Photo: Dirk Hoyer

Utopia, the market and radical chic

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An Interview with Tiina Rosenberg (Part 1)

Tiina Rosenberg, rector of the University of the Arts, is in a hurry, a series of meetings are scheduled. We walk the streets of Guidecca on the way to the Vaporetto. Only a very short interview. Sitting down outside of an Osteria with a wooden barrel as a table, the recorder is switched on. It is immediately clear that Rosenberg is driven by ideas and not interested in administrative bubble phrases. Half an hour later the recorder is still running. Extract one from the Osteria conversation.

Q: Yesterday at the opening you called the Research Pavilion a Utopia…

Rosenberg: When I meet art students that is part of a utopia, I think. There is always this wonderful moment when we are reminded of the utopian potential. There are moments when people actually do think. I am interested in what the students are thinking and how they actually relate to the word. I am not a critic. When I see their works I am not judgmental. It’s the Utopian moments in life that remind us of the thing why we are actually living. Or thinking.

Q: What kind of impressions did you get from this year’s Biennale so far?

Rosenberg: In some cases the problem is a lack of ideas. When you look at the Biennale this is a capitalist market place. People come here and even when they use Marxist ideas they still hope to make it commercially.  If people are here in Venice reading Marx’s “Das Kapital” loud, they ignore that this is a really difficult book to read. That’s why there is so much literature produced to make an interpretation on how to read Marx. You can do it as a gesture. Or you can turn it into a gestus in the Brechtian kind of sense. Then it could actually mean something. But if it’s only a gesture then it doesn’t actually mean anything. But if you would stand up and really promote leftist politics for instance, ask what it would mean today, come up with an analysis and say this could be turned into concrete politics, then you are in trouble. As long as you keep entertaining people, and you’re funny, then you can be radical chic.  It’s a way of being radical in a such a way that the bourgeoisie and the right wing people really like your point and the Rockefeller foundation buys your art. After all  you need that money. That’s the thing: zuerst kommt das Fressen dann kommt die Moral. That is what the world is doing with us.

Q:How do you see your own position as a rector of an Art University in this?

Rosenberg: I am already in so much political trouble in Finland just for not being right-wing. I only need to show my face and I am already in some kind of trouble. It is also the representation of oneself. What is a person symbolizing. For a long time the universities were still utopian places. But now they are often radical in a kind of chic way. It is important that you look good and you have the rhetorical skillfulness to say the wrong things in the right way. And it will work. But let’s say you are disabled, you are fat, you are not looking good, you are badly dressed, then you are just wrong in the wrong way. So all this talk about breaking the norms really is just about breaking the norms in a chic way. Then it’s Ok, then you are safe. If you do it in the wrong way, you are just wrong. 

Q: Has it been any different before?

Rosenberg: What I really liked for a long time about universities in our country is that the state was actually paying and not asking in return. That was the welfare state. I am a big fan of the welfare state. I am a big fan of the state, not only understood as police force or army. The state is us. We pay taxes, we have culture, we have good education, we have universities the state is paying for. Of course I understand, I am a rector, that there are certain kind of rules that you are reporting back. Rules that are productive and make sense. Reporting back is fine. But of course it would be naïve in neoliberal times to think that rules of the market are not guiding us. We have the power to decide over the substantial things, over what we are actually teaching. But already today it is clear, how research is guided by certain kind of buzzwords. There is a bias in what you get the funding for and what sort of art gets funded. This is done in a capitalist logic. But there is still something else. It is a touching moment when I see the students, they are so young and so ambitious.

Q: But what happens when they are thrown on the marketplace after their studies?

Rosenberg: I am also the chair of the Finish Art Council so I can see that there is very little money there. And it is still a very democratic system in the way that people are deciding about the funding. The cultural and educational policies are still very intact in Finland and Sweden. But at the same time we are promoting a change in the wrong direction. The figures are bad. The impoverishment of artists is striking. Visual artists have basically no chance. Only 2% of the visual artists that are graduating from the art universities can survive and live as an artist. The rest can be artists but they have to do something else for a living. They can go into applied arts, work in administrations, in schools, they have to find some sort of way of surviving. Actors can survive as long as the state is paying for the theatres There is a lot of critique of institutions but if we are cutting the institutionalized cultural life out of the system, there is no money for any kind of cultural projects anymore

Text and Photo: Dirk Hoyer