Voyages of discovery into everyday life, occupying urban space, and twists in a familiar environment – the five-year collaboration between IHME and the City of Helsinki Youth Department has been about doing things together. The starting point for the artist-run partnership projects is each year’s IHME Project, but the groups and the works generated in them are the young people’s own.
The collaboration had its beginnings in the desire to pay attention to a variety of audiences. “In the Festival’s participatory partnership projects contemporary art gets a foothold in children’s and young people’s everyday lives in schools and youth centres,” says cultural producer and IHME School coordinator Katja Koskela. “We particularly want to reach young people who are not involved with art, or for whom, for example, museums and art exhibitions are alien territory. The young people’s own ideas are brought out in the projects in the form of joint interventions and works. At best the young people get a sense of what it means to be an artist as a profession, and of contemporary art as a realm of doing and experiencing that sets free their own expression. Sometimes, it sends out sparks, sometimes, it really bursts into flame.”
Meiju Niskala’s IHMazing Stuff: “Go to a friend’s party only to turn away”
The first project got the name IHMEjuttu, and the concept was devised by a performance artist also known as a consultant on the experimental city, Meiju Niskala. Participants were sought for the project by an open call, which asked people to talk about something that had touched their heart, forgotten memories, and special collected items in the spirit of IHME artist Christian Boltanski’s Heart Archive.
A dozen or so young adults were chosen to take part, and met regularly from the start of 2012. The project culminated at the Old Student House in March, when the performance that emerged as a result of these meetings was staged as part of the IHME Days programme. In the prize draw held during the performance, the winners won, for instance, an unsent letter, help with moving house, a mother’s advice to a teenager, and an embroidered wall panel, for which the group had developed various ways of practising “everyday death”. It advised people to simulate death, for example: “Go to your friend’s party only to turn away.”
Otto Karvonen’s IHME Sign Workshop: New twists in urban space
In 2013, a model of collaboration was established with an artist-run project also including the involvement of a Youth Department producer and youth-centre leaders. This model made it possible for artist Otto Karvonen’s project to gain a foothold in a place where young people already spend their time.
The project, carried out in open workshops at the Malmi, Roihuvuori and Herttoniemenranta youth centres and at the Reaktori event, did not stay within four walls, but took over urban space – as is often the case with Karvonen, who is known for his interventions in public space.
The Festival’s themes – interaction and ways of communicating in general – were based on the IHME Project commissioned from Miroslaw Balka. In Balka’s Signals active groups or individuals from various city districts brought issues that are important to them into public street space in the form of semaphore messages. Karvonen, too, drew attention to signs in urban space: people moving about the city are constantly receiving messages contained in traffic signs and other notices, telling us what to do, where to go, or what definitely not to do. Karvonen decided to ask what would happen if the instructions and prohibitions were transformed into a range of comments, suggestions and jokes.
At the IHME Sign Workshops traffic signs were made on actual traffic-sign templates and set up in urban space. Onto the official-looking signs were stuck less-official messages, such as “Positivity Zone”. A signpost might point to “a better place” 1.1 kilometres away, while restrictive prohibitions were replaced by encouragement, such as: “Don’t hate – love!”
In the workshops Karvonen wanted to encourage participants to get away from self-criticism: “Some of the young people came up to say they only have stupid ideas. I tried to convince them that stupid ideas are the really precious ones.” The artist sees it as particularly important that young people from various backgrounds took part in the project at youth centres. “Participants had different backgrounds, which is reflected in the way that the signs turned out differently. I had initially thought it could easily turn out that everyone wanted to do similar things.”
Originally, an agreement was made with Helsingin Energia for a limited period of a couple of months, during which the signs could be fixed to lampposts. Nevertheless, some of the signs are still providing surprises and insights to passers-by – at least if the image still going round on the Facebook social network this spring, three years after the project, is to be believed.
The partnership projects between IHME and the City of Helsinki Youth Department are part of IHME School, which comprises the Festival’s art-education programme: long-term partnership projects, school visits to the IHME Project, IHME Tasks, the Our IHME event for teachers, and the workshops running during the IHME Days.