Forms of participation: Tellervo Kalleinen/ Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, JOKAklubi and YKON

Shedhalle / Exhibitions / Forms of participation

Kalleinen/Kochta-Kalleinen (FIN): "I love my job" 2009/10 (Videostill)

Kalleinen/Kochta-Kalleinen (FIN): "I love my job" 2009/10 (Videostill)

Forms of Participation
Tellervo Kalleinen/ Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, JOKAklubi and YKON

4 February  - 15 April 2012

Curator: Yvonne Volkart
Artists: Tellervo Kalleinen/ Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, JOKAklubi and YKON

Opening reception: February 3, 2012, 7 pm with a winter buffet 
9.30 pm, Ziegel oh Lac, Rote Fabrik: “Off_Art Talent Show“, by JOKAklubi, and guests

Finissage: Sunday, April 15, 3-6 pm, with a participatory game by YKON

Guided tours: Thursday, February 23, 6 pm and March 15, 6pm

The Finland-based artist couple Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen and Tellervo Kalleinen already participated in our first exhibition project, Un/Mögliche Gemeinschaft. We presented the video The Making of Utopias, which resulted from a close collaboration with four different dropout communities in Australia, providing a vital portrait of utopian communities. And we produced a Complaints Choir for Zurich: one of the most successful of their projects, which now has taken on a life of its own independent of the artists themselves. Due to this exciting encounter and the impression that both develop community and communicative practices in a very idiosyncratic way, the wish emerged to explore more precisely their way of working, based on participation, collectivity, and altering constellations, and to develop several works with the Zurich audience in particular. Central to the exhibition were nine video installations, I Love My Job, People in White, Dreamland, Beschwerdechöre and Archipelago Science Fiction, which were completed for the exhibition. They were complemented by the performance produced for Zurich, Off Art Talent Show of the group JOKAklubi, as well as an installation and a participatory game by the group YKON. The two artists are members of each of these groups. In contrast to the intended work character of the video and its elaborate and long lasting process, the groups focus on the momentary aspect and the input of participants on site.

How to Participate?

Although the videos are marked by an apparently closed ‘work character’, they are not films in the ordinary sense. Rather, they are the aesthetically reflected final product of a consciously protracted, collective, and participatory process with various people who feel addressed by a certain topic and are prepared to get involved. The degree of participation varies depending on the project and respective individual needs. In Dreamland, for example, Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen used so-called crowd sourcing, a form of collaborative knowledge generation that comes from the open source community and is intended to provide a non-monopolistic solution to a problem. They issued a public call that sketched out the topic and collected material submitted by participants. Sought were dreams in which the Finnish president at the time played a central role. From the eighty dreams submitted, the artists made a selection, transformed them into a script and shot a film using them, in which those interested could also participate. In this form, participation is ‘limited’ to submitting content and the performance. Other projects like People in White, Archipelago Science Fiction, and I Love My Job are more dialogical in structure. Despite the respective differences, certain approaches have repeatedly proven themselves: for example, the two artists seek out participants by way of issuing a public call. This is followed by a differentiated catalog of questions that is carried out in writing, but above all discussed in a personal conversation and recorded. Using these individual conversations, Kalleinen/Kochta-Kalleinen either formulated their first suggestions for scripts or held continuous workshops in which the participants worked on possible stories and scripts together or in various interest groups. Those who do not want to participate in the film (usually due to reasons of anonymity or a lack of time) are played by professional actors.
In terms of the range of possible decisions, these projects are intended in a grass roots and anti-authoritarian sense, and in their execution recall projects like Summerhill from the 1920s, where inventing and discussing stories played a role, or the anti-psychiatry movement from the 1970s. The role of artists is one of hosts and moderators that inspire discussion and sum them up. For example, in the Complaints Choir project, they need not be personally present, because select participants, like the initiators or the chorus director, take on the responsibility for their realization. Beside the notion of participation, this project is more about community building and thus the experience of temporary communality.

A Theme in Variations

It is only logical that this dialogical production process results in a large number of possible stories: the video works never include just one story or version. Each ‘work’ is, in its final phase as well, a heterogeneous mixture of many narratives or variants. While the installation I Love My Job consists of eight case studies from Helsinki and Göteborg, Archipelago Science Fiction combines four different fantasies about a possible future on the islands near Turku; longer films such as The Making of Utopias, Dreamland, or even People in White, a film in feature length format, always consist of various scenarios that reflect the various different or individual points of view and experiences of those affected. In most films, moments of repetition and modification (similarity) play an important role. The repetition of the subject, the situation treated, the feeling that could be experienced, or the respective filmic structure shows that under certain circumstances and despite all individuality certain hierarchical structures, experiences of power and powerlessness, fear, or pleasure can repeat. Making this visible and palpable is a key goal of these repetitions.
The variability and principle openness of the films thus represents not only the sum of individual perspectives, but rather is the result of a collective, multi-vocal process that opposes aesthetically an appropriating ‘we’ identity and simple representation. This corresponds to what Gilles Deleuze, quoting Félix Guattari, formulates in the following way:

‘A good group does not take itself to be unique, immortal, and significant, unlike a defense ministry or homeland security office, unlike war veterans, but instead plugs into an outside that confronts the group with its own possibilities of non-sense, death, and dispersal “precisely as a result of its opening up to other groups”. In turn, the individual is also a group.’(Gilles Deleuze, ‘Three Group-Related Problems’, Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953–1974 (New York: Semiotext(e), 2004), p. 193.)

In other words: although these projects aim at moments of solidarity and community, they insist on a form of singularity that is both more and less than is suggested by the word ‘individual’. This ‘uniqueness’ is only possible at certain times, in very particular sites, with very particular actors; it is situational and not repeatable.
The exhibition display also represents a conscious staging of moments of presence and absence. Scenographically, this is expressed by the fact that the eight episodes from I Love My Job were shown on eight different screens, but that only a single ‘case’ could be watched at a time. The remaining screens were black, only showing the title of the film not being shown. The four-part installation Archipelago Science Fiction never showed all future fantasies at the same time: here too, one scenario was shown after another on a single monitor. The remaining monitors remained empty: a temporal continuum that is translated to space as a continuous monitor series that suggests lucidity and linear order and at the same time counteracts it. The space itself generates moments of absence and emptiness (so much room with so little going on), but also the unforeseen and erratic. It is impossible to be sure when the next film begins: there are always a few seconds missing from the beginning: there will never be a moment of absolute clarity. Our movement in space, to get a grasp on the films, becomes a symbolic crossing of spaces, times, and voids where almost nothing happens.

Between Therapy and Art

Regardless of the subject, moments of narrative and acting are given an important significance. This approach, which relies on moments of the event-aspect and the present instead of representation, recalls therapeutic processes in which it is assumed that the narrative of a problematic or traumatic situation creates an initial awareness that something is fundamentally not right and that something must be undertaken to change it. With the option of participating in a game or making a film together, the described problem, as banal or traumatic as it might seem to be, contains a seriousness and an importance, but at the same time by way of the playful and artistic approach becomes a limited subject that can be mastered, which at the same time lies outside of ourselves. The shared act of filmmaking not only serves to produce an aesthetic, autonomous work, but also presents a closed, manageable, and achievable goal, and seeks to achieve this in a temporary community.
In an informal service society like ours, in which less and less is being actually created, and where only data is being pushed around and papers are written, this aspect of ‘creating’ a concrete product takes on eminent importance: experiences of success, pride, satisfaction in a goal accomplished and the experience that things can be achieved through shared work that would not be achievable on our own can lead to profound feelings of happiness and satisfaction: feelings that naturally are the requirement for feeling capable of making a decision and like a responsible subject.
The artwork and/or the film here becomes a means in the dialogical process with the others and ourselves to the extent that we ourselves are all groups, as Deleuze puts it. The work as a goal of a group process makes it possible to think about forms, about the translation of (formless) emotions and states in abstract contexts and visible things. In my opinion, this corresponds to a profoundly human pleasure in transcending ourselves in the other, the artificial, the formal. Seen in this way, the fact that ultimately the how of the form interests the artists more than the participants, is not a betrayal of the notion of participation: it accounts rather for the variety of people and their various interests and motivations. And it ultimately guarantees that the amateur level (that is important as starting point) can also be passed in terms of the professionalization of expression and aesthetics. This means that it guarantees that something will result that is interesting for the artistic context from which it was also created. (Recall here the accusations of lacking aesthetics made at the social art of the 1990s.) The artists not only account for this state of affairs, but, as mentioned, also the human need for aesthetics and to turn their own life into something artificial, artful, that means into art, but regardless of questions of professionalism, distinction, or good taste. This need is taken up by reality programs on television and perverted in away that allows for no possibility for abstraction. The practices collected here attempt to return transcendental meaning to this longing for metamorphosis.

My Acting’s Fine

The moments of play and acting, in opening other paths, are also central to the other forms of participation presented by the performance group JOKAklubi and YKON as part of the exhibition project. The primary concept behind YKON was to develop other formats for meetings and conferences to enter into conversations with one another in an unconventional way or to trigger action. In this way, the participants developed and discussed their ideas for several hours and played out possibilities of how the world could be changed. In JOKAklubi’s Off Art Talent Show the idea of the show and the subversion of competitive structures was placed at the foreground. (Originally, the Off Art Talent Show was about the question of belonging and possible appropriation, as implied by the word ‘off’ which is used in German speaking countries to refer to the alternative art world. When the show in 2009 was first developed for the Subvisions-Festival in Hamburg, it was also about discussions about gentrification that could use the alternative scene.) Local artists and people who enjoy performing were invited to present something on stage, while the three women from JOKAklubi decided as jurors whether something was ‘in’ or ‘out’ with unusual, revealing methods. In so doing, they took the competition format that dominates at talent shows to absurd ends, and at the same time created a different form or perception where at issue is not selecting the best, but sharing and giving among the group.

All three groups share the notion that moments of self-abandon and community can emerge in play that explode the individualized, capitalist notion of achievement and the primacy of (apparent) reason. By performatively revealing, playing through, and acting out other sides of humanity (both ‘dark’ and ‘light’) accomplishes something that only has little room in our postmodern society: and this, although today everything and everyone is exhibitionist in a media sense or can be discussed intellectually. The non-hierarchical and nonchalant experiments that they achieve, accelerate the basic feeling that is central for the understanding as an acting subject. I am good enough, even if I’m ‘off ’ and not ‘on’.

People’s Stories

‘One of the most central experiences in my life was the book Amerikanische Portraits by Studs Terkel. It was an edited and perhaps censored version of his Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do from 1974. In the book, people like housewives, firemen, or bank managers spoke about their everyday life and their working day. I was twelve years old, and it was one of my best reading experiences from my youth. Of course the West or the US was something like an exotic fairy tale land for us in the GDR, but I think it was rather the roughness of the text, the emotions, the humor, and the tragedy of the everyday life that was most impressive. That was much better than Treasure Island or the other literature for boys. I think that something of this reading experience continues to resonate in our projects.’ (Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen in a e-mail, March 2012.)

Central to all the projects discussed here are the people, their hidden stories, their abysses, their dreams and desires, their engagement with the social world. The motto of Forms of Participation thus applies also to the artists themselves. They want to participate, with the people, the world, their hierarchies, and they want to develop adequate aesthetic forms for this purpose. Although each of the projects presented here was marked by a varying form of interaction and participation and although in each the world is not shown as ‘easy going’, humor and a kind of absurd, surrealist comedy is a principle throughout: humor and ease as a survival strategy. They are a capacity to perceive gridlocked systems in different ways and to experience them anew so that we can encounter them in different ways, in real life as well.

(Translated by Brian Currid)

“I love my job“