X-OP Cultural Policy Group
The group was formed in the early summer 2010 when Bo Karsten, director of Art School Maa, and Johanna Fredriksson, producer working in the Helsinki-leg of X-OP network invited some artists for meetings in Maa-Tila project space. According to the initial plan the purpose of the meetings was to come up with an artistic program for the then forthcoming X-OP Festival, which was organized to coincide with the X-OP meeting in Helsinki. In the meetings more urgent, than to propose individual artworks to the festival, seemed to be discussing the trends in the cultural policy of Finland.
At the time acute issues were the plans to completely restructure the Finnish Arts Council (but partly due to strong opposition by artist unions it did not happen), and the new cultural policy plan of the Ministry of Education and Culture, which was being prepared with a long-term span of the next 35 years (the plan got published last winter). Also strong concerns were directed toward the overall shift in the cultural discourse and atmosphere in Finland toward neo-liberalism. Parts of this are high profile projects by the government, the cities and the private sector, where art is merely a branding tool of neighbourhoods, cities and the country. Also characteristic to neo-liberalism are preferences on an institutional level toward commercially oriented activities such as art fairs, private galleries and consulting agencies rather than supporting of knowledge production in museums and research centres.
Artists participating in the X-OP Cultural Policy Group are Tatu Engeström, Kalle Hamm, Ritva Harle, Minna Henriksson, Mikko Lipiäinen, Antti Majava and Tero Nauha. What is common with all of these artists is that for them art is a tool for participating in debate and discussion in the society, rather than a channel for autonomous and personal self-expression, and therefore in their work they are dealing with actual local social and political issues.
But nevertheless this group of artists is not a homogenous group of friends, or a collective, but a loose group partly defined with the current geographic location of its members. Their subject matter as well as visual language and artistic media vary greatly. Neither do they completely share the opinion of what is to be done within the group. Last autumn the group decided to write a manifesto, which was to be sent to different newspapers in Finland. But the manifesto was never sent to papers as the group failed to define and articulate the common issues. For one there was not a consensus within the group on what is the main issue to fight against and resist in the recent developments in cultural policy in Finland, and what should be fought for. For some the main issue was about limiting artistic freedom, and there were concerns of diminishing freedom of speech. For others it was a question of artistic responsibility, and instead of crying after liberties, each artist should engage more in addressing social issues, which need urgent attention. But in both cases, what was a common concern was the resistance toward instrumentalization of art and artists for the economic benefits.
In KiBela gallery, in Multimedia Center Kibla, Maribor, each artist is exhibiting an earlier work, which relates to the discussions held in Maa-Tila space during the last one year. X-OP – eXchange of art operators and producers (www.x-op.eu) is a gradually growing network of artists, researchers, operators, producers and centres with the aim to establish European platform for creation of art and exchange.