Pilvi Takala, If your heart wants it (remix), 2020
Researchers: Paris Furst, Alice Wickström, Jessie Bullivant
Production Assistants: Jessie Bullivant, Iona Roisin
Camera: Katharina Diessner
Editing: Elisa Purfürst
Sound design: Tobias Purfürst
Voice Re-recording: Emre Türker
Voice actors: Derya Durmaz, Paris Furst, Emma Waltraud Howes, Uzay Gökhan Irmak, Edvard Lammervo, Dominik Weber
Commissioned by Aalto University School of Business, Finland
Supported by KRIEG/PXL-MAD School of Arts Hasselt, Belgium
Pilvi Takala, The Stroker, 2018
Director of Photography – Katharina Dießner
Sound Recording – Karl Laeufer, Luke David Harris
Editing – Elisa Purfürst
Sound Design – Christian Obermaier
Choreographer – Emma Waltraud Howes
Co-writer, Production Assistant – Iona Roisin
Production Assistant – Amelie Befeldt
Curator – Teresa Calonje Trenor
Title Design – Ana Fernandes
Performers – Donna Celay, Hais Hassan, Laura Hemming-Lowe, Manos Koutsis, Matthew Moorhouse, Patricia Mories, Iona Roisin, Emma Waltraud Howes
Thanks: Sam Aldenton, Second Home staff and members, Carlos/Ishikawa / Vanessa Carlos, Helsinki Contemporary, Reetta Huhtanen, Hannes Bruun, Nicole Vögele, Stine Marie Jacobsen, Maria Pulli, Nina Yuen
Supported by AVEK / The Promotion Centre for Audiovisual Culture, Finnish Institute in London, Koneen Säätiö, Second Home, Taike / Arts Promotion Centre Finland
From Second Home to Second Life on the Farm?
Watching Pilvi Takala’s The Stroker (2018) atop a laptop in one’s living room-cum-office during the second half of 2020 proved a mildly eerie experience. The whole paradigm that such a hip, co-working space might provide a backdrop to one’s everyday existence now seems a distant reverie, while the social custom of touch, however superficial and passing, can only be read as a gut-churning taboo. In this sense, The Stroker (2018) might as well be a eulogy to the short-lived era of the urban creative class bubble — where the co-mingling of speculative real estate, hype, relentless networking and the explosion of ‘bull shit jobs’1 served as a key indicator of economic vibrancy.
The Rise of the Creative Class: And How It’s Transforming Work (2002) by the now infamous Richard Florida, has served as a blueprint for worldwide urban policy makers, keen to transform their cities, particularly those with decaying industrial heritages, into bobo-hip magnets for luring capital. Florida asserted the importance of good coffee, understated yet polished aesthetics and general friendliness — as the under-acknowledged macro-economic drivers that make or break the future of every city. Governments and budding real estate tycoons nodded in agreement, and in turn spaces intended to host the churning wheels of ‘the creative economy’ mushroomed across large metropolitan cities. In the UK’s context, Second Home — the co-working space where The Stroker is set — is very much a product of the second wave of the creative-class buzz, which was likely an attempt to quickly patch up the gaping wounds of the 2008 financial crisis by marrying Floridism with the newly emerged trend of replicating (at least in terms of branding) the Silicon Valley dream. So it is hardly a coincidence that Second Home is co-founded by Rohan Silva, the one-time tech and startup policy advisory to former Prime Minister David Cameron.
If there is something to reminisce about in terms of the structural underpinnings of spaces like Second Home or the larger TechCity Initiative, of which it was originally a part; it is that they both operated on the ‘principle of smoke and mirrors’. On closer inspection, it turned out that only 10% of the companies comprising TechCity were actually engaged in tech, while most ‘inhabitants’ were in one way or another related to PR.2 Second Home’s Instagram-friendly interiors are ideally matched by the non-committal friendliness of a passing co-worker for whom greeting has become a professional specialisation, and are in turn reminders of the somewhat embarrassing reflection of a culture running on hot air and burning through billions in the process.
The pandemic and our responses to it have jolted economies back to the inescapable grit of material dependencies. That we must: be shielded from contamination, secure basic subsistence, count hospital beds and ensure the functioning of logistical chains for key sectors such as food and medical equipment in order to minimise rising unemployment and poverty, all serve as harsh and unjustly distributed reminders of the need to reassess what makes an economy a success. Meanwhile, the lucky members of the creative class remain stuck in endless Zoom meetings, while the less lucky have registered as Deliveroo drivers. Second Home has done a partial pivot to online-community building for its members, providing ‘virtual masterclasses to equip [them] with the professional tools [they] need to navigate this tumultuous time’, wellness classes, a curated program of discursive and music events (while at present still holding on to its real estate).
While the dense urban setting continues to signal risk and lacks a time horizon for the decisive reversal of this condition, the imagined airiness of the rural is conjured as a desirable antidote to the malaise of the city. And while the image of remote cottage-living, subsistence farming and access to 5G connection may be a mirage reserved for the few, the ‘countryside’ may very well be a key site for hosting the mutated version of Second Home. Reporting on the state of affairs in the rural municipality of De Rijp, architect Rem Koolhaas notes how weirdly ‘un-rural’ that area is — ‘most of the landscape is heritage, but inside the preserved buildings, contemporary, “un-rural” activities are unfolding’.3 As he puts it, contrary to the romantic notion of countryside as unadulterated land, ‘the countryside is a vast and unending digital field’ whose infrastructure can easily assimilate the FLEX worker economy. While one can’t help but read Koolhaas’s foreboding as a push for a post-Floridian rural policy to be serviced by his company OMA/AMO, the ‘countryside’ might very well be the kind of backdrop where the virtual experience of ‘co-working’ can shed its clinical edge, offering instead a fertile ground for new forms of organisational sociality. Speculation lives on, but perhaps it offers a second chance to make it work socially, aesthetically, environmentally and economically?
1 In Bull Shit Jobs: A Theory (2018), David Graeber talks about the worrying trend of, on the one hand, proliferation of jobs that yield no discernible social value, and on the other hand, the tendency to equate self-worth with one’s professional life in post-Fordist economies.
2 ‘Tech City — believe the hype?’ by Jay McGregor, The Guardian, Wed 1 May 2013.
3 ‘COUNTRYSIDE’, Rem Koolhaas, 032c, 13 Feb 2020.