(excerpts of the presentation at Carpa 6. Kiasma, Helsinki 29.8.2019)


“In her famous book How Institutions think? (1986) anthropologist Mary Douglas is pondering a relationship between an individual and a community, and asks, if human behaviour is based on rational thinking, is her motivation always self-interest or could she have other motives too? If institution produces a certain kind of behaviour, how it is related to the idea of rational individual?


However, when talking on institutions, the question perhaps is not, how institutions think, but, according to Cornelius Castoriadis, how institutions perform, or how institutions institute? What kind of forms and norms are practiced?


Moreover, anthropologist Athena Athanasiou states in her essay “Performing the institution” (2016), “instead of treating the interminable question of capacity to act ‘possible versus impossible’, we examine what it might mean to institute otherwise, politically and performatively, as if it were possible?”  So, when talking on norms and conventions, there is always this as if aspect.”


 “The question is: how institution performs itself?

Another question: how do we perform institution?

As a performance artist I started to think how to transform my experience of institutional life, so working as a professor, to performative mode.

For that I asked:

What do I need?

What is possible to do in this context, in these circumstances?

How institution perform, usually?

How it could perform otherwise?

How do I perform as a professor? So how do I perform the profession, or the assumption of this role?”


“The result was that I decided to organize some office discos in my room during the working days.”


“Now we can ask how conference performs, what kind of modes it takes. Sitting, talking, more sitting and more talking. That’s all is great, but I still like to invite you to conference disco. The length of the disco is one song, something like six minutes, so please feel free to join and dance, the style is free. “






How to perform ‘the institution’?

Pilvi Porkola


Photos & video: Mia Jalerva

Athanisiou, Athena. 2016. “Performing the institution ‘As If it were possible’” in Former West: Art and the contemporary after 1989 ed. Maria Hlavajova and Simon Sheikh. Utrecht: BAK, basis voor actuele kunst.

Douglas, Mary. 1986. How Institutions Think? New York: Syracuse University Press.

Sheik, Simon. 2017. “The Magmas. On Institution and Instituting” in How Institutions Think: Between Contemporary Art and Curatorial Discourse ed. Paul O’Neill, Lucy Steeds and Mick Wilson. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.