Curating For a Brighter Future: Interview with Barbara Vanderlinden – EDIT



Curating For a Brighter Future: Interview with Barbara Vanderlinden

This marks the launch of EDIT’s new series of curated texts from writers outside its own editorial team. This continuing series will cover diverse topics from various authors and will from here on be known as Kutsuvieras. The first article features a discussion between writer Jenna Jauhiainen and Barbara Vanderlinden, former professor at the University of The Arts in Helsinki.

Last spring, when the Academy of Fine Arts here in Helsinki was having its MFA show Kuvan Kevät, I was reminded of woes I encountered in the Academy’s bachelor’s show the previous fall. There I met with students who told me that, in the future, Kuvan Kevät is going to be curated by outside curators, and they are going to bring in outside artists to the Academy’s galleries – and maybe when it’s time for them to have their MFA show, they will be curated out of it.

Naturally I was curious. I contacted Attilia Fattori Franchini, the first ever curator of Kuvan Kevät, and asked her who should I contact inside the Academy in order to know more about their future plans. She led me to Barbara Vanderlinden, who had been appointed professor of Exhibition Studies and Spatiality in the spring of 2014, a new professorate at the University of the Arts Helsinki. I emailed her and scheduled an interview for late May. As a result, we had a wonderful conversation about Vanderlinden’s visions for the internationalization of the Academy’s student body through curating, the Finnish art world and the politics of institutional change.

Unfortunately, we were both too busy during the summer months to wrap this interview up in writing. Then, less than a month ago in September, I received an email from Vanderlinden telling me she had been laid off from the University, under quite dubious circumstances I must say. My first reaction? Let’s put this interview together and have her vision out there for all to see.

Jenna Jauhiainen: In your response to my initial email, you linked the bringing in of an outside curator to Kuvan Kevät with a project the Academy of Fine Arts has with the Saastamoinen Foundation, which started with a three-year grant of 600 000 euros for the Academy. So, what’s the plan?

Barbara Vanderlinden: I joined the University in April 2014 as Professor of Exhibition Studies and Spatiality. This new professor position was created to develop an exhibition and teaching program for the Exhibition of the Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Arts and what was previously called Kuva/Tila and is now renamed Exhibition Laboratory of which I am the Director. The Kuvan Kevät is one aspect of the overall mission of the Exhibition Laboratory.

We’ve developed a vision and a mission, but we’ll see how much of that can be done. I’ve encountered some reality checks in terms of the changing of the exhibitions program, especially the involvement of artists from abroad and beyond the Academy. These arouse quite emotional responses at the Academy, where a hurdle to internationalization lurks slightly below the surface. I try to build it, stone by stone, and with each piece we have to evaluate how we’ve progressed because students’ reactions to change are very strong. Changes to Kuvan Kevät have to be seen in this overall plan. This end-of-terms event is a group exhibition, however, not the kind of exhibition where ideas work together. It’s like a group exhibition with lots of solo-projects. To create one interesting group exhibition out of these individual projects is not easy because there is no thematic or other relation between the works.

My proposal to innovate this MFA exhibition is to connect it to the professional art world, including the collaboration with a young professional curator. I believe Kuvan Kevät represents the first moment when the students go public. It provides a platform for real public reflections on the works they have been developing in their studios. The collaboration with a young international curator provides the first real life experience and also an opportunity to work with a professional they might encounter later on when they continue as professional artists.

My colleague Leevi Haapala did the selection of the first curator with me. This choice demands some curatorial expertise as it is based on a good understanding of the emerging curator networks internationally. We selected Italian curator Attilia Fattori Franchini, she works and lives in London and has a talent in installing and connecting the young generation of artists. She proved herself very well with this exhibition. But the true success lies in the future, when all these curators and student encounters will result in the emergence of a new generation of Finnish artists connected to an international network of curators. That’s the ultimate goal. Whether or not the curator makes nice walls, beautiful carpet, nice lighting, well-installed pictures, none of this is going to change the future of art in Finland. The vital stepping-stone here is to network, to create an environment where artists can work with the curators of their own generation and internationally. A positive sign is that Attilia is already working with some of the students beyond the Academy. One of those collaborations involves a space here in the city, which is a gallery space by a collective…

JJ: Do you mean Sorbus?

BV: Yes, it is an example of the possible outcomes of this collaboration, both for the artists in this city and the Academy. There’s also another plan that will bring some of the Finnish artists to London in a project organized by Attilia. So, this is what we envisioned; to support the new generation of artists from Finland.

JJ: Was your approach to having Kuvan Kevät curated based on something you’ve done before? Have you curated graduation shows yourself?

BV: Yes, I did at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. The academy there hires every year a curator to do the MFA show, yet the difference is they are renowned curators, like Harald Szeemann and Kasper König. The difference between Vienna and the Academy here in Helsinki is that there are about a thousand students in Vienna, and the curator is requested to select a group of students to participate. Not everyone is represented. The fact that you can select allows for a more thematically or content curated exhibition. There is some resemblance; both models are based on working with an external curator. Also in Vienna it led to many positive aftereffects for the artists. I also continued to work with some of the artists I encountered during my time there. And I believe we need to keep on connecting students with the professionals, both as a form of real-life learning and as a way of introducing the work of these young artists within the international network. As of next year we will invite two curators to create a different selection, this is only going to stimulate this process.

JJ: Have you thought about extending the period the curators stay here?

BV: Yes, I believe that is crucial. We’re also working on a website where I hope the story of this year’s Kuvan Kevät will continue – if Attilia works further with these artists, we hope to be able to publicize it so that after five years we can look back and see what kind of network we have created. That would be the real success of Kuvan Kevät, although I am not sure if it should be called “Kuvan Kevät” in the future, but anyway… Also I hope Kuvan Kevät can provide some alternative to the rent-and-pay exhibition model here in Helsinki.

JJ: Yes, the artists pay rent to have exhibitions here, thus taking a lot of financial responsibility themselves. Even if you to a commercial gallery here you might not encounter a curator at all in your path.

BV: Yeah, but they are mostly solo and local projects. There is another world out there, too. Nobody will fly in to come and see an exhibition by one artist. What we need are interesting young group exhibitions and clever networking. We have to build intelligent connections. This is why I believe the selection of the curators should be done in the future by an expert committee, with external experts, not only Academy professors. Kiasma, Frame, and other institutional curators could be natural partners in providing such expertise. Also when these young international curators come to Helsinki, programs could be established to connect them to other artists that are active here, opening Finland up based on real dialogue and experiences. That’s the idea.

JJ: I told you in the email how the first time I heard about the curating of Kuvan Kevät was last fall at the Academy’s Bachelor show. I met some friends there who study at the Academy, and they were really worried, really scared about Kuvan Kevät being curated. They are expecting to have their own MFA show in a couple of years and now they were afraid of being curated out of it.

I think there is this inbuilt pessimism in the Finnish culture, something that you probably have noticed already. Especially now when there’s been huge changes happening throughout the higher education system, whenever something is changing people are almost automatically assuming things are getting worse.

BV: Yes, although this started to change when talking to the students. It proves that we need to be in dialogue with the students to implement these changes. It is only about 40 people that participated in Kuvan Kevät and the Academy counts in 250 students, so therefore not everybody’s actively involved yet. But the current participants are very positive about their experience, so it’s building a base for a more positive outlook.

Matti Koskinen Navalon

Kuvan Kevät: Matti Koskinen, Navalon, 2015 
(Petri Summanen/University of The Arts, Academy of Fine Arts)

JJ: I have been doing criticism for five or six years now, and I often encounter young artists to whom it’s a new process to have somebody come over and write about their works. Many young artists I’ve met have been surprised that somebody wants to write about their works, and often they’re impressed that an outsider can approach their works from a new angle. So, from those kinds of encounters I have developed the view that maybe they are just in contact with their teachers, they are in contact with other young artists, yet the whole system of the art world is kind of foreign to them until they are thrown into it.

BV: Indeed, however, it’s only the local scene, which is of course not the full picture of a 21st Century art world. We live in a globalized world, and also the arts are part of a global dialogue. My ambition is to accommodate the students in this dialogue. Another exhibition series I developed is called Open Exhibition Classes; these classes are based on real experiences and collaborative curating and exhibition practices, involving artists across the disciplines, across the different academies of the University and involving professional artists where necessary to engage with ideas and concepts critically. Also, they are exhibitions where students are entitled to experiment with the concept of exhibition itself. The term comes from “Open Ballet Classes”, a 19th century public learning model ideal for developing skills in a positive public environment, based on an idea that Ballet is for everyone. So, even though it’s a class, it’s also already a real performance. So, my Open Exhibition Classes somehow refer to that. The upcoming Open Exhibition Class is quite radical and experimental. It is an exhibition that starts from the end and ends with the beginning. It is entitled “What Is To Be Done?”, a title from a book by Lenin in which he outlines the concept of the revolutionary party run according to the principles of democratic centralism. So it is an invitation to propose new exhibition ideas in the democratic setting of discussions.

JJ: At the Bachelor show last fall there were fears of losing the few exhibition spaces the Academy has, as they were going to be “used by outside curators to curate outside artists in”. Nobody was talking about this idea you are talking about now, about how the students will be involved in the process of curating a show, in essence seeing it all from another perspective while having the opportunity to network.

BV: Yes, they see it from the point of view of square meters being lost. I never think in square meters. When you do something, it needs to be interesting in terms of learning something. I believe in students being engaged in real-world learning. For an exhibition practice, this involves collaboration with other artists and with invited participants from other parts of the world. This is the real world. It’s not a closed classroom environment. It involves public and professionals. And above all it gives us an opportunity to organize interesting exhibitions and be a real contributor to the Helsinki cultural landscape. “What Is To Be Done?” engages the students’ in proposed projects but also invites non-academy students and non-Finnish artists, all naturally following and coming out of the conversations about the future of the exhibition practices itself. So we can see how their ideas connect to things in the world and that’s actually what any exhibition out there does – if it’s a good exhibition. And I don’t see any reason why that should be taking something away from the students, because in a real-world learning process they are both leading the exhibition and are learning from the experience.

So, these projects include a student curated exhibition, which is solely curated by the curators from the Praxis program, and a slot for an international or, whatever-we-please type of a project that we do in the Exhibition Laboratory, a 700 sqm space in downtown Helsinki. It’s too big for a student solo show. My absolute favorite policy would be to have three project rooms for the students, in FAFA’s kind of volume, because they need to develop their work, they need to be able to test out what works. Not all students want to do this, but some do, and I think that with a body of 250 students we will need more than one project gallery or room. Initially, when I arrived at the University, there was the idea to cancel the FAFA altogether and only have the Exhibition Laboratory. However, the Academy works with visual artists and space or a gallery is an essential aspect of their work, it’s where students find a real place for their creative inquiries. Now FAFA is in my opinion becoming another gallery for group shows, and I am not in favor of that. I will continue to plea for three project rooms for the students. At other academies such spaces are provided in the Academy building itself. However the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki has hardly any appropriate exhibition spaces at its premises. So, it is an opportunity to develop the aspect of teaching in the city, which is in my point of view an advantage because it provides an extra opportunity for the students to present their artistic work to the public.

To strengthen the international dimension of the Academy’s educational system, the Saastamoinen Foundation has provided a three-year grant. They have already developed similar programs with other universities in Finland, supporting the international dimension of education. That’s the core vision behind the Saastamoinen Foundation programs with universities in Finland. This program will also involve a series of keynote lectures, entitled Saastamoinen Foundation Keynote Lectures. Each keynote lecturer will allow us to engage with more profound questions concerning the future of aesthetic education. This year we have invited Okwui Enwezor, the Artistic Director of the Venice Biennial. The Academy will also organize a research trip to the Venice Biennial, and I will invite IC-98, the artist duo representing Finland in this edition of the biennial. The inquiry we will be developing with Okwui Enwezor will be centered around the question: “what is it that we need to know to be artists in the future?” What are the building blocks that define the road of a young artist today, what are the curricula we must create, how do we educate an artist or how do artists learn to become artists? As teachers and professors, we follow young people who are on the road to becoming artists. And, you may wonder, what are the building blocks, pieces of knowledge that need to lie along that road so that they can become sensitive and aesthetic artists in a globalized future of art. So, we must be prepared for the new sensibilities, sensitivities and new aesthetics that are coming from the arts these days, but also from the world itself. In his Saastamoinen Foundation Keynote Lecture, Okwui Enwezor will give his vision of what these knowledge blocks should be and what he sees in terms of the future of art and artistic education.

JJ: The students are really lucky to have that opportunity.

BV: Yeah well, I don’t know, I understand innovation and change need time and temperament, so we’ll keep working, little by little… But increasingly. Honestly speaking, I do however doubt a little bit whether the Academy as an institution is prepared for it.

JJ: I think the institution has gone through a lot since it merged with the Sibelius Academy and the Theatre Academy. Maybe it is still in a bit shaky state. That’s what’s been happening all over the Finnish society – when things are merging, people are being laid off. That makes people afraid for their own status. They’re essentially afraid of their familiar power structures crumbling.

BV: Yeah, that’s how it feels inside the institution. But it is also understandable.

Personally, as an outsider, I find the Finnish art scene quite cautious about change in relation to the organization of the art world. There’s hope to maintain the structures in place. I don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the old; maybe it comes down to some power structures; people are afraid they might lose something. Maybe also artists are cautious for the change from a very well organized state-funded system to more private engagement. I can understand that as it may put pressure on who gets funded and who gets supported.

Opening of Laboratory of Hearing 12.2.2015 (Petri Summanen/Taideyliopiston Kuvataideakatemia)

Opening of Laboratory of Hearing 12.2.2015 
(Petri Summanen/University of The Arts, Academy of Fine Arts)

JJ: Maybe some are also afraid that what if Finnish artists start to work outside the grant system that gives artists their livelihood and become very successful nationally still, and then the politicians start saying that “Oh! They are making it without our support system!”

BV: That kind of thing, and also saying “maybe we don’t need to give support anymore for these artists that aren’t doing the kind of work that is successful or popular.” I understand that complexity. For ten years I was the vice-president of the funding commission of contemporary art in Belgium. I know these politics in and out. Actually in my country Belgium, I learned that a lot can be changed. At the outset, the situation was similar to the situation here. Although no, here you have an extremely strong state-funded system compared to, for example, in Belgium where we have a lot of private collectors providing the initial support to young artists. I can see there is a lot at stake politically because in fact Finland is a powerful welfare state.

JJ: Yes, and it’s based on a power structure.

BV: I know, it’s based on unions, which have their own kind of logic. But I think the union mentality is not really compatible with operating as a professional artist in an art system that is fundamentally liberal. Actual professional artists don’t work for wages or fixed copyright compensations. Also, traditionally unions tend to settle for a weak form of democracy and a tend to seek the middle ground, which de facto is conservatism and power control. Everybody kind of plays an invisible middleman, hangs out at the openings of everybody, befriends everything and everybody, journalist, critics inform but do not provide a critical debate of things. Everybody’s friends here! Everybody gets into the societal principle of ’you support me, I support you’… There is nothing wrong with the idea of a union, yet I think it is more important to keep up with real developments in the arts. Too big and too many unions can jeopardize innovation.

However, my ambition is not to change Finnish culture. That would be utopian and pretentious. On the contrary I like to concentrate on my expertise. The relevance of the work done is to do things well, not by saying all the time “mmm-mm,” you know. The latest Kuvan Kevät showed that we can do well, and this was just by being a bit more concentrated and precise. Relevance shows itself, and that’s something I think we should be grateful for.

The model of the Kuvan Kevät exhibition is very traditional. To show the academic work of students at the end of their MFA studies is in itself a classical thing that has been around from the 19th century, and yet, I believe the ambition could be to do new things with this type of end of terms exhibition model; such are very valuable ambitions. We don’t need to be afraid of anything, also old models can be changed.

What Is To Be Done?” on the contrary is built on the principle of uncertainty. It’s an exhibition without an exhibition; it’s an exhibition that starts with an end and ends with a beginning. It’s an exhibition that happens everywhere where the exhibition is not in a way, yet, when it comes to the reflections and talks it will be all locked onto cameras that observe it. It’s a strange summer project also because the students are going everywhere, and via different projects, talks, artists, interventions, dances they will come back to the exhibition. We have performing artists that are doing some things, painters who come out with invisible paintings. They come up with really daring things now! This kind of confidence I was hoping to see at an Academy of contemporary art. In the Kuvan Kevät exhibition, students are under a lot of pressure, it’s the end of term, you have to succeed – You don’t see the more radical works there. But the upcoming exhibition is special as it somehow gives the freedom back to the students. So that’s what we are doing now, and its title is, “What Is To Be Done?”. It begins with a question on the 17th of July, and it ends with a question on the 13th of August.

Before the organization of all exhibitions at the Academy were based on an ‘open-call system’. The systems worked as follows: the producer writes out an exhibition project and a team of professors and coordinators look at the propositions and select from them the participants for each exhibition. The institution believed that this procedural mechanism provided a more democratic and transparent system that would break with the ‘club mentality’ seemingly existing in all domains of exhibitions. However, in my view the ‘open-call systems’ are rather competitive and not necessarily educational. They are also not curatorial, because they provide little experimentation with the development of the form and idea of the exhibition, and the thematic is set from the outset. It neither guarantees enough information to assess pre-proposals in a sound manner, and as the producer or coordinator often does the pre-selections, in such a division of labor there is no guarantee that this process identifies the best proposals. On the other hand, there is no guarantee that the open-call system works against the ‘club mentality’ because it’s not anonymous. Also, as the Academy is still an education institute, I find the lack of accompaniment in this early phase of a project not very educational.

In principle, there is much to be learned from the discussion about these early stages of an exhibition process. So, open-calls are not the kind of democracy I would defend in an educational institute. It’s like, everybody can be involved, but therefore one does not get involved with anybody. The best democracy is one that brings the best out of the whole, together. There are many democratic situations where democracy does not necessarily produce the best in terms of listening to everybody. Specifically in the art world it’s the strangest thing. It’s so individual. It’s individual people with individual ideas. The creative power of art and its potential to be a catalyst for action combined with open communication and the flow of ideas is probably the best guarantee for a democratic process in the fields of arts.

What Is To Be Done<br>(Petri Summanen/Taideyliopiston Kuvataideakatemia)

What Is To Be Done 
(Petri Summanen/University of The Arts, Academy of Fine Arts)

JJ: Yes, and when the individual gets inspired, he will inspire others. I also think the kind of “democracy” you describe feeds unnatural competition. When you’re all on the same level yet you don’t know what the next guy is doing, you become “internally competitive”. You don’t show your ambitions, you don’t share your goals. You don’t tell others what you want to do because you are afraid that, what if somebody is going to copy my ideas and behind my back write them down in an application somewhere? This is the kind of an atmosphere you get here often; people don’t tend to be very open about their ideas because they are afraid of each others.

What I gather from you and your goals, I think this program is fabulous and I can’t wait to see what will happen in the next five years.

BV: I give it three years, before a full evaluation of the Exhibition Laboratory can be done. But at the same time the success of it also depends from a process of transformation of the institutional culture of the Academy itself, which is much more complex. That’s probably the most difficult part of it. It’s really funny because, the first time I came to Finland was in 1998. I was here on my research for the second edition of Manifesta in Luxemburg. We selected Eija-Liisa Ahtila. We felt she was very strong. However, it seems that she made most of her career outside of the Academy’s world. Her first conceptual works were motivated by art philosophy, by a critique of art institutions and by feminism. I believe she quickly organized herself differently, even economically cooperating with a professional production company. At that time, Finnish television channels co-produced really interesting films, experimental things. I wasn’t so much aware of it then, I thought it was normal, but now I realize that she was one of those who took a leap out of the system to organize her artistic practice in her way. And that is a characteristic of all strong artists.

A similar thing can be said from the artists Tommi Grönlund and Petri Nisunen. Besides the art world, they had built a very strong independent structure Sähkö Recordings, an underground record label founded in 1993 by Tommi Grönlund in Helsinki, which gained international acclaim during the very first years of its existence. I worked with them on an interesting city project in Antwerp in 1998 and invited them to New York to an exhibition I curated at MoMA PS1, where I also worked with Mika Vainio. So, Finnish art has always been in my curatorial equation. However they often lived either in Berlin or in Barcelona.

The most interesting thing now is to meet the new generation of Finnish artists, both here in Helsinki and abroad. The best things I see from Finland, I mostly see outside of Finland. It seems that talented young artists have an urge to go beyond the Helsinki circle. They keep a strong tie with Finland, and often return to work from here, such as, for example the young architect, theoretician and composer Martti Kalliala,and Jaakko Pallasvuo. The latter is one of those artists, who resigned from the Academy. I happen to have read his and others letter of resignation or refusal. Great artists with a great sense of deviation, they know how to deviate from the system and status quo. It requires a great deal of courage to go against the grain and do things opposite of what is usually done, so I have a lot of respect for these artists.

JJ: There’s an atmosphere of secrecy here and avoidance of showing who you really are. You can’t be really honest about yourself because you are afraid it may trigger jealousy or some other negativity in others. Or you might lose your job.

BV: Or you might indeed lose your job! Interestingly last week Marjaana Kella, the vice-dean of the Academy, introduced a discussion about the future curriculum. There were little workshops with the students going on and I was amazed to hear from the students, specifically the international ones, that they would prefer the professors to be a little more direct and pitiless! And that has to be understood in the context of the Academy, where even the professors hardly dare to speak out their mind, in fear of losing their job. One of the students said, “when I was in Paris my professor just destroyed my paintings, and here they hardly say anything about them!” I also come from a culture where hard discussions are a part of the educational process. That’s part of the goal – if a student can endure that, he learns a lot about how to distance his work from him as a person.

This kind of critical distance is essential to build a critical discourse about your work. If you become too emotional involved it is difficult to remain critical and engage in a real dialogue about your work. I remember in the 1980s when Jan Hoet came to the academy in Brussels on the occasion of a television program, he walked into the atelier of a young painter, a student. First he was so fascinated by everything and looked around the atelier. Two minutes later he completely changes his manners and said, “I’m sorry, the more I look at it, the more I see how bad it is what you’re doing.” That was very tough to say in front of an audience and the television cameras! I can see that the Finns are different in that sense.

JJ: You see it in our criticism as well. I don’t know if you know Harri Mäcklin, he’s written criticism for Helsingin Sanomat for quite some time. A couple of years ago, he wrote a critique about Salmela’s summer show. It’s a very traditional summer show; it has been on for 25 years. What he wrote about it wasn’t even that negative, but it received quite a backlash. I had to go back and read it after it stirred a fierce response with complaints to the publisher, just to see if there was something really wrong he had written. There was nothing of the sort. He had just written what he thought.

BV: When the Exhibition Laboratory opened, I believe it was Leena Kuumola who wrote about it. She wrote about it already before it opened. It felt like she had been waiting for the moment. She didn’t want to talk about the exhibition as such; she wanted to discuss the policies of exhibitions of the Academy. I don’t know if you read it, but she wrote like, “Oh, the Academy has lost its integrity, it’s now corrupt, they are bringing in curators…” She was completely devastating.

So, we sat down in a meeting with the communication director and the dean, evaluating her critique. She didn’t speak much in the article about my exhibition itself, but the day after when she saw it she wrote about it as well. I was targeted because I represented the curatorial culture she so much seems to dislike. I decided not to reply because even as it was very negative everyone is entitled to have an opinion; there’s no problem with that. I don’t see any big deal with it. I just hope it wasn’t part of a process of trying to eliminate all attempts to change something or to innovate as faulty because then critique is a weapon for conservatism and not done in the true spirit of exchanging ideas. But as Kuumola was very harshly and directly attacking the Academy she gave me the impression of wanting to transform the Academy from the outside, also because she kind of made the dean so afraid that now he’s almost solely consulting her! Which made my life very complicated, because he hired me to renew the exhibition policies. But, it’s ok. What is also interesting to see is that when it started to be good, she didn’t write.

In 2015 in Helsinki, this attitude is a bit strange to me because the concept of curating has been well introduced and proven to be a vital element of the contemporary art today. Curating is a form of criticality I feel responsible for; it is one of the critical dimensions of the larger complexity around the artists. The process of mediating, dialoguing and catalyzing between artists, between places, between histories, between interpretations, is the form criticality has taken today. In the earlier part of the 20th century criticality was mainly expressed through essayistic and journalistic work. It is important we engaged the students and young artists in this critical environment of the arts. That’s what we do as curators, and especially as the Professor of Exhibition Studies responsible for an exhibition program with the students.

As I said, in the beginning of the century this was more the role of written criticism, but now media has become so limited in terms of providing places for it. I don’t know; I can’t follow television here, but in general, there is hardly any discussion worth anything anymore on television or in newspapers. In international magazines, some criticism can happen. And especially young student artists are often excluded from that dialogue.

It’s also a misinterpretation of history to say curating is a new practice, because in fact historically curating has always existed. There was never a situation where there was no critical mediation around art. I really believe it’s a complete misinterpretation of history, this idea of autonomy. Where does it come from? There was always collectivity, I think. Something that’s not against autonomy, and certainly not against dialogue.

JJ: One issue with curatorship in Finland is that I don’t think we have any famous curators here.

BV: Maybe, not yet! Although, I do think you have very important and internationally well-known curators. In my opinion, someone who is worldwide respected for her work is Maaretta Jaukkuri. There are curators that inform and influence, but there are very few curators that change the course of the history of art. The Swiss curator Harald Szeeman has changed the course of art. Especially with his exhibition When Attitudes Become Form, he changed the whole international situation in the 1960s. In my country, Jan Hoet, with his exhibition Chambre d’Amis in Ghent, affected the relationship between the art and the whole city of Ghent. He introduced the notion of curating a new public for art. This was important because at the time Jan Hoet was developing a new museum for the city. He said, “I can’t open a museum if we don’t have a public. So, I will first build a relationship with the city and its citizens.” The exhibition was spread all over the city, in the houses of ordinary people, in their living rooms, in their bathrooms, everywhere. The point of this exhibition was to let the citizens lead themselves. And it was absolutely successful. An important predecessor to this was Kasper König, who started in Munster the Sculpture Project, an exhibition of sculptures in public places in the town of Münster in 1977.

JJ: The same has actually been done in Helsinki last year, and again this year. It goes under the name Living Room Exhibition.

BV: Maybe there is a connection, because in Helsinki we are now at a point where we need to create new audiences that are expecting something from the curatorial methods, and the context and audiences it can create. This is maybe one of the main reasons why the exhibition system in Helsinki needs to develop and open up to curatorial ideas.

I truly believe in the collaboration between artists and curators for all the reasons mentioned. It is thus important that also the students at the Academy get to be introduced to the learning process that is involved in this aspect of their work. I believe the question of the way art is discussed, positioned and presented is becoming increasingly important in the art world, and every generation has its approach to this.

This idea of making active connections for this emerging generation is something that I also try to develop in the lecture series entitled Prognostics, supported by Saastamoinen. Every semester six young artists come to Helsinki. The millennium generation artists that represent approaches and new ideas, we don’t organize an exhibition with them, but we ask them to engage actively and present their ideas in the form of a lecture performances that may lead to new connections.

This is accompanied with workshops and discussions with the students, because what we do is based on the belief that the generation of students we work with live in a different environment, at least compared to mine. I grew up in a world where we started off with Fax and Telex; I did not grow up in a fully computerized and connected world. This new environment leads to new places, ideas and forms of art. And so I think this perspective, this prognosis, as I like to call it, is about seeing what’s going on, and getting excited about what the future has in store for us. Adriana Ramic, for example, is one of the young artists who is a resident artist in one of the programs of Google. She works on big data and information. We had Amalia Ulman, she is Argentinian born, and she lives and works in Spain, New York and London. She’s living “everywhere” and developed her work around that experience and; that of building an identity via Facebook and Airbnb. Instagram recognized her work as one of the emerging forms of art. In the next edition we’ll have Sarah Abu Abdallah, she is working as a woman in a very male environment confronting and facing prejudices coming from within and without, from the West and Saudi-Arabia. In the end, this is all about trying to build a network around the Academy and its community.

Facepalming much? Curating has been the buzzword in the Finnish art world in the past years, yet now we know that the number one institution for art education turned its back on a world class curator and her vision. Hopefully, this story will be continued. I myself am doing my best to find the time and the resources to dig into this deeper. What I would really love to read are testimonies by students and faculty members of the University itself. Only through open dialogue we will curate a brighter future for ourselves.


Jenna Jauhiainen
–the author is an independent writer and the muscles behind HYPERREAALIYAH


Cover: Exhibition Laboratory
(Petri Summanen/University of The Arts, Academy of Fine Arts)


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