Culture Jam - Round 1: Who Rules Public Space?
The Finnish Institute in London organised an event last Thursday 21 April where group of activists, artists and academics from Finland and the UK gathered at RichMix in Shoreditch to discuss culture jamming and the ownership of public space.
Guest speakers were artists and activists Jani Leinonen (FI), Darren Cullen (UK) and Sara Kärpänen (FI) and author and activist Mel Evans (UK). The event was moderated by journalist and author Jari Tamminen (FI). Tamminen is currently working on a project combining academic research with the tools of culture jamming. Eeva Kemppainen from Pro Ethical Trade Finland also introduced her new publication A Guide To Running A Subvertisement Workshop.
Jari Tamminen opened the discussion with a general look into culture jamming and the scene in Finland. “The key question is the control of space - it might be the city space or mental space, but who gets to choose what’s in it”. The purpose of culture jamming is not only to create distortion, but also to send a message back to the source, to tell you didn’t like the idea”.
Helsinki-based artist and activist, Jani Leinonen, infamous for ’kidnapping’ mascots such as Ronald McDonald and in his latest project #TonyIsBack, Tony the Tiger, talked about brands as ‘building blocks for our identity’. Leinonen believes that while advertisements and brands ‘need to make you happy - art has the whole spectrum of human emotions that we can use’. The familiar messages and associations are kidnapped and used powerfully to question, provoke and convey social and political messages in Leinonen’s art.
British artist Darren Cullen talked about the power of advertising on children and described his childhood as spending ‘hours of going through Argos catalogue for choosing all the things I was going to buy when my parents won the lottery’. Cullen, who’s exhibited his work at Banksy’s Dismaland, builds lot of his work around the way children are advertised to. Hard-hitting projects such as Pocket Money Loans and Bouncy Castle Mortgage showcased the ideas perfectly. ‘Lot of ways childhood has become a training camp for rough adulthood’, Cullen says.
Mel Evans, of art collective Liberate Tate, explained how the group actively campaigned for Tate Gallery to abandon sponsorship from oil company BT - and succeeded. The art collective’s series of interventions included setting up a tattoo parlor in one of Tate Gallery’s rooms. The group always works within the law - so however irritated, Tate could not take an action against them. Evans talked about “activating the idea of democracy” -getting people to participate in interventions and to discuss who the Tate’s space actually belongs to.
Artist Sara Kärpänen introduced another angle to the discussion by looking at culture jamming and street art - and its role in the takeover of urban spaces. Sara Kärpänen mapped both the roots of street art and its current situation in Finland and the UK. While Finland has had a zero tolerance on any street art and the scene is still in its infancy, overseas “subculture actually became hugely mainstream”. The scene getting commercial has had both positive and negative effects, according to Kärpänen. Kärpänen lists three reasons for artists to engage in street art, even with the possibility of risking their lives: 1) to question, 2) to interact and 3) to have fun.
The evening was a very exciting conversation opener and introduction to the Finnish and British culture jamming scenes. Stay tuned for what happens next in the Institute’s series of events that celebrate the power of culture in creating social change!