Category Archives: #Art

On the Varieties of Otherness

 



In the blog this week: The Institute publishes a series of articles on contemporary art and philosophy in conjunction with the Talk Art/Talk Society events. The second blog post is written by Valter Holmström and deals with a reoccurring concept in contemporary art and philosophy, the concept of the Other.

 

First, three entangled quotes. During an event at the Finnish Institute in London, artist Tellervo Kalleinen defined the red line running through her artworks as “making the Other seem like any one of us”.  In a recent interview the British MP Chuka Umunna accused the Tories and UKIP of pursuing a “politics of othering”,[1]and approximately 145 years ago the French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud coined the cryptic phrase “Je est un Autre” in a letter to his teacher – I am an Other.

What does this eclectic collection of quotes mean? The concept of the Other – note the capital O – has gained increased popularity during the last decades, a concept that is steadily creeping into art-talk, cultural critic’s columns and the vocabularies of various public intellectuals. Inevitably, a concept with such a wide use becomes slightly sticky – it attracts a multitude of meanings and as such could do with some unpacking. A return to the philosophical roots of the concept might be in order, to map its conceptual mechanisms.

In its original abstract philosophical sense the concept of the Other is simply a negation, a sort of negative definition: all that which is not “the Same”. And, perhaps more fittingly, that which is not the Self: anything outside self-consciousness. In this sense the Other is often seen as constitutive of the Self, of self-awareness, as the self can only be grasped when an outside to the self is posited – the Other draws a line where the self can emerge as an object of reflection.[2]

Kasimir Malevich’s black square painting series from 1915 primarily display contrast (and were in themselves an 
attempt to inject a radical Otherness into the established art scene)

In a slightly different but related sense the Other is specifically used to designate other people. And a similar dynamic of definition through opposition is visible here – we become aware of ourselves and define ourselves through contrasting ourselves to other people. This is especially visible in the construction of cultural identities, which work like collective selves.  We create cultural identities like “Finnishness” through contrasting it to other nationalities and identities. So the construction of this collective Self, this Sameness, is always dependent on a certain construction of Otherness.

A popular conception, for instance in postcolonial theory, is that some groups of people become defined as specifically Other, to work as a form of inverted mirror for a dominant culture. This is why we often construct a common image of the Other that is unflattering to embellish the image of ourselves. The cultural theorist Edward Said, for instance, examined how the dominant view of the far East – as the mysterious Orient – had been systematically constructed throughout the 19th century in Europe. A contrast to the identity “civilized westerner” was created, in culture, anthropology and art. Something decadent, promiscuously barbaric and backwards to bolster the sense of purity and historical progress that the western civilization was thought to embody – the west desperately needed an Other.


Jean-Léon Gérôme’s orientalist painting Le charmeur de serpents, 1879.

Indeed many groups or communities run the risk of uncritically projecting Otherness in the attempts to create a common identity. When today, after recent elections in Finland and the UK, we see a kind of cultural protectionism emerging in politics, we can also note an increase of generalized Others in the public imagination. Whether it is the image of the immigrant, the EU-bureaucracy, the Greek or the naive internationalists, a convenient set of counterpoints is created to cement national identity. For an identity often gives a sense of stability and security in a world that is often in flux – it works kind of like a coping mechanism.

Otherness will always be present in our experience of the world to some extent, it is part of our very structure of thought and experience. On a cultural level, however, we can see that Otherness is often very unequally or irrationally distributed, and that these constructions often serve ideological purposes – be it national, class-biased or gendered. Often they work to externalize our anxieties into scapegoats, and in the process create glossy illusions of our own communities and identities.

This insight might be why the concept of the Other has crept into artists’ work and the general cultural discourse. Ideally, its use could be turned into a tactic of using art to redistribute Otherness more equally, deconstruct the myths of Sameness that create sharp distinctions between an “us” and a “them”. To repeat Kalleinen’s words, to make the Other seem like any of us, or – as in Umunna’s case – criticize the Othering trends in politics. And lastly, to paraphrase Rimbaud, to see the otherness inherent in ourselves.


[2] Paradoxically, this also means that the Self is always partly mediated through its own opposition.

Art-work or Art-object? A phenomenological introduction


In the blog this week: The Institute will publish a series of articles on contemporary art and philosophy in conjunction with the Talk Art/Talk Society events. The first blog post is written by Valter Holmström and deals with one of the main currents of philosophy of art in the 20th century –  phenomenology – and the transformative power of art. 


“By the opening of a world, all things gain their lingering and hastening, their distance and proximity, their breadth and their limits.” – Heidegger in The Origin of the Work of Art, 1950.


When venturing into the dense conceptual forest of contemporary art it is easy to get lost. The multitude of art theories, avant-garde art pieces, eccentric artists and confused public discourse makes for a strange foreign ground where the traveler is lost with no clear guiding coordinates. To create a framework of understanding – to grasp contemporary art in the form of thought – we turn to philosophy. Not necessarily to reduce the complexity of art to a few intelligible principles, but rather to sketch at least one way to navigate the contemporary art field.

In the Finnish Institute’s recent Talk Art/Talk Society event, artist Hans Rosenström and critic/curator James Putnam discussed various forms of visibility for contemporary art. Regarding the question whether art should be actively marketing itself for a wider audience Rosenström quipped “at what point does a work of art become an object for the market?”– a question that can be read in a phenomenological way, and a good starting point for elucidating some philosophical interpretations of art: the difference between art-work and art-object.
The distinction I’m referring to is one made by Martin Heidegger.  And whereas it might be pretentious to go into the complexities of Heidegger’s phenomenology in a short blog post, a simple grazing of the surface might give us a sketch of some concepts that can shed light on contemporary art. Suffice it to say that phenomenology is the philosophical study of consciousness and experience, and in that sense it’s often a natural ally to art and aesthetics.[1]
The distinction between art-work and art-object is one made by Heidegger in The Origin of the Work of Art (1950). One of the many things Heidegger was objecting to in this essay was the view of art as an object isolated from the viewing subject. We come to expect art to personally enrich us – we go to a museum and observe an art piece and walk home with a sense of fulfilment. Maybe we talk about it with our peers. But this attitude is restrictive in many ways and fails to grasp the true transformative power of art, or the crucial role art plays in a community.
The problem with this “aesthetic approach” to art, Heidegger suggested, is that it isolated the art and the viewer from each other. In fact, in our everyday experience, the line between art and subject is blurry. Modern thought is generally haunted by a shadow of dualism, of an object-subject distinction, which gives us a warped view of the world. And Heidegger blurred the lines. Art, for instance, is transformative; it does not leave its subject(s) intact.[2]

Artwork from the ceiling of the Tomb of the Diver in a temple at Paestum. 
Photo by Michael Johanning 2001.

Rather, both art and viewer are immersed in a historical community – what Heidegger calls a specific “world” – where they both play a dynamic part. It is in this context where the art-work does its work. It is an active part of this world, it creates, entangles, brings together different forms of intelligibility, values, existential attitudes, traditions – aspects which constitutes our experience of reality. Heidegger used an ancient Greek temple at Paestum as an example of a great artwork: it connects a community, shapes attitudes towards life and death, of what matters and what doesn’t. Art is not confined to some leisurely activity like going to the museum, it is not an object to be merely passively pondered.
The role of art in our historical situation, Heidegger continues, is also to bring forth the tensions immanent in our understanding of our world. Not only is art a crucial part of world creation, modern art also open ups worlds, makes us aware of the fundamental openness of world-making – how our reality is neither eternal nor objective, but always creatively constructed by human communities.

Nocturnal festivity by Paul Klee, 1921. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.

Art objectified, whether by a market logic or as bourgeois cultural capital denies art its world-opening, its world-making and world-transforming role. In stead it becomes part of the subject’s – this mythical creature’s – strive to self-growth, a perspective Heidegger viewed as insufficient if we want to really grasp our existence as human beings.
But there are many other ways of encountering art, and this is only one glimpse of one way of viewing it. Indeed, if contemporary art is a dense forest, so is contemporary thought. And there are different paths through both, interspersed with light.

[1] Although, of course, not in every instance.
[2]And indeed, “the subject” probably does not even exist as a fixed entity to begin with.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories are from the British Library’s “Digital Conversations: Cultural Heritage Institutions and Videogame Technologies” panel held on the 8th of December and have been chosen by the Institute’s Maria Pirkkalainen.

Minecrafting the British Museum

Putting together the world famous game Minecraft and the even more legendary British Museum might not sound like the most logical pair at first glance. However, like Nick Harris from the British Museum’s Museum of the future project pointed out at the Digital Conversations panel discussion, the mix of these two has proved out to be very fruitful to both parties.

Initiated and managed by Mr Harris, the crowdsourcing project Museumcraft aims to give anyone interested in the Museum or Minecraft the opportunity to engage with the Museum’s spaces by working together to build the Museum in Minecraft. Engaging the interested audience first via a post on Reddit, the project provides Minecraft users the chance to personalise and modify the Museum according to their wishes. The building will be freely available to download after its completion, and it is also planned to be used as an educational tool.

The idea behind the project is to give the museum and the general public a chance to think together how, for example, the museum space could be customized. Would the people want to build the museum themselves? Judging from the enthusiastic feedback and interest that Museumcraft has generated, the answer seems to be a strong yes.

Victoria and Albert Museum’s Games Designer in Residence

The world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, the Victoria and Albert Museum took another step forward when it introduced its new initiative of a games designer residency in 2013. The museum’s first chosen games designer Sophia George completed her yearlong residency in the fall of 2014, and the V&A’s Team Leader for Digital Programmes, Alex Flowers, discussed some of the achievements and results of their collaboration at the Digital Conversations panel discussion.

Before her residency, BAFTA winner and Chair of Swallowtail Games Sophia George was known, for example, for her family-friendly puzzle game Tick Tock Toys. Organized as a partnership between the V&A, V&A at Dundee and the University of Abertay Dundee, Ms George spent the first half of the residency in London and the other half in Dundee.

The residency aimed to find new interpretations and ways of use for the museum’s large collection of British heritage. The final product of the residency was therefore a free iPad game called Strawberry Thief. The game was inspired by a historical William Morris textile piece in V&A’s Britain 1500-1900 galleries.

Besides working and producing the game in question, the games designer’s residency tasks included working on public engagement, workshops and being active in calling for more women to enter the games industry. The museum’s focus on video games will also be seen at their upcoming video games exhibition in 2016.

World’s first cultural centre for gaming to open in the UK

GameCity is a British institution that celebrates the artistry and creativity of video games and has held the annual GameCity festival each year ever since 2006. And as the company’s Director Iain Simons told at the event, starting from March 2015, GameCity will also be the main party behind the world’s first cultural centre for gaming; the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham, United Kingdom.

The 2.5 million pound centre aims to promote video gaming as an art form as important as for example film and theatre. With five floors, video game exhibitions and a permanent display of gaming world objects, the centre is sure to answer a need for an important area of the creative culture and economy.

British Library’s annual quest for finding inspiring video games

Besides engaging professionals from the cultural heritage and academic videogame design sectors, the British Library’s Digital Conversations event also introduced the third edition of the Library’s and GameCity’s annual video game competition Off the Map. The competition’s co-curator Helen Melody explained how the theme of the next Off the Map coincides with the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – or as originally known, Alice’s Adventures Underground. 2015 also marks the year when British Library will celebrate the anniversary with an exhibition.

The idea of the contest is to challenge video game designers with the task of using the British Library’s collections as an inspiration to create new digital media – and in new creative ways. The competition will have three entry categories in 2015; the games should be submitted as either 3D, 2D or Interactive Text. On top of this, the competitors should search for inspiration from three particular themes: Oxford, underground and gardens. Taking into account the interest generated by the previous years’ competitions and the forthcoming anniversary of the legendary book, this will no doubt be another successful year for bridging together the gap between cultural heritage institutions and new digi-savvy audiences.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the  worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Maria Pirkkalainen.



Vinyl strikes back

Good news for the UK’s music industry: 2014 marks a record-breaking year for vinyl sales. Over 1 million LP records have already been sold this year, making vinyl a 20 million pounds a year business. Just five years ago that number was 3 million.

An article in The Guardian remarks on how the vinyl sales have been accelerated in part by new British albums. Pink Floyd’s long-awaited The Endless River and AM by Arctic Monkeys have both been big sellers. Other local successes have been, for example, the new albums by Royal Blood and Oasis.


What is making the vinyl such a success story of the early 21st century? With online streaming becoming the most popular way of listening to music in the UK and CD sales steadily declining, vinyl is gaining new popularity with customers wanting to own an actual object, not just a dozen of MP3s. The article also points out how Record Store Day, held every April, has done wonders for boosting and promoting vinyl sales as well.

And this isn’t all. The numbers don’t even include the up-coming Christmas sales yet. The article speculates how the sales could actually go up to 1.2 million by the end of the year. That would mean a major increase from the 780.000 sold copies in 2013. It looks to be just a matter of time until vinyl breaks an even larger cut of the overall music market in the UK than just the quite modest 2 percent it has now.

From ruins to art and culture

Voted in 2005 as Scotland’s greatest post-WWII building by the architecture magazine Prospect, St. Peter’s Catholic Seminary has stood in the wildlands of Cardross ever since 1966. But for the past quarter of a century, as abandoned.

Originally designed in 1966 by Gillespie, Kidd and Coia as a part of the Brutalist architectural movement, the monumental seminary building initially closed its doors in the late 80s. However, news broke out in November for example in Scotland Herald and Dezeen that a full design team has been appointed to convert the ruins into a major venue for art and culture. To be more precise, the seminary building will be transformed to accommodate a 600-seat performance venue, exhibition galleries and teaching spaces. Scotland Herald adds how for the first five years it is hoped to become a base for artists, teachers, students and audiences.

According to the articles, the architectural firms included in the renovation are Avanti Architects, ERZ Landscape Architects and NORD Architecture. The budget of 7.3 million pounds will be acquired by Scottish cultural charity and environmental arts organisation NVA. The major sources of funding for the project include, for example, Heritage Lottery Fund, Historic Scotland, Creative Scotland and private donors. The entire site has been conditionally agreed to be donated for the public good by the Archdiocese of Glasgow in 2016. According to Scotland Herald, the original budget is still short of 1.8 million pounds and currently seeks additional funding.

An interesting remark in the article by Dezeen is that the plan isn’t just to restore the listed building. The initial idea is to build something new out of the abandoned seminary, while keeping its architectural structure and taking its ruined state as a major inspiration.  The restoration is due to begin in 2015, with the building being formally reopened in the summer of 2017.

Without a doubt, this is one of the major architectural restoration news of the year in Scotland. It also fits well with the public’s newfound respect for the once deprived, abandoned and aggressively demolished Brutalist buildings. More about the new era of the Brutalism movement can be read from the Institute’s In the Media blog post from September 2014.

Art in the Mass Media

Kim Varstala from the Finnish Institute blogs about the role of art in mass media and the challenges it faces. The text is a part of the institute’s project Visibility and Impact of Contemporary Art in Contemporary Society.

In 2012, the UK communications regulator Ofcom criticised the five main television channels in the UK for spending only 44 million GBP on arts and classical music programming, down from 72 million GBP in 2006. The answer from BBC director-general Sir Tony Hall was clear: arts programming still had its place right at the heart of the BBC. “But I want us to be much more ambitious”, Hall hinted. In October 2013 the funding for BBC’s arts programmes was increased by 20 per cent.

Yes, people now have the luxury of accessing a myriad of information sources, but the proliferation of channels, specialization and niche marketing is now increasingly fragmenting the mass audiences of the past. Leaving some big players with a large loyal following, while the struggle continues for the rest. In recent years, critics have accused the BBC of reducing its arts coverage, including shunting BBC Two’s weekly Review Show to a monthly slot on BBC Four. “The arts have been central to the BBC’s past and are central to its future. As all arts organisations face the challenge of delivering more in a tight economic climate, it is vital that we work together in new ways to create a bigger and better offer to the public”, a BBC source told The Telegraph shortly after the planned £700m overall savings at the corporation were announced.

In the wake of this criticism, the BBC announced that it is to make its “greatest commitment to the arts for a generation”, with a new focus on bringing culture to the masses. In March 2014 The Telegraph reported that the corporation had recruited Sir Nicholas Serota, head of the Tate, and the National Theatre’s artistic director Nicholas Hytner as advisers. Sir Tony Hall, this time around said that he wanted BBC Arts to be as recognisable around the world as BBC News and BBC Sport. So why does any of this matter? Well, media coverage is of immence importance for individual artists, even a “small” mass media audience is normally many times larger than the total number of people who will visit an exhibition of contemporary art in a private gallery. In his book Art in the Age of Mass Media, British art critic and historian John A. Walker says that more and more artists realize the crucial importance of the media to a successful career. Therefore, more and more artists seek to control and manipulate their image and the presentation of their work through the various media channels. As a channel for information, mass media is capable of transmitting culture from any level on a wide scale.

But, since mass media is designed to reach a mass audience, “success” is often measured in quantitative rather than qualitative terms. According to Walker, the division which sociologist Theodor Adorno identified between high art and mass culture remains: “…in terms of hierarchical schema high/middle/low it has been customary to assign fine arts to the top and the mass media to the bottom”, says Walker. Nevertheless, no one should underestimate the power of the media to relay art images, even though the culture associated with the mass media tends to be of low quality, bland, escapist, stereotyped, standardized, conformist and trivial. Because the popularization of the arts, which the mass media facilitates, has contributed enormously when it comes to increasing the size of museum- and gallery-going public in recent decades.

Oh good, so all is well in art-media-relationships? No. The organization Visual Artists Ireland (VAI) researches the presence of art in the media and is continuously working with increasing cultural media visibility. According to the VAI, the lack of critical forums available for friends of art and culture is a neverending story. In turn, this frustrates the effort of those trying to reach, develop and maintain audiences in the arts. Especially within the current climate, where arts and culture are often seen as soft targets for funding cuts and portrayed as unessential luxuries, is it important that the visual arts receive proper media attention.

In January 2014 VAI hosted the first meeting of a ”media working group”, dedicated to developing Irish media coverage of the visual arts. This group has hitherto concluded that there is much work to be done in terms of the media’s appreciation of the vitality and importance of visual arts to Ireland’s cultural life. But, on the flipside, there is also a need to develop knowledge and skills within the arts field when it comes to addressing the media. The language used by art institutions is often woolly, elitist and full of impenetrable jargon. So, in order to develop skills in critical writing, VAI launched the annual Critical Art Writing Award in 2011. It was devised as a developmental opportunity for writers, wanting to encourage and support critical dialogue around contemporary visual arts. In addition, Cristín Leach Hughes of the Sunday Times also conducted a master-class in art journalism for prospective art writers in June 2013.

At the 2013 Get Together-event in the National College of Art and Design, VAI arranged a panel discussion which addressed mainstream media coverage of the visual arts: Publicise, Interrogate, Record. The panel looked at the specific hooks and angles that make the visual arts ‘newsworthy’. The broad term ‘newsworthiness’ was employed to describe content that would appeal to specialist and non-specialist audiences alike. It is the readers and viewers themselves that choose what to give their attention to, ergo, coverage must be made attractive, interesting and relevant to the broadest possible audience.

Current mainstream print and broadcast media coverage is insufficient in quantity and frequency, both in terms of generating publicity about events and exhibitions and in terms of engaging critically. Typically, lone art critics battle with editors for airtime and print space, while television airs programmes at times that suit the ratings chart. This is good business and may appeal to accountants and shareholders, but it does nothing to enhance connecting art to a wider audience. Late night television slots for arts shows have marginalised the arts as a domain of the specialist, and while arts coverage is available online, this largely attracts specialist and/or pre-informed audiences.

An informative and fundamental point is that television continues to be a cumbersome medium for raising public awareness of visual arts events. Radio and print are more flexible media in terms of giving timely coverage. Those within the arts sector that despite this fact would like to increase their visibility on television should consider coverage in local and/or regional magazine-type television news programmes. Another suggestion that has been proposed in order to solve this puzzle is that weekend daytime repeat slots could be utilised for arts programming in order to develop a more diverse audience. As mentioned above, barriers to greater media coverage of the visual arts include the insistence of the visual arts sector on using artistic language in press releases. Meanwhile, the media perception of the visual arts continues to be one of a specialist domain of little interest to broad audiences. One could argue that it would be healthy for the visual arts sector to look beyond specialised arts coverage and examine how activities could cross over into a broader category of ”newsworthiness” such as, economics, sport, politics, agriculture, health, human interest etc. On other hand, the media is comfortable with the specialist jargon used in sports, science and economics – so why should visual arts journalism be any different and be expected to ”dumb down” its own specialist terms?

The VAI panel’s fundamental conclusion is that the way to develop audiences for the visual arts, and to reach the considerable but poorly served visual arts audience, is good arts journalism. Such should appeal both to specialist and non-specialist audiences while patronising neither, offering sophisticated yet accessible discussion and analysis.

 
 
Bibliography
 
Furness, H. 2014. “BBC’s arts coverage must be more mainstream, Lord Hall says”, The Telegraph, accessed on 22.10.2014
 
Leftly, M. 2013. “BBC to beef up it’s art coverage”, The Independent, accessed on 22.10.2014
 
Oakley, J. 2014. Advocacy Datasheet #8: Media Coverage of the Visual Arts, accessed on 22.10.2014
 
Singh, A. 2014. ”BBC making ‘greatest commitment to the arts for a generation’”,  The telegraph, accessed on 22.10.2014
 
Walker, J. 2001. Art in the Age of Mass Media, third edition.

 

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Hanna Heiskanen.
New technologies shaping art

Music, film, television, and literature have already found their way to your pocket, and now the iconic Globe Theatre has announced that its Shakespeare plays will be available on-demand for desktop computers, mobiles and tablets. Museums, too, are keenly exploring the possibilities that various online platforms, apps, and wearable technology offer for reaching new audiences. The ripple effects of change of medium in experiencing art are less well known, however, and are the subject of increasing interest. A recent article in the Guardian outlines some of the changes that mobile technology might bring in the field of visual art.


“The key driver in all these technologies is a rise in interaction and participation”, says Matt Adams of Blast Theory, a group of artists that specializes in using interactive media. Constant interaction is already second nature to the general public, and changes in how we communicate will inevitably influence how we want to experience art. Not only does modern technology make more art accessible to more people than ever before – you only need a camera phone and an Internet connection to instantly create art of your own and make it available for others. As a reflection of this interactive process, the traditionally passive role of the audience member is evolving into that of an active participator in a process that Mia Ridge and Danny Birchall of the Museums Computer Group describe as “user-centred” design.

At the same time entirely new, hybrid forms of art that combine different media and technologies are emerging. Day of the Figurines by Blast Theory took the form of a game, played by sending text messages. In Rider Spoke, participants cycled through London leaving hidden voice recordings on wireless networks to be discovered by other people. The mobile phone or tablet screen, just like the screens in cinema or television, has according to the Guardian the power to transform anything we see on it into art as well as the advantage of being a “private and intimate technology”, Adams says.
In another article published in the Guardian, digital editor of Prospect Magazine Serena Kutchinsky wonders whether technology has also changed our cultural taste. While the traditional experts of culture and art might be losing some of their authority as a result of increasing audience power and participation, the massive amount of cultural content online has created a need for online curators such as bloggers and vloggers. Kutchinsky concludes by noting that new forms of media have, from newspapers to television, always caused initial concern, and instead of shaping our taste per se, technology only provides the tools while society is still in charge of shaping out taste.

Sarniegate rocks Britain

This week’s media outrage focused on a rather unlikely topic: the sandwich. “Is there no one left in Britain who can make a sandwich?” asked the dramatic Daily Mail headline on Monday after the UK’s largest sandwich making company Greencore Group decided to recruit staff for its new factory from Hungary as local Northamptonians expressed little interest in the vacancies. For anyone less familiar with British culture such a strong reaction to mere slices of bread with some ham or cheese in-between might be difficult to understand. To draw an illuminating parallel, our Finnish readers might recall the boycotts that ensued when the production of a particular brand of mustard, traditionally manufactured in Turku and strongly associated with Finnishness, was moved to Sweden.

The sandwich, which derives its English name from John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-1792), is a quintessential part of not just British cuisine but of the British way of life. From the packed school lunch, prepared by the parents for their children and typically consisting of sandwiches and crisps, to the workplace lunch, the BLT, coronation chicken, and cheese and pickle are the go-to choices when feeling peckish. The British Sandwich Association ensures that sandwiches around the country are prepared according to set technical standards, and hosts the annual Sandwich Awards.
This background combined with the ongoing heated debate on immigration might explain some of the reactions. Indeed, political parties were quick to jump on the news. The Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith blamed past Labour governments’ “open-door policy” on immigration on the surge in low-skilled migrant workers while the welfare state doesn’t encourage Britons to take on badly paid jobs. However, not everyone questioned non-British workers’ sandwich making skills: the current Earl of Sandwich, also named John Montagu, said on the BBC website that there was “no reason a migrant labourer can’t make as good or a better sandwich”. His favourite sandwich, by the way, has either beef or chicken in it.
The Guardian had a more positive take on the story. According to its article, the UK is “in the midst of a sandwich renaissance” with food chains such as EAT. and Pret á Manger concocting on-trend flavours (sriracha chili sauce) and restaurants experimenting with gourmet sarnies (grilled cheese with ham hock at the Common in Manchester). Here, too, however, the food writer interviewed, Tim Howard, argued that nothing can beat a classic shooter’s sandwich, dating back to the Edwardian times and consisting of a steak in a whole loaf of bread with sautéed mushrooms and shallots.
Incidentally, this week also saw The Londonist pick up a crowdsourcing effort to assemble the world’s largest sandwich in the British capital. The rough ingredients needed include 700 kg of bread, 1000 kg of cheese, and 1000 kg of ham, although “a little mayo and lettuce won’t have any harm” either. With only two weeks to go and just £2 of the £10,000 goal collected, we wish Alexander Waddington the best of luck in his endeavour!

Events as the next step of experiencing and selling art

Maria Pirkkalainen from the Finnish Institute blogs about national and international art events and how them gaining new, larger audiences affects the visibility of contemporary art. The text is a part of the Institute’s new project: Visibility and Impact of Contemporary Art in Contemporary Society.

One of the leading Finnish national art events, Mänttä Art Festival, closed its latest edition this August with a record-breaking number of over 20,000 visitors. On an international scale the numbers are on the rise as well for events such as the Venice Biennale, which passed 400,000 visitors during its 2013 edition. Frieze Art Fair in London sells out its coveted tickets year after year.


How – and why – are these events gathering larger crowds than ever before? This blog points out some of the possible means that the international and national art events use to grow their audience base – and how by doing so, they are gaining more and more importance in the changing world of contemporary art.



Cross-cultural events on the rise
An art event differs from a traditional gallery exhibition due to being a larger special occasion, usually in the form of a festival, fair or something in between. An art event can span multiple days or, in the case of Mänttä Art Festival in Finland, two and a half months. The programme at these events can consist of multiple curated exhibitions as well as other special projects. With art galleries being in turmoil due to the rise of e-commerce and losing their traffic to competitors from all fields of culture, the importance of these events to both presenting and selling art could quite possibly be at its largest.
Events such as Mänttä Art Festival and Venice Biennale aim each year to showcase what’s currently interesting in the field of contemporary art. By doing this they have traditionally gathered together art students, professionals and of course the members of the general public interested in what’s current in the art world. The number of international visitors, both tourists and professionals, these events bring together is something that shouldn’t be overlooked either.
What has clearly taken place within art events is focusing on the programme’s diversity, meaning that besides showcasing traditional contemporary art, the events could include theatre plays, film screenings and other special programming. Diversity can be indeed listed as a forte for attracting the crowds.


Mänttä Art Festival, for example, is curated by a different person each year: in 2014, the curator Minna Joenniemi planned more events than ever for the festival and they didn’t only include visual arts. There were smaller poetry and theatre events as well, thus helping the festival to grow its audience base once and again.
It’s also interesting to notice how the idea of diversity has found its way to event planning in general. Film festivals hold art exhibitions and co-operate with galleries, and Flow Festival in Helsinki has initiated collaboration with contemporary arts by presenting a new prize for the artist of the year. This year the prize was awarded to Adel Abidin in August 2014. The effect these cross-cultural events have had on the visibility of contemporary art in our society is a question that’s also worthy of more research.
But what good does diversity bring to contemporary art events? A wide spectrum of programme seems to help the media to notice art events even more than before, which is of use when they fight for the same small space on the culture pages alongside dozens of other events. This is clearly helpful in terms of gaining more visibility for contemporary art in the press.


The same applies with the audience – now these events can gather together crowds from the fans of poetry, theatre and film, and introduce them to contemporary art in general. This benefits both the artists and the contemporary art scene itself.



Art fairs as eventful playgrounds
However, not all art events aim to simply showcase the best in the field. While Mänttä Art Festival and Venice Biennale are more focused on exhibiting what’s currently significant in art, for example London’s Frieze Art Fair does this, but with the focus on selling products.
Initially a place for art dealers to showcase their protégés and biggest sellers, Frieze Art Fair has grown into a trend-maker of its own and is populated by visitors from young to old, from art students to buyers and just passer-bys – of course if they all were lucky enough to snatch a ticket, before they all sold out again.
The rise of art fairs has been a large part of speeding up the art economy. In a panel discussion held by artnet News in June 2014, columnist and author Anthony Haden-Guest speculates how trade fairs evolved into art fairs during 1994 as a part of the rise of mega galleries and franchises. John Keane goes even further and describes in an 2012 piece in a-n News how nothing has exemplified the polarisation of wealth distribution in the art world more graphically than the Frieze Art Fair.
The business side was clearly present in this October’s Frieze London as well, despite a large number of the visitors not exactly belonging to the group of art buyers. But art fairs still do, in all fairness, provide galleries with an excellent way to connect with new audiences and to lure in buyers.
A good example of the way Frieze London attracts new crowds is the sculpture park it produces outside its main tent in Regent’s Park. It allows the crowds to roam one integral part of the event for free and enjoy public contemporary art. Of course, works were still sold from here, amongst other to a young art collector from Abu Dhabi.
This year the event had also tried a new architectural structure. An article in artnet News also stated how the new layout could have spurred dealers to be more imaginative with their presentations. This was easily seen in for example the layout for Saatchi gallery’s own playground Kindergarten. Is Frieze trying to break out from the art fair mold to a more adventurous set-up – and by doing this attract new visitors?



Does the future of showcasing art rely on art events?
It’s easy to say that the future of the art world and its business is in an interesting state, as Allan Majotra, the Managing Director of Picasso Mio galleries, describes in an article. He continues by explaining how this century will certainly bring more changes to the arts and culture industry than we have seen in the last one thousand years. The article also states how art fairs will decline in popularity, since new technologies and larger galleries will lead to the diminishing importance of art trade fairs. However, within the world of events, this could just mean making traditional fairs resemble festivals, where doing business and selling isn’t at the core of their existence – or at least that’s what it seems like.


Since many art events are gathering a larger set of visitors every year, it seems as if they are attracting new audiences to contemporary art. Introducing contemporary art to a larger group of people benefits its visibility in society. One of the main means of bringing new crowds to these events is to diversify their programme – in 2014, an art event seems to be hardly used anymore just for showcasing or selling contemporary art.
The importance of events is easy to see in other fields of culture as well: film and music festivals break audience records year after year. Television programming aims to attract 21st century viewers by organizing its own special occasions and television events that span multiple days. In an era where the fight over the audience’s precious time is fierce, even contemporary art needs to participate in it with full force – and think as widely and cross-culturally as possible. Events might just be our era’s answer to all of these questions.


Sources


Adel Abidin, Flow Festival’s Artist of the Year




Haden-Guest, A. 2014. New York Dealers Discuss the Future of Galleries, Part One, accessed on 5 November 2014.


Haden-Guest, A. 2014. The Future of Commercial Art Galleries, Part Two, accessed on 5 November 2014.


Keane, J. 2012. a-n News. Is it time to challenge the art elite? , accessed on 5 November 2014.


Majotra, A. Fine Art: What is the Future of the Art World?, accessed on 5 November 2014.


Mäntän kuvataideviikoilla ennätyksellinen kävijämäärä. Press release 1.9.2014, accessed on 5 November 2014.


Sutton, B. 2013. Blouin Art Info. 2013 Venice Biennale Passes 400,000 Visitors, Sets New Single-Day Attendance Record, accessed on 5 November 2014.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Maria Pirkkalainen.

Spending the night at a bookstore or a museum

It only took one tweet – and thousands of responses. A Texan tourist found himself accidentally locked inside a Waterstones bookshop at Trafalgar Square in October. After trying to find a solution with the security company for two hours, he tweeted about it to Waterstones. He got out in no time after this, but the number of retweets and responses adoring the idea of a lock-in at a bookstore perhaps startled the bookstore even more.


Last Friday, Waterstones and Airbnb answered to these requests and organized a nocturnal sleepover in Europe’s biggest bookshop, the Waterstones store at Piccadilly. 19 lucky competition winners got to spend the night in a bookstore, wearing pyjamas while browsing books and having discussions with other literature afficiados. It had a lot to do with PR of course, but the event turned out to be an excellent marketing gimmick on its own.  It answered directly to the public’s needs and wishes of experiencing something very unusual in a public, ordinary space.

Sleepovers are not a strange phenomenon to London’s nightlife with many of the top museums – such as British Museum, Science Museum and National History Museum – all organizing them. However, these are mainly aimed towards children and schools. Organizing late night or nocturnal events for adult visitors as well is clearly something that the public wishes for.

A legendary institution already familiar with popular late night events is The British Library, located just around the corner from the Finnish Institute at King’s Cross. For example this Halloween, The British Library organizes a late night event at their premises called The Sorting. How would you feel about celebrating Halloween with DJs, live music, installations, bar and food in a library? The event walks hand in hand with the library’s current exhibition Wonder and Terror on Gothic imagination, which is also included in the ticket price.

Late night events for adults are also a part of the programme at Dublin Science Gallery, where Tuomas Olkku from Heureka in Finland has been working as part of his M0bius Fellowship during the autumn of 2014.  More from one of these events, the Dark and Stormy party in August 2014, can be read in Finnish from Olkku’s blog.

These are just a few examples of how the options for using public spaces are endless and can in the best case profit both the organizing parties as well as the crowds wanting to experience something new. And in a city as big as London where the work days and commutes are long, getting a few extra hours each day is an idea certainly worth experimenting with.

Well played for a historical skatepark

Dating back to 1978, the Rom skatepark in east London’s Hornchurch is still said to be as popular amongst skateboarders as it was back in its early days. This time the site also has an even bigger reason to be proud of: it was just granted Grade II status by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, meaning that it is now a protected heritage site in the UK.

But what makes this decision so important? An article in The Telegraph describes how Rom skatepark is of course the first skatepark to become a listed site in the UK, but also the first of its kind in Europe. All in all, there are currently only two skateparks in the world that have achieved listed status, with the other one being the Bro Bowl in Tampa, Florida.

Rom was one of the skateparks that were built in the 70s, when skateboarding surprised the Brits with its popularity. But due to the sport losing its momentum within the following years, many of the original concrete skateparks were demolished. Nowadays only around 6 or 7 original 70s skateparks are left, with Rom being the oldest and most important one.

The designation director at English Heritage, Mr. Roger Bowdler states in the article how the listing will give the whole meaning of heritage an extra twist. Skateboarding is surely something that is nowadays extremely popular, but it is still in many ways a youth subculture. Protecting a skate site in the UK is hopefully something that can help other countries knowledge the value of even the most common sites, such as historical skateparks.

An interesting read close on the subject is also English Heritage’s Played in London book by Simon Inglis. The book describes London sites that are important to the heritage of sports culture, with Rom being one of them.

Designed in the 70s by two of the leading skatepark designers of their time, Adrian Rolt and G-Force, Rom skatepark also brings out what has truly mattered over time. Its design, modeled after the Californian skate bowls, is ageless and still attracts skateboarders – and nowadays also for example BMX drivers – every day after almost 40 years.

In the Media

The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Maria Pirkkalainen.

For the literary unity of the Commonwealth

When the Trustees of the Booker Prize Foundation announced in September 2013 that they would open up the Man Booker Prize for the first time for all authors writing in English, and not just to the citizens of the British Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland, the rationale behind the decision was clear. Including all the literary works written in English for the first time could easily help the 46-year-old award to enhance its position as one of the most prestigious and admired literary fiction prizes in the world.


However the backlash and nuanced discussion that followed was perhaps something that the Trustees hadn’t seen coming or certainly hadn’t hoped for.  When the shortlist for the 2014 Prize was announced in September, two out of the six nominees, Joshua Ferris and Karen Joy Fowler, were American citizens. This was something that the British press – and the literary world – noticed quickly.

Australian author and two-time winner of the Booker prize Peter Carey was one of the most vocal opponents of the new rules. In an interview in the Guardian on October 13th, the established author criticized the change, because of the effect it could have on the real Commonwealth culture and Booker’s particular cultural flavour. Is globalization really the way to go for literary culture?

 
Another Australian writer had the honor of being awarded with the prize on Tuesday the 14th of October. The Man Booker Prize for 2014 was won by Richard Flanagan and his book The Narrow Road to the Deep North about an Australian prisoner-of-war working on the Burma death railway. The newly-appointed winner expressed his worries as well about the recent changes to the rules.

Image: fantasticfiction
The discussion behind Booker Prize’s globalization occurs at an interesting time. The Foundation had its ambitious reasons for changing the rules to include a broader set of contestants, but the arguments against the change are valid too. The unity of the commonwealth and the long history behind it have been brought to the table, but is there really such a thing as a unified culture of the commonwealth?

All in all, the annual Man Booker Prize of 50.000 British pounds, has been a great opportunity for writers from smaller, historically less acknowledged literary cultures. From this perspective, it’s easy to understand why some of the most vocal opponents have been Australian writers.

Peter Carey also noted that a change such as this to the Pulitzer prize, the most acclaimed literary prize for US writers, would be highly unlikely. In the end, does it all boil down to an issue of British people not thinking very highly of themselves? If this really is the case then that should be addressed in the future, just like the new Booker Prize winner Flanagan spelled it out in a recent interview.


The Tube of the Future

A morning tube ride in London would hardly be the same without the driver kindly announcing that the tube is being held at a red signal. Even when several announcements have been automatised, the presence of a driver on the London tube is definitely something that the commuters have been fond of in a public transportation system as hectic as this.

Last week the London design studio Priestman Goode announced the new design for the future London tubes. The news were featured in for example It’s Nice That and Dezeen. The new tubes will include Wi-Fi, air-conditioning and screens in the place of the traditional paper adverts. Even when the stylish, new design is receiving a lot of praise, one issue seems to have upset many Londoners. By the middle 2020s, these new tubes will be driverless and some trains will be automatized already before that.

Helsinki metro, the only metro in Finland,  is currently going through automatization as well. Though in a city a lot smaller than London – and with just one tube line -, the effects of getting rid of the drivers do not even start to compare to the consequences that could be faced in London. In London, the new driverless trains would transport passengers on four tube lines of the legendary underground system.

Another interesting part of the story is the designing process itself and the challenges it has faced. London underground is the oldest underground system in the world, which also means that the tunnels are small and this had to be taken into account with every step of the process. Also, with the amount of passengers commuting each day, the task of designing the new tube was neither quick nor easy.

The new tubes will be introduced in 2020 and at first with drivers. The designers noted that the new trains could be serving the London underground system for the next 40 years.

In the Media

 
The Institute picks interesting stories and news items every week from the  worlds of art, culture and social study and presents them in the blog. This week the stories have been chosen by Maria Pirkkalainen.

Where does analogue art stand in a digital world?

The distinction between digital and analogue technologies as well as the effects of the rise of Digital Data has had in both contemporary art and our society are topical and dividing subjects in the art world. This was, for example, seen at two events held in London just a few days apart this September.

The first one, a panel discussion organized by the British Library’s Digital Research team, went by the name Digital Data and Artistic Expression. The discussion focused on how Digital Data is defining the new aesthetic expression of our age and how artists and audiences could benefit from this. The latter one was London Analogue Festival, held at the Bargehouse of OXO Tower Wharf from the 12th of September to the 14th. The event was described to celebrate the beauty and aesthetics of analogue technologies in an era when digital technologies are ubiquitous.

The panel discussion held at the British Library on Wednesday the 10th of September was chaired by Professor Anthony Lilley and amongst the excellent panelists were both artists and researchers within the field: visual artist and researcher Michael Takeo Magruder, Professor Ernest Edmonds, artist Julie Freeman and Dr. Kevin Walker. One of the topics discussed was how science uses digital data, but what about contemporary artistic expression? And how could using Digital Data affect the art?
The discussion pointed out how artists integrating Digital Data into their work help translate large amounts of information into meaningful content to their audiences. An excellent example of this was Michael Takeo Magruder’s digital installation PRISM on Edward Snowden, in which he had utilised real data related to the case. The artist highlighted how, in general, the information is all there, but the context is not usually clear to the audience. The artists can help with this, and digitality can help people to see their surrounding society in a different way.
Another fitting example was artist Julie Freeman’s digital work The Lake , where the artist had tracked natural biological motion – in this case, of fish –  via electronic tagging systems and transformed the data collected into a musical composition and animation. In the end the artwork became a part of the local fishermen’s community and it was used to help their daily lives of finding out where the fish were. Freeman also pointed out how Digital Data offers us new ways to make us think how society is changing.
London Analogue Festival took a different stance toward the subject. Conceived as an event to showcase analogue aesthetics and to promote analogue technology and its use in art, this multidisciplinary festival took over the Bargehouse at OXO Tower Wharf for a weekend in September, exhibiting art works and holding discussions.
 
The event was an interesting experience with many floors of artworks, including in its artists for example the Helsinki-based sound artist James Andean. Sponsored by the likes of Fujifilm, the festival aimed to bring out the idea of how important it is to support alternative ways of creating art. This is the case especially in a digital world, where it is necessary to hold events such as this to introduce new generations to various analogue technologies.
Although the comparison between digital and analogue technologies is evident, both of these approaches still feel necessary in today’s world. At the end of the day one question arises, however, which analogue technologies might find it more difficult to answer: is datavisualisation a new method for contemporary art aiming to bring art closer to the public? Art made with Digital Data usually demands interaction which, in a way, brings it closer to the public than the more traditional analogue technology does. But like the panel discussion at the British library pointed out, in the end, the most important thing is still creating art.
The power of photographs in constructing our society
Although we are living in a world more visual than ever before, the importance of photographs in constructing our societies already began many decades ago. The new exhibition at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, Constructing Worlds, explores architecture and its relationship with the world as well as the power of photographers through more than 250 images from 18 artists. The buildings featured in the photographs are from architects such as Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright and the photographs themselves span 80 decades from the 1930s to today. (http://www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery/event-detail.asp?ID=16264)
Also featured in an article on It’s Nice That, the works in the exhibition are displayed in a gallery space constructed by the Belgian architects OFFICE KGDV. The exhibition is not only impressive from its architectural point of view, but the actual gallery space has been constructed to imitate the atmosphere of the buildings photographed.
On top of this, the exhibition brings out two important questions: first of all it discusses how our cities and societies have grown and what kinds of changes have taken place in them throughout the years. And above all,  the second question highlights the importance of photography in collecting evidence of our own history and how our societies have changed.  Good art lasts a lifetime, and sometimes it doesn’t matter whether its in analogue or digital form.
Constructing Worlds exhibition is open at Barbican Art Gallery until the 11th of January 2015.
%d bloggers like this: