University of the Arts Helsinki
Fine Arts Academy Doctoral Programme


Research keyword graph 2017-2018

The graph links to descriptions from persons who have sent their materials. If your description is missing, please send e-mail to tero.heikkinen[at]


Erick Beltran

Henna Laininen

Henna-Riikka Halonen

Ilya Orlov

Jaakko Ruuska

Johanna Lecklin

Katja Tukiainen

Lauren O'Neal

Leena Kela

Maija Närhinen

Matthew Cowan

Pekka Kantonen

Stephanie Misa
Mireia c. Saladrigues

Museum of the Museum. 2017. Installation View. Photo by Kasia Miron.

Pile, 2012, Mixed media, Dimensions variable

Ilya Orlov. The Very Last Futurist Exhibition - K. Malevich’s Suprematist Compositionaffected by gravity. 2016. Oil, canvas, 40X40.

Ilya Orlov

Artwork: Its Definition, Concept and Subject


The research project focuses on the problem of the nature and structure of the concept of an artwork, raising the questions of what is the intellectual operation that occurs within a piece of art, how it could be defined, and distilled into formal knowledge.

Taking as a starting point the tension between, on the one hand, the common supposition that an artwork is ‘about’ (i.e., is ’telling something about something’), and Conceptual art’s claim for self-sufficiency of an artwork, on the other, the thesis places these questions into a broader theoretical context, tracing and locating irreconcilabilities between competing intellectual paradigms and philosophical traditions.

Holding a demystifying stance, according to which the ‘mystery’ of art-making can be demythologized, and that art can be learned and taught on the level of concept-making similar to the level of technical skills, the thesis discusses the possible applications of linguistic theories and political philosophy into the analysis of conceptual structures of a work of art.


Maija Närhinen

Ilya Orlov. The Very Last Futurist Exhibition - K. Malevich’s Suprematist Compositionaffected by gravity. 2016. Oil, canvas, 40X40.

Experiments on Depicting

My work called Pile depicts a situation where the number of sheets of paper has grown so huge that they fill up an entire room and are therefore flooding out of the door. Pile is based on the question, how many pictures, and how much information, you will need to get a message through. Now that our image of the world is scattered and flooded with constant information pouring from all directions the questions of representation are very much in the air. In the written part of my doctoral work I will discuss the questions of depicting and representation and also what kind of a role do concrete materials, and collage and assemblage made of concrete materials, have in the digital era.
In my research I focus on the different ways of depicting and the question of how does an image correspond the subject.I am interested inthe things that make depicting difficult or impossible: limitations of an image, such as scale, size, two dimensionality, presence, degree of reality etc.
I like the idea of mixing different methods for depicting something in my artistic work, and in some pieces I usedifferent ways of depicting – painting, printed images, sculpture, installation - simultaneously in the same work.
My larger pieces of work tend to take up so much room that they become an integral part of the space where they are exhibited. The gallery space and the work morph into a new entity. On the other hand I work with the metamorphosis of images and develop two-dimensional visual material into a plastic medium. For the work called River I cut out countless images of rivers from maps. Combined into one piece, the meandering representations of rivers create a water-like surface, which covers the floor of the exhibition space like water. In this way I bring the symbolic map representations closer to a perception of actual water.
Deconstructing, reconstructing and building from pieces are connected with my research.As building blocks in my works I also use existing objects instead of images.Ready-made doesn’t surprise us any more, but however, in contemporary art making a work of art may mean reorganising what already exists, for example existing objects. In contemporary art materials are used in many different ways and manners – compered with for instance the early collages. A work often acquires its form and appearance as a result of the separation or combination of elements and the processes of combining and dismantling themselves contribute to the content of an artwork.
When the distances between the elements or materials of the work are increased or decreased the material undergoes a change. New location and decontextualization alter material’s meaning and character. Even when a work is made by combining elements, something is always deconstructed – what shifts is the 'identity’ of the material. How do materials function and how are they altered by reorganisation?

Henna-Riikka Halonen

Erick Beltran

Staging F(r)iction. Art as strategy of world making

This research approaches the concept of staging friction through fiction as a strategy and starting point for artistic critical reflection that finds disagreement, discomfort and multiple viewpoints reflexive components of the work. This notion will be examined through fictions and objects previously executed by others, embedding them within present social and political changes. To explore possibilities of creating space in which social frictions and interactions are both rehearsed and performed and are used as productive sources. From a visual arts perspective, the apparent intricate need to counter political and economic turmoil with fictional visions is investigated. All this dispense with the fiction that an image (or an object or an event) can ever be see all at once or seen objectively. It proposes that perhaps fictions can be used to perceive the contours of what we describe as reality, to re-articulate the frame through which we perceive the terrain of fact.

More particularly, the research constantly explores its own limits and reflects its involvement with social and political structures it is simultaneously criticising, but from within. Using a strategy and technique of Mise en abyme, a formal technique in which an image contains a smaller copy of itself, in a sequence appearing to recur infinitely. As a result, this kind of technique of image within image or world within world aims to function as a self-reflexive component within the works and research.

Producing situations with discomfort, social frictions and ambiguity are used as methodology. The research will approach actual situations where all those components are already on play searching underlying social frictions and into which it creates a fictional new systems and worlds. This will be emphasized by staging situations and bringing groups and individuals together through heightened dramaturgy. In this using fictions and objects (mostly architecture) that have been previously executed by others function as a vehicle (device). The relation of aesthetic and politics is examined and will be penetrated with so-called poetic approach.

The reading machine as model of edition. Laocoön and the Katabasis as an engine of ideological social psyche in image flux.

This project is an investigation on how to use the concept of the reading machine (mapping and combination) to reveal ideological running discourses in contemporary collective psyche imagery through the mythological metaphor-image of Laocoön and the Katabasis.

It consists of two differentiated moments: the first one will define the concept of a reading machine (creating reading tools) and the act of reading itself (define methodologies and strategies); the second to create a reading machine of ideology in contemporary political image flux through the study of the figure of Laocoön (a reading machine himself) and the descent to Hades/death. (history and repetition of images).

Images and objects always introduce themselves as a flux. Edition is the implantation of techniques for moving among streams of images where meaning seems to be moving or hiding.

How does reading take place? How do we know if the translation of our perception does not modify the presented? Are all readings valid? Combination has specific patterns? Can images have an inner logic in their appearance? Can images speak to each other? Can we have reading machines?

There is a tradition which believes that images are the language that connect the 
universe with the human psyche and memory. The ideal is to know the inner rules of combination and multiplication within them. The holy grail of iconology would be a motor of images.

The history of moving through things is also the history of ways of seeing and the selection of valid story line. Visibility is a political construction. Mythology is a catalog of stories and metaphors which reveal the mechanics of the edition meant to be applied in the social realm.

Laocoön and the Katabasis will be the guiding figures on this project to create a reading machine and possible definitions of the oracle, the reader, the witness, the political, the social interaction, the descend to the underworld. It will look on contemporary Laocoöns and inconclusive maps on our present Katabasis. Study as well some cases of images (e.g. Leviathan) condensing streams or collection of images as a persistent single apparition: an image-machine.


Writing with plants in Mustarinda, Paljakanvaara (2017)

Images: Markus Tuormaa

[1] A report by top researchers from various continents states that population growth, destruction of ecosystems, and climate change will in the following decades lead the global climate towards a tipping point, after which the conditions may make the survival of the human species impossible. (Barnosky, Anthony D. 2012. Approaching a state shift in Earth's biosphere. Nature vol 486, 7.6.2012, 52–58.). For concrete proposals for reorganising the Finnish society in post-growth period, see Joutsenvirta, Maria & Hirvilammi, Tuuli & Ulvila, Marko & Wilén, Kristoffer 2016. Talous kasvun jälkeen. Helsinki: Gaudeamus.

[2] Pihkala, Panu 2017. Miksi Ilmastonmuutoksesta on niin vaikea puhua? Tieteessä tapahtuu 1/2017, 23–29.

[3] Salminen, Antti 2015. Kokeellisuudesta - Historiallisesta avantgardesta jälkifossiiliseen elämään (On Experimentalism). Helsinki: Poesia.

Katja Tukiainen

The army of girls

Exploring narrative painting in space


My army of girls explore the ways of narration in the field of painting. This is the synopsis of my research, the whole story in short. My pink girls show a way to this visual narration which happens in a single painting, between paintings and incorporates the whole space as a part of their narrative. They are indicating these ways of reading the visual language of paintings in the spaces they take over.

The girls of my paintings have opinions. I agree with them mostly, sometimes I just accept what they say because I want to create a dialogue. I talk about them like they would have a will of their own. With this I want to show how there is a certain amount of intuition, coincidence and learning in the artist's way of working. I use my Girl Army in my pink paintings to explore space and other limits given for a painting. The color and the girls conquer the spaces of hierarchies.

The questions of my research target to the painting, narration, space and includes text, color and subject matter. My girls talk from one painting to the next one, and back. The space is an assembling element between the paintings. The text  is included into the paintings I focus on as a visual element, as a narrative element or even, in the paintings with no text, as a subtext. The way I have painted the text into my paintings vary from the cute red handwriting to the anarchistic neon pink spray paint. The pink color has a fundamental role in my paintings. The color creates meanings and is linked to the material of painting. I reveal my personal reasons to work with this color and  analyze how this color works in the exhibition spaces.

My narrative paintings do not exist without my girls. My motivation to paint cute girls with an attitude rises from same personal source as my need to use pink color. There is both A nostalgic and contemporary tone in these girls which I have painted for 25 years now. Why do I feel so comfortable to paint girls who look like my mother in her teens, cute dolls, old animation and movie characters like Betty Boop or Shirley Temple?

In the circumference of my research is still one element, time. In the three exhibitions I include in my research I approach the concept of time by making visible how the viewer, paintings and settings define and operate with different time frames. The first exhibition focuses on the time which the viewer uses in the front of my painting installation, the second to the time created by a drawn moving image which is projected to the painting installation and the third one  to the time between changes during the exhibition. The third one is the most experimental. The most common way to see the exhibition is to see it once. I ask how far it is possible to bend the timeline of narration. I ask how the narration, materiality of the painting and the political power of space are intertwined to the message, pink color and the girliness.

Leena Kela

Pekka Kantonen

Dialogues - collaboration as a method for researching the language of performance art

My on-going artistic research focuses on methods, phases and languages in collaboration processes between myself as a performance artist and experts from various disciplines. My research consists of several collaborations that I realize together with scientists, specialists and performance artist colleagues. Different collaboration processes create possibilities to construct new meanings based on the meetings of skills, knowledge and personalities of the participants. By stepping into new areas of knowledge in collaboration processes I am also looking for possibilities to widen the methodologies of my own artistic work. I research language(s) of performance art by exposing my artistic practice and processes to different work partners. When talking about language of performance art I mean the non-verbal language or multiple languages, which are based in metaphorical nature of bodily and material action in performance art. The introduction part of my artistic research is a project called Alphabets of Performance Art, where I examine the relationship between materiality and corporeality in performance art.

Henna Laininen

Generational Filming. Experimental and participatory research on video diary


Conducting research on one’s own video diary is a sort of avant-garde dream in contemporary art. Not only does it combine art and daily life, it also includes research. The excerpt that this research focuses on includes only a small portion of the entire video diary, which by September 2015 contained almost two thousands hours of video. I focus on four individual shots, two scenes comprised of two shots, one video installation and one documentation of a socially engaged art project. In addition to these primary materials, the research covers all of the filmed commentaries, discussions and events that are also part of the video diary.

The subject matter of this research is the method with which I have approached our family’s video archives. I have developed it together with Lea Kantonen, and it is a method of filming, watching and commenting that we have named Generational Filming. We watch and comment our home videos with people from different age groups, different specialists, and other viewers with different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. These discussions are filmed, and then added to the next edition as a new generation of the video to be shown to other audiences. Viewers help us conceptualise both the interpretations and the theorisation of our footage. We have arranged more than fifty screenings in order to analyse the data in a collaborative way. The notion of generationality also fits to describe the circumstances of filming, since several case studies of the video diary deal with the relationships between our family’s different generations.

Generational Filming takes reflexivity to exhaustion or to a kind of saturation point. The chain of watching and commenting changes the meaning of the first shot, of the first generation of the chain. The focus of watching gradually changes from the viewed to the viewer. While listening to the interpretations made by previous viewers the subsequent viewers start to make comparisons between different cultural positions, and self-reflexivity begins to govern the experience of watching. My study concentrates on epistemological issues connected to the documentary approach. My research interest could be distilled into the following questions: What happens when an event is recorded (on film, video, etc.) and the recording is subsequently viewed? What are the truths, meanings and interpretations that emerge in the process of filming, editing, viewing and discussing a video diary? How does the spectator’s experience of watching change when watching filmed comments of that which has just been shown?

The subheading of my research, Video diary as experimental and participatory research, conveys how we have used the method on our video diary. From the point of view of research, the diary is a non-hierarchical way of organising experiential material in a reflexive way. From the point of view of the researcher, reflexivity means acknowledging that the researcher himself is part of the research data. The diary is an intimate way of working with thoughts, experiences and memories. In a video diary the reflexive process happens through filming. The structure of the research takes each day and each written entry – or filmed shot of the video diary – as equally valuable, and each text or shot positions itself chronologically in relation to others like a single bead in a string of many. The generational method alters the non-hierarchical nature of a diary without ruining it. Each generation positions itself both as part of the string as well as “above” the previous generation, since the new generation can comment and “know more” than the previous generations. The method “twists” the string of shots in a spiral motion making their meanings unstable.

Experimentality and participatoriness are manifest in the method in several ways. The video diary’s shots provide materials for the test viewings. When different audiences watch and comment on shots of the video diary, they are placed in conditions comparable to a laboratory experiment. The different audiences also take part in a laboratory experiment since their comments are filmed and evaluated by other audiences. Experimentality is also manifest in the way the method gets defined within visual art and moving image as experimental art or experimental film, due to its marginality and incomplete nature. Participatoriness is the overarching principle of the method, and it directs the discussion on the nature of the method in each of the four discourses on art and research within which I place the work. These four frameworks of this research are: artistic research, socially engaged art, film research and ethnography. In addition these four areas my research has also been inspired by indigenous studies, literary studies, performance studies, and postcolonial research.


Guide to Experimental Life – Communal Creative Writing as an Answer to the Environmental Crisis

Guide to Experimental Life is my artistic research project investigating the influence of climate change on the experience of an individual. The artistic part of the research consist of a community art project Book of Skills, creative writing workshops titled Climate Change in Me, and educational material. The written part of the research, the research publication Guide to Experimental Life, examines communal creative writing as a means for dealing with the environmental crisis. 

For the Book of Skills community art project I will get to know people in Finland who attempt to adapt to climate change and to practice a sustainable way of life in the changing weather conditions. I will study skills required for sustainable lifestyle under their guidance and write a blog and text art about learning the skills. During the research process I will develop creative writing exercises and workshops in which the participants can deal with their own experience of climate change using creative writing. I will compile under the title Climate Change in Me educational online materials, designed to be used by e.g. Finnish as first language teachers and creative writing teachers in their work. 

The aim of the research is to increase awareness about sustainable lifestyle and about the influence of climate change on the everyday life of Finns through art. The research offers the audience creative writing based tools for therapeutically dealing with climate change and for planning one ́s own environmentally conscious, crisis-aware actions. I will develop my research in co-operation with the BIOS research unit who, together with the Finnish broadcasting corporation YLE, are collecting and disseminating information about the influence of climate change on Finnish society. 

The mitigation of climate change and adapting to the global environmental catastrophe require of us a radical change towards a lifestyle that is more resource-savvy, more self-sufficient, and more supportive of local economies[1]. The change in living experience, the giving up on old routines, and the learning of new are often the most difficult aspects. According to environmental researcher Panu Pihkala, the anxiety over the environmental crisis can have a paralyzing effect on individual. In the midst of the awareness about the threat of collapse, the media coverage of environment should offer the means for processing one's emotions, for empowerment, and for participation.[2] We need sharing of experiences, encouraging stories, and comforting words to discover the individual meaningful reasons to go on even in challenging conditions. 

My research question is how to support the process of learning a sustainable lifestyle by the means of communal creative writing in the context of contemporary art. By communal creative writing I mean making fiction by interacting with both the human and the non-human, for example site specific texts written in a certain place and texts written together as a group. I examine writing as an exposing, activating, and therapeutic tool. Writing can help unravel the anthropocentric experience and expose ourselves to the non- human around us. On the other hand, we can construct a narrative of a transformed human who is actively cooperating with the non-human. Dealing with the environmental crisis by therapeutic writing helps us to face the anxiety and grief and creates space for action. 

The main theoretical background of my research is philosopher Antti Salminen ́s concept of experimentalism. In the age of environmental crisis experimentalism is not merely a feature of the formal language of art, but connected to the very conditions of our existence. As oil resources are running dry, the experimental art of the future will inevitably be ”post fossil”, which changes the ways of making art, and art institutions, as well as the basic experiences art is dealing with. In the conditions devastated by the environmental crisis we are entering experimental life in which sustainable ways of agriculture, for example, have to be developed in a dialogue with changing weather conditions.[3] In my research I explore the conditions of the future experimental life in the coming post fossil age, and on the other hand I develop experimental writing that here and now aims to react to the environmental crisis. 

Work-in-progress, Jaakko Ruuska

Matthew Cowan

The Lessons of Folklore. Utilising the carnivalesque origins of folk ritual in contemporary art practice. 


Many European folk rituals contain elements of a subversive nature, relying on humour, costumes, disguise and ceremony in their performance. Numerous rituals, customs and folk dances from across Europe rely on the kind of sanctioned and disguised chaos that characterise a subversive state of being. My doctoral practice is situated within this milieu of ritual and tradition, expanding and reframing the contemporary performance of customs and rites.

This investigation is intended to take place in our present, an age when digital technologies and globalised connectedness seem to move us away from a different kind of connectedness, that of the realm of the natural magics of the landscape, and of past hyper-local agricultural rites. Throughout history, folklore has connected us with the seasons and with hopes and luck-charms of future prosperity. Traditional customs have represented a kind of necessary annual calendar of combined natural speculation, for both the realms of the environment and the human.

For this doctoral programme, my aim is to critically engage with the folkloric practices of modern incarnations of traditional European folklore as the basis for creating new performative, sculptural and video works. I am investigating the practical use of traditional rituals and customs as actions of performance and sculptural installations both within a gallery context and as documents of performance in real-world contexts. 

The term ‘carnivalesque’ as it is outlined by Mikhail Bahktin in ‘Rabelais and his world’, is a literary mode in which a subversive state of being exists, laying down a challenge to a dominant culture though inversions, humour and chaos. Bakhtin asserts that this state of being is inherited from the idea of the carnival and its historical antecedents in the medieval Feast of Fools and the Roman Feast of ‘Saturnalia’. Such subversive inversions are also inherent in the historical descriptions of the medieval fantasy of Cockaigne. These mythologies present a survey of the imagined land of Cockaigne, a fantasy of medieval life that yearned for everything that was lacking. It is not hard to envision why such fantastic diversions proved so potent in the popular imagination and why now in a global context of unequally distributed wealth, they provide a ready metaphor for consumption and excess. 

I would like to address the nature of such folk traditions and rituals in their relationship to Mikhail Bahktin’s assertion that the carnival is essentially a revolutionary practice and the historical notion of Cockaigne as a subversive paradise. Whilst acknowledging previous interpretations of the functions of the carnivalesque in society as revolutionary collective rituals, my interest is not in the political, but in the function of folk ritual as a link to the past and as an outlet for subversive speculation in the personal experience of folk practice. 



Keywords: folklore, fashion, costume, carnivalesque, museums, magic, rituals, customs, Cockaigne, ethnography

Johanna Lecklin

Performatiivisuuden tarkastelua. Esitettyä aitoutta


My research topics stem from my time in as an artist-in-residence in London 2004. I made a piece, Story Café (2004-2011), in which I asked the visitors to be participants with their stories. The work has three parts, the storytelling, video recordings of the stories, and dramatizations that I made based on a selection of the stories. In my research, I consider participatory methods of working, moving image works that can be situated on the border of documentary and fiction, questions of authorship, and ethical questions that arise from these. Together my own works I analyze works of other artists, in which I find similar questions or working methods. I discuss the works in dialogue with texts of several theoreticians. Parallel to a theoretical reflexion, I write a more personal account of my working.


Lauren O'Neal

The Aesthetics of Refusal: Fatigue, Counter Choreography, and the Peripheral Encounter


Jaakko Ruuska

The absence of the Other — empathy and power structures

The subject of the study is the interplay between empathy and power structures, both as the subject of theoretical, as well as practice-led artistic research. Following the phenomenological approach, empathy is understood as perceptual, affective awareness of the other’s experience. Accordingly, it plays an important, mediating role in the constitution of the intersubjectivity. This study focuses on the interruption of the empathy, situations, in which the mediation of the other’s experience is disconnected, disrupted or the representation of the other is distorted.

In psychology the inability to empathize is considered a pathology, related to personality disorders like narcissism. The inability to empathize is considered a developmental disorder. This study takes another approach, situating the disconnection, disruption and distortion of empathy to the power structures. Both psychology and phenomenology studies the phenomenon of empathy as an attribute of an individuals psychic life. The phenomenological approach gives priority to the observing subject, which places its own point of view at the origin of the knowledge. According to it, the world is pregiven in the perceptions of the subject, and empathy is a structure of the world’s giveness. In order to study the interplay between empathy and power structures, empathy must be understood as intersubjective relation. Since subjectivity itself is constituted in the intersubjectivity, it is modified by the power structures. Power reduces its subject into the categories of dominance. Discourses rationalize experiences according to their grids of intelligibility, while the other experiences are muted. The disconnection can be recognized as the phenomenon of the urban geography, producing differentiation of the social roles and exclusion.

This artistic research assumes empathy as an attribute of Art. The premise of the artistic research is that empathy is virtually present or possible, even if not actualized. What could be the politics of empathy, when studied in relation to the power structures? What can be elucidated if empathy is reconstructed in the situations where it has been disconnected? How to represent the muted fields of experience? How to position the otherness that is effaced? In the artistic research empathy is adapted into experimental practises in order to make transparent the features of the power structures. The theoretical problem forms a thematic platform for artistic practises which will study the different aspects of it. The artistic practise is based on the working methods derived from documentary filmmaking (such as participatory observation and the use of archives) and Live Art (such as methods of participation, redefining of the art space and social roles). These methods are adapted to open-form and cross-platform practises.

Images: Ateneo de Manila University Library, American Historical Collection

[1] Ong, Walter J., Orality and Literacy, The Technologizing of the World. Routledge, London and New York, 1982

Mireia c. Saladrigues

Behaving Unconventionally in Gallery Settings. Alteration and Strangeness in Cultural Practices as Fruitful Tension for Rearticulating Relations among Makers, Objects, Audiences, and (Virtual) Museums.

Through a combination of generative, speculative, archival, deconstructive, dialectical, topological, sym-poietic, and sometimes-digital practices, the ongoing four-year research launches both studio and in situ implementations for documenting and fostering situations of agency that could renew the paradigms of engagement to/within art practices. It experiments with instigating occasions for misrepresented (human and non-human) behaviours that, within the (conceptual) real and virtual architecture of display, could be considered non-conventional, radical, and traditionally unacceptable.  

The inquiry approaches cultural alteration as a consequent and simultaneous stage to social conditioning, and reacts on the reduction of the (actual-virtual) imaginative capital by proposing an artistic and theoretical re-reading of alteration and unconventionality as fertile “tools” of response-ability. 

The different thematic axes of the research –(de)formation of the spectator; production of the (dis)interested gaze; (dis)embodiment of institution; (es)titution; and (V)SF spaces– focus on the disciplinary structures that have founded our familiar relationships with art, in order to inquire practically, discursively, and interpersonally into how cultural subjects and objects produce a fruitful tension in the very culture whose inscriptions they bear. Thus, the (virtual and analogue) roles of spectators, art workers, artworks and spaces cannot be totally fixed –following the modern ontological divisions – by institutions and social environments, however institutions and environments are crucial to the portrayal of the evolution of culture.

This research is bold insofar as its papers and artistic outputs result from collaborations with professionals, amateurs and individuals with marginal and non-marginal relations to art, envisage and mediate within formal and informal art institutions. This aim is to activate topological (material and immaterial) situations where pre-fixed positions are blurred, and where radical gestures, subaltern stories, non-conventional attitudes, misbehaving (digital) spaces, disobedient artworks, and (virtual) materials unfold.  

Stephanie Misa

Of Bastard Tongues and Ghosts in the Archive

In my proposal, I focus on orality. I would like to look at first languages (the Mother Tongue) and the complications this notion implies within the context of a colonized nation where the mother tongue is often reduced to a purely spoken language outside of institutional frameworks. “Orality” here then aims to decipher the growth and agency of a marginalized spoken language. 

It is with an idea of Orality as potentiality rather than a written “residue” (as in Walter J. Ong’s Orality and Literacy) [1] that I would like to delve into the field of spoken language. I would like to examine the activation of a spoken language outside the confines of educational modes of instruction: its evolution, cannibalism and appropriation of terms, and production of pidginized words. Is the pervasiveness of the mother tongue, in fact, a form of resistance? 

In his essay “Traité du Tout-Monde. (Poétique IV)”, Edouard Glissant coins the term “archipelagic thinking” to reassess the insularity and heaviness of “continental thought”. For archipelagic sea-faring people, the sea does not constitute a barrier, but rather a connective tissue crossed by perpetual flows of exchange. Does archipelagic thinking, then (especially within coastal landscapes), also allow us to think of language, identity, and culture in terms of flows?  

The metaphor of a group of islands lends its topography as an alternative imaginary to the schema of a “nation-state” and bound cultures, and asserts the possibilities of exchange beyond a horizon. This idea proposes a culture—and, by extension, language (orality)—in perpetual flux, one that is marked by colonial undertaking and creative becomings. As archipelagic thinking builds a structure of possibility and interconnectedness unique to the archipelagic space, the questions then asked are: can orality be considered in terms of archipelagic thinking? Would the geographic quality of an Archipelago allow us to think in terms of multitudes, positioning oneself outside of insular (continental) thought, of being one yet composed of many? Can this orality reside as a living, embodied, and temporal testament which speaks of the interconnectivity and plurality of things? 

The proposal is examined through two comparative case studies: the first is a survey of contemporary expressions of a purely spoken language used within migrant communities (of first and second generations) in Helsinki. The aim of the project, documented through interviews with Somali-Finnish youth, is to analyze the use and importance of creole in their lives, and how this generates an identity that is outside the scope of assimilation or assumed Finnish-ness. The participants interviewed will, as a collaborative artistic output, put together a performance (through spoken word, song, poetry or theater) that aims to verbalize and self- narrate their contemporary concerns. The second case study is research into the wax cylinder recordings of Tasmanian Aboriginal songs sung by Fanny Cochrane-Smith, the only evidence of the presence of a Tasmanian indigenous language. As the last known speaker of the language, the orality ceased to exist with her death in 1905. The proposed artistic intervention for this case study is a video documentation of the research process that attempts (whether successful or not) to unveil the personhood of Fanny Cochrane- Smith through her voice. 

The two case studies stand to compare an orality that is present, evolving, and in use, with one that has long passed. The case studies directly contrast what, in essence, an archipelagic framework could allow for voices and subjectivities in the margin. Does insularity, in the end, result in the death of a culture? What the case studies emphasize are the methodologies of resistance and transformation employed by the speakers of these oralities as they navigate a transnational sense of belonging as well as hybrid and multi-faceted identities.

decolonial thinking, mother tongue, orality, social engagement, community