Author: Miina Hujala
Note: this text is an archival text written on 15.2.2021
In the ecoseminar arranged and hosted by IHME Helsinki Art organization [the seminar took place 19.11.2020], several speakers aimed at addressing how art institutions address ecological activity with the added aim to resolve issues and take practical measures needed towards reducing fossil fuel emissions that their activity and practice involves. The background for the seminar was that three Finnish organizations; arts commissioning organization IHME Helsinki, contemporary art fund FRAME and residency organization HIAP as well as Mustarinda utilized the know-how of an eco-coordinator Saara Korpela that was hired to monitor the practice from ecological standpoint during one year (2020).
Based on the survey of the institutions, examining what kind of practices they have and what are the CO2 impacts the Eco coordinator Korpela had made a presentation listing and showing what kind of carbon emissions each institution had, also examining and comparing them beside a wider spectrum. Korpela stated that these kinds of evaluations are time-consuming, and might take years to get a solid picture of all the climate effects / CO2 footprint of just one product for instance. Korpela pointed out that the question is: who is responsible for the emissions? As majority of them derive from buildings, mobility and services. The lifecycle of a building, as well as its heating for instance, contributes to the evaluation, which might not be decisions that an individual or an organization can directly affect. And Korpela had made a restriction on the survey conducted based on what are the things that the institutions themselves pay for, this provided a certain limitation, but made the carbon emission estimate possible to conduct. This limitation can serve as a tool for assessing organizational as well as individual responsibility, as many of the choices – for instance in terms of energy production – have to be made at the state level. Organizations can monitor how and what they consume. As it was stated by the graphs of Korpela, for the art institutions in question, as well as for many art institutions in general that are active in international connectivity, the major emission load comes from mobility – travelling by flying is contributing the major bulk on the emission load of these organizations (that they can themselves control) even though the bigger picture of climate effects come from (as mentioned) energy sector. That is why organizations in question are encouraged to think their practice more in depth, if and where there might be options to arrange the travel alternatively, take into consideration the duration of the visits as well as the pace and intervals. This is something to consider especially when global travel is expected to rise after the pandemic lessens its grip.
Mari Pantsar from Sitra (a parliament accountable fund) made a talk that went through the climate emergency in a nutshell, stating that there is only 7-10 years to make the needed changes and lower the emissions. (To keep at the level aspired under 2 degrees, that Paris Climate Accords was agreed upon, that all the states have signed, now that the US entered it again). We are in a hurry, so all measures count, we need rapid reduction of carbon emissions as well as an immediate start on – not only carbon neutrality – but reduction of the carbon from the atmosphere. None of the states are currently at the level and speed that "we" should be. As Pantsar reminded us, we are heading towards 3 degrees warming with all the effects we are already becoming aware of. Pantsar also reminded that this is an unbalanced situation as the wealthy countries (and people based on the OXFAM study) are responsible for the majority of the emissions. So, there is more to be done from certain locations and situations than others. Finnish average emissions are 10,4t (and we should be at 1t by 2050). A lot has to change. Pantsar anyways left the talk on a positive note, that there is a lot that is done, and the acts are getting more and more serious and ambitious. I thought that the overall positive side of doing – all that we can! – has to be the new urgency. That is why focusing thoughts and energy on these issues is not just a necessity but a requirement for any thinking and acting institution. Although many that have already been involved in climate change issues and also look at the environmental whole that we are to address (thinking our actions in relation to several different markers in terms of effects) might not have gained any new insights on going through the dire situation we are in, it is nonetheless the message that we need to repeat. And sometimes measurements on the activity's impact help to navigate also the solutions further. Not only make visible, but perceivable what one could do. The major thing is pressure on governments, the policy has to follow science at this instant, as we just can't afford the warming planet and all the consequences attached. That is why calculations are used, to talk economics with ecology.
Julie's Bicycle's Melitsko Thornton gave a very broad walk-through of the organization's activity that is aimed at looking especially at art organizations in terms of the climate (and other) effect they have. They provide a free online calculator to provide a tool to estimate the carbon effects and impacts involved in the arts sector activity. I am most left with the idea that we can learn from other institutions of how they have solved the issues, be collegial, and share practices. It always forms and reformulates the field and its expectations. We are responsible for the aspirations and practices we have. This is something that I felt resonated when artists Alma Heikkilä and Antti Majava (both active in the Mustarinda residency organization) talked. Artists should not be left lonely when asking to find alternatives to flying to make an exhibition abroad for instance. Institutions should provide answers and support. Take responsibility. This is also a requirement that goes to the state level as well, as FRAME Fund's director Raija Koli also pointed out, that the state's regulation (that currently goes as that the travel has to be done in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of costs) has to be changed. We cannot work and act by the same standards as "before" if we are to respond to climate emergency. When the majority of the entire operation of an organization is based on moving people and things (works of art) aroun, then these questions are hard to answer with the available solutions we have. A thing that a residency organization as well is very aware of. As searching for ways to solve, or lessen, the problem, Juha Huuskonen from HIAP pointed to the answers that HIAP has found through its three year POFO project with Mustarinda. In terms of travel, slower land-based methods are still the best option. And as I am very involved with developing these in long-distance version towards east (just a quick edit, if someone looked at the presentation + slides & understands Finnish: we received 432 applications to our open call to join Trans-Siberian trip not 467) I am very keen on thinking how travelling could be developed further as a means of working, thinking and corresponding together.
As travel times get longer, perhaps it is not fruitful to compare the speeds of trains vs. planes (which should not be the option anyways for most of the trips) but more of what can be done in and with the time spent travelling? As I see that even though Finland is not so connected as many other places in Europe, we wealthy nations that travel a lot, do have also an opportunity and need to make the connections inside Europe better, more comfortable and suited also to the developing lifestyles, that could entail working sessions on route, including remote working and holiday mixtures, that need also changes in day-care structures, schooling and services. Within Europe (EU especially) this could be thought forward further and jointly. How could travelling facilitate more than just locational shift? Imagining the possibilities for this change is something that I am active in doing, as I see that connectivity is very integral between people, and online just won't compensate all the understanding that is done when actively learning about different places and people. Also, even though my experiences and current activity is focused on thinking of the Trans-Siberian train route as a way towards east [EDIT: the project has been cancelled and re-routed in 2022], I want to also root for an option that Huuskonen mentioned as well; why aren't wind-based travel modes sought more as a contemporary travel option? Why leave (large) sailboats to history? They still could be – with new technology even more efficient – (sustainable) ways to cross the oceans? I would welcome more insights to this. But coming back to the institutional role and the organizational responsibility of the actions one does, of course there is the core question; why are we doing this in the first place? that needs answering. As I listened to the talks by the seminar arranger Paula Toppila from IHME Helsinki as well as HAM / Helsinki Art Museum and organizers of Helsinki Biennale, I began thinking of the overall mode and reasoning behind art practice. Focus on the materials it utilizes, the energy it needs and the audience that it has to attract all add to the imprint of the exhibitory activity. What we produce and how, is something that IHME Helsinki has sought to answer, taking ecological matters to the core of the organization. Evoking questions is not enough, making actions happen is the key and I understand that this is something that IHME has very much wanted to address with institutional change. Core questions are answered by art/artists themselves as Toppila remarks as the focus on the operation, but institution can decide and monitor what kind of support it offers. Institutions have responsibility to make adjustments and policies that matter. Helsinki Art Museum seems to be a bit slow still on finding the correct measures and tools, as even though changing light bulbs and making sure that all the recycling of waste is done properly (not to mention thinking of how to limit human effect on Vallisaari – the upcoming island venue of the biennale) it is still an important question to ask: what is the role of preserving art in museum conditions (with its energy impacts) when we seem not to be able to preserve the living environment? The focus on the scale is sometimes lost – with myself as well I have to admit – as we all are facing a huge task, that involves basic questions of what counts as a necessity? I am not saying that we should not have museums and collections, or anything else so exact, but that we should (maybe) limit the things we have/do alongside the effects that they cause.
If we are not able to produce the thing (event/exhibition ect.) with sustainable energy, we should think together what should be done with the energy we have (sustainably). At the moment spending less energy and resources in general is the only thing we should do. Maybe making sure that people (and others) feel comfortable doing so, is something that I take with from the talk of Sanna Ritvanen, who descripted the experience of hosting and inhabiting in Mustarinda. How hospitality is not self-evident, but needs more than just setting the scene. Perhaps we are (as organizations) constantly just setting these scenes for things to happen, but if so, we should look very mindfully of how they are set.