Still hanging in there?

Part of This Coming Together
Kuva/Tila, Helsinki, Finland
25.02 to 25.03.2023

2rd March 16 - 17 Thursday
Art student & school (Sakari Tervo, Minna Suoniemi)

9th March 16 - 17 Thursday
Art production (Jaakko Pallasvuo, Shubhangi Singh)

16th March 16 - 17 Thursday
Post-school/collective practices (Ida Enegren, Chih Tung Lin, Joonas Pulkkinen)

Which steps one work of art needs to take in order to move away from its historically granted, self-enclosed position of sacred object of significance? Can the production of such objects, and the crowning of the artist’s ingenuity cease to be at the center of artistic practices? What new forms of production do we need: spaces of encounter, discussion, and collective learning?

Born from a visit to the Julia Stoschek Collection in Berlin in autumn 2021, the untitled curtain piece is a citation of the textiles which were surrounding every inch of wall of the hall space in the art institute. The piece was conceived for my MFA thesis project and first presented within the context of the student degree exhibition Kuvan Kevat 2022, as part of “Installing Allusion”, a display project dedicated to a discursive reflection on knowledge structure and its permanent transitory state. However, the curtain piece itself stood also as a response to a silent pressure and strong anxiety that I constantly felt and perceived during the entire time of the production of the show.

As an international student, I’ve come to form my understanding of the importance of the degree show in the Finnish art context over time, assembling fragments of memories of topics repeatedly mentioned in various conversations: the mysterious visits by directors from important institutions and foundations with their equally mysterious acquisitions and prizes, the annual reviews on the biggest national newspapers, and the raising winning rate following the exhibition in the “lottery” of great grant systems circulating among art students like a urban legend … all these seem to signal a greater meaning than a mere exhibition of students’ works. I have come to realize that this perhaps is an art exhibition that extends, in its deeds, far more than any other. It does not only hold together all kinds of artistic practices, but also symbolizes a sort of rite of passage from ‘art students’ to ‘professional artists’. While the exact meaning of the latter is always debatable, what intrigues me here is the gap that stands between these two social identities, and behind which lies a biased system of art that shapes it. The exaggerated dimension of the curtain and its shininess were perhaps a direct response to this personal both interest and suffering of mine during this process of transition, which concretized itself in the form of this exhibition. As a foreign student who came into this context with the idea of establishing something - I was half in need to participate actively in this hustled celebration to catch people’s attention, and half in need to reflect on its context and place, namely the art school and artistic life.

Art school is an important institution in today’s global creative economy that has successfully orientated its role towards the ideas of production and consumption. As a result of the professionalization of the field of art and the proliferation of MFA degrees, an art degree has become the entrance pass to the field of art. After selective admission processes, while they are requested to attend only a few mandatory classes, art students are, most of the time, expected to produce. Their practices are enmeshed with auto-production in cooperation with various projects, whether for seminars or for shows, on the road to burn-outs. At the end of the two years program, they’re thrown into the after-life of school, which is often hard to survive, with the possibility of being swallowed again by the institution right after. Therefore the art school has become much more than an educational institute. It’s a place of production, a gate-kept passageway towards ‘the real art world’, but also a place of retreat. It functions as a cultural factory where not only exhibitions and certified artists - the future producers of art - are generated along its managers and consumers, but also where its entangled networks and relational dynamics are administered.

In this perpetual consumerist economy of art production, the “new” becomes a key factor. This is evident in the context of the European tradition of fetishism in art objects. In the light of the post-Fordist occupational state of artists today, the urge of a perpetually renewed production does not only come as an external expectation from the beholder or the market, but also as an internalized discourse within the art practices of many artists. The need of constantly producing new works for new shows and in new spaces is a rather common stress generated in art schools, and further shared among today’s artists. Capitalization of one’s own practices and images, and the branding of names and the raising of studio-companies for collaboration and production of larger and larger budgets often could be an imaginable option.

Is this really happening among us? What are the consequences of such a phenomenon? Can this ‘redundant’ mode of artistic production be sustainable? Is there a way of walking out of it?

I conceive of Still hanging in there? as an opportunity to conduct some thought experiments. I want to re-appropriate the curtain piece and the ghost of its prolific history of private emotions, argumentations and reflections to host a series of conversations that react as a thought experiment: questions that might appear puzzling only on a personal level in the first place, but I believe they are of common shared interest in nature. Therefore I call for help from friends and peers, not not asking them to answer but to think, to exchange, and to learn together. ​

*Xiao Zhiyu, Untitled, 2022, twelve hand bent aluminum sheets, 900 x 350 x 10 cm.
**Jack Latham, Main Stage at the Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theatre, San Francisco, 2019.
***Special thanks to Daniel Faltys for poster desgin.

Still hanging in there? is a series of three conversations that investigate the topics of art school, art production, and collective practices. The conversations, conducted by Xiao Zhiyu and involving eight speakers active in the Helsinki artistic context, will be held in English and open to the active participation of the public.

Sakari Tervo
Jaakko Pallasvuo
Shubhangi Singh
Ida Enegren
Chih Tung Lin
Jonnas Pulkkinen