Category Archives: #Culture

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.


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. (
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.

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.

Brutalism back in fashion

There probably isn’t a West Londoner without an opinion on the infamous Trellick Tower over at Golborne Road. It’s bold, tall, exposed with concrete and designed for the socially affordable future in the late 1960s as part of the British New Brutalism movement. After decades of bad press and demolitions, these brash concrete buildings are now back in style with more respect and admiration than ever.
Brutalism is currently featured in a special series by Dezeen, starting from the basics of the architectural movement and continuing with for example an excellent list of the lesser-known concrete gems, chosen by Michael Abrahamson, the editor of the Fuck Yeah Brutalism blog. And there is an extensive programme of art events presented by Bow Arts at one famous Brutalist piece by architect Erno Goldfinger, the Balfron Tower, all the way up to mid October 2014. For example this weekend during the Open House London event, the building opens its doors and over 20 apartments to the public before its extensive renovation.

What makes brutalism fashionable after all these decades of negligence? Is it just the fact that nostalgia has finally reached even the most controversial architectural movements of our times? The article in Dezeen suggests that one of the reasons could be that the Brutalist buildings were designed with future in mind and the progressive socialist idealism behind them still appeals to the public as well as designers. Although at first perceived as idealistic, in the 1970s many of these Brutalist housing buildings were met with increasing crime and poverty that led to the failure of the movement.

Although the movement is gaining new-found respect, a long road still lies ahead. While for example Balfron Tower is a listed building due to its architectural and historical value, the same has not happened to its neighbouring Robin Hood Gardens. What is the reason for this? It is interesting to follow how the Brutalist buildings – especially Balfron Tower after its renovation – will develop in the following years. And before that, to see what happens during the open doors at Balfron Tower, when over 20 artists open their flats and exhibitions to the general public for free. This and te whole Balfron Season has in fact been thanks to a housing scheme by Bow Arts Trust, which offers artists temporary residence in emptied flats – an excellent idea as well!
Reclaiming our rivers and harbours for public use
What about diving head first into the water and greeting the busy City while swimming? As a part of the official program for the London Design Festival, Urban Plunge, an exhibition at the Roca London Gallery, ponders what kind of architectural proposals could enable urban swimming spots in downtown London, New York and Copenhagen. Some of these suggestions have already been put in, such as the Harbour Baths in Copenhagen, while others could be either years or decades away.
For the past few years, the idea of reclaiming our water spaces has generated a lot of successful responses in Helsinki, Finland. A popular way to do this has been with the addition of a sauna.  Kulttuurisauna, situated in Merihaka, has gained an almost institute like status among the inhabitants in only a year. Another good and quite different example is Sompasauna, a wooden heated self-service public sauna at the developing Kalasatama district, which is free for everyone to use.

What in the idea of urban swimming attracts the wide public? The curator of the Urban Plunge exhibition, Jane Withers, tells in an interview at Icon Eye in September 2014 how in general the idea stems from better urban development. Water spaces are often vast, but un-used spaces in the most central locations of our cities. How could we make them a more accessible part of our everyday lives?
The other reason behind the attraction lies in experimenting. Jane Withers describes how urban swimming gives a sheer thrill of water-level urban perspective. And it’s easy to add how with the right use of design, such as with Helsinki’s Kulttuurisauna, these urban swimming spots can easily gain even more visibility and importance within a city’s structure and planning.

However in reality, the steps needed to create urban swimming spots don’t always come so easily. The article in Icon Eye states how for example in Copenhagen, urban swimming has been enabled over the past 15 years by modernising the sewer system to improve water quality. When would this be possible in London?

The Finnish Institute’s very own neighbourhood in King’s Cross is featured in the Urban Plunge exhibition as well. The idea of King’s Cross Pond Club, a man-made natural pond in the middle of London’s largest construction site, explores how we could re-introduce natural cycles into the urban environment. Another idea the exhibition plays around with is a romantic bathing pool at Blackfriars. What do you think of these and what are your own ideas or favourite urban swimming spots?

The exhibition is open at the Roca London Gallery until the 10th of January 2015.
Electronic women at the forefront
For every year from 2010, Wysing Arts Centre’s annual one day music and arts festival has aimed to focus on what’s currently interesting in visual arts, and to tease the fine line between experimental art and music. With a 17th century farm house, a gallery and three stages nine miles west from Cambridge, the set-up of this year’s Space-Time: The Future Festival on the 30th of August focused on the future, with that being in female electronic artists.
Wysing Arts Centre has provided an alternative environment and structures for artistic research, experimentation, discovery and production for the past 25 years. The centre’s thematic residency programme aims to support the artists’ possibilities to explore new ways of working and the centre has welcomed Finnish artists such as Pilvi Takala. And with the help of its own music and arts festival, this publicly funded arts centre has succeeded in turning its premises into a playground for the wider public as well.
With this year’s focus being on women, the line-up consisted of superb artists and live performers such as Yola Fatoush and Sue Tompkins. The acts included live music, performances and the festival also had a marquee for the independent traders. The director of Wysing Arts Centre, Donna Lynas, states in an interview in the M-Magazine in July 2014 how the event’s theme continues later in Futurecamp, a series of fortnightly talks, discussion, screenings, performances and workshops that all address the way we live and create now and how this might evolve and affect the future.
Lynas continues how in general, music has been an important part of the creative process for visual artists, but for a long time it hadn’t really been written about and talked about. The yearly event wants to bring the distinction between these two different disciplines – or the lack of it – to the table.
In addition, the event raises two other big questions. Are women in electronic music still not gaining enough spotlight? And what is the role of a festival for a remote arts centre? With the press and international visitors, an event such as Space-Time: The Future gains extra visibility that can be seen to lead to larger funding and new audiences for the exhibitions and artists as well.
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