International Socially Engaged Art Symposium

ISEAS International Socially Engaged Art Symposium

International socially engaged symposium between science and art with global and local cross-pollination


A socially engaged symposium between science and art at the intersection of the global and the local, with a broad theme of food

The community art event in Lapua aims to make the voices of the participating people heard. The Lapua Art Museum exhibition emerges from the community in cooperation with artists and researchers.

ISEAS is an artist-led and independent symposium, which positions itself at the cutting edge of contemporary art’s socially critical, socially and environmentally politically engaged. Curating brings together artists and researchers with very different backgrounds; up-and-coming, professionals, diverse representatives of different genders, and artists from different fields of art and science. The symposium opens up an understanding of different values ​​and ways of creating knowledge through cooperation, joint discussions, and art.

Topics such as art-based mediation of environmental conflicts and the versatile perspectives of food production are fresh openings in the art world and artistic research.

Since 2013, Katja Juhola has participated in various international art symposia in different parts of the world. The purpose of art symposia is to share artistic knowledge and form networks between artists. With these experiences, Juhola organized the first international art symposium in 2014 in Mustio in Southern Finland. In 2017, the International Socially Engaged Art Symposium (ISEAS) took place for the first time. ISEAS has established itself as an annual forum for artists and researchers to interact with local communities. ISEAS was implemented in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

ISEAS is Katja Juholas doctoral study

At the heart of my research is the development of the International Socially Engaged Art Symposium (ISEAS). The strategy of my article dissertation is arts-based action research (ABAR). My research takes place in the ISEAS Symposium on Cyclical Art-Based Development, which includes 4-5 peer-to-peer articles on development work, the related art exhibition, Conversations at Rovaniemi Art Museum and dissertation summary chapter. Artists, even socially engaged artists, often work alone. In my research, I am finding new ways to work collaboratively in a socially engaged art field. ISEAS can be compared to an artist residency, which provides an easy way for artists to work in different cultures and contexts. Unlike residencies, ISEAS is short-lived, lasting a week or two, and involves several dozen artists and scholars living and working together in different contexts of socially engaged art. ISEAS provides artists and researchers with interactive work in which research content is disseminated to local people, communities and research-producing institutions. ISEAS is a work of art designed to create an environment for conversational art and creativity on many different levels.

I have worked in the international art scene for more than 20 years. I have been involved in more than a hundred international art exhibitions and have taken part in several art symposia, which can also be called art camps. I have implemented more than a dozen large-scale socially engaged art projects in Finland and abroad. I worked as the chairperson of the Photograph Center of Raseborg between 2014 and 2017 and the chairperson of the Artists’ Association Länsi-Uusimaa in 2021 and curated several exhibitions. These experiences led me to create the International Socially Engaged Art Symposium (ISEAS). ISEAS has been held six times. In 2014, I organised an international “greenhouse” art symposium with 14 artists. In 2017, as part of my master’s thesis, I organised ISEAS for the first time. My doctoral dissertation is a direct continuation of this process. The concept of ISEAS includes international artists, scholars, a mentor, and a documentary team.

The emphasis of ISEAS in 2018 was performance art. The group of artists worked for three days in a public place in the Raseborg area. The work was socially engaged, but the communities were not named in advance; they were born on the spot. Artists improvised their working methods with the help of an ISEAS mentor. They then conceptualised their processes together with the symposium mentor for the exhibition in the local gallery.

The 2019 ISEAS explored the relationship between man and nature. It produced socially engaged art events in which three international teams, including artists and environmental researchers, worked with local school children and other local people in nature. The focus of this symposium was to use conversational art as a tool to implement scientific knowledge and to use other arts-based methods to increase understanding of environmental issues. ISEAS emphasised that humans are part of a larger whole and not superior to anything living or inanimate.

In 2020 and 2021, ISEAS moved away from its home region of Raseborg in northwest Lapland to Äkäslompolo. 17 artists and researchers worked in three different groups on an arts-based conflict mediation plan. The symposium took place in August 2020 and January 2021. During the symposium, 75 local people participated in art workshops that addressed both local and global topics. The themes of forest disputes, mining projects and the spiritual experience of nature are all locally and globally important issues, and are also entry points to the sustainability of our planet. The exhibition Conversations at Korundi Art Museum in Rovaniemi is part of my research. The exhibition is an analysis of the art experiences during symposia 2020 and 2021.

2018 ISEAS tried another approach; just by requesting the performances of some of Raseborg’s public outdoor and indoor spaces. The Artists’ Group discussed the upcoming artistic activities for three days. Thereafter, they conducted three impromptu experimental interventions, each of which contacted the audience or invited them into action in different ways. Juhola’s goal has been to develop the methodology of artistic work with communities all over the world. The Symposium has spread social art messages with artists in more than 20 countries.

In 2017, Juhola had agreed on institutions, communities and artists working with them in advance. The artists had been in touch with the target groups before the symposium began, and the artistic work was already well planned when the communities met their artist.

ISEAS is supported by:

Cultural foundations of Finland,  Kone Foundation, the Town of Raseborg, Karis – Pojo Sparbank Foundation, Osuuskunta Kanslia, Oskar Öflunds Stiftelse sr Foundation

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