Kone Foundation awards EUR 42.5 million for research and the arts – new projects open a view of potential futures

Illustration: Marika Maijala

In this autumn’s application round, Kone Foundation awarded researchers and artists EUR 42.5 million to participate in creating an unforeseen future through their work. The grants awarded offer a kaleidoscopic view of what the world could look like in the future.

The researchers and artists funded by Kone Foundation have the freedom to initiate something that can shape our future. The Foundation trusts that giving grantees the freedom to set something in motion will pay off, even if the outcome cannot be known in advance. 
“Together, the projects currently being funded form a kaleidoscopic view of potential futures. This autumn, the projects highlighted themes such as mental health, digitalisation and, along with it, the growing power of artificial intelligence and big data, as well as gender diversity and more sustainable ways of creating art,” says Ulla Tuomarla, the Foundation’s CEO. 

Kone Foundation’s mission is to make the world a better place by fostering freedom in research and the arts. The Foundation supports research in the fields of humanities, artistic research, social sciences and environmental sciences, as well as artistic work in all sectors of art. In this autumn’s grant application round, more than 600 people, working groups or organisations were awarded funding, and the average project funding exceeds EUR 100,000. Research accounts for about 75 per cent of the total grants and art for 25 per cent. 

 “Many of the projects address wicked problems, meaning the most complex ones, such as planetary limits or the current political crisis in care. But even though the crises from the pandemic to the war in Ukraine touch us all and are burning issues waiting to be solved, at Kone Foundation we want to give grantees the freedom to redefine problems or explore completely new directions of research or art. We are confident that giving the grantees the freedom to decide what they want to work on will produce the best results,” Tuomarla says. 

Kalle Korhonen, Director of Funding, explains that the Foundation has been working for a long time to make research funding more flexible. This development work also benefits artists.  

“Project funding for research projects has helped many researchers advance in their careers. At the same time, this has resulted in a great deal of new information, as well as publications for universities and research institutes. The Foundation consciously favours projects that last several years and takes a flexible approach to changes within projects. In addition, it offers grantees various support services to develop their competence and well-being at work.” 

Research topics emerge from both societal and academic starting points 

Kone Foundation’s funding decisions are based on peer reviews of the more than 6,000 applications. The Foundation selects a diverse group of evaluators from among researchers and artists. Evaluators change every year to make sure that power is not concentrated in the same hands. The names of the persons assessing the applications are not published, as the Foundation bears the ultimate responsibility for the awarded grants. 

An evaluator in the field of sociology says that they identified a tension in the applications between the academic and social motivations of the research projects. Socially motivated topics this year include, for example, critical algorithm studies and research on other types of artificial intelligence, as well as various research topics related to war and the consequences of war, such as refugees and reception activities.  
The project of Jari Martikainen’s working group (EUR 475,100) relates to war and refugees and examines the impressions and experiences that young people who have moved to Savo, Eastern Finland, from Ukraine and the Middle East, and Finnish young people living in Savo have of each other, their own lives and their future. The study examines how images of a group of people with a different cultural background are formed and how the meanings given to Savo as a place become interwoven in the relationship between the groups. The aim is to highlight the voice of young people belonging to minority groups and to support their participation in society. Eveliina Lyytinen’s working group combines art and research (EUR 342,000) and asks when a person’s refugee status can be considered to have ended on an emotional, legal and material level. A person’s own experience of this does not necessarily coincide with their legal status. Yet, often it is only the experience of the refugee status coming to an end that allows a person to begin a new life in their new homeland. 
A project led by Rune Saugmann (EUR 415,500) aims to increase critical civic understanding of the digital surveillance technology used in policing. The police use, among other things, technologies for face recognition, geolocation and predictive smart policing. In order to ensure the protection of privacy and the realisation of citizens’ rights, the project will also involve developing an application that will enable citizens to become aware of public surveillance technologies. 
According to the same sociology evaluator, the quality of the research criteria of the applications was reflected, for example, in novelty value, ingenuity or originality, but also in knowledge of the research field. 

Sari Kivistö’s working group (EUR 331,800) are working on an innovative literary research project, studying literary extinction. The researchers combat the impoverishment of the spectrum of literary genres by paying attention to small historical genres that have been lost, especially oral genres of poetry, and the processes of the loss. The aim is to enrich our understanding of the historical and local diversity of literary genres, as well as to create new ways of analysing cultural memory, and the formation of the canon. 

The applications also reflected a strong desire to explore different ways of knowing and thinking about the world. 

“Instead of informative or rational knowing, many research projects put the focus on emotional, bodily and experiential ways of knowing, experiencing and transmitting reality. The expansion of the understanding of knowledge and research was also reflected in the increasingly diverse range of research methods. The studies focused, among other things, on participatory and inclusive research, embodied research and participatory learning, as well as various autoethnographic research approaches,” an evaluator of cultural research says. 
Such an approach to ways of knowing is used, for example, by Terhi Utriainen’s working group (EUR 415,500) in their research project, which employs the perspective of vernacular religion, that is, religion as people understand, experience and practice it. The project explores ways in which people utilise the popular but at the same time often disparaged figure of an angel in their own way. For example, they may freely combine and reclaim the imagery produced or maintained by a religious institution, adapting it to their own identity, situation in life and their need for self-expression.

Care carries life – but often remains invisible 

The organisation of care is an issue that has arisen in recent years both in connection with the shortcomings in the care of the elderly and the chronic shortage of workers in health care and early childhood education and care. The many societal dimensions of care are the subject of several grant projects.  

Daria Krivonos’ working group (EUR 378,900) examines the way life in crisis-stricken societies in Central and Eastern Europe continues, while the war in Ukraine, violence in Belarus and the COVID-19 pandemic rage on. A new concept coined by the working group is life-making labour, by which people maintain, repair and rebuild their lives even when it is threatened. The study offers an alternative perspective on the renewal of societies instead of power narratives that emphasise geopolitics and security. 

Petteri Eerola’s research group (EUR 264,900) examine the nocturnal care carried out in families with young children, which often remains invisible, and its connection to the family’s everyday practices, gendered structures and power hierarchies. Care workers who remain hidden also include relatives and loved ones who care for people with memory disorders and who often also have a job. The project led by Lina Van Aerschot (EUR 233,800) focuses on developing a socio-relational model of memory disorders that will help us to understand the social and societal dimensions of memory disorders and the prerequisites for socially sustainable care. 

In the largest funded project, the research group led by Tuuli Kurki (EUR 495,000) aims to create new forms of radical care together with young adults who use or have used mental health services, as well as with mental health activists, professionals, volunteers and relatives of the young people. The researchers in the project see mental health symptoms as a socially relevant way of reacting to an environment that produces, for example, social hierarchies or other kinds of experiences of injustice. 

Towards a more sustainable world by changing our choices and thinking

The western way of life produces sustainability problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss and human rights problems. 

To significantly slow down climate change, we need a change in the behaviour and norms of large numbers of people. Marianna Melin’s doctoral dissertation (EUR 30,000) looks for nudges to guide people away from using private cars and towards cycling and walking. A nudge means guiding individuals’ decision-making through behavioural science in such a way that it makes it easier for the individual and the community to make good choices. Melin studies the nudges that support schoolchildren in walking and cycling to school, because operating models learned at a young age lay the foundation for future behavioural choices and social norms.  

Nudging methods are also used by Irina Salmi, who is writing a doctoral dissertation on deepening children’s and young people’s connection to nature (EUR 60,000). Through nudges, Salmi aims to bring regular situations into the everyday lives of children and young people in order to create the opportunity to deepen their connection to nature. Psychological studies show that a deep, experiential connection to nature is linked to environmentally friendly decisions and actions, compassion, happiness, well-being and good health.  

Anna Kervola’s research focuses on the climate work of Finnish municipalities (EUR 125,800), as its significance is growing with the reform of the Climate Change Act. The reform will give municipalities the freedom to choose their climate actions, even though the resources to plan, understand and implement them are very limited. The study seeks the most suitable climate and nature measures for Finland’s more than 300 municipalities and investigates the motivations, synergies and conflicts related to them. 

Joonas Vola’s research in the field of social sciences (EUR 112,500) explores non-human and collective agency as part of solving the ecological, social and economic crisis, and as an alternative to an individual-centred approach. If different entities in nature, such as a river and a protected area, had rights comparable to those held by people, organisations and businesses, it would challenge current political practices and institutional structures.

Democracy projects look into recent defence policy decisions and little-studied municipal politics

The themed application round in the ‘Is Democracy Eroding?’ funding programme sought projects that will increase our understanding of the current state, traditions and practices of Finnish democracy, as well as its challenges and blind spots. Several projects are studying recent development in Finland’s defence policy. 

In their project, Teemu Häkkinen’s working group (EUR 249,000) investigate how democratic Finland’s consensus-based decision-making is in matters relating to defence policy. The starting point for this examination is the concept of deliberative democracy: it refers to decision-making, which is preceded by a sufficient debate by citizens on the different options and ideas on a given issue. The study focuses on basic approaches to defence policy, conscription, the will to defend the nation and international defence cooperation. The working group led by Hanna Wass (EUR 107,300), on the other hand, examines citizens’ support for Finland’s defence policy and the connection between fluctuations in support for NATO membership and changes in policy frameworks. In order to identify defence policy frameworks, extensive data will be collected on NATO’s internal changes, Finland’s status as a new member state of the alliance and news coverage of these. 

Tuukka Ylä-Anttila’s working group (EUR 366,000) are building a theory of resilient democracy and casting a critical light on fashionable talk about the resilience of individuals and organisations. The group has selected three case studies: a discussion on Finland’s NATO membership, structural change in Varkaus and gang forming in Greater Helsinki. It will use them to describe the responses of different levels of democracy to perceived external or internal threats – i.e., resilience testing.     

Municipal politics is at the heart of Finnish local democracy, and it has the greatest impact on people’s daily lives. Few studies have been conducted on Finnish municipal politics, however, even though it is the most important form of local democracy and political participation. The four-year project of Emilia Korkea-aho’s working group (EUR 367,500) examines political influencing in Finnish municipalities. The project asks what lobbying or other influencing look like in the everyday politics of municipalities and how actors at the municipal level understand lobbying. Does lobbying promote or hinder the functioning of a multi-voiced municipal democracy? Doctoral researcher Samuli Laine (EUR 57,000) is also looking into municipal politics to examine the development of a democratic decision-making and negotiation culture in the local politics of five cities and municipalities over the past 20 years. Mikko Vesterinen (EUR 62,000) is writing a doctoral dissertation on political conflicts in the urban planning of Helsinki, Tampere and Oulu. The study will answer questions about key local political disputes in these cities and the parties’ views on how to resolve them.


An artist needs peaceful working conditions and a chance to seek their distinctive voice

Evaluators of art applications to the Foundation emphasise their responsibility to ensure that the artists have peaceful working conditions, which the funding provides. 

“If your livelihood doesn’t allow you peace to work and focus on making art, no new, experimental, inquiring and challenging art can be created,” says the evaluator in the field of music.  
“I wanted to support artists who in some way have a clear idea of how they want to work in the coming years. Not everything has to be ready and figured out, or happen in significant places. But if the work plan and the portfolio together make me think that the artist is moving towards something, seeking something, and that their distinctive voice will come out in that process, then I have tried to put it among the projects to be supported,” says the evaluator of media and sound art applications. 

The same desire for the opportunity to look for something new is also expressed by the artists themselves. For example, Iida Sofia Hirvonen (EUR 60,000), who received funding to write a novel, argues in the application that at a time when creating and consuming art is becoming more and more middle-class, it feels important to look for living examples of language that communicate reality. Hirvonen finds these equally well in literature as in the obtrusive and ungrammatical style of Internet discussion forums. 

Playwright and dramaturge Marie Kajava (EUR 72,000) also stresses that she wants to preserve and nurture the feeling of the unfinished, fragile, raw or broken in her work. “It’s important on stage because that’s what life is like outside the theatre,” Kajava writes in the work proposal. She is working on a play about ordinary life in Western Africa, where she has been living for years, and where, in her experience, many things start in the middle and run out before they are finished.

Spaces and platforms support artists’ sustainable ways of working

Artists’ workspaces are often a vital resource for artistic works and processes. With funding from the Foundation, new art spaces will be created in both the physical and online reality. Rendezvous ry (EUR 130,000), an association of six artists working in dance and the performance arts, is planning to open its own space in Helsinki at the beginning of 2023.  The common space will enable the emergence of new ideas and collaborations and will provide a peaceful working environment for each artist. The Association of the Ars Longa Building’s Artists (Ars Longa -talon taiteilijat ry, EUR 33,470) will receive funding for an art gallery and the window gallery Fönari. This will give the 50 artists living in the building in the Kalasatama area in Helsinki the opportunity to present their work in the form of exhibitions, performances and events. The association DuvTeatern rf (EUR 210,000) is launching a three-year accessibility project that will bring together theatres and other performance art organisations to develop new ways of making performance art accessible.  

The association Katukulttuuri ry (EUR 121,000) is continuing the Graffitilandia project, which consists of street art exhibitions in two exhibition spaces, Wasa and Seinäjoki Graffitilandia, and workshop activities in the Ostrobothnia region in Western Finland. Wasa Graffitilandia is located in an abandoned amusement park and Seinäjoki Graffitilandia in a former scrap bay. By creating venues and learning opportunities for displaying and learning about stigmatised graffiti art, the association believes it can influence attitudes opposed to street art.  

The Almanac Press working group (EUR 90,200) is opening an activist publishing platform for the publication of Almanac Press queer and trans poetry. Almanac is the first poetry publication in the world produced entirely by transgender people. Its goal is to diversify the tradition of creative and political writing and to change the ways and conditions of publishing poetry. Over the next two years, at least 50 trans poets will participate in the project. The Station of Commons working group (EUR 92,850), on the other hand, will continue its work with the lumbung radio launched at the contemporary art exhibition, Documenta Fifteen, which is an open webcasting platform that brings together local radio stations from all over the world. Each radio station involved will bring its own learning and thinking to the platform; a common platform will strengthen their ways of working. 

The work of Sámi artists is created in dialogue with their cultural heritage  

Sámi artists are looking for self-imposed ways of making art that emerge from their own cultural heritage, as well as for ways to strengthen the cultural identity of the Sámi people. They explore the Sámi people’s relationship with nature and the importance of traditions today, as well as their attitudes towards the completely different worldview of mainstream culture.  

Artist Matti Aikio (EUR 60,000) uses art to explore the Sámi people’s relationship with nature and why their way of using their lands is in constant conflict with industrial land use and nature conservation policies. Aikio finds the root cause in the differences between the indigenous people’s and mainstream culture’s relationship to nature, space and time. These relationships are crucial issues for humanity in the midst of accelerating climate change and the sixth wave of extinction. Anna Näkkäläjärvi-Länsman’s working group (EUR 137,650) will create a work called Bálvvosbáiki (Engl. place of worship) by combining joik, electronic music, bowed harp and video art. The starting point of Bálvvosbáiki are Näkkäläjärvi-Länsman’s joiks, which study and express how the Sámi relationship with nature, ancient nature religion and worldview are still manifested in Sámi life. The work will consist of a live concert, video works and a music album.  
Dance artist Laura Feodoroff’s (EUR 15,000) Vaietut askeleet – Jäävtõvvum lääu¢ (Silent Steps) is an auto-ethnic film about the journey of a Skolt Sámi woman, who grew up outside the Sámi region, to the culture that her family kept quiet about. The only dance tradition that has survived in Skolt Sámi culture to this day, the Sevettijärvi quadrille, reflects the language that the woman makes her own. Director Katja Gauriloff  (EUR 108,000) is writing the screenplay for a feature film about Skolt Sámi mythology. At the same time, Gauriloff explores what Sámi film narrative could look like after it frees itself from the limitations of traditional western film narratives. 
The project of Reetta Humalajoki’s working group (EUR 363,900) including both Sámi and Finnish researchers explores Finland’s colonial past by examining the phenomenon of cultural appropriation. Finns have borrowed the symbolism of the Sámi and North American indigenous peoples throughout the 1900s and used their imagery to build the Finnish identity. The project explores the meanings that Finns have attached to the cultural symbols, objects and practices of indigenous peoples when borrowing and imitating them. Marko Jouste’s working group (EUR 50,000) will pilot the return of historical Sámi archival material to the Northern Sámi language community and, at the same time, introduce a new kind of ethically and legally sustainable practice for the open access publication of indigenous material. The working group will edit and publish a book containing Northern Sámi fairy tales and stories recorded in 1956. The original recordings will also be released as an audiobook.

Binary gender system requires things to be done differently

Many research and art projects are looking for opportunities to do gender differently, outside the gender binary. 

Utu-Tuuli Jussila’s doctoral dissertation (EUR 122,000) is looking to change the gender system that marginalises non-binary people by creating alternative ways in which gender can be represented visually. The study examines the norms applied to ways of presenting non-binary people and how non-binary people themselves maintain or seek to deconstruct these norms. At the same time, Jussila asks how seeing non-binary people as ordinary instead of special affects the gender binary and the representation of genders.  

Author Silja Liukkonen (EUR 60,000), who is working on two novel manuscripts, inquires into the complexity of bisexuality and the abrasive space between queer and heterosexual worlds. Taneli Viljanen’s genre hybrid work Glitterneste (EUR 72,000), on the other hand, represents essay-poetry-fiction that explores the possibilities of queer and transfeminist thinking through a new kind of artistic form. Viljanen aims to write a multi-voice, playful text that utilises theoretical knowledge production in a ‘theoretical-fictional’ way, avoiding declarative sentences and unwavering positions, and utilises subjectivity without building a coherent self or identity position.  

Foundation funding will also be used to produce a fountain installation by Tia Hassinen’s working group (EUR 18,750). It aims to make visible the experience of queer embodiment of an assumed female person and to study how it presents itself in the face of the queer gaze. Julia Strandman’s textile works (EUR 30,000) reinterpret the Finnish-Karelian incantation tradition, studying its diverse depiction of non-binary gender. Strandman aims to make the tradition that is interpreted from a queer and ecofeminist perspective relatable and palpable. 

The Nakurampa project is an online performance in which Aku Meriläinen (EUR 76,000) challenges the male gaze in pornography by engaging in online sex work on social media platforms as a non-binary person living with multiple sclerosis. Through the resulting artistic process, Meriläinen seeks to diversify perceptions of disability and the sexuality of people with disabilities. Dancer Kay Taavitsainen’s partly autobiographical trilogy (EUR 30,000), on the other hand, throws open assumptions, fetishes, dreams, forms of desire, internal conflicts and a non-binary person’s journey from an inbuilt sense of otherness towards a freer understanding of selfhood. 

Grantees 2022 – a list of all grants awarded 

Statistics and listings of grants, prizes and donations 2022