Online exhibition: Politics of Care

Eteläinen Rautatiekatu 8, 00100 Helsinki
Tennis Palace Art Museum

With the global coronavirus pandemic having upended life as we know it, new light has been shed …

With the global coronavirus pandemic having upended life as we know it, new light has been shed on the importance of care, both societally and in our personal relationships. Society is upheld by reproductive labour; we depend on the critical support of care workers, just as we rely on the care of those closest to us. The present crisis has conferred new visibility to the webs of interdependency that exist between us, while also exposing how those webs have grown fragile. The survival of life on Earth depends on the webs of interdependency that unite not only people, but all beings, both animate and inanimate.

Selected from HAM’s collection of 200 works of media art, this compilation of nine videos can be approached through such a concept of care. They remind us how humans exist in a state of interdependency, inseparable from and reliant on others for nourishment and oxygen, and how every action taken has consequences that extend beyond the individual body.

Care is itself a contradictory concept that should be “handled with care”. Care and its various manifestations – be they organized forms of communal activism or public care funded by the welfare state – are never born within a vacuum. What to our knowledge and understanding constitutes “taking good care” of others and the environment is ultimately defined by a massive apparatus of knowledge production that is premised upon a specific and localized social and political framework.

The video compilation is about 45 minutes in duration.

The videos appear in the following order: 00:15 Pasi Autio, Aarne’s Window, 2016; 08:45 Alli Savolainen, 6 Minutes, 8 Pictures, 2001; 10:08 Jenni Eskola, Contour, 2017; 10:45 Azar Saiyar, History Bleeds Under Your Fingernails, 2017; 18:17 Jani Ruscica, Contrapuntal / Fluctuation Theme, 2005; 24:09 Minna Suoniemi, Practical Ecology, 2017; 34:31 Maria Duncker, One in a Million, 2005; 36:50 Tuulia Susiaho, The Empty Head of Alice, 2006; 43:02 Maria Ylikoski, And No Swinging!, 1998

The protagonist in Aarne’s Window (2016) by Pasi Autio gazes out of the window as the seasons change behind the pane of glass. His inner monologue deals with the grief of loss, but he also comments on signs of new life. The work highlights how people living in isolation crave contact with the outside world.

The temporary care arrangements necessitated by the pandemic have brought to light the reality of what already constituted the pre-crisis normal for many people. In the wake of the “productive” segment of the population having been confined to their homes during the COVID crisis, society has made available some of the services and flexible working arrangements that groups such as the chronically ill, the unemployed, the elderly and the socially excluded would have needed long ago, but which society has hitherto deemed too costly and challenging to provide.

Care means more than just nursing or healing, and care is needed not only by those with special needs or those in difficult circumstances. In Practical Ecology (2017), Minna Suoniemi shows the artist’s father presenting various items he has repaired and upcycled. He tells each object’s story, reflecting on his relationship with the materials.

Salvaging and recovering old materials is more than a matter of thrift or a pastime – it reflects an understanding that the waste we generate and the resources we consume have real impacts on the material world far beyond our physical bodies. Objects also carry reminders of our relationships with other people. The act of repairing and transforming old items can be an expression of cherishing a loved one, a way of showing love.

Fluctuation Theme is part of Jani Ruscica’s Contrapuntal (2005) trilogy of short films. It shows a group of people singing as they wander through terrain that is undergoing radical excavation, as if trying to convey some kind of a message to the human-altered landscape.

If we think of care as essential to our physical, material, and mental wellbeing, the concept of care takes on critical political significance. Care is fundamental to building a fairer, more equitable society, and it is the bond that permeates the relationship between different species, beings and materialities. A politics of care – embracing welfare, economics, and the environment – could offer a sustainable basis for building our future society.

History Bleeds Under Your Fingernails (2017) by Azar Saiyar revisits a chapter of not-so-recent history when attempts were made to “correct” left-handedness by punishing children or restraining their left hand.

Care is not only about kindness and positive emotions. Much of the work done by professional carers is physically arduous, psychologically stressful, underpaid, and underappreciated. Someone must take care of the things we expunge from our daily lives, such as waste, filth, suffering and death. The need to care or be cared for is a source of inequality: not needing to care or be cared for is a privilege conferred by factors such as economic status, physical capabilities, gender, or even language skills. Entrenched notions of the family unit have also defined how the workload of caring is shared. Caring is a way of exercising power and a measure of normativity that defines who deviates from the norm, who is marginalized, who is entitled to care, what kind of care they receive, and why. Category-based, efficiency-driven care is an enabler of structural violence, social exclusion, and the relegation of certain groups to invisibility.

The exhibition has been curated by HAM Curator Petronella Grönroos.