3) Let's meet A/R/Tograph Christine Yangco Helland (OsloMet)!
Christine Yangco Helland is an educated drama teacher, director, and dramaturg, with a master’s degree in fine arts with specialisation in theatre from the University of Agder, Norway. She has worked for seven years at the Kilden Performing Arts centre, where she has, among other things, been the director of several theatre productions for children and young people. She has also worked with the talent development program Ungdomskilden, as well as the theatre group Fotspor – a group with participants from the work practice program of Kirkens Bymisjon (Buskerud Teater, 2023). Helland has been involved with Black Box Teater, Kloden Teater, Buskerud Teater, the short film “Først og sist”, and currently as a university lecturer in aesthetic subjects at OsloMet. Helland has a burning commitment to diversity and inclusion. In addition to working with professional productions, Helland is motivated by involving children and young people, non-professional, and marginalised groups. I have wanted to interview Helland because I feel that we have many common professional interests, values, and motivations. Helland is a new and exciting acquaintance for me in my professional work, in my desired professional direction, and in the TCS-production, “Blindsone” based on the novel “Eit anna blikk”, which I am currently working on.
A/R/Tography depicts three roles or identities: Artist (A), Researcher (R), Teacher (T). Following Springgay and Irwin (2008), the relationship between them is central, with “Arts” as activity and product, and “graphy” as text. Springgay and Irwin say that educators who see themselves as A/R/Tographers are those who are dedicated to learning, teaching, understanding, and interpreting within the community of learners. In this context, arts are perceived as a sensory-oriented product, understood, interpreted, or questioned, through ongoing involvement and encounters in the world. Artists therefore commit themselves through creation, transformation, and resistance. Irwin & Springgay (2008, p. xxv) call it a complex in-between space, the urge to explore draws us to the counter-identity as a researcher.
- How does this resonate with you as a professional, Christine Yangco Helland?
- Do you think your arts, teaching and research/developments projects intertwine and materialize as A/R/Tography, and if so, how?
- What qualities might A/R/Tography as a methodology add to your established arts, research, and teaching?
For me, teaching is dialogue-based. In my professional field, we largely work practically on the floor. Dialogue is also strongly present in theoretical teaching. The subject and the methodology create a desire for exploration that I recognise in the description of A/R/Tography. I approach or enter the teaching situation with my knowledge and a purpose to teach my students something. In the dialogic meeting between the student and the teaching material, I too learn something (compare LeBlanc & Irwin, 2019). This gives me impulses to explore my field of expertise further. This happens on several levels. Sometimes, I ask questions that are extremely basic and that make me reflect on my own learning path. I get a continuous refresher in my professional field. Students also bring perspectives that I have not reflected on before. It may also be that I teach topics that are quite new to me. Then, in many ways, I also explore the topic together with the students for the first time. Together, we discuss how we use the theme in a context. I also become more knowledgeable than by only reading theory. I explore my own field, and I am enriched by the student meetings and the dialogues. So, I am in a continuous development process myself. There are no cemented truths in my field. It makes us mobile.
Diverse themes enable me to explore and develop my various professions artist, researcher, and teacher, as well as my integrity within each of them. New knowledge is emerging in our field all the time, arising through the methods, different topics, and different groups each time. My task is to be a reflective, adjusting, and flexible practitioner. The dynamic is why I like my field so much. If I were to sum the first question up, I find the relationship between the professions of artist, researcher, and teacher to be dynamic. I can’t always separate them completely when I’m working. But it is, of course, all about context and position.
Art forms, teaching, research, or development projects are intertwined and materialised as A/R/Tography. You are aware of what is emphasised, and you take the experience back to the various professions. It is a dynamic shift. I am working on a project in Nordic Black Express now. Here I am both director and teacher. We work devised, meaning that we develop the production together, and I supervise and am artistically responsible. Oslo Kammerorkester is involved in this production as well. We also create music, so it’s a new method for all partners. It is a big project, and the sheer size of it is a new experience for many of us. Precisely this project, our experiences, and methods, mean that we create a new method at the same time. I am planning an article about the production, but I think the actual process and production is research and development. The process and production can be documented through film, for example. The spectator and the moment have a value in themselves. Written text, with a combination of film, photo and/or sound might be an option, but I haven’t thought much about it yet.
Helland and I talk about how extensive work is done within artistic development work and research, and how we feel suspect other fields do not understand this. Both of us have experienced carrying out large, extensive practical projects in our master’s degree, and that the academic writing is given the most weight. At the same time, we reflect on valuing being able to immerse oneself and write traditionally and academically as well. It’s all about mastering a comprehensive craft.
Do you experience that contemporary drama can make a difference in a scenic and intercultural perspective to contribute to tolerance and equality? If so, how? And are there any scientific and/or ethical perspectives that motivate you in your work? If so, how?
I feel that inter-culturalism is slowly gaining more voices. This happens because we use newly written drama, and that other voices than the established ones come to the fore. More people are seen. I am talking about representation through text and the visual. Different types of stories and languages are promoted. The field of culture must give far greater space to inter-cultural people at all levels. Who decides what is set up, why, and to whom? Who are performances directed for? Who is the target group? We need deep insight into definitions and positions. I don’t want to take the job from anyone. I want there to be more space for people from other cultures and other marginalised groups. This cannot be said too often!
I am passionate about the diversity perspective, and I want to emphasise this in my work. There can be both discouraging and constructive processes in this work. I am passionate about the potential in people, democracy, and justice. Who can we trust in the society? Can I trust myself, in the position of high school lecturer, now in the middle class? I am inter-cultural myself, and grew up with a single mother in Haugenstua, Oslo. Our economy was tight, the whole working-class package. I have spent a lot of time pretending to be Norwegian. It wasn’t that long ago I realised how indoctrinated we are as a society. I feel enormous shame for having tried to hide the inter-cultural part of me. I now understand that, sub-consciously, it has been a survival strategy that also helped me achieve my desires and goals regarding education and work. Like many, I haven’t used my foreign surname for a while. I did this with the support of my mother. But it makes me incredibly sad to understand today more of the shame that many inter-cultural people carry. And I am ashamed to have been ashamed of my cultural background. So, there are several layers of self-hate. This greatly affects an identity.
But you are a young woman. Now you can use your insight to create ripples in the water
ripples in the water
ripples in the water
ripples in the water
ripples in the water
ripples in the water.
... Contribute to developing tolerance and equality. A diverse and democratic society.
Yes, I hope so. But it is demanding. We are dealing with topics and exhange of words that I find extremely inflamed. But we live in it now. It is both an exciting and scary discord. I can feel alone in that kind of work. To meet you, who is in another geographically place, gives me hope, community, and comfort. Knowing that there are more people sitting and working with this value base and these intentions.
Theatre is also a science. I am passionate about the theatre profession acting, directing, teaching, and so on and work close to and with people. The science also feels inter-disciplinary, as we touch on cross-aesthetic disciplines, psychology, sociology, and history, for example. As I’m teaching others, I’m learning myself, too. It is a field that keeps me in constant learning. No two project are the same. And the combination of people is different. This means that I am constantly adapting and developing. And so does my subjects. My field and I do this together, in a way.
The starting point is that theatre is so much fun! I love being in the energy on stage, and I want to give this joy to other people. I’m a nerd, and I become even more nerdy when I incorporate research in my work, too. That’s why I like A/R/Tography. I am so curious about the methodology. It is these three identities I am dwelling on. And the tension field between them. It is a separate knowledge and specialty to be both a specialist and a generalist. We humans have so much potential to play on. We are not just one or the other.
I think that A/R/Tography for me is a basic curiosity about other people, especially with an emphasis on teaching. To create together. … the relational. I can sometimes think that I don’t need the show. The job is done, in a way. The magic happens in the process. This is where we learn the most important stuff. Understand me correctly; the performance is also important. We can talk a lot about that.
In the myriad of teaching, administration, and New Public Management, we must remember the intention. I must begin with myself. It is about feeling the spark of life, hope, and meaning. It may sound naïve and idealistic, but this is my motivation. The big themes I am working on will probably not be solved in my lifetime. But I want to contribute, and to bring it further.
I also think about having gone on a class trip. Now, I belong to the middle class and must be aware of the role in my position. I have always felt like an underdog, without really understanding it. And then one is no longer that but is also unable to identify with the white middle class. Then I fight the case of the underdog from a new position. I am afraid of being a “white saviour”.
It’s about using the position to your advantage. One can feel powerless. For what can be done in the big picture? I try to stay focused. You can lose a lot of power by taking in how bad the world is in many ways. In my profession, I can help influence the curriculum, for example. This means that the students will not only receive Western European literature, and that voices from outside will be included in the teaching. Working for tolerance, equality and diversity is something that must always be done continuously at all levels. Diversity must be rooted, not just checked off a list.