4 Jun 2020



Mobility Matters

[03.06.2020] INTRO: In the times of reduced global mobility, I want to think about what mobility means, and what kind of ´means´ of mobility we are used to and use, and to where should we “come back to” when thinking of any kind of returning ‘back to normal’. It is dubious to keep thinking of the word “normal” as many things need also to be changed. How we should and could instigate change, are constant questions that aren’t irrelevant amidst the crisis that our global societies are experiencing. The frame of activity in this text is artistic practice, especially the questions of the mobility involved in actual traveling, but linking these questions further on to how we connect with each other; with what kinds tools, methods, motivations and speeds, and with what kind of neglect involved. Mobility is also a question of work and exchange (in an informal as well as an informational sense), as transitions and gatherings of people are always about the exchange of thoughts, pleasures and attitudes that cultivate, challenge, confront, consolidate and create alliances as well as stimulate ideas.

As I look at the topic of travel in this text, I delve further into the questions related to reasons for traveling – in relation to especially art residencies – but alongside it, offer some thoughts on the art field’s operational methodology and mentality.


Background: Trans-Siberian as a mode

I have travelled by train the route from Helsinki to Vladivostok (through Moscow and other places) now three times, first one-way in 2018 and the second time (in 2019) back-and forth – with the trip from Vladivostok to Moscow in one go, spending time onboard the train for about seven days (and six nights). I (along with my partner/colleague Arttu Merimaa) embarked on these trips with the aim of finding, or locating the possibilities of travelling by land that would provide some sort of normative ease. As we wanted to explore how this kind of trip is, not only doable, but also the most preferable way of travelling. And as our focus has been the travel done by artists in relation especially to residencies, where we have been seeking alternatives to flying long-distance, with the support of, and in connection to the Finnish Cultural Foundation’s residencies in Asia (Beijing, Soul, Tokyo). But as this route by land goes through Russia, it has focused our thinking to how, and in what kinds of ways, does the trip itself work as a part of the residency experience, how the travel done within the context of artistic practices can provide more possibilities and opportunities to see more as well as connect to the practitioners in Russia. Also, to consider  how the time spent travelling by train could be a method for ‘on-route practice/research’. As an endeavour (done possibly also with a group) (slow) train travel can provide a place to focus on discussion, learning, exchange of ideas and experiencing things (together), as well as give time to focus on background research, reflectivity of one’s own practice, and finding news sources. There are evidently a lot of sides to travelling slowly that test some ‘normative’ limits; the duration being the first, and that connecting to the limitations of action – on board a train there are only certain things that one can do – but nevertheless the realization that long distances are manageable, and in some very real sense, also preferable, ways to travel. And ´slower´ means of course – slow(er) compared to flying – which is still the current norm.[1]


Reasons of why: Residencies [time & space, knowledge production and distribution, connections and entanglements]

The question to start with is: why to travel in the first place?

One answer is: Because it is the name of the ‘game’ – in order to be successful at what you do, or at least seem successful, one has to fly to places. Flying is the fastest facilitator of contemporary activity; of enabling contacts and movement of not only people, but materials in their many forms and stages of production – the contemporary realm of variety of capitals, from cognitive to concrete, are in constant movement – that means ‘business’. To participate in the task of gathering and gaining value, in terms of revenue but also of access (to knowledge, networks), there is the need of movement that is central.

I don’t know much about the daily practice of many professions, but knowing somewhat of what it means to be working in the field of art, international scope is the realm of activity; artists fly to make exhibitions, curators fly to meet artists, and both fly to the events that distribute the acts of artists and curators that happen all over the world. Contemporary art is from its very core a deliberately globally navigated field of activity. From my perspective, as there are many institutions, residencies and art funding devoted to the enabling of mobility, it surely shouldn’t be a blind spot for these organizations to visit the question of the pragmatic side (of travel) as well. (To note of course that that is also the reason why we are now on the second year of our project of developing the methods of travel by land.) 

In the context of our project, traveling is tied to residency practices. A publication ‘Contemporary Artist Residencies – Reclaiming Time and Space’ (edited by Taru Elfving, Irmeli Kokko and Pascal Gielen, Antennae-Arts in Society Series by Valiz, Amsterdam, 2019) connected to the residency organization HIAP (Helsinki International Artist Programme) explores the role of residencies with a practice-based knowledge as a premise; asking the residency practitioners themselves. In the title, and the introduction text for the book, the main reason for the existence of residencies is highlighted; they are providing time and space. As residency can provide ‘possibilities to develop ideas and connections, give opportunities to network and offer facilities to learn new skills as well increase cultural awareness and competencies’ to paraphrase and distil some of the goals for residencies laid out by the ‘Policy Handbook on Artists’ Residencies, 2011-2014’ that Hirvi-Ijäs & Kokko mention in their text reflecting the purpose of residencies as sites for artistic development. Opening paragraph is relevant to be quoted here as full as it distils the situation, tasks and questions, that residency practice currently entails and faces: “Residencies for artists and curators have gained increasing significance within the ecosystem of contemporary art in recent years as crucial nodes in international circulation and career development, but also as invaluable infrastructures for critical thinking and artistic experimentation, cross-cultural collaboration, interdisciplinary knowledge production, and site-specific research. Meanwhile the ongoing processes of wider societal changes–economic and geopolitical pressures as well as the impact of ecological and humanitarian urgencies–are affecting the arts, professional practices, and mobility in ways that raise ever more urgent questions concerning sustainability and access.” (s.10, Elfving & Kokko, 2019).

The reasons for mobility explored and expressed throughout the texts in the publication connect into the questions surrounding, and embedded in, this setting of temporal and spacial arrangement of a residency. The overall emphasis, stated in the introduction text also, points out how residencies “nurture artistic work and its development, create connections and spaces across cultural differences and support opening of local contexts” (s. 20 Elfving & Kokko, 2019). The interaction and position of residencies between “here” and “there” (be it personal changes, physical or cultural distances) outlines that residencies are “possibility-enhancing” and welcome (if not expect) shifts and changes in their setting and include some element of mobility – be it subtle and transitional – or more concrete. When talking about creation as the raison d’être of artists, and when faced with potential crisis of being stuck, Pascal Gielen mentions how shift of a place is connected to the hopes that it’ll resonate in the practice itself: “In any case, the longing for a different environment and time that is different from daily routines originates in the hope of inspiration” (s.43, Gielen). Hirvi-Ijäs & Kokko, in their text that is based on interviews with artists on how residency practices and experiences have changed their views on art and themselves as artist, reflect how “when travelling to a residency the artist leaves not only her/his familiar and intimate relations behind but also the person he/she is identified normally” (s.94, Hirvi-Ijäs & Kokko). The positive personal and practice based expectations of residencies are counter-balanced with a view of where they are “situated”, not only as a geographical location but the variety of societal, political, cultural, infrastructural, and ecological contexts that the residency practice “lands in.”

The ambition of the publication is to offer critical analysis of the changing roles of residencies, and to present emergent strategies and methodologies. The perspectives presented throughout the texts validly examine and point out how residencies are never without the active links to, and being active in, the field of contemporary societies – locally, globally and in-between – and thus, as connected to the overall system(s), are not without a constant and necessary need for evaluation of the participating wider problematics affecting residency (as well as artistic, curatorial or generally creative field’s) practice. From career service to community building and from self-imposed solitary confinement to residencies that function and work with a relation to the possibilities (also against) the limitations of the societal realm – residencies by definition mark what is considered ‘close’ and what ‘remote’, by perhaps not opting for one before the other. In many cases thus illuminating the different problematics and benefits of each situation, and enabling examination of what constitutes the movement between places in the first instance; where does notions of ‘global’ and ‘local’ for instance – if not necessarily meet – then brush against each other as contact points serving to functionalize the marking up of spaces and temporalities. “The paradoxical function of residencies has been to serve both as agents in the globalization of urban politics and as local stations, where to ‘land in a readymade infrastructure’” Elfving & Kokko quoting Charlotte Bydler. (s.18 Elfving & Kokko). There is evidently a lot at play when thinking of to whom, from where, and towards what, do residencies operate, when seeking to define their operation, and the terms their location? As Lithuanian based residency Nida Art Colony’s Vytautas Michelkevilčius questions: “How many [residencies] overcome the lure of the place and abandon the neo-colonial and touristic gaze? A crucial question when thinking of privilege and the viewpoints connected to mobility and residency practices. Seeking and utilizing perhaps distant and “unconnected” places as sites that artists venture into, bringing new ideas to themselves, and perhaps with good intentions, wanting to leave some new thoughts on the site, playing very conveniently to the mode of operation on predatory – “attention economy” (a term mentioned also Elfvings’s text “Cosmopolitics for Retreats”). The “results” to be cashed in at the cultural validation circuits taking place at global power stations drawing the bulk of moneyed and creative capital interest. Basically: Do we think that residencies are ‘landing places’ for mobile creative class? (Reflecting Miwon Kwon’s statement presented in a question that Irmeli Kokko places to Jean Babtiste Joly in an interview in the publication). To counter-balance this, or to affect change in this situation, a lot of residencies have taken up questioning the modes of practice, within and attached to, the global modes of connectivity and presence enumeration as I would say it, when one has to be visible at a certain site or situation to be counted as valuable (even registered) in the field. As it is important to think how evidently the need for mobility is also a way for testing possibilities to overcome this situation, and provide ways and more sustainable practices (be it in communal settings, ecological questions, longevity of support against precarity or respectful attention to the diversity of not only practitioners but their positions, needs and desires) – it is always crucial to ask not only who but how we enable. This prominent question cuts through many perspectives presented in the publication. And as Elfving and Kokko state that “The critical question that emerges out of many contributions [to the publication] has to do with how residencies can respond to the effects that societal transformations have on the art ecosystem and artistic work. This requires critical awareness and articulation of the aims and means of organizations, which form the base for regular re-evaluation rather than external measures”. (s. 22 Elfving & Kokko, 2019).

Evaluating  the means of mobility has to start with a question that Antti Majava asks: “is all mobility positive or even necessary for the development of the field of art?” (s.213, Majava).  And as new networks have opened and new modes of exchange are possible – is it still necessary  to travel and “can travel still work against the formation of detached bubbles and populistic polarizations that those very same online media and platforms have nurtured?” (s.231, Elfving). These are questions behind any mode of travel, be it slow or not. Does going to ‘actual’ places provide the necessary depth, diversity and sustainability of/to exchange? What are the reasons ‘why’ to travel, before we enter and think of ‘how’? This reflects the question stated in the introduction by Kokko and Elfving considering the role of residency practices. (s.20, Kokko and Elfving).

The simple way to answer why we need cultural connectivity, be it in the form of bridging or realizing differences, is that it is seen as a very integral part of enabling the before mentioned development and change – it is good that we do exchange with each other, take the time and space to participate in “collective research, debate and action” (s. 107, Irmeli Kokko’s interview with Nina Möntman) – it is, as Möntman also states, important to focus on exchange instead of competition. Mobility can promote open-endedness and unexpected encounters. As “mobility brings with it potential contagions ranging from intellectual to bacterial” (s.231, Elfving) and “face-to-face encounters are reminders of our existence and the intersubjective relations encompassing our experience.” (s.146, Francisco Guevara). The possibility to affect and be affected with variety and depth can benefit heterogeneity (be it temporal or spatial). Creation of spaces and situations where “navigation and negotiation of differences is possible” is necessary in order to resist the threat of “homogenization of intellectual, aesthetic and cultural knowledge” (s.19, Elfving and Kokko). Even though it is still valid to ask, as Elfving and Kokko do, whether residencies reinforce cultural homogenization or support cultural diversity, I see that even though there is a possibility for both, only exposing oneself to that question can provide a way to tackle it.

Trans Siberian Window

Trans Siberian Window

For us working in the realm of Russia with the Connecting Points-programme, to balance possible misconceptions, we see that it is still relevant to actually travel ‘on site’. As we see that trust is built much more durable when one can meet in person, and that a site visit can enhance understanding towards each other’s habitats, insights on the particularities and overall offer a more nuanced take and appreciation of differences and similarities. As the contemporary art realm is somewhat limited ‘terrain’ with set practices, having the opportunity to experience “first hand” still provides validity for activating diversity that other methods can’t offer. Experiencing what “there is”, invites also random and unexpected contacts that are not limited only to the personal resources or filtered through an online setting for instance. But at the same time as this role of exchange is thought in terms of widening of actualities, it is good to ask how to validate the efforts of those participating in this exchange. Moving from an intrapersonal setting to reach more entangled and volatile “partnerships” means asking what do we “count in” when thinking of the exchange, development and interaction? Does this exchange (of views, skills, notions, possibilities) come with a cost of deploying others? This very central question raises various notions of what constitutes “us” and “them” in the first place – the rights and responsibilities attached. Especially as it is relevant as a pre-set for the possibility to answer the question of ‘why’ in the first place, to map out, or co-create the part-takers (also the involuntary ones), is important. Before instigating any change, the concepts and notions, embedded in language, practices, and settings need to be attended to. This also brings forth differences in the conceptual framing of the exchange or collaboration. Jenni Nurmenniemi writes in a text in the Contemporary Artist Residencies publication that “the transition of language, decision-making systems, daily habits and art practices has to be a joint process” (s.205, Nurmenniemi). The constant composition of “the operation logic” has to be looked into, and reflected not only in words but in action.

The resonating impulses in using concepts like ‘connectivity’ or ‘exchange’ as reasons for actions bring forward the need to place focus on, not only between whom or what this action happens, but also how these notions of duality are inscribed in it. As Nurmenniemi also points out: “Fossil modernity has been built on binary opposites and mechanism of othering, and there cannot be anything fundamentally different if this logic is not recognized and replaced.” (s.199, Nurmenniemi). (Also recommended for Finnish language skilled people to read Edit-Media’s Op-Ed series dealing with “the art field of the apocalypse” where Nurmenniemi has also written a text. 

I salute the examination, as well as replacements, of the logic as an active task that has been taken up by many art practitioners – with a self-analytic, if not bluntly self-critical mode, extending to the construct of the notion of a “self”. I have noticed that in many instances it is still very commonplace to have this pursuit be encumbered by obstacles of what counts as “actual possibilities in the field”. How operating in the field is constructed with constant comparison – where aiming to change something one inevitably is in the situation of weighting one’s practice against perceived others and the dependent logic within. Within the societal field more alarmingly this is also about who gets to be active in the first place within this precarity infused field. 

And it might be that the limiting capacity of ‘us’ and ‘them’ has partly left us paralyzed (in some ways) when aiming at instigating change, as we always look at the modes of doing with different notions of separation. Even though it is intra-personal, and also a (post-)human question, thinking of cultures in the frame of movement pesters the realm of cultural connectivity as it still clings for instance on the notion (an actual formation) of nation states “with-holding” status. One needs to be very wary when a terrain becomes the testament of an essence. It is a question of not only looking at what we are navigating amidst; but also with what methods and means do we transgress variating borders and/or bring forth crucial entanglements? To present the question of what is the task of an artist, or an art institution, provides insight into how limitations of the scope are activated by the description of the activity itself – limitations that are activated on legal, pragmatic and aspirational levels, as well as on the level of attitudes. And how they affect the possibilities for concrete solutions – that seem to succumb to the perceived “necessity” of the task at hand – be it making or presenting art. With this I mean for instance that as artists, if and when, we are firstly expected to make and present art, it is then left as a “second issue” or a side note of how we are to travel to do so. This is seen in the “hardness” explained of cutting back on the perceived modes that are normative on the field – opting-out of modes of travelling prevalent for instance in the text by Kyle Chayka ‘Can the Art World Kick Its Addiction to Flying?’ (Frieze December 2019 online). The text brings forth questions related to art work practitioners – not only valorizing opportunity for global movement, the enjoyment that it brings – but also – reflecting the viewpoint of Nicholas Bourriaud – mobility providing something almost essential to art world experience as on-going navigation between places. “Despite our awareness of the apocalyptic Anthropocene –  a curatorial buzzword long before it became mainstream – we seem to feel that travel is either a right or a necessity. There are plenty of good reasons. The small, scattered art world is kept united by flights and human relationships built on both planned and chance physical encounters. Museums, galleries, magazines and individual freelancers alike must maintain their networks and knowledge of what is happening elsewhere, not just because of the cosmopolitan ethic, but to stay competitive in the creative marketplace. Still, the deeper reason for our desire to travel might have something to do with the nature of art itself, particularly in the digital era, when the Benjaminian aura seems scarcer than ever.” (Chayka, 2019, accessed April, 2020.) The sentiment here does point to how experience has become the ‘real thing’ in art, and seeing things live being therefore necessitates on “attending” not only attention at a distance.

Baikal Shore

So, even though we would mean to effect change there is something that seems to fight back that is connected not only to our notion of self-worth, and our own abilities and purpose, but also (maybe more effectively) to the notion of the “nature of art itself” as Chayka places it. This reflects on a personal as well as an institutional scale the impossibility to make the changes necessary when thinking of climate change (and for instance as limiting travel). And even though current ‘cost-efficiency calculation’ – where our personal comfort and gain still play major roles – in terms of artists’ exposure or possibility to get the work done in the first place – the calculation pairs up with the issue of what constitutes art or an agenda. In a situation of site-specificity of presentation, or the acknowledged impossibility to make art without some forms of material effects. Perhaps too often though we are left with what is perceived as a necessity: of making ‘the thing happen’ whatever the costs and (side) effects. As a remark of this it is perhaps worthwhile to note that climate scientists have also found it difficult to avoid flying in their practice. [A link to an article in Finnish that describes how in order to be successful climate researcher one needs to be very internationally mobile – read 28.10.2019.)

As Chayka writes: “In regard to climate change, there’s a gap between what art attempts to communicate and its literal consequences. If a work is particularly memetically successful, as Ice Watch was [Olaful Eliasson’s art piece – an ice block that travelled to London], perhaps the cost was worth it. Judging between the frivolous and the adequately persuasive is a gamble. In installations such as these, the problem tends to get aestheticized rather than solved, because it’s easier to ‘respond to’ or ‘engage with’ than to undertake the obvious fix, which is to opt out of the global circuit.”

We are – as artists, curators, institutional operators, funders, and over all art world participators  –very caught up with the questions of self-worth and worthiness of the work, that are based on exposure and presence of our work in the first place. The threat is that this quite corrosively leads to a situation where the actual things we do as artworks don’t matter so much in the end – as it is all about getting to them and getting them to the focus field – testifying, witnessing, being able to present and be present – as the success in itself. The pleasure that is built within this movement based on the sense that one can feel that one is involved in something “worth something” reflected in travelling that has become an end (a reward) in itself. This is what Chayka’s text also brings forward as it embarks on a personal reminiscence of the travels done as an art writer. Perhaps as an anecdotal jest, the actual solutions that Chayka offers at the end of the text to “kick the habit” are often repeated ones: “we could move at a consciously slower speed, with residencies instead of junkets, commissions instead of short-term installations”. Opting for less instead of more, slowness and closeness instead of fast and far-away are clear options compared to the speed and accumulation that we have been living with, but from my perspective, these serving as solutions doesn’t offer the needed insights to tackle the ‘why’ part of travel enough. And I see the reasoning that Chayka offers as the possible trap: “We don’t need to stop travelling, but it’s worth admitting that the trips can be made more worthwhile”. The calculus model (that has proven very useful when counting CO2 emissions) leaves the core of the question of what makes something “worthwhile” still acutely open. 

 So, why are we still following “the rules of the trade”, for instances when we say that we need to fly to actualize some opportunity? Our cultivated perspectives do hang tight on our perceived privileges. And even though Chayka proposes – on the occasion of writing the text last December – something that we are currently very experienced in: “we need to cultivate an appreciation of staying put”, one thing that I keep thinking is: why does this (and will this) cultivation of staying in one place always seem forced? After the current restrictions will be lifted, we will inevitably want to move and it seems that there are and will be several “reasons” for it. And, before the actual cost of it affect us – if the price of a plane ticket stays cheap, the institutions, workplaces and social practices will expect mobility (by fast means or other), and on a general scale if what we perceive as the role of vacation to balance work – needing to be some kind of prestige token cashed at far-way regions compensating the servitude of being at the labour force – doesn’t change we will be finding ourselves with the same urge to fly with still too few good enough reasons why not to. It really is hard to imagine a huge need to change as the weighting in of the actual climate effects continues to trip on the hurdle of how much is needed from the entire energy industry to change, which discourages seeking personal acts.

But as far as the “art world” is in question, questioning the tools that measure ‘success’ based on being able to participate in something that involves travelling, would be a way to look at what we actually are addicted to. “Staying put” as a strategy can unintentionally create a blindness to things not found in the immediate surroundings – a proximity that is already emphasized when things perceived happening “far-away” don’t matter. As even though it is very relevant to look more in depth at what is around you, also to balance the need to be pushed into neo-liberal nomadism because of predatory necessity of exposure “mathematics”, I feel that there is still a lot of “good mobility” to do. (To balance perhaps the notion of ‘Bad Mobility’ presented in the text: Internationalism: Bad Mobility written by Matt Packer consisting of many of the issues mentioned in the book ‘Contemporary Artists Residencies’– that he also mentions). One element of ‘good mobility’ is the measurement of means alongside the meaning of it. 

Tolstoi from Moscow to Helsinki

Actuality of the methods: in practice

How to actualize change and the responsibilities involved in mobility is a question that is shared; between “independent practitioners” and more collective settings, institutions and the funding bodies included. Antti Majava who is involved in the residency of Mustarinda Association, situated in Kainuu area in Finland – a remote and difficultly reached site – in his text ’Residing in Trouble’ in the publication brings forth the “ecological paradox” involved in having a residency place – that focuses heavily on finding alternatives to fossil-based energy – but that to reach to evidently involves travelling. (HIAP and Mustarinda have an ongoing joint project dealing with post-fossil transition). Having the methods of transportation (when especially flying is involved) contribute most of the pollution load of the residency (as the entire practice of the Mustarinda residency house is heavily focused on low-carbon post-fossil sustainability). As some things are very difficult to avoid if one wants to provide inclusivity (the option of not flying doesn’t come cheap, as land based methods take more time and are also more expensive, and coming from a different continent makes all the difference). As smaller scale institutions or individuals aiming at making changes are dependent on other institutions’ support, we need to think of the question of resources in a wide setting. It can’t be placed on the personal choice scale solely. This connects to the discussion of possibilities and opportunities of work directly. As Majava also states: “As it stands, a personal decision to avoid flying may lead to marginalization in the art world”. A question that is at the centre of the mobility practices is about the practical options and possibilities – the threat of possible exclusion involved. To perhaps repeat again that the structure of “the art world” has been promoting the need to flexibly be present at the sites where attention and focus is given (like biennials) and veritably that effects on who gets to do their own work in the first place. And as residencies (for instance) try to balance this, by offering support and possibilities to and beyond career building, it is still hard to avoid giving more benefits to those that are already in a good position. This is visible in the funding structures, that if there is (for instance) national backing for artists’ mobility, institutional frameworks tend to lead to more easily conducted collaborations. One issue that is of course very relevant to this is the inevitable limitedness of the operation budgets, that seems to lead (as a default) to the need to emphasize the use of cheaper – but potentially environmentally more damaging – methods of mobility (like air travel). As Majava places criticism that “[art organizations] have not taken the step from words to action” (s.213, Majava). And states quite accurately something that I personally feel is sometimes neglected or avoided when looking among the multiple different events and exhibitions that deal with the issues of climate change – the issue of what are the actual practices involved? Even with the good intentions of providing awareness and debate on the issues of climate change – as Majava says: “over-theorization may have even blurred understanding about how their [organizations] ecological footprint can be concretely reduced.” (s.213-214, Majava). In the context of the concrete practices, the question of what actually is done (with what kind of ecological or environmental burden) shouldn’t stop at to satisfaction of bringing things to view, the voicing out, it should overcome the perceived ‘result’ of a statement or a survey, cast away the “our hands are tied” self-imposed impossibility, seeing that making really concrete changes isn’t indifferent or irrelevant, even though we want to focus on the content. We use energy produced constantly and the amounts, methods and reasons we use it, are not evident (nor innocent). A responsible (art or other) organization shouldn’t be made to feel pressured to bypass the very practical side of the operation. Nurmenniemi states that residencies might be “potential game changes” partly due to the situation of their undefined structures that allow “art and the everyday, public, and private realms permeate each other” (s.201, Nurmenniemi). With up-keeping of different “registers” we seem to constantly walk into a cul-de-sac where the options of doing differently, in this case more sustainably with less ecological impact perhaps, become restrictions. The divisions seen in action for instance in how budgets are allocated to be used, one trip made “land-based” might exhaust the entire budget for mobility. As funders (like The Finnish Cultural Foundation and Kone Foundation) do allocate deliberate funds to make the choice of ecologically attuned travel possible, I do think that the questions of travel and the means of mobility are something that should be thought of as part of every organizations’ “regular” practice, as they evidently link to how the work in general is arranged. Nurmeniemi also brings into view how more complicated travel itineraries by land and sea also demand more “knowledge, time and effort” (s.202, Nurmenniemi). The need for more focus on the details of the aspects of travel is something institutions and individuals might feel as overbearing. In many instances, it is just reasoned to be “besides the point” to think very concretely of the way one travels or with what kind of concrete ecological impacts one works with.

Without thinking of blame as the first instance to affect change, it is about questioning one’s methods, tools and reasons – be it in institutional or private setting – and navigating on these various levels – being vocal about one’s situation and choices is one way to act in the intermix of expectations (from within, and/or perceived “outside”) – but other (not in any opposition to the previous) is simply to act.

Ferry to Stockholm

Changing tempos   

For me the core of mobility distils to the thought that there is pleasure involved in knowing, getting acquainted to and being exposed to something different than what you find in your (immediate) surroundings.

As mobility brings forth a question of enabling contacts and points of shared visions that transcend set boundaries, travelling is a concrete manifestation of the existence of these borders – when crossing them, or denied access. There is a very tangible inequality we are living amongst. And thus, as we are thinking of possible ways to continue to travel, we need to think of the validity of the endeavour itself.  I don’t look at the question of mobility in terms of the inability to travel, but as a focus on thinking about the methods of travel.

To avoid the so-called ‘rebound’ effects – if the price is cheaper you are inclined to buy/use more – in connection to the consumption of energy and of the carbon emissions “saved” – while opting out of something – we need to think more about the role of what are the tempos of doing things. 

If one wonders, how does it feel to spend 6 consecutive days on the train, it is good to ask also how does it feel to spend 8+ hours a day in an office, in a factory, serving others, or feeling redundant when deemed “unemployed”? Time is “the shifting certain”. The current necessary sheltering-in-place and working from home has (even more lucidly) brought in view the inequalities we are amongst. For societal change, could this offer a position to think: to where, and with what terms, to move from here? How resources could be directed to instigate necessary measures of change related not only to climate change efforts, but the overall inequalities that we are amongst (related to health care, as well as opportunities and safety of work). As a shift, so drastic as this global pandemic is, necessarily evokes wishes for a better future. 

Solutions aren’t done by just opting for one thing instead of another, but through thinking of the entire structure of society from the basis of our impact. One thing that disables us from doing this is this haste of doing (producing) more. Don’t get me wrong, we are in a time crunch, with the climate getting warmer, there are so many different effects that will become even more difficult to change or stop or limit by human endeavour if we just don’t do anything. As individuals and institutional practitioners – artists and others – going on to those websites and reserving those flights, we are part of the system, somewhat dependent on it, and also in the western wealthy societies also culturally enabled by it. We fly because we can. Distinctions, perceptions and actualities about possibilities formulate beings. With my work on the realm of artistic activity and travelling, trying to provide answers to the joint questions of ‘what should be done/what could be done?´ is a constantly present, very concrete framing.

The practice of everyday solutions – artists taking a slower means of transportation – is perhaps a way to actively dream of the future. I sometimes think we are afraid that – when trying to solve the issues involved in travelling for instance – we get caught on a tangled web of multiple impossibilities, where everything one does is placed under the scrutiny of the question: is this sustainable, what uncanny and awful effects does my activity enable, can I get anywhere without hurting something(/someone)?  

To push back the shifting of the responsibility from the individual to the ‘the bigger picture’ is acknowledging that the decisions of how to hinder warming of the climate have to be effected on shared and global level (of institutions and organizations) – but also making note that the decisions are made possible with the motivations of the part-takers. I do think that individual acts are lubrication for thoughts and pleasures. There is this constant stream that we cast our willingness into, enforcing its flow or reducing its passage. Whichever is the preferred analogy according to the situation. I think that the possibility for a change has to start with the consideration of the temporal aspect, as valuing time differently is a key to change. Thinking of the role of labour and work – the material basis and the enumeration tactic imbedded – makes it visible how utilizing the efforts of others (to speed up ours) exhausts each other and the planet. Perceptions of distances do keep divisions alive. The tempos of acts – be they solitary, with solidarity, as well as joint with respect and responsibility – are not empty: they activate embedded possibilities in actual means and methods. 

As it is still quite unclear when and what kind of mobility there will be after the pandemic measures possibly are lifted it is good to keep thinking how and to what global connectivity is an enabler.

1. to repeat again what has been said many times; that in this era of climate change and the acts that contribute to its effects, flying is one of those things where an individual can make personal choices of what not to do – amongst things related to eating, heating and general consumption. To note also heavily that the pressure placed on individuals is quite an unbalanced picture on the situation of the emission responsibilities and loads, as for example stated in the article in The Guardian by Matthew Taylor and Jonathan Watts from 9th of October 2019, that twenty fossil fuel companies can be directly linked to more than one third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/revealed-20-firms-third-carbon-emissions?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other), and also to focus on more national scale in terms of Finland: ‘Tekniikka ja Talous’ article from 2nd of April 2019 by Tuula Laatikainen brings forth 30 biggest sources of CO2 emissions – mostly energy sector companies like Neste, Helen, Fortum or heavy industry – with the part of their emission load being almost half of total amount. (https://www.tekniikkatalous.fi/uutiset/tassa-suomen-30-suurinta-yksittaista-co2-paastolahdetta-laitosten-osuus-hieman-alle-puolet-kaikista-paastoista/ff8016df-3a7b-31cf-8d7b-f89f9da7ceb6).]
Even though the most crucial question is how energy is produced in the first place – and also noting that there are several other things that matter in terms of the environment besides the CO2 emissions – we want to concentrate on the method of travelling that is quite a large factor in individual emission load.
The calculations of the load can be done but they can at best provide only some sort of view of the scale. (There are variants connected in the type of the energy that the train utilizes and also dependent on the model of the aircraft). But the length of the journey is an important factor. And as an example here, connected to the travel route now on focus, I will use a one-way trip from Moscow to Vladivostok – which is by flying 6,423 km trip and by land about 9000 km.
And the one-way one person C02 emissions by plane are approx. 1,700 kg CO2 with radiative impact included, and 600 kg CO2 by train. (Atmosfair.de site gives this one-way by plane an average of 1,796 kg CO2 and with Aeroflot 1,642 kg and UTair 1,964 kg CO2). Train travel is trickier to calculate, and for instance the site: http://www.ecopassenger.org will give good results for trains inside Europe but as far as Russia goes I’ll have to make an estimate that is loose, and knowing that in Russia there are also diesel powered trains in operation. (I calculated it bluntly so that I used as an estimate the amount 5000 km from Rovaniemi to Malaga with its 300 kg carbon emissions by train and doubled it.) And through these I got some kind of rough estimate of the difference between CO2 emissions with this one-way trip from Moscow to Vladivostok. (To note that I am an amateur in these calculations and will place a disclaimer that I used tools that I could easily access online and will gladly take in, and accept, more accurate calculations.)
But with this I conclude that to take that same trip by train (one-way) is 1000 kg less of the emission load. And a two-way trip – which is most likely scenario – is 2000 kg. To make some sort of comparison of what this means, the Atmosfair.de (a German non-profit organization that focuses on CO2 mitigation and emission compensation) mentions in their site that “Climate compatible annual emissions budget” for one person per year is 2,300 kg (in order to fulfil the target of not exceeding the increase of temperature to 2°C) – so it goes to show that with cutting on flying and/or opting to go with a train one can significantly improve staying under that limit. Flying both ways to Vladivostok would be over 3000 kg in itself. (A link about the annual emission budget: https://www.atmosfair.de/en/green_travel/annual_climate_budget/).
But to emphasize again, this is more complex than just the calculations, and it is tricky to map out all the effects that one has in terms of climate (not to mention a variety of other environmental effects) but to be sure, travelling will cause emissions – also by train.


Text by MIINA HUJALA (the curator behind the activity of Alkovi exhibition space and Finnish-Russian exchange programme Connecting Points at HIAP)


[The series continues the exploration of the ‘mobility matters’ with interviews and texts that aim to explore the notions of traveling – related to actual practices as well as thinking of the reasoning involved. Thinking of travelling that has been done in relation to artistic practices seen as exploration – conducted through trips and excursions – can be looked into also in relation to an ongoing a project called ‘In Various Stages of Ruins’ [exhibition present online] where the focus is on thinking what kind of knowledge formation is involved when embarking on artistic research.]