Appearances of the Political and the NSU

So I’m attending the Nordic Summer University conference this week in Orivesi, Finland, and presented my paper entitled ”The Berlin Wall as a Heterotopian Site – Reflections on the Topology of the Wall as a Tourist Landmark” here yesterday afternoon.

The presentation sparked an intriguing conversation on spatial aesthetics, and I’m happy to be here, as I got very nice feedback on my paper.

The Nordic Summer University, or NSU for short, is a nomadic network for interdisciplinary research, operating in the Nordic and Baltic region.

The summer conferences have been organized ever since the 1950’s, and this organization is the oldest academic, independent co-operation body in the Nordic countries.

At the NSU website, this organization’s mission is currently described as follows, “The NSU fundamentally operates as a generator of ideas. It seeks to develop scholarly and innovative initiatives by building international networks and communities engaged in cross-disciplinary research enquiries and critical thinking. The NSU gives priority to topical subjects of study that are often on the margins of disciplinary boundaries not already established at the universities.”

I attended the winter session of NSU in Oslo last year, and enjoyed the conference as well as visiting Norway. When I got the CFP for this conference by email, I couldn’t resist but to send a proposal for a paper. And I’m really glad I did that, as I got accepted into the “Appearances of the Political” study circle.

The NSU is currently operating 8 thematic study circles, each with the running period of 3 years. As for the “Appearances of the Political” study circle, this is the second session. The circle will convene for another 4 times, 2 times in the winter, 2 times in the summer.

Approximately 120 people from 20 different countries are attending the summer conference this year.

In the “Appearances of the Political” study circle, we have been given presentations on very diverse topics, such as on the aesthetics of yoga, on fashion in relation to politics, on the Estonian “Singing Revolution”, and on feminist literature. There are also artistic activities happening at the premises of the Orivesi Folk High School, and the official program includes a visit to either Tampere or the Mänttä Art Festival.

The keynote speakers of the conference this year are Elizabeth Povinelli and Robert Pfaller.

As I’ve enjoyed my time here, I’m very much looking forward to attending the next winter session too!

Find out more about the NSU by visiting http://nordic.university/

You can also find the abstracts of the presentations given online. I have also published my full paper at the Academia.edu website, just click on the link below for the PDF.

https://www.academia.edu/27150484/The_Berlin_Wall_as_a_Heterotopian_Site_Reflections_on_the_Topology_of_the_Wall_as_a_Tourist_Landmark

XXI Mänttä Art Festival

So I visited Mänttä this weekend – and the trip was awesome! This year’s festival is a must-see for any fan of contemporary art.

The Mänttä Art Festival was first arranged in 1993. A biennial event during the early years, the festival has been arranged annually since 1999, and his year’s festival, “Kommandona”, or “Going Commando”, has been curated by the Finnish artist Anssi Kasitonni. Our excursion to Mänttä, located in central Finland, was arranged by the two fabulous ladies of Tabulaland, Saara Konttinen and Aiju Salminen.

Tabulaland is an art gallery and an art shop online, founded two years ago by Konttinen and Salminen.

Our tour group comprised of 35 art enthusiasts. We got on the bus from Helsinki yesterday early in the morning, and arrived in Mänttä around noon. After lunch, it was time for us to take on the exhibition at Pekilo, an old forage factory.

Upon entering the exhibition, one could spot two female artists with mixed media works right at the entrance. Riikka Hyvönen’s fresh roller derby works consisting of leather and aerosol paint were being displayed next to the ticket counter, along with Kristen Liu-Wong’s Asia-inspired illustrations.

In the main hall, another two female artists were dominating – Kaija Papu’s PI541, a crocheted police car, was looming on the background while Anja Salonen’s Sneeze stole my immediate attention. Kalle Mustonen’s giant installation of a wooden garden gnome was laying on the floor motionless, while the sculptor Laura Könönen’s Rinki, consisting of a diorite punching bag weighing 500 kg and a platform – an absolute masterpiece – seemed to highlight the fact that this exhibition is a feast of the heavyweight Finnish contemporary artists.

Getting up the stairs, one immediately faced Tommi Musturi’s The Changed Local Landscape installation. The Hollywood artist Lucy Liu’s works were being displayed in this floor. The three works by Liu, to me, seemed to form a contrast to the rest of the exhibition. I wonder if Kasitonni really had a dream of Liu doing contemporary art like he said in an interview, or if including these works was an intentional pun.

The rest of the exhibition was excellent as well, but no more spoilers! You definitely have to experience it yourselves.

The festival goes on for another 1,5 months, until the 31st of August.

I can only highy recommend travelling to Mänttä this summer.

Visit the Mänttä Art Festival website: http://kuvataideviikot.fi/

The Tabulaland Art Store online: http://www.tabulaland.com/

On Brand Advocacy and the Transcendent Customer Experience

How to create brand advocacy through customer journey mapping? And what kind of a customer experience do strong brand communities promote?

Brendan Richardson, the author of “Tribal Marketing, Tribal Branding”, has stated that “the fundamental purpose of the marketer who seeks to engage with contemporary communities of consumption in whatever form is to identify, and where appropriate and possible, support the linking values that unite these communities” and to thus “facilitate” the “transcendent customer experience”.

In a paper entitled “Transcendent Customer Experience and Brand Community”, John W. Schouten, James H. McAlexander and Harold F. Koenig have stated that “Transcendent customer experiences (TCEs), which have aspects of “flow and/or peak experience”, can generate “lasting shifts in beliefs and attitudes, including subjective self-transformation” while “delivering a particularly strong form of brand loyalty.”

Brand advocacy is, naturally, the most mature level of customer commitment here, and that is always based on shared values.

A flow experience, according to psychologist Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi, produces a state of transcendence, a suspension of temporal reality, and a sense of separation from the mundane, and a sense of unity with some higher plane of experience, whereas, similarly, a peak experience, as discussed by Abraham Maslow, is characterised as a sudden epiphany – both signifying a connection to a something outside the self.

Skydivers, for example, according to Schouten, McAlexander and Koenig, “report consistent types of extraordinary experience, beginning with the thrill of first time engagement” and “progressing through milestones of personal achievement and periods of individual and shared transcendence”.

According to the authors, furthermore, it is shown in studies that people engaging in outdoor activities “report dramatic life- or perspective-altering transformations in themselves”.

So what do skydivers essentially experience?

I went out with a skydiving guy a few years ago, and could not help but wonder. Extreme sports is definitely not for me. However, I can easily agree on this one when it comes to the experience of biking or hiking outdoors in the middle of nature, for example.

All of this may seem to have a religious undertone to it.

Maslow’s view on religion, however, was somewhat blunt.

According to Maslow, a religion mainly exists to provide a framework for understanding the ephemeral, ineffable nature of the experience. And the function of a religious institution, according to Maslow, is to offer texts, symbols, rituals, and a community that can act as triggers for future transcendent experiences.

Now let’s take a step back, and discuss the triggers in relation to an outstanding customer experience.

The triggers of such an experience are individual and vary – but these may include, for example, a sense of a personal crisis, a sense of romance or a sense of encountering “exceptional beauty”. McAlexander and Schouten have identified that in relation to consumption, the triggers may include sensory experiences, such as experiencing sights, sounds and smells; or a sense of “unexpectedly gratifying interpersonal encounters”, and also, intriguingly, a sense of “personal achievement” that “exceeds people’s expectations”.

It seems that great customer experiences have the power to significantly enhance people’s relationships with other people, as well as their relationship with objects, as the authors of this article suggest.

The research cited above clearly indicates that “customers desire to transcend mundane consumerism”.

This tendence is typical of strong brand communities.

The authors of this paper also refer to the dark, addictive and escapist side of the customer experience.

Colin Campbell, for example, has written about what he calls the “romantic” modern consumerism as a type of addiction, in his view caused by the global advertising industry that caters for fantasies. Max Weber’s critique of capitalism is, of course, a primary reference here.

I find brand communities and the concept of a transcendent customer experience to be ripe with yet untapped, hidden potential for promoting a more sustainable lifestyle worldwide, especially among millennials. At the end of the day, the brands that promote a healthy, happy planet may generate stronger communities and more loyal customers than brands that do not pay attention to sustainability issues.