Collective vortex and other responses

Photo: Otto-Ville Väätäinen / Kone Foundation

For this autumn’s grant decisions, around 40 experts from the arts and sciences made proposals for projects that they believe deserve support. Almost every evaluator would have wanted to propose a much larger number than we asked for. An even smaller number of applicants were selected as beneficiaries of grants. A total of 3.3 percent of applicants for arts grants were successful: the need for funding is enormous compared to the grants awarded.

Katve-Kaisa Kontturi and Milla Tiainen, explores the challenges faced by art in particular, such as the scarcity, uncertainty and irregularity of earnings. Through the project, Kontturi and Tiainen aim to cast light on the conflict between social policy and the everyday lives of artists. Their starting point is that artists and actors in the creative industries are viewed as engines of the creative economy and producers of experiences for which there is market demand while, on the other hand, artists are very much part of the precariat. One third of visual artists live below the poverty line.

This year, I was involved in the Working Group for Policy Guidelines on Art and Artists (Taide- ja taiteilijapolitiikan suuntaviivat -työryhmä) of the Ministry of Education and Culture, which submitted its proposals for the key policy objectives regarding art and artists in the autumn. One of the group’s key messages was that “art is work and must be treated as such“. It is important that all those working in the arts, including artists themselves, ensure that artists are compensated for the work they do. We are also taking care of this at the Kone Foundation. We examine project budgets to ensure that they take account of compensation for the work of researchers and artists. We pay experts a fee for evaluating applications. In addition, we encourage funding applicants to seek funding on a realistic and long-term basis.

Every year, we have received applications for ever larger grants from artists, but there is still a large gap between art and research grants. The average size of grant sought in research grant applications was EUR 100,000, compared to EUR 44,000 for the arts. This compares to EUR 109,000 and EUR 45,000 in terms of grants awarded.

Kontturi and Tiainen point out that a solution to the conflict in artists’ work has emerged in the form of various types of community. “Communality and joint work have begun to emerge, fuelled by members of the precariat,” the researchers write. They intend to explore the kinds of experiences that artists have of such forms of community, and how these new forms affect both art and the financial sustainability of artists.

This kind of departure from the individual approach was evident – and has been in previous years – in the Kone Foundation’s grant applications and awards. One example of this is Support Structures Collective, an international group of artists working in Finland, who received funding for the formation of a feminist arts centre in the general application round in the autumn. Members of the collective include the curatorial duo nynnyt, i.e Hanna Ohtonen and Selina Väliheikki.

The working group aims to think critically about institutional structures and ways of working, rather than satisfying the desire for endless production. In particular, the forthcoming centre will support and foster artists who are feminist, self-identify as women, or who are non-binary, people of colour or queer.

Ohtonen described their motivation to establish a feminist art centre when we met after the grant was awarded: “It has felt good to work together. Neither of us has been alone, but we have received support, help and strength from each other. The idea of a feminist art centre arose from this, i.e. how could we share this experience more widely.”

The nynnyt duo described a typical situation in art, where many people exist and work alone. The duo explained that this is partly due to the training of artists, which traditionally aims at the artist finding their own voice.

“Education also needs to change, at a time when artists are beginning to discover the importance of working together. In addition, communities are a way of surviving in the art sector. A good aspect of joint work lies in the opportunity for continuous learning, to reflect on your own ideas and identify your blind spots. It is also liberating to take responsibility together,” says Väliheikki.

We also discussed the nature of a project that is critical of institutions, when its own artists are themselves founding an institution. The nynnyt duo recounted their many experiences of disappointment in existing modern art organisations: “Organisations often have good intentions, but if their structures are patriarchal, a feminist standpoint alone will not help. We thought it would be interesting to try creating feminist structures within an institution, so we decided to set one up ourselves. In this position, we are also seeking to create our own economy.”

Another example of liberation from individualism is the artist collective, Honkasalo-Niemi-Virtanen, which received two years of funding. They described their joint work as follows in their application: “We want to celebrate an approach to doing liberated from individualism, by penetrating deeper into the collective vortex.”

In a recent interview, the members of the collective explain their work and how it would not have been possible to achieve alone or as a pair, but how the trio combines to generate a fourth, invisible member. Another collective, Kosminen, which was also awarded a grant, is an example of the incentivising character of collective activity.

Work, precarious work, artistic work, an artist’s work and an artist’s social status are themes in several of the projects for which grants were awarded. In her artistic dissertation, Karolina Kucia views art as part of a range of organisations and collective activities, and develops organisational tools into a cooperative methodology for cooperation and alternative models of authorship.

One of the greatest pleasures in the work of the Foundation consists of getting to know the work of artists and researchers. Reading the applications gives hope for the future. On this occasion, one of the generators of hope is the grant recipients who are thinking about and reorganising how art is created, since their work is bound to penetrate beyond art into the social structures of work.

A project involving a broad commentary on work happens to be one of my favourites for this year. ”Etsitkö töitä? (Looking for work?)” by Juhani Haukka and Lauri Antti Mattila is a study of work, time and community. In this performance art project, the artists seek to question the concept of work and detach it from the logic of utility, by finding employees to do precisely what they want.

“Our project creates a space for unconventional work: for those who are quiet, marginalised, outside the busy mainstream, dreaming, busy doing nothing, for work. For what should be done. Or for that which does not yet exist,” the artists promise.

Anna Talasniemi

Executive Director

Kone Foundation