ANTIZINE re-publishes Elisa Itkonen’s column originally created for Annual Overview of Public Art 2023.
It’s not a given that the perspective of live art fits in a publication about public art. Already in the 2020 Annual Review of Public Art, it was noted that the importance of event-based, non-material, and temporary art is growing. (1) This is also evident in the visual arts more broadly, when I think about, for example, works included in international events in recent years, such as the Venice Biennale 2022, Documenta 2022 in Kassel, or the Helsinki Biennale 2021, many of which involved performance and event-based phenomena.
This text is situated in Taike’s Annual Review of Public Art with the goal of providing a national perspective or, to put it more directly, greetings from beyond Southern Finland. However, I don’t claim to attempt or even know how to describe the state of public art in Eastern Finland, so I write based on the art presented at ANTI – Contemporary Art Festival. The ANTI festival is committed to the city of Kuopio and uses its public spaces as stages for festival works, but, at the same time, I think that our festival is actually located somewhere other than a geographically definable place. The space- and time-bound works of artists from Finland and around the world presented at the ANTI festival always interact with their performance location. However, when talking about the location of the festival in relation to the field of art – in its geographical and art form-seeking sense – we are happily in a limitless place.
Every year, ANTI takes place in the space that the people of Kuopio and artists and audiences from other parts of Finland and abroad build together.
Our multi-disciplinary festival comfortably situates itself into the domestic performance art field and the international live art field. At the same time, it is part of the dialogue on public art, which mostly takes place within the framework of visual art.
Cooperation is needed to make public art a reality: experts in art, urban planning, architecture, and construction, as well as political and often also commercial decision-makers must work together. Such cross-disciplinary cooperation takes place, for example, in percent-for-art-principle art projects that focus on permanent, material works. On the side of live art, we lack established multidisciplinary cooperation models and, in general, a common language with those who make commissioned works of public art possible. We haven’t been able to verbalise the effects and significance of losing public art with enough precision and common sense. On the visual arts side, on the other hand, there are public art training programmes, development projects, guides, and a data bank where you can find creators of public art in different cities.(2)
Temporary and event-based works of public art are also not found in museum collections. Grat- ifying exceptions to this have started to appear, however. HAM Helsinki and the Helsinki Biennale, for example, commissioned a new work from the multi-disciplinary WAUHAUS collective best known for its performing art that the ANTI festival also took part in producing in 2021. Two different versions of the A Great Mess performance were included in the repertoire of the Biennale and the ANTI festival, and the Helsinki performance was recorded as part of the HAM public art collection.(3)
In Kuopio, the ANTI festival has held repeated discussions with city and urban planners as well as the art museum, but so far live art works produced at the festival have not been commissioned for urban planning projects, for example, and the museum has not begun to cooperate with us in the urban space.
The city’s public institutions are still happy to offer their premises as performance venues for ANTI works. Temporary, event-based works appear to have short-term effects. I dare to claim, however, that many of the works from the ANTI festival, for example, have remained a permanent part of Kuopio’s public spaces and related narratives. When I meet fellow Kuopio residents on the streets of our city, the conversation often turns to what happened around the corner or in that building that year during the ANTI festival. We remember what we did together during the performance, how doing it changed the event space, and what its repercussions were. We wish that in Kuopio there would always be as much space for norm-critical thinking and discussion.
I am writing this text in one of my favourite places in Kuopio, the city’s main library. In his work My Body is a Queer Library, seen at the 2022 ANTI festival, Taiwanese-born artist River Lin invited a group of performers belonging to BIPOC and/or LGBTQIA+ minorities living in Finland to tell, through their own bodies and stories, what a queer library could look and feel like. The performance in the main library helped the body to be recognised as an archive and collection of knowledge, education, and everyday life. When I look around now, I don’t see a single person of colour in the Kuopio library. But from between the shelves, I can still hear the drumming and laughter that echoed here when Simo Salim, one of the performers of the work, taught us to dance a traditional Moroccan dance.
1 Annual Overview of Public Art 2020. Mari Kemppinen: Public art 2020.
3 https://www.hamhelsinki.fi/2021/08/23/wauhaus-kollektiivi-suuntaa-katseensa-ihmisen- mittakaavasta-kohti-elamanmuotojen-kirjoa-teoksessa-suurenmoinen-sotku/