Gatherings exhibition, held as part of the Conferment ceremony, explores the theme of harvest

Praxis students Elif Erdoğan ja Isabela Hueara Carneiro have curated the Gatherings exhibition which will be held during the Conferment ceremony. The exhibition will be on display at the Musiikkitalo 10–29 August 2024. In this interview, Elif and Isabela discuss their studies and the process of curating the exhibition.

Petri Summanen

What are you studying and at what stage of your studies are you currently?

We are both in our second year of the master’s programme called Praxis-Exhibition Studies, where the main focus is on contemporary curatorial practices. We started the programme in January 2023, and we are both currently at the thesis writing phase.

What type of exhibition can we expect at the Musiikkitalo in August, and is there a common theme?

We wanted to choose a theme that not only resonated with the Conferment ceremony but also reflected the essence of community and collaboration within Uniarts Helsinki. So, we approached the idea of ‘harvest’ by considering artists as sowers of seeds in their studios, with their artworks representing the fruits of their labor. This concept of gathering the harvest of artworks symbolises the collective efforts of artists coming together, much like crops being gathered from fields. The theme of ‘harvest’ served as a powerful metaphor for us, representing not only the culmination of artistic endeavors but also the spirit of cooperation and shared celebration within the art community. It allowed us to explore various facets of ‘harvest,’ from abundance and growth to the passage of time and the importance of community, as well as storytelling.

‘Gatherings’ showcases the work of eight talented artists from the Academy of Fine Arts, each offering their unique interpretation of the theme. Artists featured in the exhibition include Milja Havas, Meri Hiironen, Joel Hilska-Heikkinen, Piia Kokkarinen, Raana Lehtinen, Kate Ruck, Eva Volmerson, and Arno Westerberg. Visitors can expect to see a diverse range of artworks exploring aspects of ‘harvest,’ such as abundance, environmental elements, human labor, and storytelling. Additionally, there are abstract pieces that use shapes, colors, and gestures to evoke the energy and rhythm associated with the concept of ‘harvest.’

And let’s not forget about the sense of community that permeates the exhibition. By bringing together visual artists, actors, performers, and musicians in a unified space, the Conferment ceremony and the exhibition create an experience that celebrates the collective creativity and collaboration within the art community. So, you can think it as a celebration of art in all its forms. We hope everyone will enjoy it!

How was your experience in putting this exhibition together? What have you learned?

We have faced some challenges, including limited resources and time constraints, and site-specific limitations imposed by the architecture of Musiikkitalo’s window gallery space, even though the building itself is amazing.

It is a relatively small exhibition, yet we have learned a lot. We have our diverse backgrounds and previous expertise in the field, but this project particularly allowed us to learn more about the Finnish art scene and practicalities like agreements, insurance, and pricing artworks in this country. We’re also gaining experience in handling sales, which is new to us. In addition to that, meeting a different audience through this exhibition has been important for us. While there is some overlap between exhibitiongoers and concertgoers, this new audience provides a fresh perspective.

To finish we can say that our experience in putting together this exhibition has been a valuable learning journey for both of us, both in terms of practical skills and building collaborative relationships. Thank you to all of those who gave us this opportunity to collaborate.

What do your studies include?

In this programme we are able tailor what we study according to our wishes, curiosities, and needs. So, in a sense, we can say that our study programme is custom-made.

As the name of the programme suggests, it is a mixture of theory and practice, or, in other words, how to put theory into practice. We are currently six people in the programme. All of us applied to this programme with the aim of developing our expertise in the field through feedback, in-depth research opportunities, reflections, and critiques to learn more about contemporary practices in the field, as well as the history of exhibitions and curatorial approaches. But perhaps more importantly, we aim to determine and discuss the urgencies of our era and how, through curation and art, we can ameliorate our present and future.

Here, we would like to insert a small but important note. Everyone asks us: What is this thing called curator? Or what is the difference between the curatorial and curating? It is a bit of a though question to answer yet maybe it is a right place to try explaining what we have been doing.

We have been mostly discussing the ongoing debates about the concepts of “the curatorial” and “curating” in exhibition practices. Scholars like Jean Paul Martinon and Maria Lind differentiate between the two, with “the curatorial” focusing on presentation and “curating” on representation. This distinction contrasts with Herald Szeeman’s view of a curator as merely an “exhibition-maker,” emphasizing the practical aspect of making art public. As Hongjohn Lin suggests too, there is a beauty in Szeeman’s idea, seeing curating as a poetic act involving creativity and transformation. While “the curatorial” often involves philosophical and ethical considerations, we are questioning whether the representational aspects of curating can also encompass the presentational elements of the curatorial, and who would be responsible for this presentation.

What are the best and worst aspects of your studies?

As we mentioned, everyone in Praxis has different leanings and interests, and we’ve all had the chance to tailor the programme to fit our own needs and wishes. This has its ups and downs.

On the positive side, this diversity has really helped us see different aspects of the field. Our praxis group feels like a small community where we talk about various topics and learn from each other, both inside and outside the classroom. Another good aspect of Uniarts Helsinki in general is that we have expanded our perspectives through many interactions with Uniarts Helsinki’s visiting experts, artists, curators and writers from different backgrounds and areas of focus. This has really opened up new discussions and broadened our views.

On the downside, like any institution, ours has its own issues, especially for international students coming from outside of Europe. When it comes to challenges specific to our own programme, even though we had two fantastic part-time lecturers, we have faced uncertainties about the direction and future of the programme due to a lack of sufficient staff.

We have tackled this challenge by working more closely with the artists we share the same space with. This helped us build friendships and strong artist-curator relationships while still studying. When you think about it, it’s a unique opportunity to work so closely with artists, sharing the same time and space, which will likely be harder to do after we graduate. This proximity to artists was also one of the main reasons we applied to Uniarts Helsinki and specifically to the Praxis programme: being able to easily engage with artists and have casual interactions, such as sharing a cup of coffee or tea, has been incredibly supportive and enriching.

About the exhibition

The exhibition will be on display in the Musiikkitalo’s display cases near the Concert hall 10–29 August 2024. Admission to the exhibition is free during the opening hours of the Helsinki Music Centre.

Artists: Milja Havas, Meri Hiironen, Joel Hilska-Heikkinen, Piia Kokkarinen, Raana Lehtinen, Kate Ruck, Eva Volmerson, and Arno Westerberg.