Da Ya Think Were Sexy?
By Jali Wahlsten
"Until quite recently, contemporary art in Britain had a real image problem: it just wasnt sexy enough", wrote Simon Ford and Anthony Davis in the February issue of Art Monthly. As contemporary British art and culture has now become officially sexy, out must go Beefeaters, Buckingham Palace and Industrialism and in come BritPop, Creative Industries Task Force and The Full Monty.
Tony Blair and his government have been so busy declaring Britain to be the creative superpower of the world that on the home front, Labours love-in with Cool Britannia has hit the rocks in its very early stages. Headline-making statements from cultural commentators like Wayne Hemingway ("rebranding Britain has been a sad affair"), Stephen Bayley ("You cant legislate to be cool or creative") or Alan McGee ("Its all surface with Blair") have ridiculed each fresh attempt of the government to ride on the wave of Cool Britannia.
It comes as no surprise that governments, tourist boards, cultural institutes or embassies are not credible communicators of qualities like coolness or sexiness. (Any specialist international branding consultancy would do a better job). But as long as organisations like ours exist, and there are people like us taking home our salaries, we have to come up with something useful to make our work accountable.
In my job, I constantly have to answer my fellow countrymen's questions regarding the image of Finland abroad. What do others think of us? What should they think of us? Over and over again I try to make it clear that very few people other than Finns are interested in Finnishness as such. So, why bother?
On the other hand, I do like the notion of sex-appeal. I cannot think of any other single attribute that would better serve persuasive communication. We don t need any research to prove that many people are attracted by sexy things, no matter what their country of origin is. Of course, it is a personal question of taste what is sexy and what is not, but thats the fun of it: it cannot be anything other than a question of taste.
Professionally, my credo for 1998 is to serve Finnish culture with my best intentions by keeping Finnishness at arm's length at all times. Personally, however, I would like to see some unpredictable sexy things emerging from Finland. Not bold and beautiful but fresh and funky. My generation has grown up digesting the embarrassing asexual postcard imagery of romantic blue and white nostalgia. Lets keep all the brilliant things like unspoilt nature, clean air, dead silence, four seasons and the Midnight Sun, but a hint of sex appeal wouldnt do any of them any harm!
Speaking personally again, I would like to be seduced by a thriving Finnish herring and vodka bar in Soho, wild Snowmobile Clubbing at the Arctic Circle, relaxing Lost Weekends in the Finnish Archipelago, as much as I now yearn for chunks of British pop culture, brilliant advertising and Liz Hurley!
- Confessions of an Arts Officer, by Jali Wahlsten (March 1998)
- Finnish Institute Arts Officer receives an award for his work (January 1998)