The Unlikely Success of Pixelache Helsinki

pixelache-nyc2Pixelache 2003 NYC (live av performance on the rooftop of Gershwin Hotel. Photo by Antti Ahonen.)

(PART 1 of New Culture vs Old Structures)

Pixelache Festival was my main professional commitment for 10 years, from its inception in 2002 to year 2011. In the process of trying to establish Pixelache I learned a lot about the public funding system and below I will share some insights on how the system works – or rather how it does *not* work.

Hopefully this information will help some people to avoid banging their head against the wall as much as I did. Or hopefully they will at least choose the right wall.

Disclaimer – I’m no longer involved in the Pixelache organisation so all the thought below should be considered as my own personal views, not official statements by Pixelache.

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In year 2006 I was pretty frustrated (‘vittuuntunut’ in Finnish) with the situation of Pixelache Helsinki. It was the fifth year of Pixelache, and 12th year for me to organise events in Helsinki. Pixelache was really successful internationally – we were in the process of establishing chapters in various countries and had been invited to collaborate with many prominent events (ISEA, Doors of Perception, etc).

Unfortunately, we had not been able to get any funding for the work needed to put together the main festival in Helsinki. With great effort we had managed to scrape together money from dozens of different sources to cover some of the necessary basic costs, but there was no chance to pay anything for anyone for the actual production work. In comparison, the very first edition of Mal au Pixel (the French edition of Pixelache) received 7 times more funding than what we had in Helsinki.

In this situation I sent this email to ‘everyone’ – state art organisations, Helsinki City Cultural Office, cultural foundations and key people in Finnish media art scene. The email is in Finnish but the main point is that I made it clear that unless we received more proper financial support, the main festival would need to stop in Helsinki. This email was not just a tactical move, this was the actual reality we faced. During these years I spent most of my time abroad and only occasionally came back to Helsinki for a month or so to focus on Pixelache Helsinki planning/organising work. This had worked fine in the first couple of years but had been not been manageable (or in other words, was far too fragile and stressful) for a while already.


New Culture vs Old Structures office, summer 1999 (photo by Juha Huuskonen)

After a long time of procrastination (a year or two) I’ll finally publish a few blog posts about the mismatch between new emerging culture and the established cultural institutions in Finland.

During the past 15 years (ever since did its first projects in Kiasma in 1998) I’ve been helping various grassroot projects to gain visibility and access to resources such as public funding. This has often been a paradoxical task, since most of the new, independent cultural projects have an uneasy relationship towards money, power and institutions.

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Some prominent examples of new Finnish culture include Ravintolapäivä / Restaurant Day, Siivouspäivä / Cleaning Day, Kallio-liike, Open Knowledge Finland and Avoin ministeriä / Open Ministry. What is peculiar about this new wave of cultural organisations is that many of them don’t necessarily want to be labeled as culture at all. Or if the label ‘culture’ is accepted, the attitude towards institutions (and institutionalization) is more or less averse.

During the past decades, various national cultural institutions were set up. These institutions defend the rights of individual cultural workers and organisations, document & archive the work, engage in developing education & research, lobby for funding and coordinate national & international promotion.

Opposed to this, the current trend is to base the activities around informal social networks which are not hindered by annoying bureaucracy. With this approach one can make amazing things happen with very little resources. The obvious downside is that the resources are indeed very sparse – compromises might have to be made and continuity of the activities is uncertain. For many projects this is not a problem – people are happy to move on and start doing other things when the project runs out of steam. There was recently a good discussion about this on the FB-wall of Timo Santala (in Finnish).

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Projects based on volunteering can run fine as long as their scale remains relatively small. Problems easily arise if a project suddenly become successful. One day you might be in a situation where your activities reach thousands of people, you receive invitations to various important national and international events, you spend a lot of time in interviews & preparing material for the media, you get invited to participate in various expert committees and working groups, etc. And in addition you of course need to keep the actual project going. And no one is willing to pay you anything for all of this, which makes it very difficult to handle the situation. Which in turn is frustrating, since the thing that you have set up with a lot of love, care and effort is gaining momentum and not following along would seem like a big loss.

So, what are the options in this situation? In general there are three different paths one can follow, and in my opinion none of these options is ‘right one’ or ‘better’ than others. And often one needs to use all of these 3 approaches simultaneously.

  1. With careful planning and cool head you can keep your activities to basic minimum, and keep them running on volunteer basis, the same way as before. You might not be able to follow up on many opportunities, but such is life.
  2. You can try to find a way to commercialise the project or some aspects of it. For some projects this can happen naturally, for some this might be difficult – in order to make money, you would change some crucially important aspects of it. The project might become a thriving business, but it would essentially morph into a different project.
  3. You might try to get public cultural funding bodies to recognise the significance of your activities and grant you support so that you can continue to develop your activities.

My work has mostly focused on option 3 and this is because I have an ‘old school’ view on what culture is, or what it should be. I believe that it makes sense for the society to invest some of its resources to support the sustainability and development of culture, in the same way as we invest in research and education. This ‘traditional’ approach to culture has been out of fashion for a while already, but maybe the tide is turning – there are at least some signs of it in the UK (see articles in The Guardian & The Atlantic).

Perhaps one reason for the unpopularity of the public funding system is that it has some fundamental flaws which have made it virtually impossible for new players to get into the funding loop. All the funding for cultural organisations is already earmarked for existing established organisations and the system has been designed to maintain this status quo. This situation should be changed and it could be done by quite simple means. More about this in the following postings!

On the other hand, I think that new culture could learn something from the old established institutions. Or if not, then we should gain a better understanding of this new culture based on volunteering, meritocracy, precarious & fluid organisations, etc.

Ok, that’s enough for an introduction!

The links to the posts will appear here:


New job in January 2014!

hiap group picture-1000Photo: Meeting the HIAP staff in Dec 2013 (almost everyone in the photo)

In January 2014 I will start my job as the director of HIAP, Helsinki International Artist Programme. The announcement >> here.


Sitran Uusi demokratia -ohjelma / Sessio Mikael Jungnerin kanssa

Osallistuin kaksi vuotta sitten Sitran Uusi demokratia -foorumiin. Yksi kiinnostavimmista sessioista oli noin tunnin pituinen keskustelu Mikael Jungerin ja noin kymmenen muun foorumin osallistujan välillä. Kirjoitin sessiosta muistiinpanot, jotka nyt Mikael Jungerin suostumuksella julkaisen.

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(Sitran Uusi demokratia-ohjelma, keskustelutilaisuus marraskuu 2011)

Kysymys – demokratian määritelmä?:

Jungner: “Systeemi, jolla ihmisyhteisön asioista voidaan päättää tavalla, joka on ihmisyhteisön mielestä luotettava ja reilu.”

3 havaintoa:

* 1: Postmodernismi on saapunut nyt

- Esimerkki – jos tänään kaikille tulisi ilmainen sähkö, se ei olisi mullistus huomenna, jonkin ajan päästä vaikutus alkaisi näkyä jonkin verran, vasta 10 vuoden päästä paljon.

- Vrt tiedon vapaa liikkuvuus – tämä iso mullistus on tapahtunut 10 vuoden aikana.

- Räätälöitävyys

* 2: Yksilön mahdollisuuksien voimistuminen

- Aikaisemmin yksilö pystyi olemaan ehkä 10 kertaa tuottavampi kuin muut.
- Nykypäivänä yksilö voi olla tuhansia kertoja tuottavampi kuin muut.

* 3: Maailma on monimutkainen, nopeasti muuttuva

- Ketteryys on parempi tapa hallita kuin valvonta

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3 asiaa liittyen politiikkaan:

* 1

100 vuotta sitten oli fiksua että oli 100 kansanedustajaa joille pyrittiin keräämään tarpeellinen tietämys päätöksien tekemistä varten. Tänä päivänä ihmiset tietävät paremmin kuin kansanedustajat. More

The City State of Origamia

Crafting utopias at a Byzantine castrum on Brioni island, Croatia

At the Summit of Practical Utopias, our group (me, Miranda Veljačić / Platforma 9,81, Emina Visnic / POGON, Nik Gaffney / FoAMŽeljko Blaće and Tim Boykett / Time’s up) developed an an utopia that would answer the question ‘How could citizens collectively make informed decisions regarding urban environment’?

We decided to call this utopia Origamia, referring to the capability of something to be transformed to many different forms. In Origamia, each citizen would at some point have to participate in decision making related to public affairs. This duty could be similar to civil service which exists in some countries, as an alternative to the compulsory military service. The decision making process would be based on some kind of version control system, perhaps similar to Github. Origamia would also give more power to young people (under 18 years old), so it would a kind of ‘pedocracy’.

To create a more precise definition of Origamia, we started to play a game called Nomic. We took these as the basic rules (from Wikipedia article):

“Initially, gameplay occurs in clockwise order, with each player taking a turn. In that turn, they propose a change in rules that all the other players vote on, and then roll a die to determine the number of points they add to their score. If this rule change is passed, it comes into effect at the end of their round.”

In a short amount of time we managed to define the basic rules to establish Origamia: everyone who joins the game as a player becomes a citizen of Origamia, the state maintains a registry of citizens (email addresses), the state controls a small territory (a pétanque court on the island), etc. We also decided to establish a police force, due to an incident in which some non-citizens tried to squeeze themselves by force into a specific slot within the circle of players.

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The concept of Origamia is related to actual projects that the members of the group are working on / involved in, I hope we will manage to create some exchange between these in the future:

URBAN PLANNING TOOLKIT / GLOSSARY: Miranda Veljačić & co are putting together a toolkit about urban planning, aimed for non-experts. This toolkit is based on interviews of people from various different disciplines who in their work are involved in urban planning. Miranda is also teaching urban planning for 3-year old kinds in kindergartens, in her experience they can understand the basic concepts very easily and can generate great ideas.

A CIVIL-PUBLIC CO-MANAGEMENT INSTITUTION: Emina Visnic is the director of POGON – Zagreb Center for Independent Culture and Youth. The legal framework of this institution is pretty unusual – it’s set up civil-public co-management. One partner is the city of Zagreb which provides the key resources for the institution and the other partner is Alliance Operation City, a network of youth and cultural associations. In making decisions, both parties have to come to an agreement. >> More details about the POGON management model.

ACTIVISTS AND URBAN PLANNERS SWITCH PLACES: Nik proposed an idea of a residency exchange in which urban planners and activists switch places for some months. This could be based on the format of the FoAM AEGIS residency programme.

A NETWORK OF GRASSROOT NETWORKS: Prototype Helsinki aims to bring together various groups, collectives and networks which realise projects in public space. The goal is to strenghten the collaboration between the groups and to make the communication between the groups and the City of Helsinki (and other similar institutions) smoother.

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Practical Utopias was a fantastic event, 11 points to the organisers for great hospitality!

Peace missions of Tito (Tito Museum, Brioni)

Stuffed monkeys (Tito Museum, Brioni)

Phone booth at Hotel Neptuna, Brioni

Energy Hackathon 2013 – the results

(also posted on OKF Finland blog)

8 great concepts/prototypes were created last week at Energy Hackathon 2013!

The focus of the hackathon was on domestic electricity consumption data. One reason why this data is particularly interesting is that Finland is one of the first countries in Europe where smart meters have been installed in nearly all households. The legal framework that gives people the access to their own data will be valid from the beginning of 2014.

The hackathon had approximately 60 participants and 3 special guests from abroad: Denise Recheis (Thesaurus and Knowledge manager at Reeep), Chris Davis (Postdoc in TU Delft) and Julia Kloiber (Project Lead at Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland).

Helsingin Energia and Elenia provided several data sets and the developers of the Open Energy Data API gave access to their test data.

Image: SmartRegions European Landscape Study 2012


After a full day of hacking, 8 concepts/prototypes were presented. The jury evaluated the proposals based on four criteria (concept, implementation, use of data, presentation) and nominated the following three proposals:

Smart saver – Electricity contract for the bold penny-pincher (winner)

Team: Janne Eskelinen, Jouni Juntunen, Janne Käpylehto, Heikki Raunio

Smart saver is a real-time billing optimizer for consumers that are interested to lower their electricity bill. The concept is based on the current market anomaly where consumers typically choose fixed electricity price contracts instead of market based Nordpool spot pricing.

The concept was backed up by hourly consumption data from year 2012 provided by Helsingin Energia. The data set of 37 electricity meters in Paloheinä were used to calculate differences between fixed and Nordpool spot. The team presented example resuls of two different type of properties: industrial building and private detouched family house with direct electrical heating. In annual level the market pricing benefited 5351 € and 736 € respectively in electricty consumption alone (without distribution or tax which will further increase the difference).

Furthermore load shifting scenario were 20% of consumption was shifted to less expensive hour was tested. This provided additional 6% cost saving in residential example house with 28 MWh annual consumption.

The team concluded with two potential service concepts: load-control features (for water heating and water heating circulation system) and SMS service informing about high-cost hours.

» Presentation slides


Ice Rainbow Castle in Liisanpuisto

Ice Rainbow Castle in Liisanpuisto

A little winter hobby project -

Inspired by the example by a family in Edmonton we decided to build a ‘rainbow igloo’. We made a Facebook event 10 days prior to the event and several families decided to join in the effort. Each family brought 10-20 bricks (water mixed with food/water colour frozen inside juice/milk cartons) and amazingly the construction process took only a couple of hours!

We did not make a roof (to keep the construction safe) and we extended the form to a spiral, so that more people could fit in. At many times there were only small kids building the thing, parents did not have a chance to interfere ;)

‘Snowcrete’ (a mix of snow and water) turned out to be great building material, easy to handle and strong when it freezes. The temperature was around -7 celcius which was probably quite perfect. The final result has approx 300 bricks, looks great with candle light inside in the evening and not bad in sunshine either…

Here are some photos -




Oi Suuri Viisas Taideneuvosto, näytä Suomen taiteen suunta!

(Kuva: Wikimedia Commons)

“Taloudellinen tuki, joka näin pienessä maassa on aivan välttämätön kaikille ns. luoville kyvyille, tulee kirjailijain ja taiteilijain osaksi vasta sitten, kun asianomaiset valtion elimet ovat päässeet täyteen varmuuteen siitä, ettei asianomainen enää luo mitään.” – Pidot Tornissa, 1937

Millainen tulee olemaan ensi vuoden alussa toimintansa käynnistävä Taiteen edistämiskeskus?

Toiveena on, että se olisi dynaamisempi, paremmin taidekentän muutoksiin reagoiva organisaatio kuin edeltäjänsä Taiteen keskustoimikunta. Valitettavasti tämä on vain toiveajattelua, sillä lakiesitys varmistaa ainoastaan sen, että nykyinen asiantuntijajärjestelmä romutetaan (ainakin osittain).

Olennaisin uudistuksessa tapahtuva asia on olemassaolevan eri taiteenalojen toimikuntien pakan sekoittaminen. Tämä uudistus vähentää asiantuntijoiden määrää päätöksenteossa ja tulee todennäköisesti ainakin lähiaikoina lisäämään sekavuutta ja satunnaisuutta päätöksentekoon. Lyhyellä aikavälillä tämä voi olla positiivinen asia – jotkut uudet tahot tulevat todennäköisesti saamaan toiminnalleen tukea. Pitkällä aikavälillä satunnaisuuteen luottaminen ei ole kuitenkaan paras tapa kehittää suomen taidekenttää.

Taiteen edistämiskeskus tulee asiantuntemuksen suhteen olemaan vähemmän riippuvainen eri taiteenalojen järjestöistä. Taiteen edistämiskeskus pyrkii myös tuomaan eri taiteenalojen toimijoita enemmän dialogiin keskenään. Nämä molemmat ovat hyviä tavoitteita, mutta niiden tukemiseksi tarvitaan uusia toimintamalleja. Näitä uusia toimintamalleja ei ole kirjattu lakiesitykseen, vaan niiden luominen on sekä uuden organisaation että taidekentän toimijoiden vastuulla.

Tässä muutama sana uudistukseen liittyvistä myyteistä, yksi varoittava esimerkki (Pohjoismainen kulttuurirahoitus) ja lopuksi joitakin rakentavia ehdotuksia.


The day when I maybe inadvertently helped the science community to discover the Higgs boson

(Photo by

The moment when physicists are rejoicing the first glimpse of a Higgs boson is probably an appropriate time to share an anecdote from my days in CERN. I worked there as a trainee in 1997, when they had started to build the ATLAS detector (I wrote some pieces of realtime 3D software for the ATLAS project document management system).

Before I arrived in CERN, there had been a big crisis. The particles had stopped appearing in the detectors. After a few days the cause for this was found: a Carlsberg can that had been placed (or forgotten?) inside the detector tunnel. Every time the accelerator has to be closed for maintenance, the amount of people in the CERN cafeterias triples. Most of the people don’t look very tanned.

My workplace was the brand new ATLAS building that had a cylinder shape and the corridors inside were circular. The walls were gray, there were no posters on the wall or any other visible details that would help one to figure out one’s location. Walking around the corridors felt like being inside a never ending loop.

After the Swiss National Day celebrations, I placed a colourful, ball-shaped paper lamp to hang above my desk. A week later people were using the ball as location marker – ‘is your office left or right from the ball?’.

My plan was that on my last day in CERN, I would make a small prank and change the location of the ball. On that day I was just too busy and did not manage to do this, and this tiny failure kept bothering me for years. But today I can finally let go of this! Since maybe, if I would have done my prank, maybe some renowned physicist would not have found his/her office that day and maybe, just maybe, a piece of important research would have failed, and maybe, just maybe, we would not be celebrating the discovery of Higgs boson today!