pühapäev, august 16, 2009

Nordic Octopus

In the beginning of June 2009 Carl-Dag Lige and Maarin Mürk met in Helsinki with Irmeli Hautamäki to talk about local initiative called MUSTEKALA (Octupus), which she runs. This Internet-magazine publishes articles about art and culture and tries to cover subjects which go under the radar for "official" media.
For Artishok this kind of contacts are extremely interesting - to find "our kind" of initiatives, see how they operate and to introduce them also to Estonian readers. Most of texts in Mustekala are written in Finnish, but at least for North-Estonian readers this shouldn't be the problem to understand, thanks to growing up with Finnish TV...

So, Mustekala should be found in here:
www. mustekala.info

PS It is important to mention that Carl-Dag cooperates actively with both - Artishok and Mustekala - and he was also the one who organized this interview, so many thanks! Also, soon Finnish readers can find his article about Artishok in Mustekala!

And now lets proceed to the interview:

How do you define Mustekala (in English Octopus)?
It is an independent, non-commercial magazine for professionals of art. The intention was to create a platform to discuss, because there were not enough possibilities in the art world in Finland for that. Everybody wants the discussion, and this was the main idea.
When was it established?
2003, so it’s a long time for a cultural magazine – it’s a small miracle that it has survived for so long time.
And it was founded by you or was there bigger group behind it?
It was my idea, but I discussed it with people. In the beginning there were only couple of people involved, so I had to beg people to write to Mustekala, so I would have at least few articles and I could call it a magazine. I didn't have any money and I couldn't pay anybody in the beginning, so it was just an opportunity for people to write and publish. I have offered the writers my work as an editor of their texts. If you write for Internet, the text must be more fluent and readable, different than in the printed media. And people have been happy about my editing.
Is it a hard task, to edit?
No, I do it very quickly as I read the text.
How do you find contributors and has this system changed also over the years?
I have a big network and I know very many people. I have working as a journalist and been active in art world and also in academic world for long time. Not only in Helsinki but also in other cities, too.
So, it’s mainly your personal contacts? Do you have to look for articles and ask people to write you?
Nowadays I don't have to ask anymore, people are just willing to join in and they offer their articles. I give the opportunity to do a special issue on whatever theme to some of my students and some members of editorial board. More and more people are willing to join us; and it’s nice that I don't have to beg for articles anymore. Mustekala has become a real Octopus, this is what the word means in English.
How long did it take to get there that people come to you?
It took me 2-3 years to get how it is now.
I have been using my students when I teach at the University: I give them the opportunity to write. And then I publish the best essays, and it has been motivating for the class and they are enthusiastic. And they know there will be people who will read this magazine, so they have to do their criticism good.
When did you establish NGO or in what form Mustekala officially is?
Maybe 2005. It was my friend Susanna Pettersson, she’s an art historian, and it was her idea that we should establish this cultural society so that we could apply and deal with money. You have to be registered and now we are. It took place 2 years after the founding of the magazine.
But it also means you have to have a board and you have to do all this paperwork. Has it done your life more complicated too?
I'm very grateful to Susanna, because she is so capable in these things and she has been helping a lot. Maybe I would have never had energy to do that alone. But also, when it comes to routine, it’s easy. You always do the same things and it’s complicated only in the first time. We pay taxes, too. Otherwise it would be also impossible to pay for the contributors.
If you get more established, founded the NGO and started to pay contributors – was it a huge change in Mustekala?
No, not at all. We get our money from Ministry of Education, so it’s all public money. The money we get is considerably small. But the financial aid we got was a sign that we are really recognized, and the authorities in the Ministry of education are taking us seriously. All the cultural magazines get financial support from the government. And our work is worldwide rewarding. But anyway, the money we get it is too small.
Do you change you board on regular bases?
People can join in when they want and there have been many volunteers. So it’s not anymore based on friendship and personal relations. But it’s a very loose organization. The contributors want to write about some field and to focus on something they think is important, so that public would pay attention on this subject. So people often write to promote some things. And of course, we have this common interest – we are working for the alternative art world.
We have only 2 – 3 meetings per year. When I lived in Helsinki I just invited everybody to my home and offered some wine and food or we could cook together and talk; we just had a good and relaxed time together. It was like a little party. I don't want to make a big number of myself, and I don't want that anyone makes a number out of him or herself, either. And if people some times don't have time to write, it’s okay. It is one of the secrets of the long lasting organization that it is very loose. But if you are member of editorial board it means, that I will sometimes give you a task to write, or to edit some article.
About the content – do you have some kind of criteria by which you choose articles or subjects on what you concentrate?
Art criticism is our main focus. We had an ideal that Mustekala is an alternative forum for this. There is lot of artists around Helsinki and there is not enough criticism. Art research is another field – there is not enough discussion about the art research, either. So we are trying to find the fields that are not so much considered – like theory of film, theory of new media etc. And Mustekala has published thematic special issues after every two months, so far 5 – 6 issues per year. Each time there is a different editor in chief that chooses the subject. In the spring 2009 students wanted to make an issue about the aesthetics of pornography and I agreed. I have been writing about architecture, film, literature etc. We are not concentrated only on visual arts, we move from one branch of art to another. One issue was about experimental theatre. Newspapers don't pay any enough attention to this kind of theatre, but this field is very active in Helsinki at this moment, so our support to them was very much needed.
I have been the editor in chief also when I lived in the USA during 2006 and 2007, so the rest of the editors continued to do it here in Finland while I was in California. This is possible because I trust people and I let them do what they want. I think it is inspiring for them when I just encourage them.
How big is circle of people who contribute to Mustekala regularly?
In editorial board there are 11 people at this moment. I don't know the actual number of contributors, but there must be hundreds of them. We usually plan issues together, like how many and what’s the subject and then someone takes the lead.
But how about the readers? Do you know if they are mostly from professional circles or are there also common people?
I haven't done any research about readers, but there are many, many, many readers. Mustekala.info is well known and I’d like to keep it in this way. It’s trustworthy and signs out of good quality, too. For instance an ex-leader of Kiasma has thanked us, then it’s really something. We have of course been thinking about opening it up to wider public to give them more opportunities to discuss and make comments but then it needs more people working with it on daily basis. If there would be possibility to chat in Mustekala then there should be someone to edit the text. I had idea that only those who are serious professionals or are studying to be a professional – Mustekala is for those people. In some Finnish art schools they use Mustekala materials during the courses. There are articles that are published only in Mustekala. And there are some special issues like one about surrealism – I'm very proud of it, because the texts have been published only here, nowhere else.
Most texts in Mustekala are originals?
They are all written for Mustekala. If our permission is asked, then sometimes a text gets published elsewhere too. But there is the issue of the copyrights. I think that the writers are owners of their texts, not Mustekala, so if they want to sell it outside, it’s OK, if they just mention that the original has been written for Mustekala. Because we do the editing, we layout the text and add the images there, so there’s a lot of work in the publishing. We don't always have the possibility to pay as much as other papers, so it’s OK, if they want to sell it further as many times as they want. And it also means wider audience.
We have special graphic designer who has made the site for Mustekala and it has been changed for a couple of times. We are going to develop it in this autumn, when we are going to change the language. So in the next future Mustekala will be available both in English (Octopus-magazine) and in Finnish.
Does Finland have other similar initiatives? Could you describe the scene here more widely?
Besides Mustekala... now they have established one Internet magazine in dance. Liikekieli. In the field of literature there is this Kiiltomato, but its not independent, the publishers are supporting it and running it. Then there are also some private bloggers.
But why is this number so small?
We have been there very early, maybe there will more webmagazines in future.
But does this mean that people in Finland have more opportunities to write to official media?
No, they don't have, the newspapers have lately diminished their critic departments and this section isn't very important in newspapers at all.
An important thing about Mustekala has also been that we are educating students to write. Most members of editorial board are teaching at the university and make their students to write. Maybe the tradition to discuss theoretical topics is much stronger in Estonia than in Finland? Finland has been focusing on her national art tradition and the theory of modern art and many contemporary and modern themes have been not so important. So if you ask, why there haven't been other similar magazines like Mustekala in Finland, one reason could be that people are not prepared to talk about these things, there is no tradition to discuss. Here in Finland we have are used to critical authorities that have been evaluated highly. It is usual that people expect that an authority comes and says (usually his) or her opinion and that’s it.
Does Mustekala have seeds in somewhere else, or do you organize something outside magazine too?
Next autumn there will be seminar about art criticism held in Kiasma, and there will be also some speakers who are not involved in Mustekala. And this is the first seminar; we haven't had any public performances before, mostly because I have been travelling so much. But, it would be a good idea to establish a kind of Mustekala thinktank, I have been considering this.
So it is so that the cultural life in Finland has developed ahead and the interpretative platforms have to catch up now?
Yes, this is how it is. There is terribly much happening and not enough discussion and reviewing.
How much do you cover art life outside Helsinki?
Now, when I have moved outside Helsinki, I could do something from Jyväskylä. And we have one correspondent in Pori, she has written about performance art there. And there have been articles about Tampere exhibitions. So yes, we are getting some input from other cities too.
What’s the future of Mustekala? Would you like to be more active as seminar organizers or going to paper version or..?
I have had this idea of a printed magazine, maybe one paper magazine per year. But there`s also opinions that because its all online, what’s the point of making it on paper again. But I have this idea to make it in English, so you could choose the language. It would be important to inform people and also what’s going on in other countries.
So Mustekala has articles also about what is happening abroad?
People have been doing this, and I have been doing it when I lived in the USA. It would be really interesting to change the language and get to contact with our foreign friends and make some international cooperation. Discuss topics that are interesting for all in the specific field. The nationalistic approach is too narrow in these days. There are over 1000 articles that have been published in Mustekala and about 100 are in English also already. Some authors already write to Mustekala in English.
How big part is Mustekala in your own activities in general? What else keeps you busy?
Actually I don't write anymore so much, I'm really on the background and push people in their doing. I am a researcher, and presently I am writing a book about the early European avant-garde art. It will be in English.

1 kommentaar:

jk ütles ...

väga-väga põnev intekas! loodetavasti saite uusi ideid ja inspiratsioonigi.

muide carl vist millalgi mainis ka, et ka teil on plaan muutuda pisut rahvusvahelisemalt tarbitavaks - vägakuradihea! (kui endiselt siuke plaan on.)

täna just oleks olnud hea võimalus artishoki tutvustada krakowi ülikooli professorile (tahab end pisut siinse scenega kurssi viia, seda väga üllal eesmärgil muide), kuid polnud nagu eriti mõtet, kuivõrd siin ju praktiliselt kõik vaid eestikeelne... (: