In cooperation with the University of Helsinki: course on political ecology


IHME Contemporary Art Festival and the University of Helsinki’s Department of Art History will organize a course on public art and the themes of this year’s IHME Festival’s main piece of art in April-May. The course – Public art today – a case study of IHME, Håkansson and political ecology –  will examine IHME’s commissioned artworks from 2009-2018, the challenges of public art curation and production, and look more deeply into Henrik Håkansson‘s 2018 film THE BEETLE and its theme. The course is intended for students of the Cultural Heritage master’s degree programme at the University of Helsinki.

The theoretical framework of the course is political ecology. Participants will study the interaction between societies and natural environments, and related controversies, power relations and politics.

“Håkansson’s IHME Project not only presents a threatened beetle but also gives this species a voice in a film which focusses on the animal’s environment and activity. Political ecology does not therefore concern only legislation but also art, for instance, as part of the decision-making process regarding the environment,” explains Professor of Contemporary Art at Uniarts Helsinki’s Academy of Fine Arts Hanna Johansson, who will lead the course. She has also worked a long time behind the scenes at IHME, both as part of the Festival’s expert team and in the background organization Pro Arte Foundation Finland’s Board.

Johansson refers to a protected area of about 30 hectares in Myyrmäki, Vantaa, where the beetle in Håkansson’s film lives. The decision to protect the dried riverbed benefits not only the beetle and other rare species, but also human beings, as the City of Vantaa uses the same riverbed for flood drainage.

The frontier between art and ecology in Finland

“In Finland, the most famous case where art became political is probably Jussi Heikkilä‘s work Anonymous (1998), which was made of Eurasian eagle-owl feathers. The endangered status of the species meant the whole exhibition didn’t get any further than US customs. The feathers became political actors, ” says Johansson.

”The Animal.Anima.Animus exhibition, which was curated by Marketta Seppälä and Linda Weintraub in 1998 in Pori Art Museum, was a real pioneer. It raised the same questions that THE BEETLE does about cultural objectification, animal rights and the oppression of species some twenty years ago “, says Paula Toppila, IHME’s Executive Director and the course’s other teacher. “The curator’s work always involves diverse work in the background, and if the piece involves public spaces, as is the case with IHME Projects or if there are animals involved in the production as in THE BEETLE, one part of the job is almost always about legal issues. This aspect of production is also examined on the course.”

Visiting lecturer Cary Wolfe

Part of this course is a guest lecture by the American professor Cary Wolfe, which will deepen the theoretical perspective on political ecology. Wolfe is known for his studies on post-humanism, bio-ethics and bio-politics. In his well-known work What Is Posthumanism? (2009) he outlines the theoretical and philosophical basis for redefining humankind’s place among other species. Wolfe is a professor of English in Rice University, Houston, Texas, where he leads the Center of Critical and Cultural Theory. “Collaboration with the University of Helsinki’s Department of Art History will enable the guest lecture to be given at a time that suits the visitor, and the theoretical perspective of the lecture will perfectly complement our festival programme,” says Toppila.

Wolfe’s lecture title is ‘Contemporary Art and the Poetics of Extinction’. In his talk, he will explore the poetics of extinction in two recent art installations, focusing on birds: Bryndis Snaebjornsdottir and Mark Wilson’s Trout Fishing in America and Other Stories, and its installation component devoted to conservation efforts around the California Condor in the Grand Canyon area of Arizona, and Michael Pestel’s Requiem: Ecopistes Migratorious, devoted to the 100-year anniversary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon. “Both installations, while very different in their logic and approach, ask us to explore questions such as what kind of event extinction is (is it “natural” or “unnatural”), how we confer identities and value upon non-human life, and how non-human lives are caught up in larger communicative, scientific, social, and political structures,” Wolfe says.

Wolfe will deliver his lecture on Thursday, May 17, at 6pm in the Helsinki University’s Main building (Fabianinkatu 33, hall 7, 3rd floor). The lecture is open to the public. If you cannot make it to the lecture, watch it through live-streaming on IHME’s YouTube channel.

Read more about Henrik Håkansson and IHME Project here >