Posted on 30.1.2019

The new Turku Kunsthalle is founded on the ground where histories of urbanisation and industrialisation, colonialism and global trade, bourgeois culture of consumption, as well as institutions of law and order intertwine. The building has housed a private residence, a shirt and an umbrella factory, as well as a gym for the police force since the early 19th Century. It is named after the city hall, the heart of local governance, which used to occupy the same site. The surrounding quarters is where the urbanisation of Finland began, while the square in front of the building was a market place, a significant centre for mercantile and cultural exchange for centuries, that connected this land by shipping to other parts of the world.

The opening exhibition of the Kunsthalle views the present through the multifaceted prism provided by the dense sediments of this site. The exhibition enquires about the potential to nurture a novel future-oriented cosmopolitics out of these historical seeds of cosmopolitanism. Is it possible to carve out space here for new collective practices of thinking aloud that do not solely allow but insist on polyphony, hesitation and slowing down. This cosmopolitics demands that decisions are made in the presence of all of those, whose worlds will be affected, as philosopher Isabelle Stengers writes.

The exhibition takes as its starting point the court of law founded by the king of Sweden in the 15th Century on the site of the current Kunsthalle building. The first permanent court room in Finland was called ‘Maanoikeus’, which can be translated to ‘rights of the earth’ as well as ‘rights of the land’. Law appears here tied to a particular land and its people, while the name refers both to the rights of and to the land. It also challenges us to rethink these distinctions in the face of the accelerated climate crisis, mass extinctions, and xenophobic nationalism. How are the rights of the earth and of humans entangled beyond relations of property?

Human rights appear today integrally connected to environmental rights. The law has provided significant means in recent years for the protection of endangered environments and indigenous peoples, while setting limits for the ever-expansive extractive industries. The exhibition, however, encourages us to move towards the edges of our human-centred perspectives. It wonders how the rights of the earth may be approached without culturally bound concepts and coordinates of justice.

The artists invited to the exhibition address these questions by paying close attention to diverse everyday practices and technologies. How to abandon the illusion of an all-seeing human eye and mind, while recognising simultaneously the impacts of our actions and the existence of diverse modes of life and knowledge that escape from our grasp?

The modern rational man has aimed to transgress the bounds of the earth in his Western cultural belief in linear progress. Everything associated with the earth has been either suppressed as manageable matter or hidden out of sight. Cycles of decay and complex codependences have been gendered, racialised, and dehumanised. The works in the exhibition approach these processes of othering and the related unsustainable distinctions from a myriad viewpoints and with a range of artistic methodologies. Some lift the veil of privacy and draw waste into public debate, from sewer infrastructures to the exploitation of natural resources. Others enquire how to live with our monstrous co-creations, whether these entail mundane single-use plastics or vast ecosystemic transformations.

The works urge the viewers to notice entangled relations between human acts and the diverse elements of the earth, present in the intricate ways a rock cracks or the permafrost melts. They also encourage communication with our age-old companion species alongside new arrivals. How to be attentive and accountable, to hear and to see, to make contact and feel connected otherwise, in ways ancient or yet-to-come?

The artists:

Simo & Tuike Alitalo, Saara Ekström, Liinu Grönlund, Terike Haapoja, Harrie Liveart, Saara-Maria Kariranta & Jarmo Ilmari Somppi, Mari Keski-Korsu, Lasse Lecklin, Sari Palosaari, Arja Renell, Leena & Oula Valkeapää

Curator: Taru Elfving.

EARTH RIGHTS, Kunsthalle Turku 2.–24.2.2019.
Opening hours: Wed-Sun 12-18.

Kunsthalle Turku, Vanha Suurtori 5, 20500 Turku.