Interview: Marina Celander explores theater with intention

New York City based performer Marina Celander crosses boundaries in her artistic practice, which combines a variety of genres and approaches to making art. Her solo performances echo authentic voice, and her deep participation on stage with theater groups comes across as statuesque, moving, gentle and charismatic. Marina Celander is born as Swedish-Korean, and is a recipient of 2014 Lilah Kan Red Socks Award for her outstanding contribution to the Asian American professional theater in New York City.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What choices did you make to become an actor, what is your background in the field?

MC: I started out as a modern dancer. After I graduated from London Contemporary Dance School I moved to New York and danced for a bit with various companies and choreographers. At one point I decided to take acting classes, which was something I had always felt I wanted to try but was afraid to do, and started studying with Gene Frankel at the Gene Frankel Theatre Workshop on Bond Street. Despite my fears, I took that first class with Gene and I remember feeling so elated and high, almost, as I stepped out from the darkness of the theater and in to the sunshine on the street. From that moment on I knew I had found what I needed to do with the rest of my life.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where were you born and raised, at least Sweden is on the map?

MC: I was born and raised in Sweden. I grew up in Malmö which is in southern Sweden, right across the strait from Copenhagen, Denmark. I lived in London for three years while I was studying dance, and then I moved to New York when I was in my early twenties. I have been in New York ever since! I go back to Sweden every other year or so to visit my family.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You have performed with Yara Arts Group that is based in La MaMa Theatre for many years. How did you find yourself part of the company?

MC: I auditioned for a show that Virlana Tkacz, the artistic director of Yara Arts group, was putting up at La MaMa in 2000, called Circle. This particular show was special in that it had actors and musicians from Buryatia and Mongolia, as well as us New York actors. We had the chance to learn to sing these hauntingly beautiful Buryat songs from the Altai mountains. Two years later I traveled with Yara to Ukraine to sing Ukrainian folksongs, and visit Babushki, the grandmas, in the villages of Kratchkivka in Poltava and Svaritsevichiy in Polissia, and then we performed in Kyiv. This trip was also lead by Ukrainian singer, Mariana Sadovska, who was the musical director for our performance. Ever since then I have come back to work for Virlana in various poetry readings and events that she hosts, as well as being part of some of her theater productions.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Virlana Tkacz, one of the founders of Yara, and the director of the company, and many company members have a Ukrainian cultural background, But Yara is appreciated as multicultural in its productions echoing ideas of a World Theater. Did you find this conception as a great home for your own performance identity?

MC: Yes, I am really attracted to the idea of World theater. It is very fitting that Yara Arts Group is a resident theater company at La MaMa, because it is the home of World theater. Ellen Stewart, the founding mother of La MaMa Experimental Theatre, bravely and courageously invited individuals and companies from all over the world to perform and work at La MaMa.

Yara is an exciting company to work with, because of the always multi-lingual performances and multi ethnic cast. Lately, Virlana has been working with Ukrainian artists, but in the past she has worked with artists from Buryatia (in Siberia) and Kyrgyzstan. As a woman of color and a theater artist, I always deeply appreciate directors who are not type-casting based on ethnicity and race. In downtown theater in general, but at La MaMa in particular, I have always been given opportunities to act in a myriad of roles where my ethnic make up is not important. Virlana has given me and many other actors of color opportunities. I believe that putting a minority actor on stage for no other reason than the fact that (s)he is a good person to have in the show, is always a strong choice against the established order of theater in the West.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In 2015, you were part of a production that directly was touching Ukraine and the war that was happening on a huge crisis level there. Yara’s production premiere ‘Hitting Bedrock’ took place in La MaMa, (it was conceived and directed by Virlana Tkacz, set & light by Watoku Ueno, music by Julian Kytasty, assistant director: Wanda Phipps). Your role in the work was central. Tell more about your role and how it shaped in the context?

MC: The production Hitting Bedrock, was an important production as it addressed the war in Eastern Ukraine. My character was The Refugee, and her significance in the piece was that she represented all of those humans, women, children, men, the elderly, that have been rendered homeless because of the war in Ukraine, and elsewhere in the world. She represented all of those that have had to leave something important behind, a memory, a treasure, a family member, a secret, a lover, old letters, a photograph… It was a role that moved me deeply. As a result, that summer (2015) I went on a self financed, crowd-funded trip to face paint and give dance workshops to children in refugee centers in Ukraine.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In this play, the audiences had a participatory role. At one point, we were asked to give our belongings away, and were offered big tote bags instead, to put our coats and personal items in them. This was altering a perception from an audience member’s point of view into the experimental, perhaps reminiscing the point of view of people in the war. In what ways did being a central actor discussing your war losses while audience is so close to you, alter your own performance? Did this event change you?

MC: Yes, the audience were forced to walk through a long corridor in the basement of the theater, and thereafter they were asked to give away their personal belongings only to have them put into bags. The audience immediately got those bags back to hold for the remainder of the show, but many felt uncomfortable and some refused to give up their belongings even for a second. We had brusque and insistent “guards” in uniforms commanding people to go here, put their stuff there, go up, sit down, etc. When the audience had finally arrived in a “holding area” after having been shuttled around with their big bags, they had to witness the guards doing the same to me. The guards demanded to see what was in my back-back, and I showed them my toothbrush and my papers. At this point the audience is really right next to me in the holding area. Having the audience being so close to me, being one of them, really does something to the performance. As an actor I loved feeling them so close, feeling their reactions to me, their doubts, their fears, and them feeling my fears. It was also a little intimidating when on one occasion we had a lady who was a little drunk in the audience, and she was shouting quite aggressively at the stuff I said. That was worrisome, because she was so close.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Besides being an actor and performer, you handle multiple different roles. How did you come to dancing and performing Hula?

MC: Yes, I handle multiple different roles in my life on a daily basis. I am a mother, and an artist, a teaching artist, performer, face painter, a freelancer. I wake up every morning thinking, what am I doing today?

I started dancing Hula, traditional Hawaiian dance, in 2000, after finding an organization that gave beginner hula classes. I was very fortunate to stumble upon the Hawaiian Cultural Foundation (HCF), and there I studied with Michelle Akina, Janu Cassidy, Keo Woolford and kumu hula June Tanoue. I have since been involved with a hula halau, hula school, Pua Ali’i ‘Ilima o Nuioka, under the leadership of kumu hula Vicky Holt Takamine.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What is your connection to the hula/Hawaiian community in New York?

MC: It’s a small, but growing, community of Hawaiians, and Hawaiians at heart, hula lovers, and Hawaiian language and music lovers and enthusiasts. It is a beautiful and loving and inclusive community of people from all over. My connection is through hula.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: A very interesting part of your practice is also face painting. That is a skill that requires another set of imagination and sense of personality in people. How did you start?

MC: I started face painting for my own children’s birthday parties, and it grew from there. Now I do other kids’ birthday parties. It’s a small side business, and I get clients usually through word of mouth. I really enjoy the face painting, and it makes me happy to paint kids’ faces.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: In 2016, you created a solo work for yourself that was performed in Sweden. The work titled Mermaid’s Howl, handled a theme of you mother, and her Korean identity. How did you experience the project from the point of view of her identity, and your own, adding into the narratives that are so personal?

MC: I created a solo show called Mermaid’s Howl and performed it at the Stockholm Fringe in 2016. The story had been a long time in the making. As early as 2013, I had talked to my friend and mentor, Fred Ho, about my idea of writing a solo show. He quickly said, in typical Fred Ho style “Write it, I’ll produce it. Here is your deadline, use it.” He unfortunately passed away before that came to fruition, but I stayed true to my promise to myself and to Fred, to finish writing that piece. I am grateful to the Stockholm Fringe Festival for inviting me and giving Mermaid’s Howl its premier.

The story is about me growing up in Sweden and finding out who my mother was, and finally being able to connect the dots in my adult years. Connecting the dots from me, to her, to all of our maternal ancestors. The play is part dream, part real memory snippets, part madness and part immigrant mother-daughter story. It was a deeply personal process, of course, to write this play, which delved into questions of what is must have been like to an immigrant woman, all alone in a completely foreign country, without family, to raise a child on her own, have her dreams crushed or set aside. It also explores the question of women and madness, and what it means for women to not be able to fully express themselves as artists and human beings in a society that sees women as less valued than men.

(For a little more detail to this story and an except of the play you can go here: http://riksha.com/mermaids-howl-an-excerpt/)

 

 

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Was the theme of mental illness and it’s feminine counter-narrative hard to project into a play?

MC: Mental illness is a topic that is still not openly talked about, it’s a little taboo. I wanted to bring it to the forefront and not skirt around the issue. Without glorying mental illness, I wanted to shine a light on it from a different angle, to let people see that there may be a societal value to possessing a different sight and different viewpoint from what is deemed “normal”. Normal is a societal rule, and normal is different in other cultures. In the West there is absolutely no point to mental illness at all. It is just a nuisance, a bother, a hindrance, a difficulty, something to be shunned and stowed away, far far away. I am not saying that it is not utterly devastating when serious mental illness occurs in a family, but I am saying that there are options as to how you would view someone with a divergent view of the world. Those with divergent behavior can actually have value in society, their divergence is seen as highly creative as well as highly unusual and abnormal. At the same time, madness in women have always been a tool to belittle and demean women, to incarcerate “difficult” women, and put women in their place by the patriarchic machinery.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: The play also involved projections as part of it, tell more about the visual and performance collaboration?

MC: I had three amazing collaborators. The electronic score was composed by Dåkot-ta Alcantara-Camacho. The costumes were designed and made by Jane Catherine Shaw, and the projection design was made by Youn Jung Kim. Youn Jung knew my play very well. She was a student of Fred Ho, that is how we met. In the beginning of the writing process she and I used to meet regularly and have our little mini-writing labs, where we shared, read and discussed our work. Because of her connection to the piece from the start, she really knew the flow, the pace, the colors, the feelings of the piece. The projections grew out of her intimate knowledge of the story I wanted to tell, and her receptiveness to my suggestions made the working process so easy.

Dåkot-ta created a score that was so sensitive and evocative, and reminiscent of water and forests and shaman drums. His sounds were instrumental in setting the scenes for particularly relevant moments in the piece. It really was amazing to hear the music loud, with real speakers, for the first time! Goosebumps moment! Cathy made these amazing creations that felt magical to wear, and helped me grow into the characters I was portraying in the various environments.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What would you like to say about the performance experience in Sweden, did you feel you were at the crossroads of cultures while bringing the work there?

MC: I didn’t necessarily feel I was at a cultural crossroads in Sweden, but my piece, Mermaid’s Howl, is an exploration of my cultural heritage, so it was very fitting to have its premier in Sweden. Performing in Sweden was a homecoming of sorts. Being bi-racial I guess means you are a hub for cross-cultural activities within you.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: This play involved also a Kickstarter- fundraising, and the audience was able to have a glimpse into the concept and to you as a person. What was this campaign process like?

MC: Yes, I decided to crowd-fund with Kickstarter as it seemed as the most reputable and an easy way to go. The opportunity to go to Sweden came up very quickly as I was invited to perform with Mermaid’s Howl just a couple of months before the festival started. I had to come up with the funds to go very quickly.

Youn Jung Kim is a great conceptual artist and photographer and film artist. She has a great eye and a great feel for what works and she listened to what I wanted to convey in my little promo video. From the short interaction we had on camera she created a little gem of a video for my Kickstarter campaign.  (You can view the campaign here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pq4-2zW7GZ0)

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are an activist in social platforms. You have performed radical acts in public places, closing yourself in a body-bag for instance. Tell more about the involvement. Do you think activism can change the dominant narratives in crisis? Are you an optimist?

MC: Yes, I’m always an optimist. The particular event you are mentioning was Belarus Free Theatre’s demonstration in NYC against Capital punishment in Belarus, where young people disappeared and their families were not notified of their deaths, and never received their bodies back. This was an event planned together with La MaMa. We gathered by City Hall, and then walked over to Foley Square, where we crawled in to body bags, zipped ourselves up and laid still for 30 minutes to raise awareness of the issue. We had monitors who were watching us to make sure nothing came to pass as we were inside the body bags, or in case anyone would freak out they could quickly zip us open again. It was a very intense experience, I have to say.

As artists we have an obligation to tell stories where we stand up for the underdogs, speak up for those weaker than us, for those who do not have a voice or platform with which to tell of their story.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What new adventures do you have planned?

MC: I performed a first draft, a first work-in-progress version, of a new solo show called Shakespeare’s Sisters at Dixon Place in NYC in January of 2017. My plan is to perform it again in a larger venue and to see the piece grow. Mermaid’s Howl will also be traveling to Massachusetts sometime in the near future. We are working out the details now, so I will tell you more when I can reveal more, but I am very excited that this show will have a future life.

MARINA CELANDER, SHAKESPEARE'S SISTERS, DIXON PLACE, NYC 2017 - PHOTO SALLY MINKER
MARINA CELANDER, SHAKESPEARE’S SISTERS, DIXON PLACE, NYC 2017 – PHOTO SALLY MINKER.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are also performing with Yara in their new production?

MC: I’m currently performing with Yara Arts Group’s new show at La MaMa called 1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan and the Dogs. Again, it is a project based on Serhiy Zhadan’s poetry. It was shown this spring in Kyiv, by a Ukrainian cast, and now it’s our turn to put our spin on it. Serhiy and his punk-rock band, The Dogs, are in New York performing with us. It’s an exciting show! It’s always very special to perform with a live band. Other musical elements in the show are Julian Kytasy’s bandura compositions.  This piece makes us reflect on the concept of tyranny and how easily it arises – it did in Europe in 1917, and now in 2017 we are currently in danger of allowing it to rise again. The show opened on Friday June 9 and runs at LaMama ETC until June 25, 2017.

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Information about the Yara’s 1917-2017: Tychyna, Zhadan and the Dogs at La Mama here: http://lamama.org/tychyna/

Marina Celander on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/user26138773

Favela Vera Ortiz: Choreography unplugged

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.

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deux2, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz. Photo Anna Diehl.

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.

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Opus Corpus III, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz, 2016. Photo Valdis Jansons.

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.

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.

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LaSeule, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz. Dancer Riikka Kekäläinen, Photo Vilma Niskala.

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 notations on 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.

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21 notations on human, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz, Dancer Hanna Ahti. Photo Uupi Tirronen.

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.

myoclonic-choreography-favela-vera-ortiz-dancer-sanna-from-photo-kelly-russ
Myoclonic, Choreography Favela Vera Ortiz, 2013. Dancer Sanna From. Photo: Kelly Russ.

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.

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Artist website: http://favelaveraortiz.tumblr.com/

Check out video about CHOREOGRAPHER’S APPOINTMENT https://vimeo.com/14337885

Interview: Eric Decastro, a French painter

French artist Eric Decastro is known for his large-sized paintings that he constructs using the dripping technique. He is focused on creating a balance of color and light by applying thick impasto into canvas. Since 2008, Decastro has been running an art space Kunstraum Dreieich | Artspace Frankfurt in Germany that promotes artists with the motto of welcoming them back. The artist himself has a solo exhibition A Whiter Shade of Pale, Level 2 in New York City at The Bronx Art Spaceuntil April 30. Decastro is also showing as part of the DOPPELGÄNGER -exhibition, which is currently at Torrance Art Museum in California, and runs until May 28. The group show is a dialogue between German and US artists, and is curated by Dr. Julia-Constance Dissel and Sandra Mann from Germany together with Los Angeles-based curators Ichiro Irie and Max Presneill. The exhibition explores similarities of practices within globally expansive and hyper-connected art production.

In the solo exhibition at the Bronx Art Space, the visitor encounters a poetic cosmos, ‘which is intentionally designed to allow the illusion of landscapes or outer spaces.’ The theme of the Whiter Shade of Pale, Level 2 -exhibition is to explore issues of fugacity.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: How did you decide to become a painter? 

EricD: I already knew as a child that I wanted to be an artist. When I was 5 years old I was able to paint in my mothers atelier. It was something I was destined to do and I finally fulfilled my dream.

So what did you learn from your mother, who is the painter Mirei de Castro? How about your other influencers?

EricD: I learned the basics from my mother. Painters like Richard Poussette Dart, Lee Krasner but also Cecily BrownFabienne Verdier, Paul Rebeyrolle, Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke, have all also influenced me.

There is installation and performance development mixed with your paintings. In one installation you used, or it looks like, fake grass in the gallery as part of the show?  

EricD: The installation Prevenue d’avance (Warned in advance) from the performance artist Mike Hentz (USA) and myself at a Kunstverein near Heidelberg 2012  has been furthering me a lot. Through Mike I was able to get a perspective for what one can call art. The lawn was actually real and has been tended and watered for a week in Kunstraum-Dreieich. After the event, it was fully removed. Then, the over dimensional “Dejeuner sur l’herbe” was a parody of the famous works of Edouard Manet.

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Eric Decastro, Dejeuner sur l’herbe, installation view.

You have also painted tsunami? 

EricD: After the Fukushima Tsunami, I did a complete series of works that looked like aerial shots of Tsunamis.

Some of the dripping technique paintings come out with natural confrontations, what do you see yourself in the works, are there reoccurring themes that come out?

EricD: One topic has been on my heart since 2008. My near death experiences have been both positive and negative for me, and I’ve been trying to depict this experience on canvases through a dripping technique in a meditative state. That’s how those paintings mostly have been created.

A really interesting one is the point when you washed some of the acrylic painting out of the canvas, and went on the real action forward method of making art. Tell about the work, in which the canvas and you are hanging from the tree?

EricD: This artwork was actually not created in the woods. I was walking with my dogs and saw this tree who looked like it could be a perfect frame for a canvas. I called a good friend of mine, a renowned Art-photographer Sandra Mann. We decided to do a photoshoot with one of my green paintings and put it in the natural frame of the tree.

How does the performance aspect work with the painting, are they part of the same discipline for you?

EricD: Of course the performance on a canvas in a natural state is my art. The work is being created, the performance oftentimes is the beginning of an idea that develops through painting.

For example, in “suffocating performance” the artist wrapped cellophane around his head to represent a type of suffocation. He was filmed and was also supervised (Don’t try at home). Afterwards I painted his performance “Suffocating Performance” for the exhibition “CARNAL DESIRE” in Museum Villa Rot. The other artists were Wim Delevoye, Hermann Nitsch,  and Fischli and Weiss. It’s a hommage to a boy from Kosovo who was suffocated and skewed and grilled all while his father was watching. I tried to depict the cruelty of this war.

suffocate
Eric Decastro, Suffocating Performance, Acrylic on canvas.

Then, few questions about identity, how do you criss-cross between different countries, locations, and even continents? 

EricD: I’ve been traveling my whole life. I really enjoy it and have been able to visit over 110 countries in this world. I’m getting my inspiration and positive energy from exceptional places. In the next time I’ll be traveling to Tibet, Nepal, Buthan and North India.

You have recently been exhibiting in Peru, and one of your galleries is in France, how are these art cultures different from each other?

My gallerist Mathias Bloch from Gallery Younique is French and my last exhibition was in “Alliance Française de Lima” so it was a home match for me as a French man myself. My abstract art is established in South America. A subsidiary of Coca-Cola (Inca-Cola) has recently bought one of my works.

You must feel that you are dealing with a variety of roles, a gallerist being one, and then a painter, is there a difference that is significant?

EricD: I’m not a traditional gallerist. I don’t participate in the art fairs. Kunstraum Dreieich  is an Artspace with the motto “Rendes-Vous des Artistes.” It’s supposed to be an opportunity for artists to be displayed in the circles of art collectors that I have tended. This concept works well in Europe and especially in a city like Frankfurt the art will sell really quickly.

Art world is a phenomenon for its own sake yet many artists are involved in societal practice, mending the world so to speak. What do you wish to say about that? 

EricD: Jonathan Meese said at Art-Basel in Miami in 2012 „Art is the new currency.“ He’s right, art is seen more like an investment nowadays. Never have people previously in history spent so much money on art as it is done today. Independently from whatever the artist wanted to reach with his art, whether a political message, improving the world, to amuse someone or as a wakeup call, art is and will be a good that can be traded in stock. Most buyers, buy art because they have a mindset to leverage the art.

 

unnamed
Eric Decastro uses dripping technique to create acrylic color patterns on canvas

As April is the Earth Month, could you say something about, how does art and preserving our planet correlate, or meet thematically?

EricD: To preserve the planet and to make it better for our children is more vital than to collect art and display it in museums. What kind of benefit comes from a world that has been destroyed when museums are full of artworks, and there are no humans to enjoy the art, because then all of humankind will be too busy to focus on survival than to look at art. Politics don’t react to the signs of mother earth, the glaciers have been melting, global warming is unstoppable, and still there is no change of mind or thinking. One should replace the democracy through Geniocracy.

Tell a little bit about the project in Nepal, how long has it been in progress, and how did it start?

EricD: My wife is buddhist, and through her Master Lopen Tensing Namdak Rinpoche we got the idea to build a boarding school for children from Nepal in Tibet through fundraising and even some profit from selling my paintings. Since then it was possible to finance the first step of the project. We have already built a hospice in Katmandu in 2012. I myself volunteer as a hospice worker in a hospice in Frankfurt for about 4 years now. The experiences I have made there have helped me to stay grounded and to be confronted with the topic of death and what happens after death. This has been something I have been processing for years.

 

Eric Decastro online:

Artist website: http://www.decastro-art.net/

Artspace Frankfurt: http://www.kunstraum-dreieich.de/

Current exhibitions:

A Whiter Shade of Pale – Level 2 -solo exhibition at the Bronx Art Space, until April 30, 2016

http://www.bronxartspace.com/

DOPPELGÄNGER, at Torrence Art Museum, until May 28, 2016

http://www.torranceartmuseum.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ofri Cnaani’s ‘Wrong Tools’

Artist Ofri Cnaani has created a new photography exhibition consisting of prints and a performance piece at Andrea Meislin Gallery. Photographies on display echo ideas deriving from Xerox art of the 1960s simultaneously connecting with the visual world of the mesmerizing early photography of the 20th century. The exhibition ‘Wrong Tools’ will be on display until October 24, performances taking place on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Cnaani’s Blue Print photographs are like intuitive maps constructed of performative ideas that associate with artist’s own body. With both of her performance and photographs, she creates a presence. The works are building up from fragments, and the pieces are put together in a compelling logic. These could be like ruptures built on the Internet surface, where constant image flows create new associations. Here is Ofri’s interview.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Your ongoing solo exhibition ‘Wrong Tools’, at the Andrea Meislin gallery speaks a strong esthetic and spatial approach with performance element added to the photography gallery. The performative element also looks back from the blueprints, which display hands in various positions doing tasks, perhaps. Are these prints your hands making the past performances, or projects?

Ofri Cnaani: In the cyanotypes I’m using my own body. I’m using the special qualities of one of the earliest photo techniques to promote some sort of performative photography. In a way, it is very similar to what I do in the performance: I’m creating an image in a limited amount of time that is constructed from found objects, made objects and my own body. Like in the personalized ‘image maps’ I’m creating in the performance, here too, I have a limited control of the final result. The process is always between failure and magic.

In your actual performance that I observed taking place during the opening night at the gallery’s foyer with windows, you encounter audience member on a participatory table setting, where each unique guest sits opposites of you. The scene comes out as very intimate and poetic; we are simultaneously looking at the wall where the reflection of the table surface is displayed with your real-time construction of objects and images on it. And, we are grasping the exchange between you and the other person embodying the performance. Quite interesting, a guest was taking pictures with her phone of the very situation as well. What is taking place in these moments? How do the photographs and the recording of the event resonate in the doing of the performance physically?  

OC: When someone sits with me, I first offer him or her a ‘reading’ of his or her visible future. I used a tarot-like deck that I designed titled ‘future business’. I also ask them to give me one personal item and to choose two items from my collection of small objects. I’m using the message on card they chose and the three objects they selected and gave me as a starting point, to create a live collage-like image. I called it ‘image map’. This image is captured and printed using a special apparatus I build for the show. Lastly I stamped it with a ‘Copy’ stamp and signed it with red ink, handing the Original Copy to my visitor.

As the title ‘Wrong Tools’ already implies so many interesting visual connotations, could you tell more what is the idea or meaning behind it, is it metaphoric with a larger idea and also coming to the performance? Does it resonate solely with ideas, which derive from computing?

OC: My husband, who is great in building things, always says everything is very easy if only one is using the right tools. I realized I’m always using the wrong tools.  My studio is a mess and I’m always using the tools that are wrong for the job. I like to think about my method, using the collections of two and three-dimensional objects in my performance, as ‘endless metabolism’. I’m using the same little objects for different performances, as well as for the cyanotypes and other photos. The same objects travel between many of my projects, always been used in different ways, but never used as they were originally meant to be used.

Ofri Cnaani_OC real and fake-series_Cyanotypes
Ofri Cnaani, OC real and fake-series, Cyanotypes, at Andrea Meislin Gallery

Then, your exhibition at the gallery has these colorful images called ‘future business’, that have a short message embedded in them. It seems that they relate to the performance, do they have an element of time in them as well?

OC: The monoprints are also ‘one of a kind’ and were made in a similar way. I’ve been using cut-outs and flat objects, placed them on paper and rolled them under the press, so each one is a different arrangement, although some of the cut-outs appear more than once. The texts are the same texts on the special edition tarot deck I produced and then use in my performance.

On each card there is a message we get regularly as an online user like ‘Delete All’ ‘Unsubscribe’ or ‘Change Your Profile’. These lines are charged with a very different meaning when we receive them as messages in a one-on-one ‘reading’ session where we all are so vulnerable.

Ofri Cnaani_future business-series_monotype prints
Ofri Cnaani, Future Business-series, Monotype Prints, 2015

Adi Puterman curated your exhibition for Andrea Meislin Gallery, what do you wish to tell about the curating exchange and process, do you know each others tactics well?

OC: Adi and I worked on the show for over a year and she was very involved with each step: from the concept of having an on-going 6 weeks performance in the gallery, to the selection of the pieces, and communicating my ideas in a written text.

I have noticed that your artist career includes plenty of performance works, such as the ‘Seven Words’ at the Metropolitan Museum. This past work is also very interdisciplinary. Is a question of the different art forms relevant to you in your own art making, or are all forms closely related?

OC: I’m driven by concepts and often by time constraints (like a different space I’m working in or a different collection or archive I’m using). I’m less driven by a specific medium or style.

As an educator of the arts, how do you teach time-based process to your students, do you have guidelines for that?

OC: We see many projects and discuss them, we read texts and using mind-mapping method in order to understand them and connect them to other ideas, texts and art works.

I often think that New York city is such a creative hub with so much international potential gathered in one place. Do you consider that as an international artist based in the city you have a specific role or identity, which is perhaps one here, and another that goes back home in Israel communicating and identifying with the contemporary art scene there?

OC: I’m not sure what do you mean by that but once you leave the place you were born and raised, your identity is always ‘more than one’ and in a constant negotiation.

You have created public artwork, do these works imply a different kind of activism or sensibility that comes with the public space, or are all ideas you are doing basically interrelated? 

OC: My work is context specific. When I work in the public realm I work not only with a specific building and its specific history. The process always involves a community or a group of individuals. The process in those projects is part of the final piece. The final images are never known when I start working on a public piece.

Can you tell a little what are your next steps going to be like?

OC: Next week I’ll be doing a performance that is similar to the one in the gallery at Dallas Aurora. My project is part of ‘Altered States’ exhibition, curated by Julia Kaganskiy. Next month I’m going to Inhotim in Brazil to work with the park employees to create a participatory performance titled ‘Frequently Asked’ that will be then presented in Inhotim on early December.

Ofri Cnaani, Blue Print, 38.5x49.5, on display at Andrea Meislin Gallery
Ofri Cnaani, Blue Print, 38.5×49.5, on display at Andrea Meislin Gallery. Images by Firstindigo&Lifestyle

Artist spotlight: Johanna Tuukkanen, The Outstanding performer

I interviewed Johanna Tuukkanen, who is currently preparing her PhD in art education and cultural policy. She is a well-known curator and art-maker herself, and the Artistic Director of ANTI festival based in Finland’s Kuopio. This week, January 30, 2015, she will also have a premiere of a new work Panopticon together with her colleague, choreographer Pirjo Yli-Maunula in Oulu, which is a vibrant capital in Northern Finland. Their new multidisciplinary work will articulate a hot topic of women’s ‘controlled bodies’, as they are often portrayed in fashion industry and magazines, taking a theme of aesthetic violence in relation to women’s bodies as a starting point in their performance. Simultaneously, their performance asks, are we allowed to mock this phenomenon, and even make fun of it in the arts? Johanna Tuukkanen has been making noise with her performance art for good 15 years now, highlighting women’s bodies in her performances many times before.

Johanna Tuukkanen in Huippusuoritus, Outstanding Performance, Photo: Pekka Mäkinen
Johanna Tuukkanen in Huippusuoritus, Outstanding Performance, Photo: Pekka Mäkinen

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Johanna, I have known you from the early 2000s onwards. It seems that there has been a lot of currency exchange around your artistry since that time. Finnish art scene, I believe, has also developed and changed during the past 15 years. Could you highlight in a nutshell, how did the 21-century look so far in the art world from your personal point of view? What are your greatest pros and cons in the field as a participant with so many roles?

Johanna Tuukkanen: You are right, things really have changed! After studying performance and new dance in the Netherlands and Germany in 1990s, I moved back to Finland in 1997. In terms of the art scene, it was a kind of culture shock for me and it definitely took some time to find my way around it. From very early on, I found myself thinking how else I could make a difference in the arts other than working just as an artist.

Since then, I do see and have also personally experienced that the field has expanded greatly, it has opened and it is accepted – not totally but more and more – that for example in the field of dance, there are multiple traditions from which an artistic practice can stem from, not only one or two. Also the growing interest in site-specifity, a kind of ‘trend’, has resulted in other kinds of expansions and effected how a cultural production organization whether a museum, a theatre, a festival or a freelance collective might operate. Currently I’m thinking a lot about the concept of social in the arts as many artists are producing socially engaged works in collectives and communities where the artist is not the central point of the work but the interest in a process, in shared authorship, in participation and dialogue…

As a participant in the field, I feel that there are several communities in the art world where one can find a kind of ideological home and vast amount of possibilities. Yet, at the same time, although we do have some rather brave funding bodies, generally speaking our funding structures have not been able to develop in line with the field – thinking especially the amount of work that it produced by the freelance artists and companies in comparison with the institutions established in the 70s.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: You are known as a hardcore doer, and as a hands on professional when it comes to performance and to its management, to your curator’s role as well, and to a founder of a successful art-festival. Where lies the secret behind it all, how do you manage all your roles, or your doings, and don’t get burned-out at the same time? You seem to be shining.

JT: Wow, thank you! I don’t really see myself that way… But yes, to say that I’m a doer is perhaps a good way to put it. I suppose I’ve been interested in many things and just started doing them, rather naively sometimes. I’ve not been waiting around for someone else to do the work but really dug my hands into stuff, working beyond my comfort zones, not counting hours… I can’t recommend it to anyone! To be enthusiastic, to get excited is a great energy and force also. For me doing different things is also very energizing, things feed off each other and I never feel that ‘I’m doing the same job’. Maybe also because I’m not a very organized person!

But to be honest, time management is a big issue for me. I’m a very work oriented person and I have to actively work on prioritizing time for my family and friends and my own well-being. But I do do it! These days I prioritize regular exercise, try to eat well and sleep enough. I try to have one day off every week but if it’s not possible, I’ll make up for it by taking extended weekends off or mini holidays.

I’m lucky to be working for organizations and things I really believe in and I feel connected to and supported by an international community. I’ve also managed to organize my life so that I live with my lovely family in a beautiful house where I can enjoy everyday aesthetics, quietness, the Finnish lake landscape, the forest and an amazing sauna.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I associate you strongly with ANTI Contemporary Art Festival. How did this idea come forth, and develop into an international success story?

JT: This is a long story but to put it short, I was working in the Regional Arts Council of North Savo at that time and with my regional artist colleague we wanted to create a new, international multidisciplinary contemporary art festival in Kuopio, to create international networking opportunities for local artists and to active the city and different sites in Kuopio through art. We really didn’t know how it would turn out, it was a real experiment! But already since the first festival, there was a lot of international interest and the festival was a great success. The networks I’d started building in the early 2000 were crucial for our international growth and reputation and of course artists themselves are great messengers of a quality festival. I’ve personally always thought that international networking is very important and for me it has also set the standards how to run a festival. But I suppose the most important thing is that ANTI has a unique concept and in fact, it’s also modelled in different parts of the world. This all has taken an enormous amount of work and I’m grateful for the wonderful individuals who have worked for the festival over the years.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: I admire your knowledge on the performance field, internationally you seem to have a network of artists that resonate with your own way of working. Was it organic to find collaborators accross the country borders?

 JT:  Yes, it all has happened very organically. ANTI has also been a partner in two European projects and it has been a great gift and learning process to collaborate with international live art curators and festival directors.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Finland is getting a Dance House finally, how did the miracle happen?

 JT: Well, I’m extremely happy to be working for the Dance House but the background work with the private funding bodies was done and negotiated before I even started so I can’t take any credit for it. The Dance House initiative is very lucky to have a fantastic project manager, Hanna-Mari Peltomäki, but also the time was right – the Finnish dance sector was ready, the private funding partners were ready and lots work was done in a rather short amount of time.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What does living and working in Finland mean to you? Where else in the world would you imagine to live?

JT:  Living in Finland and outside the Helsinki area has been a very conscious cultural political choice for me. I’ve wanted to show that great art can be made anywhere and it is really crucial to have artists and cultural professional working and making an impact in different regions. These days, especially with digitalisation and good connections, I don’t really think it matters so much where you live.

But in recent years, as my children are getting older and as I want to find new professional challenges, I’ve become open to other options as well. Like I said earlier, I’m very work oriented so it’s probably work that will take me somewhere… There many places I could imagine living i.e. Australia and Denmark. But where ever I’d go, my work has to be meaningful. I can’t really imagine moving somewhere for the sake of the place or city.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Where are you heading next, any specific plans for the future?

JT: Good question. I’m open and up for new challenges. I completed an MA in Cultural Policy last year and enjoyed that process greatly. What a luxury to deepen one’s knowledge and expertise! I’m the beginning of my PhD so probably for the next years I will be juggling my time between the Dance House, ANTI Festival and my research…unless something totally unexpected happens. Which of course is very likely in this life.

Johanna Tuukkanen and Pirjo Yli-Maunula, Panopticon, Photo: Pekka Mäkinen
Johanna Tuukkanen and Pirjo Yli-Maunula, Panopticon-premiere, Jan 30, 2015. Photo: Pekka Mäkinen

Artist Spotlight: Daniella Rabbani

Daniella Rabbani, actress, singer,  and a new yorker is currently producing and starring in #GYMSHORTS, a series of Web Shorts. Daniella graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts with a focus on acting for television. She also studied at The Stella Adler Studio of Acting.  
Firstindigo&Lifestyle: What productions/premieres did you do recently? 
 

DANIELLA RABBANI: THE GOLDEN LAND, THE OFF BROADWAY MUSICAL I WAS IN THIS PAST FALL WAS NOMINATED FOR A DRAMA DESK! I GOT TO DRESS UP AND GO TO THE NOMINEE RECEPTION AND THE AWARD CEREMONY. IT WAS SO FUN!  I’M CURRENTLY PRODUCING AND STARRING IN #GYMSHORTS ABOUT THE FUNNY THINGS THAT HAPPEN AT THE GYM. IT’S AWESOME. I GET TO DO BE REALLY GOOFY WITH SOME OF THE FUNNIEST ACTORS I KNOW AND PUMP IRON WITH TRAINERS LIKE BRETT HOEBEL FROM THE BIGGEST LOSER. IT’S HYSTERICAL.

Firstindigo&Lifestyle: Who are your greatest mentors and idols? 

DR: I’VE BEEN VERY BLESSED IN MY LIFE TO HAVE SEASONED  PROFESSIONALS, MASTERS AT WHAT THEY DO, TAKE ME UNDER THEIR WING. I APPRENTICED UNDER THE STELLA ADLER STUDIO’S HEAD OF MOVEMENT, JENA NECRASON, FOR YEARS. SHE TAUGHT ME HOW TO FOLLOW MY INSTINCTS, TO TELL A STORY WITHOUT ANY WORDS AT ALL, TO COLLABORATE AND TO TEACH. I ALSO SING IN YIDDISH. ZALMEN MLOTEK, THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL YIDDISH THEATER, HUNKERED DOWN WITH ME FOR HOURS AND HOURS TEACHING ME BEAUTIFUL YIDDISH FOLK AND THEATER TUNES. WE TOURED TOGETHER FOR YEARS. EVEN ARTISTS I HAVEN’T MET YET- GIRLS LIKE GRETA GURWIG, LENA DUNHAM, ZOOEY DESCHANEL, MINDY KALING – GIRLS WHO TAKE THEIR ARTISTRY AND FATE INTO THEIR OWN HANDS- THESE ARE MENTORS TO ME TOO.

What is your favorite performance genre, which one do you like more, musical theater, drama or film? 

DR: I’M INSPIRED TO CREATE MORE WEB-BASED FEMALE DRIVEN COMEDIC CONTENT. I THINK THE WEB IS THE WAVE OF THE FUTURE AND I DIG IT. MY BACKGROUND IS IN THEATER, WHICH I TOTALLY LOVE, AND MY FUTURE IS IN TV (IT’S ALWAYS BEEN MY DREAM). STATING A PREFERENCE IS LIKE PLAYING FAVORITES WITH YOUR CHILDREN… EVERYONE DOES IT BUT IT’S NOT THE TYPE OF THING YOU’RE GONNA ADMIT.


Do you tour, how is it different to perform in New York City and elsewhere?
 

DR: I TOUR LESS THESE DAYS. THE LAST TIME I SANG A CONCERT OUT OF TOWN, WE WERE IN WARSAW, POLAND SINGING TO HUNDREDS OF POLES IN YIDDISH. IT WAS INTENSE. BEAUTIFUL AND INSPIRING, SAD AND HAUNTING… I GOT TO GET TO KNOW WARSAW A BIT AND EVEN TOUR AROUND KRAKOW AND AUSCHWITZ… IT WAS A COMPLICATED, LIFE CHANGING TRIP.

 
How do you consider yourself as a role model for young people?
 
DR: WHEN I PERFORM, I TRY TO BE MY FULLEST SELF- BY EMBRACING MY HUMANITY WITH ALL ITS GREATNESS AND EVEN MY IMPERFECTIONS. I HOPE THAT THE AUDIENCE WATCHING CAN FEEL INSPIRED TO LIVE THEIR FULLEST LIVES AS WELL.
 
Daniella Rabbani’s own website. Follow @DaniellaRabbani on Twitter.,  @drabbani on Instagram.

Oblivia performance group and the Museum of Postmodern Art

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, ESKUS in 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

MOPMA_v2_06
(Annika Tudeer and Timo Fredriksson. capture: Eija Mäkivuoti)

Oblivia’s website and Facebook page...

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