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.



Kinesthetic field

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.


It has to happen somewhere

This page consists of four texts:

1. All the kinaesthetic wheres: place, space and context

2. Henri Lefebvre: influences, conflicts, tensions

3. Site-specificity and choreographic reading

4. The notion of context

5. Conclusion

Each text can be read as their own, or one can start from 1 and proceed to 2,3 and finish with 5.


Henri Lefebvre: influences, conflicts, tensions


Studying the notions of space and place more closely, one of my main references is the writings of French philosopher Henri Lefebvre. In his book The Production of Space (1991, transl.  Donald Nicholson-Smith), he divides a space into three separate inter-related categories:


‘1 Spatial practice: The spatial practice of a society secretes that society’s space; it propounds and presupposes it, in a dialectical interaction; it produces it slowly and surely as it masters and appropriates it. From the analytic standpoint, the spatial practice of a society is revealed through the deciphering of its space.


‘2 Representations of space: conceptualized space, the space of scientists, planners, urbanists, technocratic subdividers and social engineers, as of a certain type of artist with a scientific bent - all of whom identify what is lived and what is perceived with what is conceived. 


‘3 Representational spaces: space as directly lived through its associated images and symbols, and hence the space of “inhabitants” and “users”, but also of some artists and perhaps of those, such as a few writers and philosophers, who describe and aspire to do no more than describe. This is the dominated — and hence passively experienced — space, which the imagination seeks to change and appropriate. It overlays physical space making symbolic use of its objects. Thus representational spaces may be said, though again with certain exceptions, to tend towards more or less coherent systems of non- verbal symbols and signs’ (Lefebvre, transl. Nicholson-Smith 1991, pp. 38-39).


According to Lefevbre, the coeval experience of the representational space and representation of space creates a conflict. I understand this as follows: a theatre stage as a conceptual space with its purpose and function is different than a lived sensory experience of it; i.e., if I am standing in the middle of the theatre stage, my experience is different than being aware of its functions and purpose as a planned platform for artistic practice and exchange. I am interested in figuring out how choreographic practice in ‘Lefebvreian’ terms activates the representation of space as a choreographic agent, and how choreographic work has the possibility to shift and reroute a conventional social and historical set of relations attached to that representation of the stage.


In other words, I inhabit the ‘Lefebvreian’ representation in order to examine the relations that form that particular representational understanding. Dance researcher Susan Rubidge calls the space that I am interested in an intensive space (Rubidge in Ravn and Rouhiainen, 2012, p. 23), which is not perceived only optically but also haptically, experientially, and kinesthetically. The intensive space is produced when the body moves. The movement generates, and is filled with, various registers of affects, forces, experiences, associations and socio-cultural perspectives, and fields. This space is forming through infinite temporal and material movements and their tensions and intensifications, and this is a choreographic space in which the human body takes place by simultaneously producing the space. I can understand the ‘body’ also referring to the body of an artistic work, which can be something other than a moving human body.


During the act of critical contextualization, an artwork can produce an intensive space or contribute to the kinesthetic field as well. In my practice, it helps to understand kinesthetic field preexisting the intensive space, which means that the kinesthetic field exists before a gesture or movement of the body is made. In my practice, intensive space is created through choreoreading practice as a way to inhabit or as a translation of and a response to the kinesthetic field. This translation then changes the kinesthetic field, and thus the ‘choreographic’ in my spatial vocabulary and practice refers to the quality that can be described as reciprocal and interdependent with place, space, and context. One particularly important impact that I have adopted is Lefebvre’s notion of the conflict between lived space and conceptual space. Lefebvre writes that various spaces – mental, physical, and social – entangle and operate simultaneously and presuppose each other (Lefebvre 1991, p. 14). I am interested in how the lived and conceptual collide in the experience of space, place, and context, and what kind of choreographic potential this collision has as embodied practice. I recognize the conflict in my choreoreading practice.



In the artistic processes, I have approached the question of what happens when a context is understood also as a reader, which reads and writes the body? In this starting point, a context and a body are recognized, active, social and material agents who move through each other; the other is not put on or into another, but they are formed reciprocally.


Taking the human body in relation to a place and space as a starting point for exploring the operative potential of a context has been the practical approach in my artistic proposals. Here a place does not mean a singular physical position but a constitution and intensification of several positions taking place at the same time in various registers; i.e., the physical place is available for the human body, but it is already occupied by various social, material, and cultural operative subjects and agencies, which offer qualities to that specific place. As a choreoreader, I move through that layered and cross-fertilized ground, which can be understood as a kinesthetic field. This moving-through produces choreographic art. When a viewer is brought into the picture, in practice it is impossible to separate an art object, viewer, and a context from each other. In practice this means to pay attention to a gaseous, spacy choreography, which is formed by the relations of an artistic proposal, viewer, and the context. Artistic proposal and a viewer can be thought of as forming their own cultural contexts, so in the end this research deals with the layered multiplication of the concept of a context and experience and perception of it as a choreographic apparatus.


There is no one context. Contextual approach to choreography in this sense scrutinizes, activates, and materializes the potential field of emerging meanings brought together by this diverse set of agents. When it comes to the viewer, this approach can cultivate the awareness and sensitivity from singular to plural.


A contextual approach to choreography is one possible artistic strategy for examining how invisible movements and materials in movement are visualized. Throughout this research, I consider choreography a sense-making practice, which indicates that a choreographer-reader is a person who inhabits, sets up, and articulates relations of the fragmented life-world, which are interactive, affective, and multisensory. In other words, choreography as an artistic proposal is formed by inhabiting the settings of the relational field, which sets conditions for ‘a’ choreography to be perceived as such.



The notion of context


A contextual approach to making art has a long history. For me one of the clearest references is a work by Marcel Duchamp called Twelve Hundred Coal Bags Suspended from the Ceiling over a Stove (1938), in which Duchamp placed the coal bags on the whole ceiling of the exhibition space, which was shared with other artists’ works hanging on the walls.


What is common for the definitions of the notion of context I have found are the gestures towards surroundings, environment, and settings with attempts to delimit conceptual landscape. To name one context is different from making sense or making a meaning out of the context itself. These permeable borders and attempts to delimit surrounding, setting, and circumstances are, most of the time, part of various meaning-making processes in different communicative situations. 


I have explored the position in which I let the circumstances manipulate and affect my body in developing choreography as a reading practice. In other words, making an inquiry from this position into the reciprocal dialogue with the chosen conceptualized and lived surrounding is a process that generates artistic forms. From this viewpoint, ‘a’ context is formed with a set of situated human and non-human bodies, agencies, systems, forces, and energies that create colliding and dissolving planes, spheres, and vectors. In order to enter and build understanding of these planes, spheres, and vectors, I consider their agglomeration a kinesthetic field. In this inquiry, the notions of space, place, and environment can be thought of as materializing the context, but context as such escapes conceptual and material limits as experiential lived and layered im/material and socio-historical circumstance. It oozes and leaks.



Various definitions, etymology, and usage


The origin of the word ‘context’ lies in Latin con (together) and texere (to weave), put together as contexere (to interweave). In Early Latin, contextus meant to join and/or put together, and it developed from contexere, which means to interweave.


Social anthropologist Roy Dilley writes:


‘The history of usage of “context” suggests a shift in reference of the term from the act of composing meaningful stretches of language either as speech or writing to the conditions of understanding a stretch of language and of the possibility of determining its meaning. It initially denoted the act of composition, of bringing together parts of language into meaningful utterances or written texts. It later took on the sense of the conditions under which meaning is attributed to a stretch of language, and indeed how those conditions give sense to it’ (Dilley 1999, p. 4).


In choreographic practice terms, I focus on the process, which articulates the assemblage that Dilley refers to as ‘conditions of understanding’. Choreography and choreographic thinking is a way for me to build understanding. Because I experience the intimate life-world through various temporal and spatial movements and kinesthetic fields, the artistic works of this research explore and make visible the sense of the conditions of those movements and kinesthetic fields. These conditions can be described as pre-choreographies in which my human body moves before I start ‘to make’ choreography. A context is a processual concept instead of a fixed and stable entity, and through my choreographic practice it becomes performative.


There are various definitions of a context. In literary studies, the term context is seen as a problematic concept because of its character and tendency for infinite expansion. Literary theorist Urpo Kovala has sketched nine different models for a context in the field of Literary Studies:


1)  Texture model: context consists of the internal relations of a text, and of the effect on the meaning of the text or parts thereof of the texture thus formed.


2) Environment model: context consists of the elements surrounding a text.


3) Intertextual model: context consists of the relations between a text and other texts.


4)  Genre model: context consists of generic conventions


5)  Act model: text and context together are parts of a third term, an act.


6) Psychological model: context is constituted by the knowledge, assumptions, and psychological processes of the participants in a communication situation.


7) Event model: text and context together are part of an event. The event is characterized by dynamic relationships between its elements as well as by change.


8) Discourse model: text and context together constitute discourse. Discourse is a field of forces where institutions and ideological determinants constitute the elements of the communication situation: the text, the subject, the context of situation, and the context of culture.


9) Rhizome model: context is a rhizome without a center (Kovala 2001, pp. 99–104).


The list here expresses the diversity of the notion of context. Dilley speaks about the conditions of understanding (Dilley 1999, p. 4), which I find apt.


Whether a context is thought of as external or internal, pre- or post phenomenon, it is a concept that connects. According to media culture researcher Mikko Lehtonen (Lehtonen 2000, p. 160), a context does not precede the text or reader, and it is not external from them either. He writes that contexts are literally co-texts, which exist with the texts for which they form the context. Understood this way, he continues, the texts are raw material that activates and produces readers’ contextual resources such as apprehensions of reality, values, beliefs, and so on. Thus, a context is not a background but an active entirety that has an impact on what kind of conventions are used in relation to writing a text and on how it is perceived by a reader. If choreography is considered reading practice, ‘a’ context then has the same effect on the meaningful movements, actions, and gestures that a choreoreader does.


Since the 1960s, the word context has proliferated in different frameworks.


‘Contexts could be cultural, social, political, ritual and religious, economic or ecological; they could be interactional, systemic or historical. The term, it seems, is sufficiently elastic to be stretched in numerous directions for diverse purposes’ (Dilley 1999, p. 26).


Through examining the situation in which the body takes place on these animate dimensions, I become aware of the variable context formations in my daily life. A context can be understood as generating the choreographic action, namely the process of taking place, which I understand as a continuous negotiation with the surroundings, and play, where the processes of ‘to frame’, ‘to name’, ‘to in-/exclude’, and ‘to perceive’ are in interrelated movement. Thus, a context is an active entity and as a manifold dynamic complexity, it invites me to engage with it choreographically.



Problems with and the motivation to use the notion of context


Context is one of the key concepts in literary, linguistic, and communicational studies and social anthropology, so contextual studies is a trans- and interdisciplinary field. Contextual art has its own history in visual arts and architecture and in site-specific practices in performing arts. As literary theorist Urpo Kovala writes (Kovala 2001, p. 11), ‘The idea of the contextuality of meaning itself is anything but new.’ Kovala describes how  historically, there has been a shift in the 20th century from essentialism towards contextualism in various disciplines that deal with definitions of meaning and interpretation. According to Kovala, this shift means to give up an assumption that ‘…a unit of discourse has meaning independent of its textual and situational surroundings, and come to treat meaning as a necessarily and profoundly context-dependent phenomenon’ (Kovala 2001, p. 11).


The criticism of a context in literary studies lies, according to Kovala, in that context seems to recreate and sharpen the division between text and context (Kovala 2001, p. 17). Kovala provides an example by a philosopher Daniel Andler: ‘Why seek a common description of such a disparate set of processes, calling manifestly very diverse explanations? Why look for a common root to the difficulties we may run into in the various cases at hand?’ (Adler in Kovala 2001, p. 17)


As to being that problematic, according to Kovala, many philosophers have proposed other concepts in terms of the relation between text and context, such as Foucault’s discourse, Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome, and Derrida’s différance or trace. Kovala lists other indirect contributions to the theory of context concepts, such as dialogue, frame, paratext, mutual knowledge, horizon of expectations, and schemata (Kovala 2001, p. 17). Into this discussion, Dilley brings a range of synonyms such as environment, milieu, settings, and background (Dilley 1999, p. 5).


From my choreographic point of view, I think Parviainen’s use of kinesthetic field comes close to these notions. Each of these concepts and notions bring out different associations. In the artistic works of this research, I have focused on notions of context and kinesthetic field, but the artistic processes touch upon the other related options as well. The artistic focus in this research is in the use of the concept of context, instead of trying to explain what it means.


Why, then, use such a concept that is so problematic? In dance and choreography, the history of site- and place-specific practices are tangential to context-dependent approaches in literary studies. The motivation to examine the concept of context in this research is based on the experience that, in my choreographic practice, the notion of context activates a different orientation of place and space, organization of movements, and multi-sensorial and conceptual inquiry than a site does. I am interested in exploring the operational potential of a context when it comes to choreographic practice. And vice versa: What does the context do for a choreography? How do these two form each other? How does a chosen cultural context operate as a choreographic apparatus? This research sketches a contribution to the discussion around the contextual choreographic practice from this perspective.



Choreographic practice and radical contextualism


When it comes to the choreographic works in this research, one of the important notions is ‘a scale’. What is understood as a context for a work in one study can be the object of work in another context. Anthropologist Ladislav Holy puts it this way: ‘What is context in one particular type of study may well be text in another. The whole field of social relations constituting a particular society may be the relevant context for understanding a particular belief, custom or practice of that society. The same field of social relations becomes a text when compared with another such field in the context of the global field of social relations’ (Dilley 1999, p. 51).


When it comes to contextualism as an approach to choreographic practice, this research find its reference from a position, which Kovala refers to as a radical contextualism. According to him, in this definition ‘“context” is not opposed to text, it is not something outside it nor is it anything stable and given. Instead, it is a problem in itself, both a starting-point and the end of any research process’ (Kovala 2001, p. 21).


Kovala exposes the background of the radical contextualism as being based on the theory of articulation, which ‘…conceptualizes context as a network of non-necessary relations, or articulations, which are constantly in the process of being constructed and de-constructed. Radical contextualism thus denies the status of text as a source of meaning and in fact even the distinction between text and context, conceiving of texts as part of a network of contexts’ (Kovala 2001, p. 22).


In practice I understand the quote above in a way that choreography forms and unfolds itself continuously in and through the embodiment, which examines the movement’s relation between body and material surrounding, and thus this motional matrix and substance becomes the source of choreographic sense-making. According to Mikko Lehtonen, a context includes all included subjects and agents, which writers and readers bring into the meaning-making processes. He emphasizes the significance of the discursive judgement, assessment, and valuation grids. For this discussion, Dilloy brings in the aspect of power. The ability to define contexts is about imposing relevance over the other. From here the politics of the context emerge from individual to institutional levels in terms of inclusion and exclusion. This ability to define contexts is related to the ability to recognize kinesthetic fields. In my understanding, they both define each other in the artistic practice; the context sets conditions for my attentive selection of movements that form the kinesthetic field in which my body takes place.


Context and choreoreading


Lehtonen articulates the notion of a context also as a mutable cultural resource for readers to produce meanings. According to him, the readers are actualizing the potentiality of the textual meanings based on the contextual resources that readers have in their hands. Lehtonen continues, saying that the contextual resources are helping the readers make sense about the read texts.


For me as a choreoreader, the contextual resources means 1) the material and social circumstances in which my body takes place, 2) the perceptual sensitivity that certain kinesthetic field activates, and 3) the skill of the body to critically inhabit those circumstances. Lehtonen writes that reading texts is a process that means reading meanings into the texts, because texts do not have meanings without the reader. In my choreographic works, this means to examine how the embodied de- and recoding of the surroundings as reading operates as a process through which I make kinesthetic-experiential sense of those particular conditions. This sense-making is realized in movement and the second artistic part of the doctorate, #CHARP, is an example of this kind of work.



Site-specificity and choreographic reading

English professor of Performance Studies Nick Kaye writes: 


‘If one accepts the proposition that the meanings of utterances, actions and events are affected by their “local position”, by the situation of which they are a part, then a work of art, too, will be defined in relation to its place and position. Reflecting this notion, semiotic theory proposes, straightforwardly, that reading implies “location”. To “read” the sign is to have located the signifier, to have recognized its place within the semiotic system. One can go on from this to argue that the location, in reading, of an image, object, or event, its positioning in relation to political, aesthetic, geographical, institutional, or other discourses, all inform what ‘it’ can be said to be.


‘Site-specificity, then, can be understood in terms of this process, while a “site-specific work” might articulate and define itself through properties, qualities, or meanings produced in specific relationships between an ‘object’ or ‘event’ and a position it occupies’ (Kaye 2001, p. 1).


‘This emphasis on performance might also be prompted by a reconsideration of the operation of language in relation to location and site. Indeed, where the location of the signifier may be read as being performed by the reader, then the functioning of language provides an initial model for the performance of place’ (ibid., p. 3).


When combining the studying and questioning of the site-specificity with my interest in movement as a broad phenomenon, I started to find meaningful links and couplings between different discursive materials in the process of building understanding of choreography as reading practice.


Canadian philosopher Erin Manning writes:


‘When an event architects a mobility that outdoes it, the relationship between body and spacetime has fundamentally shifted. No longer do we have the human at the center. Instead, we have priming-for-movement, cues, alignments, inflections, vacuoles of expression. We have an architecture that persons and a moving that choreographs. This is not to discount the human dancing body. It is to open the body to its relational potential as a participatory node in the milieu of movement. It is to emphasize that there is no outside of movement, that movement already moves and that we are moved by it and move it on the topological surface of its deformation. Movement is already an architecting. It is already landing, already making space, making time. Configuring, it individuates bodies-in-movement that express a collectivity of alignment that resolves, often, on a singular body, but also moves, always and incessantly, across the distributed milieu that is choreography's architecting of relational movement’ (Manning 2013, p. 122).


 Reading these exemplary quotes parallel to each other reflects well my artistic practice in which places, spaces, and contexts are formed through movements, and in which the reading practice operates as a locating practice. The ‘cues, alignments, inflections, and vacuoles of expressions’ that Manning describes meet the bodily choreographic dynamics of the reading in the practice, and at the same time I understand that by ‘opening the body to its relational potential’ (Manning) is to ‘occupy a position in specific relationships’ (Kaye), in the sense that the occupied positions are not static, solid, and stationary. They are filled with porous feelings, touches, effects, ideas, tensions, forces, energies, and conflicts that emerge during the choreoreading. In this sense, there is no object outside of the movement in the practice. The materiality of choreography emerges every time in a particular surrounding, with a particular choreoreader-grapher and in the dynamic reciprocal situation that these two form.


The idea of choreography as reading practice, which started by questioning reading as de- and recoding of the written symbol with the movement of the eyes, has in my research transformed into a reading that brings together sensing-thinking and activation of the movement-experiential and conceptual-experiential reserves of the whole body-organism, which takes place in particular kinesthetic fields. This transforming entanglement produces artistic possibilities that occupy certain positions in and because of the particular conditions at hand, namely places, spaces, and contexts.


As an artist, I can work critically with any kind of conceptual understanding of place, space, or context, so in that sense I do not claim any preference from one understanding to the other, but if I contextualize and situate these notions according to the experiences of my socio-cultural everyday life, my previous experiences and artistic history, and my understanding of movement and choreography, this positioning of course receives attributes. Thus, the works produced in the research expose a certain cultural understanding of place, space, context, their interdependence, and their relation with my body and movement.