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.

President of Totemization

Today: Workshop with 18 young people from DIS – Danish Institute for Studies Abroad.

On the menu:

  1. Building the collective through: gesture imitation, gesture merging, jibberish, jibberish emotionalized, emotionalizing the space by attributing an emotional state to each corner.
  2. Totemizing the collective. Dividing the group into 6 “tribes”, with “totems” borrowed from our natural biotope, ie elements from free commercial postcards, such as “queen”, “beer”, “car”, “art run”, etc.
  3. Building immaterial instruments. Each “tribe” created an “instrument”, only using what was at hand, with the constraint of using the principle of either an idiophone, membranophone, aerophone, chordophone, electrophone, none-of-the-above-ophone.
  4.  With the sound from the “instruments” recorded, and after a break, we proceeded to performing collective improvisations, a “chorus” using microphones to form the “instrumental” sounds with their voices, “dancers” conducting the chorus by moving in the emotional space. etc.

Here are the resulting collective improvisations:

The Role of Culture in a Sustainable Society, seminar in Helsinki, September 2015

“Culture and art provide our society with creativity, critical thinking, empathy, confidence, risk tolerance and mutual respect. We believe that working with culture and art and through the cultural meeting, we create an essential part of the foundation for the Nordic region and societies to become sustainable”

– Per Voetmann, director, Nordic Culture Point


We are pleased to have assembled a versatile and exciting programme with speakers and examples of inspiring projects from all over the Nordic region:

  • Katriina Soini (FI), postdoc researcher, Cultural Policy, University of Jyväskylä. Topic: Introduction to culture and sustainability
  • Angela Goldin (NO), director, The International Museum of Children’s Art. Topic: How does art projects for, with and by children contribute to a sustainable society?
  • Ola Jacobson (SE), chairperson for the Culture and Art Programme and strategist and responsible for international affairs for Culture Skåne. Will comment on Angela Goldins´ presentation
  • Casper Hernández Cordes (DK), composer, Fonografit and Building Sound Collectives. Topic: Sustainable support and culture and art as a driver for cultural sustainability + artistic intervention about sustainable collectives through sound and movement
  • Kenneth Flak (NO), chairperson for Mobility Funding and choreographer and dancer at Roosna & Flak. Will comment on Casper Hernández Cordes´ presentation and intervention
  • Ulrika Lind (AX), freelance culture and art strategist

Read more here.

My 9 favorite tweets, Day Three at the conference

My 10 favorite tweets from Day Two at the Culture(s) in sustainable futures Conference

12 favorite tweets from day One at the conference about Cultural Sustainability in Helsinki

Day one at the Culture(s) in sustainable futures conference.

These are my favorite tweets from the day:

Bruno Latour was not at the conference (that would have been really awesome), but here is a tweet popping up from @latourbot, that I find really relevant: