On being non-binary: Meme artist Kaino Wennerstrand commits a long-form poem encouraging us to come together as workers

, 5 August 2020

On Being Non-Binary

Kaino Wennerstrand, ‘Workers Unity’ (2020). Courtesy the artist.

Some stuck with Stalin because he could fight fascism
others because they believed in the October Revolution long after 
everything had gone wrong
such as the best writer ever aka Victor Serge 
criticized Stalin and the show trials
(where the accused were forced to confess to crimes they didn’t commit) 
Serge paid the price for his bravery and led the life of an outcast
Serge’s friend Leon Trotsky
aka the worker of the century
was assasinated afterwards in Mexico

Just because countless leaders have failed us 
and we didn’t listen to those who saw through the facade 
while we fell in love with the look of our own commitment
we shouldn’t throw in the towel
We must learn from past experiences and find 
what unites us against oppression of all kinds

After suffering a heart attack, Serge wrote: 
“I do not feel any obsessive anxiety and have not lost the taste for anything I love: those close to me, life, ideas and work …”

I’ve written a lot of bullshit, some of it under the banner of anti-work
but there’s nothing wrong with work, apart from the fact that 
we don’t own the fruits of our labor

I hope my peers see how aligning with workers makes the most sense
The worst you can do as an artist is to try and get a seat at the table 
by showing what a credible, reasonable adult you are 
by reciting popular economists and shunning your peers 
who dare use the word ‘neoliberal’

Kaino Wennerstrand, ‘Socialism’ (2020). Courtesy the artist.

as if it is not a factual description of the system we’re in
as if the work begun by Hayek and others almost 100 years ago 
didn’t take over the whole globe, bringing down all opposition 
to the free flow of capital and labor
as if there isn’t a bunch of beautiful, even sensible things drawn up by Hayek 
aka a really good writer
but that his hatred of labor unions and centralized planning on one hand 
and the colonial takeover of countries for capital investment on the other 
is where it all went wrong
Hayek is Stalin as a creative
all ideas and proposals
far removed from the wreckage they cause

as if we wouldn’t now live in a world, here in Finland too
where even trade unions think infinite growth is necessary 
and pitting workers from different countries against each other is just the way it is
or that TV-ready economists didn’t succeed on selling us on the idea that
adequate minimum pay is ‘bad for immigrants’ because it makes the job market untenable
instead of admitting that without union membership and large-scale binding agreements workers will always be mistreated, especially the migrants and paperless most prone to 
facing racism, as we saw recently when Helsingin Sanomat newspaper
wrote about the large-scale abuse of cleaning workers in Finland

That’s exactly what happens when you are made to negotiate on your own but are powerless

I’ve also complained about how the contemporary art we learn in school 
is nothing but a continuation of the  American propaganda war
look up abstract expressionism and CIA
btw, Sweden is the CIA of Scandinavia 
hiding its fortunes made from arms deals 
behind the softness of Abba and Max Martin

Kaino Wennerstrand, ‘Sweden is our CIA’ (2020). Courtesy the artist.

but no, there’s nothing wrong in making art
when you allow your friends to challenge you

we artists have never been open to that kind of criticism 
we just want our ideas, and ourselves, to be seen and heard
nevermind if they, or we, reach their fullest potential or not

which is why we can’t really build anything together because each of us 
has to make their own thing, every time, from the ground up
capitalist copyright laws neatly mirror this
they make sure we don’t consider ideas and art as a common
that could help in the unity of workers globally
so instead of pooling our thinking together 
we sell our ideas on the marketplace individually
accepting the piracy-as-business-model of Spotify, from Sweden

We are not taught in art schools how to work together as one
we learn to make others work on our ideas by 
stepping over others into the role of a director or the gifted one
who makes others suffer in order to fulfil their vision
or steals the creativity of others to get a seat at the table

Stop mimicking such hierarchies in art (and everywhere)
working with capitalist tools makes you and your institution a tool
there’s a big difference between helping out your friends in their pursuits
and trying to read a director’s mind in order to better please them
who in turn is pleasing people above them and yelling at you
in a fit of upward mobility fever dream anxiety attack

I mean we do need leaders but I trust you see the difference betweena need for a leader in a pressing situation vs. self-created hierarchies that exist 
only to accelerate competition and give us winners and losers

Kaino Wennerstrand, ‘Thumbs’ (2020). Courtesy the artist.

To help the socialist cause, we must make art socialist
it doesn’t mean socialist realism or ‘political art’
do not lose your taste for the things you love
OK I admit this bit is confusing
art is gringe and joy at once
maybe there’s no need to bring art into this for now
I have a tendency

The reason for wanting to overthrow the neoliberal world order 
is not change for the sake of change
it’s because we can’t keep being happy while the poorest pay the price
for what good is Netflix, your grassroots gallery, or your love life
if their existence relies on bombing civilians, busting unions
and destroying our habitat with over-consumption?

Socialism is the belief that cynicism is not a necessary evil

How can we build a large coalition? When ever I write ‘we’ 
I want to mean anyone 
who would benefit from a global worker’s unity 
What if you’re not working? You’re still judged by your proximity to work
so no worries you’re welcome to join the cause

I want to see trade unions here in Finland erase the lines between professions
Sound designers 
are fighting the same fight as hairdressers 
are fighting the same fight as small businesses are fighting the same fight as farmers 
are fighting the same fight as cleaning workers 
are fighting the same fight as populist-party-voters 
are fighting the same fight as students without trust funds

Kaino Wennerstrand, ‘Yea, I’m AQNB v.2’ (2020). Courtesy the artist.

The division of labor is a form of control
time we stopped buying into it
coalitions do not mean we agree on everything 
just that we agree on the fundamentals 
that matter the most
You know what’s best in the place you live in and if you don’t
then team up, let others kindly challenge you 
and allow them be challenged by you

But really this must be made a global issue
the same fight over dignity is going on everywhere
trade unions used to be international
we need to revisit that mood
for what good is a pay rise when it’s stolen from somebody elsewhere?

We might not see this change in our lifetime 
but that’s not the point to be honest
the point is to dedicate your life to doing what’s right
this way you will live on
not as a celebrated individual but as radiant energy

Also, I’m non-binary and use they/them pronouns and 
my name is now Kaino Wennerstrand and 
that’s that

socialist first nonbinary second
I’ll take misgendering by class equals who are working it out over
being shimmered by the grease of leftovers from corporate diversity training that comes with the assumption that 
I don’t mind being complicit in the bombing, busting and destruction**

Kaino Wennerstrand is the Helsinki-based artist behind AQNB’s recent series of subscription drive-themed memes.