The Crossing Borders exhibition, organized as a part of an academic research project between 7.2.–3.3.2019 (link: https://jyunity.fi/ajassa/kannanottoja-kuulumiseen-rajojen-yli-nayttelyssa/) was visited by over 700 patrons. The visitors were given the opportunity to fill out a form in which they could give feedback on the thoughts and feelings that the exhibition provoked in them, as well as elaborate on their ideas related to the concept of belonging.
In one section of the form the visitors were asked whether they were especially moved by some specific part of the exhibition. The visitors were also questioned about whether they felt that some central theme related to the concept of belonging was missing from the exhibition, and if they were left wanting something more. Finally, the visitors were asked who they would recommend the exhibition to.
Based on the feedback forms, the reception was almost entirely positive. The exhibition was praised as a powerful, engaging, relatable, impressive and memorable whole.
A touching exhibition
The exhibition was described as interesting, thought provoking, multifaceted, surprising and interestingly curated, and the visitors expressed hopes that this “great and invaluable work” would be continued in the future. This feeling resounded throughout the feedback, even in cases where the respondents did not understand or respond to each individual part of the exhibition.
The exhibition provoked strong emotions in most respondents, ranging from wholly positive to in some ways negative or conflicting ones. The exhibition was experienced as both abrasive and comforting. It brought up feelings of both sadness and happiness and was experienced as relatable and touching. For some it was disturbing, for others non-threatening, and some even felt inspired by it. Overall, the reactions were extremely varied and they covered a plethora of different emotions.
Roused by the exhibition, the respondents contemplated upon both their own experiences as well as those of their peers, while also pondering on the subjectivity of experiencing belonging. This aroused the respondents to also contemplate the broader meanings and potential of art.
Many patrons were inspired by the exhibition to contemplate upon their own sense of belonging or non-belonging, as well as its multi-dimensional and fragile nature. Overall a sense of belonging was hailed as one of the most important experiences one can have in life – as something that is simultaneously mundane and the very basis of existence.
The many sides of belonging
The ambiguity of the concept of belonging became emphasized: while belonging was experienced as things such as cherishing those close to you and communality, it also brought up some conflicting emotions, such as loneliness and a feeling of being threatened. Belonging was perceived as something that is simultaneously important and difficult.
Belonging was also not seen as something that one can take for granted, but as something that has to be constantly worked on. The concept of belonging also brought up some negative associations and questions: Does one have to belong somewhere? What if one experiences detachment more than belonging? The abstract nature of belonging and its ambiguity caused sadness and made some people question their own sense of belonging.
Many patrons noted that the exhibition had caused them to dwell on these themes and that it raised many questions and themes to contemplate upon later on.
We asked the patrons whether some part of the exhibition was especially emotional or thought provoking for them. Many of the respondents emphasized that their experience was not reducible to a single element within the exhibition, but rather its entirety. However, a significant proportion of respondents were in fact able to point out a certain piece within the exhibition that they felt was especially important for them. This praise was spread out equally between all the artworks presented at the exhibition: the paintings, installations, sculptures, as well as the video- and sound art pieces.
You can’t cover everything
Most of the respondents of the questionnaire did not provide an answer to the question regarding whether they felt that some important theme related to belonging was missing from the exhibition. Many respondents felt that the exhibition was not lacking in this sense and that the subject of belonging was covered exhaustively and comprehensively. Many felt that there was a great number of varying approaches to the overarching theme.
It would be practically impossible to cover all the dimensions of belonging in a single exhibition, and that was never the goal of the project. However, from the viewpoint of a researcher, it is interesting to examine what the few people who had responded to this question differently felt was missing.
Some noted that the historical and spiritual approaches to the concept of belonging were missing. Numerous respondents would have hoped to have seen stories or viewpoints regarding belonging that would have been representative of minority members or people in vulnerable statuses. Additionally the generational theme, as well as that of belonging to a certain family or lineage was mentioned as being missing from the exhibition. The high representation and even saturation of academic and well-educated voices was also critiqued, and some respondents hoped to see more works produced from the context of “other cultures”.
The exhibition was successful in many ways
All in all the reception was very positive. Many patrons recommended the exhibition for simply everyone, but especially those who can take their sense of belonging for granted.
The exhibition was also a success from the point of view of the Jyväskylä Art Museum. With over 700 visitors, this was the second most popular exhibition in the Ratamo gallery. The exhibition was of high artistic standard and it brought many new patrons to the gallery.
(See also the teaser of the exhibition: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCcIsqCYn18 and the article regarding the exhibition by the newspaper Keskisuomalainen: https://www.ksml.fi/kulttuuri/Rajojen-yli-n%C3%A4yttely-pohtii-mik%C3%A4-saa-ihmisen-tuntemaan-kuuluvansa-tiettyyn-paikkaan-%E2%80%93-20-taiteilijan-n%C3%A4kemyksi%C3%A4-galleria-Ratamossa/1325608)
Translation: Urho Tulonen