Publication Teaser

Conversations about the Nordic – Here are snippets from our publication and what’s to come.

Tze & Eva’s dialogue about the concept of ‘Nordic art’

“I’m having a tough time wrapping my head around the idea of ‘Nordic art’. I guess that’s everything that happens in the Nordic region, right?  I mean, I was born here and grew up in the Nordics, which makes me Nordic – but does that mean that everything I do is Nordic? That seems absurd, right? At least, it seems like a little bit of a leap.”

“Well, yes, it’s strange, but maybe it matters more when you are abroad, or your work is shown abroad, and then viewers can attribute some things in your stuff to Nordic stereotypes or characteristics.”

“Like a label that is applied afterwards? I mean, something people name after the object has been shown or an event has passed? That makes sense, but in some cases, Nordic policies use phrases such as ‘supporting Icelandic art’. Here, things start to get muddy for me. Is it the art or the artist that makes the art Icelandic? Or is it the geographic location of where the work is created? Or are there some characteristics present? Maybe it’s fine if the whole thing about ‘Nordic art’ is a bit muddy and not defined in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions, although my analytic philosophy brain would love that. The problem is, though, that these definitions are used in cultural policy-making all around the Nordics, and these ideas of what ‘Nordic art should be’ have a weirdly obscure effect on the people living in the Nordic region like we all roll around naked in the snow and love long sombre silences. However, the effect that even these ideas and stereotypes have is hard to grasp.”

“I think one way we could look at it is to tackle this issue is through the neighbours’ understanding or presumptions of the Nordic countries. We are individuals who work and live in the Nordic region; hence, our thoughts on the Nordic identity could be considered self-defining rather than critical or reflective. We could endlessly argue the perspective and objectivity of a review made by someone about their home region, regardless of which direction is taken. So, one alternative is to draw attention to the Estonian perspective of what the Nordics are like in a few anecdotes: The Estonians have a rhyme – “Korras nagu Norras” – which roughly translates to ‘everything in order like in Norway’ when defining a place or a situation which is tidy and orderly. Patting themselves on the back, the Scandinavians can appropriate this Estonian conception and smugly translate this phrase into ‘Alt i orden som i Norden’ which maintains the saying’s rhyme scheme and would even include all of Scandinavia, Iceland and Finland.
When I lived in Tallinn, my Estonian teacher asked me – a Norwegian – whether life was truly orderly in Norway when she taught me the expression. I told her that it took me two weeks upon settling in Tallinn to figure out all the paperwork for settling in Estonia, whilst it took two months of emailing into the bureaucratic void and a personal message to the rector for getting my master’s degree signed before he moved from Oslo. The point here is not to demean music school bureaucrats in Norway through comparison. Rather, the point is to illustrate that the language used in defining and perceiving a culture can heavily influence the impression others have on cultures in a different region and that certain perceptions of cultures are integrated into the world’s languages.”

“Of course, the rhyme affects their image of the North. I like that it translates, giving it a little extra spice. I guess the phrase could also be used in derogatory terms like when places are too tidy and have this eerie feeling or when someone is so organised that they are an absolute horror to work with because their flexibility is zero to none. Maybe this is just my annoyance towards ‘Scandi’ living and aesthetics coming to the fore here. But then again, Estonians have a language that is closest to Finnish. But, then again, Finnish seems very complicated for North Germanic speakers, like myself from Iceland, whereas the other Nordic languages are quite close. Do you think that the linguistic similarities to Finnish affect Estonians?”

“Yes, that’s very probable. However, although Helsinki and Tallinn are separated only by a narrow strip of water, the cities were once worlds apart due to the Soviet Union. The Nordic aspirations, or more aptly, imaginations of the older generation of Estonians, still echo across its society. Many homeowners in Tallinn built in-house saunas in the 90s after the fall of the Iron Curtain, as “it was trendy to do as the Finns do.” Older Estonians who lived and saw the fall of the Soviets installed satellite dishes to watch Finnish television. Toomas Hendrik Ilves, former president of Estonia, even gave a speech on Estonia as a Nordic country. Although Ilves’ speech is mostly positive of the Nordic identity through differentiating itself from Estonia’s southern and eastern neighbours, the following quote by the former president makes for a poignant reflection:“ No genuine “northern identity” has emerged, yet. Yulelanders are individualistic and loathe to identify with groups.” Ilves preferred the term ‘Yulelander’ over Nordic as it is clear that the Nordics are unified only by a select collection of cultural commonalities (e.g. the celebration of Yule) rather than language. He may be referring to the lack of mutual intelligibility between the region’s Uralic, Inuit and North Germanic language divisions within the region.”

… [1/3 of essay]

Excerpt from Katinka’s text about Kollektiv Sorg:

The exhibition was choreographed like a labyrinth and included all sorts of artistic mediums; photography on textile, video works, sound, poetry, print and documentation. In ways the works spoke to people affected by the violence but it also spoke to me, representing what I would consider an outsider’s perspective. In a personal and generous way, the works showed me the dialogues, experiences, feelings and imagery relating to grief. Some ways felt deeply individual, like peeping into someone’s living room, while others expressed grief as a collective feeling. 

Near the end of the exhibition, a video work asked questions via a voice-over: “what do you know about the sound of the helicopter affecting your heart?”, followed by “in that case, one automatically prepares oneself mentally for perhaps another rest in peace.” I felt spoken to directly but not in a judging way, these works invited me and all of Sweden to take part in the pain and grief that the violence leaves. 

Janosch Kratz – Traces of Impact

When I recently went through old materials, works, and images on my archival hard drive, to my surprise, I found three recordings of interviews I conducted in 2023, almost 20 years ago. Back then I had finished University and my interest in the responsibilities of art schools had just started by reflecting on my own education. Sadly, the interviews never got published to this day, so it seemed obvious to me – in the light of recent developments – that the concerns of the organizations I interviewed are relevant and shed light on the historical importance of self-organized action groups, their relation to institutions and the downsides of their intense work against the forces of the cultural, economical, and political powers of art schools and governments. 

About ten years after the interviews, just when I started working as a teacher at a Nordic art school, many students and activist organizations gathered and protested. Through the enormous pressure on the creative industry, institutional workers, staff members, and teachers joined the protest, and the art dimensions of the Nordic collapsed. No one would produce, promote, teach, or publish art for many months. Gallery workers went on strike too and no art could be sold. All that was left were old works getting dusty in Gallery Archives, losing value. Things have changed since. Directors of art schools had to resign and the closed internal structures had been opened to allow students to participate in the design of their education. The establishment of a ‘Nordic Art Union’ brought a political position to the international dimension and a strong voice for all artists and designers. The Union is community-based, organizes social gatherings, offers help to those who require it and is in close communication with all Nordic art schools. The biggest effort was put into the establishment of a permanent artist visa, with the option of switching between the other Nordic countries fluently, allowing bridges to be built and community to be strengthened. Part of the agreement has also been to grant visas to all artistic workers who had been wrongly deported from the Nordics after their graduation. 

The three organizations I had talked to, the Solidarity Platform in Amsterdam, AIVAG in Reykjavík, and Verdensrommet in Oslo, were all working toward those changes with a community-driven approach. While AIVAG and Verdensrommet worked as voluntary groups in Nordic countries, the Solidarity Platform became a solid installation in the shape of an online tool of the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. In all cases, the groups were (co-)initiated by non-European students with the need to voice their struggles but also to find strength in sharing them with each other and create a solidarity network. 

Art schools have finally dropped their walls and allowed changes that have been inevitable for so long. So many years of Student initiatives, so many years of voicing the forgotten or ignored:

stay tuned!