My doctoral research project has come to an end in the form of this commentary. This commentary is one way to frame and expose the process that will continue in my artistic works after this academic project. It has been slow, complex, challenging, but above all rewarding and rejoicing process, with many contributors, influences, and critical support coming from various directions, all of which have helped deepening my own understanding of my artistic practice.
I would like to begin by thanking the artists-colleagues with whom I have worked during this intense research process. During the first examined artistic part, I was happy to work with visual artist Sari Palosaari and performer and choreographer Mikko Hyvönen. Thank you for supporting the early phases of my project and being curious about what I was developing. Thank you Heikki Paasonen for helping me in the first examined artistic part. The second artistic part was realized with my colleagues Outi Condit, Paula Kramer, and Vincent Roumagnac. Thank you for your attention, willingness for profound discussions, and for your time to engage with the practice and perform with me. Those exciting shared moments in the Research Pavilion in Venice are unforgettable.
There are other influential artists who I had a chance to meet, discuss and work with, and whom I would like to mention. Thank you, manga artist Nao Yazawa, for teaching me a lot about Japanese manga while working at the residency in Tokyo. Thank you artist Leena Valkeapää for sharing your everyday choreographic life stories from Kilpisjärvi, Lapland. Your everyday viewpoints and thoughts from different cultural circumstances have been important for my project.
My supervisors. Thank you, Kirsi Monni, for helping me find the artistic research platform in the first place. You encouraged me to apply to this doctoral program and you gave me an important impulse towards this process. Thank you for starting the project with me with a very profound and generous critical engagement. I think that the dialogue with you set a fertile ground for my project. Thank you, Jan Kaila, for discussing with me in various unexpected places about art and artistic research and continuously asking me to explain what I mean by choreography and choreographic thinking. Thank you, Michael Kliën, for encouraging me to continue developing my perspective of the choreoreading practice during the research when I was most strongly doubting it. The feedback and critical perspectives you all have offered my project is invaluable.
Other collegiate support, for which I am grateful, comes from Kirsi Heimonen and Anne Makkonen. Thank you for your continued interest and supportive comments and willingness to try things with me in the studio. I also want to thank the students with whom I have had a chance to discuss my research process, especially Ida Louis Leclerc Larsen for the collegiate curiosity about the choreo-orientated thinking I was developing.
Then the doctoral platform, the Performing Arts Research Centre, Tutke. Thank you, Leena Rouhiainen, Esa Kirkkopelto, Hanna Järvinen, Laura Gröndahl, Annette Arlander, Pilvi Porkola, Tuija Kokkonen, Annika Fredriksson, Elina Raitasalo, Laura Viertola, Siiri-Maija Heino, Kirsi Rinne, Susann Vainisalo and Riitta Pasanen-Willberg, all of whom have been leading, planning, realizing and facilitating Tutke’s challenging platform during my research process. Thank you Tutke!
Thank you as well, Fine Art Academy’s doctoral programme. It has been important to study and practice beyond disciplinary borders. Thank you, University of the Arts Research Pavilion in Venice for twice accepting my research process as part of its program. Thank you, Anita Seppä, Henk Slager, and Seppo Salminen. Thank you also, the Summer Academy for Artistic Research, which made it possible to connect with colleagues in other Nordic platforms.
Thank you, staff of the Theatre Academy Training Theatre and of the Theatre Academy library. Your work is invaluable.
I also want to thank Uniarts Stockholm professors Ellen J. Røed, Juliette Mapp, and Rebecca Hilton for your interest in my project and for finding time to discuss my project at several artistic research events. Thank you also professors Per Roar Thorsnes from Oslo National Academy of Arts and Emilyn Claid from University of Roehampton and artist-researcher Efva Lilja for your curiousity towards my work.
I want to thank my external examiners, Victoria Pérez-Royo and Alex Arteaga, for working as critical dialogue partners for my project. Your feedback has taken me further, and with your comments I have been able to clarify the operative concepts in my practice.
It is difficult to think of doing this kind of research without collegiate support. Thank you, doctoral colleagues Mireia c. Saladriquez, Joa Hug, André Alves, Stacey Sacks, Lisa Torell, Edvine Larssen, Saara Hannula and Tuuja Jänicke for your curiosity and feedback. Thank you, every Tutke and Kuva doctoral candidate with whom I have had a chance to discuss and learn from. Thank you, my colleagues who participated the research workshops.
There are many people I have met during these years who have given their attention to this process. Thank you, astronomer Esko Valtaoja for taking time to discuss the notion of space and outer space in the beginning of my process. It seems that after examining planetary choreographic conditions in my doctorate, I am on my way to working with the interplanetary scale. Thank you, philosophers Erin Manning and Brian Massumi for giving your time to think about my research questions together. Thank you, Claire Hicks for giving me a chance to begin to develop choreography as reading practice in the residency at Critical Path in Sydney. Thank you, all the artists who participated in the first blurry workshop there. Thank you, Daniela Hahn for inviting me to process my questions in Berlin with your writing group. And thank you Christopher Ryan for proofreading my texts and giving helpful feedback for my writing.
Thank you, Tokyo Arts and Space, O Espaço do Tempo residency, Cité International des arts residency, German Society for Dance Research, Performing Studies International, Nordic Forum for Dance Research, Liikekieli.com, Reykjavik Dance Festival, University of the Arts Stockholm, SAR conference, Carpa4 colloquium, Ehkä-production in Turku, the Saari Residence, Ars Bio Arctica residency, AARK residency, Mad House Helsinki, HZT Berlin, and Dansehallerne Copenhagen for inviting me to develop and share my work as workshops, presentations, performances, writings, and talks. I have grown a lot through these exchanges.
The research project would be impossible to realize without funding. Thank you Finnish Cultural Foundation, Helander Foundation, Arts Promotion Centre Finland, and Wihuri Foundation for generously supporting my project. It is invaluable to have the possibility to apply for resources for doctoral artistic research projects. Through this support, I have developed expertise, which I in turn am happy to contribute to the domestic and international cultural field.
Lastly, I want to especially thank you, Outi, for your endless curiosity in discussing the artistic research and art-making matters and for sharing the collegiate viewpoints that have encouraged me to further explore my topic, deep down to its core.
In the process of transformations in art and life, I want to thank you, Vincent, for continuing our collaborative work, working with me within my research project, and taking care and responsibility for the photo- and videographic visuality of my experiments and artworks. Thank you for helping me to find my way by being always ready to listen, and supporting me in and through the difficult times during the doctoral process. Thank you for bringing joy. This would not have been possible without you.
I think this research process, as many others, can be dedicated to the long and slow transformations and development in life as an artist. Art has been a way for me to find my place under many toxic pressures, and I hope that this research project also brings joy, celebrates the value of generative imagination, playful plurality, and excited art-making.
Contextual frameworks: Artistic Research and Theatre Academy Helsinki
I am dealing with something very simple and fundamental for myself. At the moment, I am looking out from researcher room number 218 to the entrance hall of the Theatre Academy. Materials, sets, carts, a woman pumping a trolley in order to move heavy material, people walking, rendezvous meetings, routes through, sideways, diagonally, away and closer, all happening randomly. A woman coming out from the elevator lifts her hand and makes a triumphal V-sign. One walks, lurches, moves difficultly with her socks. What in this view and its random motional character is so interesting? A contextual mystery and conundrum, which opens through my window and is invited in. I (am) behind my desk and computer, legs crossed, aching a bit in my shoulder, and I have nothing here but transient words. (Notes, October 2014.)
The Theatre Academy Helsinki is a building where the textual writing of this commentary has mainly taken place. As a place, it is not only a social or choreographic apparatus itself but also a discursive entity that has influenced this commentary by the fact that the body of the artist-researcher has been inside its walls and corridors. This body has been imbued with the discursive realm of the doctoral program of the Performing Arts Research Centre at the Theatre Academy during 2013-2019. Prior to this process, I studied at the Theatre Academy from 1998–2003 for a BA in Dance and MA in Choreography.
How to become an artist-researcher
The first studying period was fulfilled with great enthusiasm in studying to become a choreographer. I do not have any specific working diary documents from this period about the Theatre Academy but more like project and working plans sketched in notebooks. MA studies in Choreography from 2001-2003 were emphasized by studying how to make dance pieces. The projects varied from solo to the group works, including music- and movement-based starting points. I really enjoyed these studies. One of the reasons was that I gave the study plan and curriculum lots of space to find the way I wanted to approach choreography, without problematizing the way through historical or theoretical inputs. Even if this kind of open space felt great, I remember that I was missing philosophical approaches to movement, choreography, and contemporary art in order to have some stimulus or conceptual help from the field of critical theory to build understanding about the choreographic practice and the operative notions in it. During that time, I learned how to make dance pieces and how to run a production, which are valuable skills for a choreographer. I accepted all this without emphasizing the lack of critical discourses about artistic practice, art, and choreography.
The second period, 2013–2019, has been based on the collapse of my previous practice, and it has been open to intense critical questions about the practice and the notion of choreography. I have been alert about the process, which happens through the doctorate program in a different way than when I was in my MA studies. This is, of course, understandable after having a professional experience through which the research questions developed. In this way the alertness has manifested itself as a state of openness to the personal and professional change and transformation that happens within the institutional curriculum when digging into personally fundamental level of art-making, and then sharing it with the public and colleagues. Professor of artistic research Leena Rouhiainen writes: ‘Artistic research interrogates already established approaches and practices belonging to art. It does this by, in various ways, developing accepted conventions further, or by even attempting to renounce them altogether.’ (Rouhiainen 2017, p. 145, eds. Kaila, Seppä, Slager)
The quote matches well my process in the sense that during the doctoral studies I have built an understanding of why my previous practice became meaningless, and through that process I have developed another kind of approach to choreography. In other words, this has happened through artistic research to the point in which I have renounced basic relationships that constitute my choreo-orientated thinking and practice. In a way, this process can also be understood as updating the operational tools of choreographic thinking and practice in order to meet the contemporary challenges I faced as an artist after graduating from the MA program, and in one way this updating resists the previous incorporated productional model of making dance pieces. Because of this motive to apply to the doctoral program, I think that my rerouting process simultaneously looks closely at the history of choreography and – because of that opening – serves as an introduction to the choreographic potential that has not yet been explored in depth, namely reading.
One important material fact, which has affected the process of becoming an artist-researcher, is that I have had my workroom at the Theatre Academy. During the research process, I have worked with this spatial condition while preparing the installation of the project Seasons as Choreographers: Where Over the World is Astronaut Scott Kelly?. This project entails background questions such as: What is happening to my practice in the doctoral process? How are the learned discourses transforming my choreographic thinking?
In order to move about in the Theatre Academy, you need a badge that opens the locked doors. The badge is small, grey, and it feels quite nice in one’s hand. Effortlessly opening doors with it has been a privileged act. In these years of research, I have waited many times for a lift downstairs to take me to upper floors by swiping the badge in front of the lift’s control system. I have wandered around on the administrational level and in the entrance hall, I have danced in a research lobby by myself, and I have become very familiar with the copy machines, printers, and machines with which one lends books from the library. I have had access to my room 24/7 with a specific code.
As a building, the Theatre Academy is big and the resources and possibilities offered for students are exceptional. It has a large glass door at the entrance, which leads to a big glass-roofed square with a beautiful wooden floor. A flow of students, staff, and other professionals is continuous during daily hours, within the rules and regulations of sustainable use of this space.
Studying artistic research has changed my practice vocabulary by multiplying it and making it more precise in relation to my practice. After learning the various discourses in my commentary, I have aimed to drop the unnecessary academic jargon and focus on finding the words coming from and through the practice.
In the beginning of my journey in the Performing Arts Research Centre, my understanding about artistic research deepened and changed radically. I understood the abundant complexity and challenges to be reconciled for example, between the artistic practice and writing. Many personal questions were active in the beginning of the doctoral studies: Was I escaping to academia as an artist in order to save the practice? Or did I seek time to resolve the problematic aspects of the practice? Or was I institutionalizing myself in order to earn the substance to apply for jobs in academia? Maybe I was doing all these things at the same time. What to do next?
Building knowledge, building understanding
As a field of knowledge production, artistic research aims to find the qualities of knowledge that can fulfil the gaps the traditional academic research methods leave behind. I prefer using the words ‘producing understanding’ or ‘comprehension’ of artistic practice and broader cultural phenomena entangled with the artist’s practices. I can relate to what professor Henk Borgdorff says of knowledge production as a place for ‘unfinished thinking’, which happens through, with, and in art and artistic practice (Borgdorff 2011, p. 44). Artistic research has opened up space for choreographic practice to go beyond its presumptive limits and welcome the academic discourses as dialogue partners, which affect the materiality of the artistic practice. In my artistic practice, this has meant an expansion from the field of dance to the realm of movement. In this research project, I articulate what this shift produces. Through bringing many various materials together, I have developed an introduction to one understanding of choreography, namely as reading practice.
Professor Leena Rouhiainen aptly writes about the relation between rational and sensible in art-making: “Art-making deals with the configuration of compositional elements and materials that come together as forms of aesthetic or material thinking. The process of generative interplay between artist and the materials is thinking ingrained in the making. Whilst the artist employs a sensibility informed by artistic and aesthetic experiences, the materials too have agency and both tacitly and explicitly inform what the artist does, to the extent that it can be difficult to discern exactly who or what is producing a work. While involving an interplay of the sensible and the rational, artworks can be understood as articulations or concatenations of miscellaneous elements.’ (Rouhiainen 2017, p. 148)
I have not followed one specific theorist or philosopher, nor one kind of strategy to make art, but many, in order to develop my contribution to the field of choreography and performing arts. In my understanding, the relation between practice and theory is reciprocal and dynamically operates in both directions. In other words, the relation between theory and practice has been consistently mutually stimulating. This welcoming has not happened without tensions. It has been more like opening up space for the deep paradoxes, contradictions, frictions, and conflicts through which another kind of art-making and artistic methodology has been formed during the research-process compared to my previous artistic practice. During the research process, art-making has clearly become thinking-in-practice, without the economic pressures of production, and this is one of the most valuable things that I have experienced within the artistic research doctorate program at the Performing Arts Research Centre of the Theatre Academy Helsinki. This process also changed the way how I share the art. Instead of making staged or performed productions, the choreographic artistic practice has multiplied to various forms, staged production being just one option.
Briefly about the project within Artistic Research
My artistic research project is one continuation of the history of Artistic Research at the Theatre Academy (Arlander 2012, pp. 289-291), so I have had access to several previous projects done in order to develop the methodology based on models and theoretical groundings in these works. However, as Tuula Närhinen and Per Roar Thorsnes also put it (Närhinen 2016, p. 11; Thorsnes 2015, p. 90) like Rouhiainen (Rouhiainen 2017, p.150), in Artistic Research there are no ready methodological paths to take, which also means that this work has offered a chance to find unexpected ways to practice and develop choreographic art and choreographic thinking.
I hope that the questions that have been pertinent to me as a choreographer in this artistic research project function as one dialogue partner within the genealogy of artistic research and choreography studies in order to broaden the knowledge and understanding of choreographic-being-in-the-world. I have aimed to build understanding about how the choreographic practical thinking on which the artistic work is based is formed in my practice, and how the practice develops the choreographic thinking. One of the aims of this research has been to produce artistic works that can contribute to the discussions of how to take (a) place in a regenerative way in the science-fictional and speculative imaginaries, and examine how choreography in this process turns into choreoreading.
My doctoral artistic research project examines choreography as reading practice. In the research, the notion of choreography operates simultaneously as an analytical device, problem to be examined, and an artistic outcome. The primary method for the research is choreographic experimental practice that delves into the process of dynamic place-taking in which the human body couples with surrounding movements, from microscopic to telescopic and beyond, without the aim of mastering the movement.
This experimental process examines and develops understanding of how choreographic practice can be understood as an embodied (hyper-)reading practice, which materializes, de- and recodes movements of the situated and contextual transformative circumstances that choreograph my body. Here, choreographic practice processes simultaneous, incoherent multiplicity, which is formed by the relations, interconnectedness, and reciprocity of movement, surrounding material and kinetic condition, human corporeality and embodiment, place, space, and context.
The research practice delves into the conditions of movement and choreography through the following transformations:
from choreographer to choreoreader
from choreographing to choreoreading
from grounded embodied choreographic construction to astroembodied choreostruction
from human vessel to human atmospheric organism
In the framework of choreography studies, the research contributes to the shift and expansion from the historical notion of choreography as writing practice, in which the human body masters the movements to a choreoreading practice. Choreoreading explores the reciprocal lived and conceptual relations, inter-dependencies, transactions, and critical perspectives of the movements of a performance environment. This research project also contributes to the genealogies of site-specific and context-responsive practices, extending the notion of site to outer space. In order to bring out choreography as reading practice as art for the viewer, there are various means at hand, which are processed and developed from the fields of performing and visual arts.
How to read the commentary
This commentary consists of 18 different pages that can be explored in any order. Please note that there are two texts you can read on this page only: Contextual frameworks; an essay, and Meteor (hyperlink).
I encourage the reader to start with this page, as an invitation to enter the research sphere, to browse and slide on and through it, and to experiment with the hyper-reading in this form.
Here are some useful tips to access my work:
1) zoom in and out with ‘cmd +’ and ‘cmd -’
2) slid on the surface with two fingers simultaneously on the mouse pad
3) after clicking the link, you can return to the same spot where you opened the link by clicking <<< which is beneath the image of each page
4) the glossary is exposed when the browser arrow is hovering over the word, no need to click
5) following the content option from the upper left corner is more linear way to go through my work, but also a possibility
6) the videos on the pages can be played by clicking on the images
During the doctoral research years, I have worked with my questions in several artist residencies. I have experienced these spaces enabling the artistic experimentation without a pressure for the final instant outcome, but at the same time, each residency period has generated traces that I have sometimes considered as artistic works, or surely potentials to develop further. Sometimes the time in the residency has been used to just be quietly with the deep process, and let things happen and sink in to the unfinished understanding.
As part of this commentary I have chosen to expose two residency periods, which are very different from each other.
The other one took me far from the urban environment, and the other functioned as a platform in which I learned to bear the uncertainity of sharing unfinished thinking and nascent practice with colleagues. These examples expose how very different residency periods and environments have served my research, and how through working in various circumstances and conditions have been an important part of my research process.
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By clicking this link you will be re-directed to the University of the Art Helsinki's Nivel publication 08 Poetics of Form in which my essay was published.
For the Meteor-project, I created a Twitter account Planetary Movements. You can access the account through the Meteor essay, or directly by clicking here.