A forthcoming exhibition in Helsinki will offer visitors an education grounded in disobedience and protest, equipping them with tools and ideas to challenge society’s injustices and fight for change. The School of Disobedience, which opens on September 4 at Finland’s contemporary art museum, Kiasma, is part art show, part educational institution: visitors to the museum are treated as students, receiving lessons from the more than 100 works on view or through a series of workshops with curricula that encourage civil disobedience through different media. Conceived by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen, whose own work is very critical of capitalist systems, the school intends to instill in the public — particularly young people — an urgent desire for social justice.
“For a long time I have been worried that kids around the world will take their obedient place in society and look to become successful cogs in the wheel — let the wheel spin them around as it wants without taking a look at what they’re doing,” Leinonen told Hyperallergic by email. “I’m concerned that kids become passive acceptors of the official doctrine that’s handed down to them from the politicians, the media, textbooks, teachers, and preachers.”
All the world’s problems stem from obedience, he continued, citing war, genocide, and slavery as products of such silent compliance. The school’s workshops, for which anyone may sign up — though some are apparently already reaching capacity — invite seasoned local activists to teach people how to effectively disrupt any problematic, dominant discourse. The roster of mentors includes chairwoman of the Left Youth of Finland Li Andersson, who will lecture on social movement formation; journalists Riku Rantala and Tuomas Milonoff, who will teach media criticism; political hip-hop artist Paleface discussing music as a tool for revolution; and street artist Sampsa on using social media to critique big-name corporations. All the classes will focus on social media as a key tool for mobilizing resources — which, if they didn’t, in today’s age, would be a pretty glaring oversight.
“Instead of throwing real bricks at corporate windows, we are teaching the kids to throw digital bricks,” Leinonen said. “It’s important we realize we don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world. In the age of social media, it’s getting easier and easier to work collectively toward common goals.”
The accompanying exhibition is a retrospective of Leinonen’s work, which is also centered on radical activism. It will include some new projects but also videos of his previous, controversial protest art, which some may find overly reliant on shock as a device. On view, for instance, will be “Food Liberation Army” — when Leinonen made international headlines for threatening to behead a Ronald McDonald statue — and “Hunger King” — which drew attention to the Hungarian government’s poor treatment of the nation’s homeless. Sculptural works in the show will include “Death of Capitalism,” a graveyard of black granite headstones that memorialize international brands from Starbucks to Gucci. “Anything Helps,” an ongoing series exhibited at the 2009 Venice Biennale, features signs Leinonen purchased from beggars around the world and then displayed in ornate gold frames.
In the context of School of Disobedience, the artworks are displayed as successfully tested examples of “collective campaigning,” Leinonen explained, meant to encourage viewers to reenact them anywhere in the world and take up their social causes. Although he is “headmaster” and “founder” of the school, he intends for the exhibition to be inclusive, with his works existing as models for future, open-sourced forms of art. The School of Disobedience is technically his retrospective, but it is ultimately a collective endeavor between anyone aspiring to fight for a cause.
“I am a bit tired of the the art world, which is so very exclusive, even though art is very inclusive,” Leinonen said. “All we do and think comes out of interaction with others. In activism, politics, and art, to change things we don’t need individual heroes doing big things. We need movements, masses of people making small things.”