IKT, the International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art, held its annual congress in Helsinki and Tallinn from 23-26 April 2009.
IKT members from all over the world congregated in Helsinki and Tallinn for four days of intense activity. The congress participants visited Kiasma, the Ateneum, EMMA, Helsinki City Art Museum, Forum Box, the Cable Factory, FRAME, KUMU, and many more venues that were part of an optional gallery crawl on the first evening. The initial period of the Congress was spent in the beautiful Finnish capital, and was punctuated by a conference on the subject of "belonging and un-belonging". The Congress also travelled to Tallinn, taking in the Ars Fennica Award exhibition at KUMU, enjoying a lunch and continuation of the conference with presentations and a screening of "Monolith" by Kristina Norman (who represented Estonia at the Venice Biennale this year). After wrapping up with the annual General Assembly back in Helsinki at Kiasma, optional post-Congress activities began, composed of studio tours themed around media art, photography, and painting.
The conference programme featured papers from T.J. Demos, Kati Kivinen, Solvita Krese, Suzana Milevska, and Kristina Norman. The theme of "belonging and un-belonging" took many twists and turns: political, aesthetic, comical, academic. Perhaps the strongest response was generated in reaction to Kristina Norman's video, "Monolith", which depicted the relocation, by the Estonian government, of the statue of the Bronze Soldier from a very central location in Tallinn to a military cemetery a few kilometers away (which IKT members visited during our time in Tallinn!). The statue, which is a political firebrand, and its relocation caused passionate reactions in both the Estonian community and the local Russian community. Norman's work portrayed the situation with some humour (one sequence depicted the statue hurtling through outer space) and with distance: both the Estonians and the Russians were portrayed "equally badly" (paraphrasing here) in the quasi-documentary. This tension over this statue and what it represents meshed well with Solvita Krese's discussion of public art and monuments, highlighting the power of symbols in the public realm and their placement. The question then, of these symbols and their placement, and the work of artists and curators to create and situate these symbols, creates more questions in one's mind than answers, but proved to be an excellent frame for discussions around a subject as expansive as "belonging and un-belonging".
Aside from seeing a lot of interesting artwork, taking part in debates, and meeting new colleagues, there were several special moments. A very interesting whistlestop tour through several artists' studios at the Cable Factory culminated in a lovely dinner, lots of prosecco, and performances. I love Helsinki as a city, and savoured many personal moments, such as picking up a pastry at the Hakaniemi Market, trying to follow along with Finnish karaoke taking place at a local bar, and enjoying a dish of vorschmack at Cella with new and old friends. Of course it wouldn't be a logistically challenging trip involving hundreds of people without a surreal moment or two when difficulties arise. For example, a bit of confusion as some members were attempting to purchase tickets for the ferry to Tallinn was devolving into complete chaos until IKT Board Member Maria Lind magically appeared, gently commandeered the situation, and whisked us off to an quieter ferry terminal where departing ferries were miraculously quicker and cheaper. We had some lemons, and Maria made us some lemonade!
At the General Assembly, the board presented the financial situation of the past year and some discussions were had around future Congress locations, as well as requirements for members and the evolution of the IKT website. The IKT archive project is still ongoing (notably, a PhD student who is doing her dissertation on the history of IKT has been able to assist in this effort) and the board will continue to develop the archive into a real resource for the members and other researchers.
All in all, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet and interact with curators from around the globe, and the IKT membership looks forward to Athens next year, and Luxembourg and Metz the following year.
You can view my photos from the Congress here.
I attended this Congress because of the generous assistance of the Canada Council for the Arts.