28 Jun 2018




‘Pofo’ is not a project among other projects but a way of doing and operating that should run through the whole institution.

This is a blog text on art organisations HIAP and Mustarinda’s collaborative project on post-fossil transition.  It is written by me, Aleksandra Kiskonen, coordinating the initial steps of the project on HIAP’s side in 2018. The position has given me an opportunity both to observe and be part of the transformation in HIAP. My situatedness is reflected in the nature of the text. I will describe the internal transformation processes in HIAP by listing concrete steps, highlighting frictions and collecting questions. By focusing on Food, Transport and Energy we aim to structure the complexity of the post-fossil discourse in our context as an art institution.

The main question of the project’s kick-off event on 6th of April was what a cultural organisation can do to accelerate the transition to post-fossil culture? Since that we have proceeded here at HIAP with some more or less successful experiments and come across several questions.

When encountering the word post-fossil for the first time many questions are likely to arise: What does it mean? Where does the word come from? Later on come more complex questions: Is it a suitable word to describe the practices or the objectives of the project in general? Does it serve the purpose of the project? Is it accessible language? To whom? Does it alienate or exclude groups or persons? What does it mean to put it to the continuum of other post- prefix periods?

For example, a global campaign called Fossil Free (https://gofossilfree.org/), led by local groups demanding communities and institutions to commit to a fast and just transition to 100% renewable energy makes good use of the simplicity of the expression fossil free. We have also noticed that corporations such as major energy companies have started to utilise the expression. Compared to the word post-fossil fossil, ‘free’ is less burdened and easier to grasp. It speaks out the goal: free from fossil. The prefix post holds a strong reference to fossil. But where are we heading to? Would it be more fruitful to name a future in a way that it does not originate from the word fossil if we are aiming at reshaping it. At the same time post-fossil emphasizes the transition from fossil, an era after it. Fossil becomes past. The focus is on moving on. It demands for a change, challenges to look for alternative solutions and supports experimenting with them. Post-fossil is also less categorical. It allows and absorbs diverse discourses. When it comes to its abbreviation, the nickname of the project, Pofo, we suddenly have something soft in our hands, in need of care and caress.

It is extremely hard to say ”I don’t know”, “Could you tell more?”, “Let’s try” – to be a brave and proud beginner. As an individual or a group it becomes easier, as an institution it is challenging. We are aiming to improve the practices but it requires admitting that we are not familiar with or used to. We may be well-educated in theory but not so much in practical questions. When it comes to post-fossil practices whose words or speech matters? Who is professional, who is not? Is it even possible to draw this kind of line around a shared process? Do different approaches deserve different appreciation e.g. technical, poetic, practical? How to cope with the feeling of not being professional enough to act? Who is entitled to think about post-fossil practices? What is substance, anyway? How to turn our inexperience into an opportunity?

Institution is made of individuals but that is not the whole truth. The post-fossil discourse has to break out of the project bubble to become a practice. It is not a project among other projects but a way of doing and operating that should run through the whole institution. This needs to be taken into account in every single decision, act, gesture and level of the organisation which needs everybody’s commitment which means challenging, questioning, discussing, defending, believing.  How to communicate the project-influenced spirit among the staff, current residents, future residents and beyond that? A scale? A schedule? How to keep the process shared in a polyphonic institution? To create an atmosphere in which all initiatives toward post-fossil practices are welcome and it is not personified or about a single project? How to give or take time to think and organise alongside other tasks?

The Pofo initiative is a learning process, a slow metamorphosis. The first step is to recognise and pay attention to the current situation. The second is to take action and change the way of operating by establishing more sustainable practices if needed. But everything takes time. After discussion may come digesting. It may result to planning which might be followed by processing. Then scheduling. Then organizing. And that hopefully evaluation and self-reflection. Some experiments grow into practices, some fade out.  At the same time it is collective experimenting at its best. The institutional framework creates an opportunity to contaminate the inside and the outside with enthusiasm, to spread the word. The challenge is to stay open and not to create a bubble.

The Pofo initiative is a learning process, a slow metamorphosis.

In addition to the changes planned on the level of actual artists’ residencies, like supporting travel to and from the residencies by land and sea, or reducing the amount of residencies by making them longer from 2019 on, we have also put into action some micro experiments.

Soon after the urban gardening box was granted for us we gathered during a coffee break to admire it in all its weedy and dry beauty. We decided that HIAP Away Day would be the right day to inaugurate our beloved box. A list for plant suggestions was made, shopping list shared (seeds, plants, gloves), recipe for a nettle fertilizer was googled. Salad, basil, rosemary, parsley, spinach and carrots are now in a happy growing process. You can’t miss the garden watering list when going to the fridge. The weekly HIAP Morning Coffee tradition enjoys some green benefits from the box. The HIAP staff is happy to have fresh toppings every now and then. Now the questions are how to keep the enthusiasm alive and share the responsibility, create commitment and involve the residents. On one hand, our about 95x157cm urban gardening box could be criticized of being just a symbolic gesture and something in fashion. On the other hand, for us it represents a great tiny step. Thanks to it we discuss more and more different possibilities outside and inside the box. It keeps things visible, flowing and in mind.

Our HIAP Morning Coffee for residents and staff members is a potential platform to experiment on sustainable choices. The breakfast platter used to consist of fruits, veggies, bread, cookies, of something salty and something sweet. For a couple of weeks we have simplified it to be oat porridge with different toppings: berries, seeds etc. Lots of questions arose: who would make it? Does it cause extra work? Microwave or stove? Which is the most sustainable one? How to make it gluten free and vegan? Oat, buckwheat, spelt, rye, barley, raw? What if nobody likes porridge? Would this change harm the social side of the event?  When should the change take place? At the arrival of the new residents? How about the staff? Other things: The bread comes from Suomenlinna island based bakery Silo. We have also joined the organic food circle Elävä maa but the first order is still waiting to be placed.

The kick-off event of April and its organising raised a bunch of questions too. Do we go all vegan or is vegetarian “enough”? Which companies offer vegan catering? How do they understand vegan? Which wines are vegan friendly? What kind of shopping list is climate friendly? Do we want to stick to bio, local, seasonal, ethical, un-processed, animal rights or all of them? How to keep it affordable?  Is it okay to buy disposable plates and cups? Does the biodegradable cup look too much like “conventional” plastic?

During the spring 2018 HIAP has also initiated a regular series of meetings amongst the staff to discuss ethics and equality as a response to the Helsinki Art Institutions for Equality initiative, a process facilitated by artist Terike Haapoja in collaboration with artist Tellervo Kalleinen and choreographer Sonya Lindfors (http://www.artforequality.fi/). One of the topics addressed was ecology along with diversity, financial conditions, transparency, accessibility and freedom of speech. HIAP has made a commitment to become a more sustainable organisation in terms of the ecological footprint. This is a starting point. Here ecology is one of the topics among others. Many of them are possible to trace back to ecology or at least see through its lense. Ecology has potential to grow into a perspective that cuts through all other spheres.

What have we learnt so far? The most important thing is to do, to start, to experiment but also to ask more questions, to get better informed, to gain knowledge. We are also in search of indicators. How to measure the change? How to challenge the quantified, statistical approach? (look. e.g. The Independent AIR, https://www.independentsustainability.com/)

What’s next? After the summer break we will start regular gatherings (once a month) with HIAP and Mustarinda staff around topical reading and develop further the post-fossil practices and ways of discussing. Following the lead of Mustarinda, and under the guidance of artist and researcher Antti Majava, HIAP also initiates an experiment with thermostats that control room temperature and increase the energy awareness among HIAP’s residency community. HIAP is  located on the historical island of Suomenlinna, UNESCO World Heritage site managed by the governing body of Suomenlinna. This affects HIAP’s possibilities to shape its own energy solutions.

We are working toward organising the first Pofo residencies during the spring-summer 2019, as well as communicating the first steps of the shared learning process to wider audiences through a public summer programme at HIAP Suomenlinna.