SPACE TALKS is a dialogue between choreographer-researcher Simo Kellokumpu and philosopher Tuukka Perhoniemi. The dialogue considers what kind of starting points astronomy opens for both the artist and the philosopher. The motivation for the discussion is to address the conditions of life, being human, and making art in the light of contemporary astronomical knowledge. The goal of both makers is to find new perspectives on the human experience of the Universe



Simo: To start with, I think we could open from where this dialogue began. In 2015-2016, I made a work titled Seasons as Choreographers: Where Over the World is Astronaut Scott Kelly?, which was part of my doctoral artistic research project in the Performing Arts Research Centre in the Theatre Academy at the University of the Arts Helsinki. To put it briefly, this project took me to explore movements in which my body already is part of and which challenge my immediate perception. These include for example the rotation of the planet Earth around its own axis or its orbit around the Sun. Since then I have actually worked with that kind of movement-realm, which escapes mastery and which can not be perceived right away. Space, space culture and astronomy arrived in my work through this process. This artistic research continues currently in my post doctoral -project xeno/exo/astro-choreoreadings, which I’m conducting as a visiting researcher in the Performing Arts Research Centre. How have you arrived in these fields?

Seasons as Choreographers: Where Over the World is Astronaut Scott Kelly? Click to open slideshow in another window.

Tuukka: When I was studying philosophy at the university, I also participated in all sorts of lectures that I thought were interesting. So I did the first two courses on astronomy too and that took me to Ursa, Astronomical Association. So after that besides the philosophical research, I’ve worked in astronomical education and tried to make the difficult cosmic scales somehow understandable. When you contacted me and proposed co-operation, I immediately saw an opportunity to widen my pedagogically-oriented ways of thinking about the cosmos.

Simo: When participating in your course in the Ursa Astronomical association, my motive was similar: to find a dialogue partner to nourish the multiple perspectives in the artistic processes. When it comes to my artworks, parallel with working with movements that challenge the immediate perception, the other significant practical point has been working with the notions of ‘place’ and ‘space’. I have worked with these multi-meaning concepts for a long time, for example through a very open questions such as: ‘How do I take place if everything moves?’ or ‘How does a chosen cultural context operate as a choreographic apparatus?’ The questions have made me ponder eventually how movement, place, space, and time are related and how they form a motional or kinetic sphere in which my body takes place as part of it. This starting point is in dialogue simultaneously with the practice that creates place and space also to the level of a ‘piece’ in terms of how an artwork creates its own place, space, and context. In the ongoing project the notions of space and place are amplified to outer space and I’m sketching works which materialise what kind of materiality and corporeality form in these imaginary dimensions, and how the artistic notion of site-specificity is rescaled beyond its historical Earth-centred settings.  

Tuukka: These spatial loci are familiar themes in philosophy and although connected to astronomical space-time continuum and structure they lead into question with strong theoretical connections (where are we in the universe, in which ways our location and movement is always relative, what is our place in the universe?), they tend to be far away from the bodily experience and the level of experience in general. That is why working with these themes as bodily questions brings such concreteness to it that you won’t get by reading cosmology. “How am I situated in the universe?” is a question that needs to be sliced into parts: What is my location on planet Earth? What kind of impact does this fact have on me? What does it mean that the planetary evolution of the Earth has moulded me as a bodily being and my experiences on the surroundings? Is it possible for me to experience the constant changes of the universe?

Simo: One of the most meaningful shifts in this process has been the transformation of my understanding of movement. I used to work with that kind of conception of movement in which movement is understood as material that a choreographer can master and control. Nowadays I understand movement as a phenomenon, which escapes human control, so the shift has caused significant changes in my embodied and choreographic practice.

Tuukka: Could you Simo describe a bit more what do you mean by this shift? Maybe with examples? If you are thinking about movement as a self-guiding phenomenon that you cannot manipulate - or don’t want to? - as much as you would if you thought of it as some kind of material, how does this affect your choreographies? Concentrating on subtle changes? A wider appreciation of context?

Simo: I think it is about coupling into the movement another mode and orientation rather than a mastering one, and taking place somewhere else than in the centre (of the stage for example). One example is the work titled Seasons as Choreographers: Where Over the World is Astronaut Scott Kelly? (2015), which I mentioned above, where during one year I walked repeatedly around one route and worked with a macromovement that causes the seasons, namely the Earth’s orbit around the Sun. In parallel to this daily practice, I followed the Twitter account of the NASA -astronaut Scott Kelly who was on a one year -mission in the International Space Station during that time. While rotating around the Earth, Kelly collected and shared tweets; so I decided to assemble tweets from the walks as a remote dialogue with his tweets. The tweets were one attempt to find vocabulary for the corporeal dimension of the practice, which started to develop from the walking-practice. The other example could be one of my latest works, Oumuamua_Gravity Escape (2021), in which I work with the imaginary movements of the eponymous interstellar body. In this process, I followed the news about this first observed interstellar object in the Solar System, Oumuamua, and I collected visual data, which was circulating in these articles. Based on this I realised the piece together with my colleague Vincent Roumagnac. The installation invites the viewer into the red floored and dark room to spend time with a 10 -minute video and a hand-made lava-like board, which has a similar form than the depictions that I found from Oumuamua in the scientific articles. It is kind of an interstellar surfboard, which might, as a miniature scale model, and with a sense of humour and theatricality, resemble Oumuamua.

Oumuamua_Gravity Escape

My artistic work is also based on considering the context and contextualization, and how an artistic material then settles into somewhere. In this process movements that form a particular place entangle with the movements produced by the process of corporeal place-taking. A good example of the questions of movement and place-taking is, I think, our recent collaboration on the performative and participatory audio-walk kosmosomsok, which invites the participants to experience “The Universe in Four Acts”. The acts consists of a 25- minute audiowalk guided by actor Outi Condit’s voice, an introduction to the planetary formations through observing mini-sculptures produced for the project by visual artist Thomas Westphal, a brief lecture about the history of life on Earth and short opening towards the futures through a guided embodied experiment.

Tuukka: Exactly. kosmosomsok is exciting because it has time in its centre but its time is experienced as movements. And this is a good way to think about the performance as a whole. It is an attempt to transform the temporal evolution of the universe into a bodily experience. Of course, 13.8 billion years is an impossible number of years, but it is possible to experience the different temporal ratios included in its evolution: the first stars are born some seconds after the Big Bang and for the solar system one has to wait for twenty minutes. You can experience time as waiting but also as a movement - and both are bodily states of some sort. This way we can think of both Aristotle’s notion of time as movement or change (kinesis) and Bergson’s idea of duration (durée) as the nature of time. 


From both perspectives, you can try to manipulate the time/movement, but the task is much more subtle than creating something which in my mind is choreography in a traditional meaning. The feeling of duration can be created with different expectations or delusions (for example that something will last “very long” is over “very quickly”). Funny how time really hasn’t got its own vocabulary despite all the talk about it. It is often thought of as spatial or material terms such as “long” or “short”. Maybe this has something to do with time as a movement?


Simo: That’s a good question! kosmosomsok is indeed from my perspective a continuation of my one-year walk and pas-de-deux with an astronaut orbiting in space, which I mentioned earlier. Even if kosmosomsok can be set anyplace, it’s been important to work outdoors in order to have a chance to observe the sky or for example how far one can direct the gaze. The experience of the distances and movements are approached with simple perceptual exercises and tasks, in which place-taking is entangled with the simultaneously multidirectional and multitemporal worlds. In kosmosomsok we have also dealt with the challenge of linearity from the understanding that we are not inviting the audience intowalking a timeline there, right? Could you clarify how movement and time can be thought of from that perspective in kosmosomsok?


Tuukka: Almost always the age of the universe is demonstrated with a timeline which is either a straight line or a cone in which the time goes from left to right. The Big Bang is on the left and the present is on the right. I’ve done many this kind of timelines ranging from 1,4 metres to 1,4 kilometres. They are very useful in representing time ratios such as for how long had the universe existed before our Sun was formed or how long did it take for the one cell life forms on Earth to turn into multicellular organisms. The hundreds of millions or even billions of years are impossible to comprehend as numbers but turning them into a line helps. Timelines are also an easy way to show the chronological order of things. Ultimately we still have to face the question: is time in itself linear?


Linear time means it has only one direction and that it does not have an end. Whether these features are applicable to time is a difficult question. The alternative or counterpart of linear time is the cyclic view of time in which the cycles always come back to the beginning and start new cycles. However, these are not the most interesting points of view when regarding the nature of time in kosmosomsok. The interesting questions concern the experience of time. Regardless of the linear/cyclic-aspects of time, the timeline (and time cycles) transforms time into space (into a line or a circle). As such it is uniform. In contrast, our experiences of time tell us that sometimes it goes faster and in other times it feels longer. Also for one person a moment can be longer than for another person. (Also according to the theory of relativity time is a more subtle aspect of reality, not just a line.)

In kosmosomsok the whole chronological development of the universe is not transformed into a spatial form but into temporal experiences of multiple participants. The sequences are there and hopefully the participants experience the durations of the different parts of the story (ups, another big word to analyse…) in more or less the same way. With all this we are already quite deeply in the profound questions: What is time actually? How can it be represented in different ways? What is the relationship between temporal durations and “time as it actually is” and its representations?



Simo: Yes, as far as I understand, the history of human time has been thought to begin from following the movements of the Sun and Moon in the sky, which helped to mark the distances passed or travelled. Understood like this, moving from point a to b becomes kind of an act in which one takes place in the relationality of simultaneous multiple motional elements. Does it then produce a linear experience is maybe a different question of orientation, perception and focus.


Tuukka: Luckily we don’t have to solve these questions in a theoretical sense but we can deal with them by constructing a loose choreography for the participants, one that leaves space for everyone's own experiences. The choreography includes ways we have thought of to steer the temporal experiences of the participants in ways that they would get a sense of the durations and rhythms of the universe. I don’t want to say that they would “understand” or “grasp” the universe. I do think the participants have good possibilities to understand the universe better because of kosmosomsok, but that is not our aim, it’s not the goal of kosmosomsok and it is not a criterion by which to examine the whole thing. Instead I think kosmosomsok is an attempt to experience the temporal ratios of the universe and challenge the participants to think about the different times and durations around us. And because they are bodily actors in kosmosomsok, they will experience those as their own movements and as movements of others. This is what I think is happening in kosmosomsok.

Simo: That’s true. It’s interesting what you say about making loose choreography. I think primarily we have tried to find ways to couple into the movement worlds that escape human mastery. This in fact has made me think how does the term ‘choreography’ offer etymological or practical means enough to reach those registers of movements that I am interested in to work with. In my work movement, time, and space operate on the same ontological level, which means that movement is not something that goes through space and time, but all these three are constituting each other. With this kind of understanding about the coupling into the movement, I developed in my doctoral artistic research project the term: ‘choreoreading’, which describes my artistic practice. To put it shortly, it is about working with the movements that escape immediate perception with the body-organism, which is constantly reacting to its kinetic conditions. We have also discussed the western philosophy of movement and I have got to know, for example, philosopher Thomas Nail’s thinking. He aims to shift movement into the core of philosophy and open its history from that perspective. As a choreographer this kind of perspective affects my place- and context -responsive work in a way, in which places, spaces, and contexts are dynamic motional entities. For example; if I would work in a theatre, a black box is constituted by various motional agents, and my work as a choreographer is currently based on working with such agents in order to produce some sort of perceptual and experiential transformation to be available and open for the viewer. I usually work outdoors nowadays though and of course, the works can be displayed indoors as performance-installations for example. My work with space and sci-fi has also brought exoplanetary materiality and temporality into the artistic processes. What do you think about this, how the place of a human has changed then from an exoplanetary perspective?

Tuukka: It might very well be that I’m using the word “choreography” too lightly there. I wouldn’t say that we are trying to manipulate the movement, but I think we are giving careful thought stimulus. We cannot know their effects, but we have speculated and tested how they work. So, is it wrong to say that this is steering of a kind?  When we propose the participants turn their attention to the sky or to find something of a different age from their environment, it guides them in a different way than if we would propose to them, say, to make a somersault or grab some sand in their hand.

The exoplanetary perspective is a very interesting theme because I believe it has really started to unfold in the past 25 years and for me it’s easier to think that the implications of the whole perspective will take shape during this century. So it might be that it is too early to really say a lot about it. Still some things seem clear enough. For example, today we know that there are extremely different planet systems in the Milky Way and they don’t resemble our own Solar System in any way. Astronomers have perceived systems that no one was even able to imagine before. Also, the systems are in different stages in their development which leads us to the following thought while reflecting ourselves and our own planet and its system: we are like this and in this kind of place at the moment. It was different before and it will be different in the future. The Solar System will be different. Planet Earth will be different. Human being will be different. Basically this just means thinking in terms of the theory of evolution. The idea is 150 years old but surprisingly we haven’t been able or willing to see it everywhere. Practical platonism is so much stronger way of seeing things and means that things are always essentially something and don’t change. So we like to say that “the solar system is like this” and “ the human being is like that” when we should add in every description the words “at the moment”. So it is also about time…

Simo: Exoplanetary is relevant also from the perspective of site-specific art and in my project it raises a question what might exo-corporeality mean. Maybe kosmosomsok focuses more on the question of what ‘‘planetary'' could mean in terms of Earth and inhabiting it on a larger astronomical scale. What can be the corporeality of Earth? The speed, which is present at the moment… in deed.. Last question for now, what do you mean by that evolution’s meaning has not been thoroughly yet thought of when it comes to everything?

Tuukka: The idea of Darwin was that all the species evolve through natural selection because of the changing conditions in the surrounding environment. So the changes in the environment are a key idea for evolution, in a way its foundation. The radical thing about Darwin was his argument that all the species evolve, also the human species. His contemporaries didn’t want to think about it. For them it was much more convenient to think of human species as something fixed, to think of humanity as something everlasting. Afterwards it seems obvious that the idea of evolution applies to everything in the universe. Also the planet systems are evolving systems and we can only perceive their current status. Earlier they were different and in the future they will be different. Despite all this it is not until the 21st century that we are thinking this way in the context of the Solar System and the planets in general. And this I think is part of the exoplanetary perspective. Put it this way and it’s not so strange. Still we tend not think of our own being or our world this way in the evolution of billions of years, or to think of our environments in the radius of hundreds of millions of kilometres - even though all of the hydrogen atoms in our bodies are coming from the Big Bang and even though we feel the heat of the Sun on our skin and it’s source is 150 million kilometres away…

Simo: Yes, and in that feel of the heat a bit more than eight minutes is materialised.



NAIL, Thomas: Being and Motion, Oxford University Press, 2019 

KELLY, Scott: Twitter account  



Simo Kellokumpu is a Finnish choreographer and researcher born in Lapland and based in Helsinki. Simo completed a Doctorate of Arts in 2019 in the Performing Arts Research Centre, Theatre Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki based on the artistic research project Choreography as Reading Practice. Kellokumpu’s artworks examine the choreographic relations between corporeality and materiality in various scales and contexts. In his artistic works Simo explores the entanglement of contemporary speculative fiction, interplanetary culture, and queer(ing) space. Currently he works as a visiting research at the Performing Research Centre Helsinki on a postdoctoral artistic research project titled xeno/exo/astro-choreoreadings and facilitates Pengerkatu 7 - Työhuone art space in Helsinki.

Tuukka Perhoniemi is a Helsinki based philosopher, who works at the Ursa Astronomical Society. He has written the book Demokraattinen perintömme (together with Kai Alhanen, Vastapaino 2017) on the key ideas of democracy, and has used archival research to find out the old Finnish names for the star-constellations into the book Tähdistöt (Ursa 2012, Karttunen, Manner ja Perhoniemi). Perhoniemi has also translated more than ten works from the classics of philosophy into the latest achievements in science. He is currently finalising a book on the guidelines for a democracy that also takes into account the current state of the planet.