Becoming Disabled: A performative workshop and installation

Camino Events, Research Pavilion, Venice 30.6.-1.7.2017

Liisa Jaakonaho & Kristina Junttila

 

Notes on how it all began (Liisa)

When I heard about the theme of this year’s Research Pavilion, ‘Utopia of Access’, it resonated immediately with the topic of my doctoral research. My research is about ethical questions in and around my artistic-pedagogic work with differently abled people, in a social care context. So, questions of access and accessibility are something I think about anyway, in relation to disability. Also, I’ve been thinking about how to explore my questions in other contexts, through artistic practice – for me this is a methodological question, as well as a question of how to share the research. So, I saw the Research Pavilion as a great opportunity to develop my practice outside the original contexts of my research.

My aim was to communicate about my research on a new level, and to explore what kind of questions emerge in the collaboration with Kristina, and with all the participants. I was really happy when Kristina came along, and we found a way to combine our interests. I have always found collaborations a good way to stir and shake my own thinking and practice. In my research I am seeking for active dialogues – as that is the quality of my practice with the differently abled participants, I like to see that reflected in the methodology. So, I approached this as an opportunity to open up my questions for input and response from others.

 

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Notes on disability (Liisa)

Our approach to disability was based on our experiences working with differently abled people (in my case people with intellectual and developmental disabilities), and reflecting on these encounters through the theory of critical disability studies. In the beginning of the workshop days we introduced two ways to approach disability: the medical/individual model, and the social model. In the medical/individual model disability is seen as a direct result of a medical condition, which is usually named as some kind of limitation, “lack”, or abnormality in relation to other people, who are seen as “normal”. In the social model disability is seen as an effect of the relationship between impairments, and social and material structures that influence our access to different social domains, and physical environments. So, in the social model, the aim is to change the society to allow access for people with and without impairments, whereas in the medical model the emphasis is on curative and rehabilitative strategies, focusing on the individual. Critical disability studies are linked to activism, as it all began with people with disabilities standing up for themselves to tackle stigmatisation and discrimination. There are many contradictions and controversies within and between the different approaches to disability studies; as the category of disability is so diverse and broad, so is the field as an academic discipline.

Because our aim was to find a playful, creative, and productive approach to disability, we were obviously more interested in the social model of disability. However, it felt important to also acknowledge the lived reality of disability – the need to diagnosis and medical support, and how those are not just social constructions, but also important or necessary for many individuals.

Notes on access (Kristina)

On the airplane, on my way to Venice, I realised I had forgotten my passport and I was worried that I might not have access into Italy. It turned out that I was never asked to identify myself. While stepping into the workshop I felt unsure if I have access into the world of disability. For me it is ethically problematic to say that disability is a social construction, since there are people with real medical conditions that deserve attention and respect. But with this in mind, we still found it valuable to explore disability creatively, trying to find the skills that can be strengthened through disabilities. In many ways our approach to disability was that it could be anything non-normative. In what way does the non-normative have access into the dominant culture?

 

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We were a diverse group of people working in areas such as dance and choreography, linguistics, industrial design, performance art, research and social work. Liisa and I proposed that disability would be approached through performative exercises, but we emphasised that everyone was free to use the tools that they felt comfortable with. With our materials and exercises as starting points, creativity took many forms: for example, drawing houses with missing parts, moving forward with the legs tied together, recording gibberish through writing, experiencing art blindfolded, and stacking cups.

 

 

 

On becoming disabled (Kristina)

The question on how to – or if we can – perform disability is complex, and it is something that could be interesting to explore more. In the workshop our way of doing it was to have a bowl full of suggestions on what your disability relates to, such as:

  • Tongue
  • Upper body
  • Eyes
  • Skin
  • Brain
  • Bones
  • The floor
  • Technical devices
  • Colours

Before each exercise everyone made a “lucky draw” to get their disability and some time to find a way to embody it, before they drew another exercise, which gave them an act or suggestion on what to do. After the exercises we gave space for sharing our experiences. These were some of the responses:

“To be it, to feel it, to become something different.”

“My disability related to bones. In Chinese medicine bones are related to wooden structures and I started to build with the wooden stools.”

 

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”Then I started to lick the objects, the taste of the window was awful”

 “I went from disabling myself to abilising – what feels good?”

“My hair started to fall into my eyes and I had no way of removing it

“First I tried to blur my vision, but the light disability is less easy to explore, so I said – LETS GO BLIND”        

“I lost my connection. On the other side, I got more connected.”

“When I have a blind girlfriend walking across expensive art things and I cannot speak”

One theme that arose a few times was that it was easier to explore disabilities that had a concrete physical restriction, such as going blindfolded or blocking your ability to walk or speech. The blocking of a sense is often used in performing art exercises as a way to strengthen another sense or giving a new perspective. Here it functioned the same way, but perhaps more important was the tuning into what we were exploring, namely disability. As with all subjects it is easy to fall into clichés, and perhaps we did fall into clichés once in a while. But it is through the exercises that we get an affective relationship to the subject, and through the doing that we also could feel when we got further away from the subject. I noticed that since the group had such varied background, it was very individual where people’s boundaries and comfort zones on this were.

 

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Notes on what happened (Liisa)

First thing that struck me, and was really thrilling, was how multidisciplinary our participants were, and that not all came from the arts. When we asked for people’s reasons to attend and their personal interests, many of them said that the theme of disability had attracted them, in relation to their specific fields. So, in our invitation disability worked as a concept that communicated across different fields. For me, this already felt like an achievement, in relation to the theme of access. It made me feel that we had managed to offer and communicate something that was accessible enough to bring in people that perhaps wouldn’t otherwise have entered the building.

We had planned the workshop to be a two-day process with the same participants, but in practice it turned out that many people could only attend one day, so it felt more like two separate workshops, with two different groups – although there was a continuation, with some people staying for two days, the exercises not just repeated, but also developed further, and the installation being built over the two days.

The workshop was documented whilst it was happening, using smartphones and mobile printers, as well as writing and drawing. The idea was that this way also other visitors of the Research Pavilion would have access to the work. Also, this was a way to cross the boundary between visual art and performing art; between temporal, ephemeral arts practice, and material artworks presented in an exhibition space. It also had a practical function for us and participants to share our experiences amongst each other; for example, people who attended only on the second day could use the installation as a reference point to what had happened so far.

Overall the workshop left me overwhelmed with the level of creativity, engagement, positive criticality, and enthusiasm from the participants. I feel like it was all much more than what I expected, and I will need time to digest and reflect on it. It was great how open people were to our proposals, and how they took the challenge of our theme seriously, but also playfully – just as we had hoped!

Many thanks to all the participants, supporters, and organisers of the event!

 

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Kristina Junttila  is a performance artist, teacher and PhD-research fellow at the Arts Academy, University of Tromsø, Norway. She holds a master in Live Art and Performance Studies and theatre pedagogy from the Theatre Academy in Helsinki. In her research she is looking at the potential of an exercise in Live Art. See www.kristinajunttila.com

Liisa Jaakonaho is a Doctoral Candidate at Theatre Academy of the University of the Arts, Helsinki. She is an interdisciplinary practitioner of dance pedagogy, movement therapy, socially engaged art, and performance. In her research she investigates ethical tensions in and around her work as a dance pedagogue with differently abled people. See www.liikahdus.fi/en

 

 

Listening Walks Conceptualised

 

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A morning walk along the coastline of island of Giudecca transforms to an exercise in listening. The overall soundscape consists of dripping of a fountain, rumbling of vaporettos passing by and chiming of church bells over the canal from the shore of Dorsoduro. The layered frontal sounds are easily detected from near, mid and far fields.

Moving away from a reflecting wall to the nearby bridge reveals another sonic experience. The sonic environment opens up to the total of  360 degrees. The frontal sounds are still there, but now they are accompanied by the flapping of the waves of the canal and igniting motorboats right behind the listener.

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These two encounters resonate with the theories and methodologies applied in sound studies. In a recent anthology edited by Christina Guillebaud it is discussed, how the notion of soundscape has been conceptualised and how it relates to the one of ambiance. The former has been understood to relate to visual analogy, two-dimensionality, maps and frontal perception. The concept of ambiance is characterised by such terms as multimodality, three-dimensionality and  immersion. The list here is by no means an exhaustive but a suggestive one. More profound analysis would require further questioning and contextualisation to history of the two disciplines mentioned.

Characterising the concepts of soundscape and ambiance leads us to think of hearing as a special sense compared to other senses. It helps us to further ponder not only the sensory environment, but also how we are relating to the world by listening to it aesthetically, politically and scientifically.

However, in underlining these specific skills and approaches we should avoid the pitfalls what Jonathan Sterne calls audiovisual litany, referring to generalisations on differences between audible and visual worlds. Perhaps even more important is that we should be more aware of not replacing audiovisual litany with multimodal litany. In doing so we would be sweeping the special requirements of act of listening and documenting the soundscapes under the rug.

 

Heikki Uimonen

 

Sources:

Guillebaud, Christina (ed.) 2017. Toward an Anthropology of Ambient Sound.

Sterne, Jonathan. 2003. The Audible Past. Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction.

 

Photos:

Heikki Uimonen

Ambient Encounters

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In his novel Canal Grande the writer Hannu Raittila describes Venice and its culture through the lens of the group of consultants arriving to the city. The cultural historian is overly enchanted by the city’s layered past and buildings, whereas the engineer with rational mindset and alleged Nordic mentality gets frustrated of the tiny espresso cups filled with way too strong coffee for his taste. The excursion is entering the city in dense fog and is forced to orienteer themselves by the ear and by touching the walls for keeping themselves not falling to canals.

Another angle is offered by urban researchers Davis & Marvin in their study on Venice as a tourist maze and the world’s most touristed city. A peculiar liberation and empowerment can be experienced, when one gets lost deliberately and goes off the beaten track in city’s narrow and winding streets. Sounds – or the lack of them – is definitely making the experience unique. For the contemporary visitor the blessed silence, quiet of the city, slow rhythms, sounds of water and diverse echoes can be tracked down to lack of motorised traffic in this surreal anti-modern world of ”dreamlike quality”, which some visitors might find unsettling.  In mid-1700 century  the unique soundscape was greeted with joy because of the lack of the rattling of coaches and trampling hooves; Victorians facing modernism and its transforming soundscape appreciated the gondolas gliding noiselessly by.

These ambient encounters and many more are discussed and analysed in Walking Sonic Commons  by introducing an open workshop on the Venetian sonic environment. Two-day documentation of sounds by the participants will be followed by an afternoon of editing the collected field work materials and uploading them to an open platform. During the discussion and presentations the acts of listening are contextualised to concept of sonic commons, archiving, accessibility and the researchers’ contribution to preserving cultural heritage.

Heikki Uimonen

Sources:

Raittila, Hannu 2001. Canal Grande

Davis, Robert C & Marvin, Garry R. 2004. Venice, the Tourist Maze. A Cultural Critique of the World’s Most Touristed City.

 

Photo: Meri Kytö

VT (Re-blogged): EINSTEIN, EISENSTEIN… THE WIND, THE BEACH, AND THE THIRD MEANING

Text published at the website www.virtualpresenttour.com, as part of the project ‘Virtual Tour’ by Mireia c. Saladrigues.

Lots, lots, lots, looooots of wind…
Such a wind flow that makes Vincent’s work gorgeous, today!
If the Backdrop would had been again in Piazza San Marco, would the plastic made a whole round, like when a swing has been pushed too hard?
I decided to record exclusively this situation, at least for once.

But again… other (parallel) events happen. One man came and made a funny interpretation of the ‘Backdrop‘. He associated it with and The Walls Have Tongues (or Peace the Old-Fashioned Way) by Stacey Sacks… and thought of them as a single work, recalling him on the beach. He also thought of Albert Einstein when looking at Stacey’s big tongue crowned by wood chips.

… The mention to Einstein -along with the whole situation- made me think of Sergei Eiseinstein, his hieroglyphs and his theories of ‘Intellectual Montage’

Accessing Performance continued

After two days of intensive work around the topic “Accessing Performance” and condensed exchanges around our respective projects within the Academy of Finland funded research project How to Do Things with Performance, a moment for rest and reflection is a much-needed opportunity to try understand what happened. Accessing performance after the fact is nearly always difficult, although we did our best to document the workshops, presentations, discussions and performances that took place on 17th and 18th May in the studio space next to the Research Pavilion.

The experience of doing everything twice, repeating the same basic structure of workshops, seminars and performances and screenings twice was perhaps the most exhausting and exciting part of these days. We were all four of us doing either two completely different things, or then the same thing in a new variation in our seminar presentations and performances or screenings. Sharing and exploring various writing exercises during the two morning workshops was the least spectacular, but in some sense the most inspiring part. The workshops were led by Hanna Järvinen and Pilvi Porkola on the first day, and by Tero Nauha and me (Annette Arlander) on the second.

The seminars in the afternoons were probably the most fruitful for the research at hand. Hearing each other’s papers and adding comments and questions was useful. My task was mainly to provide brief introductions to the topics, to How to do things with performance? on the first day and How to do things with documentation? on the second. When listening to my colleagues well prepared and thoughtful papers I feel I should have done much more on my part.

Hanna Järvinen experimented with the format of performance lecture or lecture performance in her two versions of From Document to Performance to Document to Performance to – What? She asked what is the significance of past performance and documentation in the present and what is the role of the absences and silences in allowing for epistemological inquiry about performance, documents, and re-performance? What happens when a performance about a performance about a performance is re-performed?

Tero Nauha, in his paper Superposition of performance? proposed to shift focus from the economic apparatus, the request for accessible knowledge that is economically viable, useful and productive, into fictioning, where performance thinks, already. In his second paper, Performance thinking Nauha regarded the level of indeterminacy and indifference of performance as a practice of thought. Rather than focusing on the accessibility in knowledge or the ‘standard’ of art his presentation inquired on non-standard postures taking place in performance.

Pilvi Porkola described in her paper The Library Essays – between different spaces her project in Maunula Library, where she explores how the performative turn can be understood in the context of public institutions; how institutions can be understood as experimental places; and what performance art can do in that context. In her second presentation Porkola presented the online publication ICE-HOLE and launched its latest issue.

The performances in the evenings, despite being polished performances, where moments of artistic experimentation, too. Translating and relocating a site-specific audio work is a challenging task, as is performing live with the same raw material in ever new variations, for instance adding freshly recorded local sounds. Pilvi Porkola recreated in Fragments of Library Essays some parts of the Library project, including the recorded audio play performed in English. Tero Nauha performed A thought of performance? using a pre-recorded text on vinyl record, mixed with live sound with a Theremin and voice, demonstrating the queer cloning of some gestures of thought. For my part I (Annette Arlander) showed for the first time a compilation for screening of Animal Years 1 (2003-2009) on the first nights and Animal Years 2 (2010-2014) on the second. Watching these together with others was an important experience, although I realize I am quite bored with the work after all these years.

That is one of the problematic dimensions of accessing performance through documentation. For the artist, the act compiling and showing old works can be illuminating and necessary, but it can be frustrating, too, since it is often much more exciting to create new work. Here combining documentation and live performance can be a solution; the work has some continuation but is nevertheless constantly evolving.

What are your thoughts on accessing performance now, Pilvi?

Well, when speaking of the question of open access I have been thinking about the library as an institution, as a kind of fulfilled utopia of open access. The library institution is changing; some libraries offer today much more than books: music studios, working rooms, customers’ workstations, space and equipment for workshops, a small stage and so on. If I think for example of Library 10, in the center of Helsinki, there are many events going on there all time, like advice for seniors, Finnish language cafes, discussions, talks and workshops organized by citizens. So, how to think this change in the context of knowledge production? I read this transformation as a good example of the performative turn.

As for artistic research, I think there are still many existing forms we can use for sharing the things we do and the thoughts we have. For example, I’m happy we launched ICE HOLE – Live Art Journal issue 6 (www.icehole.fi) here at the Research Pavilion. ICE HOLE is an online magazine based on videos and texts, published by Reality Research Center (an artist society based in Helsinki). Issue 6 is created in collaboration with our research group; it is focusing on the Kick off – seminar we organised last autumn. This special issue works as a kind of documentation of that event as well as a platform to share multiple perspectives and aspects on the question how to do things with performance.

 

 

Accessing Performance

Preparations for “Accessing Performance”, a two-day event on Wednesday May 17th and Thursday May 18th in the Artistic Research Pavilion on Giudecca, are in full swing in the studio space neighbouring the exhibition. Access is key: access to the space is possible when the right key is found, access to the local internet is granted with the proper password, and then there are all the technical practicalities of access such as finding the right adapter between the HDMI cable and a USB port to connect the computer with the video projector, to find the right cables for the loudspeakers and the computer and so on. This is all mundane and simple compared with the adjustments needed in building the complicated performance instrument consisting of a record player, a theremin, a sampler and more that Tero Nauha constructs for his performance “A thought of performance?” Meanwhile, Pilvi Porkola is setting up a tiny skeleton sitting on a book, photographing it for an updated version of the poster for her Library Essays, an audio work translated into English for this occasion. At the other side of the studio, Hanna Järvinen is finding access to her laptop, a challenge at this day and age when the tools we use are the property of the institutions that employ us and limit our access to what files can be moved where. As the video refuses to be embedded in the plans, circumvention of the technical controls is required, a simple hack that allows documentation of a past performance be included in this performance.

Both days have a full program, divided into three sections, all of which can be attended separately. In the mornings, from 10 to 12 there is an open workshop on performative writing and related practices. After a break for lunch, from 14 to 16 there is an afternoon seminar, featuring presentations related to the Academy of Finland funded research project How To Do Things With Performance. And in the evenings, from 18 to 21, there are performances and screenings. Besides Pilvi Porkola’s Library Essays and Tero Nauha’s A Thought of Performance, Annette Arlander will screen her video works Animal Years 1 (2003-2009) on Wednesday and Animal Years 2 (2010-2014) on Thursday, making this the first occasion where the whole series is shown consecutively.

So, Hanna, how does it feel to prepare for this event today?

As someone dealing with documents of past events and documentation of presentations, limits posed by both copyright and technology are a constant frustration. It is one of the points of this Research Pavilion that there is a tension between Open Access and art. Open Access is an ideal in academe, but it is in a perverse relation to art and to copyright: an artist should be able to make a living with their work, and the aura of the art work has traditionally relied on limited access, as Walter Benjamin noted.

Performance art in particular is all about its ontological scarcity – the fact that you had to be at a particular place and at a particular time to really have access to a particular work. Yet, paradoxically, artists and academics are all in the same boat, today. Open Access rests on the idea that the researcher does not make any money out of what they produce, that their salary is paid by an institution – which is increasingly not the case. In Finland, over 70% of teaching and research faculty is on short-term contracts, most with no hope for tenure or even career development. Academics are becoming like the artists whose work seems to be important only when it lines the pockets of institutions. In the case of academe, these are the international publishing conglomerates that demand payment in exchange for access: either access in the form of payment for publications or payment for imagined revenues lost in exchange for publication as Open Access.

For artists and researchers alike, current copyright law seems only to serve the dead, their heirs, and the institutions owning the actual product we others strive to access. Technology creates only further obstacles, particularly apparent today when the document on the institution’s property – the machine I used to edit a document of a performance I was taking part in making – tells me I have no rights to access. At the moment I placed the documentation into the machine that is the institution, the reverse of Benjamin’s dream of loss of aura took place: the work acquired a scarcity unimaginable at the time that Benjamin was imagining his utopia of technological reproducibility.

And Tero, what are your expectations?

The performance is a complicated apparatus, which makes it so exciting. I am interested in the gesture of thought, which is not correlated with philosophical thought, or philosophising. So, performance is not only based on these forms of thought based on philosophy, which is somewhat decisional and in that way how we build the world in every instant through decisions. The decision cuts and produces the world, the world that it is reflecting on. So, performance has this also, which makes it accessible, but it is also something we can analyse, reduce or reflect upon and withdraw from. Still, I have built an apparatus, which seems to be expanding. At first, some time ago, it was only my voice recorded on the vinyl record, and then the experimentation with Theremin was joined with it. Very recently, I have joined a simple sample sequencer with this apparatus. It is something that I can barely control, and I have very little access to all of its possibilities. But, through this, I have come to realise, that I am not interested in possibilities or potentialities, but in the virtual and inaccessibility. That is, something that will not be in my control of decision, but each and every time creates something else. The apparatus thinks in the same gesture, where I am partaking in it as a one, rather limited and decisional operator. I am not able to reflect on the performance while I am in it. Moreover, the afterthought is another kind of register. So, what I am interested in this is that performance is for quite the most part inaccessible for reflection, but at the same time the performance is really thinking while doing it’s thing — saying what it’s doing and doing what it’s saying.

(to be continued)

 

 

VT (Re-blogged): VIRTUAL (PRESENT) REALITY

Text published at the website www.virtualpresenttour.com, as part of the project ‘Virtual Tour’ by Mireia c. Saladrigues.
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‘Virtual Tour’ by Mireia c. Saladrigues (Doctoral Department – Academy of Fine Arts – Uniarts Helsinki) is in show at the exhibition ‘You Gotta Say Yes to Another Access’ in the Research Pavilion from 10th of May to 2nd of July.