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artistic process interviews performance&dance

Anna Nykyri and the transient bodies

Pandemic has left many cities different, as if touched by invisible forces that folded a new narrative in front of us, for what is here now, and what might be more common in the future. At least, it is true to New York City. Finnish film director, visual artist and choreographer, Anna Nykyri created a short film “In-Between”, 2020 (2’51), to capture cityscapes during the pandemic. The artist collaborated with the photographers Aukusti Heinonen, Juan Pablo de la Vega and Griselda San Martin in Helsinki, Mexico City, and New York, respectively, to show relationships of the transient bodies that avoid contact with each other in these cities.

From short film, In-Between (2020). Image: Juan Pablo de la Vega

The documentary film curated by Andrea Valencia, is conceived as a montage that compiles photography and moving image to grasp the results of social distancing in the three cities, which are connected by the shared experience of the pandemic. By capturing details and fragments of the spaces and the moving bodies, “In-Between” suggests that, while movement and touch are being restricted, we are living an emotional collective experience.*

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As an artist, your practice is quite multidisciplinary. What is interesting is the way your dance and choreography, and film-making, communicate fresh angles to these fields. Maybe there is a level of interconnectivity between these artistic disciplines. Can you tell, how did you eventually pick your artistic practices?

Anna Nykyri: My intention as an artist has always been trying to create an artform, that would bring together my artistic interests at the time. So, I never tried to be a director, screenwriter, visual artist or choreographer. The current piece that I’m creating matters the most. My definition as an artist can be defined through the piece.  

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where we come from, to some extend defines what becomes of us, or let me put it this way. I think that sometimes we dream very early on, what we want to be doing when we grow up. Where did you grow up and go to school?

AN: As a 4-year-old, I told my parents I wanted to be a dancer. We lived in the rural countryside and the ballet classes were too far away to attend multiple times a week. Kaustinen, where we lived in, is famous for it’s folk music tradition. So, music it was. During the ten years I played violin, I almost never practiced, was really bad at it but somehow managed to get along with the others to an American tour (twice) and understood what it meant and took to be an artist.

Later on I started singing and playing piano. After a college of music I went to Kemi-Tornio University of Applied Sciences to study my BA in media, started ballet classes and continued to MA-studies in Finnish Academy of Fine Arts specializing in moving image (MFA). I was lucky to have Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Veli Granö, Salla Tykkä and Liisa Roberts as my professors. They were great teachers and certainly had a great impact on my working processes. During the Academy of Fine Arts I also studied pedagogical dance studies in Jyväskylä University & later MA Choreography studies in Trinity Laban College of Music and Dance in London. I guess I have just always really loved learning new things.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Trinity Laban is a dear place in my own artistic history. When I was a student there, it was a place to find interdisciplinary approaches. You are a recent graduate. Did you find that the choreographer training supported multiple directions and platforms?

AN: Yes, I absolutely think it did. Still, after attending the MFA studies in Finnish Academy of Fine Arts with an unlimited number of courses to attend with a huge number of supportive one-to-one meetings with teachers & curators, studying in MA Choreography studies in Trinity Laban was much more self-lead. Also, the system of art grading is a different kind of process there, and I feel that being judged by juries was certainly the opposite of the pedagogical angle I had been used to. Of course the school had great teachers, and they are known for having creative professionals doing and implementing the curriculum. But, I personally felt that the system was partly old-fashioned. So, I struggled with disagreeing with some of the principles the system is built on, but fought my way through it, eventually. And learned a lot for sure.

Sonic Presence of an Absent Choreography

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Sound is an important part of your choreographic and creative work as well. In choreography, sound often comes together with the moving bodies. But, how do you compose a dance piece without choreography being visually present on stage, relying solely on sound? 

AN: I have had the joy to work in artistic collaboration with many great sound designers, sound artists and composers, to mention a few: Petri Kuljuntausta, Olli Huhtanen, Mikko Joensuu, Antti Nykyri and Félix Blume.

Immersive sound installation and choreographic environment “Sonic Presence of an Absent Choreography” is an artistic collaboration between curator Andrea Valencia (MEX/US), sound artist Félix Blume, choreographer, dancer Veli Lehtovaara and me. The installation was made for Prague Quadrenniale 2019, Finnish ECR Exhibition Fluid Stages and was curated by KOKIMO. The piece consists entirely of recorded sounds of a dance. Through the installation, we aimed to reveal the ephemerality of the body on the stage through the immaterial media of sound.

In this particular artistic collaboration, the choreography was based on a visual score, an image I brought to the rehearsals. The image is a picture of an empty advertisement board, filled with strands of old, ripped posters. I took the picture during a nighttime in Tampere, while passing by. For some reason I just felt like the empty advertisement board in the silent city environment had all the sound and choreographic elements in it. Choreographer, dancer Veli Lehtovaara looked at the image for a while and then started dancing. Sound artist Félix Blume recorded Veli´s dance and did a great job by creating a sound score for the piece and further mixing the sounds for the installation in artistic collaboration with me and Veli.

Video documentation from the recordings of the piece, by Félix Blume (6min 41sec):
https://vimeo.com/289907108

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The all encompassing subject at the moment is of course the Covid pandemic. You created a film that was based on the pandemic in different locations of the world. Can you shed some more light on the process of making this short film?

AN: The short film “In-Between” (2020, https://vimeo.com/432870117 ) is a second work, which I had the chance to work with the great New York/Mexico City based curator Andrea Valencia. I met Andrea whilst working in ISCP residency, New York in 2017 and we instantly bonded, sharing the interest for empty spaces in the cityscape, for instance. Aukusti, who is specialized in photographing architecture, I knew from beforehand and had wanted to work with for a while already, but Juan Pablo, who especially blew my mind with his photos on the cityscapes and Griselda, who is and amazing portrait photographer (for example for New York Times magazine) were introduced to me through our curator Andrea Valencia.

The documentary film is conceived as a montage that compiles photography and moving images to grasp the results of social distancing in the three cities, which are connected by the shared experience of the pandemic. By capturing details and fragments of the spaces and the moving bodies, In-Between suggests that, while movement and touch are being restricted, we are living an emotional collective experience. -Andrea Valencia

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you think the collaboration taking place between multiple countries came together from the point of view of editing and bringing the entire visual material together?

AN: The working process, first of all, included people from various time zones during the pandemic, which created certain restrictions for timing our online meetings. Also, in Helsinki, the Covid situation during the late springtime 2020 was comparably easy, but in New York City and Mexico City, I guess no one really knew the magnitude of things at that point. So, we had to be really strict about the safety of the photographers participating, some of them having small children etc.

I felt that my main task as director in this particular project was to suggest ideas of the angles from which to shoot the world during pandemic. So, we had long talks with the photographers on the themes of the film, but still wanted to give them a lot of freedom and it was a surprise for me, how they would approach the subject. Editing the photos and videos together was an important part of the process, and reminded of editing an archival montage. During the summer 2020, we edited the film in Helsinki with Jaakko Peltokangas. Sound design of the film was made by Olli Huhtanen, whose work I deeply admire. We wanted to publish the film online so that it would be possible for everyone to access. At the same time, the film was made really fast, the clock was ticking and we knew it would stay online however it would turn out to be, there would be no going back.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It is very inspiring that you are an artist between two or many artistic endeavors. It could also be challenging, but at the same time it seems to be rewarding. What obstacles can you recall having while finding parameters in your career?

AN: Working as a multidisciplinary artist within film, fine arts, contemporary choreography and sometimes also television, for me the most challenging part has been accepting the fact that it’s OK not to be good at everything, learning as you go. For example, in Trinity Laban, I was surrounded by amazing dancers. Dance has been a part of my life as a hobby and part of my practice for a while already. Still, there were MA Choreography students with amazing talents in that section, while my background was mostly in film and visual arts.

Visual Score by Anna Nykyri

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Can you say that you are more of a choreographer than filmmaker, or is it a completely irrelevant question? 

AN: I define myself as a visual artist, working with moving image, film, cinematic installations and choreographic environments.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did your everyday life and work life balance shift, and change during the pandemic so far?

AN: It certainly changed a lot. Basically, all my artistic collaborations turned into remote work – into zoom meetings etc. During the late fall, I was screenwriting and directing a pilot episode for a documentary television series for YLE. Shooting documentary footage during the pandemic was hard work for all of us – mostly with the extremely tight safety restrictions to keep everyone safe. For the past 1,5 months I’ve been lucky enough to work remotely from a cabin at Iso-Syöte, which is the southernmost fall of Finland.

My weekly dance classes shifted into online classes (mostly Gaga movement language, developed by choreographer Ohad Naharin, which I can warmly recommend to everyone: https://www.gagapeople.com/en/) and gym training into home workouts. I really am grateful for all the dance & sports practitioners, who have continued teaching online! The online classes and workshops have saved me during these unexpected times.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: This year, you are going to be participating in WRO Media Art Biennale in Poland. It is so interesting, as it also consists of a collaboration that you started at the new award-winning Oodi library in central Helsinki?    

AN: I’m super excited about the WRO Media Art Biennale opening in Wroclaw, Poland, May 12-15, 2021! I’m currently developing a new piece consisting of moving images in collaboration with visual artist Kaisu Koivisto, Helsinki Artist’s Association (project coordinator Anna Puhakka) and curator Agnieszka Kubicka-Dzieduszycka from the WRO Art Center.  The collaboration project, called “Synthesis”, began in Autumn 2020 with a shared exhibition in Central Library Oodi and includes, on top of the WRO Biennale, a following exhibition at Oodi in November 2021. Our interactive video installation will be presented in Wrocklaw in late autumn 2021 as well as in Helsinki, but we will already have an open talk during the opening week of the biennale: https://wro2021.wrocenter.pl/en/works/synthesis/. In the talk we will be reflecting the starting point for our work, Polish artist Pawel Janicki’s algorithmic structure “Synthesis”, and where has it led us.

The theme of the biennale is “reverso”. Me and Kaisu are at the moment gathering footage from our personal archives and filming some new footage. With this kind of theme, I think it has been a lot of fun to think of, what actually matters to us as artists, going back to the “roots”. Currently we are digging into the possibilities of MaxMSP program, testing the possible outcomes of an interactive installation, a choreographic environment.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: There is a lingering feeling that pandemic left us with some new ideas of how to connect and collaborate. Did you have any time to think what you want to do next?

AN: The year 2021 will be busy with the upcoming exhibitions and a screenwriting process of a fictional short film and a feature length film. Luckily, with the upcoming film works I’m collaborating with an experienced producer, Markku Tuurna and an established dramaturge Tarja Kylmä with both of the films. In 2022, I will also present an installation at the façade of Gallery Forum Box.


Also, for years already, my dream has been to have the time to focus on a research plan, apply for PhD studies, continuing my artistic research in relation to the choreographic environment within post graduate studies.

Who knows, what’s going to happen? There’s always a new adventure waiting around the corner.

— — —
*‘In-Between’ was supported and commissioned by The Finnish Cultural and Academic Institutes’ Together Alone project and supported by Arts Promotion Centre Finland.

Directed & screenwritten by: Anna Nykyri
Photography by: Griselda San Martin, Juan Pablo de la Vega, Aukusti Heinonen
Edited by: Jaakko Peltokangas
Sound designed by: Olli Huhtanen
Curated by: Andrea Valencia

Featured image:

Short film, Passing by:
Passing by (2020)
Documentary short film 1’50”
Passing by shows a carcass of a young roe deer slowly decomposing in a forest, whilst cars are fast passing by on a nearby highway. The film creates a strong emotional charge of passing by; moving from the highway into the forest, details of fur, flies, a carcass – then distancing again, leaving the calf to be covered by the forest.

The film was supported by The Promotion Center for Audiovisual Culture AVEK / Media Art and Arts Promotion Centre Finland.

Directed and screenwritten by: Anna Nykyri
Cinematography by: Italo Moncada
Edited by: Jaakko Peltokangas
Music by: Mikko Joensuu
Sound designed by: Juuso Oksala
Color correction by: Juuso Laatio

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