Lecturer Suzanne Mooney: Artists have a privileged position

According to Suzanne Mooney, lecturer in contemporary art in society at the Academy of Fine Arts, artists don’t sit outside of their social context – but they do have the opportunity to comment, evaluate, question – and be heard.

In the video, a young woman walks next to a high fence painted in black and simultaneously draws a long, wavy line on the fence with a piece of yellow chalk, one line after another. The work is titled “Follow me”, and the artist is a Portuguese doctoral student Flávia Costa who completed an exchange period at the Academy of Fine Arts.

“Flávia was interested in the idea of drawing as an act of knowledge, in mapping and getting to know the city. The end result was a subtle performative drawing,” lecturer in contemporary art in society Suzanne Mooney says.

The fence that Costa drew her route on was the construction site fence surrounding the lot where Uniarts Helsinki’s new building is being built in 2021. It is one of the many places that have incorporated public art created by students of the Academy of Fine Arts over the last couple of years.

Public art projects are important, because they are an opportunity to bring art to a wider audience. It’s a chance for the student to understand that when you are producing art in the public sphere, there are always multiple people involved. The work is not produced alone and autonomously in a studio, and it’s not just the interest of the artist that needs to be considered.


Artists have the power of representation

Suzanne Mooney began in her post of lecturer in contemporary art in society last August. She describes her role as twofold: on the other hand, she teaches practical career skills, such as presentation skills, where to find opportunities, writing grant and exhibition applications and how to network and build connections.

The other half is connected to the artist’s role in society: what does it mean to be an artist working within the public sphere and how can an artist be socially, politically and ethically engaged in a public context?

“An artist doesn’t sit outside of a social context; an artist is just as embedded in it as any other individual. But artists also have the opportunity to comment, evaluate, question – and be heard. It’s a privileged position to be in,” Mooney says.

Mooney doesn’t think that all visual artists have issues of publicness, accessibility or audience at the forefront of their minds, but all artists should reflect on the power of art as a form of communication and commentary and the power and agency that it brings.

“Artists may not have power the same way that authorities or governments do, but there is power in representation.” Mooney says.


Environmental themes at the forefront in Finland

Irish-born Mooney has previously worked in the United States, Great Britain and Ireland, both as an artist and a university lecturer. When comparing international art scenes, Mooney has noticed that issues around ecology, climate change and the environment are particularly prominent in Finland.

“Here, you have discussions about how artists themselves have an impact on the environment, and whether public art, for example, should even be permanent, or is it possible to leave no trace or presence behind. That conversation certainly wasn’t happening in the United States when I was there the last four years,” Mooney says.

According to Mooney, themes of feminism, identity politics and diversity of the cultural sector are also beginning to have a strong presence in the Finnish art scene. Feminist theory is not one of Mooney’s teaching fields, but she says that she’s careful about making sure that more than 50 per cent of the works and texts that she presents in lectures are made by female artists. 

“Looking back at my own studies, 95 per cent of the artists discussed in class were male. It’s very hard to find your voice or your path if you don’t see yourself reflected in the art world that you’re trying to enter into.”

Text: Silja Ylitalo

Suzanne Mooney's lecture "Fragments and Other Incomplete Things" will be held at Exhibition Laboratory on Tuesday 9th April 2019 at 6 pm. The event is part of a lecture series organised by the Academy of Fine Arts, and is open to everyone.