What are you doing with your hands?

For the second time this year – and in my life – I had the luck to be invited to Helsinki, Finland. This time the host was Nordic Culture Point (Kulturkontakt Nord), and the occasion was the seminar:

The Role of Culture in a Sustainable Society – Sustainability in Art and Cultural Projects

My contribution was a workshop, and as I am stubbornly continuing in my aim to find out what we can do to build sound collectives, this time as well, I invited the participants to a collective experimentation with – not drugs  – but gesture.

The participants at the seminar were people who in some way or another dedicate their professional life to arts and culture, and I saw this as a great opportunity to try out something new. You see, I have this thing for our everyday life practices, things we do with our hands, things we create, we produce, etc.

The inspiration springs from my thoughts when going back from my residency in Cali, Colombia, 2014. I had a project there about informal work, street vendors, etc., and in Cali this was an area of very diverse, rich, and sophisticated gestures. The project focused on these gestures, and together with an ad hoc group of artists, I had gathered, we made workshops, happenings, videos, etc., around the patterns of these gestures. These gestures have a very heavy cultural significance, embedded in the everyday lives of the majority, and in the plane from Cali to Copenhagen, I thought: Well, how can we work with something similar in the modern welfare states? All these manual processes, manufacturing goods, etc., have been rationalized, centralized, robotized, and the gestures of our work lives are reduced to taps on our touchpads!

As you can see, the perspective of having a group of people whose work lives are full of sophisticated manual procedures was a really happy one. On top of that, the event itself was a place where it would make a lot of sense to ask the participants to take a round of introduction. The typical format one would use to this end would be the obligatory “speed dating” session.

I felt there was an inherent impulse in the group for getting to know each other, and I chose to grab this and direct it into a collective experiment, where – instead of using language, speed dating – we would get introduced to each other’s worlds through gesture.

Instead of simply asking the participants to do whatever kind of gesture, as I usually do, this time I invited them to do a gesture from an everyday life productive activity, and specified that it be something they felt good about, something they liked doing. Of course some of the participants would choose gestures from their professional life, – I am sure that I spotted some painters and some weavers, maybe a ceramicist – but I left it open for people to include, what they would be doing outside their specific professions.

So, what is the point of all this? Of course there is a great challenge in putting into words what sense it makes to interact without words, and I must admit that the first part where I had tried to explain these things, via good old powerpoint and everything, didn’t seem to have the same effect as the second, practical, part. I guess this is what they mean, when they say “show it”? In any case, if you are interested in being confused on a higher level, as they say, you can read my introductory speech here.

To get an idea about the participant’s response to the workshop itself, see it for yourself:

Second seminar on Culture and Sustainability presented practical examples from the field,  an article by Annika Nummelin about the seminar.

The Role of Culture in a Sustainable Society – Sustainability in Art and Cultural Projects, about the seminar.

Art as consumption vs artists engaging in real life collective processes, my speech at the seminar.


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