I interviewed Johanna Tuukkanen, who is currently preparing her PhD in art education and cultural policy. She is a well-known curator and art-maker herself, and the Artistic Director of ANTI festival based in Finland’s Kuopio. This week, January 30, 2015, she will also have a premiere of a new work Panopticon together with her colleague, choreographer Pirjo Yli-Maunula in Oulu, which is a vibrant capital in Northern Finland. Their new multidisciplinary work will articulate a hot topic of women’s ‘controlled bodies’, as they are often portrayed in fashion industry and magazines, taking a theme of aesthetic violence in relation to women’s bodies as a starting point in their performance. Simultaneously, their performance asks, are we allowed to mock this phenomenon, and even make fun of it in the arts? Johanna Tuukkanen has been making noise with her performance art for good 15 years now, highlighting women’s bodies in her performances many times before.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Johanna, I have known you from the early 2000s onwards. It seems that there has been a lot of currency exchange around your artistry since that time. Finnish art scene, I believe, has also developed and changed during the past 15 years. Could you highlight in a nutshell, how did the 21-century look so far in the art world from your personal point of view? What are your greatest pros and cons in the field as a participant with so many roles?
Johanna Tuukkanen: You are right, things really have changed! After studying performance and new dance in the Netherlands and Germany in 1990s, I moved back to Finland in 1997. In terms of the art scene, it was a kind of culture shock for me and it definitely took some time to find my way around it. From very early on, I found myself thinking how else I could make a difference in the arts other than working just as an artist.
Since then, I do see and have also personally experienced that the field has expanded greatly, it has opened and it is accepted – not totally but more and more – that for example in the field of dance, there are multiple traditions from which an artistic practice can stem from, not only one or two. Also the growing interest in site-specifity, a kind of ‘trend’, has resulted in other kinds of expansions and effected how a cultural production organization whether a museum, a theatre, a festival or a freelance collective might operate. Currently I’m thinking a lot about the concept of social in the arts as many artists are producing socially engaged works in collectives and communities where the artist is not the central point of the work but the interest in a process, in shared authorship, in participation and dialogue…
As a participant in the field, I feel that there are several communities in the art world where one can find a kind of ideological home and vast amount of possibilities. Yet, at the same time, although we do have some rather brave funding bodies, generally speaking our funding structures have not been able to develop in line with the field – thinking especially the amount of work that it produced by the freelance artists and companies in comparison with the institutions established in the 70s.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are known as a hardcore doer, and as a hands on professional when it comes to performance and to its management, to your curator’s role as well, and to a founder of a successful art-festival. Where lies the secret behind it all, how do you manage all your roles, or your doings, and don’t get burned-out at the same time? You seem to be shining.
JT: Wow, thank you! I don’t really see myself that way… But yes, to say that I’m a doer is perhaps a good way to put it. I suppose I’ve been interested in many things and just started doing them, rather naively sometimes. I’ve not been waiting around for someone else to do the work but really dug my hands into stuff, working beyond my comfort zones, not counting hours… I can’t recommend it to anyone! To be enthusiastic, to get excited is a great energy and force also. For me doing different things is also very energizing, things feed off each other and I never feel that ‘I’m doing the same job’. Maybe also because I’m not a very organized person!
But to be honest, time management is a big issue for me. I’m a very work oriented person and I have to actively work on prioritizing time for my family and friends and my own well-being. But I do do it! These days I prioritize regular exercise, try to eat well and sleep enough. I try to have one day off every week but if it’s not possible, I’ll make up for it by taking extended weekends off or mini holidays.
I’m lucky to be working for organizations and things I really believe in and I feel connected to and supported by an international community. I’ve also managed to organize my life so that I live with my lovely family in a beautiful house where I can enjoy everyday aesthetics, quietness, the Finnish lake landscape, the forest and an amazing sauna.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I associate you strongly with ANTI Contemporary Art Festival. How did this idea come forth, and develop into an international success story?
JT: This is a long story but to put it short, I was working in the Regional Arts Council of North Savo at that time and with my regional artist colleague we wanted to create a new, international multidisciplinary contemporary art festival in Kuopio, to create international networking opportunities for local artists and to active the city and different sites in Kuopio through art. We really didn’t know how it would turn out, it was a real experiment! But already since the first festival, there was a lot of international interest and the festival was a great success. The networks I’d started building in the early 2000 were crucial for our international growth and reputation and of course artists themselves are great messengers of a quality festival. I’ve personally always thought that international networking is very important and for me it has also set the standards how to run a festival. But I suppose the most important thing is that ANTI has a unique concept and in fact, it’s also modelled in different parts of the world. This all has taken an enormous amount of work and I’m grateful for the wonderful individuals who have worked for the festival over the years.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I admire your knowledge on the performance field, internationally you seem to have a network of artists that resonate with your own way of working. Was it organic to find collaborators accross the country borders?
JT: Yes, it all has happened very organically. ANTI has also been a partner in two European projects and it has been a great gift and learning process to collaborate with international live art curators and festival directors.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland is getting a Dance House finally, how did the miracle happen?
JT: Well, I’m extremely happy to be working for the Dance House but the background work with the private funding bodies was done and negotiated before I even started so I can’t take any credit for it. The Dance House initiative is very lucky to have a fantastic project manager, Hanna-Mari Peltomäki, but also the time was right – the Finnish dance sector was ready, the private funding partners were ready and lots work was done in a rather short amount of time.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does living and working in Finland mean to you? Where else in the world would you imagine to live?
JT: Living in Finland and outside the Helsinki area has been a very conscious cultural political choice for me. I’ve wanted to show that great art can be made anywhere and it is really crucial to have artists and cultural professional working and making an impact in different regions. These days, especially with digitalisation and good connections, I don’t really think it matters so much where you live.
But in recent years, as my children are getting older and as I want to find new professional challenges, I’ve become open to other options as well. Like I said earlier, I’m very work oriented so it’s probably work that will take me somewhere… There many places I could imagine living i.e. Australia and Denmark. But where ever I’d go, my work has to be meaningful. I can’t really imagine moving somewhere for the sake of the place or city.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where are you heading next, any specific plans for the future?
JT: Good question. I’m open and up for new challenges. I completed an MA in Cultural Policy last year and enjoyed that process greatly. What a luxury to deepen one’s knowledge and expertise! I’m the beginning of my PhD so probably for the next years I will be juggling my time between the Dance House, ANTI Festival and my research…unless something totally unexpected happens. Which of course is very likely in this life.