a participative art project for Oulu 2026

“Cry me a river” is an articulate art and social programme of workshops, public discussions and an exhibition around the topic of young people’s identity and self-image, namely their emotional relationship to themselves, to others, to society and, most importantly, to Nature. To tackle the Climate Crisis, we propose to focus on the human being, by using photography to express and understand authentic emotions and needs, in order to develop the empathic gaze towards the self, others and the Planet. Social sustainability is indispensable to address Environmental Sustainability: we and our Planet are more united than most people think, and the latest climatic disasters are forcing us to realise it.  Moreover, Northern Finland with its extreme weather, brings us the opportunity to work with young people who have a strong bond with Nature. 

The human being has created a society mainly focussed on the market, on power and money, which are not authentic human needs. This has created a sick society, where mental illness has been increasing exponentially, especially in the last few years and especially in youth. And of course, this has sickened our Planet too. But society wants us to be happy and strong, motivated, if we want to be successful. What do we do with all those other emotions, that anxiety, that fear. Do we have to repress them? Addiction and other mental health issues can be a natural response to a society that says: are you sad or anxious? take a pill! 

Young people’s identity has been increasingly influenced by their public image in the social networks, diminishing their attention towards their self-image, their authentic emotions and needs. Digital culture thus influences the identity of younger generations but we can use technological tools (e.g. cameras, smartphones and social media) as a method of investigation and understanding of the self, of the other, of one’s own community and one’s relationship to Nature. Art is a great ally, autobiographical photography even better, because it is more accessible. We transform our emotions into powerful artworks which can speak to the public, provoking mirroring, reminding us that it is OK to feel. 

The project has at its core autobiographical SPEX workshops lead by artist and facilitator Cristina Nuñez and involving groups of local children and young people (7-26). The Self-Portrait Experience (SPEX) method is an artistic journey through all aspects of our lives (Me, Me and the Other, Me and the World) using photography and video, in order to produce autobiographical projects. SPEX allows us to look at and own all our emotions and broaden our perception of ourselves, of others and of the world, in order to discover the potential. It is also a powerful tool for self-knowledge, self-acceptance and self-empowerment. Exhibiting these artworks is a sort of activism, or better ‘artivism’, because we claim a society more based on human emotions and needs, instead of the needs of the market. Nuñez completed her PhD on the SPEX dispositive in 2020 at the University of Derby, UK.

Nuñez will likewise train a small group of the most motivated youth, and a group of professionals who work with youth, so that they will become SPEX facilitators and lead, or assist in the workshops. The participation of young people from immigrant families and disadvantaged groups will be particularly encouraged.

Video presentation of Cry me a River

One of the main goals of “Cry Me a River” is to equip professionals and youth workers with powerful skills that will eventually create real positive and permanent change in participating people. By providing a space and tools for free expression of authentic emotions and manifestation of the real self through art, a deep transformation of their understanding of self will occur, followed by a redefinition of their relationships with others in society and the environment. The initiated root-up change on the basic individual micro-level has a great potential and massive impact on the macro-level of the social interactions. Furthermore, the proposed structure of the branching workshops, where SPEX facilitators can spread the method and train further individuals in their institutions and organisations, ensures a bigger impact. Providing some workshops online as well as a new social media platform based on authenticity gives the project a pan-European dimension. Beside the professionals from Oulu region and Finland in general, the online workshops are open for individuals from other countries. Collaboration with Trencin/Slovakia will create a dialogue between the two European Capitals of Culture 2026 and may give a further opportunity to present the outcomes of the project in another country. The latter will also be achieved thanks to the final book publication that, beside promoting the project in Oulu and in Finland, will serve as a presentation of the SPEX method that can be exported further giving a guarantee of a wide-reaching impact. By implementing the workshops in various institutions and organisations, such as the Oulu university, NGO’s, prison, as well as reaching out to organisations in the countryside of the Oulu region, SPEX will promote equality and will set up a new model of interactions in the region between the different cultural actors. Given the nature of the SPEX method, the desired outcome will manifest through the new quality of the interpersonal and social interactions thanks to empowering individuals on the emotional level. Difficult emotions hidden in the darkness of minds could be brought to light – they will finally have a safe space to be expressed and channelled through art. Thanks to technology such as tools proposed online, “Cry Me a River” can reach those who due to many reasons might feel excluded. By providing them a chance to balance their difficult emotions, connect with others and finally express themselves artistically, they will build a solid base for pursuing their dreams and their further development on an individual, social and emotional level.

The title of the project, “Cry me a river” recalls a jazz song (1953) by Arthur Hamilton for Ella Fitzgerald and recently performed by Justin Timberlake. It’s a love song about a break-up, but for us, the title suggests the intense despair that a very high percentage of young people around the world feel about Climate Change and their own future on this planet. It is also an invitation to express intense emotions, the message that it is OK to feel other than happiness, that emotions can change the world, if they become thoughts and actions (Didi-Hubermann, 2013).

Below, see the catalogue of the project “My Echo, My Shadow and Me” for Esch 2022, European Capital of Culture, involving over 50 young people from or living in Luxembourg who participated to the SPEX workshops led by Nuñez and produced the images for the physical exhibition at the Maison du Savoir, University of Luxembourg and the online exhibition.

Below, a video about Nuñez’s work with teenagers: