POSTED 06.09.2023

Text: Miina Hujala

Photo: Adel Kim

When washing the IKEA cup in HIAP Suomenlinna in autumn 2020, I think of the possibilities missed. Do these cups have to be uniform? Could we use cups brought from recycling centres? (They might also be from there, as IKEA is not a rarity there either).

It leads me to ask, what is the role of a circular economy, if we want to be uniform? (Here I mean with circular economy, the practices of lenting, renting, reusing, repairing, fixing, recycling). Also isn’t all uniformity in the end an illusion? Isn’t it so that we will see particularities no matter what if we just look “long and close enough”. Is uniform used just for a way to promote a certain kind of “rationalisation” as means of production and consumption? Making us pacified in the notion that we (our spaces, habits, and acts) are acceptably similar. 

Standard is a measure of security of course. We need standards to monitor that spaces are in order to prevent fire hazards for instance. Uniform is a way to actualize a standard. But does the request for uniformity hinder wider application of circular economy? Approaching uniqueness is always effortful, it’s looking at the things and being mindful of how the ‘thing’ actually forms. I feel like using a metaphor of “what it has eaten” here – taking the trajectories of past, present and future seriously. 

IKEA is used because it is affordable and also widely available, therefore nothing unique – and nothing worth stealing. I guess these attributes could also be the definition for what is needed for implementing something on a large scale successfully. Same in furniture, crockery as in guidelines, something that has in essence –“use value”. But they (cups or guidelines) don’t appear from nowhere, they are indeed formed with materials and purposes. 

If we aim for true sustainability we have to take in consideration supply chains as work/life merging habitats. This thought pops in and out of my mind when I read about the foragers of Matsutake mushroom from Anna Lowenthaupt Tsing’s book (The Mushroom at the End of The World, 2015). Lowenhaupt Tsing speaks of the ‘freedom’ that the foragers perceive as activating when not being involved in the day-to-day schedules of our production culture that is patterned through factory work. Of course when “work time” is separated from leisure, it is to provide a place for rest from working, but perhaps is also an attempt to avoid or bypass the factuality of ‘constancy’ living. We are alive all the time, but where and doing what is not self-evident. Productivity is not only for profit. The transformative agency is attached to the notion of placing value to our livelihoods. We need to look beyond living inside these “factories” that we are constantly placed into. 

Even though conveyor belt type factory work is sometimes hailed to have moved aside and made way for more fluid arrangements, it has not disappeared anywhere and the ethos of structured ‘production’ still thrives in the cultural sphere. More about this subject matter from series ‘Allied Grounds’ in Berlin Gazette, that looks at the connections between environmental and labour struggles, and for instance this article by Angeline Kessy about ‘productivism’.

A residency could be a place for re-examining work and life mixture. Quite bluntly because it is a place for working/producing/doing but also living/resting/taking time to do what feels relevant. When deciding on the title of the project that we are currently conducting I thought that having the name Reside/Sustain is actually a good combo also leading towards wider perspectives of being in someplace and sustaining some practices while habiting. I think it is a question of the concurrent acts of cohabitation with certain practices involved. I see us as situated creatures. We are sustained with/by relationships (to sources of energy for instance) that mapping is to gain understanding and place attention.

Thus when we reside we sustain, as to reside is to sustain, but what? 

To return to the IKEA cup. It is the question: is it the emblem of a residency? Has the uniformity of the standardisation been pursued in creating residencies as habitats? Aiming to provide the same facilities for everyone, the same set-up? Equal standards are meant to be vouchers for equality in treatment, and taking a hand-crafted method to treat every visit needs time and effort. And concrete limits help to adjust. Defining responsibilities that one wants to take and what one is open for accepting is always a good way to align oneself. But I would also encourage to acknowledge the things that seep in and might not be that desired but nonetheless are there, involved. More sound view of where we are at could be gained by looking at the “cracks on the ceiling”, meaning the things that we perhaps might want to hide and clear-out from view.

‘Assemblage’ is a term that allows you to acknowledge the formational multiplicity, or should I say, the blurry boundaries we have in terms of what is involved in actualising something, like a residency. Allowing, depending and demanding find their way in the practice as well as creating, learning and accepting. Residencies are not without their supply chains; their feeds and discarded matter, rejections and unfulfilled expectations. Some things are hidden, other things composted.

IKEA is cheap, because the humane costs of labour and damage done to the environment are hidden. Cost-efficiency is sought as it is the standard. What’s the cure to that? Perhaps as a cure for the efficiency as normalisation the only methodology is to remember that a possibility to do otherwise exists, even though it is not always simple nor most-affordable. Residencies should be alleviators of unnecessary standardisation and path-providers for versatility and sustainable options, giving tools for many kinds of lending and mending as well as securers of mental, and concrete, freedom to roam*. 

*This also points to the ‘everyones right’ (jokaisenoikeudet) to roam in public, or private forests and lands, including the right to pick berries and mushrooms.