Arts-based and Artistic Research Conference in Helsinki

Last week the 4th Conference on Arts-based and Artistic Research was held in Aalto University, Helsinki. Here are the abstracts of our presentations.


Artist as a Public Scholar, by Raisa Foster

This paper discusses the role of an artist/researcher in exchanging and creating knowledge for and with public. It first describes the different types of artistic activisms used, such as culture jamming, poetic terrorism, graffiti, and other different kinds of public art interventions, but it then focuses especially to the artist/researcher’s own multidisciplinary and participatory art projects as public scholarship.

Public art intervention happens in the crossroad of art and activism. It challenges power structures through creative resistance. The criticism of society and its phenomena can happen either through the form or the content of an art work. Sometimes artists can purposely work from an activist point of view; sometimes a political aspect emerges unintentionally. The artistic protests can target various issues, such as sexism, racism, socio-economic injustice, ecological crisis, and many more. Many of the activist art projects also criticize the idea of consumerism by invading commercial places, by creating anti-ads, or by interrupting some other ways the unquestioned idea of human as primarily a consumer.

By producing unexpected encounters artistic interventions enable new ways of interpreting and critically evaluating social structures and current issues. Interventions do not always look like works of art: they do not locate in the secure context of art institution, but in contrast, public may run into an art work in a surprising everyday situation. Thus it could be also said that art in a public space often lacks the representative nature of art; instead it presents real gestures.

Artist as a public scholar believes that it is possible to create original and exciting works that speak both to other academics and artists but also to wider audience. Activist art requires an active attitude from an audience. An art work may not offer clear meaning posed by the artist, but instead it invites multiple meanings to occur and for every spectator to experience and interpret in his/her own way. Public scholarship in arts builds new understanding through openness and practice through dialogue and participation.

Instead of promoting a clear political agenda, an art intervention in public space may aim to create an “atmosphere”, a holistic affective experience for its witnesses. Atmosphere occurs as a primary experience and it shows the world as it is, and not through concepts and representations of it. This kind of art intervention can help us to see things differently, communicate experience across linguistic and cultural divides, and that way also produce more complex knowledge and holistic understanding.

In order to describe the role of an artist as a public scholar, this paper gives examples of two different art projects (Rikka performance and Break a Brain festival) that both share a common interest in (1) focusing to the questions of EcoJustice, (2) invading (public) space, and (3) investigating the role of a spectator as a witness. Rikka (2014) is a site-specific performance combining movement and sound art. Break a Brain (2015) is a multidisciplinary and place-based art festival.


Social sculpture as anarchist pedagogy or pedagogy of (r)evolution, by Jussi Mäkelä

The purpose of this paper is to present an arts-based research project aiming to construct a  philosophically consistent grounding for Joseph Beuys’ concept of Social Sculpture. The focus is on scrutinizing the importance of an arts-based method in theorizing Beuys’ thinking. In addition, the paper will introduce the key arguments of the research asserting that Social Sculpture is fundamentally a pedagogical project. After all, Beuys regarded pedagogy as the most important means to mold the society – the ultimate artwork: “To be a teacher is my greatest work of art.” This relates to what Beuys calls an extended (expanded, enhanced) understanding (concept) of art – what we could also call “a (r)evolution of thoughts”.

Composing a coherent philosophical grounding for Beuys’ thinking is a complicated task. In the
research project at hand this is done by scrutinizing various kinds of Beuys-literature and reflecting
the emerging elementary ideas against both Beuys’ artworks and researcher’s own artworks that
have been inspired by Beuys’ oeuvre. Reflections are subjected to a phenomenological rigor in
order to offer them a philosophically solid grounding.

The artistic process described in this paper consists mainly of preparation of an exhibition that will
take place in Nokia in April 2016. The exhibition is called “Freedom relations” and consists of
sculptures and installations. Through the exhibited works the aim is to scrutiny the concept of
freedom as a relation and its significance for Social Sculpture.

The research is ontologically grounded on phenomenology and especially its connections to artistic
practices. It relies mainly on Merleau-Ponty, but partly also on Heidegger because of his special
interest on sculpture. For Beuys, freedom is an essential concept that recurs throughout his writings
and public appearances. In this research, freedom is considered a relation: one can be only free in
relation to something. This standing point makes it relevant to contemplate the special meaning of a
sculpture in regard to Social Sculpture. Existing in space by its character, a sculpture always
demands a relation with the spectator – or even a passer-by.

From the mid 1960’s until his death in 1986, Joseph Beuys’ career turned more and more into the
politics, and so did his artworks, too. By his on words, Beuys gradually lost his interest in making
visually interesting art, instead he loaded his massive works with meanings that were more or less
hidden in materials and forms. He regarded the actual artworks as process waste with some value as
historical documentations, the true artwork being the change in the society that he might have
sparked. To put it simply, for Beuys, being an active and responsible member of a community was
to be an artist, but it is challenging to swiftly turn his thinking and Social Sculpture into a
pedagogical form – although the pedagogy is in there. This paper is about making that pedagogy
explicit through arts-based research, aiming to bring about a (r)evolution of thought within

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The Art-Eco project examines artistic and pedagogical possibilities to support the holistic awareness of empathetic-ecological humanity.

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