Jyrki Siukonen


Exposition: Practicing art - as a habit? / Att utöva konst - som en vana? (19/08/2016) by Annette Arlander
Jyrki Siukonen 05/06/2017 at 21:35

Dear Annette, 

You are absolutely right about language. Dear A feels slightly different from Rakas A, not to say Kära A


As you can see, I am not writing this review anonymously. We’ve known each other long enough, sort of. 


It would feel pretending to say that I can do this blindfolded, as if playing hide and seek in a landscape where there is nowhere to hide.


Not even a tree.


So, let’s face it. Here we are, you and me. 


Thinking in language which is not really our own. Nej, jag har inte läst den svenska sidan


Your topic – everyday actions, habits, repetitions, life patterns – all that sounds familiar to me. My partner finds me boring because I seem to have a habit of visiting places where I’ve been before. You know, street corners and so on. 


To repeat something and to find pleasure in repetition. You must agree that at some point it may be a boring act to watch, no matter how meaningful it is for the practitioner. But let us not go to that yet. 


How is repetition related to practice? Are we now talking about practice as a profession or practice as an exercise of skill? You seem to stress the first mentioned, the artistic practice (and the Swedish utöva of course has another tone). The latter option gets mentioned but only in the negative. Namely you find out that your repeated practice has not improved your skill: “my primary reaction is irritation at the inconsistency of the framing, which is constantly shifting slightly; the horizon moves up and down and the vertical tree trunk moves sideways between one image and the next.” 


So, the practice you talk about is your self-governed way of doing art, which you here illustrate with two “as if” -cases from Stockholm. Perhaps you could clarify your terminology already in the very beginning: “To practice, to train, to rehearse – art, or whatever you can imagine. When we speak of a practice it immediately sounds more professional.” 


It may be that I’m only splitting hair, yet “practice” to me does not sound more professional unless I know what is meant with it. You see, you refer to training and rehearsing yet in the next moment you start to talk about your projects. I understand, since I know you, that they are interrelated but does the reader? 


Knowing that my language of thought is Finnish, to practice could mean “harjoittaa” but more often “harjoitella”. It occurs to me that someone unfamiliar with the genre could even (mis)translate practice-based research as “harjoitteluun pohjaava tutkimus”. That doesn’t sound overly professional, at least if the practicing person is someone who is still trying to learn a skill or two. We’ve seen also some of that in artistic research, of course. 


As for the everyday actions, habits, repetitions, life patterns, I think you could look at something outside the literature that often repeats itself in articles about practice and artistic research. What came to my mind is the book by Billy Ehn and Orvar Löfgren, The Secret World of Doing Nothing (2010). The second chapter deals with routines, the third with daydreaming, and so on. It is ethnography, I guess. 


Talking about myself, I can’t escape the topic of the first person narrative, especially since you point to the opposite: “The purpose of this text, however, is not to focus on the autobiographical.” 


I hope that as a seasoned professional you don’t mind a small good humoured experiment. I’ve done it sometimes with my students, hoping to show them what goes on in their texts. The rule is simple: to take out all that “I” is making. Here each line represents a text paragraph in your exposition. The paragraphs without “I” are marked with four dots. 


You can read it simply as a piece of experimental poetry (or, if you like, as a fragment of a wider poetics of artistic research).


Practising art – as a habit? 

I have, I shall, I have. 


I will, I want, I have, I have, I speak. 

I will, I am, I applied, I have. 

I experimented, I chose, I now have, I now deal. 

I am pondering, I did, I am, I will, I will. 

I have, I have, I was, I would have, I am. 

I have. 

I chose. I did not. I did not. I sat. I will. 


I stayed. I recorded. I spent. I had to. I took. I tried. I knew. I chose. I had. 

Summer at Söder 

I chose. I stayed. I walked. I recorded. I could. I decided. I discovered. I had. I wanted. 


I am. I stay. I do not have to. I did. 

I decided. I could. I did not have to. I returned. I realized. 

I show. I was. I was. I wanted. 

I already thought. I could. I was. I felt. I feel. I enter. 


I look. I have. I normally use. I made. I was. I had. I really enjoyed. 

I began. I included. I could. I made. I decided. I made. 

I could. I made. I made. 

I can. I chose. 

I have. I have. Have I. I do. I am. 

Sustainable routine 

I started. I tried. I forgot. I was. 

I did. 

. . . . 

What about research? 

. . . . 

. . . . 

. . . . 

I did. I knew. I have. 

. . . . 

. . . . 

I am. I am. 


You’re still there? What the poem says is that towards the end you let your “I” rest and concentrate more on something else. The paragraphs under the last heading deal mostly with the category problem – asking what is it that you have done, as practice, and to what degree it is speculative [this I like, perhaps because a dictionary puts it so nicely: speculative – based on conjecture rather than knowledge]. It is also here in the last paragraphs that the literature plays a part. Yet I find it hard to deny the essentially autobiographic nature of your exposition. It is about you. 


I am not surprised since I’m familiar with the way you work. You know, sitting on a stone and all that. Yet everything about performance really escapes me. Now you may wonder what sort of review is this really, I mean. 


I am drawn to images and the one thing that came to my mind is this: does it really matter who takes the images? You could have set a camera on a stand and set it to snap a picture every morning automatically. No shaking, no moving horizon. 


In a way I already know the answer: yes, it matters very much, because it is a practice that is performed by a person, not by a machine. Yet unlike the informed reader, an innocent viewer may only see a change of light, a change of season, a change of certain objects in the field of vision. 


As for me, I very much favour your set of still images that forms the right edge of your exposition. They run nicely with the text. I am not so excited about the changing ones on the front page, however. 


The reason is that I already have a habit of watching kelikamera images. You know, an automatic webcam by a roadside that shows you the weather conditions in that particular location. My favourites are the really faraway ones in Lapland. There are days when you never see traffic, only the changing images of an empty road – for example, the camera pointing to the direction of Sevettijärvi on road 971, location Nitsijärvi. 


Typologically your two bare-bone case studies come, in my view, close to what a remote kelikamera produces somewhere outside the artistic discourse. 


So, my personal problem is that I do get something out of these changing images without having to ponder the academic question how does this relate to a performative practice. 


And, finally, to the point. If I am not totally mistaken, in your exposition you ask to what extent your habitual practice results in a performative piece when you move yourself out of the image. Is this routine of taking a picture from the same place still to be called an artistic practice resulting in an artwork? Then you answer by admitting that the habit of doing is there even if you are not sure about the material’s worth as an actual edited piece. In order to locate your activity you refer to a division in your earlier text: a) product-oriented, b) practice-led, and then you introduce a more refined 2x2 matrix where the locus of present examples is found in “practice-led and contemplative.” 


In other words it is something that plays a part in your artistic profession regardless of its wider function. It is about your habits of contemplation. And it is precisely for this reason that I, as a viewer, find your question “What would be the speculative or imaginative dimension in recording the same view repeatedly?” no more interesting than to ask for the logic of the Nitsijärvi kelikamera


There is a difference between the habit (practice) of making and the habit (practice) of watching, and I seemingly cannot cross the bridge from my side to your side. Therefore the position you take “by maintaining and showing every repetition I am foregrounding the practice itself as a performance” remains, in my eyes at least, hermetic. You perform as you like and that is it. 


I noticed an article in your bibliography with an intriguing title: “Beyond Solipsism in Artistic Research.” Here the performative quality is defined somewhat differently: “The work that art does is its performative quality. This can relate to the process of making the artwork and the effects for the artists and for the field, and/or to the effects that the artwork may generate in the world.” Your habit, as explained in your exposition, might relate to the first mentioned dimension, yet you were not exactly sure if you were making artworks. As for the effects, I don’t really know. 


Dear Annette, I found your exposition clearly written and difficult to relate to. As you may know, I am not practicing performance when I do my things and perhaps that is also the very reason why I have not always understood your aspect well enough. Moreover, there exists the tight bond between your practice as performance and your practice as research, which I find complicated, especially now as the visual results fail to tempt me. Thus the movement from near-zero performances to near-zero research questions appears unstrained yet not the most inviting. 


I hope that these notes are not altogether useless to you. I tried to be sincere, come what may. 


Looking forward to see you soon,