I’m currently in Suomelinna Island, Helsinki taking observations on the relationship between Nordic social culture and design as part of an ongoing research project informing future design and craft work. After two weeks of settling in to the surroundings, its becoming clear I’ll be having quite a bit to write on in the coming months. Last weekend I hit the ground running, attending the Pixelache festival/workshop/(un)conference, held at Helsinki University and on Vartiosaari, a small sparsely inhabited “nature” island a 45 minute boat-ride east of the city.
This year’s Pixelache ran under the theme “Commoners Unite“ featuring keynote speakers Alain Ambrosi (Remix the Commons: Canada), and Markus Schmidt (Biofaction:Austria) formally kicking off festivities with brief lectures on their work advocating for the equitably shared resources of cultural and biological commons. Pixelache (pronounced Pixel Ake), was true to its word, ditching the usual format of unending slide presentations from podiums in conditioned conference centers for a more casual format of open-ended, transdisciplinary workshops. Pixelache gathered several hundred artists, designers, scientists, and activists from all over Europe and beyond to converse and create pathways for a creating awareness of issues around privatization and a greater public domain in and across their respective fields.
The program ran for approximately four days (7/6-10/6), with pre-camp workshops covering topics as cultural coding and artistic experimentation with nuclear decay around the city on Thursday and Friday, complimented by activities around the campgrounds on Vartiosaari Saturday and Sunday.
I managed to catch Ambrosi and Schmidt’s talks on Friday, but had to skip Saturday’s camp to catch up on other work. If I can a link to recordings of the talks, I’ll post them here.
On Sunday, I arrived Vartiosaari at about 10:45 in the morning for breakfast with about 20 other attendees, following a foot path through the island to base camp, where participants who had camped out the night before were making and sharing breakfast. While we went by ferry, some participants were actually given row boats to cross from mainland to island.
An activities matrix had been created the day prior including casual lectures, slide talks, performances, and workshops at several different outdoor and indoor locations throughout the island. Two excellent aspects of this format jumped out immediately. First, the open and fluid participatory nature of the program. Any attendee could spontaneously propose to lead a workshop or talk about pretty much anything they felt important or interesting to the theme. This meant that content was free to engage za thoughtful ongoing dialogue between disciplines, with new activities being created reflexively to one another. The encouragement to share, articulate, and generate immediate feedback in unique insights into the commons was refreshing. Secondly, the very site specific nature of the program allowed for direction connect to the importance of common ground, open space, and preservation of nature as it was being discussed.
Making jargon meaningful
Despite missing the first day of camp, I was still able to attend a pretty diverse range of talks and activities. In the morning, a presentation in the basement of the island artist residence followed by a hands-on workshop by an art/biology/IT collective creating a DIY sensor systems for beehives and open-source shareware for monitoring and sharing data online. In the afternoon I took a hike through the dense island forest and made it back in time for an offbeat talk on Real and Imagined Space programs of Nazi Germany, followed by an informal workshop deconstructing the semantics of jargon ( I got to discuss how the word craft is now being used in industrial applications), and finally an interactive performance piece by on the designing of a “perfect moment”.
Defining the common good with Alain Amborsini’s film crew from “Remix the Commons
There were probably close to 20 workshops in total over the course of the weekend, all seemed equally inspiring. Pixelache was wrapped up on Sunday evening before the last boats were scheduled for the mainlands with a brief summary of outcomes of discussions and workshops given, and a very long round of applause for the organizers. I’d love to go back next year for a speech on the arts and crafts guilds of the late 19th and early 20th century…….
Wrap up speech