Screenshot of Amar Kanwar’s IHME Helsinki 2022 Commission, Learning from Doubt online course’s log in page.
Amar Kanwar: Learning from Doubt
“If every moment contains the possibility of being alive and being dead then could an acute awareness of every moment also create an acute consciousness of living and dying? If a crime continues to occur regardless of the enormous evidence available then is the crime invisible or the evidence invisible or are both visible but not seen?” Amar Kanwar
The IHME Helsinki Commission 2022 Learning from Doubt by artist, film maker Amar Kanwar is an online, ten-week educational course based on and emerging from Kanwar´s art installation and exhibition The Sovereign Forest. Lessons learned from experiments on ecological sustainability with a unique rice seed bank in the village of Narisho in Odisha, India and the experiences gained during the making and exhibiting of The Sovereign Forest were integrated into the course.
IHME Helsinki Commissions are also realized abroad. We made it possible for The Sovereign Forest to continue in India during the pandemic. In addition, the Learning from Doubt course, customized for the local audience, took place in March 2023 in Nepal as part of the learning program of Photo Kathmandu festival.
We are also very happy to tell you that the course will take place for the second time, at the request of our partners, in Helsinki in September – October 2023 for five weeks! The course is once again implemented as a multidisciplinary university collaboration with the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of the Arts Helsinki and HELSUS, the Institute of Sustainability Science at the University of Helsinki. Read more!
The course was taught online through films, readings, podcasts, and live interactive sessions with the artist. Some of the films were shown in a physical location in Helsinki. Inputs and experiences from various multi-disciplinary collaborators were also included throughout the course. It included optional assignments designed to further personal and professional growth, and not for evaluation. Through the online course it was hoped that participants would also gain an understanding of varied approaches and solutions on ecology, agriculture and sustainability issues as well as developing different parameters for measuring art, output and impact.
The course was available to all residents of Finland. Students from the Fine Arts Academy of the University of Arts and from Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science of University of Helsinki were invited to take part in the course over ten weeks in the Spring of 2022.
It was also possible to follow the course through course reports written by intern Eero Karjalainen.
The course had one main assignment. Students were asked to explore alternative methods of evaluating and comprehending a crime selected by them, particularly in an ecological context.
Amar Kanwar is an artist, born in 1964 in New Delhi, India, where he currently lives and works. His films and multi‐layered installations originate in narratives often drawn from zones of conflict and are characterized by a unique poetic approach to the personal, social and political.
Recent solo exhibitions of Kanwar’s work have been held at the Ishara Art Foundation, Dubai and New York University, Abu Dhabi Art Gallery (2020); Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (2019); Tate Modern, London, Minneapolis Institute of Arts and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York (2018); Bildmuseet, Umeå, Sweden and Frac Pays de la Loire, Carquefou, France (2017); Goethe Institut Mumbai (2016) and at the Assam State Museum in collaboration with Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and North East Network, India (2015). In 2013 and 2014 at the Art Institute of Chicago; Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland (2012).
Kanwar has also participated in Documenta 11, 12, 13 and 14 in Kassel, Germany (2002, 2007, 2012, 2017). Other solo exhibitions have been at the Haus der Kunst, Munich and Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2008); the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London, (2007); National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, (2006) and the Renaissance Society, Chicago,(2004).
Amar Kanwar has received several awards, including the Prince Claus Award (2017); Creative Time´s Annenberg Prize for Art and Social Change (2014); Honorary Doctorate in Fine Arts, Maine College of Art, USA (2006); Edvard Munch Award for Contemporary Art, Norway (2005); MacArthur Fellowship in India (2000); Golden Gate Award, San Francisco International Film Festival, USA (1999), as well as the Golden Conch, Mumbai International Film Festival, India (1998). He is also the co-curator of the 17th Istanbul Biennial 2021-22.
“Amar Kanwar´s career as a contemporary artist is remarkable in many ways. His poetic and political film installations at the Documenta exhibitions were already familiar to the Advisory Board. But what weighed the most when we were deciding on the IHME Helsinki Commission 2022 was Kanwar´s long-term commitment to the community in Odisha, India, and how that manifests in his continuously developing installation The Sovereign Forest. His creative investigations on crime, politics, human rights, and ecology remind us of how important compassion, encounters and listening are on our way towards a more sustainable and resilient future and how art can lead change.
From the perspective of ecologically sustainable art-institution practise we wanted to select an ongoing project that could be shared with our audiences in Finland, while at the same time be already happening in another location outside of Finland. Amar Kanwar´s Learning from Doubt online course further supports continuous learning, learning about life itself and its interdependencies. What could be more relevant in the times of ecological transition to learn about? ”
says Chair of Advisory Board Paula Toppila on the decision to select Amar Kanwar.
Amar Kanwar was selected by the Advisory Board of IHME Helsinki. The members are Professor Ute Meta Bauer (Nanyang Technological University), Dean Hanna Johansson (Fine Arts Academy, University of Arts), Professor Jussi Parikka (Winchester School of Art, University of Southampton and FAMU, Prague), artist-researcher Antti Majava and it is Chaired by Executive Director and Curator of IHME Helsinki Paula Toppila.
The course consists of ten modules:
Module 1, February 15th : Elements of Preparation
Selected readings that present ways of thinking.
Module 2, March 1st : Films
Viewing few previous works of Amar Kanwar.
Module 3, March 15th : The Scene of Crime
Introduction to The Sovereign Forest exhibition and viewing of two films.
Opening up the question: What can be a scene of crime?
Interaction with Amar Kanwar.
Module 4, March 22nd and Module 5, March 29th: The Exhibition
A closer look at elements from The Sovereign Forest Exhibition.
Module 6, April 5th: Seed Bank
Learning from the Indigenous Seed Bank in Odisha, its idea, philosophy and politics.
Module 7, April 12th and Module 8, April 19th : Evidence
Re-imagining evidence. Looking at the process and outcome of ‘evidence collection’ in multiple forms and in possible collaborations with communities.
Participants to collect evidence about a ‘scene of crime selected by them’ and to develop their own understandings and conclusions.
Week 8 also included interaction with Amar Kanwar and Sherna Dastur.
Module 9, April 26th: Looking Back, Looking Ahead
Discussing the learnings, experiences and observations in Odisha.
Module 10, May 3rd: Assignment
Discussions between participants and Amar Kanwar about the assignment done during the course.
The Sovereign Forest is an art project that has been ongoing since 2009 and has been evolving, expanding and experimenting with different forms and presentations. It has been made in collaboration with Samadrusti/ Sudhir Pattnaik and Sherna Dastur. Samadrusti is a fortnightly Odia political and social news magazine, Sudhir Pattnaik is the editor of Samadrusti and a social activist. Sherna Dastur is a graphic designer and filmmaker based in Delhi.
The project emerges primarily from the state of Odisha, Eastern India. Odisha has been the epicentre of conflicts between local communities and the government and corporations over the control of agricultural land, rivers, forests, mountains, and mineral sources. The forcible displacement of indigenous (tribal) communities and peasants has been a brutal part of the cycle of life since the 1950’s. How could we begin to comprehend differently, intervene, respond and develop solutions to this continuous cycle?
The Sovereign Forest attempts to initiate a creative response to our understanding of crime, politics, human rights, and ecology. The validity of poetry as evidence in a trial, the discourse on seeing, compassion, justice, and the determination of the self, all come together in a constellation of films, texts, books, photographs, seeds and processes. The Sovereign Forest has overlapping identities. It continuously reincarnates as an art installation, an exhibition, a library, a memorial, a public trial, an open call for the collection of more “evidence,” an archive, a school and also a proposition for a space that engages with education, politics and art. In 2022, in collaboration with IHME Helsinki, we again sought for another way to learn, share, address contradictions and dilemmas, and find newer solutions.
Essay about the online course: What can contemporary art teach us about knowledge?
Joonas Pulkkinen, a student at the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of the Arts, Helsinki, has written an essay about the online course Learning from Doubt. In the essay, he analyses his own experience and unpacks the contents of the course. The essay was published on our website and on Voima online magazine. A shortened version appeared in Voima’s printed edition on 7 November 2022.
The essay unravels the contents of the course in several ways and links it to the current world situation. It offers readers access to the course, even if they have not attended it themselves. Pulkkinen also cites printed and online sources to provide some background on the course’s themes. Reading the essay gives us an idea of the course as a work of art and of what Kanwar’s artistic method of doubt has taught him, but also of the situation of indigenous people in the Indian province of Odisha and of the struggle on behalf nature that is intrinsic to their belief systems.
IHME Helsinki 2022 Commission Amar Kanwar’sLearning from Doubt online course was attended by students of the Academy of Fine Arts of the University of the Arts and sustainability science students of the University of Helsinki. Some of them continued the reflections that arose in the course in the form of their own final thesis. Learning from Doubt student assignments were presented during Environmental Humanities Month on Thursday 3 November 2022 in an online event open for all. The task was to investigate alternative ways of evaluating and understanding their chosen environmental crime. In their assignments students have applied Kanwar’s method of doubt.
We are glad that Amar Kanwar’s course has continued to live on in the students’ works and that they can be seen by everyone.
The audio tape.
The former child soldier.
The artwork is just and about the read poem from a former child soldier.
Zagros Manuchar (b. 1990, Sulaymaniyah, Irak) is a Finnish filmmaker and artist whose works have been shown internationally in film festivals and Finnish culture institutes, among others. In his artistic work he has explored themes such as childhood, loneliness, violence and the necessity of being seen and loved. Having also taught arts for children and youth he holds BFA and MFA from The University of the Arts Helsinki, Academy of Fine Arts. Now during Amar Kanwar’s course he studied the plight of a child soldier; Manuchar met a former child soldier, a survivor, and eventually made a short film and audio tape about him (The poem from a former child soldier).
Island of Birds. Uunisaari. is a short film by Emma de Carvalho. It explores how birdlife on the Uunisaari island in Helsinki has been affected by climate change. Through a conversation with her grandmother, as well as her own video footage and research, Emma explores what memory, evidence, crimes, and archives mean on this island.
Emma is a master’s student in the Contemporary Societies course at the University of Helsinki. Her interests are in art, film and writing
Echoes from the Pastis a multimedia exploration of how America’s history of colonialism affects and reflects the now and the future, with personal reflections about the creators’ communities. Through a combination of historical research, legal cases, and current statements from various American Indian tribes, this project digs deep in the culture, language, and lives of pre-colonial people in the Northeastern United States. It follows the creators’ journey in learning about their part in this crime and more broadly on how post-settlement people in America can increase their understanding and take meaningful action to remedy past wrongs.
Scott Williams is a master’s student in the Environmental Change and Global Sustainability programme at the University of Helsinki. He studies environmental policy, with a focus on the behavior-action gap and stakeholder interactions in climate change. Scott is part of the Indigenous Arts Reading Circle, a collaboration between the Academy of Fine Arts and the University of Helsinki to foster interdisciplinary communications on indigenous issues. Scott will be presenting his and Spyridoula’s work.
Finnish landscapes have been profoundly shaped by extensive peatland drainage. In this project I try to understand what drainage has meant by focusing on disturbed watery relations. As ditches have been dug in the name of progress, water in and around mires has been rearranged in dangerous ways. In these troubled waters, new things are moving, new processes unfolding, and existing relations of care and survival come under threat.
I’m a student in the Master’s Programme in Environmental Change and Global Sustainability at the University of Helsinki. I’m interested in finding novel ways to understand landscapes I thought I knew. I try to see how many different things, such as plants, machines and dreams of progress, intertwine again and again, shaping our environment in particular ways.
Scene of a secret is a performance about the contradiction of loving a criminal. Performance explores how the perceived opposites of disappointment and gratitude live in one body. Performance is based on butoh practice.
Sonja Kilpeläinen is neuroscience master’s degree student at the University of Helsinki. Sonja is interested in the neuroscience and psychology of altered states of consciousness and how these states can impact the psychological health of individuals and communities. Sonja is also a movement artist and explores altered states of consciousness through methods of butoh, somatics and meditation.
Forest as a war victim is conversation between two students of the Academy of Fine Arts which share common interest with the environmental history of Finnish forests.
Joonas Pulkkinen is second year MA student at the The Praxis Master’s Programme in Exhibition Studies focused on art curating and mediating. In his essay Logged, cutted, torned, crashed, burnt, destroyed written as a part of the course Pulkkinen makes open questions based on Finnish Defence Forces archieves during II World War. Pulkkinen researches why destroyed forest has been a part of the documentation of Finnish Defence Forces photographers and how those photos have been described literally. Pulkkinen tries to understand the need of the documentation and also contexts around the condition of the Finnish forest before the war and in the post-war context of Finnish societal modernization and industrialization project.
Pulkkinen has invited another MA student from Academy of Fine Arts, Lauri Lähteenmäki to conversation related mentioned themes and Lähteenmäki’s own work and practice. In his MFA exhibition in Kuvan Kevät 2022 Lähteenmäki’s photo book and exhibition Vihreän kullan kuume (Green Gold Fever, 2022). Lähteenmäki’s photo books is based on a media data collected from public news sources regarding the debate on forest use in Finland.
Joonas Pulkkinen is a second year MA student at the The Praxis Master’s Programme in Exhibition Studies focused on art curating and mediating in the The Academy of Fine Arts of the University of the Arts. Before his studies he has studied aesthetics and practical philosophy in the University of Helsinki.
Learning from Doubt student assignments
Watch the recording of the online presentations of student assignments at IHME’s YouTube channel.
A very inspiring course – one of the best one I’ve taken in my degree. Such a great opportunity to learn first-hand from Amar and the other teachers.