eipcp Policies A Critique of Creative Industries
11 2006

Titorelli’s Cage: Confined Spaces at Work

Language editing: Susan Heiskanen

Marko Karo / Marita Muukkonen

Marita Muukkonen


Marko Karo


Something akin to a tradition in academic writing courses says that one can never fail too badly by starting with a reference to Franz Kafka. Let us take the advice then and start with a Kafkaesque scenario. In one of the various narrative threads in The Trial (Der Process) Kafka sketches the relationship between art and society with burlesque strokes. A painter with the adopted professional name of Titorelli is portrayed as a theatrical caricature of a patron-dependent artist, the patron in this case being tantamount to the (court of) law. Our protagonist painter is forced to live most of his life inside a slatted cage with a backdoor opening directly into the chancelleries of the court. Having both his home and his atelier based at the court, Titorelli keeps humbly and gratefully painting virtually nothing but portraits of the judges, exactly like his father and grandfather before him. It is an inheritable position regulated by a myriad of secret rules – rules that Titorelli follows unflinchingly to the extent of being gradually turned into a sort of confidant for the court, a conformist par excellence who has even started to speak like the attorneys.

Kafka’s absurd stories have tended to eventually end up as alarmingly accurate depictions of our surroundings. Indeed, it is hard to withhold the thought that this court portraitist somehow epitomises the instrumental role placed upon artists and art institutions in the 21st century. Much like Titorelli, who is expected to comply with his abstract employer in matters of “shared” interest, art institutions are today being asked to deliver evidence on how their work can support governmental goals, such as national competitiveness, health, employment, diversity, accessibility, etc. Thus, for policy-makers creativity is no longer merely something to keep a suspicious eye on, but rather something to eagerly utilise for economic and socio-political ends. What Titorelli and contemporary art institutions seem to have in common then is the shrunken space for critical-rational political thinking within visual culture: Titorelli has equally little say on his inherited position as art institutions have on the increasing prevalence of evidence-based policies and the entailing endless exercises in performance measurements.

“Whoever speaks of culture, speaks of administration as well, whether this is his intention or not”, as Theodor Adorno famously elaborated the systematic and unavoidable entanglement of culture and administration.[1] The question, for Adorno and for us, is not only to speak of administration, but to, with and against administration: How to speak up against the increasing cultural political instrumentalisation and managerialism as a publicly funded institution? How to counter the accelerating erosion of the arm’s length principle in arts and cultural policy as an institution part of a hegemonic structure (state)? In other words, how to make space for critical discourse within Titorelli’s cage?

A Postcard from Finland

A recent cultural political debate in Finland centered on the notion of a national cultural canon – a theme borrowed directly from the cultural discussions in neighboring Denmark and Sweden. Kaarina Dromberg, MP and a former Minister of Culture (representing the conservative party Kokoomus), sent her greetings on this issue in the following form:

The purpose of the list [of canonical Finnish literature] is to reinforce and strengthen Finnish culture against other cultures, so that we can maintain our own identity. A canon would minimize contradictions, and could be used in schools and in teaching the immigrants of what Finnishness essentially is.[2]

What seems to be her point, then, is that Finnishness is a particular cultural position that is increasingly threatened by the transnational environment. Indeed, such rhetoric relying on both a curious combination of cultural vulnerability and self-sufficiency and a dystopian projection of fear for the foreign imply a transformation of cultural politics into identity politics entangled with increasing defensive nationalism. It is not a question of small talk either, as the Nordic example of the right-wing tendencies in Danish cultural politics demonstrates.[3] Moreover, considering the still prevailing monoculturality of Finland - with only 2 percent of the population being recent immigrants - this kind of rhetoric seems equally disquieting and absurd. Yet, looking at the arts and cultural political developments in Finland during the past decade it becomes clear that cultural political instrumentalization and economization infused with nationalist and protectionist tendencies is a growing concern.

A Parochial History

To revert to a rough simplification, one can divide the history of Finnish cultural policy into three overlapping phases. The first involves the ideology of nation building – from around the late 19th century until as late as the 1960s. By supporting high culture and certain professional artists the state promoted the idea of a coherent, unique and self-sufficient nation. At this stage it was customary to drop names, such as Jean Sibelius and Alvar Aalto, and then resort to long recitations about our mythical relation to nature and its reflections on the national identity dichotomized between winter/summer, darkness/light, sorrow/happiness, and so on.

The second phase can be identified with the social democratic welfare state ideology between the 1960s and 1990s. Throughout the Nordic region the philosophical principle of cultural policy was grounded on the idea of enlightenment and aesthetic education. This period of cultural policy was concerned largely with building state-supported networks of cultural services throughout the country and supporting democratic citizen participation in cultural activities. These aspirations were still founded on a romantic basis: the dream of a national culture of unity and one-sidedness (Swedish: enhetskultur).

Since the mid-1990s cultural policy in Finland (as in other EU-countries) has been increasingly marked by the pervasive presence of the economy, as implied by the recent key areas in cultural policy: culture and creative industry, content production, and most recently, cultural export. In practice this has led to an increasing dominance of economic reasoning over questions of substance. Meaning-intensive production, creative capital, creative economy, value chain, profit expectations, conceptualizing, cross-branding, performance measurement, benchmarking. These are overtly familiar examples of the market-driven mantra of creativity that is increasingly employed by the policy-makers to celebrate the hegemony of the exchange principle – the transformation of cultural politics into cultural economics (accompanied by the reciprocal tendency of culturalizing industry).

In light of this short account one can distinguish three particular strands in Finnish cultural policy: 1) nationalism; 2) dualism (we/they, export/import); and 3) instrumentalism. These are of course universal themes shared by most nations and political spaces at different times, and as such, their prevalence and appearance also fluctuates in the different historical stages of Finnish politics. Yet, it seems that with the ongoing economization of cultural policy coupled with globalization there is a risk of a new and intensified entanglement of these long-standing problematic strands. In Finland, the Government’s strategic program of cultural exportation serves as an illuminating case for current problems in the cultural political landscape of Finland and the EU.

An Absurd Choreography

The recent cultural political choreography in Finland has come with some new forms of institutional maneuvering. First, a new institutional flagship was established within the Ministry of Culture: matters that are considered to relate to cultural exportation are now under a new division of Cultural Exportation which was established in September 2005 to promote business know-how in the cultural and art fields. Rather than being a mere exercise in organizational reuadjustment, the change signifies a profound political redirection from art to cultural economy, a move in which visual art, has been given new neighbors, such as cultural tourism, design, music industry, and game industry. These are neighbors that function on the basis of a very different logic.

Second, a new committee was appointed last year with the task of preparing a cross-sectoral development program for cultural exportation. The committee, comprising representatives from four ministries: Education and Culture, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Industry, and Finance, as well as Finpro, Tekes, and Finnish Tourist Board[4] aims to enhance the development of culture into an export branch comparable to other fields of export as follows: “The aim is to create a support network with a view to finding partners for cultural exportation and improving information about projects; to improve business know-how in the cultural and art field; and to promote the commercialisation of culture for the purposes of tourism. This is expected create jobs in the arts and culture field, boost income from exports, and make Finnish culture better known in the world.”

“The basis for Finnish cultural exports is in order: there is demand for the products of Finnish art and culture internationally, but there are problems in final segments of the value chain: commercialisation, marketing, promotion.”

The committee also functions as an advisory expert body for the ministries as funding decisions on cultural exportation are made outside the arm’s length-principle.[5] The committee started conducting the development program for cultural exportation by requesting the information centers of different sectors of arts to devise their own strategies on cultural exportation for the years 2007-2011 to be used as a basis for the national development program. A further twist to the choreography was later provided with the addition of a consulting agency to give a helping hand to the organizations involved in the strategy planning.

Acknowledging its own involvement in cultural politics, Frame as an information center for visual art sector started its strategy work independently with a view to both politicizing the dialogue with the Government and at the same time rearticulating its own agency as an art institution. Starting from its location in the apparent vicinity of the state – notwithstanding whether we regard art institutions in terms of Antonio Gramsci’s category of civil society (società civile) or Louis Althusser’s category of ideological state apparatus (appareil idéologique d’etat) – Frame aims to function as a public arena committed to a constant redefining of its role and function in communication with other actors, in order to function as a non-unitary and contradictory arena. To this end, several discussions with various actors in the field of visual art - artists, artist organizations, residencies, art universities, researchers and both artist-driven and commercial galleries - have been organized, to collect existing data on the position of artists, etc. In addition seminar entitled A Critique of Creative Industries was organized in order to facilitate conflictual debates and co-operative cooperative forms of working and make discourse and platforms for conflictual situations more accessible.

The discussions have revealed the manifest disillusionment, aggravation and opposition prevailing among the different actors in the visual arts towards the recent undertakings of policy-makers. Thus, the discussions clearly underline the (modern) aporia between culture and economy – the incongruity between the market-based goals of efficiency, productivity and utility and art’s direction towards communality, dialogism, immateriality and transnationality. What all this seems to indicate is a tendency towards a sharpening dichotomy between two discourses on “internationalization” (as it is called by policy-makers), namely the grand metanarrative repeated by policy-makers and the contrasting everyday descriptions given by art practitioners. Two highly different stories about internationalization, or rather, transnational collaboration of art and culture. The contrasting narratives are briefly sketched out below.

Instrumentalism vs. Intrinsic Value

The basis for the Government’s narrative on cultural exportation has so far been the report entitled Staying Power to Finnish Cultural Exports. Its starting point is that art and culture are easily opened for instrumentalized usage for economic and strategic planning – in other words, its devotion to a Floridaesque belief on creativity’s unhindered potential. As a result, artists, artist organizations and other art institutions are entrusted with difficult new responsibilities ranging from enhancing the national economy and competitiveness to facilitating urban regeneration: “The weak points in our cultural exports are leakage points in the value chain, information, marketing, promotion, and lack of coordination in cultural exportation. The structure of the cultural industry is not competitive. What we need is more entrepreneurship and business know-how and the management of immaterial rights. The largest input is needed to raise the Finnish creative economy into an internationally competitive branch, alongside ICT and biotechnology.”[6] Or: “The national economic benefit from the success of Finnish artists can outweigh the educational investments devoted to them, or (if the artist resides elsewhere) the success can bring about public-image related benefits.”[7]

Consequently, we need to ask what would happen to those artists and institutions that fail to meet the targets set by the funding authorities? To those whose “value chain” is leaking or whose business know-how needs improvement? Or to those institutions which stand in critical opposition to performance requirements? What kind of criteria are utilized in measuring the art institutions? In essence, the culture exportation program is a formulation of the culture industry in which the idea of the public is replaced by the idea of the marketplace, implying commodity exchange and consumption as the sole modes of participation and interaction. Accordingly, the policy-makers no longer talk about “subsidy” or “aid”, but of “investments” that entail requests for profits and returns. What is also at issue here is something that has been referred to as “policy attachment”, a strategy that allows a “weak” policy sector, such as the arts and culture, to attract increased attention by attaching itself to other policy concerns that appear more worthy.[8] In itself this is hardly anything new: Policy attachment – for example the idea of arts and culture as a factor of economic growth - became an integral part of cultural policy discourse in the EU and its Member States in the 1990s, as well as in supra-governmental organizations, such as UNESCO. 

What all this means to a publicly funded art institution is an increasingly urgent task of calling the policy-makers’ attention to the centrality of a critical distance between the state and the fields of culture and art – the arm’s length principle and an understanding of the intrinsic value of art. This is needed in order for there to be any breeding ground for constructive political debate and for art institutions actively engaged in the role of a catalyst or a mediator in art and politics.

Export vs. Exchange

Another problematic strand in the Government’s cultural export program is the bipolar manner in which it views cultural internationalization. As the very term cultural exportation indicates, the emphasis is exclusively on a cultural monologue, a one-way street from a periphery to a center. The official aim seems to be set on a one-dimensional transplantation of Finnish culture abroad. Accordingly, the planned system for cultural export seems to reinforce the prevailing system of public funding already in place that almost categorically excludes aspects of cultural dialogue and possibilities for collaborative networks and multilateral, transnational processes, be they located in Finland or elsewhere. For example, the system of international artist residencies is seriously under-funded and currently facing a threat of being closed down – irrespective of long-time appeals for funding. Looking at the manner of resonating strong dichotomies, such as export/import, friend/enemy, home/abroad, us/them, it is tempting to see parallels between the exclusively export-oriented policy definitions and bipolarized policies that sublimate order as an absolute value and associate politics with the politics of security, as elaborated by Slavoj Zizek in the context of 9/11.[9]

Against this setting, the strategy initiated by Frame sets out from a linguistic opposition – by replacing the concept of cultural exportation with that of cultural exchange. During the discussions it became evident that a majority of the actors involved view cultural exchange as a notion that more closely and sensitively approaches the open dialogism in which visual art partakes. As a phrase cultural exchange also yields more easily to the fragmented, inter-local, relational and reciprocal processes within which the signification of contemporary art takes place. Therefore, it brings us a bit closer to understanding art as a process of horizontal communication distinct from the vertical structures of nation-states: the authoritative speech of governmental mediation, the ensuing notions of a fixed national identity, or other forms of delimiting the outside of a “unified” culture.

Increasingly, the question is of open and collaborative networks, spheres that Maurizio Lazzarato calls “cooperation between brains”: “The cooperation between brains differs from collaboration at a Smithian or Marxian factory in that it produces common goods: knowledge, languages, science, art, services, information, etc.”[10] In Lazzarato’s view, the question is of non-governmental forms of “public” collaboration, of patchworks.

Arguably, it is this networked locus of open dialogue that should form the basis of any policy of art or culture that claims to base itself on the practices in the field of visual art. An example of a cultural political gesture that seems to have acknowledged the networked conditions of immaterial production comes from Denmark (at a time of a right-wing government): A export-oriented scheme for Danish art fields, which has been carried out for example through New York -based gallery exhibiting solely Danish artists, has given way to a more exchange-oriented policy conducted through channeling funds to processes of networking and collaboration between artists and art institutions in Denmark and the U.S.[11] Hopefully this is a signal that the time for pompous and state-driven country brandings based on a presumed national unity have finally given way to more fragile, dialogical and collaborative projects in general. Yet, as matters still stand in Finland, the following promises of the report on cultural exportation seem utopian, to say the least: “As an attractive area of creative economy, Finland will draw top doers, whose input will generate creative capital – a positive circle or vortex of creativity.”[12]

Showroom Dummies vs. the Precariat

Given the stubbornly export-related aims of the cultural export program, it is not surprising that the officially celebrated international successes of Finnish visual culture seem to correspond with a certain representational passivity – a mere visibility or presence at biennials and other such spectacles of the art jet set - and tend to focus on the easily reproducible mediums, such as video and photography. In the ever more popular marketing discourse or success-talk of the policy-makers, artworks are equated with commodities, demand with success and success with quality. In this line of thinking, cultural transnationalism is reduced to one-dimensional export strategies in which the value of art is based solely on sales and public exposure at the international capitols of visual art. Similarly, the role of arts and cultural policy is effectively reduced to a post-political tinkering in managing and marketing the affairs of the star artists.

In contrast to the official story of internationalization, the evaluation process started by Frame implicated that for the art practitioners reality is of a highly different nature. First of all, the policy-makers’ success-talk celebrating the international visibility of Finnish art conceals innumerable human factors. Above all, such talk deviates our attention and veils the plethora of artists and artistic practices that do not meet the prevailing standards of success: Artists who do not produce commodifiable objects or who work far from the Biennale–related celebrations of individuality. The spotlight shows neither the amount of work required of successful artists nor the overwhelming majority of educated artists – the precariat par excellence - that is left outside the structures of funding and the possibilities for professional artistic practice. Here it is worthwhile to note that in 2000, for example, almost 40 percent of Finnish visual artists had been unemployed at some stage. It is also regrettable how little light is shed on the conditions under which most publicly funded art institutions and organizations work. For most actors in the art field the mere idea of long-term planning is inconceivable: the everyday is fragmented and to some degree paralyzed by a system based on repetitive short-term projects in which the performance requirements set by the authorities are realized in the constant stream of application procedures. For these reasons, the practices of the field of visual art in Finland are characterized by innovative personal and collective pursuits, voluntary work, and considerable financial risk-taking.

Who is represented and presented in the public schemes of promoting Finnish visual art abroad? What kind of means could be utilized in drawing more attention to the processes of selection in the field of visual art and to restrain the increasing and already visible tendency of its polarization into distinct camps, such as professional / non-professional, international / peripheral, visible / non-visible? How to avoid problematic leanings on ideas of national identity or peripheral particularity in the cultural political strategies of internationalization? How to counter an excessive dependency on the rapidly fluctuating preferences of the international field of contemporary art? These are questions concretized by the increasing transnationalism of contemporary art in front of the participants in the ongoing cultural export discourse or for all actors dealing with cultural exchange within contemporary art.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As Simon Sheikh has noted, art institutions are increasingly caught between a rock and a hard place: Potential critical and oppositional spaces are being closed or controlled through limitation of funds, imposition of managerial models, or through direct policy decrees on focus areas. Ironically, all this is often done in the name of the public, the man/woman of the street and his/her presumed popular taste.[13] Indeed, it seems apparent that art institutions also in Finland are living in increasingly discomforting and reduced circumstances, positioned in between two equally unsatisfactory conditions: the bipolarized political aims of seclusion and security (nationalism) on the one hand and the post-political manoeuvring aiming at export-oriented managerialism on the other. Together these conditions contribute to a shrinking of the space for the political potentiality included in the practices and institutions of contemporary art - institutions that strive towards becoming a field of thinking and whose modes of activity can be described with verbs such as debate, question, explore, criticize, share, listen, renew. The options currently on offer for these institutions are unsatisfactory, because they refuse politicization in the sense that necessitates acknowledging and accepting an inherent antagonism and conflict as the unconditional prerequisite of the political.

Arguably, such depoliticized conditions should be looked upon as a challenge thrown in front of the art institutions to think and act in modes of conduct that would reposition and reinvigorate the potentials of the art space as a place of democracy, as a certain catalyst for conflictual situations. In this process one does not have to re-invent the wheel either, as the ideas are already out there. For example a good starting point would be developing further the Nordic system of direct public funding for artists which has successfully functioned as a guarantor of the artists’ risk-taking ability: an adoption of a corresponding model that would be horizontally more broadly applicable to different actors within the collaborative processes of contemporary art. Relying on this system we wouldn’t have to answer the question: “what good is art for?” It would not be a system of idleness and exclusion, but rather one of diversity and criticism based on initiatives and processes that evolve from bottom up. In this system, there would still be no way out of the cage for Titorelli – but the backdoor to the chancelleries of the court would be nailed shut, and he would be able to rattle the wooden bars.

[1] Adorno, Theodor W. (1979). “Kultur und Verwaltung” Soziologische Schriften I, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/M, 122.

[2] Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, 31.07.2006.

[3] See Sheikh, Simon (2006). Battle Lines Are Being Drawn – The Cultural Politics of Identity in Denmark, Framework, Issue 5 / July ’06, 104-106.

[4] FINPRO is a consulting organization focused on accelerating the internationalization of Finnish companies while managing the risks involved.
The Finnish Tourist Board, MEK, under the Ministry of Trade and Industry, promotes tourism to Finland.
TEKES is the public funding organisation for research and development in Finland.
In addition three special advisors for the Ministers of Culture, Trade and Industry, and Foreign Trade and Development are invited members of the committee with 13 members.

[5] The 2006 state budget contains an appropriation of 614,000 euros for the promotion of cultural export. The major support in 2006 was directed to Opening Night Party for Midem, the international music market providing annually five ways of business and networking marketplace in Cannes.

[6] Koivunen, Hannele (2004). Staying Power to Finnish Cultural Exports. A report from the administrator of the Cultural Export Project of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Trade. Publication series of the Ministry of Education (in Finnish), 3.

[7] Ibid., 70.

[8] See, e.g., Belfiore, Eleonore (2006). “The Social Impacts of the Arts – Myth or Reality?” in Culture Vultures, Is UK Arts Policy Damaging the Arts? Edited by Munira Mirza, Policy Exchange, 20-37.

[9] See, e.g., Zizek, Slavoj (2002). Welcome to the Desert of the Real: Five Essays on September 11 and Related Dates, Verso, London.

[10] Lazzarato, Maurizio (2006). Kapitalismin vallankumoukset, Tutkijaliitto, Helsinki, 112. A Finnish translation of Les Révolutions du Capitalisme (2004). Empêcheurs de Penser en Rond, Paris.

[11] See http://www.kunststyrelsen.dk/2be2774, Report on New Ways of Thinking International Liaisons, and http://www.kunststyrelsen.dk/db/files/kunstraadet_int_opgaver_handlingspl.pdf, Report on How to Implement the Results of the Above; http://www.kunststyrelsen.dk/object.php?obj=2e72774, About DCA Gallery in New York

[12] Koivunen (2004), 3.

[13] Sheikh, Simon (2006). “The Trouble with Institutions, or, Art and Its Publics” in Art and Its Institutions: Current Conflicts, Critique and Collaborations edited by Nina Möntmann, Black Dog Publishing, London, 142-149.