March 27, 2013

Ethics in contemporary art

On the 19th of March the Nordic Art School hosted the DEEDS seminar on ethics in contemporary art. The speakers invited were all current names in nordic contemporary art. The themes focused on the artists' ethical responsibility in the production process and results, as well as the role of media in the development of contemporary art as appalling and unethical art projects are given much visibility on the news.

The seminar collected over one hundred participants of which the most part were students of the Nordic Art School, Novia University of Applied Sciences, YA - yrkesakademin i Österbotten and Sverigefiska Folkhögskolan i Haparanda. Many artists, critics, cultural characters and fine arts teachers were also present. The DEEDS seminar was made possible by contributions from Kulturkontakt Nord, Nordisk kulturfond, Svenska kulturfonden and Kulturfonden Finland-Norge.

Sinziana Ravini is a swedish arts critic and curator, and also editor-in-chief for the art magazine Paletten. She teaches art theory at the University of Sorbonne. In her presentation she gave several examples on artists that have produced works which either feel unethical to the viewer or have been produced through ethically questionable means and meanwhile the artworks have another, hidden side to them. Guillermo Vargas' installation featuring a dying street dog in an art gallery provoked strong emotions in the viewers - even though street dogs die out in the street on a daily basis. Xiaou Yus installation with dead bodies appalled people - even though it consisted of dead material, just as most other installations. She gave many other examples on ethically questioned artists and artworks, such as: Oleg Kuliki, Boris Groys, Pierre Hughe, Claire Bishop and Nina Canell. 

Timo Jokela from the University of Lapland started his presentation by referring to two finnish artists they have shocked viewers; Teemu Mäki with his cat video and Ulla Karttunen with child pornography as material for her art. He then ventured into discussing community art, sustainable development and the relationship between local people and contemporary art. He criticized the lower art education for not discussing ethics around art and illuminated the development of contemporary art from centers of habitation to peripheral regions. According to Jokela the ethical questions in contemporary art focus too much on problematics. He continued to express his wish for people to take notice on the local inhabitants in large international environmental art projects for instance in northern Finland. Jokela has done research around the relationship between nature and art. He has also carried out several environmental and communal arts projects and worked as a visiting professor and lecturer in international contexts.

Ósk Wilhjalmsdottir from Iceland takes political standpoints in her art through presenting the new Icelandic identity. She often involves her audience in art projects in public spaces. In order to stop plans on building of a dam for a power plant that would destroy large areas of the central Icelandic highlands,  she and Àsta Arnadottir organized guided hikes in the area for several years to make people notice the natural riches of the area and the skewed politics. In her work "Bye, bye Iceland" she analyzed the economical collapse of the country and the work "Meltdown Crisis" shows the icelanders will to abandon their home country.

The danish art collective WOOLOO has been active for over ten years with art projects criticizing the system and have caused debate in international media. In their artwork "Bonus Balls" the members collected small hair samples from the financial elite in Denmark. The hair was baked into small pieces of pastry which were put into a huge vending machine from where the public could buy them. The work is referring to cannibalistic rites where the participant absorbs the power of his enemies by eating pieces of them. The "Bonus Balls" video was publicly shown for the first time in the seminar. In "New Life Horblev" the locals were talked into giving up their TVs for a week and instead of watching them, building a sculpture of them outside. In the work "Defending denmark" the artists infiltrated the conservative Danish People's Party  and taped one of their meetings. The work started a lot of discussions about ethics in both arts and the party.

The seminar was concluded with a panel debate, lead by Jaana Erkkilä, an artist, doctor in arts science and research manager. Subjects discussed in the debate were the importance of openness in strong criticism and the criticized artists possibility to answer the criticism as well as how far an artist can go in ways of manipulating his/her objects in the name of art.

The theme of seminar was continued in the workshop "Punishing My Limits" held by Kristin Tårnesvik and Hilde Methi. The participants were encouraged to stretch the limits of their artistic expression. In her art Kristin Tårnesvik focuses on researching geonational belonging, political ideologies and power structures. Hilde Methi has curated many transboundary art projects in northern Norway and over the Barents Region.