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A discussion that was long overdue   

Hanna Johansson.
photographer: Eeva Anundi

One December evening I got a question on messenger: Could the Academy of Fine Arts offer a venue for a discussion event organised by Elokapina* about the relationship between art and activism? Elokapina’s group of arts students from various fields and friends of art wanted to have a discussion inspired by the recent actions taking place in art museums. 

My immediate initial reaction is that of course they’re welcome. Uniarts Helsinki’s Academy of Fine Arts is just the right place for engaging in a dialogue between art, activism and art institutions. The academy trains contemporary artists, and the history of art has crossed paths with various forms of political activity over the past hundred years, and this crossing of paths is continuous in the present day, too. Often, artists’ ways of making art feature elements of activism. 

Art is, in fact, always political, or at least somehow linked to society. In the 20th century, avantgarde movements made art openly political. They questioned the existing norms in society, took revolutionary actions and had activist characteristics. A change occurred in the 1960s, and the mission of art and political agency also changed. Artists began addressing and reacting to identity politics, racial discrimination, war and environmental issues. In the 1980s and 1990s, on the other hand, art influenced micro-level political operators and searched for interconnections with society, for example in neighbourhood development. 

Art and Uniarts Helsinki is the place that takes on leadership in changing the world, offers new beginnings and alternatives so that we could move away from a detrimental social model. We need artists who want to see the world from a different perspective.

Still, I end up hesitating my answer. 

I later meet up with Elokapina members, and after a meandering meeting, we end up deciding that Elokapina will organise a panel discussion in collaboration with the Academy of Fine Arts in Mylly. They want to invite art institute directors and activists as speakers and have them talk about things from various perspectives in a good atmosphere and dig a little deeper in the topic.

Why did I doubt answering yes to their request, even though I respect Elokapina? How would the movement threaten or conflict with the activities of the university? The Elokapina movement is peaceful and based on human values, and it strives to safeguard a liveable planet for future generations. It’s people’s answer to the existential crisis, like Tuulia Reponen writes in the book Viimeinen siirto. Elokapina doesn’t want to destroy; it wants to preserve.

Do we have a mission more important than that?

We live in a network of problems, and we need to solve not just the climate crisis, but other crises, too. Art is a seer that makes predictions and discovers meaningful ways of being and doing to make the world a better place. Artists can show us new images and new worlds. There is a lot of untapped potential in artists when it comes to finding complex solutions, but artists’ voices aren’t heard enough. 

For the past year, we have been working on establishing an environmental programme for Uniarts Helsinki. According to our strategy, art is part of the solution to the ecological sustainability crisis. It promises that ecological thinking permeates operations across the entire university and that it’s integrated into teaching, research and making art. We are moving forward on this path, but too slowly. 

Suddenly it’s completely clear to me that actually Uniarts Helsinki should have invited Elokapina for a discussion already a long time ago, to tell us how we best promote not only the implementation of our strategy but also the shaping of our joint future. 

Hanna Johansson 
Dean, Academy of Fine Arts

Reponen, Tuulia (2021). Elokapinaa! In Teemu Vaarakallio (ed.) Viimeinen siirto. Suomalainen ympäristöliike nyt eli kuinka mahdoton tehdään. S&S. 

*Elokapina is part of a global movement called Extinction Rebellion, and Elokapina is also called “Extinction Rebellion Finland” in English.

Read the blog in Finnish.

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