Shaking the Structures

Feminist Culture House collectively wrote this exchange in response to an invitation. 

The 2019 UrbanApa X Ateneum festival was called V I B R A T I O N S, and its central conceit was that:  

The world is a complex network of different environments, beings and forms of existence, all of which have a fragile coexistence and balance. A small act here can cause an enormous change somewhere else. The festival raises questions on how our increasingly diverse realities ripple together and how different interfaces affect one another.

On Sunday 6 October, Sonya Lindfors and Emmi Venna (festival curators) read this text aloud on our behalf.


[a gif of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, nicknamed Gallopin’ Gertie. The road is swaying back and forth like a boat in a wavy ocean; the bridge is on the brink of collapse]


Selina: when thinking about the word structure, I am first associating it to fragile constructions made out of sticks and branches, then I imagine maze-like systems with levels and layers and move on to think about gantry-like skeletons, a bit like cranes, that are built to endure, strengthen, or hold.

These structures I am imagining are all carefully built, each component carrying the weight of others. They are arrangements that seem complex, because they include joints, bonds, and junctions. If I wish to shake these imaginary structures, it seems like the strategic move would be to remove one component of the supporting structure, which would then cause an overload of pressure to the remaining components, eventually leading to the collapse of the system i.e. the structure.

How to remove a part from a structure then? Here I return to look at the architecture of the structure, with a focus on the connecting points within it. Is the key to understanding the essence of a structure in understanding the connections it holds: the relations between its parts? Who built the structure and what is it for? What and who does the structure support, and what kind of exchange happens with and through this structure?

Neicia: Or should we be looking at the architect of the structure and not the architecture? The architect, the director, the board, the people who hold the power to change the structures. These are the people who make the ultimate decisions on the structures, what structures are in place. Should the change come from them? Well, we all know that it should, but maybe I should say WILL the change come from them? Or is it the people who are working under these structures that need to spark the change? 

Selina: I wish there would be more of these structures I started with: structures made out of sticks and branches, held together with a gentle touch or with a loose thread. Structures that are built to support and to shelter, in consortium. Structures that are non-dominant, vulnerable, unraveling, sometimes difficult and complex because they are also entangling and therefore prone to change. Queer feminist, performance artist, and actor Kid Kokko calls these fragile structures. These structures happen in the connections, at the junctions and in the bonds they build.

Katie: I’m thinking about what happens at junctions. The structure I see is not held together—gently or otherwise—but it’s a cacophony of parts coming together. A Rube Goldberg machine of precarious connections, fleeting touches, bursts of velocity, inertia then activity, pendulums, propulsion, moments of frenzy, stroking, patting, periods approaching calm. When these structures are set in motion, the moments of connection don’t happen simultaneously, but slowly accumulate. The scale of the effort remains pretty consistent, many small gestures working together. Now I think of change, and hope. 

I’m thinking of the vibrations in institutions that don’t register enough to shake the walls, be felt in the body, or demand attention. It’s not that the frequencies of these vibrations can’t be felt, it’s that things/beings/people have not developed the sensitivities—or found the tools—to be able to acknowledge them. An analogy for vibrations like these could be infrasound—low frequencies that operate at a register more audible to animals that humans. The sensations they produce—a something in the nervous system that nonetheless cannot be consciously perceived—could materialise as a combination of queasiness, fear, awe, anxiety, ghosts. So this is a provocation—how can an institution strive to listen at the edge of its own hearing capacities? And how can these listening practices be developed? 

Orlan: I think UrbanApa is a fragile junction, a loose thread of gentle touches. Maybe it’s creating infra sounds, shaking and vibrating the stone set walls of the museum. At the moment, though, I don’t know if these vibrations are resonating with Ateneum. I don’t know if Ateneum is hearing them—hearing me, for example, banging at its walls in these different events I’ve been part of, always invited here by colleagues and friends from the outside of the institution, never the institution itself. 

Why is that? I want to think it’s because I’m dangerous. I want to believe that my body, my questions, my critiques, and my visions of change are dangerous. They are threatening to shake this system. However, alone I’m nothing. I can’t shift these rocks, these systems that exclude me, structures that ignore me, words that don’t speak to me, toilets that are not built for me, stories that don’t include people like me. 

This Wednesday I was here, witnessing a dance performance by the House of Ninja. I watched these amazing dancers contort their bodies in aligned angles, move in unison, gently supported by each other. They spoke about their queer identities searching for an existence in systems that have excluded them, about finding new and safer spaces, chosen families, acceptance, themselves. I whooped and cheered, wanting to join these beautiful voices that were breaking the cold silence of the museum hall. I wanted to offer a sound of support to these stories about fragility, and about the power that it can bring about when listened to and taken seriously.

This house vibrates when we tap, bang, dance on these structures together. When we are here as a collection of voices and bodies, trickles of liquid, tiny rocks connecting, slowly wearing down the mass that seems so unchanging. Change does not have to be a demolition. It can be an exchange that resonates. 

This is the spark. If I was the museum, I’d listen to this.