The Mistra Environmental Communication Research Programme Component at the Institute of Communication Studies and Journalism (ICSJ)

The Living Library n. 3 :: How to act? On allies, ambassadors and actions

The Living Library #3: How to act? On allies, ambassadors and actions

The purpose of this last talk in the series was to explore the tensions and challenges of action, including resistance, solidarity, conflicts, allies and other forms of engagement in a diversity of settings and practices and to explore together what new ways of understand action can emerge through transdisciplinary conversation.

Speakers in the panel:

  • Katarina Pirak Sikku, artist,
  • Stefania Barca, Zennström Professor in Climate Change Leadership, Uppsala University,
  • Joana Moll, Artist and Researcher,
  • Kalle Brolin, Artist.

Step in moderators were Laila Mendy and Isabel Baudish, from the Uppsala University.

The conversation started with the question What is your practice and experience and understanding of the word action? Katarina Pirak Sikku explained that as belonging to an indigenous group, for her it´s very much of doing things. The history has mainly been told by others and for her it is important to gain access to stories from her family and the larger Sami group and to tell them. The access to and practice of the Sami language that was deprived is also very important. Kalle Brolin as an artist saw the connection between action and performance art. In his practice he has been engaged in protests of various kinds. Action is a way to show care.

For Joana Moll her art was more of a tool for raising awareness, that hopefully could lead to action. Stellan Vinthagen, researcher from Stockholm resilient institute and activist expressed that ”to refuse or to boycott is very much an action. Action is the lifeblood that creates the society. The pattern of action is very much what builds society. It could be communicative, aesthetic, sabotage (pipeline). Actions occurs in various forms. The collective actions of “people’s powers” is the basis of social change”. Stefania Barca expressed that action, is how she sees herself. “Philosophers has put a lot of effort in understanding the word. We need to also act. At the same time action is also risky and dangerous, since a lot of change in the world hasn’t been of good for the climate”.

The artist also made a short presentation of their different art projects by a slideshow. Kalle grew up in the coalmining district in south of Sweden and was very affected by the stories and myths from coalmines and sugar industries, later using archival images and making comparisons. Currently he is working on a film that relates to a story of strike and how social injustice has been passed on through generations: “Let me flame the hatred to all sorts of tyranny”. In the work the artists made comparisons with the group of children that has made a court case against Swedish state for not lowering the emissions. He also told a story of an activist who turned a person into a poet.

Joana Moll tries to reveal complex relations and how users are double exploited by the extracting of data from the user when it comes to energy. All the tracking technology, apps are very complex. The historical record for all the energy we use as users is very substantial. Moll struggles to make the invisible visible. Her art pieces are informing action and a public debate. The impact of what systems does is completely overlooked.

Katarina Pirak Sikku has conducted a long-term artistic research at “Kart- och bildenheten on the images from the Race biological institute” at the Uppsala University. She has been digging into the 115 archived albums. Every image has a number. Should we identify the people? Some photos portray naked peoples, undergoing eugenic examinations. As a counter strategy Katarina has used the patterns form the Sami costumes, that people are wearing, expressing “I have seen you, and I want to take care of you” to decorate and to veiled the albums. “Sami memories are in color”. For her it is important to tell the stories and she is currently writing a book on her family history, as a way to keep the stories alive.

Stellan Vinthagen is using activism as a practice while researching on activism. His motivation to enter academia was to become an activist. “The professors of the streets”. Currently he has been studying groups of black lives matter protesters and native Americans. The knowledge you inhabit as an experienced activist is something you can use as a critical self-reflection.

Taking her personal background, Stefania Barka, describes the connection between action and knowledge, born and raised in a patriarchal society in southern Italy. This was a physical experience, a whole life that was imposed on her. She described how she transformed herself as an act of love, projection of love. The personal is indeed political. Also, Stellan shared the purpose of making a change by performative action. At the Copenhagen Climate Change conference 2009 his team decided to present their research along with the physical action of blocking the entrance to a coal mine, showing civil disobedience by a micro-action. This way of living is something Katarina could relate to too. “I wouldn’t have existed without micro action in the daily life, for example the reindeer herds actions against the power plants at the Lulea river. Stefania witnessed that the stories of contesting and resisting is similar amongst earth defenders at the Amazon region. The system is really violent, and many people are killed every year. But they still say “This is what makes my life worth it. I would be a slave otherwise”. This normalization and acceptance on violence is deeply problematic, Stefania concluded.

Kalle expressed that his purpose as an artist is to connect with a collective, not necessary people alive today. It´s like o cloud of artworks, collective. There´s a risk of failure. A fuel of storytelling is to spread throughout time. Investigating connections.

Joana Molls have often experienced how her research-based art practice moves into grey areas, where new finding might not be well received from the companies she researches. For her the collaboration partners, and institutions are crucial to support and legitimize her work.

Kalle also stressed the need to work collectively in his view political art should come from a collective relating to the discussion on allies and ally-ship. He used to be a part of the collective Sunshine socialist cinema, that had outdoor screening by the energy from solar panels. It was a nomadic activity where they always sought for collaborations with local communities, and youths. Eventually the project started to spread it was indeed a project informed by collectivity.

The conversation concluded with a reflection by Stefania on the tendency of steering academia into certain objectives and how this might affect future research. The neo liberal turn on academia has for instance called for research leading to the Agenda 2030 goals. One must keep in mind that academia isn´t only about education it is also about procuring new knowledge.

text's author: Rebecka Wigh Abrahamsson, curator Uppsala Art Museum

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