Reflections After Overshoot Day

The average Finnish person currently uses over three times more resources than what is sustainable in the long run. Our “overshoot day” has already passed for this year, just last week. In general, I attempt to make better choices in everyday life, but I think being an average Finn, my overall lifestyle is very likely to be very unsustainable. I travel a lot, for example, mostly by a plane, I keep buying new clothes, I sometimes eat meat nowadays, and more often than not, I do not buy organic food.

But I think the main issue here is that making sustainable choices is not made too feasible. Our culture is based on consumerism, in fact, our whole economic system is.

So how to make an impact for a more sustainable future?

This week, I got to visit a very exciting think tank company called Demos Helsinki. As researcher Mikael Sokero demonstrated in his presentation to a group of students, the overuse and fast-paced deterioration of natural resources challenges companies and organizations to address and adapt to new trends and a more sustainable future.

Demos Helsinki calls for a “resource-wise economy”, and helps various organizations to create more sustainable products and services and to change their policies. Another area of expertise of Demos Helsinki is increasing democracy by creating and providing a co-operative platform that connects various participants to pursue common interests. As Sokero explains, Demos Helsinki “has two customers”, one of which is the original paying customer, the other one being the people whose well-being is increased.

Currently, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. According to Demos Helsinki’s blog, cities now contribute to 70% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Many Nordic cities have now taken upon themselves the task of becoming forerunners in sustainability, in particular in reducing their climate impact. As Demos Helsinki is effectively combining in-depth foresight analysis with co-creation methodology and co-operation in various projects, their projects may have a significant impact on the society in the long run.

I finally visited Ernesto Neto’s fabulous exhibition in Kiasma yesterday, coinciding with Choi Jeong Hwa’s exhibition’s opening party. Whereas Neto, in his work, attempts to offer a moment of tranquillity in the middle of everyday life, and is fascinated by the culture of his homeland Brazil’s indigenous tribes, Choi Jeong Hwa’s work takes the viewer into a colourful plastic jungle, while calling our attention to our materialist lifestyle and the overabundance of goods surrounding us.

I can’t think of a better way to make people face sustainability issues in an art museum than these two exhibitions combined. Ernesto Neto’s works are creating a space for a meditative experience, independent of any material concerns, while Choi Jeong Hwa points out and makes us face our consumerism in a playful way.

Art certainly wields the power of making us reconsider our lifestyle.

A few years back, the Juxtapoz magazine featured a series of photographs by Gregg Segal. In a series entitled “7 Days of Garbage”, people are being portrayed in the middle of seven days’ worth of their thrash. “Obviously, the series is guiding people toward a confrontation with the excess that’s part of their lives”, says Segal. “I’m hoping they recognize a lot of the garbage they produce is unnecessary”, he states.

Much like the current exhibitions in Kiasma, Segal’s photographs certainly put our consumerist habits in perspective in a striking manner.

I enjoyed the current exhibitions in Kiasma, and I really wish contemporary art museums would run this kind of shows more often.

Watch Ernesto Neto’s interview on the Jibóia / Boa exhibition of Kiasma:

See Gregg Segal’s photographs of the series “7 Days of Garbage”:

About Urban Planning and Ikigai

Today, I attended an intriguing lecture by the architect Hella Hernberg, the author of the book “Helsinki Beyond Dreams – Actions Towards a Creative and Sustainable Hometown”. This book came out in 2012, as Helsinki was a World Design Capital.

Hernberg is one of the key professionals behind initiatives that transformed the former cargo port of Kalasatama, still in the middle of its ongoing construction, into a hip area in Helsinki. This area was opened to the general public in 2010, as I moved to neighbouring Kallio myself, and has so far witnessed the creation of open-for-all graffiti fence, urban gardening, a pop-up sauna, and various self-organized events. It’s one of my absolute favourite places in Helsinki, especially in the summertime.

Hernberg’s book explores new perspectives of a city in transition. As Hernberg states, it’s the “new we-spirit and enthusiasm of its people” that has turned Helsinki into an inspiring place to live. “In the past few years our previously quiet and reserved Nordic hometown has been a source of constant surprises”, she says. Helsinki is indeed bubbling with new ideas and creative endeavours. “People are motivated by doing concrete things that have an impact – however temporary – on their environment,” Hernberg writes.

According to the Japanese, everyone has an “ikigai”. The term ikigai is composed of two Japanese words: “iki”, referring to life or spirit, and “kai”, which roughly translates to “the realisation of what one expects and hopes for”. Finding one’s ikigai, according to the Japanese requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is regarded as being very important, since it is believed that discovery of ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to everyday life. An ikigai is essentially ‘a reason to get up in the morning’ – a reason to enjoy life.

Reflecting on the concept of “ikigai”, perhaps we would benefit from letting more people have an impact on their surroundings. As ikigai, more or less, consists of doing the things you love, which you are good at, which you can be paid for, and most importantly, that which the surrounding world needs, I think this concept is extremely useful in relation to crowdsourcing urban planning. One example of such co-design is the project coordinated by the University of Helsinki in the abandoned Marian sairaala hospital area.

According to Hilde Heynen “architecture – in its most broadly conceived sense – forms the framework for life”. Heynen also says that “But in accepting this as a starting point, one should also recognize that there can be something more”. In Heynen’s view, “the critical impact of an architectural project is not equivalent to its smoothly fitting into the international magazines”. Nor should it be. According to Hella Hernberg, the designer or the architect should act as an agent for a positive change. I am happy that my hometown is co-designing urban projects more and more.

On Tourism and Heterotopias

The Berlin Wall, now a tourist landmark, is a prime example of heterotopian architecture. As bit over a fourth of a century has passed since dismantling the Wall, significant parts of it still remain in place in the form of the wonderful Mauerpark, the restored East Side Gallery and several other sites in Berlin – and the original topology of terror has since transformed into that of a tourist attraction.

According to Michel Foucault, heterotopias are present in every culture. Whereas the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, in his essay “Imagining Nothingness”, has famously proclaimed that “emptiness of the metropolis is not empty”, Foucault, in his own work, attempted to point out that we live inside “a set of relations”. Michel Foucault’s well-known lecture “Of Other Spaces” (“Des Espaces Autres”) deals with this subject matter.

In an interview, Foucault was asked whether space was central to the analysis of power, and he answered: “Yes. Space is fundamental in any form of communal life; space is fundamental in any exercise of power. To make a parenthetical remark, I recall being invited, in 1966, by a group of architects to do a study of space, of something that I called at that time ‘heterotopias’, those singular spaces to be found in some given social spaces whose functions are different or even the opposite of others.

Rem Koolhaas visited Berlin in the summer of 1971, when the Wall faced the two sides of the divided city. Koolhaas has announced that his encounter with the Berlin Wall at that time was his first psychological confrontation with the powerful side of architecture.

Later on, this powerful encounter was turned into a well-known maxim of his: “Where there is nothing, everything is possible; where there is architecture, nothing (else) is possible”.

The Berlin Wall was erected during the Cold War, following the so-called Berlin Crisis. This crisis began to escalate when on November 10, 1958, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev delivered a speech in which he demanded that the Western powers of the United States, Great Britain and France pull their forces out of West Berlin within six months. It was this ultimatum that would spark a three year crisis over the future of the city of Berlin that culminated in 1961 with the building of the Berlin Wall.

When the Wall was in place, anyone who wished to leave East Germany was risking his or her life. According to Der Spiegel, at least 136 people died in the attempt to surmount the Berlin Wall. They were either shot by border guards, ripped to shreds by landmines or they drowned in the Spree River. As we all know, the Berlin Wall was eventually taken down on November 9, 1989, when the border between East and West Berlin was suddenly reopened.

In the year 2014, Berlin celebrated the 25th anniversary of taking down the Wall. As part of the celebration, the city inaugurated the Lichtgrenze, a light installation in remembrance of the route of the original Wall. Many other exhibits of the history of the Wall were also installed in central Berlin, when I last visited the city.

It’s now two weeks until my next trip to Berlin. I have been busy at the Uni, and busy with work at the Finnish National Gallery, so I’m really looking forward to this vacation of one week. Another CFP is soon coming up, for the Nordic Summer University, and I’ve already sent my abstract to the session “Appearances of the Political”. My paper will deal with the Berlin Wall, primarily as a tourist attraction and a heterotopian site.

I have been working on bits and pieces of my thesis on street art lately, and I certainly hope my paper and presentation will be accepted for the NSU symposium of this summer as I am eager to get some feedback on my work. Last year, when I visited Oslo to give a presentation for the NSU winter symposium, organized at the premises of the University of Oslo, I met many wonderful people. Exciting times ahead.

This Week in Los Angeles

The Museums and the Web conference organized in the United States is now turning 20 years old. This year, the conference takes place in Los Angeles. Originally established by David Bearman and Jennifer Trant, this four-day event has become one of the museum industry’s most valuable gatherings.

According to the Washington Post, there are roughly 11 000 Starbucks locations in the U.S., and about 14 000 McDonald’s restaurants.

Nevertheless, when combined, these two chains don’t come close to the number of museums in the U.S. – there are a whopping 35 000 museums in the U.S. as it is. The Museums and the Web event will again this year showcase the most prominent of these in the form of lectures on the digital dimension by experts of the field.

Scrolling through this year’s program and exhibits, it is evident that museums are embracing the digital – as well as brand new design and leadership practices.

Service design is increasingly being applied, and this year, many talks in the event will focus on this topic.

Service design is used, for example, to research the ways in which customer behaviour, motivations and needs interact with existing products and services. As it is service design that highlights best where there are critical moments, thresholds, and new opportunities for improvement, or entirely new ways of meeting customer needs, it is also increasingly applied in the museum industry.

Applied to the museum world, service design offers the opportunity to connect up long standing audience-focused research practices. For all of us involved in the delivery of digital products designed to support museum initiatives, service design presents a very useful as well as a provocative framework for designing, planning, and executing the next generation of digital products.

Following up on the service design paradigm, organizations across the field are also increasingly interested in how to measure success when it comes to digital projects.

Furthermore, organizations across the field are adopting new leadership practices and policies, like “Lean”, “Agile”, “Radical”, and “Open”. These concepts incorporate some of the most remarkable changes in the museum C-suite. As Michael Edson has demonstrated in his talks, these methodologies may be applied in the museum industry with success. Yet another emerging trend is designing digital mobile experiences.

I’m excited that some of my co-workers will be visiting the conference again this year and networking in LA. Last year, when the conference was organized in Chicago, our staff gained valuable insights into the current exciting digital projects in various museums around the world. Visiting this kind of topical events is of utmost importance for any big museum organization attempting to invest in digital projects. I’m looking forward to following the conference proceedings online!

See the full conference program of the MW2016: