Kati Laakso: The Finnish Cultural Institute for Benelux’s 2018 theme is Transitions

Photograph of a large and empty hall with two pillars in middle. The walls and pillars are damaged.


In 2018, the Institute will be exploring the relationship between the individual and society under the theme TRANSITIONS. We will be examining the theme by combining elements from both the arts and research fields in order to offer new ways of looking at, and understanding the  environment we currently live in. The blurring of different disciplines is crucial in understanding our world, which is becoming increasingly complex and difficult to contain.

Throughout the year, various projects will be used to offer glimpses on how we as individuals encounter society and how society treats us as individuals. The world has yet again arrived at a new turning point, remaking positions of power in society. The thoughts of single brave individuals can lead to mass movements that spread like wildfire across the globe, tearing down old ways of working, norms, and positions of power. The recent #metoo wave has proven that with enough courage and solidarity, changes can be possible. As the prominent artist and activist Ai Weiwei has said: ”Freedom is not an absolute condition, but a result of resistance.”


The Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s programme places a strong emphasis on society: our aim is to respond quickly to current issues and phenomena. This year, we will comment on our surrounding society and its disruption from many different perspectives. At the beginning of the year, the Institute invited Pirita Näkkäläjärvi to share her comments on the incompleteness of historiography from a Sámi point of view. The event was part of the Remembering 1918 project organised by the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts at the House of European History. Finnish-based Iraqi author Hassan Blasim offered another perspective in speaking about his literary work.

We also participated in the LGBTQ film festival Roze Filmdagen in Amsterdam, which included the local premiere of a film about one of Finland’s most remarkable internationally known artists, Touko Laaksonen, also known as Tom of Finland. The theme of gender and sexualities was continued at a joint Nordic seminar that delved into the consequences of the #metoo campaign from different perspectives: politics, social activism and media. The seminar filled up quickly as did the second Feminist Curse Night organised by the Institute. Having heard the stories told throughout the evening emceed by Rosa Meriläinen, many are sure to have walked home feeling empowered and ready to face the challenges of society.


This year, we return to history as without understanding the past and dealing with its wounds it is impossible to move forward as an individual or as a society. This year marks 100 years ago since Europe underwent great turmoil and since Finland suffered a civil war, the scars of which are still visible in society today. At a seminar taking place in Helsinki in May, a group of internationally renowned researchers will discuss the scars left by the year 1918 on our society and on our European heritage. The evening culminates in a musical spectacle organised in collaboration with Pekka Kuusisto’s Our Festival, which features Paleface, the Kamus Quartet and Niko Kumpuvaara’s musical interpretations. The Remembering 1918 project concludes in Brussels in the autumn.


In 2018, an individual’s power to influence their surroundings has shifted dramatically. In theory, the internet, social media and crowdsourcing allow nearly everyone to express an opinion. The individual’s potential power to influence their environment and their reality is perhaps greater than ever. This year, we are partnering with numerous projects that explore city planning and our living environment from different perspectives including art, design and politics. In the spring, Kaarina Kaikkonen’s artwork If I had Wings – Social Elevator, which is produced in partnership with the local IFA Laboratory and several other city organisations, will be presented in Brussels. Underlying the project is a desire to generate discussion about the vast inequalities between different neighbourhoods in Brussels, and simultaneously enlist the city’s residents in developing their own living environment. This theme continues in Amsterdam in the summer with the We Make The City festival, which stretches across the city. The local cultural centre Pakhuis de Zwijger is behind the great project, which over the course of four days presents several guest lectures from Finland. In the autumn, this partnership between Helsinki and Amsterdam continues with the Lähiöfest festival, taking place in Helsinki.

Yet, while our power to exert influence is growing, society is simultaneously tightening its restrictions on individuals. The reach of the power elite is penetrating our reality more and more, and individuals can be controlled and restricted through politics, legislation, technology and pure violence. In the autumn, we will team up with the EUNIC network to explore the relationship between society and the individual through the lens of security under the theme Protection.

Photograph of a typical Belgian city landscape. Some roofs have snow on them.


In the height of summer, we will be celebrating Finnish music extensively with a large number of Finnish performers featuring on the programmes of seven different music festivals in Wallonia. The Musiq’3 Festival in Brussels includes performances by the Helsinki Chamber Choir (Helsingin Kamarikuoro), Kreeta-Maria Kentala, Joonas Ahonen, Lilli Maijala, Iiro Rantala and Olli Mustonen. Kimmo Pohjonen will perform at the opening of  the festival. In addition, the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra will perform at various concerts alongside Belgian colleagues.


Visits between our countries and encounters among professionals more often than not lead to new initiatives. The Institute will continue to facilitate visits between key cultural players in the Benelux region and Finland, especially in the fields of the visual arts, fashion and performing arts. We will also continue the low-threshold TelepART Mobility Support Platform for performing artists, which was initiated by the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux and already covers 17 countries.

The above-mentioned are just some examples of our programme. We invite you to follow us on social media and participate in our activities, and be inspired by how we can use the arts and sciences to create a joint future that is sustainable from both a human, environmental and societal perspective. Our aim is to give space for both mainstream as well as marginalised voices and realities that make up our join society and future.

Portrait photograph of a woman looking into the camera and smiling. The photograph has a slight distorted Polaroid effect.
Kati Laakso