“For us, feminism means hope” – Feminist curatorial duo Nynnyt are changing the art field for the better

Curators Hanna Ohtonen and Selina Väliheikki form a feminist curatorial duo calling itself nynnyt (Finnish for “pussies”/“wussies”). To date the duo have organised various events and workshops dealing with feminist issues within the art field.

Their manifesto, or “nynifesto”, as they call it, can be found on their website, stating:

“For us, feminism means hope:

It means action against patriarchy,

a shared resistance against norms

and solidarity towards all the oppressed and ignored.”

Nynnyt are here to break down patriarchal barriers. To get to know their motivations, we conducted an email interview to find out more about what nynnyt is all about – how did they start a feminist curatorial duo and what were their expectations as hosts of the In Waves residency held in November at the Hanasaari Cultural Centre in Espoo?

 

After studying curating together, how did you come up with the idea of starting a feminist curatorial duo and why do you feel that there is a need for feminist curating?

“As you said, we met and became friends in 2012 while studying curating at Aalto University.  We already started working together during our studies but it was in 2014 that we started calling ourselves nynnyt and declared ourselves feminist curators.

We named our practice ‘feminist’ because we felt a need to define our position within the sphere of curatorial work and the art field in general. And, by calling ourselves feminist curators we also call out for a job to be done – for an art world that is more equal, more diverse, norm-critical and fair as a space of work.

For us feminism means hope. It’s resistance against norms and solidarity towards those who are oppressed and marginalised in our society and life in general. Feminism is about learning to understand our position in relation to others, about acknowledging our privileges as well as the structures that push us back, close us out, or question us because of our bodies and identities.

There is definitely a need for feminism in the arts, which is completely unequal in terms of favouring certain bodies and experiences over others. It’s a field based on competition and on exploiting artists and cultural workers, and a space where white men lead and envision while others do the behind-the-scenes work. Even though people often don’t realise it, it’s one of the most patriarchal working environments in existence. Curating is a position that holds a lot of power, which is why we feel that working as curators through feminist politics is needed urgently.”

You say that your curating is based upon notions of friendship, warmth, criticality and humour. What does it mean in practice and how is it related to feminist curating?

“We like to joke that we are really heavy company, as we mostly talk about power relations, equality and fairness. We work through questions, meaning that we are always critical towards our collaborators, but also ourselves. We let no one off the hook easily. In order to do this, we need humour and warmth, not only in our spare time but also at work. We need each other, as it’s hard working with an ethics-first approach of criticality. When one of us finds it overwhelming, the other takes the lead and offers support.

We try to extend the space our friendship creates also to others we work with, and aim to create safer spaces. We think that curatorial processes, be they exhibition making or something else, should always happen with equality and friendliness in mind. We truly believe the art world and the world in general needs warmth and solidarity, alongside criticism.

Great thinkers we admire, such as Irit Rogoff and Gayatri Spivak have taught us that you can only be critical towards something you are inside of – something you love. We feel that criticality requires warmth and care, because, ultimately, what we are working towards is changing our field of work, which is a thing we love and live in. It seems impossible to do that without warmth.”

During the In Waves residency you want to study the essence of waves in relation to feminism and curating. What do you mean by this and what kind of topics do you think are the most important to discuss?

“The questions we started with were: In the face of waves that precede us, how can we act and practice with consistency and renewal? How can we embrace the vague and endure the uncertain? How can we build shared shelters on ground that is constantly shaken? How can we practice as we preach – how can we build and not only represent? If change is a wave whetting a stone, how can we ride that wave?

In a nutshell, we have been thinking about waves in the feminist movement and how we can learn from them, how they can be made anew and changed into something more united. We’ve been thinking about the nature of a wave, how it goes forth but also falls back, and how one can work with politics of change in this kind of a motion. Relating specifically to curating, we find it really interesting to think about building spaces that both withstand the uncertainty of waves but also accommodate movement and learning. The last questions relate to the idea of slow change – of whetting something that seems unchangeable and, through persistence, being able to change it anyway.”

What kind of expectations do you have for the upcoming residency?

“We expect to take time and learn together with our amazing residency participants and workshop hosts. We are looking forward to conversations and silences. We are hoping to get to know the people participating; to learn about their dreams and their realities, ways of working and thinking, and also, we would like to find paths for collaboration, for future coalitions and connections. We hope that everybody will bring something to the residency and also, take something with them when it ends.

We see the residency as well as the opening event as a chance to build and support a very urgently needed, very important network that unites feminists around the world working within the arts and changing the field for the better.

We are also very much looking forward to experiencing Water Fall 7, a performance by Anne Naukkarinen and Maarit Mustonen, that will, for sure, set an inspiring tone for the rest of the week.”

 

In waves – Residency of feminist curating
Hanasaari Cultural Centre
26 October 2018

Residency participants

artist collective Read-in
feminist curator Helena Reckitt
poet-activist Timimie Märak
+ nynnyt

Iliane Kiefer, curator
Konstmusiksystrar: Rosanna Gunnarsson, composer & sound artist
Konstmusiksystrar: Anna Jakobsson, artist-researcher, stage-director & producer
Annabell Lee Chin, artist
Sonya Lindfors, choreographer & ad UrbanApa
Jemina Lindholm, artist & art educator
Carlota Mir, curator
Elham Rahmati, artist & curator
Johanna Tuukkanen, ad ANTI festival
Natalie Wearden, trans live artist & facilitator

The event was hosted in collaboration with nynnyt, Hanaholmen, CRIS / The Nordic Art Association, Pro Artibus and Frame Contemporary Art Finland.

 

Nynnyt

Hanna Ohtonen

Helsinki-based curator and writer Hanna Ohtonen takes an active interest in queer gendered identities and autobiographical feminism, occasionally also writing about them. They graduated from Aalto University in Helsinki with an MA in Curating, Managing and Mediating Art (2015); and from Central Saint Martins in London with an MA in Fine Art (2006).

Selina Väliheikki

Väliheikki is a curator who is interested in small things and motivated by doing things together. She works with and through questions and practices the art of listening. Currently she is researching cohabitation among fellow beings and the possibilities of encounter and sharing of space in relation to learning. Väliheikki graduated from Aalto University with an MA in Curating, Managing and Mediating Art (2015); and from the University of Lapland majoring in Textile Design, with a minor in Art History (2014).

 

Interview & photo by Laura Rajalin. Perfromance by Anne Naukkarinen and Maarit Mustonen.