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Culture and Crisis

23.07.2012 - 14:24
(updated: 06.06.2016 - 13:48)
  • Iida Ylönen
Culture and Crisis seminar in the European Left Summer University - speakers from right Eva Brenner (Austria), Jose Soeiro (Portugal), Olga Athaniti (Greece) and JP Väisänen (Finland).

I will first present myself, say few words about current political situation in Finland ask for a climate change in the cultural politics, then open debate about larger concept of culture and insist that culture can´t be bought, say few words about working class identity and with one Finnish example demonstrate how culture-capitalism can be fought back.

JP Väisänen - Conceptual Artist

Since 1990 - for a good 20 years I have been cutting paper, drawing, painting, writing and doing collages. Once a year I show my art work in a public space - at the street or any open public space that I happen to find.
Once a year I meet with people and give my art to the people for free. Instead of money I take photos from that interaction. Sometimes my art work is adopted some times only seen or passed by. Any reaction but I always take photos of the happening - when my art finds its alternative audience. Later I present the interaction phptos in a cultural and commercial framework in a gallery or museum. I call that a socialist solution in a Capitalist system - or I simply try to make the rich pay for the concept and give the art to the people.
Besides being a conceptual artist I am secretary general of Communist Party of Finland. I can tell you that art studies at Helsinki Academy of Arts, New York State University and at the Escuela Esmeralda in Mexico City have been a great help in my political work.
My art is about social bridge making and interaction with people which both are also key issues in organizing political activism and constructing social movements to oppose current apathy and capitalism.

Culture needs a climate change

Almost every child knows about climate change. It is very important that we are familiar with the concept of Carbon footprint. Some know even how to measure it. I think that we need a radical climate change in culture too.
Current Finnish political culture is a culture of one existing truth only. Workers don´t identify themselfs as workers but self employing business men.
We have a government of six parties directed by the right wing party. There is a common consensus in accepting all European level austerity politics. People are told that nothing els is possible.
For us who still believe that an other Europe is possible It is extremely depressing that our parliamentary left has adopted most of the rules and logics of market economy.
In the cultural sector the austerity politics of Finish government means major cuttings in schools, universities and budgets. These are exactly the big issues we should have for creating a equal society free of racism, free of phobias like xenophobia LGBT-phobias, islamo-phobias etc. In Finland we are now saving us to become uncivilized, badly educated A and B class citizens
Communist party of Finland (CPF) does not have any seats in the parliament. But we with several social movements like the Occupy- movement together are the only non nationalist,anti capitalist opposition in Finland.
There is hope to create a stronger political anti-capitalist, anti-austerity and anti-war oriented radical red green front. Radical cultural workers and NGO´s-working in the cultural section play an important role in opening discussion about alternative politics and function as a needed collaborative voice for new radical initiatives.
Culture should not only mean opera and difficult conceptual art. We in my party consider that culture should mean basic human human rights to leave ones foot-print and participate in the collective - in the society.
That kind of foot-printing-cultural politivs creates a natural need to take different minorities in a serious consideration. We all belong often to more than one minority. Minority groups, NGO´s presenting minorities should be much better recognized in the cultural budgets. At the moment right wing cultural politics means funding projects that have a strong economical and entertaining perspective. Minorities play a decorative role to express understanding.

Culture can´t be bought - it can only be created, shared and lived

I think that progressive left and communist forces should work together for better funding of alternative magazines, newspapers, seminars, events, new communication tools, project workers, open and free cultural spaces - we could work much better for the alternative cultural foot print and against the existing capitalist and commercial culture.
Capitalist cultural politics sees culture as a suitable entertainment for the elite. Culture is used as a nice piece of package wrapping to promote tourism and any business. Right wing cultural politics does not worry about the situation of dancers and painters living under poverty line.
During last ten years In Finland austerity right wing politics has doubled the amount of people living under poverty line (1080 €). Most of the artists find themselves in that group.
Because of the right wing politics there is some 500 billion euros more money circuling in private businesses than 10 years ago. In the cultural politics major privatizations has also been done like selling of all the Finnish broadcasting networks to a French private business.
Big cultural monopoles are staying firmly occupying their interests in culture budgets and in our minds. In Finland Artist and cultural workers are for years educated as private business men. Once these business-artists don´t fit into the model of a commercial cultural product and don´t sell their paintings unemployment offices advise artists to throw paint brushes and canvases into garbage in oder to get any social aid. Artists have to show that the company has stopped existing.
On the other hand In taxing declaration you hardly can deduct any material costs or working space costs because your work as artist is considered as a too expensive hobby. You could say that artists and cultural workers in Finland are third class citizens without basic social security.
Alternative cultural politics is possible. CPF has proposed a 900 euros basic security for all people that with their own work can´t create a basic security. This basic security would be paid from one office equally for everybody; students, old people, immigrants and us- artists.


Imagine that first your city decides to pay almost 2 million euros for a private investigation to find out about the possibilities to get an international private cultural business in the city.
Yes that has happened. Citizens of Helsinki payed for the well known Guggenheim Museum to see if it could establish its business in Finland. Results of the investigation were published. I made a political performance to oppose the idea that a private business Guggenheim museum should be financed with public money.
I my work - in the performance I said that Guggenheim for Finnish art is as important as Mac Donald´s in for the Finnish Gastronomy. In my performance I bought a happy meal at Mac Donalds, went to the table, sat down, put tags on the burger saying good bye Helsinki City museum of Art etc. I did not eat the burger.
An enormous public debate started. After the Mac Donald´s performance came out in tv and other media and the official 2 million report was published, political parties started to change their positions. It wasn´t clear any more weather or not we should close down our own city art museum and stop collecting contemporary art and in the change start financing a private cultural business.
At the same time our cultural minister Paavo Arhinmäki from the Left Alliance had been publishing cutting lists in cultural sector; museum workers had been demonstrating against the closing down existing museums and quitting jobs from museum workers.
Now Minister did a vice thing and stood up against the Guggenheim project saying that there would not be any governmental funding for the proses. It would have been a political suicide to promise any state funding for Guggenheim.
Artist made their own alternative propositions and the greens organized a wide debate about the funding of Guggenheim.
I think that it is important to understand that - Yes - We could force a well planned big private business to fall down. Some well known artist and visible cultural figures supporting Guggenheim tried to make us look as if we had been fighting against culture and the funding of the arts. But They didn´t succeed in that, because our opposition was a creative one.
We asked the pro Guggenheim ones to say in which other European capital the politicians have closed down own art museums and collections. We agreed with the Guggenheim project that the yearly funding of culture in city of Helsinki should be doubled but used in projects where culture had a lager meaning than how it was understood in the Guggenheim context.
Later after the Guggenheim battle has calmed down and the political parties had decided about budget frame for 2013 there were cutting list and underbudgeting in all sectors of the budget again. Parties interested in invest in culture that ment private business had again lost their interest in doubling cultural funding.
Rich Helsinki runs an interesting austerity politics even though the city of Helsinki yearly leaves a good 300 million euros profits. Very much depends on us, citizens, cultural workers and artists if a change is created. Someone has to break the silence and stop accepting cutting lists and business politics. In Helsinki there is enough money to maintain a high level of education, take good care about young and old people, invest in projects creating jobs and also double the cultural budged.

JP Väisänen, Secretary general of the CP of Finland