Time is like a river that flows endlessly through the universe,
and you could never step into the same river twice…
Heraclitus (attributed)


As a network vehicle, Perpetuum Mobile brings together multiple fields of art, practice and enquiry that exist in disparate institutional frames and territories – acting as a conduit and engine for new forms of knowledge, organisation and imagination. Less than a year ago, Perpetuum Mobile didn’t exist. Perhaps, as its counterpart in science, its ideal never will. As a real-world vehicle, however, it has been set in motion

Among its driving ideas, is the ambition to re-think certain basic historical, institutional as well as  theoretical paradigms which have been in one way or another compromised, falsely delimited or obfuscated at the present historical juncture. One way to bring something genuinely new into existence, is finding ways in which to re-write the rules of the game. It is best to proceed by way of example.

The first experiment in bringing art and enquiry into a new relationship was made via the so-called Aleksanteri Cultural Fora (https://www.helsinki.fi/aleksanteri/conference2007/cultural_fora.htm ). Initiated to run in parallel to the 7th Annual Conference of the Aleksanteri Institute “Revisiting Perestroika – Processes and Alternatives” (University of Helsinki) this project came to encompass a plethora of events concerning Perestroika and its relevance. Aside from the large-scale conference itself this included, a multi-part exhibition (with a catalogue, a performance and discussion panel) at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Kiasma; a historical exhibition of printed ephemera from the perestroika era at the Finnish National Library; an independent series of films at the National Film Archives (SEA); and a dedicated 8th issue of Framework – The Finnish Art Review, commissioned under the title “Paths Not Taken” (https://www.framework.fi/8_2008/focus/focus.html ). Quoting from the CfP, the core questions of the conference were:

Revolutions and Processes – Was the collapse of the Soviet bloc a result of a series of contingencies, or deliberate political decisions? Was economic collapse avoidable, and if so, for how long? Was the restoration of capitalism inevitable, or were there alternative paths of development? What role did ideas and cultural movements play in perestroika, its pre-history and aftermath? Actors and Institutions – Which groups or traditions emerged, which survived and which were neglected or “written out of history” during the perestroika era? Did practices and customs genuinely see a transformation in all fields of life – from the Kremlin to the kitchen table? How was the role of women transformed? Did “parallel” and “underground” cultures cease to exist? Generations, Retrospectives and Perspectives – How did different age groups evaluate the changes, and how did people of different “mindsets” see each other? How do contemporary social formations assess the perestroika era and how does this inflect the future?

Perpetuum Mobile’s co-founders Ivor Stodolsky (central conference organiser / philosopher in the field) and Marita Muukkonen (opening up the field of arts) integrated  the partners of the Cultural Fora to shape a coherent whole – with over 300 scholars, political figures, artists and their guests in attendance at the combined conference reception and opening of the Kiasma exhibition “The Raw, The Cooked and The Packaged – The Archive of Perestroika Art”.

The Raw, The Cooked and The Packaged exhibition, as a conceptual work, excavates the choices and power mechanisms involved in “making history” by manifesting this process as lived (the “life room” installation); mediatized, interpreted and made scientific (media and archival categorization in the “afterlife” room); and reflexively re-absorbed into society (socio-cognitive maps, the Newspaper-Catalogue). This is all connected through a process of memory-construction made physical: the audience opens and closes archival drawers and closets of documents, clothes, smells, music, negatives, letters – many which were accumulated outside of hitherto “approved” history – producing a physical experience of separating the massive “archive of archives” into categories: “accusation”, “assertion”, “predication”.  The central curatorial endeavour here is not to (re)write the canon, but to investigate its production.

As the history of this crucial era is written and re-written in today’s troubled political climate, as always, the “books are cooked” to suit the moment. As Perpetuum Mobile’s first mobilisation to re-think the relations of representation, politics and thought, the Cultural Fora invited the public to engage. To engage with the Raw materials of the perestroika period, to physically enact the process of writing history itself – to formulate our understanding of the past to produce the Cooked – and finally to see the “make up” of its image in the Packaged. It is re-enacting this process of production, and in this case, revealing the homologies between pre- and non-/post-Perestroika structures, that lays free ways for new Paths Not Taken.