Topographic wanderings: A Guest
A Guest is a choreo-photographic installation project based on the series of photographs from encounters with various physical settings. The installation was contextualized as a photographic display in the corner of the Performing Art Research Lab, ETLAB, in Helsinki on April 2016 as part of the first artistic part of the doctorate.
The project’s origins lay in my habitual Sunday walks in the forests and by the seaside of Helsinki with my colleague, artist-researcher Vincent Roumagnac. The project started somewhat accidentally on our spring 2014 walk to Lammassaari in Helsinki. In order to get to Lammassaari, you need to walk along a narrow wooden walkway through reeds. On that walk, I stopped where the reeds had been brought down by the wind. Some of them were still vertical, some not. At this point, I felt an urge to get into the reeds and follow the sense of movement activated by that spot. I decided to tumble. Roumagnac documented this act.
I couldn’t really explain why I did this. I took it as a playful engagement with the sensation of verticality, horizontality, wind, and the visuality of the reed. This encounter was not planned and that became the main methodological line of the project: not to plan or decide beforehand where to engage with the surrounding material.
The selected images presented on this page are the results of our collaboration in various places that we encountered on these walks over approximately one year between 2014-2015. The randomly encountered place functioned as an immediate invitation for me to inhabit it quickly and without specific contemplation or closer exploration. The invitation of a place is based on my perception of the topographic movements that form that specific place. During the walks these, encounters have been sudden and on some walks there was no place I experienced as an ‘invitation’. The project examines the reciprocity between perception, sense, experience, and the movement-materiality of the place, and in the body of my works it finds its place in my interest in the genealogy of land-art and walking as an artistic practice.
The project is about resolving a movement-environmental equation with my body’s one quick engagement with a place. Roumagnac’s pictures document and give visual form to the experiences in the randomly encountered places. During the process and the walks, I explained to him what I wanted from the images. In each place, I told him what I was going to do while I doing it. The challenge for Roumagnac was to capture the embodiment that I tried to explain to him. On the ‘set’, we talked how the engagement would turn into an image. We ended up taking two images from the action in order to experiment with the visualization of the emerging process.
In these images and places, I have tried to capture or bring out the choreographic landscape and place that consists of a set of movements colliding while passing by this specific place. The project continued until June 2015. From the series of documented engagements, I chose one pair to be installed in the corner of ETLAB. The images were set in black light-boxes to suggest they were floating in the air, even if one could clearly see the microphone stands the boxes were attached to. The installation makes the viewer fulfill the temporal gap between the two images. The work is like a flip-book: when you turn your head quickly from image to image, the movement is realized. Even if this act of perceiving movement and activating the movement of the body in order to perceive the movement of the images was the playful aim of the work, I decided to leave the perception of the work open and not to instruct the viewer to find the ‘right’ way to perceive it. I wanted them to play with the space between the two images but it was also possible to perceive the work by viewing it from a distance.
The main question of the work is: How does one activate the relation between the sense of movement and the experience of movement in and with the perception of movement? Through this question, the subject of the installed work is the movement that the viewer makes in order to fulfill the temporal gap between the two images. In the images, I find a position that articulates the sense and experience of the perceived topo-choreography. By topo-choreography I refer to the way I approached these places, namely being attentive towards the agglomeration of lines, forms, and shapes that the various organisms and things form and which constitute a visual of each particular place. Sense of place refers in these images to the sensitivity from which the experience of the place emerges. Perception refers to the 360°-degree spatial orientation, by which I mean the simultaneous multisensory way of receiving information in a temporal frame – which takes into account the walk before the encountered place. This means that before the encounter, I have already walked in these particular surroundings and have familiarized myself with and become attuned to the topographic elements. So in this sense, the temporality of the perception is extended, even if the documented actions have been quick responses to the environmental factors. The quickly documented responses are triggered by the experienced, sensed, and perceived movement in a natural landscape, and this plural movement is generated by the dynamics of the organisms, things, and beings in it, parallel to the particular weather conditions. More precisely, the graphic characteristics of each place is important: the contours and lines combined with the sensed qualities that each element has and which brings into the place form a kind of matrix of vectors and forces onto which I have set my body, one force being the gravitational force of Earth. In other words, in the project the notion of place operates as a choreographic agent inviting human body to make sense of that particular place through the de- and recoding process of the movements that constitute the topographic of that specific place. So in this sense, the project delves into the research question of how to read the graphic of each particular material surrounding and place.
One significant insight that this project developed for my understanding of site-specific practice was to approach the place-site with the idea of going through it instead of working only on or in it. Of course these modes operate simultaneously in the project, but my emphasis and interest was directed towards the notion of ‘through’. In A Guest, ‘going through’ implies that there is no external environment onto which human a body-organism, with its closed interiority, steps into, but instead they both are formed in constant reciprocal dialogue; surrounding external material and intimate sense of place and experience of place operate simultaneously.
In my research, I consider going-through as a quality of the reading and place-taking described elsewhere in this commentary. From the reading theories, the relevant reference is what Wolfgang Iser calls ‘wandering viewpoint’ (Iser 1980, pp. 108-118). According to Iser, when reading, the whole text cannot be perceived at any one time. He writes: ‘Every moment of reading is a dialectic of protention and retention, conveying a future horizon to be occupied, along with the past (and continually fading) horizon already filled; the wandering viewpoint carves its passage through both at the same time and leaves them to merge together it its wake’ (ibid., p. 112). In this sense, the walks have been an interplay between the already walked and a future horizon unfolded by a particular place-invitation. The action on site aims to capture the moment in which merging of the wandering viewpoint operates and where it is a way of going through the particular topographic information by specific embodiments, which are documented in the images. In the project, the flow of the habitual Sunday walk has been interrupted by the invitation of a particular place. The change of the perspective, which is characteristic for the wandering viewpoint, is caused by unexpected graphic information. A Guest aims to catch and visualize this particular moment when the perspective changes, and at the same time the project experiments with the embodiment of the relational elements that have caused the change; the visual documentation aims to bring these elements together. The projects spof and Meteor have dealt with the similar problematic during the research process. ‘Every articulate reading moment entails a switch of perspective, and this constitutes an inseparable combination of differentiated perspectives, foreshortened memories, present modifications, and future expectations’ (ibid., p. 116). The wandering viewpoint operates as a synthetizing mode of various intimate temporalities, and in A Guest, a particular place is unfolding as an expanding matrix of various possible connections between the sense of place, the experience of place, and sense and experience of movement. A wandering viewpoint operates between these different sensitive modes in my choreoreading practice. It is important to note here that these projects do not aim to catch something that we could call ‘a presence’, understood as one unified moment, but to bring forth the multi-presence of various spatiotemporal forces and elements in which the body takes place and visualize the practice of choreography as a reading practice from this perspective. This process, including understanding the wandering viewpoint as a change in perspective between the sense of place, the experience of place, and the sense and experience of movement, is one constituent of choreography as a reading practice.
In the project, I have literally been wandering around, and the documented images are moments that embody certain places that have caught my attention. The point with this project is to acknowledge that the choreoreading practice is not superimposed on- or in-site but is reciprocally formed with the surroundings in which the human body goes through the material and social circumstance. The approach belongs to the genealogy of site-specific practices in which the site is understood as a phenomenological or experiential entity, but the contextualization of the installation can bring in the socio-economic and discursive approaches as well (Kwon 2002, pp. 11-33). However, I do not consider this project site-specific, but from the many proposed terms, site-conditioned practice comes close to the process of the whole choreo-photographic installation.
At the time of making A Guest, I was studying the problematic of place, and this project is part of building more understanding about the notion of place and space. Through this project, the understanding of places being fragmented instead of homogenous entities was fortified. In my understanding and practice, a place refers to an open relational set of movements, and maybe the word ‘site’ thus functions better when talking about A Guest. On a macro-level, this project examines the question of how I take place on Earth and in the movements that choreograph it. In terms of the shift in my practice, the relevant question is, How does one choreograph the un-choreographable, i.e., the contingencies of (spatiotemporal) planetary togetherness: tectonic, organic, and atmospheric? The complexity of the sense of movement, experience of movement, and the perception of movement, as well as the processing of this complexity is the source of my choreoreading practice, and A Guest significantly contributed to my development of this understanding during the research process.