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

Venetian Sonic Environments

SanMarcoAmbiance is defined as sensory space-time. This sensing and feeling of a place involves a specific mood expressed in the material presence of things and how the mood is embodied. The lived experience as well as the built environment of the place is making the approach both subjective and objective. Ambiance is articulated when social, spatial and physical meet.

Venetian sonic ambiances are constructed in diverse ways in how people relate to places – or how they think particular places are relating to their sound-making. Tourists are entering churches with certain solemnity avoiding extraneous sounds. The Venetian busker is adjusting the outdoor acoustics by moving himself closer to the wall in order to project the sound of his bowed instrument to echoing campo. Open-door rehearsal of Vivaldi in Chiesa San Vidal is attracting passersby for the night’s Vivaldi concert. On Piazza San Marco simultaneous live performances of Mozart’s and Strauss’ music are competing with easy-to-digest jazz in front of the restaurants thus adding up to the image of the city as easy-listening-mid-brow music haven with a past.

12 million tourists are walking yearly the thoroughfares the ”Bermuda-Shorts Triangle” formed by Piazza San Marco, Rialto Bridge and Galleria dell’ Accademia. According to random participatory observation, field notes and field recordings the narrow roads were sonically quite diverse with sounds sources recognisable from each other. Keynote sounds – defined as sounds heard frequently enough to form a background against which other sounds are perceived – are composed of chattering of people and their footsteps reflected by the stony surfaces on the narrow streets and campos. Contrary to common practice in shopping and tourist areas there are no outdoor loudspeakers to centripetally attract possible customers. Somewhat scarce background music from the bars, souvenir shops and mobile phone retail stores of Rio Terra Lista de Spagna are leaking to ears of the pedestrians mainly from radio and commercial music television programmes.

Part of Venice’s charm is the lack of motorised traffic in the streets, which might not after all paint the whole picture of city’s soundscape. Marine internal combustion engines and outdoor motors make the distinctive drone signifying the daily maintenance of the city: the sounds of the public and private transportation and the crunching gearboxes shaking and resonating the vaporettos’ hulls are accompanied by the banging and clinking of the green-coloured iron barges collecting waste. Some of them are labelled as ”Veritas” thus bringing yet another layer to city’s multifaceted ambiance.

 

Heikki Uimonen

Souces:
Davis, Robert C & Marvin, Garry R. 2004. Venice, the Tourist Maze. A Cultural Critique of the World’s Most Touristed City.
Thibaud, Jean-Paul 2001. A Sonic Paradigm of Urban Ambiances. Journal of Sonic Studies, vol 1, nr. 1.

Photo:
Meri Kytö

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’

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.

VT (Re-blogged): STARTING

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

Everything is more a less ready for the opening after the tremendously hectic and busy week. But Niran had quite a surprise this morning when she came back to the Pavilion. One part of her delicate installation, made of about 150 photographs and strings, had been moved. Cleaners may constantly face difficulties while doing their job. We all know of cases of cleaners that have swept artworks away. For example, in the Museion Museum in Bolzano, the installation ‘Where shall we go dancing tonight?’ by Sara Goldschmied and Eleonora Chiari ended up in the garbage. Here no one thought that the cleaning woman might need to plug the vacuum cleaner, so she used Niran’s socket…

  

‘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.