. I just understood the shitty world I was angry and depressed for. In two weeks I found a job. With other my fellows from the Balkans, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Senegal, Morocco I enjoyed unloading by hands DHL’s smelly trucks for a so-called cooperative which used to change several times its name to avoid taxes and made profits exploiting migrant workers.]

During the first five months in Finland, without a clear legal status, I spent all my savings and learned a lot about Finnish migration laws. I learned, for example, that in Finland does not exist a Constitutional Court (in Albania some EU and US representative-prostitutes give the lack of an operative Constitutional Court as a justification after the adjustment of which everything will start to be “normal” and Albania will be integrated finally within EU family!!!), an institutional body which checks the Parliament’s laws coherence, especially, as in my case, when these laws contradict the EU laws. In this manner, to have his right recognized, a bottomless pocket migrant like me would have to sue MIGRI Office and wait for the decision (My Finnish law expert friend advised me to avoid this enterprise, especially after considering my “financial resilience”!). I also learned – from my kind colleagues of Europe Direct Contact Center – that, only a member state court can decide and annul a decision taken by member state institutions and not an EU body or authority (But, hey, I learned that I have the right to submit a petition – Article 227 TFEU – to the European Parliament … yew haw!). I can also contact the Finnish Ombudsman, which I did, the general one and Parliamentary one, the task of which are “to promote equality and handle cases of discrimination [as well as] promote the rights of foreigners in Finland”. Thus, I discovered that “taking into consideration the matters [I] raised, concerning the rights of long-term EU-residents, in [Ombudsman’s] work to promote non-discrimination, to the extent that this is possible[…], unfortunately, [they] cannot do more to help me”, because, “based on the information [I] provided, [my] case is already being handled by the competent and appropriate authority.” (extracts from e mail date: 04.07.2019)

By the end of September 2019, my Finnish law expert friend asked me: “Do you understand that being of Albanian origins and having a family – mother, father, sister, daughter, and partner – all with Italian passports, to a MIGRI officer you can easily be suspicious? One can think, for example, that you were not allowed to take the Italian passport because – maybe – you have criminal records. Why don’t you change your citizenship, or, considering that exists as a possibility, at least take a second one?” I didn’t reply as I could, because my friend is a kind person and seems believe sincerely in his candid Finnishness and is proud of it. But, considering that I abhor anything that has to do with identification, especially by a state, a national state, I think even the idea of having a passport is aberrant and vomiting. To me, the passport – not only the Albanian – is not worthy of cleaning my ass.

So, what I did, even because after five months I was without a penny, was changing the application at MIGRI: not at as a long term EU resident asking residence and work permit in Finland, but as a parent of an EU citizen (as father of my “Italian” daughter). And to MIGRI, as to any other institution of any state, just as to the Albanian military doctor of 1996, romancing with my nether regions is its reason of existing. ON November 6th 2019, I joined other my fellows from the Iraq, Kurdistan, Sri Lanka, enjoying parking and cleaning public transportation buses of Helsinki and Espoo, where the first Finnish words I learned, from WhatsApp messages arriving from the central office, were: “oksennus pesu” followed by the number of bus. And to me this made a lot of sense …!