Coming soon (hopefully): Perfect Lives

posted 23 March, 2024

Been awhile, huh? 

I mean, wow, talk about neglect; the last public post on this website was December 2020. Well, I've been busy. Actually, since before that; in May 2020, I started working on the next "big" project of mine: Perfect Lives.

The short version is that I bought an old, rotting former train station in the Estonian countryside, and started renovating it, with the idea to open as a public platform (and also for my own practice).

And it's taken a bit longer than I had planned. But it's close.

The basics

This is the former train station of Tori, Estonia, which is oddly not actually located in the town of Tori but in another village 3km away. This building is about 100 years old, and was one of two houses built for the railway workers to live in. The original station burned down at some point (probably during the war?) and the building that I am now calling 'Perfect Lives' functioned as the station up until the '90s, when post-Soviet privatisation took place. That was the last time anyone was actually living in it, and as a result there was a tremendous amount of work that had to be done just to make it minimally habitable. And there's still a long way to go.

As of December, the ground floor of the house is more or less functional, which still leaves the second floor and above to deal with (the roof is an absolute disaster). But it's time to get some activities started here, assuming I can find anybody who wants to come and make some. But what exactly do I want to do?

The pitch

There's an open call for collaborators up at Take a look at that before you read any further.

Some more background

If you know me and my work, you'll know that from 2010-2018 I was mostly busy operating various cultural platforms (Ptarmigan, Temporary, Kuusi Palaa, and the 2015 Pixelache Festival). Since the collapse of Kuusi Palaa in summer 2018, I have been laying low, working on a few low-key personal creative projects, and then since 2020, planning Perfect Lives. (And mostly taking on an enormous amount of freelance work in the private sector to finance the renovations).

A lot has changed in this time, both with me personally and in the world. The pandemic, for one thing; how quickly we want to forget it, but it definitely reorientated my own attitudes towards cultural assembly, and not necessarily in a bad way. But the biggest change that I've undergone since the collapse of Kuusi Palaa has been my increased interest in tech and Internet criticism, which I hope to make the centre of my own creative practice. Which is to say it's somewhat of a shift away from art and aesthetics towards topics of cultural studies, political economy, and activism. 

I should say that at the moment, this is only theoretically at the centre of my own creative practice. I have not yet engaged with it in any public form, instead spending my time reading, gathering ideas, and strategising as to how to marry this focus with my past work (which was: designing experimental platforms and building participatory cultural experiences).

I'm proud to call myself a Luddite, or Neo-Luddite, which is a growing movement that references the Luddites of the 19th century but with the proper understanding of what they were –– not a conservative, knee-jerk reaction against technology as the term is commonly used today, but a class-consciousness movement that questioned the power and governance structures that were eroding their already precarious lives.

I'm excited to attempt a platform that will have many of the aims that the Biathlon system had in operation at Temporary and Kuusi Palaa, such as finding diverse participants and challenging the traditional roles and assignments of culture events –– but orientated around this topic, which is not necessarily a narrow or limiting focus. Personally, I want to design open 'classes' that actually teach tech skills such as coding and systems administration –– but with a heavy dose of philosophy and critical thinking behind them. At Perfect Lives, my dream is that we can learn together how to code, but when we install a npm package, we will analyse the power structures behind the package, from the corporate platforms that produce and host it, to the hidden physical infrastructure of servers and cables.

But that's just one idea of mine; I also still want to do weird, experimental, and fun things. And I don't want Perfect Lives to be just my ideas or my place at all –– I desperately want to find other people to build it with. People who will bring their own ideas and energy.


This isn't going to be easy. I have always worked as an events-based artist, and operating my own platforms was just a way to make that easy. But that's cause I worked in cities. If I had an idea for an event or workshop, no matter how bizarre, I could just throw it on the calendar and see who turned up.

Here, well, there is nobody around. This is not the kind of place you can casually attend an event at. In-person activities are going to be limited probably to some more intense week-long 'camp' type activities in the summer, and even then, there is not that much space for sleeping, etc. The aforementioned idea of critical courses as a sort of alternative 'school' (plus reading groups, or any of the other cumulative participation projects I always dreamed of doing at Temporary and never quite managed), will require some sort of hybrid online telepresence situation. So this is a way of working that I am not experienced in, and to be honest, not generally that excited by.

I also don't know who is likely to actually come and make this happen with me. I know I don't want to do it alone, but I struggled in past projects to find collaborators who actually would take their own agency and lead projects. I have recognised many of my own shortcomings in communicating this, and will definitely be more clear about roles and boundaries. (For example: I own the house. You can't knock down any walls, or paint it yellow, etc.)

It's also very important to me to stay 'grassroots', which is a somewhat annoying term, but by which I mean not becoming a formal institution, or chasing funding. I have felt increasingly alienated from what I call 'application-based culture', where funding and application cycles dominate the artistic production process, and become a mental prison for the practitioner. I'm not naming any one scene in particular, cough HELSINKI cough, but it can be frustrating, especially when it leads to culture practitioners altering what they want to do in hopes of hitting the hot funding buttons. At this point I have been happy to be able to support myself and the construction of the Perfect Lives project through my own freelance work, but I recognise that not everyone is able or willing to do this. 

A volunteer-based platform is not good either; these tend to exploit, drain, and burn out talented people. But I've currently just posted an open call asking complete strangers to come to a half-liveable house in the middle of nowhere to build a project together with me for no pay. This is shitty and hypocritical of me perhaps, but it's equally bad to have people coming for short-term visits to build their CVs and collect an artist stipend before moving on to their next stop (I know what that's like; I used to host residencies, and it wasn't always like this –– wonderful and talented and dedicated people passed through Ptarmigan –– but it definitely was in some cases). What I dream of establishing at Perfect Lives is not a volunteer-based establishment, but a full-blown cooperative: one in which our own income-generating activities, together or individually, can be somewhat pooled and used for truly independent productions.

To be very honest here, I'm most scared about how much momentum I may have lost over the past few years. Not mentally or critically –– I feel sharper than ever before. But I have drifted away from my past networks a good bit after three years in isolation, smashing plaster and ripping up floorboards –– and even before that, when I became disillusioned with the attention economy of social media and how it's decimated the inspiring, intimate ties that culture activities used to build. Some of this is just me getting older, sure. But I also genuinely have no idea how to find people to join this effort.

Two ideas: one practical, one a fantasy

The previous post on this personal website of mine was made in December 2020, announcing that I was starting an Onlyfans account, which was a half-joke that I ended up taking way too seriously, as I spent 2021 making increasingly lengthy essay videos for that platform. Instead of adult content, I wrote and performed videos of roughly an hour long each, on various topics including nostalgia, art and politics, apocalypse, and invisibility. I'm actually rather proud of them (not technically, they're all just shot on my old phone) and have recently started making them again (after taking nearly 2 years off).  

But since it stopped being funny to me to use Onlyfans (and they closed my account for inactivity anyway), I've decided that it would be better to self-host them, but still behind a minimal paywall (for reasons too long to justify here). So, I plan to start writing what will essentially be a self-hosted version of Patreon, which I'll put up as open source, with the explicit intention of promoting cooperatives of content creators –– instead of giving Substack or Patreon or Onlyfans or Bandcamp a cut of your profits, you'll be able to host it yourself, and keep more of the proceeds. I haven't started writing it yet, and I'm not sure that it will scale – but this is exactly the type of project I would like to host at Perfect Lives. It's software, yes, but it could also have in-person events and experiences built around it, and actually be something useful to people in the world at large. 

A central absurd contradiction that is at the heart of my worldview as a Luddite is that yes, the Internet is absolutely terrible, but it doesn't have to be. For the most part, there are no oppressive overlords that are forcing us to use these terrible platforms and extractive services such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. There are a zillion open source alternatives with similar (or better) functionality, yet: everyone voluntarily chooses to use the shitty ones. The only reason the Internet is terrible is because of human psychology and behaviour. Which, yes, platform capitalism preys on and exploits with its dopamine-hitting LIKES and followers, etc. But we are capable of refusing this.

'Refusal', a term I started thinking about when I made a video essay in 2021 called 'The art of refusal' (from a musical context, mostly), is something that I keep coming back to. It's something important, I think. Expect more in this direction.

Anyway, "self-hosted open source Pateron-clone that probably nobody will use" is a practical idea, and a summer project for me. I need to wrap this up now, so now I'll go wildly speculative here, and state that my real longshot fantasy here is to attract people to the area in general. If nothing else, I want Perfect Lives to be the planting of a flag. Freaks, Luddites, leftists, and other weirdos –– come and join!

This house isn't big enough for more than a few people, but this part of Estonia is beautiful, and there's lots of cheap property for sale in the region. I was only able to do this because of the generosity of the person I bought it from, who allowed me to live next door while starting renovations. I would happily pay this favour forward. If Perfect Lives interests you, and you want to buy a house in the next village or just few km away (and you're not a psycho etc.), then I'll happily do all I can to help. At the very least, you can borrow my chainsaw and use the wi-fi here.

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