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MIT creative learning course

MIT creative learning course

Learning Creative Learning is a course offered at the MIT Media Lab, which is entirely accessible online. It introduces ideas and strategies for designing technologies to support creative learning.


Art, Posters, Graffiti, Stickers and Tags = Smear, Smudge, Scribble and Scrawl

Marja Salaspuro, Amsterdam — No discussion, No tolerance, No Smudge in the Clean Image of Helsinki. Zero tolerance towards graffiti includes a strong resistance against an open discussion around what is allowed in the public space.

Last week in Helsinki, a celebration of the Anti-Smudge project gathered as a counterpart, a public demonstration demanding legal graffiti painting places. The battle was ready, several participants of the demonstration got arrested, newspapers were filled with discourse of war. To be honest, I don’t care who is right and who is wrong (I guess nobody is perfect), but I want to spread a dream of more open discussion around what is allowed in the streets of Helsinki.

Hierarchical Division

Yesterday I found from my unloaded moving box following post card. It is presenting Slovenian artist Igor Stomajers project called ‘Foreign’. Foreign was displaying current verdicts about the different countries and was especially emphasizing the stereotypical division between East and West Europe.

'Foreign' was exhibited by Visual Corresdondents

 In Stomajers’ art work, the hierarchical division between the East and West changes once you try to read the sentences. The words tumble and meanings become interchangeable, just like in the current Graffiti/War discourse in Helsinki. There is a need to break stereotypes between ‘East’ and its scrawling subcultures and ‘West’ the Public Work Department of Helsinki city. In the end, a discussion about what visual elements are allowed in the urban public space should be an ongoing dialogue following the changing needs of the citizens and done in a manner which respects diversity and freedom of expression. Unfortunately, tolerance towards more diversified street communication is zero.

For those who are not aware, an Anti-Smudge Campaign has been in charge of Helsinki’s effective cleaning process towards all kinds of unauthorized street communication in the public spaces. The definition of ‘SMUDGE’ includes graffiti paintings, posters, stickers and basically anything added in the urban public space. The zero tolerance means that there are no legal graffiti painting places and even ordered paintings have been eventually removed. The project has been going on for 10 years, but effective cleaning hasn’t stopped the dream of more open discussion around what is allowed in public space as this weeks demonstration showed.

West has solved the Problem

On Tuesday the ‘invitation only’ event in Finlandia Hall gathered Clean Image supporters for celebrating 10 years success of Anti-Smudge campaign. According to their statistics: in 1998 there were in excess of 67.000 smudges or graffiti in Helsinki, while last year the figure was a mere 5771.

The ‘invitation only’ event meant also effective gatekeeping. The reporters were kept out. According to Helsingin Sanomat, a national daily, even two Helsinki city councilors Paavo Arhinmäki (left party) and Kimmo Helistö (green), were evicted to enter the event. Not to mention that possible contradictory voices such as Youth Department was not invited neither.

Not everybody are convinced about the efficiency of zero tolerance policy (neither that Anti-Smudge has proved anything else that cleaning is done effectively). In fact, the demand for neutral non-aligned research around Anti-Smudge Campaign was even headlined in the main national daily newspaper.

Article in Helsingin Sanomat 22.9.2008 (main newspaper)

Article in Helsingin Sanomat 22.9.2008 (main newspaper)

Meanwhile in the East

Around 500 people took part in a “Smudge Fest” public demonstration, which was organised as a counterblast against the Anti-Smudge campaigns’ Anniversary celebration. The demonstrators were gathering around Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art to demand legal graffiti painting places. By nine o’clock in the evening, the police had apprehended 27 demonstrators for throwing bottles, vandalising police vehicles, and spray-painting shop windows.

Afterwards the City is pressing charges for 1500 new smears which appeared during the chaotic “Smudge Fest” demonstration. Meanwhile demonstrators are accusing police force for being too rough, and the newspapers headlines emphasize emphasize ‘war’ position.

Calming down the young demonstrators in Helsinki

News material from Helsinki: Calming down a young demonstrators

How about some tolerance and understanding?

This blog post is an open invitation to explore more tolerant ways to approach the battle around visual street communication in Finland (and everywhere). Actually stickers have already taken room from paintings. 

If you have seen some incredible projects that were celebrating urban visual language, feel free to share. Helsinki needs new tools for expressing (legally) more diversified voices in the city space. Maybe creativity can be solution.

Example of Concrete Ideas:

At the moment in Amsterdam, there are several projects related to Graffiti as a part of urban play and more sophisticated methods (easier to ‘remove’ or temporary by nature). Two of them are presented as a part of the Experimenta Design and Picnic cross media week.

More information:

Graffiti Research Lab

Outfitting graffiti artists with open source technologies.

Projects like Green Graffiti might claim a better status for Graffiti among entrepreneurial citizens: 

Green Graffiti

Invisible cities

Describing Endora is like dancing without music
– Gilbert Grape

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam — Yesterday evening I dusted off the video case of What’s eating Gilbert Grape. In the opening sequence the protagonist, the young man Gilbert Grape, tries to describe the small town he is living in: ‘a place where nothing much ever happens’. Despite the absence of music, the quote above could have a very positive reading: Endora as fine place to dance, slowly and in silence.

Today I’m in the train to Venlo, a small town where my parents live. On the way I pass a little village, Deurne. The train stops at a non-existing station consisting of one concrete platform, a ticket machine and an abandoned gas station – the ‘S’ fell off the sign: ES O – and I realise that I may be in love with Endora.

Venlo, for sure, is one of the reason for that. Or rather, the surrounding villages, the town itself is just a little bit too big and actually does have music: the Splinter, my old hang-out where, during my teenage years, I would head bang my long hair on angry music of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and other grunge noise (barely ‘dancing’ now I come to think of it). No, in Venlo I miss one essential quality of the small town: the ability to look through the in between spaces of houses and see crop lands, fields or forest.

That is a particular quality you could find in Ganzedijk, a tiny small town in the north of the Netherlands which was saved last week from being wiped off the map, or, as politicians rhetorically labeled it, ‘returned to nature’. In an interview one of the 15o inhabitants describes how over time facilities gradually disappeared: the public phone booth, the mailbox and the rain shelter at the bus stop. Semi-public companies had slowly turned down the volume until the music had disappeared altogether. Ganzedijk had slipped into non-existence from the eyes of the ever-expanding urban centres.

The Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg discussed this process of dissapearance in his project ‘Invisible cities’ which consists, among other works, out of a beautiful series of photographs of houses in which Dahlberg took out all windows and doors. His invisible cities are numb, deaf, anonymous and generic. They beautifully describe how such towns can become exchangeable.

Nevertheless, the works lack one quality which makes small towns such wonderful, peaceful places to be at: his invisible cities are lifeless, they lack dancing without music.

From Be Kind Rewind in Soho, to Sweding online.

A very nice thing about living temporary somewhere is that you have time. Time to stand in line for example, and enjoy it. As a Swede this is extra nice, since we don´t stand in lines very much in our country. We more often have the alternative of the cue number machines, which make it possible to neatly spread out so we don´t need to encounter each other.

Today I went to the opening of the show Be Kind Rewind by Michel Gondry at the Deitch Projects located in Soho, New York. About the same time the opening opened, I turned around the corner of Wooster Street, and walked down the block a little embarresed since I imagined I would be one of the first people to enter (and that is, as we all know, never pleasant). As I got closer I started to realize the scale of the surprize I was about to get. From the entrance down the whole block, all the way to – and round the corner on Canal street, there was a line of hundreds of people waiting to get in – to the same opening as me. It was like going to a concert! It took me almost a minute to get to the end of the “worm” of people, where I positioned myself and prepared for a long wait.

In the line everybody around me comments on “how crazy this is”, and happily continue to wait. A police car passes slowly and the driver turns the window down and ask us what is going on. When he finds out he laughs and turn on the lights at the roof top, as a little cheering performane. The atmosphere is very high with lots of conversations and laughs. A girl approaches a man beside me and asks:
– Is it only open tonight?
– No, it´s on untill march!
– Then why is everybody standing in the line?
– Well, it´s the opening night! She shakes her head and leave.

After almost an hour I am inside. Someone hands me a flyer with the headline: MAKE YOUR OWN MOVIE. The whole scenario in the gallery is like a film setting with different settings like a forest, a car with a moving landscape behind, a livingroom, a street, an escalator etc. They are all from the film Be Kind Rewind which will be out soon. The concept at Deitch is that one can request for a suitable time to come and use any of the settings, or all of them and shoot your own film. In the press release Gondry states, “I don’t intend nor have the pretension to teach how to make films. Quite the contrary. I intend to prove that people can enjoy their time without being part of the commercial system and serving it. Ultimately, I am hoping to create a network of creativity and communication that is guaranteed to be free and independent from any commercial institution.”
At the very crowded opening people are acting and playing around like crazy in the different settings with full outfit and in different role plays. It´s like a gigantic rehersal with included audience. I leave Deitch with a happy face.

Back at home I enter to watch trailers. I will not say too much about it cause I don´t want to spoil the pleasure of entering the site…I highly recommend a visit! Both online and in the gallery world of Be Kind Rewind. I look forward to the final ”level”, the film! And one thing is certain, I realize a Swede like myself has her lucky day today; Michel Gondry made it official – the verb Sweding – thanks Michel!

Ageing Modernity

Here is the blog of the course I am teaching at KTH, Stockholm. The blog is about the design process that students are following in the project. The course is (of course) about the ageing of the population, a topic in which I am writing my PhD thesis on… However this is a media design course. I wish my academic work will be as fun and stimulating as this course is. Students started to dig in to the ageing issue from the “X-ray” of an “object” that could represent an ageing human condition. Each team work than followed different ways… the course ends the 12th. We’ll make an exhibition. Pictures of it to come.

Paul McCarthy on Ubuweb

Today I discovered this fantastic Paul McCarthy video on Ubuweb. It’s about the frustrating life of the painter, which, at times, is hilarious and funny. For instance when McCarthy – with a huge nose – starts yelling at his gallerist that he wants a big catalog, or when he is murmering the name of De Kooning for several minutes when he is mixing paint.

When watching the video I remembered the text underneath from the exhibition catalogue of his exhibition in the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven, a few years ago. The text isn’t half bad, but at the same time it shows how an intellectual vocabulary just doesn’t quite manage to cover the complete psychological mess and dark side of humans that McCarthy reveals in his work. As a result, the whole text almost starts to sound ironic:

[…] McCarthy appropriates modern myths and impregnates them with new critical content. He is interested in the deeper psychological layers of a culture captured in the play of family, education and media […]

Ps Furthermore Ubuweb has a huge archive of art videos (including many of the early performance videos of i.e. Vito Acconci and Bruce Nauman)

Unfortunately I cannot embed the video in here. Underneath is a fragment from Youtube; you can find the whole video on this page on Ubuweb.



Francesca Recchia, London – I have always been quite fascinated by electricity and telephone lines and by the way in which they shape urban landscape. Throughout the years, in my travels they have been one of the main subjects of my photos. I found them disquieting and intriguing at the same time. Different areas of the world deal with them in diverse ways. They seem somehow an embodiment of both social structure and the role that is attributed to interpersonal communication in that particular place. Beyond technology, they give a particular taste to the city; they are aerial labyrinths that invite you to get lost and discover unexpected corners and panoramas. Today after a conversation with Martijn about the importance of words and the organic quality of blogs as means of expression, I though these wires would be a nice metaphor for me to dive into the discussion and try to follow the path towards the mysterious world of internet communication.

Recent articles

“Veiling the unveiled truth”: the conceptual art of Silvio Berlusconi
Published August 3, 2008 by Antonio Scarponi

We all know that the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a man of talents. First of all he is a man of spectacle, a perfect actor from the old school. He is able to dance, sing and his practical jokes are famous world wide [...] We all know these skills, but recently in two occasion he demonstrated also to have great talent as conceptual artist.
Made in Sweden
Published July 9, 2008 by Trial and error

On a recent journey we visited two well-known Asian landmarks: The Chinese Dragon Gate and the Royal Thai Pavilion, both located in remote places in Sweden.
From motorcycles to 3,5 million pieces of art
Published July 3, 2008, 2008 by Marja Salaspuro and Sergio Davila

Can classical conservative museum structure keep its historically layered architecture, rooms, collections and objects – and still attract the interest of the modern visitors, mainstream tourists and experience seeking travelers? A philosophical reconsideration around the purpose of museums in our era and the architect’s role as a curator.

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My Sweden: Clean spaces, Clean information
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