Artist & researcher

Forward into the future(s)

Foreword to publication: "Activating Dissonance: 20 Years of Live Art Education in Finland (Kohti epäsuhtaisuuden kirjoa: 20 vuotta esitystaiteen opetusta Suomessa)" (2021)

A foreword presents the general scope of a book. It looks forwards and provides readers with orientation and the editors’ general overview. In this book on the past 20 years of live art education in Finland, the story of the Master’s Programme in Live Art and Performance Studies (LAPS), some descriptions of the conditions and situatedness, relocations, or ways to break out are necessary. Today, at the end of 2021, it is hard to gain such a purview without taking into consideration the pandemic, ecological crisis, and the rise of conservatism – even of brutal militancy. In the common and everyday experience, it seems we have so much to do and very little time or capacity to do it, alongside the imminent crises of safety, care, and loneliness that are growing in society.

For me, it is clear that for past twenty years we have also been practicing and made efforts to comprehend how systems of value and exchange have changed. In the world of the hyper-rich, it seems paradoxical that their wealth is not based on amassing gold or valuables, but on intangible markets or pure speculation. It is partly based on the skilled labour of quants[1] and their performance. We still remember the global financial crises of 2001 and 2008, and some of us may still use the odd terms of “casino economy” or “bubble economy” to describe the situation where prices bear no relation to reality. The “bubble” burst in 2001, and then in 2008, but these were not the first, or the last. After these crises the term “capitalism” is ever present in discussions, seminars, and curatorial packaging of artistic practice. If you search for this term in publications you will most certainly find a plethora of attributes connected with it, such as platform, gore, surveillance, cognitive, animal, war, fossil, realism, or affective capitalism.

If it seems today that we are even more determined and skilled to tackle these multifarious and complex issues in the arts and education, in the early 2000s concerns about the economy or capitalistic structures interested only a few. They were occasionally treated with the same suspicion as were the quants a few decades earlier by the Wall Street traders. Things have changed, but it is quite difficult to grasp what the global changes of financialization and crises bring to artistic practices. For centuries artists’ practice has focused on creating aesthetic objects for the church, producing commodities for the state, or inventing services for entrepreneurs. What are the social contexts in which we are working today? These issues have been at the heart of performance art practices ever since the early 1970s, from the heydays of conceptual art. It is not a coincidence that in this same period, contemporary finance shifted from nerdy oddity to defining the fundamentals of global market, affecting everyone’s life in the capitalistic society.

In a nutshell and in suave academic parlance, the abovementioned paragraphs aim to orient a significant condition for artistic practices and art education today. It is something specific, where terms such as “neoliberalism,” seem to me to be catchwords with little use. Yet, this book focuses very little on these aspects, and we still need to think about the financial recalibrations, like cuts in education and culture, to gain better comprehension of why things look as they do today.

In the early 2000s few other festivals or venues for this were created in Finland, aside from LAPS, the ANTI Festival in Kuopio, and the Reality Research Centre in Helsinki. The Finnish grand master of performance art, Roi Vaara, organized the biggest performance art festival in the world in 2001: EXIT, with 300 artists. The Là-Bas venue had started in the Cable Factory, organized by Pekka, Irma, and Lauri Luhta some months earlier, which is most probably the oldest venue focused on performance art that is still functioning in Finland. There were festivals and events in most Finnish cities throughout the early 2000s. There was a vibrant but obscure scene with a DIY mentality. These events were often poorly funded, without producers or curators, but artists doing it for themselves. The illustrations for this book, Activating dissonance: 20 Years of Live Art Education in Finland by photographer Antti Ahonen, present this scene and the changes in it from 2001 until today.

Performance art and live art are very much alive today. It is better funded, with secured venues like Mad House and New Performance Turku. But many agents have receded, disappeared, or changed their appearance. The questions that were asked amongst the misbehaving and discordant crowds and performers of the early 2000s are still relevant, but maybe announced in a cooler and more academic manner. Some new ideas and urgent questions have rightly taken centre stage, such as the quest for more inclusive and nonbinary practices, institutions, and structures. Some scathingly say that funding has etiolated the core of performance art into an institutionalized field of no importance: better designed, choreographed, and dramatized, but what’s that got to do with it? The scene has been presented and reviewed in exhibitions and publications, which seem occasionally an attempt to wiggle in some canon, history, or linearity. This book, or the exhibition it accompanies, “Huokoinen ele / The posture of impermanence / En obeständig gest” in the Vantaa Art Museum Artsi (12.11.2021–23.01.2022), does not have such aims to present a general purview. The essays in this book represent only particular themes, introducing aspects of history and practices of the LAPS programme, but the aim is not to present them all. That would be another kind of research and publication altogether. Activating dissonance provides a limited view, orienting towards a few points that seem relevant now but as we all know, may be outdated already tomorrow.

I am writing this foreword from the position of Professor in Live Art and Performance Studies. While I am writing, the group of seven students from various social and cultural backgrounds and views on artistic practice begin their two-year MA studies in LAPS. It will be the eleventh cohort of students in the programme that begun in 2001, with Annette Arlander as their professor until 2013, and Ray Langenbach until 2018. Helsinki in 2001 was an altogether different town on all terms, and today it seems more inclusive, tolerant, openminded, and economically viable. This is how much I can agree with the brand management of the city, but not much further. I am concerned to educate artists who have very limited possibilities to practice their chosen art form. Are artists always going to be poor, less informed, and duped by institutions, organizations, festivals, or savants with good intentions? What are the futures or options for artists, also for me? What contracts with reality can we make? Will maintaining practice increasingly depend on funding from foundations?

Is the context in which artists graduate today and in the following decades altogether different from the one their teachers, mentors, lecturers, and professors experienced? There is a difference in pedagogy and work ethos, and therefore a necessary discrepancy, because we cannot expect that a teacher would know what a young artist may need today. A teacher or professor who in most cases is, or at least was, an artist themselves can provide only some approximation or orientation. They may also implement canon and stifling structures for the young artist. But there is a kink, since it is easy to fall for type of ageism according to which only the young and able can perceive the true state of today, to heave the old aboard, but be in danger of repeating the same mistakes. Therefore, all perspectives should be considered and viewed as only partially transferrable. Most contexts and experiences are not rendered or adaptable from one context to another, from one duration to another. At the same time, very old structures may still be performative, yet imperceptible today. I am convinced that it is in these terrains of murky canons and indistinct futures that artistic practices thrive.

The locality and context for the artist and their practice is often found in the niche intersection between various economic and social zones, with variables and unknowns producing precarious conditions for the maintenance of practice and general livelihood. It is economically driven even in the most brutal harshness. Like anyone else, we may have little effect on these conditions and the limitations defining and determining our options and lives. Needless to say, if you are alone, the context may be gruesome. Grants and subsidies are scarce, and if this is the sole foundation for supporting your work, the image of reality is vastly distorted, and you may not be able to maintain an artistic practice. Paradoxically in the contemporary context of social derivatives such as social media, recognition is not the main ingredient for maintaining a good practice. It is care and good community. The emphasis needs to be clearly on maintenance instead of productivity. A good practice also focuses on long-term interpersonal relationships, where an artist is a critical observer and a committed participant in specific social sphere or locality, as Aiwen Yin and Mi You explain their endeavours to challenge the increasingly atomized contemporaneity defining artistic practice and the surrounding society.[2] But if the focus in art education is on production – whether it is immaterial or material – it will push graduating and young artists only to the brink of survivalism. This is especially true for people in economically precarious positions, including performance artists or researchers, who need to make an extra effort to convince the surrounding economic structures of their economic significance. This effort is absurd, because there are only so many places where performance art can be presented, often in the no-pay off-off scene or highly competitive and superfluous festivals or biennales. The reality for an artist is that such pursuits are not even in their interests, but if their funding depends on grants, they must present productivity– and in terms of finance, prove their “invest-ability.”

As much as the service economy has emphasized the need for care labour in an ageing society, financialization has emphasized the intangible attributes of reputation, loyalty, or trustworthiness for creating value and credit. These attributes are nearly impossible to measure accurately, like the weather conditions affecting next year’s harvest, yet it is still possible to make certain types of contracts, for futures which have existed for over three millennia. Today, in the decentralized market of finance, commodities are not the issue; for the artworld this signifies the turn from objects to immaterial art, like performance, as is clear in festivals and biennales today. The value is created through the bundled attributes of securities and their relations in the decentralized markets. These attributes can be wind, rain, or seafaring but also reputation or trust, capacity to risk or manage stress, or the obscure attribute of “employability.”

All this matters because this logic has been embedded in commonplace over the last two decades. It comes to determine how we approach work, life, relationships, and the world around us. For me, it helps a little to think about alternatives for capitalism, when we are so deep in it. Increasingly often we think and perform based on an investment logic: considering and hedging risk. I might be wrong, but it is as difficult to prove the contrary, that financialization or assetization have not affected how we make decisions on life, career, family, or our next holiday. For instance, would you dare to fly to New York for holidays and publicly state that on social media? You may do so, but at least you are aware that it may affect your reputation in certain progressive art circles. It would become like a debt that you have to pay one way or another. There is a crucial difference to the social and economic contexts to early 2000s here. The artists who graduated in the 1990s approach it with different logic, still based, I dare to say, on industrial and commodity-based capitalism. If loyalty, reputation, and trustworthiness are difficult to measure, it does not mean that they are not measured. This is what social media does. It is not only a question of visibility but follows the logic of investors, where the social surplus, which is the basis for solidarity between artists, becomes the source for the brutal competitiveness of the art world.

I can say that the idea of an autonomous artist has faded in accordance with these changes. Each and every one is deeply entangled with society – yet, often deeply lonely. Conversely, if someone decides to cut ties to Western society altogether and commit to living in some remote nook of this planet with no socio-political or material-discursive connections, society remains. We are never alone. On these terms the MA students and artists must assess the implications of financialization for their practice and life in general: what are my options, futures, and risk? What is my evaluation and speculation of intangible assets including reputation, loyalty, taste, memory, affective capacity, and my singularity? This is clearer in, but not limited to, the context of institutions like a festivals or academies. Nevertheless, the investee function of an artist has become a necessity. It does not appear to us in so many words but is present in our actions and decisions for managing a portfolio, risk, or the volatility of projects. The economists Kean Birch and Fabian Muniesa (2020) call this process colonization by finance, which is a kind of endocolonialism. No one is imposing it, but we already know what to do, and may even feel proud of such new skills. Universities are facing the pressure to follow this logic and become hubs educating students and artists for self-assetization, where attributes are turned to assets that determine their success in collective and processual practices. They are conditioned as investees.

Trustworthiness is older than capitalism. It goes hand in hand with credit and reputation. Artists today struggle with their intellectual property and requests for knowledge production in research and content. The change in conditions since 2001 has explicitly been from regimes of ownership to regimes of contract. It directly connotes with the changes from commodities to collaborative practices. But all intangible attributes are human and are building blocks of human interaction and social structures. We need to trust, risk, and keep volatility at bay, so we can live and practice together. The key is the move from competing on attributes of singular players against each other towards the maintenance of these activities and performatives.

Artists, broadly speaking, are sensitive folk. They notice things and sometimes are affectively even too alert. Solidarity and care is ever present to them, and they have a clear understanding of the value of social surplus. At least intuitively, they understand the value of future contracts based on trait, attributes, notions, and affects. All this is a necessary part of the work, in other words, it needs to be seen as part of liquidity. But, today and in the past, artists, actors, musicians, writers, or performers have been regarded as oddballs, weirdos, dandies, punks, or poseurs. Rarely have they been taken seriously, but only as beautifiers of society in one-to-one contracts. Generally, artists are not seen as efficient servants of the greater good, at least compared with bank tellers, or neurosurgeons. Yet, especially today, there is something tremendously powerful in the social surplus value amongst artists, which is needed in social structures, but is not aesthetic. Artistic practice may structurally transform social relations, space, and economic zones in ways that have seldom been seen. For instance, after graduation an artist is mostly focused on finding a suitable position on the labour market or presenting their expertise to grant committees. How else could this be? How else could autonomous and integrated artists function in their locality as an essential part of the society?

I leave this question to the reader. This book may provide only some propositions to answer it, alongside analysis of what has been done, or what might be useful to think about for the future. These questions touch the very base of what culture is, or why capitalism still thrives. The classroom of LAPS students is where they deal with the complex issues of labour, futures, and social contracts; it is a site where orientations and prototypes are forged and trialled. Here, we should rethink the vivid and multifaceted aspects of maintenance and economy, performance and circulation, knowledge and production. Often, but not in so many words, these burning questions are what artists work with today. And since performance art is a practice of unique entanglement between material and immaterial, affective and cognitive, the outcomes are often wild and stupefying. Why silence them with cynical translations?

If it is so that artists are conditioned to create an investee portfolio with intangible assets, then a critical “pose” is needed to provide leverage for counter-performativity. This is an immanent and corporeal demand, not an abstract future position. The pedagogical proposition is to activate an inquiry into how financial conditions are localized and incorporated, and then, how to decolonize these conditions. This may seem a superfluous play on words, but I believe it is one of the most interesting tasks of artists’ education today.

In the article “LAPS in 20 Years: a journey from compassion to conflict, co-existing, and listening,” curator and researcher Anna Jensen considers the history of the first, and still the only, MA programme in performance art in Finland. Through interviews with alumni, present students, and professors, combined with archive research, Jensen discussed the manifold discourses, vision, and goals that have passed or are valid today. In the article “Live art: art generated or degenerated?” doctoral candidate, LAPS alumna, and artist Nora Rinne focuses on both theory and practice in LAPS. What has the locality of Helsinki and Finland done for this peculiar programme? Rinne asks what the role of seriousness is in performance art; can a performance fail? Artist, researcher, and professor of the LAPS programme Tero Nauha asks “Why performance?” It is never easy to give a clear statement about how performance takes place in specific contexts, but there are certain invariants, such as bodies in space for a specific duration of time. This may not seem much of a definition, but since today performance art is enquiring intensively into its own binaries, hegemonies, and standards, it has become necessary to question any conventions for performance, again – and again. In the article “Performance in an art museum: excerpts from intersecting paths” Christine Langinauer, the curator of Vantaa Art Museum Artsi asks what challenges and opportunities have performances created as they have arrived in art museums and how can performance works ­– that are impermanent in essence and rarely leave traces – be preserved as part of cultural heritage when their nature resists preserving? The article “meeting the alien halfway” by doctoral candidate, LAPS alumna, and artist Harriet Rabe von Froreich asks how, in the world of ecological crisis, it may be possible to find a place for being through performance art, using (Fluxus) score writing. She considers how to approach the entanglement of matter and humans or direct attention through focused practice in performance. Performance art can provide a field of experimentation to sharpen the focus, to meet the unfamiliar or alien, and rehearse co-existence.

The Live Art and Performance Studies (LAPS) master’s programme turns twenty this year. The programme continues to work in close cooperation with other master’s programmes at the Theatre Academy and the University of the Arts Helsinki, as well as with other initiatives in the field of contemporary art and education in Finland and internationally. The LAPS programme would be rather insignificant without the marvellous students, teachers, lecturers, and mentors that are often live and performance artists or researchers. I would like to acknowledge the people who have provided for the original ESTAITE and later LAPS programme, moving it forwards. I would also like to thank the Theatre Academy’s production team, stage, props, costume, and support for light and sound. Without their help, ingenuity, and flexibility, so many LAPS theses, LAPSODY festivals, and projects would not have been completed. Warm thanks to the professors and lecturers of the Theatre Academy’s programmes, our partners at the Academy of Fine Arts and the Sibelius Academy, the deans and rectorate of the University of the Arts Helsinki.

Nearly fifty Masters of Arts have graduated from the ESTAITE and LAPS programme in the past twenty years. Their influence on Finnish and international contemporary art is significant. Without their passion and interest in developing forms of performing and performance art and research, the LAPS programme would have very little to offer. Through this book, I want to show gratitude and applause to them and for the future performance artists.

Special thanks go to the programme planners Anna Nybondas, Jaakko Hannula, Maija Eeva, Emilia Forss, and Siiri-Maija Heino. Our thanks also go to the efficient translators and language consultants at Elävä Kieli Oy. I would like to acknowledge professors Annette Arlander and Ray Langenbach for their kind support in making this book. Finally, I would like to thank Anna Jensen, Nora Rinne, Harriet Rabe von Froreich, Christine Langinauer. Antti Ahonen and Jaakko Pietiläinen for their generous contribution to the successful completion of this book.


Derman, Emanuel. 2004. My life as a quant: reflections on physics and finance. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Moulier Boutang, Yann. 2011. Cognitive Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Birch, Kean & Fabian Muniesa (eds.). 2020. Assetization: Turning Things into Assets in Technoscientific Capitalism. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

[1]                Physicist and financial engineer Emanuel Derman writes: “Quants and their cohorts practice ‘financial engineering’ […] The subject is an interdisciplinary mix of physics-inspired models, mathematical techniques, and computer science, all aimed at the valuation of financial securities” (2004, 3).

[2]           See more the website www.reunionnetwork.org

Link to publication: https://shop.unigrafia.fi/tuote/activating-dissonance-20-years-of-live-art-education-in-finland/