Intentional Community: Video Art from Finland and the UK

Screening event and discussion. On Thursday June 28, 7-9 pm, XL Art Space.

Beatrice Gibson & Alex Waterman / Antti Laitinen / Tellervo Kalleinen & Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen / Pilvi Takala / Deniz Uster / Mark Wayman / Zoe Walker & Neil Bromwich

Curated by Ali MacGilp.

At the end of her curatorial residency at HIAP, Ali MacGilp presents a screening event and discussion of works by artists from Finland and the UK who address the subject of intentional communities from a variety of perspectives, from the humorous to the poetic. Often using processes of collaboration and research, these artists offer their reflections on how human beings try to live together successfully, whether through creating a utopian community with strict rules and admission policies or choosing a life of solitude.

Screening Programme

-Introduction-

Tellervo Kalleinen & Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen,
The Making of Utopia (2006) excerpt

Pilvi Takala, Players (2010)

Antti Laitinen, Voyage (2008)

Zoe Walker & Neil Bromwich, Celestial Radio (2004)

-Break-

Beatrice Gibson & Alex Waterman, A Necessary Music (2009) excerpt

Mark Wayman, The Peckham Experiment (2009) performance documentation

Deniz Uster, 69 (2012) excerpt

-Discussion-

- - -

‘Nearly all creators of Utopia have resembled the man who has toothache, and therefore thinks happiness consists in not having toothache.’

[George Orwell, Why Socialists Don’t Believe in Fun, 1943]


The theme of this screening event ‘intentional community’ emerged from a conversation I had with Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen during a studio visit as part of my research during my curatorial residency at HIAP. It unites moving image works I have encountered during my time in Helsinki with videos I have brought with me from the UK and would like to present here. The communities presented in the works here were brought into existence through intention rather than chance or inheritance. The subjects these artists explore include self-confessed ‘ageing hippies’, modernist housing projects, philosophical theories and islands communities.

The word Utopia, coined by Thomas More in his book of that name in 1516, means ‘no place’. By definition, Utopia cannot exist, it can only be striven towards; it is defined by its failure. Our history is strewn with attempts to create Utopia and the resulting conflicts. The circumstances which gave rise to the alternative communities of the 1970s – financial crisis, prolonged war and fears over oil shortages – are with us once again. The fall of the Soviet bloc seemed to spell the end of the Utopian dream but today groups exist which strive to resist the hegemony of capitalist society. These range from online communities to movements such as Occupy, which has sought to embody and demonstrate the feasibility of the ideals of participatory, consensus-based democracy. While thus far Finland seems to have maintained its high standard of living and generous welfare state, the UK is currently dismantling its own piece by piece.


In The Making Of Utopia, Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen met four established intentional communities in Australia. Through a series of film-making workshops, they probed the secret of their success and the challenges they face in creating and sustaining an alternative way of living. Such groups who consume little and share everything, serve as social experiments for us all to learn from. The short films produced explore the difficulties of balancing individual and group identities, and ideals with reality. 

Superficially, the professional online-poker players of Scandi Tower in Bangkok are the polar opposite of these Australian commune-dwellers. Their need to create rules to maintain a just community, however, is identical. In Players Pilvi Takala takes a fascinating look at the luxurious lifestyles of these young men, who challenge the hypothesis that money can’t buy you happiness. They have established a mutual code of conduct, using the laws of probability to ensure fairness in their intentional community. They drew cards to see who will pay meal bills and play rock/scissors/ paper to decide who will perform a mundane task that will benefit the group.

Beatrice Gibson and Alex Waterman’s poetic film A Necessary Music, takes Roosevelt Island, between Manhattan and Queens, as its subject matter. Formerly home to an insane asylum, a small pox hospital and a prison, the island became a modernist social housing project in the 1960s. The islanders feel defined by their separateness, to them the island is a haven, a cruise ship in the river. They reminisce about the island’s myths and muse that the constant sounds of the city and its traffic seem strangely artificial, as if projected onto a screen surrounding the island. Gibson sees research as a territory for her practice and in this film employs the logic of the graphic score and the framing of a science fiction novel to introduce us to the islanders.

Mark Wayman’s performance takes us on a tour of the Pioneer Health Centre, an open-plan modernist building built in Peckham, London in 1935 as a radical experiment in public health. Rather than focusing on the diagnosis and treatment of disease, the idea was to reduce the incidence of medical problems by promoting health, in part through ensuring members had a rich and varied social life. There was space for a wide range of leisure activities, initiated and run by members themselves in a state of benign anarchy. The experiment ended in 1950 and the building is now a privately owned apartment complex, partitioned into small residential units and surrounded by high fences. This reversal highlights the spatial and functional transformation of the building and the competing ideologies that drove both its original and current forms.

Zoe Walker and Neil Bromwich’s Celestial Radio is a radio station housed on a disco-ball sailing boat, The Celeste. She began her life anchored off the Essex Coast line between St Peter’s Chapel and Bradwell Nuclear Power Station, triangulating the philosophical and spiritual distance between the church and the reactor. The broadcast ‘How the Universe Sang Itself into Being’ mixes together interviews with members of the Othona Community at St Peter’s Chapel, and scientists working in Bradwell Nuclear Power station with album tracks from the 1960s pirate radio era. The soundwork explores ideas of faith in the origins of the universe through both science and religion.

Antti Laitinen explores our relationship with nature and the absence of society in a poetic and playful way. In 2007 he painstakingly built his own small island from sandbags It’s My Island and in Voyage he rows an individual palm tree island across the horizon. He demonstrates the absurdity of trying to exist in isolation, however desirable it might seem at times. Deniz Uster’s solitary shaman-like figure performs a cycle of actions which seem to produce power for the wind turbines which surround her. Is she the lone survivor of an apocalypse or do legions of such figures exist across the landscape? The mythical rituals she carries out to achieve alchemical transmutation have no beginning and no end, she is captured in a time neither past, present nor future.

(Image from The Making of Utopia, 2006, Tellervo Kalleinen & Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen.)