HAIHATUS25 Exhibition Catalogue 2024

HAIHATUS25 Exhibition Catalogue 2024

HAIHATUS25 -exhibition | Co-curator Ali Akbar Mehta

Ali Akbar Mehta portait

Photographer: Aman Askarizad

HAIHATUS25 -exhibition

Co-curator Ali Akbar Mehta

Navigating many worlds (with a compass designed to break) or How to come together in an unstable state


A celebration of Haihatus completing 25 years – operating as a residency, an exhibition space, and an organisation that has worked through multiple changing iterations in flux to consistently remain at the heart of a culture-producing praxis – is a relevant marker of ideas brought forward from spaces traditionally left on the margins in Finnish contemporary art’s national and international contexts. To celebrate such an occasion is significant not only in the simultaneous crises of climate, capital, and culture but also locally prompted by the state of affairs within the Finnish art and cultural scene.

Finland is known as the ‘Land of Associations’, yet most art and culture-related associations are often on the brink of extinction or are walking the precarious edge of eking out their labour and funding to squeeze out ‘just one more’ exhibition, seminar, or festival before an imminent shutdown. This just-about-surviving condition of the art and cultural workers is caused due to an undue emphasis on newness and the trending next-big-thing, rather than continuity and slow meaningful work. It is reflected and even compounded by the Finnish socio-political environment where the past decade has seen an accelerated tilt towards far-right governance, the opposition to climate policies, the popularisation of Finnish ethnonationalism, and the ever-increasing restrictions on immigration, the rights of women and LGBTQI+ minorities. The new cuts in government budgets in social welfare funding and the growing job precarity of the working class are aimed neither at paying debts nor managing other public expenses, but towards ‘contemporary borderisation’ – a process that causes reinforcement, reproduction and intensification of the vulnerability of the financially weaker and structurally marginalized members of its society, and as such are aimed at adversely affecting them. We are living in a time where we are witnessing struggles over openness and enclosure, sovereignty and nationalism, citizenship and identity, or for that matter security and freedom.

What can a shift in focus from surviving to celebrating look like? How do you navigate a space, a community, a city, or a country that can seem unwelcoming, hostile, or indifferent? What does it mean to occupy spaces that are not designed for you? What are the new ways of seeing and experiencing the world being shaped in our name, or that we are shaping for ourselves and others?

The 18 artists and collectives of the Haihatus 25 exhibition respond to these questions by showcasing a variety of works in multiple media, including painting, sculpture, VR, photography, printmaking, and film – each representing perhaps a differing set of values, yet are representative of the fact that today, artistic practice and research are increasingly enmeshed in systems and ecologies. Collaboration and transdisciplinarity are key themes. What’s more, we now recognize that the major issues the world faces – the issues that really matter – are all systems issues.

Systems that are reshaping the world order, which today is based on disenfranchisement, necropolitical governments prioritising security and ‘management of risk’ over welfare, socio-political-legal architectures of control, technology-driven speed regimes, and borderization as processes of containment and regulation. One such system issue is the ways in which these techno-political regimes affect our knowing and interfacing with the world around us, and how we experience, understand, and learn from it.

We are allegedly living in a ‘knowledge-based’ society, where immaterial labour has a dominant form, where the ability to communicate, to act autonomously and to produce knowledge are the requirements for being creative, for creating and consuming knowledge. Knowledge has to be produced somewhere, once produced, it has to be transmitted… this transmission, by necessity, implies a pedagogical element. It is a process of teaching and (un)learning, of re-evaluating whose knowledges, histories and stories are heard, deemed acceptable, and considered valuable. This is not limited to the art or cultural field but is symptomatic across multiple genres, disciplines and fields, ranging from the entanglements of globalisation, transnationalism, cosmopolitanism, and technisation.

Even within mainstream contexts, one may assume that if knowledge is of increasing importance today and across multiple fields, both institutions of creating and transmitting knowledge must be important – but reality disproves this assumption as we witness a deterioration due to lack of funding, ruining academies and universities; and defunding and cuts in culture sector reducing the effectiveness of artistic endeavours. If we stay in this course, we will reach a knowledge society without knowledge. Worse, society will transform into a society interested only in very specific kinds of knowledge – those that have immediate relevance in the job markets. The role of pedagogy in imparting knowledge based on economic gain is a crucial statement of fact indicating the state of government policy, the dominating corporate sectors and the diminishing role of knowledge itself.

A micronarrative within the exhibition, a trajectory formed through works by Joss Allen, Sheung Yiu, Adnan Mirza, Bruno Moreschi and Bernado Fontes, seeks to subvert these effects by creating relevant and meaningful knowledge production that goes against the grain of neocolonial and neoliberal capitalism and the prescriptive definitions of progress.

Joss Allen’s A rye becoming is a sound piece and publication delving into the evolution of cultural relationships between human beings and rye, first as a weed and later as an irreplaceable food grain of historic significance. Styled as an auto-ethnographic and poetic narrative from the perspective of Rye, the sound/text may be experienced while atop a watchtower, gazing across a field of wheat, a field that rye was historically borne out of, or even while walking among the golden stalks during the heart of summer.

Sheung Yiu’s Everything is a projection contemplates the authenticity of (virtual) reality. The work invites its audiences into an installation comprising two videos and wax sculptures, deploying the viewers’ sense of smell to subvert notions of digital space and memory; while Adnan Mirza’s Memoryscape utilises digital space to elaborate on ‘memory’ through an interactive Virtual Reality (VR) experience that complicates notions of home and belonging. By claiming that multiple modalities of belonging-ness are possible, Mirza presents a fragmented layering of two places Mirza calls home – Lahore and Helsinki – as viewers experience the tapestries of contaminated realities, these overlaps are further multiplied and made hybrid by the witnessing gaze of the viewer. In another room, these hybridities are consolidated and concretised as drawings in ink.

The works of Bruno Moreschi and Bernado Fontera, titled Decanonization, present reverse-engineered photo images from Google’s Open Images dataset. By recreating those parts not used and discarded in training Computer Vision systems, their work not only foregrounds questions of commodified value, extractivist capitalism, and ‘strategy of domination’, but also shatters popular conceptions of AI as being ‘an independent automated entity that functions without human support’. This is highlighted by the accompanying video that provides a first-person account of the exploitation of out-sourced and underpaid ‘Turkers’ (crowd workers) by the ‘AI Industry’, who perform millions of Human Intensive Tasks (HITs) to enable simple algorithms to process big data.

Together these four works present systems-critical techno-political narratives that seek to expand ways of collaborative and transdisciplinarity knowing. Here, the artist is simultaneously an archivist/ artist/ curator/ author/ researcher/ participant/ audience. Their works exemplify that in times where institutional pedagogies are linked to commodification and are failing, it is possible to resist and generate relevant and meaningful knowledge(s) that carry with them the potential to affect change.

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