The Bright Lights of the Institution



“Even when we say “everyone” in an effort to an all-inclusive group, we are still making implicit assumptions about who is included and so we hardly ever overcome what Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau so aptly describe as “the constitutive exclusion” by which any particular notion of inclusion is established”
– Judith Butler, Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly

How do we act together in a world that isolates us? What exclusions are we still performing, when we create spaces and possibilities for working, learning or just being together? And what are the (in-)visible mechanisms of opening and closing spaces?

The project in Node Space creates a framework for coming together and is part of the seminar “Theoretical Frameworks for Curating and Mediating Art” by Nora Sternfeld. When thinking about how we negotiate when working together and how borders are established, the act of the building, the physical creation of the space also becomes important. The space is accessible but not without a deliberate attempt at entering it. The fence we have to cross, when we enter is the visible reference to the borders of the institution – which, as every border are usually felt by some and (almost) invisible to others. It means both the concrete space at the Art Department of Aalto University as well as the art institutions we are talking about as part of a theoretical framework for curating and mediating art.


The Bright Lights of the Institution
19.10.–15.12.2016, NODE Space, Helsinki

A framework for being together by Freja Bäckman
built together with Heidi Lunabba and Karolina Kucia
Curated by Nora Sternfeld in collaboration with Darja Zaitsev

Supported by: Kone Foundation, Arts Promotion Centre Finland, Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture


Partisan café

partisaninImage: Bergen Assembly

“We invite everyone to assemble and dance with the tables”

Tora Endestad BjØrkheim, Freja Bäckman, Kabir Carter, Johnny Herbert, Jenny Moore (coordinator), Arne Skaug Olsen, Nora Sternfeld (freethought curator)

the Partisan café is an educational/performative/artistic practice as a coffee house in the Museum of Burning Questions – a Para-Museum realised in collaboration with the artist Isa Rosenberger – and one performative platform of the freethought infrastructure project at Bergen Assembly.

Located in the occupied historic fire station of Bergen the Partisan café is host as much as guest. It is a shared space and a contact zone. As educators and café workers we think about radical hospitality. As guests of the resident firefighters we think about reciprocities and commonalities.

the Partisan café borrows its name directly from “the Partisan coffee house” – a space for gatherings, conversation and debate in London Soho in the late 1950s, organised by the New Left. Our use of the name is not nostalgic but an actualisation: With burning questions of today, we relate to it and appropriate it.

the Partisan café is related to a choice: partisan instead of participant. As “participation” has become a main engine of neoliberal transformation, formulating and taking up dissident stances is necessary. Rather than interacting within prescribed situations, we choose to build situated knowledges and actions.

We consider our educational work – as much as our artistic, performative and/or curatorial actions – as an organic intellectual practice. We work actively against the unacceptable choice between either marginalisation or neoliberalisation of education in the cultural field. We practice our educational work differently.

Bergen, March 2016

(from the Partisan café post-manifesto)



freja010Image: Linn Heidi Stokkedal

“The café is run by seven educators/performers/café workers. Six of us are contracted to work 37.5 hours a week.”

This was my working suit for the whole time of the Partisan café Bergen in September 2016. Marking when my scedualed working hours started I put on the suit, taking it off when the shift was over.

No play Feminist Training Camp

No Play

at nGbK

The working group: Freja Bäckman, Enna Gerin, Annika Högner, Elis Hannikainen, Vappu Jalonen, Clara López Menéndez

A message from the future is warning us that time is running out. In the past years Europe’s colonial continuities and deeply rooted fascist practices have come to the fore in ever more frightening ways. Resistance is now crucial. We urgently need to revive old and develop new feminist and anti-fascist strategies of resistance and survival.

What training do we need?
No play proposes a structure, a temporal, spatial and social architecture that turns the exhibition space of nGbK into a resource, a site of activity and exchange in the shape of a Feminist Training Camp.

The Training Camp stems from a queer understanding of feminism with a strong emphasis on grassroots models of collective organization, knowledges based in lived experience and the handling of daily oppressions. A space for disagreement and negotiation that can create a situated public considered political. For this, an intersectional understanding of how categories such as gender, race, class, ability, and sexual orientation are intertwined in oppressive power structures is necessary.

Confession of an artist and other actors of the art field


Take a position that you are comfortable in, precarity is here to stay. It will regulate every move you make.

I could for example suggest you putting your ____ and _____ to sit as a ______.

When you are ready, please start.

12189327_947144151990130_2878678823901601102_oImages: Petri Summanen/Kuvataideakatemia

Workshop with writing, reading and listening to confessions from the precarious conditions.  The confessions were part of the Skills of Economy Sessions – Parasite in Helsinki. Curated by Jussi Koitela and facilitated by the Para-Site structure by artist Karolina Kucia.