OBSERVATORY – Kokkola, Finland

Resuming the Artist’s Placement Group strategies

Period: 14-23 January 2009

AKV| St. Joost tutor: Erik Hagoort

Nordic Art School tutor: Jaana Erkkilä

 Partner institution:

The Nordic Art School in Kokkola, Finland, offers an art course of one-two years, based on a system of guest-teaching. Hundreds of visual artists and lecturers have been teaching at NAS during the years, including many of the most significant contemporary artist in the Nordic countries.


Concept: Resuming the Artist’s Placement Group’s strategies

OBSERVATORY was set up as a resumption experiment of the concept of the Artist’s Placement Group, initiated in the United Kingdom in the 1970s by Barbara Steveni and John Latham. APG sought to overcome the division between art and society by placing artists in organizations, such as the BBC, hospitals, schools, the army, and private enterprises. For months and sometimes years the artists formed part of the organizations, and tried to see what the contribution of art could be within the perspective of the organization. The host organization was not simply a host, but an active participator in the project. APG envisioned that through the artists’ placements there would be a mutual benefit.

OBSERVATORY placed participants of MFA AKV/St. Joost and of Nordic Art School in duo’s or individually in organizations in Kokkola, for the purpose of mutual observation and benefit. As a rule the organization would introduce the artist into its ways of working, and the artist would introduce the organization with his or her ways of working.


We operated from a given space within the institution, a space that functioned as an observatory, a base station from which to observe, operate and work for the whole week. In this way the position of the students was recognizable, their status as artists was clear.

The host organizations gave rules and restrictions, with which the participants had to cope in their own way.

The organizations that participated were:

  • – Kokkola City Hall,
  • – Keskipohjanmaa daily newspaper,
  • – School of music and theater ( Keski-Pohjanmaan Ammattikorkeakoulu),
  • – Church
  • – Police

At the end of the week a visiting tour was organized to all the ‘observatory’s’ in Kokkola, where the observations were on display. During this visit stories were told and the presentations discussed.

The project received wide coverage in local newspapers and radio.


The Artists’ Placement Group, initiated by Barbara Steveni and John Latham, believed that there was an undesirable division between art and society. In their opinion society was lacking the creative, interdisciplinary visions of artists, and artists were lacking knowledge and experience present in society. APG sought to overcome this division by placing artists in organizations: projects took place at commercial corporations, at the BBC, hospitals, schools and even the army. For months and sometimes years the artists formed part of the organizations, and tried to see what the contribution of art could be within the perspective of the organization. And vice versa: the organization was not simply a host, but an active participator in the project.

Later on this idea of an ideal, benificial transaction between art and society was criticized. The idea that artists could operate as specialist agents of creativity in a society that would desperately need their input, seems a little bit outdated and even arrogant. Nowadays it sometimes seems the other way round: that artists have difficulties trying to catch up with the enormous creative output of society. This maybe is the reason for contemporary artists to be more modest if they choose to operate within organizations.

Of course, when artists want to collaborate or work from within a given organization, they should get to know it first. And vice versa. Mutual aquaintance therefore is the first main objective, which is already a big challenge. The goal is not to overcome differences between art and organization, it is an open, mutual process of acquaintance, of which the outcome is open.

About APG: http://www.interact.mmu.ac.uk/


StJoost_Keskipohjanmaa newspaperCoverage of the Observatory project in the regional Finnish daily newspaper


Ronald Saeijs mapping the City HallRonald Saeijs mapped the City Hall by asking the employees to mark their working spaces by drawing signs.

Schermafbeelding 2012-11-22 om 15.40.42 Mapping result of Ronald Saeijs’ placement at the City Hall

Ronald Saeijs Mapping the City Hall2



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