Categories
interviews performance&dance sustainability

Artist Interview: Choreographer Simo Kellokumpu

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.

-Check the LOIKKA DANCE FILM-FESTIVAL calendar here.

-Artist’s website: http://kellokumpu.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/11/

Categories
interviews music

Paula Jaakkola’s music with wings

Exporting music and arts to different parts of the world belong to cultural heritage. Arts are sustainable and renewable part of culture. Some artists choose to live in another country to gain inspiration, to start a new career, and desiring to make it there. Each story is different. Finnish musician, singer, songwriter and composer Paula Jaakkola has lived in New York City since 1999. She is a graduate from the University of Helsinki’s Musicology program in 1999, and from The New School in 2002 where she studied jazz vocals. Recently Paula was in Finland recording her new album.

Paula, how has the recording experience been so far?

PJ: The first recording sessions in Finland this past December were fun and inspiring. We started with 3 songs of mine. The musicians Ape Anttila, Jaska Lukkarinen and Marzi Nyman are extremely talented artists and I am fortunate that they are excited to play my music. The recordings continue this spring in Finland and in New York so there is still a lot to be done.

What other plans do you have for the near future?

PJ: In the somewhat near future I am preparing for the CD release party for the fall of 2013. The plan is to work hard to get exposure for the album, make music as much as possible and hopefully tour a lot as well.

What is your favorite song?

PJ: This is a hard one as I don’t have a favorite song. There are so many. But lately I have been touched by Sia’s “Breathe Me”.

How do you collaborate, arrange the songs with other musicians?

PJ: If I am doing a gig with musicians and they haven’t played with me before I usually send them music charts along with MP3’s that are the demo versions of the songs. They get an immediate idea of the mood and style of the song. At the rehearsals we refine the ideas. I don’t always have a very clear idea what the drummer and the bassist should play so I always welcome honest input from the musicians.

As to the album collaboration it is a bit different. I send my demo audio files to the producer. He arranges them further, maybe changes the form a bit, adds more instrumental ideas and grooves. He sends me MP3’s to listen to and I might have more ideas to add. It’s lots of back and forth as we work long distance and deal with e-communication. The fact that he is in Finland makes the process a bit challenging but so far it has been working. When the arrangements are ready the musicians will come to the studio and play their parts and usually bring their own additional ideas as well. It is a very organic process where everyone has the freedom to bring their creativity on the plate.

You have performed in many venues in New York City, what is your favorite?

PJ: I really liked the Living Room in the Lower East Side but it just closed, which is very sad. I also like Somethin’ Jazz Club in Midtown where I have been playing a lot recently. It is a super mellow venue. I have sung a few times at the legendary Joe’s Pub but those occasions haven’t been my own shows. My goal is to be able to have my own concert there sometime in the near future. It is a beautiful space with a really good sound system.

What is the most inspirational Kalevala poem to you, how did Finnish National Epic Kalevala inspire you?

PJ: Kalevala inspired me a lot when I was co-leading a Finnish world music group Kaiku. We used some Finnish folk poems as basis to our songs. I really cherish Kalevala’s mystical world. I like the part where the wizard Väinämöinen plays his “kantele” (traditional Finnish string instrument), starts singing and makes all the people and forest animals enchanted and trance induced. Music is his ultimate power and wisdom.

Here are some of Paula’s up-coming performances in New York City:

Friday, March 15, 10pm
at Zirzamin
90 W Houston St
(btwn LaGuardia and Thompson)

Friday, March 29, 7pm
at Somethin’ Jazz Club
212 E. 52nd St. 3Fl. (btw/ 2nd & 3rd Ave.)

Paula’s website: www.musicwithwings.com/

Her Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paulaandmusic

Categories
asian art fine and contemporary art interviews women in art

Artist Nozomi Rose: Dai Dai

Nozomi Rose is a rocking Japanese woman artist, who has a lot to say about the women’s role in the fine arts. From traditional Japanese Nihonga to Western artistic techniques, she uses fingernails to add dimension to the paintings. She was trained in painting at Cornell University and earned an MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The focus for our discussion is on diversity of artistic practices. We listen to her plans from organizing a conference in New York City, where artists and scholars who have more than one practice get to present their work and share knowledge on how one discipline informs the other. She is publishing an e-book in Japanese on hybrid art teaching and learning for Tatsu-zine Publishing. Her exhibition ‘Dai Dai’ will open in New York at Japanese Embassy on October 2nd. This exhibition will feature her latest paintings of multiple techniques, along with her other works.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: We had a discussion about patriarchal Japanese art-institution, could you explain that a bit?

NR: Haha. Are we really starting out our interview with this question? I was talking about the wife of Ikuo Hirayama, one of the most important Nihonga painters in Japan. Ikuo Hirayama is a Hiroshima-A bomb survivor, served as the President of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (a.k.a Geidai) twice, and a synonym for Nihonga, so I would say he is a Japanese version of Jackson Pollock. Well, sort of…Hirayama paints landscape and is known for Silk Road paintings. Everyone in Japanese art knows his name. His wife Michiko Hirayama entered the same university with Ikuo and was the top of their class. Ikuo was the second. Michiko, however, gave up on her painting career when they got married because their best man told her that having two painters in one household would not work. Michiko took the advice and stopped painting, and then, Ikuo truly climbed to the top of the field. It sounds similar to Lee Krasner now I think about it. There is a Japanese idiom “breaking one’s brush,” which typically means “stop writing stories,” but Japanese painters see that the words symbolize a female painter’s marriage with a male painter in Nihonga. Michiko’s episode is an urban folklore among Japanese painters worldwide. I heard this story for the first time when I was studying painting in Paris, France!

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are using both western means of creating art and Japanese traditional Nihonga in your art, how naturally this came about to you as an artist and when?

NR: Oh, you mean, I use Nihonga paints with acrylic medium on canvas and you see it as unusual? That is a very good point. The fact is that, though, many Japanese painters trained in Nihonga use this method in New York. Also, Nihonga pigments are heavy because their particles are much larger than western pigments, so I can’t really use gum arabic for this, like you do in watercolor. I can’t mix it with oil painting medium because oil paints cure through oxidation, and oxidation changes the colors in Nihonga pigments. These are scientific sides of why and how it came to me. The technical diversity creates the differences in visual effects in western and Japanese paintings. I am curious to see how Nihonga paints react to various western painting mediums in my work. I might try it with oil paints at a later time. I have increasingly been attracted to casual ways of making paintings, so the color change may be okay for certain types of work that I will create in the near future.

You may be asking me about the conceptual side of the work. For me, using Nihonga paints is one way of “citing” Japan in my work, but this is not the main theme I promote in art. Personally, making art has more to do with erasing my own identity as Japanese rather than emphasizing it. I was told at an early stage of my artistic career that I should stay away from quoting Japanese art materials or Japanese visual languages for my own work because they can never make my art original. For example, I can never be unique by copying Ukiyo-e patterns as art because many people have seen those. I have never trained in Nihonga; learning Japanese traditional painting never attracted me. When I was still in Japan, I was studying oil painting; I liked Japanese oil painters such as Ryuzaburo Umehara who studied with Pierre-Auguste Renoir. I enjoyed seeing the world through the lens of Japanese artists influenced by the western aesthetics.

I also liked the works by westerners influenced by the Japanese aesthetics. This included Impressionists and conceptual artists like Daniel Buren, so I went to Paris in 1999. I even went to Monet’s house in Giverny, but you know…he had a strong collection of Japanese woodcut prints and that was the secret! It was a bit unfair that I had to travel all the way from Japan to France only to witness that Claude Monet was a big fan of Japanese art. Daniel Buren, on the other hand, might not be familiar with Japan although his work looks very Japanese, especially the installations with color stripes.

Do you know there was no art in Japan until Ernest Fenollosa came and made it happen with Okakura Tenshin, who established Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and was a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston? Okakura Tenshin was Fenollosa’s assistant and both of them worked for the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. People who say that the Japanese Constitution was written by the United States would probably claim that Americans created Japanese art, but I am not a historian.

So my short answer is that it has always been on my mind. However, inserting something very Japanese directly into my own artwork, which I have long been resisted, came to me only when the Japan Tsunami Earthquake Disaster happened.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The collaboration between Fenollosa and Tenshin is very moving, and kind of tells us how the world of artists has always been connected.  Do you feel you are mediating between East and West with your art, or do you think that it is stereotypical to make this opposition?

NR: As a visual artist, color is my “language.” I would like color to mediate between east and west in my work, so my answer is yes and I feel there is no way for me to escape this. I am certainly interested in mediating between Japanese and American visual effects and aesthetics. Japanese art has borrowed elements from Indian and Chinese art, so it is the idea of East. I think the question is more about “how” I am doing it. I am watching how my art can mediate both east and west.

(Courtesy of A. Sortie, Inc. Nozomi Rose, ‘Happening’, 2012. oil on canvas. 8″ x 10″)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You participated in the Japan’s Earthquake and TsunamI 2011 art-project, could you tell me more about it?

NR: I was an organizer for Silent Art Auction and a curator for Charity Art Exhibition, but they were both student-driven projects. Our students learned a lot by carrying out those charity art events. I was just a tool for them to communicate with the College and Japan. Students who wanted to show and sell their art for their fundraisers, first on campus and then in a Chelsea art gallery, got together, and through myself, they were able to even have a commercial gallery owner donate his space for one day, for free.

We see those activities as our students’ educational experiences as well as healing processes. As a result, affected students successfully survived the crisis and graduated. I just presented on this theme with two other Professors, Kyoko Toyama in College Discovery/Counseling and Tomonori Nagano in Education and Language Acquisition, at the Opening Session at LaGuardia Community College: (For more details, look the website: http://www.lagcc.cuny.edu/Opening-Sessions/Workshops-II/)

Our College President Dr. Gail O. Mellow has been sympathetic about what Japanese students went through due to the unfortunate disaster, so she briefly came to our presentation. I felt her attendance symbolized a kind gesture by the College to the affected population in Japan.

The title of our paper is “Respecting Tradition and Creating a Community: Culturally Appropriate Response to the needs of Japanese Students and the College in the aftermath of Japan’s Earthquake and Tsunami.” We previously presented the same research in a session under the same title at the 2011 Asian American Psychological Association Conference in Washington D. C.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Then, I am always curious what an artist like you holds for their future. I guess it is about the dreams, what are your dreams and future plans?

NR: Wow, this is an interesting question. My dreams:

1) Sending 1000 young women from the disaster areas of Japan to New York City to study visual arts at LaGuardia Community College. This can be for three months or longer like two years. They do not need to be all Japanese citizens and I believe this is the right way for us to start spending more money on women’s education. This art project is after “Fairytale” by Ai Weiwei. Please let me know if you know anyone who would be interested in funding this project!

2) Creating a visiting East Asia artists and curators’ lecture series where people from various East Asia countries peacefully collaborate. After 3/11, my school suggested me to create an East Asia art course, so I wrote and proposed HUA191: the Art of Eastern Asia. It is now part of the College’s official course offerings. We are currently developing a new East Asia/ Japanese major, in collaboration with Queens College, so the new East Asia art course is becoming a permanent addition to the major. This is a bold step for diversity in the arts of Long Island City, Queens/ NYC. The next logical step would be an art lecture series with the same theme.

Future plans

1) To film “Dai Dai.” The title of my exhibition came from a film project that I started in 2010 entitled, “Orange.” Daidai is a Japanese word for one specific shade of orange, whose sound also connotes the concept of genealogy. The film content was mainly about my personal experience with the color orange, the largest earthquake in Japan, which was the Kobe earthquake before 3/11, and the sarin gas attack on Tokyo Subway system. I think production of a contemporary Japanese folklore was my initial purpose of this project. The tsunami earthquake was literally a life altering experience for me as an artist in part because it forced me to stop writing this script, but I recently decided to re-start it by re-structuring the entire work.

2) Swan Hill Art Biennale. I am helping the Swan Hill Museum of Contemporary Art in Himeji, Japan, to create an art biennale. Himeji literally means “Princess Road.” It currently promotes art made by women and I want to eventually include transgender women. For that, I think the conservative region needs a good woman’s medical center. We want a feminist art “museum-medical center,” so I will start talking to artists and doctors who may be interested in this type of project. This can sound very different from what I have done in the past, but I think the fundraisers for Japan last year were really about helping to raise funds for medical treatments.

3) Interdisciplinary Art Practices Conference in NYC. I am planning to organize a conference where artists and scholars who have more than one practice present their work and discuss how one discipline informs another one in their own practice.

4) E-Publication. I am writing an e-book for Tatsu-zine Publishing (http://tatsu-zine.com/) in Tokyo, Japan. This will probably be about Art-in-NY for non-majors and online art learning tools because this Japanese publisher specializes in e-books for computer programmers.

(Courtesy of A. Sortie, Inc. Nozomi Rose, ‘One Summer Dream’, 2012. oil on unstretched linen)

The artist’s website: http://nozomirose.com/

Information about the upcoming ‘Dai Dai’ -exhibition: Opening Reception: Thursday, Oct. 4th, 2012. 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m, Discussion with the artist: Friday, October 5th, 2012, at 1:00 p.m.

http://www.ny.us.emb-japan.go.jp/en/i2/special_2012-10-02–31_DaiDaiExibition.html Opening

  • (Daidai is a fruit)
Categories
art education&management asian art interviews performance&dance sustainability

Talk with Isira Makuloluwe (molecular biologist – come- choreographer)

Isira Makuloluwe is a choreographer living and working in London. He has  just finished a work called 1951 to the music of Czek ’60’s Avant-Garde composer Miloslav Istvan’s 1951 String Quartet for ProART Dance Company. It premiered on 27th July 2012. His first work to pre-existing ‘classical’ music and not made by his long-term composer Jennifer McConachie, it was a new page in the choreographer’s career, entering a phase where the interpretation of music through its theoretical construction and making movement from it has become of great importance to him. The fine line between choreographing to music and re-writing the music (without changing it) via the dancing body has become his focus.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Isira, please, do not laugh; I’m wearing my glasses when I type. Tell me, how can a Molecular Biologist be a choreographer? It taught you awareness. What else? You have been choreographing since 2000, and before that you studied dance with various great dance masters in Europe and United States. Manola Asensio, William Louther, then you finished your studies at Alvin Ailey American Dance Center?

Isira: Don’t worry about the glasses, they suit you and I’m astigmatic!
I actually loved dance since I was a child, listening to music and making up complex (at least I thought so at the time!) group choreographies. I was mainly mad about hip-hop. Movement originality also became one of my obsessions. My ballet teacher is married to my physics teacher and he was the one who roped me into dance. I was told that I was always talking about dance at school and therefore should pursue it – to the disdain of my Sri Lankan immigrant parents. There are many metaphors between molecular biology and dance – spirals, DNA, life and all of those wonderful things that have little to do with my choreographic work. I got a good sense of numeracy from laboratory work; an understanding of the scientific method and writing and the rest of the time was quite bored. I should have studied Asian languages, anthropology or the fine arts – where I belong. But at that time in England, it was all about ‘following your father’s footsteps’ so I pretended I wanted to be a doctor like him until one day I woke up dancing! Manola Asensio gave me a lot of information that was transmitted to her by Rudolph Nureyev (in particular the essence of the Bournonville Classical Technique that he got from Eric Brun). William Louther got me a scholarship to the Alvin Ailey School. He secretly believed in me over his majority black students (in front of whom he was all black power) since I worked harder than everybody in class (mainly because I had to catch up so much) and stayed behind to question him endlessly. He was a genius, sad, dejected and lonely. First black soloist of Martha Graham, and co-founder of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater – though many in the organisation would deny it now. (If ever they do – ask them who made ‘Hermit Songs’ for Alvin Ailey and co-created Blues Suite with Dudley Williams as a favour to fill an evening for the emerging Mr Ailey – it was Bill Louther).

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: We dance artists are quite serious people. It is all about the human content, I guess. The body is so social, cultural, affectionate, natural and unnatural at the same time. Your company name Dancetheatremedia describes it to me in a way that dance, theatre and performance are mediating something with real potential between human behaviour and movement. The body is a mediating device, as far as I think of it.  How would you explain it?

Isira: I agree. Nowadays I feel that conventional dance doesn’t have a singular place as before and we have to mix media and develop a new form of dance or theatre art in order to survive culturally. No credible state funding body has any decent money for the arts and even less for dance, so why waste time making small dance pieces when the arts community has so much more to share with us and we with them? Risky maybe, but we need to take risks to make a better and more stable world. With this reasoning, the performing arts are a fatal frontier for the closed-minded still working within the field. There is also so much to do in the area of humanitarian work, education, and corporate entrepreneurship. In Dance or moreover in choreography there are good and bad models for leadership and management. Take the good ones (not necessarily the ones making the most money) and apply them in business. This is one form of mediation. The body has been a form of mediation since prostitution was part of political negotiation! Mediation through movement is an interesting concept. Are also we talking about dance and movement’s use in therapy?

THEORIES

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I also know that you have investigated concepts of reality, alterity and transformation, as well as memory in your works. Then, you have this interest in the language, communication and in games. Tell me about the games in your works? Games are abstractions. It feels that in some sense it is possible to manipulate your viewers, or to convey your perception of the world with your works?

Isira: I love sports like Track and Field, Rugby, Tennis, Soccer, Cricket, among others. Transforming or using games’ rules as a set of choreographic codes was something I worked on in the last decade. TOUCH was born from these ideas in 2007. Language (including dance) is ultimately our only weapon against ignorance and lack of understanding. The more languages we know the better. I speak a number of languages and it still freaks me out when I can’t understand a language in a far off land like China or India. Nonetheless, if you listen closely and long enough, intonations and body gestures can give away a language’s secrets and you can avoid a lot of trouble that way! Spoken words don’t exist without tones or a musical and physical expression of them.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How much do you think choreography also means theoretical designs, or a link to concepts? What is your favourite shape, or colour, or puzzle that organizes your choreographies? Games have space and bodies?

Isira: I’m not sure what you mean about theoretical designs. I have MY OWN THEORIES for making MY OWN DANCES but I would never teach them to anyone else as an absolute truth. I’m one of those people who fail to understand the purpose of MA’s or BA’s in choreography since the term in itself dares to convince students (falsely) that what they learn in some universities is HOW to choreograph. Such a personal, beautifully secret, intimate thing cannot be theorized or taught. But if someone needs to make money from that lie, so be it! I’m not against PhD’s in the analysis of practice as a reason to summarize one’s methods and ideas. But nothing more than that. Answering this question reminds me of the numerous books circulating about famous choreographers with photocopied scribbles and sketches that only they can understand. I do find it a bit ridiculous how we deify choreographers when only their works hold some degree of insight into who they are. And in any case isn’t it more interesting to know the dancers who dance their works? I usually admired them more than choreographers – all those apart from William Forsythe who also is an amazing dancer. My favourite colours (at the moment) are aubergine or pink (but it changes with the year). My favourite shape is spiral, and my favourite puzzle is the unlocking of my childhood memories in my native Sri Lanka.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your idea of where your choreographic practice is at the moment?

Isira: It has shifted a lot since I started making dance. My choreographies are completely influenced by my work as a teacher. Since beginning teaching five years ago I think more about composition and musicality than specific ‘ideas’ that may attract an audience. Like a composer of music, I try to find melodies and asymmetries that character the general harmonics and colour of a new piece. A dancer (usually my wife who is also a vocalist and pianist) helps me a great deal in this research in the studio. I like musical terms since they define dance and how to dance my choreographies. Afterwards, I start by filming a short maquette, which becomes a bigger body of work. The editing process of the dance-video clip becomes important in making choices for the actual work- camera angles, cuts and musical choices as made here.

My practice is also shaped by the global economy and my refusal to deliver a recognizable brand with commercial interest. I can further answer this question by the following observations since describing my work past and present is for the critics and less interesting that showing it to you live!

In recent years I have seen a lot of branding occurring to please promoters and producers (who are the ultimate gate-keepers) and this has led to mediocrity infiltrating the elite ranks of choreography. It has increasingly become a mundane and superficial art form whereas not only a few years ago it was a diverse and engaging one. I feel that nowadays one repeats a ‘winning formula’ that ‘sells tickets’ instead of pushing boundaries. We prefer to tour companies of dead choreographers like Pina Bausch or Merce Cunningham (which fills theatres for nostalgia sake) than to invest in young and talented choreographers. Dance therefore seems to have moved to the graveyard lately. Are we so afraid to look into the unknown and search for the talented unknown as opposed to the tried and tested (which usually means deceased). In that case we must question what is art all over again.

For me, the last great choreographer who irreversibly changed our perception is William Forsythe, who radically changed ballet and contemporary dance while leaving an indelible influence on the art world in general- fortunately he’s still alive! But why no one aspires to reach those heights cannot simply be blamed on the economy- there are few examples of pioneering leadership in our field as most dive for safety in career positions instead of living out their obligations as ARTISTS – and that means taking risks to advance the art of dance.

Also, the ‘conceptual dance’ or ‘non-dance’ movement of the French from 2000-today, while bringing about a radical ‘new way’ of thinking about dance (all stolen blatantly from 1960’s Judson Church and performance art from the US and UK) has made a joke of the art form and made quality dance education almost redundant in Europe. It has become more important to create dancers without technique but cultivate interesting ‘personalities’ in the most important schools. The basics are no longer a priority; hence the dancer therefore graduates neither as an actor nor as a dancer. Who would want to hire a 20-year-old dancer with no technique or experience but possessing an interesting ‘personality’ is beyond me. My company mainly hires dancers over 30 as a rule with strong technique and human baggage. There are exceptions to this rule but they are exceptional human beings at a young age.

I continue to make work in the hope that its singularity will not diminish its market value under the present aesthetic and political conditions imposed by the gatekeepers.  Hence, I try my best to keep making work that interests me, listen to my instincts, not satisfy trends unless I like them, and compose dance with discipline and love for dance and the dancer. I can’t do more than that.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You teach youngsters, and are concerned about what is going on in today’s society, how would you describe this connection?

Isira: The young are the future and yet most countries put them in programmed boxes that limit their creative potential and thus their ability to CHOOSE their direction in life. This added to physical frustrations coming from lack of sports in education or moreover dance in education has (in my opinion) been a factor in the increase of delinquency and religious indoctrination of kids via fundamentalist groups and child crime organisations. In Sri Lanka we have all this nature yet the kids are educated to be big money-makers (doctors, lawyers, engineers, etc) without any harmony or understanding of the blessing that our natural environment provides. The system teaches them, like in India to copy Western models, proven failures, for growth, position in society via clichéd careers, and acquisition of wealth without consideration for the poor. I’m slowly working towards a dance-based program to mobilise children to achieve this harmony via dance and the practice of ecological study and maintenance. Hopefully this will make better and more conscientious students and graduates in Sri Lanka.

LABILE

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I remember the solo Labile that you created for Finnish ballet principal dancer Minna Tervamäki. The solo for Minna premiered at the Finnish National Opera’s Alminsali on 9 December 2005. It was based on Minna’s own experiences from surviving the Tsunami in Thailand’s Khao Lak, in December 2004. You really wanted to translate her experiences of this trauma and event into an intimate choreographic work. The work was reviewed well in Finland, and it was also performed in 2006 at Monaco Dance Forum. You met at the Kuopio International Dance Festival. This is the same festival, where you won the prize for choreography with your French company, VIVID.danse in 2003.

I remember this huge pink plastic bag of bubble wrap that was on stage and Minna just was inside of it, coming out in an astonishing way. It was almost as if an alien was being born, the audience was not sure what was going to happen. And, after that the movements were so different, such virtuosity, with mathematical exactitude. The image was of total vulnerability despite the technicity of the dancing.

 

Isira: The title of the piece was ‘Labile’. Here are the definitions of the word: In chemical and physical terms: labile (adjective) readily undergoing change or breakdown; and in human terms: liable to change; unbalanced or adaptable; ‘an emotionally labile person’-being or thrown out of equilibrium (or balance).

The bubble-wrapped package delivered onstage was a fragile object: the pre-packaged ballerina who then explodes into action despite the pain, fatigue or emotional challenger. Her bursting open from it was a sort of escape from the false sense of protection and perfect image that the Opera House often propagates. My collaboration with Minna was in order to question the falsehood of the Opera Ballet Company per se, where one cannot question or show feelings, as if nothing happens in one’s life.A slave to the dance, slave to the politics of a big house like National Opera Ballet and slave to the choreographic system (evoked recently as a caricature in ’Black Swan’). I was interested in Minna the ’pretty ballerina’ and all the expectations that surrounded her. Her technique was perfect and I simply wanted to challenge it through my movement style like any choreographer would when faced with such a perfect athletic and dancing specimen as she.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: And, on the soundtrack Minna was repeating ’I’m almost there, but not quite yet’. The struggle of ballet-dancer with her mathematical precision and ideal for perfection of movements and the perfect image of the body.

Isira: I noticed she was often saying ’eiku’ in the studio (among other things). In Finnish this means ’no’. It was as if someone was telling her that whatever she was doing was never good enough. I found it amusing and used it as a backdrop for highly technical variations. How would it affect her psychologically? How does the ’negative’ push a dancer to excel? And why the hell do we need such negative thinking in ballet to achieve results? This was what I wanted to question. I felt the title embodied the female dancer’s inner strength and adaptability to manifest other realities than her own at that time – which in Minna’s case was having survived the 2004 Tsunami and returning to work as if all was OK.

{Photos:Dancetheatremedia Limited}

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Jan-Peter Kaiku, a critic from Helsinki-based Hufvudstadsbladet wrote in 11/12/2005 about LABILE. The review speaks about how we received the work. What I find so intriguing is that he compares you to William Forsythe. This does not happen so often. Kaiku wrote:

The solo handled a theme of performance in an improvisational and jagged way. Phrases are repeated only to be quickly turned on their heads. The piece’s minimalism, changing dynamics and powerful pointe work are reminiscent of William Forsythe’s reforms in classical ballet. The plastic packaging, the choice of music and the text provide humorous perspectives to the portrait of a dancer considering her many self-images and the scene situation. These questions create movement and change.

Isira: Any comparison to Forsythe is a great complement though my movement style is very different. I think the critic was comparing the sense of risk and deconstruction of theoretical ideas that perhaps the great man also deals with.

COLLABORATIONS AND IDENTITY

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Then your collaboration with other designers, which is of course so close to my own approach. Media?

Isira: I’m interested in all forms of multi-media though the goal is to purify and often throw everything out. More recently I’ve been more interested on set and lighting design for dance. The key for me is in the music and lighting. Often media and sets can upstage the dance and one loses a sense of meaning. If someone applauds the set and says nothing about the piece or its message, I have failed. Both have to work in harmony and the choreography should still remain the principal object of desire. Often setdesigners forget this.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I love Jennifer McConachie’s music; she is a female composer working on diverse forms. You have collaborated since 2003.

Isira:  Jennifer is a genius. What I like about Jennifer’s work isthat she can easily cross from digital composition to acoustic-classical. It’s rare these days. She is Scottish but lives in Norway. I always insist on ‘open Nordic skies and changing light’ in her music. It opposes the energy and detail of my choreography,leaving breathing space for the dancers to make the piece their own and colour the dance. Recently I also collaborated with François Caffenne for Locked in Vertical, made for Phoenix Dance Theatre (Leeds. UK). This was also the beginning of a new and fruitful relationship between choreographer and composer.  Both know each other. My team is close.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Harrys Picot is your lighting designer. Tell me more how you work together?

Isira: Harrys is also a long-time collaborator. His ability to get under the skin of any choreographer and tailor the lights, transitions and effects to their needs is a unique skill. When we met, he was chief lighting designer of the CNDC d’Angers in the 90’s and 2000’s, he adapted to many guest choreographers. I was astonished with his flexibility. After No Place Like Home for the Geneva Ballet in 2008, he was kept on by the Ballet to continue to make the lights for some future works, all due to his talent and flexibility.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are Sri Lankan, and lived in Europe most of your life, in London, and also few years in Paris, recently moved back to London? Are you a World-citizen or something else? How would you describeyour identity?

Isira: Interesting question and one that I ask myself almost daily. I guess you can call me a world citizen. But moreover I am a world dance citizen. Dance made me learn languages and engage in differentcommunities. Through dance I met my wife. If I had stopped dancing at any time my life would have been very, very different. I was born in Sri Lanka and each day a part of me yearns for the sounds and smells of my country. The smiles of the people are what I miss the most. Europe and the UK occupy a large part of me.  Europe is so diverse and yet so small. It’s a maze and still has the imprint of the World War II and Communism. I’m not astonished all these events happened; I see the need for nations to have borders and identities. Everything in European history has been moving toward union (or occupation in other words) but it always seems to fail. Let’s see what happens next!

(Isira Makuloluwe’s website: Dance Theatre Media)

(Isira Makuloluwe talks about his choreography Locked in Vertical)

Categories
lifestyle

Hopefully there will be changes

Our lives can become targeted, and the world events can break our innocence of time and space. The political turmoils in many areas of the Middle East have evidently shown us that our imagination of cultural space can change rapidly. International media has been ‘good’ in influencing our views of the significance of recent political turmoils.

Once undergoing a radical process from being a state under oppressive powers, Egypt took a route for re-branding its image in the world. The sequence of events towards a revolution in Egypt took place in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in February 2011. This political performance became a testimony of a new type of nation branding, which operates with the help of global testimony. The advertising value of the events in the international media is in the question of, how did the revolution realize itself through the use of contemporary technologies? The revolution was not only local in terms of its impact, but it was simultaneously taking place in the various surrounding regions, and ultimately it took notice of the entire world through the modern telecommunications devices. SMS messaging, the use of Twitter and Facebook became channels for branding a new and globally more attractive appearance for Egypt. Men and women, young and old, came out from their homes bringing their radical presence, and fighting for the better future.

As a political performance, Tahrir Square stands as an utmost example of branding a nation. The sequence of events radicalized some common ideas that usually stand for the images of Egypt as an ancient, and merely an anti-modern state. The representations of the region’s backwardness, as it comes to people, its ruling power, and even the medieval imaginary created around the cultural artifacts (use of camels etc.), has been holding a strong place in our imagination. These representations were crashed and set in turmoil. Yet, the immediate surface and media representation, the use of stereotypes by the international media, as it discusses Egypt, still seemed to continue.

I went to Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif’s lecture on March 3rd in 2011, as she was lecturing at the Edward W. Said memorial lecture at Columbia University. Her view on the local peoples’ communal actions that gave Egyptians new voice throughout the world, was very moving. It seems now that in today’s global world, nation branding involves voicing that promotes both uniqueness and difference. From the cultural political points of view, critical consciousness started building itself in Egypt, that perhaps elsewhere would transform itself to a milder forms of ‘re-imagining our new nations’. Yet, Egypt’s cultural space became an example of nation building that carries across national borders. Its new imagination has become contested in the global space.

Categories
art education&management interviews music

Jason Carter builds bridges through Music

I interviewed Jason Carter, a Harp guitar adventurer, who was born in UK, is a World citizen and celebrating his birthday this week. Jason has exiting new adventures coming up. And just a bit about the World peace too.
Happy birthday, Jason, hoping it is a good one! I remember our collaboration in 2000 in Helsinki with our ‘Landscape/Innerscape’ -performance project. It was great fun. Seems that we both have been doing creative projects for a while and traveled quite a bit since.
WOW, was it really THAT long ago??? I remember it well, it was my first trip to Finland, so very memorable. I am 43 today, time to start thinking about growing up. After all, it is the thought that counts..
What are the most recent places you visited to perform? How did you build bridges through music between cultures and people? What do you think about the carbon footprints and travel miles? This idea of making the world a better place through music is fantastic.
The most recent places have been Saudi Arabia, UAE, Brunei, Malaysia and Estonia. I think that every performance every artist gives, inevitably builds bridges, but then if the context is one of tension, conflict, or post war (power vacuum) then this becomes more poignant, as there can be also need for healing and reconciliation. The difference begins with every individual making an effort, which in turn, makes a difference. The carbon footprint is a difficult subject for me as I do travel far and wide, and to get to Dubai for instance, I would need to go by train all the way to Istanbul, then buses from there. Sounds great, even romantic, but impossible given the amount of concerts I do every year. Maybe one day I will be in a position to not think about how many concerts I need to do every year, and just travel this way, which would be amazing. Saying that, I will take the train to Siberia for my concerts in Novosibirsk in April.
I love your video *Endless Summer*. Tell me a little how it came about. The landscape speaks to me with its calm language. And the humor is so touching.

The creative process involved here come from two perspectives, me as a film maker and a musician. The music came easily with David Lillqvist (another Finn!). I rarely play with drummers, so this brings out a clearer sense of rhythm. The video was more difficult because we struggled with light in some of it, and it was COLD! For me, the video making process is not always or only about the story of the music, but a little about the personality of the performers. Maybe this is because I am a performer first and foremost, and I feel it important to connect with the audience personally.

What future plans you hold now, where do you see yourself going next in your career?
  
 Big question, as I am in the middle of some big changes. I have started this project http://www.jesseralwadi.org which is an initiative based in Abu Dhabi (UAE). It is many things, including education/workshops for schools, performances in the UAE and internationally (in UN concerts in Geneva and NYC). But mainly, this project is something which enables me to continue the theme of ‘building bridges through music’ on a more official level. I am off to Dubai and Abu Dhabi on Monday to secure funding for the first year. Wish me luck!
Thank you so much Jason, your projects are awesome, you need lots of good luck! Happy and safe travels!
And here *Endless summer*

Categories
asian art fashion sustainability

Fashioning ‘eco’ concepts

If fashion is now promoted with both ecological values and celebrity cultures, a question of who is wearing what and whose designs, includes a new kind of conceptual thinking.  Historically, fashion is the clothes that we are wearing. Then, a questions of social class plays an important role, since we are making the clothes our own by wearing them. Traditionally, women have been thought to be the ideal consumers of fashion, so fashion magazines have also created platforms where to discuss and make fashion as part of the women’s lives. In the circulation of fashion, clothes become fashionable again when the trends come back as new combination, and also next to new concepts and ideas. The historical, futuristic, and the near-past fashion are re-produced together with popular cultural icons. The cultural references of fashion keep also changing so that they are able to maintain the ‘hype’ status attached to classical designs. New technologies used in the fabrics, as well as green values are  important factors, which also reflect the moment. More importantly, ecological aspects that promote global awareness and respect the local traditions are now a necessity.

When in previous decades, the fashion products (and other products) did not take into consideration the ecological dimension of production, today’s processes are very different. The economics behind the change is pricing, as the prices in materials have been rising. Then, today’s consumers cannot be entirely responsible for paying the high cost, so the companies and designers have to be able to reduce the amount in production, and reconsider the materials, which they use.

When we are making our choices as consumers of fashion, more important to us than who is showing up in the shows is to be a conscious consumer. We should be asking, what is the ecological dimension behind the clothes that we buy. In addition, a cultural and geographical referent can become a conscious factor in our decision making; when in the making of the products this means emphasizing the local craftsmanship. One example of this type of local fashioning is a collective Contept Korea that has utilized an idea of Korean fashion culture in their global marketing. Designers who are participating in the collective aim at making Korean cultural image and national competitiveness as their goal. The Korean fashion, which has been promoted overseas has been sponsored by the Korean Ministry of Culture. With that governmental aspect, Concept Korea has been looking for new forums to promote Korean fashion and culture together, and to interact with new technologies. I participated in their showing in Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York in February 2011.

One of the designers Lie Sang Bong (based in Paris), has been drawing inspiration from Korean folk painting, from the black and white graphic designs which have drops of bright color like red in them. He has also created fashion sculpture and a bauhaus-architecture inspired collection, which both show sculptural dimensionality in clothing. Then, a Korean woman designer Doho impresses with work that has a feminine and flowy touch (see picture from Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in February 2011). Concept Korea perhaps comes as a continuation of the collective creativity that started with Seoul being the World Design Capital in 2010.

In today’s economical climate, the design world is thinking alternative solutions. When European countries struggle with economical difficulties, a good news could be that the countries are re-thinking the carbon limits in the production processes.  Only a few decades ago, environmental problems were thought to be part of the policy making of the governments. Now the industrial processes are considering the environmental questions as part of their designing of products.

Designer Lie Sang Bong with his crew at NY fashion week.
Categories
asian art lifestyle

Asian art markets

Does copycatting rule the Asian markets, where much of the world’s small technological innovation is located? Mobile-phone industries, small pieces in massive volume are centrally part of the future of the east.  What I find problematic in America is that the ‘westerner’ thinks we have invented it all. Today’s Asia is very creative, the arts are sensationally inventive, international, and not hostile at all in terms of who gets to participate. But, is there still a question of freedom of speech (what one is allowed to say and where) stirring in the air? Perhaps societal problems can build a frame for creation, meaning that when one comes from the ‘margins’ the experiences enhance new creativity? Artists and designers have to make it work and gain new presence in the world? All good signs. This reminds me of Finland too. A small nation started striving to get visibility with its original designs approximately hundred years ago. Design and fashion have become visible in almost every corner of the bigger cities in Asia, then the performing arts are moving forward. The traditions are remarkably present in design, and there seems to be value towards local traditions also in the new works of art. Yet, impacts of globalism are present; slums in the city corners and prostitution. The discussion about the trafficking of people has become loud.