As organizers of Complaints Choir, Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen have heard it all: “My dreams are boring.” “My grandmother is a racist.” “My neighbor organizes Hungarian folk dances above my bedroom.” “I am fat and lazy and half-old.” Since 2005, the artists, who live in Helsinki, Finland, have invited people to sing their gripes in unison, in public, and online. The process is simple. First, invite others. Then, find a good musician. Once complaints are collected, written in verse, and rehearsed, participants are asked to record a public performance and submit it to the Complaints Choir website, a warehouse for songs with submissions from Japan to Chicago.
Complaints include the overtly political–for example, social injustices in a small, Brazilian town–to the deeply personal, like having too much sex on the brain. But “the private, the personal, can be very political,” Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen write on their website. “‘I have too much time!’ can be seen as a personal tragedy, but also points to a major defect in capitalistic society, which sidelines people because they are of no use in the production cycle.”In Cairo, Egypt, a recent complaints choir drew so much interest and such large crowds, that it evolved into the “Choir Project,” an ongoing, local version that generates reflections and concerns about current political conditions in the region.
Kalleinen and Kochta-Kalleinen make work that often documents daily experiences, such as on-the-job mishaps, and doctor-patient relationships. The artists first got the idea for Complaints Choir while living in Finland, where the word for those who complain literally translates to “complaint choir.” They compiled their first choir in Birmingham, England, with the help of two arts organizations; since then, over seventy choirs have formed around the world.