Kati Laakso: The Finnish Cultural Institute for Benelux’s 2019 theme is RE/definitions

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©Kati Laakso

In 2018, the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s programme focused on Transition. In 2019, our theme is RE/definitions.

For some years now, I have tried to live my life with this principle in mind: because everything around us is constantly in transition, almost anything can become a reality. By this I mean our fears as well as opportunities, both the positive and negative ways of thinking about the future of our world.  Personally, I would like to believe that we are capable of moving towards a better tomorrow, even if reality as filtered through our daily newsfeed often seems to contradict this.

“Nature favours evolution, not revolution”, I recently read in a scientific article. The article was discussing how psychological transformation or personal growth is often more lasting when change happens slowly. We all know how difficult it is to keep New Year’s resolutions that ask us to make radical changes. Drastic decisions made on the spur of the moment seldom last long. More often than not transition happens through a series of changes that steer us towards the future. Change usually requires us to learn to see, experience and think about things differently than before – to recalibrate – or  redefine – things that surround us. Getting used to new situations requires openness, adaptability and, especially, the willingness to look at things from different perspectives.

In 2019, this is precisely the core of the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux’s programme: How can we redefine subjects that we think of as familiar and self-evident? And, how can this process offer our society a lighter and more equal future?

RE/defining Masculinities

One of this year’s three main projects centres on a topic that has received much attention lately: the changing conceptions of masculinity. The project is a continuation of last year’s Feminist Curse Nights, which bore witness to how even small things can empower people towards change.

The project considers the evolution of the concept of masculinity from many perspectives while bringing together voices from many different cultures on this subject. This multidisciplinary project combines perspectives from the arts, science, research and education and is realised in close collaboration with a wide network of partners. The project’s culminating events will take place in the autumn and winter of 2019. The aim of this project is to raise discussions around how many different concepts of manhood there really are and also, how men are having to re-define their place as members of society. Our aim with this programme and its events, which will be realised in our different target countries, is to increase our understandings of how gender roles have changed, how they have been broken down and how they have been redefined.

RE/defining Finnish Art & Design

Our project focusing on Finnish art and design stretches across the entire year and aims to highlight Finnish designers in central Europe. Finland has a strong tradition and reputation in the field of design and our talented artists and designers should be more widely known among international collectors, gallerists and professionals in other fields. The project will foreground both young designers as well as designers who already have extensive careers.

The project also aims to increase working opportunities for Finnish artists as well as grow the economic potential of this field. Together with a local partner, we will be participating in several prominent design fairs as well as organise a number of exhibitions, all the while striving to redefine the wide range of skills and expertise in design and art that can be found in Finland. The overall project will be curated by the founder of the Spazio Nobile gallery, Lise Coirier, and the director of the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux, Kati Laakso. The project also extends to the spaces of our colleagues at the Finnish Institute in Paris in the spring and summer of 2019.

RE/defining Spatial Concepts

The third of this year’s main projects focuses on the design of spaces and wellbeing. Together with Brussels-based Finnish spatial designer, Heini Lehtinen, the project looks at the effects of space and our environment on wellbeing. Lehtinen is the founder of the design company, Raven & Wood Agency, which has as its mission to improve people’s quality of life by designing spaces holistically. Despite the wealth of research on the subject, design processes often still ignore the fact that both visual and physical environments unconsciously, through various senses, have an impact on people’s ability to function as well as on their inner world. In her own work, Lehtinen has extensively researched the importance of space in conflict mediation and this particular topic will be featured as one of our main themes this year.

Also on the programme

Besides our main projects, we will continue to run the successful TelepART Mobility Support Programme for the performing arts and for expert exchanges between our countries of operation. The Go-commission project, which aims to develop working opportunities for artists, will also continue in 2019 with some interesting new artistic commissions particularly in the performing arts field. We will also be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Finnish Cultural Institute in Benelux Trust, and we will be involved in organising cultural events that form part of Finland’s EU presidency which begins this summer. We would already like to extend a warm thank you to the foundations and other funders who have supported our programme content!

In line with this year’s theme, we hope that our programme is an indication that changing perspectives is a cleansing and reassuring way to confront the new. Resisting change and staying trapped in a prison built out of one’s own fears is always a heavier burden than inviting in the new through a change of perspective. Lasting change is a process that requires time and patience, but our hope for 2019 is to gently nudge our world towards a more accepting, more equal and more just tomorrow. Martin Luther King uttered the words “The Fierce Urgency of Now”there is no time to waste in the fight for positive change.

Kati Laakso is the Director of the Finnish Cultural Institute for the Benelux.