Why do we need to be critical about our culture production? What is the role of institutions in culture production? These were some of the questions asked in a panel discussion on the topic of Critical Culture: Criticality in Cultural Production, organized by The Finnish Cultural and Academic institutes as part of the anti-racist platform #StopHatredNow.
The panelists invited to discuss the topic were poet and freelance workshop coordinator Aurélie Disasi (Belgium), body-philosopher and performance artist Vishnu Vardhani Rajan (Finland) and musician and composer Antoni Hætta (Norway). The panel was moderated by Monica Gathuo (Finland).
Criticality has always played an essential part in the fields of art and culture. The essential question is: What does critical cultural production and research look like at the moment?
“Once something is in the public domain it is a subject to be critiqued because it does not exist in a vacuum, it always exists in relation to issues of justice, injustice, equality and inequality that continues to be present in all societies.” Dr Ann Carol Dixon
Cultural production is always subject to be critiqued
The discussion was kicked off with a quote from Dr Ann Carol Dixon (UK) cultural production and criticality of cultural production:
“Cultural production occurs in shared public space, every object, text or performance is produced by someone within a particular context and therefore it produces meaning that is open to different interpretations by different audiences and publics. Once something is in the public domain it is a subject to be critiqued because it does not exist in a vacuum, it always exists in relation to issues of justice, injustice, equality and inequality that continues to be present in all societies. We have to share public space. Therefore, what is displayed in the public realm is a shared issue and is subject to negotiation.”
“For me the role of the institution should be to question first of all who they are, to know the history of the building that they are working in, that they are and that they represent.” Aurélie Disasi
Institutions and hegemonic culture
The discussion spotlighted the lack of diversity in the sphere of arts and culture. Cultural institutions maintain hegemonic culture through their values and prevailing norms. For example, the position of indigenous and minority languages such as Sámi languages or Finnish sign language is not all that safeguarded.
“It’s becoming this kind of integration into the hegemonic culture, which is not a choice anymore. In my opinion the institution [that offers language courses] is also pushing one to participate in the oppressions that are happening, like the erasion of minority languages”, Vishnu Vardhani Rajan.
In addition to participating into the creation of hegemonic culture, the culture of institutions can define artistic work:
“.. I’m thinking of artists walking into cultural institutions. Their work is influenced by the public opinions and hegemonic culture, which is mostly white. The language that they use, when writing about their work, about what the narrative is, about the work that they’re producing, you kind of have to tweak what you’re writing so that you can be understood”, Aurélie Disasi.
Diversity, power and responsibility
When the panelists were represented with the question of “What is the role of a cultural institution in cultural production?” many follow-up questions arose: What is a cultural institution? Who is working and who are represented in the cultural institutions? Who are the gatekeepers and how are the decisions made? Who is in the audience?
“For me the role of the institution should be to question first of all who they are, to know the history of the building that they are working in, that they are and that they represent”, Aurélie Disasi.
Institutes have power, and with power comes responsibility.
“And at least for my own sake and my own culture they also carry the responsibility of fronting the Sámi culture, because it’s a part of the Nordic cultures and it’s a natural part of history”, Anthoni Hætta.
The topic of the role of an institution in cultural production also generated questions on safe space: Is it possible for an institution to create safe spaces? For whom is it safe to be in cultural institutions? How and by whom, is this safety being defined?
“I feel like if it was an institution that was already built on like white history and whiteness in a sense, it’s never going to be safe for black and brown bodies”, Aurélie Disasi.
“And at least for my own sake and my own culture they also carry the responsibility of fronting the Sámi culture, because it’s a part of the Nordic cultures and it’s a natural part of history.” Anthoni Hætta.
Change requires vulnerability
“Vulnerability and softness should be at the core of the work”, Vishnu Vardhani Rajan.
To be able to deconstruct their work and who they are, institutions need vulnerability, ability to acknowledge that they have made mistakes.
“Because that [vulnerability] really initiates and allows you to be critical with yourself in seeing how you act. — — In lot of the times [a defensive] reaction comes from past traumas in parents and relationships, and we project that into the workplaces as well. That is one of the reasons why I think it’s quite difficult for museums or any cultural institutions to take themselves away from that.”
“Vulnerability and softness should be at the core of the work.” Vishnu Vardhani Rajan
#StopHatredNow is an intercultural and anti-racist platform organized in collaboration with several art and intercultural organizations. The platform strives to create discourse and offers tools to create a more inclusive, diverse and feminist art field; inclusivity, diversity, non-discrimination, accessibility and social as well as ecological sustainability are issues that determine the future of every art and cultural institution. Theme of the 2022 event was Practicing Coexistence.
In Conversation with the Finnish Institutes
Critical Culture: Criticality in Cultural Production was the sixth installment of the In Conversations with the Finnish Institutes discussion series, which has been organized online from late autumn 2021 to spring 2022. The series is created as a collaboration between six of The Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes, and it generates conversations on new perspectives and narratives of creativity with experts from the arts and culture sphere. The idea for the series came after the Black Lives Matter movement, when the need for change became clearer than ever. The series is produced and moderated by Monica Gathuo. Watch all the discussions here.