My Resoc Interview
By Andrew Paterson at Nov 19, 2009
1. At a public talk someone asks you, "okay, I understand what you reject, but I wonder what you are for? What institutions do you want that you think will be better than what we have, for the economy, polity, gender, race, ecology, or whatever you think is central to have vision for?"
In a public talk, I have most often speaking about my practice and experience of doing something: making a process happen, what was involved, motivations for doing, issues that emerged in the process, reflections and such like.. Spoken from the perspective and experience of an immigrant artist-organiser, cultural producer, making participatory arts practice through workshops, performative events, and storytelling..
As someone who works with small independent cultural organisations and non-profit organisations, in the Baltic sea region, most often in Helsinki, Finland.
This work is done most often with curiostity and enthusiasm to collaborate, work with and support particular communities of practice or interest, but also sometimes in the spirit of independent research, sometimes with academic interest.
Within the Finnish context (and maybe similar in other Nordic/northern European contexts and other Western developed countries) the activity of creative, network-culture and non-profit organisations has expanded their activity beyond specialised cultural or medium concerns of the practice, to social, political and environmental activist issues. The source of support and funding is mostly via government-supported cultural and education foundations and grants, but these are competitive, and encourage certain cultural formats such as festivals and event-production.
Although, in comparison to other places in the developed world, the Finnish cultural scene is well funded for production and administration and selected artists do receive state support offering salaries of 1/3/5 year amounts, the systems creates a small number of professional producers, and a larger number of cultural practitioners/workers who not receive little re-numeration for contribution to cultural events.
In Finland, there are many highly formalised and institutionalised forms of social capital, both planned in the Nordic welfare-state model, and promoted through membership of civil associations. In the late 1990s the country has been presented as a case-example for the 'ICT Welfare State'. Finnish philosopher Pekka Himanen wrote then that time of Finland that “a fully fledged welfare state is not incompatible with technological innovation, with the development of the information society, and with a dynamic, competitive new economy.. It provides the human foundation for labour productivity necessary for the informational model of development, and it also brings institutional and social stability, which smoothes the damage to the economy and to people during periods of sharp downturns”. Social scientists researching the relation between collective action and use of information and communication technology have found that it has been strengthened.
However, during the 20 years since Himanen wrote this, the uncertainties of work and life within an information communication society have exposed the institutions that the welfare state was built upon (unions, universities, social and health care, unemployment) to be inappropriate and less agile or equipped to organising and managing the populations needs. Finland, like the other Nordic governments of Denmark and Sweden, have gradually liberalised the model welfare system towards partial privatisation. As an outcome over the last 10 years, created an increasingly unequal welfare system, especially for those who are not in full-time employment or in precarious, freelance labour, such as the cultural work I mention above.
Himanen's prediction of the Finnish state providing support and smoothing the damage in times of need is no longer applies, and institutions are not fully providing that role.
Return to the subject of social capital, and what I believe I am working for and towards..
I would like to see increased (financial, organisational, research-time, resource-based) support for developing relations *between* individuals, civil associations and cultural organisations. Where would this support come from: Above or below or Peer-based? Which ever way, it would creatively explore forms of new institutions based on social capital and network-culture, where relational processes are important, rather than representational procedures. These forms are what I believe network theorists Ned Rossiter and Geert Lovink have called 'Organised Networks'.
In the Nordic/northern European context, I consider organised networks (as I have witnessed them in my own collaborations with associations and organisations) to be creative ways in emancipating and transferring the power and bureaucracy of the welfare and educational institutions, giving initiative and energy to small groups inter-connected with others.
2. Next, someone at the same event asks, "Why do you do what you do? That is, you are speaking to us, and I know you write, and maybe you organize, but why do you do it? What do you think it accomplishes? What is your goal for your coming year, or for your next ten years?
I do this practice as an artist, organiser, producer to explore creative ways to collaborative and work with others. I have a particular interest and pleasure in bringing together of unexpected elements and components around a 'boundary object' which each participant interprets differently, producing new imaginations and potential.
Furthermore, I am interested in what might be 'artistic and activist-orientated' fieldwork, gaining inspiration from social arts and design, archaeological-performance theory, critical fieldwork practice, open planning and activism. I believe this particular form of engagement can serve contested public space and intangible cultural heritage, promote social change, and raise awareness of contextual and/or environmental issues.
Telling stories, communicating and sharing experiences, offering unusual or new connections, bricollages, energy, support: these things can help to imagine oneself in new situations and things that don't yet exist, not yet become.
The next year I would like to concentrate on communicating what I do in a thesis. Although made for an academic context (medialab, university of art and design helsinki), it is important to reflect and be concise in self-understanding what one does, and find a suitable way to communicate it. So far I have attempted spoken presentations to do that. Now I need to find a way to write about my experiences. With the title: Artivistic Fieldwork. The practice of socially-engaged arts and creative or artistic activism has much to offer in assisting imagination for change. However, understanding the implications, consequences, and biases involved in doing that with others, in particular communities or contexts, is what I hope to achieve.
Following that objective, I would like to spend the next years seeking the appropriate context and support to help build new organised networks, and spending time there learning and exploring with others how to do that..
3. You are at home and you get an email that says a new organization is trying to form, internationally, federating national chapters, etc. It asks you to join the effort. Can you imagine plausible conditions under which you would say, yes, I will give my energies to making it happen along with the rest of you who are already involved? If so, what are those conditions? Or - do you think instead that regardless of the content of the agenda and make up of the participants, the idea can't be worthy, now,or perhaps ever. If so, why?
I am not sure that national chapters are necessarily important ways to organise, but dependent on alignments of interest and importantly, practice. These can be aligned at different levels locally, regionally, as well as on a language basis. Naturally, the time and remote-participation threshold to take part depends much on ones life and work situation. If one is already volunteering time and energy to local, online and network initiatives, then it is always hard accumulate more above the need to find money-support for everyday life.
4. Do you think efforts to organize movements, projects, and our own organizations should embody the seeds of the future in the present? If not, why? If yes, can you say what, very roughly, you think some of the implications would be for an organization you would favor?
Yes I believe that one should try to embody one's ideals in the process of doing (organising). However, critical reflection is also an important part of that ideal. I am not sure I understand the second part of question to give comment.
5. Why did you answer this interview? Why do you think others did not answer it?
I answered this interview as I have wished to contribute my perspectives to Reimagining Society Project as a reflective practitioner in the cultural field, living as an immigrant in Helsinki, Finland, NE Europe. I had originally intended to contribute an essay, and also comment on a few of the other texts which had a cultural contribution. However unfortunately that wish has so far not been possible due to a fragmented online presence in several networked process elsewhere, and locally, teaching and funding applications. The interview format was a concrete format to take part in the Reimagining Society vision, as I realised that I don't write strategies easily, but try to do things contextually and intuitively.
Why others may not have taken part in answering the questions? If they have been involved in contributing something already, they might have found themselves satisfied in sharing already with ReSoc. If they didn't at all, then maybe the communications (long explanations in email on what to do) and genre (submit your visions) was not best suited for them to share without much consideration. Engaging remotely to an ongoing online project, without basis of face-to-face meeting first, is difficult to prioritise.