The Refusal: A Symposium In the Arctic

An interdisciplinary conversation about resistance and retreat in the remote winter setting of Kilpisjärvi, Finland


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Curatorial practice
  • Philosophy / Theory

Organizing Institutions

Slought, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies and Department of Mathematics at the University of Helsinki


Juliette Kennedy, Aaron Levy

Process initiated


Opens to public



Kilpisjärvi Biological Station
Käsivarrentie 14622
Kilpisjärvi Finland


0% Formal - 100% Informal

Slought, the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies and the Department of Mathematics at the University of Helsinki are pleased to present "The Refusal," a symposium in the arctic from February 8-11, 2015. This interdisciplinary conversation about resistance and retreat will take place at the Kilpisjärvi Biological Station in the remote winter setting of Kilpisjärvi, Finland.

From Sophocles' Antigone, to Herman Melville's Bartelby, the Scrivener and beyond, radical acts of refusal have long been of fascination to artists and social activists. Today, what does it mean to refuse the hyper-connectivity of our globalized world and the ever-increasing sophistication of our political, economic, and technological systems? What would it mean for us to radically question and remove ourselves from the systems of complexity which govern our lives? Is passivity, inwardness and introspection a viable strategy, or a romantic delusion?

Supplementing this focus on the possible modes of refusal which might permeate Finnish life and artistic cultures is a focus on mathematics, and the question, what is the nature of the mathematician's refusal? One strand of this refusal involves the pure mathematician's abstraction away from the empirical. Another strand involves the mathmetician's intransigence in the face of the desire to provide a grounding for their practice. Finally, there is the question of how and why the mathematicians Alexandre Grothendieck and Grisha Perelman have withdrawn from the mathematical community, even to the point of refusing to pursue their own mathematics.

The geographic marginality and isolation of Kilpisjärvi will also serve as a launching point for these (impossible?) conversations and the symposium itself, which will feature lectures and conversations by a diverse array of mathematicians, artists, art historians, curators and philosophers. "The Refusal" will begin with various engagements with the arctic landscape, inspired by the work of participating artist Antti Laitinen. These activities will be followed by a series of talks and conversations that situate the question of refusal within different cultural and theoretical contexts, exploring the topic as it pertains to mathematics, visual culture, urbanism, ecology, and architectural practice. Due to the remote location of the symposium, the proceedings will be recorded and subsequently made available online.

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Kilpisjärvi is a village in the municipality of Enontekiö, Lapland. It is located at the very northwesternmost point of Finland, high above the Arctic Circle and on the border of Sweden and Norway.

Like most villages in the region, Kilpisjärvi is built mainly around one major road, and has about 114 residents. In addition to having the northernmost research station of the University of Helsinki, as well as the KAIRA (Kilpisjärvi Atmospheric Imaging Receiver Array) research facility of the University of Oulu in Finland, Kilpisjärvi also has its own school and a hotel.

The average temperature in Kilpisjärvi all year round is -2,3°C. In January, the average temperature in Kilpisjärvi is -14°C (or 7°F), which rises in July to +11°C (52°F).

Film Program

Adam Curtis, Bitter Lake (2015)

Mikhail Mikheev, Grigory Perelman (2015)

Béla Tarr, The Turin Horse, (2011)

Laura Poitras, My Country, My Country (2006)

Hito Steyerl, Is the Museum a Battlefield? (2014)


Sun, February 8, 2015

10:00: Outdoor walk to Sweden, inspired by the work of Antti Laitinen

01:00: Lectures by Caroline Bassett, Riikka Stewen, Marja Sakari, Barbara Vanderlinden, and Antti Laitnen

11:00: Roundtable with Caroline Bassett, Riikka Stewen, Marja Sakari, and Barbara Vanderlinden, moderated by Aaron Levy

Mon, February 9, 2015

09:00: Outdoor walk to Norway, inspired by the work of Antti Laitinen

01:00: Lectures by Caroline Bassett, Riikka Stewen, Marja Sakari, Barbara Vanderlinden, and Ulises Reinaldo Urra Hernandez

Tue, February 10, 2015

10:00: Outdoor walk in Finland, inspired by the work of Antti Laitinen

20:00: Lectures by Juliette Kennedy and Andrés Villaveces

Wed, February 11, 2015

10:00: Excursion to the Norwegian fjords, inspired by the work of Antti Laitinen


Caroline Bassett is a 2014-2015 Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies Fellow, University of Helsinki, and Professor in the School of Media, Film and Music at University of Sussex. (Read more)

Juliette Kennedy is a University Lecturer in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Helsinki. (Read more)

Antti Laitinen is an artist who lives and works in Finland. He represented Finland in the Aalto Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. (Read more)

Ulises Reinaldo Urra Hernandez is an artist living between Havana and Brussels. He is pursuing a PhD at the Free University of Brussels on collage practice.

Aaron Levy is Executive Director of Slought, and Senior Lecturer in English and the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania. (Read more)

Marja Sakari is Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Kiasma) in Finland, and formerly a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts. (Read more)

Riikka Stewen is Professor of Art History and Art Theory at the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts. (Read more)

Barbara Vanderlinden is an international art curator, critic and historian of art, and Professor of Exhibitions Studies and Spatiality at the University of the Arts Helsinki. (Read more)

Andrés Villaveces is an Associate Professor of Mathematics at the Universidad Nacional in Bogotá, Columbia. (Read more)

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Editors Srdjan Weiss, Katherine Carl and Aaron Levy survey perspectives on power and evasion, with essays by Samuel Weber and others on human rights, geopolitical conflict, and sovereignty.

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