“The White Exhibition” at Emma museum caused a scandal during the summer but I haven’t read anything about it since. Artists Sofie Hesselholdt and Vibeke Mejlvang aimed to explore whiteness trough a vast museum exhibition. Their text We can’t believe we still have to protest this shit (2021) is provocative and offers thorough insight to their artistic aims. I like what they are after and the look of the ragged flags in the exhibition.
The exhibition is another step in our ongoing quest to question and reject old hierarchical patterns so as to create spaces of inclusiveness. In a world of dichotomies, of Us and Them, we find it urgent to unify, to define a common We, a global solidarity. To start all over again.
Soon after the exhibition opened an article Emma-museossa puhkesi kiista tanssijoiden palkoista ja työajoista [A disagreement in Emma-museum over dancers wages and work terms] (2021) Pekka Torvinen revealed, that four performers who had been commissioned for a durational performance had been in contact with the Trade Union for Theatre and Media Finland (Teme) because the contract the museum had offered was unfair.
The exhibition artists had developed a performance, which was centred on choreographies related to maintenance. The performances were structured with tight schedules, similar as factory work and required daily presence by the performers. Hesselholdt & Mejlvang described the performance as the “heart of the exhibition”. To cut cost the museum sought to have the performance executed by students, who were attached to the show as trainees. As the working conditions and the function of the performance was revealed, the students organised and sought to make their contract just. I think they were really brave to do so (send them a compliment over email). They wanted a reasonable fee and I think they also wanted to be acknowledged as artists.
The article by Torvinen portrays the actions of Emma director Pilvi Kalhaman in a very negative light. According to this source Kalhama insists that their plan to use trainees was motivated by a desire to offer young artists a foothold in the field of art. They also argued that as the choreographies were not planned by the performers, an artist fee for the performers would have been unreasonable. Feels weird… Particularly in an emerging post-covid reality. The artists need the performers, who need the audience. The entire art affair insists that all parties participate equally. It makes absolutely no sense to pay a performer less then choreographer (or the audience).
As I understand it, most of the performers walked out from the production but I’m unsure what happened to the performance. I would like to know how Hesselholdt & Mejlvang felt about these debates and if the series of events had an impact in their praxis. Did this scandal motivate them to explore the conditions of class, capital and wage-labour further? Did the event effect their understanding of whiteness, does it have even more shades now? Interestingly the fee the artists were offered is close to the hourly wage of museum attendants. How did they feel about the entire debate?
The exhibition artists are using a picture from the performance as the front page of their website and comments on the exhibition performance documentation are turned off.