In the beginning, Kirsi invited Petri and Anu to work within the notion of silence since she was encouraged to collaborate with some colleagues of the two other academies in Uniarts Helsinki. The institution also enabled their collaboration financially since all three are current employees there. Thus, the institution offered some terms of reference, yet everything else was left open. An unexpected match occurred: three strangers found space for mutual exchange, discovering insights into their artistic practices, which have their origins in their respective academies, and Uniarts Helsinki, in turn saw, its values being realized. (See Uniarts strategy).
In the course of the sessions a particular modus operandi of the University was revealed. The atmosphere in the sessions created an oasis for exploration and sharing that was a contrast to some academic procedures and ways of acting the three were accustomed to. Listening and letting things unfold happened by trusting the other. Gradually it shifted into trusting the unforeseen – while keeping the structure of the sessions in order to support the happening. Furthermore, the duration and continuation of the sessions, our way of working without any apparent aim, and the unquestioned acceptance of the different choices made were all conditions of our research journey.
Through our collaborative praxis, we were able to create a specific, practice-based artistic research method in and through silence.
During the first part of our session, a kind of meditation happened in stillness that created the basis for the whole session. To be together and to attune oneself to one’s own thoughts formed an atmosphere where one could act without judgements, relax and feel safe. Actually, we experienced it as a luxury to be quiet together for the scheduled time. However, before long, the notion of silence was put aside – or perhaps it was already invited in by the shared stillness – and the happening could occur in their unpredictability. Perhaps our orientation to silence permitted us to act without a sense of accomplishment. The orientation peeled the aims, and it became a necessity that brought with it previously unexperienced possibilities. Paradoxically silence as soundlessness brought forth the inner voices loudly and clearly. Curiously, during the writing session at Kallio-Kuninkala, this part of the session was given up since it was not needed any more.
Thus, this part of the sessions became the threshold for the praxis as well as for writing, inviting silence to enter into us, amongst us and into the room itself. It became a kind of purification ritual instead of the usual space filled with speaking. Though we have not insisted on this notion of silence, it definitely has strongly influenced our work and the insight that it is the bedrock of existence.
In the "Praxis" part of our sessions, each of us was a representative of his or her own art genre for the other two; two of us acted as resistance to the third one. The "Praxis" illuminated the meaning, limits and content of our own art genres making us ask ourselves: "what does it mean that I'm a mover/pianist/fine artist?" Furthermore, our orientation to the notion of silence questioned and brought forth its meaning in each art form.
Possibly the beginning of the project – with Kirsi and Anu meeting together twice without Petri – moulded the foundation for the whole collaboration. When Petri joined Kirsi and Anu in the third session, the structure (silence – praxis – writing) had already been established.
Throughout the collaboration, Anu and Kirsi – the two performers – clearly took a lot of space through both movement and sound in the ‘praxis’ parts. Petri was there as well, but as the photo shows, he moves around holding a video camera in his hand and only glimpses of him are visible through the mirror. Another photo shows Petri sitting on the floor while Kirsi and Anu are taking care of the sound and movement. These pictures can be seen as symbols of the dynamics of the collaboration: at times Kirsi and Anu formed an interactive performative pair, while Petri adjusted himself to them by drawing some kinds of maps of their traces.
The fundamental part of our “Praxis” was that it wasn’t ‘practicing’ or ‘performing’ per se, but perhaps something between these two extremes. We felt this especially in the two conferences which we attended and in which the audience feedback was ambivalent: our demonstration was not a “pure” performance, but given the audience reaction, we believed that they interpreted it as such.
A new relationship towards space and its objects emerged as well: Anu started to perceive the space, touch the objects and wander around the room, which she normally never does while practicing or performing; Kirsi's moving was intertwined with the physical environment, and in one session, she started to organize the objects in the room to make more space for silence to enter.
Essential features in the “Praxis” were a careful, sensitive listening to others and attuning ourselves to the now-moment instead of trying to accomplish something, striving for excellence and rushing for “results”. We never aimed to produce high-class performances or an impressive work of art.
Nevertheless, we felt that something artistically special and beautiful happened in the session, where Anu for the first time dared to improvise: the collaboration produced a twenty-minute “something”, which might be understood, if necessary, as a multidisciplinary work of art.
Our collaboration has developed a practice on the basis of we suggest that there is a need for spaces of silences as well as noise within art institutions. The collaboration seemed to pierce through us as individuals by questioning each of us: Kirsi facing her habits of moving, allowing movement to happen without the will and moving in relation to the materials in the room, Anu facing her habits as a concert pianist, Petri pondering his position as a visual artist by questioning the need for art works. By questioning ourselves, we entered a shared space that is reminiscent of the idea of being singular plural by Jean-Luc Nancy (2000). By exposing ourselves to each other and to the impossibility of silence, the co-existence opened as a unique unity that can be taken as the singular plural: singularity is always plural. Being-one starts from being-with-one-another (Nancy 2000, 56). Though Nancy’s ontological thoughts do not fit practice as such, they contain seed for re-examining of some prevailing practices in art institutions and support collaborative praxis in artistic research.
Our artistic collaboration offered new directions for several theoretical approaches. Particularly the intertwinement with materials that occurred can be researched for example through new materialism or approaches related to object-oriented ontology (mentioned in Kirsi’s ‘praxis’ column). However, we are still in a stage in which it is necessary to leave space for praxis and to return to possible theoretical contextualizing in future.
Apart from writing individual notes we also wrote collaboratively (particularly the 'discussion' of this exposition), which was time-consuming. It was perhaps the most challenging part of the collaboration. It demanded patience to clarify references to other thinkers, (when the others had not read the same books or were not familiar with the addressed theoretical background). The negotiations we had clarified sentences. Yet, compromises threaten to tone down the language. Moreover, they may also lead into silencing the multitude of opinions and prevent further discussions in the field.
Writing together in the same space allowed us to discuss every time it was needed. Also, a fruitful habit was adapted during the writing sessions: while one of us was talking, another was making notes – followed by reflection out loud. Thus, silence as soundless was interrupted even in writing. The collaboration brought forth our personal strengths and backgrounds: Kirsi’s phenomenological thinking opposed to Anu’s tendency to clarify things and be straightforward in her autoethnographic approach, as well as Petri’s way of appreciating artistic expertise in research.
And yet, one proof that we built this project collaboratively (without a leader with two assistants) is the mutual feeling that this project doesn’t belong to any of us solely. Silence cannot be possessed. In the future we will see, how the collaboration will evolve.
Writing brought a different atmosphere since communication is often based on speech: one is talking about something, whilst the others are listening. The one who talks governs the airspace by leading the discussion, and the others respond according to the shared discussion that follows. To prevent this, we wanted to make our private notes first and only thereafter to discuss our experiences.
It was crucial to make our notes quickly just after the “Silence” and “Praxis” parts without talking, since they could easily have been forgotten or influenced by the thoughts of the others. Nevertheless, notes constitute only a partial story of each happening, and the gap between experience and writing prevails. The direct translation from the reality of experiencing to the reality of writing is impossible, and yet, the need for communication led to writing and later to sharing by speaking.
In one session, Kirsi suggested a method of weaving: after writing of our experiences, in turns we read aloud one or two sentences forming a collective text. Through images and text, the following video shows some traces of working through silence.
Our weaving video (Click)
The common writing sessions brought a particular intensity and atmosphere of encouragement into the room, while we were tackling in various ways the writing. Perhaps these writing events contained something important of silence, such orientations as opening, supporting, allowing. These sessions lasted for hours, yet we occasionally interrupted each other by talking and making comments, which prevented the silence from becoming too heavy and gave us a rhythm that supported the writing.
Unanswered questions prevail: How to let the writing happen on its own course and not to be overly stressed about the ‘outcomes’? How to write in order to communicate and yet to have some space for silence to dwell in the writing? However, writing left traces, confirmed and amplified the lived experiences of the sessions. In this sense, writing is like drawing. Petri was drawing maps of the sessions, following Kirsi’s movements and the varying modes of Anu’s playing. The sounds Anu created as well as Kirsi’s movement can be understood as traces drawn in the air, a kind of writing.
The dominance of writing in this exposition might seem quite surprising. Why trust words so much? It is as if each of us needed to find words to describe the illusive, ungraspable silence and fleeting moments that were lived during the session – or at least to have some phenomenon inscribed since the notion of silence was slippery and yet forceful. Also since the collaboration started without any apparent aim and the focus was on the process, we did not systematically document our videos on video or in photos.
The three neat columns stand for the stability involved in the open way we worked alongside each other as well as the distinct ways we all had of perceiving and writing. The messiness and turmoil in the sessions needed to be (un)balanced with the structural clarity. Our orientation to silence brought about and revealed disturbance and conflicting opinions. Paradoxically, from silence noise emerged. It was not only the loud music or inner voices. Each of us became louder in verbal communication as well, trying to explain her or his perspective to the other two.
ARTISTIC RESEARCH CRITICIZING INSTITUTIONS
According to Esa Kirkkopelto (2015, 49), artistic research seeks a certain transformation which changes the artistic medium into a research medium. Searching for a possibility for critique within the institutions, Kirkkopelto studies two oppositional concepts: innovation and invention, both as possible outcomes of artistic research. Whereas innovations may be more straightforward, short-lived and replaced by other innovations (Kirkkopelto 2015, 50–51) it is the invention, which for Kirkkopelto is the most radical and revolutionary. It is something which – if it is revolutionary enough – tends to become an institution itself. As for institutional critique, Kirkkopelto suggests that “the criteria for evaluation would consist of considering to what extent an artist-researcher is able to present her invention as a potential new institution” (Kirkkopelto 2015, 52).
The institutional critique wasn’t our main goal, not even at the beginning. We started with the notion of silence, which then brought together different approaches and disciplines. Afterwards, though, it is easy to see our research project as institutional critique: the notion of silence opened a view into the structures of oneself and the institution. The sessions surprised us by revealing the borders within the institution and within ourselves. We embarked upon a turbulent ride that disturbed our previous habits of acting and reacting. These features relate our research to the "invention" described by Kirkkopelto (2015, 51).
Our collaboration made us realize traces of the art institutions we have belonged to as well as their inheritance each of us carries in flesh and the influence they bear on each of our (artistic) deeds. Thus, we carry an "institution", a kind of style of being, as described by Merleau-Ponty, in which something prevails in us as artists in our perceptions and inherited traditions. However, through this collaboration we have become aware of these sediments in us. Nevertheless, it is impossible to say if our sense of perception has permanently changed or to assess this collaboration as "a real invention". The institution as an establishment, via perception and the traditions of the individual, as well as the physical location of the institution itself form an interconnectedness that generate particular modes of action.
Perhaps the notion of silence in its vastness further enabled us to listen to what will occur and to pause, to experience something that cannot be experienced. Nonetheless, do the customs of the institution support art-making and, if so, what kind of art is favoured? There seems to be an interplay between institutional ways of functioning and individual choices.
Maybe we found something that is often missing in academic work life, which is so often full of demands, namely, effortlessness, allowing, space. We had no expectations concerning specific results. Instead we created a structure which allowed us to freely study our praxes and thinking as artists. First and foremost, we were responsible for ourselves, which made us go deep into very basic questions of artisthood. Instead of creating specific works of art, each of us questioned his or her own artisthood, our internal rules and limitations and attitudes.