All the kinesthetic wheres: place, space, and context
I have mainly done the textual writing of the commentary in the Theatre Academy Helsinki in my workroom. In the working room there is a window with a view onto the entrance hall of the Theatre Academy, and I can observe randomly unfolding events and movements there. The walls in this building are thick and the workroom chamber-like, and sometimes I have had some monkish, solitary moments while sitting at the desk. The room’s and the entrance hall’s different dynamics mix when I observe the hall through a window and when I incorporate the workroom by sitting on my chair. I let my fingers move across the keyboard while my eyes follow the traces of the tapping on the screen of my laptop.
I have inhabited this place, the Theatre Academy, in various ways, in different spaces: studios, hallways, and classrooms. I know how the staircases echo. I know how the sense of gravity changes in the building’s softly moving elevator, and how warm the wooden floor of the glass-roofed entrance hall feels. The research has been structured and supported by the academic curriculum, and I have organized myself according to the various study schedules and meetings. I know this place by living through it, and I know how various places in this building form the space in which my doctoral process has taken place as presentations, workshops, choreographic experimentations, readings, and writings. This chapter opens my notes on the notions of place, space, and context more closely as ‘kinesthetic wheres’ in which my body takes place. I will start by pondering the interdependence of space and place and the importance of their kinesthetic characteristics and weave this into the question of how these notions operate in my practice and in relation to the research questions.
Why these notions?
There is a vast amount of material available about the notions of place, space, and context and their relation within various disciplines from various viewpoints, traditions, and perspectives. I contextualize this doctoral artistic research project into the history of my artistic practice, the history of Western site-specific art, western choreographic art, contextual art, and relational aesthetics, in which the notions of place, space, and context operate at the core of the artistic proposals. Parallel to delving into the history of the site-specific art, I have studied the notion of context through literary studies. The reason I got interested in these notions, and their history in art, lies in the development of my artistic practice in which previous understandings of the notions collapsed. The collapse was connected to the working processes that aimed to prepare a rehearsed dance piece in the dance studio, to be performed on a proscenium stage and to be toured and performed in a similar manner, whatever the place or context. During this research project, I have come to realize that, in fact, the seed of my interest towards place, space, and context was manifested in the solo demo that I performed in 1998, during my first year of BA studies in Dance at the Theatre Academy Helsinki. In the solo, there occurred a brief moment when I stepped out from the ‘world’ of the work by stepping forward; I shared the performance place and time with the audience by looking at them from a pose, then dropped my posed gesture before returning to the space of the solo with a concrete step backwards to the spot from where I had just stepped forward. I never got any feedback from this little moment in which I mixed the shared and private space with the audience, and it remained an experiment to be forgotten.
However, I think that moment has been significant for my whole career as an artist. Later on I came to understand how this moment was linked to the collapse of learned and incorporated production-based mode of making art in my BA and MA studies at the Theatre Academy Helsinki, and how this mode was connected to the understanding of choreography as mastered writing practice, which in my case produced dance pieces. Because I refer elsewhere in the commentary to the dance notation systems, which brought together place, movement, and printed symbol (Foster 2011, p. 17) as a written document, thereby fortifying understanding of choreography as writing practice, it has been relevant to take a closer look at the notions of place, space, and context and their interdependence.
Interdependent place and space
The etymology of the words place, space, and context offers one way to build conceptual understanding of these notions. Of the notions of place and space, Australian philosopher Jeff Malpas writes:
‘The English “place” carries a variety of senses and stands in close relation to a number of terms that cover a very broad range of concepts. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary says of the noun “place” that “the senses are therefore very numerous and difficult to arrange and the entry for the word extends over some five pages. In broad terms, however, one can treat the noun form of “place” as having five main senses: (i) a definite but open space, particularly a bounded, open space within a city or town; (ii) a more generalized sense of space, extension, dimensionality or “room” (and, understood as identical with a certain conception of space, place may, in this sense, be opposed to time); (iii) location or position within some order (whether it be a spatial or some other kind of ordering, hierarchical or not); (iv) a particular locale or environment that has a character of its own; and (v) an abode or that within which something exists or within which it dwells. …Clearly this summary, while it captures many, does not capture all the shades of meaning that “place” can carry’ (Malpas 2004, pp. 21-22).
‘…One of the points to be noted from the brief summary above is the way in which place is not a concept that can be severed from notions of extension and spatiality. This is evident in the etymology of the term: “place” (along with related terms in other European languages such as the German, “Platz”, French, “place”, and Italian, “piazza”) derives from the classical Latin platea meaning a “broadway” or “open space” and from the Greek plateia, also meaning “broadway”. A central feature of the idea of place (even though it may not carry across to all the senses of the term) would seem to be that of a certain open, if bounded, space or region. Yet while the concept of place brings with it notions of openness and spatiality, it would seem not to be exhausted by such notions. A place in which one can dwell is a place that provides a space in which dwelling can occur – it “gives space” to the possibility of dwelling – and yet a place to dwell must be more than just a “space” alone’ (Malpas 1999, p. 22).
‘The origin of the English “space” (along with the French l‘espace) can be traced back to the Latin spatium and before that to the Greek stadion. The Greek term designated a standard of length and the Latin spatium was sometimes used to translate, not only stadion, but also the Greek term distema, which is most literally translated as “dis-tance” (or else as “magnitude” or “interval”). Since “space” can be taken to mean just interval or dimension, the term can be used to refer to temporal duration as well as to atemporal physical extension. One can thus talk of a “space of time” or a “space” in one’s schedule to mean simply an interval of time – German simply combines the term for space with that for time – Raum with Zeit – to arrive at a single term for such a “time-space” – Zeitraum’ (Malpas 1999, p. 23).
Malpas summarizes aptly enough the complexity of space and place for my purposes, but what specifically interests me in his writings is the question of interdependence of place and space, that they cannot be thought separately. This viewpoint for place and space is dynamic and potentially choreographic.
In the beginning of my research process, the complex relation between my practice and the notions of place, space, and context manifested itself as a blunt note on one of the early mind-maps that I made. It has to happen somewhere, I had written; ‘it’ referred to the research and human body, and ‘somewhere’ indicated towards more closely examining the notions of place and space. Basically, this simple sentence led me to explore the intricate bonds between my body, place, space, and context, and it also led me to discern and scrutinize the verb ‘to take (a) place’, which in the end functioned as a title of the first artistic part of the doctorate.
Broader conceptual and artistic framework
The main references with which my artistic processes have been in dialogue are compounded with various performance and visual artworks from the 1960s onwards (land-art, situationists, Fluxus, site-specific and context-responsive art) and from the immense amount of written material that can be found. The main critical investigations of these plural notions and their relation that I have chosen to study more closely, in addition to those of Australian philosopher Jeff Malpas, are written by Korean-American curator and art history educator Miwon Kwon, American philosopher Edward S. Casey, French philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre, Finnish art researcher Hanna Johansson, Finnish philosopher Jaana Parviainen, British researcher Nick Kaye, British social scientist and geographer Doreen Massey, and dance researcher Susan Rubidge. From the field of artistic research, the works by artist-researcher Annette Arlander, visual artist Tuula Närhinen, visual artist Ellen Røed, artist-researcher Tuija Kokkonen, and choreographer Per Roar Thorsnes have been influential in building operative understanding of these notions in my practice. Through studying these various materials, I have become aware of the Western philosophical history of place and space and the contemporary artistic and artistic research practice in which these notions operate significantly. There is no need to go through the immense and compelling Western philosophical history of place and space here; instead, I introduce the perspectives and understandings that I have recognized as resonating in my artistic practice and through which I have developed understanding of the relational matrix of body, place, space, and context in the exploration of the notion of choreography and choreographic thinking.
One particularly important concept that has helped me to build understanding of the operative agency of the notions of place and space is philosopher Jaana Parviainen’s writings about the notion of the kinesthetic field. Applying Edmund Husserl’s and Edith Stein’s method of analyzing movement, Parviainen defines a kinesthetic field as ‘the characteristic motion embedded in a certain place or location’ (Parviainen 2010, p. 11). According to Parviainen, all places (and I could add the interdependence of places and spaces) have their own characteristic kinesthetic field, which depend on many different factors, from geographic location to technologies, seasons, and cultural behaviors. In my practice, the kinesthetic field is, in one sense, understood as something to be observed, but at the same time, my body and possibly other bodies are part of the observed field. In order to examine the kinesthetic fields, it is important to understand that observing and examining happens simultaneously through movement. In my choreoreading practice, there is not, at first, a visual perception and then a gesture; the kinesthetic field is examined through movement. In the practice movement, is a way to inhabit and explore the kinesthetic field. This starting point is then layered with the fact that there are many kinesthetic fields operating simultaneously in everyday life (ecological, economical, political, social, architectural, infrastructural, cosmic, and so on), and from these I need to make a choice of which to examine. In my astro-orientated practice, it usually means to orientate towards planetary rotations and orbits.
A kinesthetic field operates in my practice as the area between my body and the surrounding material. In the artistic works I have extended this relation towards outer space, and as a motional phenomenon it extends beyond my lifetime. By learning and developing sensitivity of being aware of how various fields operate simultaneously, this sedimented simultaneity generates the choreographic in my practice. Because I understand place, space, and context as dynamic motional entities, Parviainen’s notion is very helpful. In my artistic practice and works I have been experimenting with the sense of place and sense of space, and with the experience of place and experience of space, in order to engage with the operative interdependence of these notions. This multi- dimensional, -directional, and -motional, heterogeneous, operative agglomeration forms a field into which my choreographic research project dives in. I have been experimenting with how inhabiting the interdependence of these notions generates a choreographic body, practice, and artwork.
Parviainen writes about the kinesthetic-spatial intelligence (Parviainen 2010, p. 15) as an ability to understand the dynamics of kinesthetic fields. This form of intelligence, sensitivity, and responsiveness has been developing in my work, and through the works I have been building knowledge about tuning and training the body towards this kind of intelligence. In one sense, the kinesthetic field and my relation to it can be understood as pre-choreographic in my practice, by which I mean that before making any choreography, I familiarize myself with the kinesthetic fields of places, spaces, and contexts. This engagement forms the raw material of the choreographic work in my artistic practice.
The impulse to examine the embodied relations between movement, place, space, and context is motivated by my research interests in articulating choreographic thinking, which develops contextual and situational awareness and understanding of the material and structural circumstances in which the artistic process, and proposal, takes place. In my understanding, this kind of choreographic thinking is partly built on what Parviainen calls ‘kinesthetic intelligence’ (Parviainen 2010, p. 15). As an artistic research project in which the main research method is choreographic practice, my primary motive is to develop specific, historically situated, contextualized, and intimate practice in which these notions operate, and explain how they do so. In other words, this artistic research project cultivates and contributes tools for making choreographic art for choreographers and performance makers who experience such notions significant in their practice.
Scales and examples
Meteor, Mesh, Hiding, A dancemat, #CHARP, pompom, and spof are examples of the projects in which I have directly examined the relations between place, space, context, and the body. All the works engage with all three notions, but the emphasis varies: Meteor, Mesh, and pompom are place-oriented; Hiding and A dancemat are context-responsive processes; and #CHARP and spof are space-oriented, but this is only a slight artistic accent, since the notions are interdependent in practice. Relevant artistic references for these from Western art history are works such as Marcel Duchamp’s Twelve Hundred Coal Bags Suspended from the Ceiling over a Stove (1938), John Cage’s 4’33 (1952), Simone Forti’s Hangers (1961), Franz Erhard Walter’s Sehkanal (1968), Meredith Monks’ Juice (1969), Trisha Brown’s Roof Piece (1971), Reijo Kela’s Cityman (1989), William Forsythe’s White Bouncy Castle (1997), Jérôme Bel’s Veronique Doisneau (2002), Renata Lucas’ Kunst-Werke (2010), and Sari Palosaari’s You’re Not A Thing, The Thing Is Not You (2015). There are many other relevant works, but these works function as examples of the lineage and field in which my choreographic work lands.
One of the most notable transformations in my understanding of these notions has happened within the practice’s operative scale. I have started to work from the phenomenological perception of the immediate spatial surroundings and environmental materials, and during the research project the scale has extended towards interplanetary and galactic imaginaries and to the relation between art and universe. I have explored the area, which Susan Rubidge describes as ‘“choreographic” spaces (whether or not created by a choreographer) are constituted as transient spatiotemporal networks of forces, vectors and tensions that are processual rather than stable and, crucially, experiential.’ (Rubidge 2011, p. 2) During the research process, I have extended my practice from the everyday locations, such as a hillock filled with rocks, ice covered lake, bridge, brushwood, or an entrance hall of the Theatre Academy, towards the movements that constitute planetary and galactic situations and locations where my body takes place, such as seasons, atmospheric phenomena, and nebulas. These scales have been sedimented in the practice, starting, for example, from the question of which movements constitute the immediate material surrounding and connecting that with the question of how to couple with the planetary velocity that is present in that immediacy. Thus, the artistic works explore the understanding of place and space from the phenomenological and discursive (Kwon 2002, pp. 11-33) point of view and also from speculative, science-fictional, and imaginary interplanetary and galactic viewpoints. In terms of site-specificity, the questions of operative place and space have expanded from immediate ground under my feet towards how to understand and experiment with outer space as site.
My understanding of these notions is based on experiential movement, which constitutes these notions. The experience of the lived space is located in place, and there can be many spaces in one place, and vice versa of course. In my practice I understand space as an infinite concept, even as particular lived-in conditions and/or socially and culturally produced ones. In my approach, the materiality of space is transforming; my body is one material change in the continuum of space, and so is a wall, a table, a chair, a tree, a dog, and so on. Space continues, but its materiality changes in the dense network of organic and inorganic matter, invisible effects, and forces. In my practice, the air operates as a medium for various material relations, and the air is one material change in space, located on planet Earth. It mediates various qualities between my perception, body, and the surrounding. The complex relation between place and space is thus understood in my research in a way in that places are active entities in relation to space. In one way, the relations between places form the space. I understand space as a dynamic, immersive substance in which places take forms and dissolve and reform depending on the actions of my body, for example. The relation between place, space, and my body is formed in and with movement, and that is why choreographic thinking and practice is a way for me to explore these relations. This exploration continues, and my doctoral project is anything but exhaustive when it comes to the artistic potential of these relations.
More spatial fragments and perspectives
Australian philosopher Jeff Malpas writes:
‘What gives the impression of being able to move from the grasp of subjective space or from some particular instance of subjective space to the idea of space as objective is that our own grasp of the concept of subjective space is already intertwined with a grasp of objective space. It is precisely because we can grasp the larger space within which a particular agent (on whom a particular subjective space is centred) is located that we can engage in any detachment from our own subjective space at all. There is no necessary connection between different subjective spaces as such, however, that could enable us to move from the grasp of one such space to another. What enables our detachment from particular subjective spaces, then, is just the idea of objective space as that which is independent of any particular experience, and yet which provides a framework within which particular agents can be located and within which the particularities of experience can be explained.’ (Malpas 1999, p. 62)
The objective space as I understand it in the quote above operates in the artistic works of my project – for example, in the Mesh video, or in the Hiding series. Choreography and choreographic gesture on site functions in these works by coupling various concepts and grasps of space and place together, meaning that the awareness of these various concepts operate simultaneously in the choreographic process. These two video works aim to shift viewers’ perception and sensitivity from one perception of space and place to another, and this shift happens through temporarily rerouting the dominating kinesthetic field. Practically, the shift happens through working with the agency of the material condition and with the understanding of the conventional use of that particular place by engaging it briefly with a choreographic gesture of the people who are relevant to the place. This layered entanglement of various agents forms contextual understanding and perceptual motion. Thus, by working with various grasps of space related to movement and the kinesthetic field, the viewer’s perception and experience of that particular casual place is multiplied. In the cases of these two videos, in Mesh it means to multiply a view of Töölönlahti as a recreational area, and in Hiding it means to multiply a view of various institutional places, such as an exhibition space of the Research Pavilion and the entrance hall of the Theatre Academy. For example, in the Hiding video, which was prepared for the first Research Pavilion, I worked with the Pavilion’s curatorial team. We shot the exhibited video on the opening morning, and the curatorial team was performing hiding in the video in the exhibition space. With this action, the kinesthetic field of the exhibition space was multiplied.
Geographer Doreen Massey writes:
'What if instead of being a flat surface, space presents us with heterogeneity of practices and processes? Then it will be always unfinished and open. This arena of space is not firm ground on which to stand. In no way is it a surface. This is space as the sphere of a dynamic simultaneity, constantly disconnected by new arrivals, constantly waiting to be determined (and therefore always undetermined) by the construction of new relations. It is always being made and always therefore, in a sense, unfinished (except that ’finishing is not on the agenda). “Space” then can never be that completed simultaneity in which all interconnections have been established, in which everywhere is already (and at that moment unchangingly) linked to everywhere else’ (Massey 2005, p. 107).
Following Massey, my understanding of the interdependency of space and place can be described as a dynamic, transformative tissue that unfolds, rotates, exposes, twists, revolves, turns, curls, and twines constantly in 360° with various materials and embodied historical practices. I have experimented with the notion of interdependency in the project spof. In spof, by destabilizing my body I have aimed to find a moment in which the place and space can be seen simultaneously in the image.
Common grounds in space and place: movement
The common denominator in the various understandings and concepts of space is the extension, which makes possibility of movement (Malpas 2004, p. 64). The doctoral process has transformed my artistic practice in a way that nowadays my choreographic art includes working with these interdependent spatial notions, phases, and structures through the lenses of movement and the kinesthetic field. The critical examination and materialization of these interdependent notions, phases, and structures is many times the choreographic work. When the scale of space has changed in the doctoral artistic works, it has also had consequences for the understanding of movement and the interpretation of the contextual frame. In other words, if I choose to emphasize a certain area as a place or space, it activates a different perceptual process, and the choice leads to a different starting point of the experiential choreographic operation. Sometimes, the place activates a certain way of perception, like in my project A guest, and sometimes it is a space that impacts the sentient body, as in Seasons as Choreographers: Where Over the World is Astronaut Scott Kelly? When it comes to the choreographic acts within the whole artistic process of these works, the simultaneity of different spatial modes means to work with various simultaneously active kinesthetic fields that form these places and spaces. This process exposes a complex region that embeds both subjective and objective positions, in Malpas’s terms:
‘Understanding the way in which a particular creature has a grasp “of space” is not a matter of delineating only one of these components, but of uncovering the larger, unitary structure in which those components are embedded. This larger structure will be necessarily complex, since it must encompass both the subjective space that is tied to a particular creature’s capacities and surroundings, as well as the objective space within which the creature, and its surroundings, can be located’ (Malpas 1999, p. 69).
In this sense, the works described above expose choreographic practice as a way to be located somewhere, namely in the dense matrix of various places and spaces being active simultaneously. For me this does not mean an attempt to uncover unitary structure but to work with simultaneous incoherent multiplicity.