Bells, tools and meditation are all ancient. When it has been confirmed by historic research, that tools and weapons were among the earliest bronze objects in China, the bells also now belong to this bronze age era. The meditative component has eminently added value and appreciation among the Asian arts. People are looking for nurture from art, and statuesque buddhas seem nurturing, even healing with their meditative poses. Massive sculptures are surrounded with the calm that is often lacking from the demands of the everyday life. The journey inwards requires little more participation.
Chinese bells have a special form that calls for a closer investigation. They are emblems of music, and when tried, the sound can be interestingly different from the Western terms of bell-sound. The church-bells have varying melodies, yet Chinese bells embody tones that are thousands of years old. It is believed, that the sound has not changed since they were casted. Bells still narrate of ancient technology as a soundsystem.
With the global travel, the world has shrunk, and meditation practices have become increasingly popular. We are at the moment pushed to scrutinize ourselves into increased indoor dwelling, so discovering new possibilities of meditative practices might be useful. Sound is one way to go, listening to music with new awareness, concentrating fully into music or sound may turn the focus into a particular matter. A ‘look’ inwards may be rewarding.
Meditation is a bodily practice of a mind as operator. A word techne would also fit with its stance of the world. Techne is a philosophical term, which includes knowledge at its core. By using it in reference to bodily practice, it might as well connect to understanding your meditation approach. Learn to meditate by meditating, gain knowledge of meditation by doing it. Knowledge is coming from the act and art of doing.
Sitting buddhas are art works that meditate, giving out a pose with a silent approach that is almost demanding us to participate in a technology of looking inwards, of stopping our other activities, breathing with the sculpture. The art stimulates the senses into a sole pattern of sitting with a more disciplinary attitude.
Finnish artist Sirkku Ketola had her performance project A Body Called Paula at the NARS Foundation Gallery in Brooklyn in November. In Finnish the word paula means a ribbon, something to tie or to be enchanted with. It is also a synonym for a trap. Globally Paula is known as a female name, originating from the Greek word ‘Paulus’, which means small.
In her current project of ten years, Ketola creates an installation that mixes screenprinting with performance. Part installation, part performance, A Body Called Paula is a piece that develops over the days of the installation through long-duration printing sessions. The movements and their soundtrack create an enchanting, sensual machine with the main themes of time and temporality, pleasure, and the meditative process of working.
The narrative story behind the performance hunts beauty through the themes of light, passion, knowledge, reality, and depth, finally balanced out by darkness. What is the measure of time? Ornament is a universal form of visual art in every culture. The installation at NARS is part of Sirkku Ketola’s long-term project. For the duration of ten years ‘A Body Called Paula’ produces hand printed ornaments, or ribbons.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What comes to mind, when you think about your project Paula is that it is so clearly beyond the visual practice, or enhances the physicality of the practice. What is so intriguing is how you dive into the embodiment and stretching of the paper. Is it that the body becomes a continuation of the paper in the printing process, as if being one with the paper? What kind of metaphors would you like to highlight, or are being evoked in the process?
Sirkku Ketola: I guess I need touchable material to support thinking and understanding. In this case the handling of color and paper together with challenging technical crafting, tune us as one organism, where the tempo is being set in the cohesion of the qualities of the all included matters. The strength of the body, the sensitivity of the hands and the exactness of the eyes, are sensing constantly the fragility, stretching, moistening and drying of the paper, and the consistency and volume of the ink. The local, or should I say site-specific humidity and temperature effect strongly to the functioning of this paper/colour/body formed sensual machine. Also the instant substance of the body, the general vitality, the emotional ambiance, and for example the daytime, give all some special marks, first to the performance, and second to the visual appearance of the ribbon in progress. Imprint is different during mornings and evenings, also in the beginnings and the ends of the ribbons. I have chosen the long and fragile paper to be forced to lose control. The process is too tiring to hold on it. During the series of the performance the same paper roll goes by my hands 12 times so it is impossible to dominate the quality or the crossing effects of different layers. I just must be humble, and let the ribbon teach me. Maybe the greatest thing is that the ribbons still surprise me even though I’ve been working with the same materials for years. The major errors have been avoided, but the danger of errors are constantly present – everything can be irreversibly spoiled even in the last round of printing.
Sirkku Ketola: The ornament arises on paper in stages from light to darkness. The colours (yellow/magenta/cyan/black), except being common from every home printer symbolize light, passion, knowledge, reality, depth and darkness. Step by step these colour layers, as named the elements of beauty, while mixing and uniting approach the truth, the code of life or would I say the mystery.
The hand printed ornament reminds somehow of the DNA. Basically with the repetition of same patterns, the motif is being affected continuously by the changes of the circumstances. All the variations show together endless amount of visual possibilities and diversity. At the same moment the so-called mistakes come part of the entirety and open up routes for the new beginnings.
Today we talk a lot about unmaterialized art, light and it’s different digitalized reflections. I am blown away by it also, the transfer of energy from one equipment to another accomplishes wonderful outcomes. In my own work process the need of touch, the acception of the tardiness of the body as the part of the thinking self, in other words handling with hands, have so far helped me to the deeper knowledge. I choose to cherish this special bodily tempo – it might be good for human species. When one forces oneself to stop by the slow repetition, one might also have time to understand something essential.
Sirkku Ketola: To be able to do the metamorphosis to become a sensual machine I had to create a role. My character Paula is simultaneously enraptured and trapped (in Finnish there is a sentence with both meanings, derived from the word ‘paula’ which also is a ribbon). She is a metaphor of a small human in cosmos. The name Paula comes originally from the Greek name Paulus which means small. So my Paula works with paula, with her special ribbon. Her job is to communicate visually by printing this repeating and overwhelmingly beautiful ornament. She wanders globally and communicates of the seen beauty. The previous place sets the next pattern, for example the New York effects to Paula will be seen next spring in Helsinki, Finland.
The machine is slow and time bending. It is a factory that is able to work without problems approximately four times per year. The doctor’s order has set the limit. I forget the rules always in the beginning of the new project, but now, when the Brooklyn ribbon has been finished, the pain in my hands is there and that makes calming down easy. By respecting this manual of the project, it will be possible to enjoy after ten years from now about the yet unknown massive installation, which is made of these forty different and international printed ornament ribbons.
I feel extremely privileged to be able to define the speed of the assembly line. For that reason the pleasure is an important part of the performance. Paula enjoys her movements and the choreography set by the printing process. The ink flows and the paper glides with the hands accepting to follow the weight of the body. The touch varies from strong to gentle and the rhythm beats with the working steps. The birth of the image feeds the will to come along to the anonymous destination. The possibility for sudden challenges forces the printer into the extreme concentration and to overcome difficulties and accept the errors. With the physicality, the mental part is also reacting all the time to the present. The chosen repetition grows thinking and developes strong pleasure.
Firsindindigo&Lifestyle: How do you prepare for the performance of this scale, which is almost a marathon? What is the preparatory phase like, and what happens during the performance aftermath?
Sirkku Ketola: During the performing period I take specially good care of myself. I try to do the outdoor activities daily, sleep enough and eat healthier. I try also to avoid the evening happenings and alcohol. The preparation for the performance takes mentally the whole day, but the most intense are the two hours before the show. The soundtrack of the performance follows me since morning. I’d like to highlight, the sound scape of my music and the noise of the printing table are essential elements of the performance. When arriving to the show space I tend to eat lightly and drink a lot of water. After it is time to check all the technical equipments and to mix the printing inks, the hue and the saturation needs to be done carefully. I have a special ritual order to do this. After this, I isolate myself, warm up and slowly become my transformation to the role. Thirty minutes before the show it is time to change the costume and become Paula. She doesn’t speak. The aftermath of the show is quick, washing the make up and changing the clothes are rapid, so I’m soon ready to communicate with the world again as myself. Before leaving I clean the colours and check all the technical details for the next day. When arriving home I stretch well and take a warm shower, except in Finland my choice is sauna.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How is New York as a place different, and this performance venue special, in terms of what is their impact on the quality and outcome of the work? How is the location different from the rest, say, Canada or Finland where you also created this performance piece?
Sirkku Ketola: The place impacts mainly how the performance is being installed. I like different spaces because they challenge the art work and keep it impossible to predict. The space in NARS in Sunset Park in Brooklyn is many ways special. First, it is near the Finntown, where there was a strong community of Finnish emigrants. During today’s new emigrations flow it felt important to mark the difficult roots of my own country. Second, the size of the gallery was perfect for the project. It fit there well, both visually and functionally. Third, the space is in the building, which is full of working artists, situated in the middle of the industrial Brooklyn. Where else should the sensual machine be? I came to New York as a visiting artist-in-residence of Finnish Cultural Institute for two months. My main goal was to research the structures of the money and power in the contemporary art scene. Beyond A Body Called Paula –project I started to sketch the new large-scale print installation referring to this research theme. The work will be produced during next three years. My colleagues in Brooklyn taught me a lot about independent artists’ living at the capital of contemporary art (NYC).
The physical dimensions and the quality of the NARS space gave the rhythm for the installation when growing during the performances. The intimate gallery of the Sunset Park made possible to the paper ribbon to take a shape of a visually fine zig zag when it landed to dry to the perches I mounted. Also the rest of the visual elements of the performance found their places to create a dynamic composition. There was space for Paula to move and the audience was able to have several standpoints. The space was also photogenic with A Body Called Paula – and that’s important in our social media time.
This was the fourth time and the fourth place for Paula. In Toronto it was seen in a gallery with the long hallway. There the magic of Paula worked like in the story of the Pied Piper, when people saw the action from far, they just had to reach to the space. In Helsinki Paula measured the huge hall in Cable Factory during the five hours marathon performance. And in Turku, Finland she worked behind the lightened window in the darkness of the first autumn evenings by the riverside. And in Brooklyn she captured the industrial space around the other artists. I believe that during the next ten years, Paula can capture many different structures and spaces as rich as she has done in her first year of the process. The big scale quality will be seen in the end of the whole process. All in all, these places are valuable treasures for me, and will affect the final installation.
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Next time A Body Called Paula will be seen in Helsinki in March 2018. After that Sirkku Ketola travels mostly in Central Europe. She will be back in New York City during autumn 2019.
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The screenprints made in New York have been prepared at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop: http://www.efanyc.org
The Eye of the Beholder: Julia Pastrana’s Long Journey Home is a new book edited by Laura Anderson Barbata and Donna Wingate. The essay collection sheds light on the life of historic sensation, Mexican international performer Julia Pastrana, expanding the storyfrom anthropological and art historical perspectives. The book can also be viewed as a personal story of discovery. Artist and writer Laura Anderson Barbata remembers her own process of starting the project that eventually led to this book. How she got engaged in the controversial subject propels ideas of activism, and a passion to rewrite Pastrana’s history from new humanitarian and feminist points of view.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you originally get interested in Pastrana’s life?
Laura Anderson Barbata: In 2003, Amphibian Stage Productions, a theater company directed by my sister Kathleen Culebro, invited me to collaborate with designs for a play that they were about to premiere in New York: The True History of the Tragic Life and the Triumphant Death of Julia Pastrana, the Ugliest Woman in the World, by Shaun Prendergast. This is how I learned about Julia Pastrana. The story, unfolding in complete darkness, details the life of Julia as she traveled through Europe, a performer in a freak show, until her death in Moscow. It also briefly recounts the fate of her mummified body, and that of her baby, until they were added to the Schreiner Collection of human remains in the anatomy department of the University of Oslo. Upon hearing her story, I felt that my duty as a Mexican artist, and as a human being, was to do everything possible to have Pastrana removed from the anatomy collection and returned to Mexico, her place of birth—where she was at the time practically unknown—to receive a proper burial.
After nearly ten years of effort, Julia Pastrana was finally transferred to Mexican officials in Norway; I represented Mexico. After more than 150 years of being exhibited for her unique physical condition, Ms. Pastrana (1834–1860) was repatriated to Mexico and buried in Sinaloa, Mexico in 2013.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: It’s been really a longitudinal project for you personally. How did you get others to get involved?
I was not the first person to request the burial of Julia Pastrana and have often asked myself, why was I able to succeed? Why did other efforts fail? What did I do differently? I think the answer lies in the fact that I am an artist and therefore my methodology was radically different from all others from the start. My extensive collaborative artistic experiences in Mexico, Venezuela, and Trinidad prepared me for a project of this magnitude that ultimately involved international institutions, government officials, various organizations, and scientists.
LAB: The ten-year plight for Julia’s return for burial began with letters I wrote to the National Research Ethics Committee for the Social Sciences and Humanities, the National Committee for Ethical Evaluation of Research on Human Remains of Norway, the Governor of Sinaloa in Mexico, the Foreign Affairs Department of Mexico, the University of Oslo, journalists, artists, anthropologists, individuals, and various institutions that I reached out to for their professional opinion, advice, and guidance. During this process, they became deeply involved and invested in the outcome. Each one was fundamental for the success of the repatriation and I consider them to be my collaborators.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How many authors are participating in the publication that is coming out now, and what perspectives do they cover from visual and historic perspectives?
LAB: I edited the book with Donna Wingate, and it includes texts by Jan Bondeson, Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Grant Kester, Nicolas Márquez-Grant, Bess Lovejoy, and myself. Donna and I researched and selected more than fifty illustrations from the public domain, library collections, archival materials, and works commissioned especially for the project.
The authors are as follows:
Dr. Jan Bondeson is a Swedish-born rheumatologist, scientist and author, working as a senior lecturer and consultant rheumatologist at the Cardiff University School of Medicine. Outside of his career in medicine, he has written several nonfiction books on a variety of topics, such as medical anomalies and unsolved murder mysteries.
As an expert on Julia Pastrana, Bondeson contributed two chapters to the book; the first is a general introduction to the story of Julia Pastrana, and the second recounts how he found her remains in the basement of the Forensic Institute of Oslo in 1988, and how his extensive research established that she suffered from hypertrichosis terminalis rather than hypertrichosis lanuguinosa, as previously believed.
Dr. Nicholas Márquez-Grant is a Specialist Forensic Practitioner in Anthropology and Archaeology at Cellmark Forensic Services, Abingdon, UK. He is also a Research Associate of the Institute of Human Sciences, University of Oxford.
His text addresses the history of collections and the anthropological framework of the nineteenth century; the ethics surrounding human remains; the case of Julia Pastrana’s repatriation and its significance; witnessing Pastrana’s body in the chapel during the repatriation process.
Rosemarie Garland-Thomson is Professor of Women’s Studies and English at Emory University. Her fields of study are feminist theory, American literature, and disability studies. Her work develops the field of disability studies in the humanities and women’s and gender studies.
Dr. Garland-Thomson’s essay considers the ways that the public display of Julia Pastrana both reinforces and challenges the lines between the self and other, human and non-human, ordinary and extraordinary, that such spectacles rely upon. By analyzing how Pastrana’s display and recent repatriation and burial in Sinaloa invest her body with different meanings, it traces the processes that socially mark human bodies in order to reveal and explicate the inner workings of representational systems, such as race, gender, ethnicity, and disability.
Grant Kester is Professor of Art History, and Director of the University Art Gallery at the University of California, San Diego. Kester is one of the leading figures in the emerging critical dialogue around “relational” or “dialogical” art practices.
Dr. Kester’s text discusses how European colonizers were unable to attach specific meaning to the objects they acquired through colonization and thus developed larger meanings for art more generally. Recovering Pastrana’s remains becomes an act of restitution that encourages a confrontation with the historical status of “stolen” objects and encourages a renegotiation of and reconnection to the understanding of the past.
Bess Lovejoy is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Ms. Lovejoy’s essay contextualizes Julia Pastrana’s afterlife by considering a number of other notable individuals whose bodies have been preserved in museums. Like Pastrana, many of these individuals possessed bodies that differed from the European norm, either because they were born with physical abnormalities or because they were of non-European ethnicities. Her chapter considers how scientific and ethical considerations complicate the collection and display of such bodies, and how some of these bodies have been the focal point of successful repatriation campaigns, while others have not.
Laura Anderson Barbata
My essay describes my own journey: the process, challenges, and partnerships that were formed as I worked for ten years for the repatriation of Julia Pastrana.
Books by Laura Anderson Barbata. Images by Firstindigo&Lifestyle.
Laura Anderson Barbata in her studio.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your own artistic research work on Pastrana has included performative phases, how are you implementing this approach on the book?
LAB: While Julia Pastrana was billed as “The Ugliest Woman in the World,” what is most important to mention is that she was a gifted mezzo-soprano and dancer—she was a very successful performer during her lifetime. Julia Pastrana’s life story and the fate of her body after her death (including her successful repatriation) brings to light issues that remain deeply relevant: beauty, ownership, science and racism, commercialization, objectification, exploitation, human rights, public versus private, international law, colonialism, sexism, respect, responsibility, indigenous rights, memory, sensitivity, the physical body, and the spiritual body.
In order to unpack all of these subjects, I felt that they must be addressed through different mediums. First, it was important to create a publication to gather the most significant material concerning her life with critical essays from different scholars. Donna Wingate and I worked on this book for over four years—researching archives and discussing the various lenses through which we could gain a deeper understanding of Julia Pastrana. At the same time, our goal was to present a full account of Pastrana as a person, a woman, and an artist, with the dignity she had been denied during her life and after her death. The book includes images of my artworks—works on paper and performances—based on the story of Julia Pastrana.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle:How would you describe the cultural life in Mexico at the time of Julia over hundred years ago? Also, what was the context that she was surrounded by that addressed her as a celebratory oddity?
LAB:Julia only lived in Mexico for the first twenty years of her life. She was born in 1834 in the State of Sinaloa, and according to popular legend, was born in the indigenous village of Ocoroni—or thereabout—in 1834. Today Ocoroni belongs to the municipality of Sinaloa, in the state of the same name, and is located in the foothills of the Sierra Madre Occidental.
In the decades of the first half of the nineteenth century, Mexico was searching for its own destiny and independence. Since the establishment of the first settlements by European Hispanics in the sixteenth century until the early nineteenth century, the territory of Sinaloa was mainly a mining state. The population, therefore, settled in the mountains and in the valleys. Mining camps and towns were established throughout Sinaloa for the search and exploitation of metallic resources that were coveted by the monarch of Spain.
Nothing is known about Julia’s parents or siblings, and there are no documents of her birth or baptism. It should be noted that the Office of Public Records (Registro Público) had not yet been created in Mexico; it was legally established on January 27, 1857. Little is known about her childhood, although it is said that an uncle took charge of her after the death of her mother, and in an effort to make a quick buck, sold to her to a small traveling circus—the kind that occasionally passes through these remote villages. Sometime around 1836 until April 1854, Julia was a maid in the residence of Mr.Pedro Sánchez, who had been in charge of the government of Sinaloa from September 28, 1836 to June 3rd, 1837. It is possible that he purchased Julia from the circus that had exhibited her throughout the northwest of the country.
We believe that her training as a mezzo-soprano and dancer began when she lived at the governor’s house, and he likely presented her before audiences. She spoke four languages: English, French, Spanish, and Cahita, her native tongue. She was taken to Guadalajara to perform in 1854, and news of her reached the United States, as we found in an article in the New York Post. This must have been what sparked the interest of the American Theodore Lent, who worked for Barnum and Bailey and later became Julia’s husband. He traveled to Mexico to meet with Pedro Sánchez and Francisco Sepulveda to discuss a business venture that involved the sale and purchase of Julia Pastrana.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: As a phenomenon she became extremely internationalized so to speak. How would you explain this to contemporary audiences, from the perspectives of art, science, and women’s history?
When Julia Pastrana left Mexico and traveled to the United States with Francisco Sepulveda to meet Theodore Lent to complete a business transaction between Sepulveda and Lent, Theodore Lent secretly convinced Julia Pastrana to marry him, and he immediately became her manager. He presented her to audiences and billed her as the Bear-woman, the Nondescript, the Ape Woman, the Female Hybrid, the Wonderful Hybrid, and Baboon Lady, among other sobriquets.
LAB: Julia Pastrana was taken to perform in Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and New York, among other cities. After a number of presentations in the US and Canada, Lent decided to take his show to Europe. They traveled to London, and extensively throughout Germany, Poland, and Russia. Julia Pastrana’s shows were very successful, and newspapers throughout Europe wrote about her.
Julia Pastrana’s story is a reminder that what happened to her is not an experience exclusively from the past—today there are far too many cases of exploitation, abuse, neglect, cruelty, human trafficking, and discrimination. Julia Pastrana is a reminder that we urgently need to forward women’s rights, indigenous rights, children’s rights, and eliminate human traffic to start. We must end gender discrimination, defend the rights of people with differences, protect religious choices and end the voracious dehumanization of people in the name of political, commercial, religious, and scientific purposes. For me, it means that I continue working on the topics related to her, the injustices she lived and how they are still relevant today.
LAB: Among the works are: a performance piece that is continually evolving, a series of zines that address different topics related to Julia Pastrana such as: repatriation of human remains, museum ethics, exhibition practices, the objectification of people and women, human traffic, beauty and the commercialization of women’s bodies, feminism, animal rights, love, circus arts, among others; in addition, we are working towards an Opera about Julia Pastrana in collaboration with the artist collective Apparatjik, Concha Buika, and Void Design.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle:Do you think she is appreciated in Mexico today, and how will the book contribute to that?
LAB: The repatriation of Julia Pastrana sparked a great interest worldwide and in Mexico. Since Julia Pastrana’s repatriation there have been at least three plays written and performed in Mexico about her, and I understand there is a feature film in development by a Mexican director. I have also learned about a woman’s health center that opened recently in Argentina that is named after Julia Pastrana. Because of my work on the repatriation of Julia Pastrana, I recently received an award by the Instituto de Administración Pública of the State of Tabasco, Mexico for the Defense of Human Rights.
It is clear to me that all of these responses show that Mexico is embracing Julia Pastrana and is working towards restorative actions for her memory, for the promotion of dignity and justice, and in humanitarian efforts to defend the rights of all.
Favela Vera Ortiz is a Finnish-Argentinian choreographer based in Helsinki, Finland. The choreographer has recently been celebrating her artistic anniversary. She is currently finding herself with compositions that extend the boundaries of the body, self, and the space. Vera Ortiz is well known as an inventor of Choreographer’s Appointment, in which participants find their solo movements with the choreographer, and engage in a social form of personal choreography with a performance. The choreographer has worked with multiple themes in her native Finland, in Stockholm, Buenos Aires, Paris, and Melbourne, Australia, to name a few locations.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your career spans over 15 years, and in fact you just celebrated your artistic anniversary. Starting from the time you went to study at the Danshögskolan in Stockholm, how did you end up choosing to go there?
Favela Vera Ortiz: Actually I had tried to get in to some schools already earlier, but always seemed to be the one who almost got in. But I continued dancing all the time and became more and more interested in making choreography. I chose to apply to Danshögskolan because they had a choreography program. I got in on first attempt and was very happy about it.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are the key ideas and modes of working you learned while studying choreography in Stockholm, and have they stayed with you?
Favela VO: During the 3 years of education, I learned many tools from several visiting teachers. We were 3 students at the choreography program/education, and one of the learning processes was to be able to follow how the 2 others did their compositions when the starting point was the same for all. For example, professor Örjan Andersson gave a task to use certain compositional tools with 9 dancers and the result was interesting to see how different the works were.
I also invented a method of trying to be free of judgement while making the movement, this was kind of a brainwash that was supposed to get the body to produce material earlier unknown. I am a curious chameleon and tend to try out new things which leads to different works. I’d say styles in my works vary a lot. Similarities tend to pop up afterwards, but it is not intentional.
One example is the question of how to use time. I am very interested in the concept of time being round instead of linear. This shapes the movements and music choices I make, and it has stayed with me from the first work with this “round time” that I did at school. It was a choreography of 15 minutes with several black outs cutting scenes, the shortest scene was only 4 seconds. Work with playing visibility, repetition and strong visual images.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Looking back, does it feel that so many elements have changed over this time?
Favela VO: It is a long time – 15 years – and certainly a lot has changed. But it is hard to put a finger on it and say here is a changing point and then something happened. Mostly change comes slowly with several try-outs and when there is a new direction it grows from a process and forms new frame. This overlapping process is a living creature in itself. The old and the new exist at the same time. During the past five years I have done some collaborations with visual artists which is new for me.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Many of your works have a strong visual element in them. You have worked with costume designers, in which a dress, costume and also architectural and spatial elements are conducting the narrative, or directing the movements in a way. Is doing choreography sometimes like being a composer with a certain thematic?
Favela VO: I’d say the thematic sometimes brings the costume or other visual elements conducting the movement. I have often done costume, lights and stage design by myself as it feels they are so closely linked to each other and push the movement to what it is. Last year, for example, I did a site-specific work L’AUTRE in a bomb shelter where the strong visuality comes with shadows on an uneven wall and laser light. I did the lights with five torches. What the photos don’t show very well was the glitter on the body of the dancer, she was covered in gold shiny glitter, very thin layer of it though. (Check the photos of this work here: www.photoslautre.tumblr.com) I also enjoy working in a group with visual artists who bring their ideas to the common table. It is always an adventure to see how the process goes forward and which elements grow to be presented. My latest work OPUS CORPUS III is a beautiful example of this.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle:While working in Buenos Aires, you also started working with plastic wraps or bags that evolved to be headpieces for the performers. Tell about this choreography, which was created in a local park?
Favela VO: This work I made for three dancers, the inspiration was Greek mythology so the dancers were sort of goddesses. Even the name for the piece is MOERAE which are the three sisters making and cutting the line of life. But it was not a narrative work, merely the inspiration gave some movement ideas. It was made for Villa Ocampo, a cultural house in Buenos Aires. We used the terrace of the house and the park. The idea of using plastic bags to make costume was fabulous, it worked well. I did the wigs and tutus of thin white plastic. We also planned a stage version of the piece and filmed it while I still was in Buenos Aires. Later it got invited to Chile to a dance festival, so there are two versions of this work.
Moerae, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz. Photo Julian Martinez Ricci.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle:Does word intercultural resonate in your personality, or multicultural, and how?
Favela VO: I am half Finnish, half Argentinian. I have lived a nomad life for several years while working in different artist residencies. I was born in Helsinki and I am still based in Helsinki, but this year is the first full year that I have actually spent here entirely.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have created solos for dancers, for example, for Finnish dancer Riikka Kekäläinen. How much does a dancer direct the development of the work with her personality, and how do ideas come together in the end?
Favela VO: The dancer has an enormous impact for the work. I often use different improvisations to search the movement so it is essential for the dancer. I choose the dancer who I believe is the best for the theme I am working with. The frame for the improvisations come from the vision I have for the theme, but then I choose the material from what comes out while working with the dancer and develop it further with the dancer. It is like a puzzle building the body of the work. One solo for Riikka, which I enjoyed a lot to do was called LA SEULE. It was seen in Finland but also in Paris at the Finnish Institute and in Düsseldorf Tanzmesse. The theme is the history of hysteria.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell about the work in STOA Cultural Centre in Helsinki, in which the floor had mirrors all over, and the audience was sitting in a tight setting looking at the performer from a close distance?
Favela VO: The work is called 21 notations on human. We had visitors in our rehearsal space. They were 20 persons who each came to share one rehearsal day with us. My question for them was “What is it that interests you in humans?” So, it was very wide question with personal answers. We created movement material with the visitors during the day with the dancer Hanna Ahti and got kind of a movement bank. The work is a selected composition of these things, as the material was several hours of material on video. The 21st notationson human (https://vimeo.com/35870033) is our version. The mirror floor reflects the dancer as many and brings also a visual element with light reflecting to the walls. It is a tender piece with the dancer having a conversation with notations on the body and the surface.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Somehow there is a sense that dancing for you carries several elements that might be also called as non-human, such as animal like, or vegetal, or spiritual; are these definitions closer to what you are aiming or thinking?
Yes, there is an idea I’ve been working with for some time now where the body is half human, half animal. Like a hybrid body. This creature was more animal in the work Myoclonic (year 2013) and more human than animal in L’AUTRE (year 2015). This year (2016) the work OPUS CORPUS III was asking the question of where is the human, where is the animal, where does it start or end? The whole work seems to be a question so there is no answer. This hybrid is also an alienated body and represents the other, the strange, the weird in each of us.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your time spent in Australia, and doing the piece with yet another visual component, reminds a lot of the spiritual elements that are perhaps inherent to the aboriginal heritage, with the embodiment of place and environment and the essence of the human body in the entire life cycle. Could you tell more about this work?
Favela VO: This work started as a collaboration with Annee Miron, a sculptor and visual artist from Melbourne. We met in Paris in the Cité Internationale des Arts residency in 2010. The meeting and our discussions and sharing knowledge of our previous works made both of us interested of a common project. It took some time in between until it happened. I was working in Melbourne with Annee in 2013. The collaboration started with Annee’s project of sleepless, which developed into a performance MYOCLONIC (https://vimeo.com/66894548). Annee built a huge installation at the Yarra Sculpture Gallery, it worked as its own piece but also as a scenography for the dancer. I consider it is some kind of a jungle of mind. Annee used cardboard as the material and we used cardboard mask for the dancer. The performer, Sanna From is a Finnish dancer who came to Melbourne to work with this project. In our working group was also a local artist Anna Brownfield making the video. The work grew with visions of subconciousness and muscle tension of extremes, forming the body of being awake and alert. The name comes from Myoclonic jerks often appearing when falling asleep. The creature grew during the process and became more animal than human. It is as if this animal, creature is a relative to the hanging installation. The idea of animal body gave a strong impact to the piece. The hands were as kangaroos keep them, this certainly came after me seeing kangaroos in live for the first time. I was not thinking of using the aboriginal heritage.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland has a rich contemporary dance culture. How would you describe Finnish contemporary dance scene from your own point of view, and experience, how has it changed over the years?
Favela VO: It has grown a lot during the past 15 years. It has grown hugely since I started to follow contemporary dance as that is about 29 years ago. Now we have more dance artists than ever, which also brings more voices, more variations of how to use dance as an art form, and gives more lively platform to all of us.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What are your favorite places to work?
I have enjoyed working in residencies as I enjoy of impulses each place resonates concerning space, energy, people, it is the whole world around – colours, light, different languages, working with local artists and getting other visions. But the absolutely best place to work is whenever the working group is working well, despite in where it is.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who are your greatest mentors or influencers?
Favela VO: During the school I had a strong experience being thought by Hilda Hellwig, a theatre director. I liked her methods of thinking of the working process and leading it with great intuition. I suppose I have tried to keep that knowledge as one base while working. I do not tend to have idols, most of the time, I consider it is more some works that make a strong influence, so it is more one work per each artist I know that I admire. Some of the latest are works by Sophie Calle and Bill Viola. I get inspiration in books, films and exhibitions. Films having strong feeling of movement are special for me, it feels that they fill a dwell in my mind with visions and movement combined, and these strong images bubble and some day grow to live in yet another form. Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite novelists, her latest books with dystopia visions have given inspiration for my work with human/animal/alienated body.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where are your plans for the future, you have a one-year scholarship starting now, where do you think it could take you?
Favela VO: That’s what I am planning at the moment! Not sure yet where it will take me, but I am definitely planning a new residency far away from Helsinki. I also want to continue with my latest working group in Helsinki so surely part of the year I will be spending at home.
Brazilian artist Martha Araújo’s piece Para um corpo nas suas impossibilidades, (For a body in its impossilibities) was created in 1985. Now at 2015 Frieze Art Fair, we celebrate the corporeal experience at the skateboard ramp dressed in suits that are patched with Velcro straps. The user-experience is less of a performance, and more of a subjective experience, which is very much according to the manifesto written by the artist. Martha Araújo (born in 1943) wrote the following:
Believing in the impossible is also a way of making art, for it is to doubt the impossibilities that make our dreams and follies feasible. Our proposal consists of experiencing situations in which the body crawls (on the ground floor) and tries to climb vertically. It is a search to achieve utopia; an exercise in transcendence. For this we will wear two pairs of overalls with several strips of Velcro attached to them vertically and horizontally. We will also use a runner rug measuring 6.00 x 2.00 m, stuck to a skate track-type wooden framework. The Velcro strips on the overalls are the elements that fix the bodies to the rug.
The project was curated in the Frame section of the art fair by Galeria Jaqueline Martins from São Paulo. The gallery won the prize for most innovative Stand Prize this year. The stand is comprised of the ramp and few suits, which the public can wear and then try the structure. The booth also has black and white photographs from 1985, which document artist Araújo and her crew experimenting with the concept. At Frieze, these photographs are on sale, and so are the suits. The ramp belonging to the artwork can be reproduced with the suits.
Another visitor intervention at the Frieze was Japanese artist Aki Sasamoto’s Coffee/Tea project. Being one of the Frieze 2015 Projects, the artist created a three-dimensional personal test experience that included multiple-choice questionnaire. The maze-like structure was among the gallery booths, having several rooms, in which visitors/viewers make a choice between two objects or situations. Different choices lead through rooms and doors and then to the exit, where participants discover which personality suits the course of actions they chose. Here is my test in photographic documentation.
In the beginning, the structure encourages you to think that you are boarding a spaceship, artist has written a dark statement on the wall:
The world is ending. You are selected to board a spaceship with one animal. Which will you bring? A. Peacock, B. Horse, C. Tiger, D. Sheep
As we don’t actually make this choice between four animals; we can choose to enter between two doors, one on the right and one on the left. Behind the left door there is a table with teacups and tea poured on them. Today I’m happy they would offer tea. Through my next choice, I’m encountering two kinds of blue on the floor; the other one looks like tiled, so will follow that one. Not quite getting the sitdown-point, where would have to ponder between the choices, rather stay moving and opening doors. Then, not quite sure how, suddenly entering the door with ‘intodetails’ exit floor mat in black-and-white. Feels like a fast experience. There was another blue, this time gymnastic mat on the floor with wooden board in the middle. A chance to balance a little bit, and the exit was right there.
Is there anything in common with these two art projects? Martha Araújo’s art dates back to the mid- 1980s, and Aki Sasamoto’s project is very recent. The getting-involvedness, and the intellectual mind vs. trust yourself and let your body lead the way -issue; has both of these projects. Sasamoto’s making choices project encounters also our bodily input, as this is about experience. The color blue seems to be a fascinating factor in both projects. Araújo’s and Sasamoto’s projects will be living in the form of re-enactments. Being convinced that there will be more photography and live-documentations happening.
In June 2010, Finnish dancer and choreographer Pirjo Yli-Maunula was one of the four dancers to travel up the Muonio and Torne Rivers in Finnish Lapland. Their living and dancing installation River Woman was built on a ferry consisting of plastic bottles (about 25 000 plastic bottles were used to build a diameter of ten meters ferry, which operated a gliding dance-installation on a stage across the Muonio and Torne Rivers). Pirjo Yli-Maunula (being the main incubator of the project), dancer-choreographer Reijo Kela, and dancers Catherine and Anne Angeria were on a three-week river trip from Karesuvanto to Tornio performing to the audiences on the way. This dancing ferry is a kind of project that Pirjo Yli-Maunula would create, telling about how we are close to nature, and the nature is a stage for everything we do. Her performance projects – often taking place in the Northern Finland – have involved local audiences to participate and collaborate in mesmerizing ways.
FI: What are you doing these days, you have quite a long career as an established choreographer and festival leader?
Pirjo: I am busy with many things: I am working as a choreographer and a dancer, artistic director, curator and a producer.
At the moment I am in the middle of creating a new duet with French choreographer-dancer William Petit. We are currently in Italy sharing a residency in Matera. We will have the premiere of ”Scars” in the beginning of November in Oulu in Northern Finland.
Then, this year our company Flow Productions started to arrange a series of visiting contemporary circus performances in Oulu. I have been busy curating, producing and arranging this series. I am hoping that we can continue with the series next year as well.
I just started to work again as the artistic director of Full Moon festival. I was in the job in 2004-2006. My current contract is for 2014-16.
FI: You went to Cardiff couple of weeks ago, was this your first time in the festival?
Pirjo: Yes, this was my first time in World Stage Design – festival. The week was intense, very interesting and great experience as a whole.
FI: It seems that your international networking abilities are tremendous, you have been able to attract visitors to come to Finland, where did you learn these skills?
Pirjo: I have learnt through the work itself. My different jobs have helpt me to build up the network. It is great to jump from the position of an artist to the position of a artistic director or funder or producer. Those different points of view help me to understand the bigger picture of the art world.
FI: How multidisciplinary are you as an artist, what are your modes and styles of working?
Pirjo: I am very much interested in working collaboratively with artists from different art forms. I have worked with artists in the fields of video, music, photography, new circus, theater, literature, games, new media, as well as costume, light and sound design.
Every production and process is different: I have created not just contemporary dance pieces on stage but also dance-installations, site-specific works, dancevideo or works that could be considered as live art.
I strive to create complete, meticulous works of art which nevertheless build upon improvisation and spur-of-the-moment insight.
FI: What did you gain by attending WSD2013 in Cardiff?
Pirjo: I was inspired by many things in the exhibition, meeting of other artists, and the overall exciting atmosphere of the festival.
FI: Who are the people that influence you the most?
Pirjo: I feel that the other artists that have worked with me have influenced me the most. As I am often also producing or co-producing my own work I am lucky to be able to build dream teams, where I can learn and get inspired by others.
FI: Where do you see yourself in the future, what dreams do you hold within you?
Pirjo: I would love to spend time in longer residencies and tour abroad more. I have quite an extensive repertoire that I believe would be interesting. For instance our multidisciplinary creation Susurro, that I also performed in Cardiff, would be a perfect piece to show for instance in Japan or South-Korea. I would like to tour in South American countries as well.
FI: Name your most important collaborations, and why?
Pirjo: I could talk about a number of different people and various different works. But if I would be allowed to mention just a couple I would definitely talk about French choreographer William Petit and Finnish light designer Jukka Huitila as I have worked with them so much.
I have known William since 2004. I have danced in his work and we have co-created pieces together. The intimacy, authenticity and bravery that we have found while dancing together has been very important to me. That has had an impact to my other work as well.
The collaboration with Jukka Huitila has also been vitally important to me. His sensitivity, openness, generosity, intelligence and creativity are superb. His input seems to always deepen the work. The trust that we have in each other has helped me to grow as a person and as an artist.
From the collaborative pieces that I have done I am maybe most happy about these two: Karsikko and Susurro. They have both been an adventure to something completely new as a form of art.
FI: Last but not least, how does Finnish landscape help in creating your works, what would you like to say about our climate, the landscape, Northerness, Lapland and the nature?
Pirjo: Many of my pieces reflect my relationship with the natural environment, as well as natural phenomena and seasons of the Northern landscape. For instance my work Karsikko (co-created with dancer-choreographer Titta Court) is based on a tree and animal characters, and it derives from nature´s materials and soundscapes.
Riikka Theresa Innanen: After I had decided to stop dancing at the age of 6, (I was to dance a duet with a boy, and I got too embarrassed and offended to go on), I totally got swept away with Break dancing at the age of 12, and had to start again. For a girl in 1980’s in a small town in Finland it wasn’t too easy to develop my passion, but I was equally inspired by the Fame that was on TV. I though I could support my street dancing with jazz dance classes. This developed further to ballet and modern dance until I stopped again. After a year of dancing flamenco as a hobby and trying to find a “real profession”, I realized that the only thing I really love and know to do is dancing. I studied dance and choreography 4 years in Amsterdam at SNDO (1993-1997). SNDO together with working a year in a residency at Daghdha Dance Company in Ireland has possibly left the biggest imprint on me as an artist. In both these places I was lucky enough to study there when it still was very mixed with varying trainings and aesthetics. The students came from the world continents and from different walks of life. Then I could also learn how to use my passion in visual arts, music and computers as an asset for my dance work and artistic thinking. I taught at the Theatre school for 4 years before moving back to Finland in 2001. In Finland, working with Side Step Festivalhas been important as well as connecting with various “off ” groups such as Reality Research Center, and z-score. After 8 year in Finland, I felt more supported abroad and left for Daghdha Dance Company. The structure (now sadly finished) of daily commitment, small salary and a workspace (even if open and shared) together with the support of the fellow resident artists and staff, made a big change in how I see my work placed, and how I want to continue developing my work.
YOUR STORY IS VERY INTERESTING, YOU HAD AN INTERNATIONAL CAREER, AND THEN YOU CAME BACK TO FINLAND. YOU DESCRIBE THAT WORKING WITH ‘OFF’ SCENES FITS YOU BETTER. IN ANY EVENT, YOU ARE A MULTIPLE DANCE ARTIST.
R-T: Well, in a nutshell my career is a weave made of many different lines varying from improvising to creating choreographies to working as a dancer to teaching dance for camera for professionals to creating work with immigrant youth in Finland. I guess I’m mostly looking from outside-in: I grew up between cultures and still live in mix of different languages, social statuses and religions, I studied abroad and then moved back yet never stopped working abroad, so it’s just how life has made me. My aim as a maker is to take the audience to/through situations of reflection and enable subtle, personal experiences that can people move from within. To provoke non-violently but consciously. In my soul I’m a lonely nomad yet I work best in collaborations and groups. I truly get inspired by difference and excellence, despite of the discipline, of which working with the Irish mathematician Alex Clancy on Number is a good example. I tend to go for cross pollination rather than for purity. I’m interested how to choreograph beneath the surface rather than shapes and how systems or Minds grow from that mix of different elements into “self sustained intelligent systems” and surprise me. Keeping control over the work becomes besides the point when you can instead be watching creation happen. Probably my early attempts to program on my first Commandore 64 computer left it’s traces. This together with starting dancing on the street during the first wave of hip hop mixes with the later dance education during the 90’s at SNDO has create my attitude. I’m passionate about composition and systems, of improvisation and danger and about dancing, purely and plainly. The brain needs to be be busy with science, philosophy and understanding life and structures but it’s pretty amazing to be “just taken” by dance and be led to unknown, unthought territories as well.
TELL ABOUT YOUR RECENT PERFORMANCE PROJECT AT FULL MOON DANCE FESTIVAL IN FINLAND, WHAT WAS THE EXPERIENCE LIKE, HOW ABOUT THE CONCEPT AND AUDIENCE PARTICIPATION? DO YOU HAVE OTHER REMARKS FROM THE FESTIVAL?
R-T: The project is about Happiness with a version called Tree of Happiness. The work is fundamentally a choreographed interface to make people move, think and interact on one level with me but also collectively through actions in a civic spaces and by being emotionally moved in a way which can ripple into their own lives. Practically it is a durational piece: for 3 days I meet with people, discuss and propose to answer 3 questions about Happiness on a peace of paper, which they then can hang on a tree as a leaf. The individual actions are multiplied, and make a visible installation grow, which anyone interact with. It is a very simple structure but as always, the human factor is multiplied with many participants, and creates complexity and variation, and depth. This work is very much based on a source code- choreographing approach, and the participants do not need to see or understand the structure, which happens beneath the surface to engage with and contribute to the work.
At the Full Moon Dance Festival, I also wanted to extend the movement into the social media as well, as I’m convinced Internet has radically changed how we interact, think and construct social relations and realities. Additionally I wanted to involve locals, and so through during 3 pop up events we could experience something unique, a shared personal experience of Happiness. We had a silent walk in the nature with local wilderness guide, a session to learn how to play ukulele with the local Uke-guru and a “How to be your own Tree of Happiness in 15 min” – of course led by myself.
YOU ALSO DID A PROJECT WITH DEBORAH HAY, WHO IS SUCH LEGEND IN THE FIELD. WAS THIS EXPERIENCE A KIND OF LANDMARK IN YOUR CAREER? HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO JOIN THE PROJECT, WHERE DID YOU PERFORM, AND WHAT DID YOUR LEARN?
R-T: Yes and no. Deborah Hayhas been landmarking my career on regular 10 year intervals since I 1st saw her perform in 1993 during my 1st year at SNDO. She was such an odd appearance which stayed with. Ten years later we invited her to Helsinki for Side Step festival. I followed closely and filmed the process as she worked with a group of soloists adapt her work. Even if I read her books, listen to her closely I did not feel dancing her work was something for me. Only in 2012, 19 years after I first saw her, did I finally feel ready to dance the Dance. It came along at period with many changes in all aspects of my life including learning the solo while still relearning how to walk after an operation on both of my knees, so I Think Not (the choreography I learned with Deborah Hay), fitted to that perfectly. So she has been landmarking my life on regular intervals, always in different ways. I’m very attached to dancing the solo adaptation, even if I will ever totally “get it”, or Deborah but somehow realizing the impossibility of theconundrum (that there is nothing to “get”) will keep me engaged with the dance for the rest of my life. And Deborah might keep landmarking my career even the next 10 and 20 years with new inputs.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE CITY IN AMERICA, AND WHY?
R-T: That’s a really hard question to answer. The country is so wast and varied. I did fall in love with San Francisco, but I might have been most surprised with Austin, TX. Never expected it to be so lovely, lively and arts-friendly place, good to live and work in. Also I felt a strong spiritual connection to the land and its native history, which touched me deeply.
THERE IS SO MUCH GOING ON IN YOUR OWN CAREER. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE FINNISH CONTEMPORARY DANCE AT THE MOMENT?
R-T: That is the toughest question. I’ve been so much away and I don’t really follow what is being programmed as I’m not a great consumer of dance but I know most of the makes as friends and colleagues, so hard to get an objective perspective. I guess the main stream Finnish dance scene struggles with being relevant. In a social and political climate, which is very anti-art, the big work to be done is to make art and dance a vital and essential part of the society. From the US we have learned the new independent funding methods are possible together with the old, which in very short time has created a stronger footing of freelance dancers. They are joining forces creating collectives and sharing spaces more courageously than before. This is great as in the end of the day 80% of all dance performances in Finland are created not by big institutions but by freelancers. The existing Funding structures are also looking for new ways to support the field but I’m not to optimistic in their abilities to truly change. But after the Full Moon Dance Festival, I’m hopeful. The new generation of makers is wild. They are totally renegotiating the premises and aesthetics of Finnish dance, which is really not easy to reinvent: Thanks to the strong heritage of Finnish architecture and design, and the lack of social struggle, the works tend to be more visual than topic oriented and that is what audience and funding sources are accustomed to go for. The really cool side of Finnish art is that we really don’t belong to neither Western nor the Slavic culture. Our heritage and mentality is strongly connected to Nature and our shamanistic heritage lurking just beneath our modern surface. We have a knack in being potentially totally bizarre and unique, if we only allow it to come out.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
R-T: I hope to keep up with the mosaic. The big process brewing inside is the aftermath of spending last winter in residency in West Africa. My research there was into how we create realities, how art is a part of the daily and social life, and to observe and finally live the difference. Living the difference made something very deep inside of me change. To live in the world were art, dreamworld, work life, family life and big and small rituals are totally integrated together, was striking in Africa. Returning back to a reality where everything is divided in to factions has been interesting but not easy: art being a separate part of an institutionalized system of money, power and consumption feels very violating and unsustainable for me right now. I don’t feel out of tune with my work but rather the structures and my relation to funding and producing. Luckily projects like Tree of Happiness, helps me ponder through my work how things could be differently supported to grow. In any case this kind of reassessment seems to happen regularly through out my career. I seem to need to push myself of the beaten track to find substance and interest. In the end of the day, I see my career as a long path, based on an ongoing search with the daily practices, bringing out the “branches”, which develop into specific manifestations and can be shared with the public/audience. Ever branch is different and unique but connected to the core trunk. I will keep developing further the Happiness project and the Tree of Happiness piece, and working on developing new choreographic systems. Hopefully my adaptation of Hay’s solo will follow me the rest of my life. This autumn I’ll mostly work as a dancer and maybe in the future I will return to curating and organizing, after the experience of Side Step and Daghdha there are interesting structures to keep developing further.
I’m very happy to be able to stay in Finland this autumn and work as a dancer for other makers: first for the Danish Hello!Earth group and then with Liisa Pentti+Co in Liisa’s work Space Particles. Playing music and drawing seems to occupy more of my time so I’m curious to see how it will seep into my works. I will keep teaching and traveling with residencies, hopefully returning to Africa but at least there will be working in Island next January with Hello!Earth continuing our Kedja Wilderness residency there.
Founded in 2000 in Helsinki, the international performance company Oblivia is truly a unique phenomena in the Finnish performance scene. The group transforms larger than life themes into minimalist performances. Oblivia’s group fuses different genres and nationalities. The members are from Finland and the UK have experiences in music, dance and theory, which allows them to play between suspended tension and sense of humor. Since its beginning, the group has attempted to create a common language in the performance. In June 2013, Oblivia will perform its recent work ‘Museum of Postmodern Art’ in the NEW Performance Turku Festival in Turku Finland. The performance is co-produced by at PACT Zollverein and Espoo City Theatre. The premier took place at PACT Zollverein, Essen in November 2012 and the Finnish premier was at Espoo City Theatre in November 2012. The performance is the first in a series of five and part of the five-year project Museum of Postmodern Art – MOPMA. Annika Tudeer, the founding member of Oblivia tells about the history of the group and about her own background in dance.
AT: In the late eighties I trained dance, contact improvisation and what was called new dance then. I then worked as a dancer and choreographer until I started at the Helsinki University in 1994 where I studied literature as a main subject, philosophy, theater studies and gender studies. I belong to the rather self-taught generation that mainly acquired knowledge and experience through training and working. I also did amdram and studenthteatre that was quite important as well. Oblivia was founded in 2000 in Helsinki during the European Cultural Capital year. I had this grand idea of creating a network and collective of artists doing site-specific work. However I had not realized that a collective does not have a leader who decides most things (that was me, of course) and is in charge, but that kind of leadership is better suited in a smaller group. We did 4 site specific pieces during that year that were very popular and had therefore a great start, and in the autumn Anna Krzystek from UK joined us and the smaller Oblivia that is still exists was formed.
I basically wanted to create an alternative working environment to most of what I had experienced in the dance and theater field in Finland, experiment how to work together and have fun and create high quality work, merging theory and art in an organic way, not paying too much attention to theory but rely on the fact that it is there. I was also very interested in structures, all kind of structures: working environmental structures, political structures, artistic structures, architectonical structures, and that was always part for the work somehow. I still organize the practical stuff together with our producer, but the artistic work is purely collective.
How has the concept developed during the years?
AT: After doing site-specific work for a few years we decided to move into the black box using light and sound and start to explore the black box. It is the most challenging place and also the place for most concentration and innovation in performing arts we think. We are super organized, working away from 10-17 Monday to Friday over 4 months that are divided over the year. The work has evolved a lot, we work over several months with a piece, with pauses in-between where we tour or do other things (me mainly admin and networking). I also think that we have become much more many faceted in the work and how we perform and at the moment we are very much concerned with ideas of collaboration. Which means a lot of discussions and trials and errors. The work becomes richer and bolder all the time. It is minimalistic and maximalist at the same time. We work with an empty stage and fill it with ideas and images that are created in the heads of the audience.
How international are you as a group in terms of performances, touring, attending festivals?
AT: Anna Krzystek lives in Glasgow, so she commutes to Helsinki for rehearsals, we are occasionally on residencies in Europe, and our current project Museum of Postmodern Art that contains 5 performances over 5 years (2012-2016) has first an international premier and then a national premier. We tour as much as we possible internationally and although the growth could be swifter, we are touring quite nicely.
How do you generate and create the concepts, what are the terms of collaboration?
AT: Well, we decide on a theme, and since we like long term planning so the previous project Entertainment Island became a trilogy that was finished in 2010 and has toured since and now we have MOPMA (Museum of Postmodern Art) going. We decide on the big theme that is now art for five years and previously was entertainment. Then we decide on what kind of take we take for each new performance a little before we start to work on it. Then we start to improvise, devise material and do free association and a lot of talking and some field trips. Now we are working on the idea of bad art, and what that means to us and what it foes to us. We talked a lot at the beginning, had a workshop and at the moment we are in the second working phase where we go deeper in the material and slowly start to make sense of it and structure it. Basically we are the three of us (Anna, myself and Timo Fredriksson) working away, popping in and out of impros. But we have worked for 13 years together now so we have a secure sense of being in the studio without outside eyes. We have also started to involve our light and sound designers much more that is wonderful, so they share the process, the talking, and the figuring out a lot from the beginning. They also watch rehearsals and comment.
What is your opinion of the performance field currently, how do art and performance co-exist?
AT: I have a feeling that the field is growing rapidly, and that the boundaries are blurred totally. We have all diverse trainings: Anna studied at the Cunningham studio in New York for several years, you saw my background and Timo is a classical pianist. This kind of heterogenic diversity is perhaps not that common, but nevertheless companies and projects are vibrant and mixed. It is interesting and exciting times we are living in re: performances. Sometimes I am overwhelmed by the quantity of performances, and work and activities and sometimes I miss a feeling of a clear trend and some leading stars and high quality work is not all too common skilled yes, but work that moves me is not that common at the moment. But in general I think that there is a very exciting scene going on at the moment.
Your most important influences?
AT: The old companies like Needcompany, Forced Entertainment, Pina Bausch, John Cage, – the usual suspects…
Where do you see your project going, how do you balance the work and life, how about the ‘other interventions’?
AT: We are starting to reach out and are discussing several collaborations with other companies, which is a totally new situation. We intend to tour more and more for each year, and also to communicate more with other artists in various ways. Sometimes we feel a little isolated here, so we are working on breaking out from that isolation and become more part of the world, so to say. For me work and life are intertwined since my husband is Timo who is part of the Oblivia core and we have to deal with how to take care of our 9-year-old daughter as well. I have also been very active in founding the Performance center, ESKUSin Helsinki for working: with three studios, and a shared office for companies and individuals in the performance scene and independent scene in Helsinki. We have residencies, rent out spaces and work on different levels to be a supportive structure without being a venue or a production house.
Oblivia will premier MOPMA 2 (that is the working title, the real title will emerge soon) in mid September in Trondheim, Norway at the Bastard festival. Until then the company will tour MOPMA 1 in Finland and Entertainment Island in Poland…
Sightseeing is a performative proposal to deconstruct an archetypal figure of tourism through a site specific procedure. It’s about shifting from sightseeing to siteseeing and what this involves in terms of spacialization and temporality of the seeing that can trigger a sight specific experience. (Simo Kellokumpu & Vincent Roumagnac) . Sightseeing is a Dance Film directed by Simo Kellokumpu and Vincent Roumagnac (FRA/FIN 2012, 28 min). The film will be part of the LOIKKA DANCE FILM-FESTIVAL next week in Helsinki.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you choose dance and choreography?
SK: I’m not sure if it is about choosing in my case – I find it more like a development of perception within the conditions where I have lived. I have realized that choreography is something I have always been interested in, but I didn’t have a word for it before getting to know dance. As dance and choreography are two different media, what interests me now as a choreographer in choreography is to consider it as a form of (an artistic) practice, which articulates, shifts and opens social, temporal, spatial and material contextual circumstances. To think and practice choreography is to be in the movement all the time. When I auditioned for the Theater Academy (TeaK) in Helsinki, I already knew that I wanted to study choreography. They asked me in the final interview about the relation between a dance technique and choreography. Now after more than 10 years later, I still remember it as an important question in a way that I was confident that the choreography as a medium is the right one for me. We had 3 years BA-studies together and after these years there was another audition to the department of choreography. The audition again was an uneasy experience, but I’m very happy that I had the chance to study there 2 more years in that department.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does interdisciplinarity mean to you as choreographer?
SK: In practice it’s now about the dialogue between me and my collaborator a French artist Vincent Roumagnac whose roots are in theater and in visual arts. Also, it is about the question how to shift and echo the choreographic process into another medium/and vice versa. In this way, I would prefer to use the term intermediality than interdisciplinarity, because it is about what is at stake ”in between” the different media we use. For example, I think that artists like Bruce Nauman or JulieMehretu have a lot to give for a choreographic process. The history of contemporary performance, the body – and the visual arts is full of makers into whose works I can relate to with my choreographical references. At the moment, I am interested in, what kind of aesthetic forms comes out from the artistic process, whichcombines contextual choreography and the economical and philosophical principles of degrowth. I don’t have any ”artistic ideas”, but I am rubbing the notion of choreography with other contexts, media and circumstances, and speculate on the resulting inter-forms.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Tell me about the project in Iceland, who did participate in it, and what did you do with the landscape?
SK: I was invited to an international Aeringur contemporary art festival (in Rif 2012) with Roumagnac. The festival invited artists 10 days before the opening to work on the specificity of the site where the festival took place. We decided to work by the volcano/glacier Snaefjellsjökull with the notion of Sightseeing (and playing with homophonic site-seeing…). We aimed to play with these notions from the critical point of view meaning, asking how mass tourism usually consumes landscapes. Therefore, we wished to ask, what logical system of perception does it enclose that the spectator-tourist him/herself imposes an arbitrary framing of the landscape (the cliché). We worked on the deconstruction of this logic of seeing and experiencing the site by embodying (the body of the viewer) and re-framing (the framing of the landscape). So, having alternative forms of perceptual experience of the specificity that is usually attached to the nature-tourism site. We filmed a video of 30-minutes including me + the local people and participants at the Aeringur art festival. We also made an installation for the opening of the festival.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You live in Berlin, how is that now different from Helsinki, or Finnish dance and art scene?
SK: One of the main reasons to move my base to Berlin was to concentrate on the development of choreographic practice in a vibrant international context. I always thought that I would move to Brussels or Paris, because I’ve studied french for 5 years. But I found in Berlin a lot ofinteresting contemporary art, and colleagues in the same position, so I decided to stay – typical storyfor an artist, I guess.
When I went to Berlin in 2008, I was in the middle of a serious professional crisis. I was thinking to change the profession because this crisis had been going on already maybe a year or so in Finland, even if I had possibilities to work. I thought to quit practicing/making choreography. But what eventually happened to me was through questioning the logic, aesthetics and social and material conditions of the production-making, where I had been in Finland. I found some possibilities to realize workswhere choreographic thinking is processed out to, or with, the spectator without being subjected to the logic of a dance-piece or production, which is rehearsed and produced to be performed always the same way, no matter what is the context. I think there’s enough productions in the (art)world already. I try to find ways of making art and the living, which escapes this economic logic of the art-market – it’s a tricky equation to solve but I think it’s necessary.
In Berlin, I also took time to study, what has happened within western contemporary choreography in the last 15 years. I dove into the contemporary arts and understood many crucial things for my professionalcrisis. Berlin was a perfect place to be for this kind of professional process. I think themajority of the art-scene is in Berlin for other reasons than ”making a career” – I think it’s a place for developing your artistic practice. Stimulating art-city it is.
It’s been at the same time relieving and challenging to step out from the safe small scene into the total anonymity where no one knows who you are, and where you have no artistic institutional support at all. To step out from the familiar, expected and recognizable logic of working and presenting works, you inevitably bump into unexpected and unknown landscapes in many ways. It was right thing for me to do – to change the location doesn’t necessarily bring you something more, it can also be the movement, which prunes and clears out.
The main differences with Finland are quite simple. Finland is quite homogeneous and the art-scene is small. Of course one of the reasons for this is the geographical position, which already positions artists in a certain way, I mean there’s not that much people going to Finland especially.Finnish choreographers are not yet well-known in the Mid-European scene. I’m happy to see that there are some interesting younger generation choreographers like for example Anna Mustonen on their way. I am confident that they start to appear in critical European contemporary stages and venues as well, if they want to participate into the logic of touring with works.
In Berlin, there are artists from all over, and it seems to be in constant movement. It is questioning already things in practice, which haven’t been spreading out yet. Different ways and disciplines of making are mixed, and as a spectator you have a good possibility to experience diverse vital critical art-scene, which challenges your thinking, perception and position. Berlin is poor, and the venues do not support artists the same way than in Finland, but it is a place, where people want to come to show their work even if also the audience is very demanding – in Finland the audience is very polite, and the discourse between the audience and the artist is completely different.
In Finland, we are not used to talk about art that much. In Berlin it’s common that the spectator has critical questions about the work. Aesthetic talk is an aesthetic talk in Berlin, whereas in Finland I have experienced it more like a personal talk, which is connected to the romantic idea of an inspired artist who expresses him/herself. The tradition of dance and choreography is longer and thicker in Berlin and in Germany – Finland is a young country and the position of a contemporary choreographer is hardly to be taken seriously, or the position of an artist in general. But it’s hard everywhere for artists I guess, especially in these neoconservative political times. What I find meaningful in Berlin, is the history of a place where artists have been stretching, breaking, testing and questioning the ways of making and presenting art. Also this affects to the Berlin’s position as a vibrant, substantial and horizontal art-capital.
In last 1,5 years, I have been more active again towards the ”scene” and been meeting more people. I have even learned to say no to the proposed possibilities also in Berlin. I’m interested in working with Finnish performers, because I think they are good in the way that they are grounded and down to earth. For the moment, I’m happy to be working in a light collaborative structure, but if there’s a working group included, I’d like to bring the group to Berlin and present the work then in Finland. This way there’s automatically cultural exchange, and stimulation happening to many directions. I am planning now together with a Finnish Berlin-based director Mikko Roiha to create a platform or stage for Finnish performing arts in Berlin. We are working on to find the ways now, and looking for collaborators from Finland and Berlin to get this project going to be able to offer one possibility for Finnish artists to present their work in Berlin.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How do you understand dance technique? What is a Kellokumpu dance technique?
SK: I think of it as a certain neuromuscular organizational system, what you can study and learn to embody. Nowadays, I have moved on from thinking dance-technique(s) as something necessary for the choreography. I mean, I am interested in finding the ways to understand, how a subject, we call a ”dance technique”, is used and connected to the broader social, aesthetic or historical context. For me as a choreographer, it is necessary to understand these connections more than having a ”dance-technique” – I find it problematic if a choreographer finds his/hers dance technique and sticks only to that without questioning its broader social, historical or aesthetic dimensions. Usually, I have worked with the dancers who have a broad understanding and physical potential. I find (Forsythe’s, if I remember correct) thought about dancer’s body as a body of a monster intriguing. I have certain elements and tasks to combine when it comes to the idea of the movement-texture. But like I said, I’m thinking about choreography nowadays as a medium, which doesn’t necessary need a body to be processed and presented. I am interested in working with the notion of choreography and its possibilities; dancers and dance-techniques can be part of it or not.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: So, what are your greatest influences?
SK: In 2010, we (with Roumagnac) created a solo-work for me which included a staging of my choreographic mothers and fathers so to speak. From Finland, there were Ervi Sirèn and Tarja Rinne. And then, Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe were on stage with me in this work (not physically present, note). I am still aware that these names are important for me when it comes to the personal history of dance and choreography. Like many, I am interested in the 1960’slegacy in the western contemporary arts. To name a few, Judson Dance Theater, Situationists, Minimalists, Arte Povera-, Fluxus-artists and then choreographers like Cunningham, Lucinda Childs, Forsythe and Jérôme Bel are the sources of my inspiration. Of course, my position is nowadays to have a critical point of view to my genealogy as well, and to look ahead by following what is happening in the development of the choreography.
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What did you learn while you were spending some time in New York?
SK: I spent only one month in New York and it was the first time for me there. I mainly wanted to go after Merce’s (Cunningham) footsteps a bit, so to speak. So I took some classes in Cunningham Studios and visited museums and galleries, got to see performances etc. The trip was part of the project of mine what I processed with Roumagnac who was in Paris at that time, it was a continuation for our one month work-trip to Beijing. In New York, I thought a lot about the relevance of being aware about the history and the line(s) where you belong into. I found it significant. I even bought a blue unitard.
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Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Kristin, how did you get started with the project of knitting?
Kristin: The idea came to me quite simply, and I blurted it out to the right person! My boyfriend and I were making dinner and I said, “You know, I should just start a knitting bee to give everyone a way to help out. I’ve got the yarn—why not?” And that was it, within that evening the idea was public, space was donated, and we were going through with doing it.It started in the week right after the hurricane, because I kept having conversations with people about how they were frustrated at their inability to help out. Lots of people I knew were getting turned away from volunteer centers because they didn’t have long enough windows of time to volunteer. And I thought if only there were a way for everyone to sit down together and process what’s happened, and to do something with all the concern in the air….it felt surreal to return to work and “normal life” when just a mile or two away, within the city limits, things were shattered. Then I remembered I had this huge pile of yarn back at my mother’s house that I knew I was never going to use. Then, I was handed a free meeting space that was connected to a huge network of people. So it all came together on its own, really.
Who joined you in the effort?
Kristin: So many people have made this effort come to life! The managers atSaltlands Studio,Jim Smith and Jackie Werner, were my biggest support and motivators in getting the group off the ground. Jim Smith has helped me organize and facilitate all the planning stages. My two crafting consultants who I relied on heavily for all the initial blanket design decisions were my mom, Lois Hatleberg, and Renee Kurz. I couldn’t have done this without everyone! Lori McCaskill gave me administrative support, big time. Isabella Bruno ofBruno Designcreated a flyer and our Facebook page so that we were able to reach the knitting communities. Because as soon as I started this I realized I only knew maybe two other knitters in the whole city…so we really did have to reach out.
And the response has been amazing. People from all over the country sought us out, asking to be able to mail in squares and contribute. So we said sure! At the beginning of our knitting bee we already had over eighty finished squares waiting to be sewn into blankets. That was amazing to watch take shape, seeing all the packages come in and getting emails from people who rsvp’d for the event saying they already had two squares done to bring, etc. And at our knitting bee Sarah Louden and Lauren Balthrop both volunteered their homes as meeting sites so we could continue the initiative together. That’s really why Knit Sandy has taken off and been able to do as much as it has so far—because everyone’s response has been so energetic and willing, it’s all just been able to come together.
What have your experiences been in organizing the knitting circle?
Kristin: It takes a lot of thinking ahead! That, and listening to everyone’s responses, following through on what I hear. The most incredible thing, other than actually getting our homemade blankets to people who need them, has been the conversations I’ve had. It’s humbling to hear how meaningful a little human touch can be.
What is your perspective for now and the relief? Winter is here, do you see things have moved on with the relief efforts?
Kristin: I’m not sure I know in which sense you’re asking….have things moved on? Yes, in the sense that it seems all the hard work is paying off and the disaster areas are moving from response mode to recovery and rebuilding. No, in the sense that I don’t think people can yet move on. So many people who didn’t suffer major personal damage still care and still want to reach out to those who were more affected. Knit Sandy is still getting at least one message a day from someone new, asking how they can help. People still want to talk about what has happened and what is happening. People I’m in communication with through Knit Sandy are still waiting for their insurance to sort out and let them take action, begin to rebuild. Other people I know through Knit Sandy are still waiting for the basic comforts to be stable, still living off generators and without proper amenities. People are still without their work offices, without their children’s schools. And so, so many people were affected economically. It’s too early to move on, every one is still coping in that sense. It’s still in everyone’s minds.
How is your dancing going these days, what projects are you doing and planning to do?
Kristin: Great! I’ve been doing research work for the past six months, developing an approach to working that feels both immediately effective and bigger in scope, to weave all my interests in dance into one joint focus. It’s been fun. I wrote a dance, called “The Read-Aloud Dance,” out of the notes and writing done in our first major research phase (nine dancers involved). And I’ll probably write some more. It feels balancing to combine the two modes, dance and writing. For now I’m clumping all the dance research under the name “Anima” and working on a few different manifestations, mainly practice rituals that can deepen into performances and film. My friend Cecilia Fontanesi did an Anima performance with this research in the fall. This month I’m on pause with that, because of Knit Sandy and my other dancing. I’m dancing with Dai Jian, and we’ll be doing a gallery-style performance January 17th in Ran Tea House in Williamsburg. Also I’m dancing with Sari! I stepped in for her in a duet she’s making, we’ll dance it at the FLIC Fest in Fort Greene on Feb 1st. Lots going on, always….
Kristin: Do I get to ask you questions too? How is everything going? What are you working on right now, in your research work and also on the stage?
Thank you, Kristin, that is so sweet of you. Btw, I am waiting to see you and Sari Nordman on stage at FLICfest in February. Myself, I am basically just back from performing at La Mama, another project withYara Arts. It was wonderful! This year, I will be doing something in the city, video-dancing too, and hopefully also outdoors somewhere. Always ready for new projects. My research, I am swamped with my book-project trying to get a draft by summer, which is somewhat unrealistic.