This page contains media that is intended to start playback automatically on opening. This may include sound. Your browser is blocking automated playback. Please click here to start media.
In this exposition I discuss a human’s relationship with the environment, in terms of sensation and encounter. I describe my artistic practice implemented with the artist group Ajauksia, as a member of it. We, as a group, explore various sensory encounters with the environment through sensory exercises and, to that end, organize sensory excursions in different urban environments. I regard the excursion as an event. It is also a performance, and more precisely a participative performance. The idea of a participative performance takes me to the world of participative art and community art. I think about, for example, Augusto Boal’s participative theatre (Boal 1979) and the activism and happenings in the 1960s and 1970s (e.g. Bishop 2012; Matarasso 2011; Kantonen 2010; Kester 2004).
We participated in the Research Pavilion #3 (RP #3), coordinated by the University of the Arts Helsinki in the context of the Venice Biennale. Here I describe the work of Ajauksia within the project, from my perspective. I join in the theme of this Ruukku publication, practical ecologies, by describing how we developed sustainable modes of artistic research in and through processes of collaborating, performing and discussing.
Together with five other artists and one producer, Ajauksia formed the ten-person Disruptive Processes (DP), a Scandinavian group, which was selected for the project from among fifty international artist researchers. The process took one and a half years, from June 2018 to November 2019, when we prepared for and took our part in the Venice Biennale. Ajauksia and most of the members of DP worked in Venice for one and half weeks in June. In the autumn we took part in the final exhibition of the project, where the participants gathered outputs and results from the project. Ajauksia carried out more than ten excursions during the year. Now, after the project, I reflect on the ideas, experiences and opportunities for interaction with different parties. I focus in particular on the two very different environments where we worked, the Kontula suburb of Helsinki and the island of Giudecca, Venice, where Research Pavilion #3 was located.
My interest in environments and encounters stems from dialogue. As a live artist with a background in theatre and dance, I wanted to look at dialogue in different ways. In the context of my doctoral dissertation, I developed the concept of artistic dialogue while analyzing my director’s collaboration with an actress. By artistic dialogue I mean the encounter of another in an artistic process where a common situation arises. The encounter will produce change. It is not, therefore, any kind of mechanical or seemingly reversal one-way event but a direction towards someone in an open, listening and respectful way. Later, I discovered artistic dialogue as including human and non-human encounter and interaction. My view is that environments and their various non-human actors also deserve attention, openness and sensitization, just like humans do. We are part of our environment. Art enables us to meet different human and non-human, organic and non-organic, parties. As Stacy Alaimo (2010, 4) remarks, the environment is not located somewhere out there; it is always the very substance of ourselves.
I describe my transformative path as an artistic researcher. I trace the artistic process from sensing to encountering, with the question what kind of a site of encounter a sensory excursion is.
In addition, I ponder on what ideas, experiences and possibilities result from the interaction, as Claire Bishop (2012, 9) recommends, when seeking insight to the world of participative performance.
The process of artistic research, the interweaving of art practice and theory, has led me to rely on a variety of theorizing approaches to develop my artistic thinking. In my case, this means concretely that I have moved from ideas of dialogical philosophy toward materialist thinking. In my work I borrow theories from different fields of research. Along with performance research, I bring in philosophy, sociology and neo-materialist thinking emerging from the natural sciences. It is challenging to move between different disciplines and approaches, but it seems necessary. My purpose in this paper is to describe and justify this movement and its necessity.
Artistic research on the relationship between people and the environment is already quite abundant (e.g. Kokkonen 2017 and 2016). Much has been written about the origins of place-based art (e.g., Arlander 2012; Kantonen 2010; Kester 2004; Kwon 2004; Pearson 2010). I will contribute to this theme and complement existing research with a consideration of interaction as a community phenomenon. I try to look at what happens between the actors in collaboration, interaction and dialogue. I explore encountering by looking at our collaboration practice in the Ajauksia group, within a sensory excursion. As material for this exposition I use documents that I collected during the RP #3 project: a work diary, conversations recorded by my mobile phone, transcripts of the recorded conversations, photographs from my colleagues’ mobile phones and emails between the members of the group.
Our group consists at the moment of four artists from Helsinki, Finland, working in different art fields. The members are referred to here as colleague 1. (visual artist, artistic researcher), colleague 2. (dancer-choreographer, freelance artist), colleague 3. (visual artist, live artist, yoga instructor, freelance artist) and colleague 4. (live artist, artistic researcher). The group has been active since 2017, since colleague 1. suggested to colleague 2. and colleague 3. that a group should be formed. My first contact with the group was when I participated in their excursion in Helsinki, in the Lapinlahti Hospital area, in October 2017. I joined the group in April 2018 and our first excursion was in Otaniemi, Espoo, as part of the international Radical Relevances Conference organized by Aalto University, Finland.
As a group we act in the contexts of art and research. In the invitation we distributed in Venice we introduce our group as follows: “The Ajauksia group explores and delivers experiential sense knowledge with artistic tools. Its working methods are based on equal decision making and anonymity, bodily and sensory exercises. Art can interrupt, suspend and penetrate the everyday life of the consumer-experiencer. Together we can deconstruct and re-liberate the construct of art and discover a polyphony of voices.”
We reflect on our working principles of equal decision making and anonymity, democracy, collectivity and collegiality, giving thought to the authorship of art. We discuss and test the principles in artistic practice. For me, anonymity has in some respects been a difficult principle to follow. When I joined the group and we talked about it, I mentioned that I, as an artist-researcher, can only partially commit to anonymity. The different members of the group have different views on anonymity. Different backgrounds and life situations also bring different perspectives. The issue of anonymity and its degree is still under consideration.
The sensory excursion is an outdoor trip that we organize in some environment. We choose a place or area that interests us and where we want to go to work. We walk the area for a couple of hours and any one of us may suggest an exercise. When someone suggests an exercise, we perform it and discuss it. We now have a collection of exercises and we are willing to develop them further. We also want to find new ones. If we are preparing for a public excursion, we agree on the next training session, fix a suitable route with the starting and ending points and decide which exercises to include in the trip and how to instruct the participants. This serves as a frame for the participants. We divide the tasks so that each instructor has one or two exercises to guide or instruct. There is room within the frame for individual choice and improvisation. It depends on the participants’ response how they are sensitized to what we propose to them during an excursion.
Ajauksia invites people to participate, and it means that people join the two or three hour sensory excursions as participants. In the beginning of the excursion, through the information provided, they have some idea of what will be coming. We, the guides, start off by giving the main information. We say, for example, with regard to participation: “Our exercises are suggestions and during an exercise you can step aside, if you feel so, and observe the work from there.” We also say: “If you want to stop the excursion, please let us know.” So, participation, working and talking, is voluntary. I don’t recall anyone having left during an excursion. A sensory excursion could also be called live art or multi-art. It has to do with theatre, performance art, dance and visual arts.
The exercises are suitable for anyone, in principle. In reality, the physically challenged may find it difficult to attend. In addition, a person with a hearing or visual impairment may need an assistant. The excursions are for persons over fifteen years old, or younger if accompanied with an adult. Participation does not require any prior knowledge or skills.
The way we act during the excursion is a little similar to the role of a guide. However, our actions differ from those of a guide in many ways. Instead of showing the participants what to look for, we make suggestions for sensation and encounter by suggesting exercises. The participants will find something to turn towards if they wish. We also participate in each other’s exercises whenever possible. So, our roles vary between those of a guide and a guide-participant. The excursion takes two to three hours. In the beginning of the excursion we give to the participants the needed information and instructions. In the end we gather together for a moment to talk and share experiences. During the excursion people sometimes share very personal thoughts and experiences.
Here I explore our work mainly from my own perspective. I am aware that the exploration will remain very limited and incomplete when describing our multi-level, multi-tone, multi-artistic work.
My intentions and work in the Ajauksia group so far are crystallized in the three-part exercise which I named “Encountering a thing”. The exercise meant encountering some chosen thing, sensing it and sharing this by talking about the experience with another participant. That exercise is my contribution and achievement in our cooperation, through which I am able to describe our work up to this point as a member of the group. Two concepts, sensing and encountering, are central to my work. These concepts allow me to reflect on what I am currently most interested in in my work. While contemplating on them, other concepts have become important alongside them, such as pathic, pathic touch, reciprocal situation, non-human and transcorporeality. I allow these other concepts to join in as I write and to guide my activities in a new direction.
Sensation is the ability to use one’s senses. Artist-researcher Mika Elo and philosopher and translator Miika Luoto shed light on what the sensible experience could be and how it could be approached. They bring up the term pathic, which comes from the Greek word pathos: sensitivity, affectability, suffering (Elo & Luoto 2018, 9). Their study of the subject has been very useful for my exploration, because I have been studying sensing as a part of the certain type of artistic event, a sensory excursion, which I have brought under study. I have not been looking at the senses in general.
According to Elo and Luoto, the experience of touch, being pathic, is neither subjective nor objective; it is an event that surpasses people’s activities as it befalls on them, but only insofar as the persons contribute to it with their response (Elo & Luoto 2018, 9). When a person is in this kind of an event, which demands their response, they are in a reciprocal situation in which the other has attracted their attention.
Encountering is active, not something passive or a random collision. Kuisma Korhonen and Pajari Räsänen (2019) as editors, introduce the book The Event of Encounter in Art and Philosophy and start their introduction by referring to a sentence by Martin Buber. They discuss the German sentence “Alles wirkliche Leben ist Begegnung” and how the translator, Walter Kauffman, had translated the word Begegnung into English as Encountering. They grasp the word and show its morphological constituents. The prefix “en” denotes bringing something into something or some state, and “-counter” as a verb means, for example, “to meet”, “to counter to”, “to oppose”, “to contradict” or “to engage in contest”. (Korhonen & Räsänen 2019, 8-9) When I think about my work as a member of Ajauksia and the interaction on the sensory excursions, encountering has meant all this.
Korhonen & Räsänen remind us that not all encounters prove to be peaceful, loving or friendly, and not at all conflicts remain untouched by compassion (2019, 9). This is what scenographer, theatre maker and researcher Laura Gröndahl also points out when she explores communality, sharing and encountering of foreign elements in her field. (Gröndahl 2018, 176). She studies interaction in theatrical practices through the idea of pathic touch. She regards it as a situation where you never actually meet the otherness in its true being but only encounter your incapability to touch it (Gröndahl 2018, 154). This means that touching has its limits. Gröndahl continues that this experience is, however, the precondition for ethical interaction and communication with people who are different from us (Gröndahl 2018, 154). So, to act ethically, we must confront our boundaries and seek contact. The task seems challenging and at the same time necessary. One way or another, the challenge must be met.
I bring in here also the concept of non-human. I lean on the definition by performance artist and researcher Tuija Kokkonen (2016). Kokkonen, while admitting that she understands the human and non-human worlds as irreversibly intertwined, nevertheless uses what she calls the awkward, bifurcated term “non-human” to mean, above all, nature. She understands as “nature” the conditions
of our lives that have been shaped by our historical conceptions and in which human influence is ubiquitous. (Kokkonen 2016, 181). Kokkonen focuses her research on being, interacting, acting, transforming, communicating with other animals, plants and “nature”. She does not seek to deny that which is “human” but to ask how human subjectivity relates to what is understood as non-human. She wonders who we are in the environment in which we live, with whom we live, with whom we talk, and how tracing these questions affects the practices and theory of the performance. (Kokkonen 2016, 181)
Environmental theorist Stacy Alaimo (2010) uses the concept of transcorporeality, by which she links together material feminism, new materialism, environmental thinking and posthumanism. Through the concept she imagines how human corporeality is always intermeshed with the “more-than-human” world. This underlines the extent to which the substance of the human is ultimately inseparable from the environment. (Alaimo 2010, 2). She notes that “trans” indicates movement across different sites, and transcorporeality opens up a mobile space that acknowledges the often unpredictable and unwanted actions of human bodies, non-human creatures, ecological systems, chemical agents and other actors.
Here I look at how sensation and encounter occur during the excursions. At the same time I will answer the research question: what kind of a site of encounter is a sensory excursion? I will do this by presenting the practical work of the Ajauksia group. I will highlight moments from the excursions in two different locations, the Kontula neighborhood in Helsinki and Giudecca Island in Venice.
I now focus on discussing an excursion in the Kontula neighborhood in Helsinki because I want to show how the different excursions during the year were artistic events on their own and how they prepared the ground for our work in Venice. The excursion in Kontula was the first trip that we opened to outsiders during the RP #3 project. The excursion took place on 15 April 2019, at 13:00-16:00. The weather was partly sunny, +10°C. Kontula, largely built in the 1960s and 1970s, is located in eastern Helsinki. Our excursion was half-public. We had invited two participants who were our friends and colleagues. There were four of us guides.
The excursion began in the area close to the Kontula metro station. We moved on to a high cliff to do an exercise where we got to stand at a point and first look at the landscape, then listen to the landscape and finally move with the landscape. We walked further, to other cliffs. We were given the task of choosing one tree to look at, from different directions, and then going to the tree and seeing what the tree sees. We were also asked to go to some plant to introduce ourselves to it. We came back together one by one; the first one of us settled down on a rock, then another one, and another one. Finally we were six people sitting on the rock, facing the same direction, looking at a landscape like it were a performance. In the middle of that silence I gave my exercise: “Choose a thing, some plant, or a structure. Go to it, look at it, touch it, and if possible, lean on it a bit and breathe with it in the same rhythm.” After that we, again, gathered together in silence, and then one of us led us down to the forest to work in pairs, with one person keeping their eyes closed, touching different things. In the end we went to the Kontula city library to talk.
We had a lively and meandering conversation at the round table. One of the participants comments on the moment after the exercise where we got to introduce ourselves to a plant:
It was a great moment when we ended up sitting on that rock and waiting. You were sitting there, and the rest of us were gathering there for it, and it was a bit like, it …
(The other five persons enthusiastically sympathize with sounds.)
… it was a great point, it was like getting us together. 
The place and the situation made us work without any verbal agreement; we just got together to sit on the rocks. We were working non-verbally. For a moment, when sitting on the rocks, it was like we had created a community with our bodily presence. I still had my exercise, encountering a thing, to do, but I didn’t want to interrupt the silent fullness. So, I looked at the others and asked cautiously if it was possible to continue. I got immediate feedback: just go on, of course.
Here is a brief fragment of how a participant reflected on the experience of encountering a thing and how the others supported and participated in the reflection:
… when I had to breathe, in the same rhythm, I chose that kind of fallen snag (= fallen, dried-up part of a tree trunk) and then, it was kind of like, to lean on it, so it was wonderful when you couldn’t lean on it… like that,
… it’s like we have a very sensitive general way of looking at nature, like you can look for something you don’t have, and in a way it’s like this needy …
… relationship with nature. When you are suddenly somewhere, and if you don’t want to break it, you can’t lean on it. So I think it’s like this terribly valuable …
… experience, as if you can think of those directions in so many… 
The participant says that the experience was pleasant and positive. The participant realizes that the moment reminds of a general attitude towards nature, but there was an opportunity to change the attitude and see the fragility of being in nature and with nature. You can’t lean on the fallen snag because it is too fragile.
This was an important experience for the participant. What is impressive is the experience of not being able to touch. The speaker meets the incapability to touch, as Gröndahl points out (2018, 154). The listeners follow and agree with the speaker. They may identify with or recognize the speaker’s thought, although they may not have encountered the exact same thing. The speaker creates a certain kind of relationship with nature that seeks out of objectification and the pursuit of profit. The word “with” makes nature a partner or an agent. (Martin 2017; Kokkonen 2016; Arlander e.g. 2012; Alaimo 2010). The cliff, the other cliff and the forest next to the cliffs made all of us act.
Elo and Luoto analyze the moment of touch. Their approach befits our moment in the conversation. They write:
There is no touch without a turning toward the world of the others, and this implies bodies that in some way address one another, that is, that are exposed to one another at their limits. Most importantly, such addressing is not reducible to mere consciousness, not even to capacities attributed to individual bodies. It is something that take place in-between. (Elo & Luoto 2018, 10)
In the earlier participant quote, the speaker seeks for the own experience with words, and at the same time expresses the limits. The speaker describes turning toward the snag, and uses lots of filler words like “kind of”, “so”, “like”, “it’s like” and “in a way”. The speaker cannot touch the snag and seeks an expression for that, leaving the phrases unfinished. The other talkers support and sympathize with short syllables like “mm” and “yeah”. A group of six people created a mutually supportive and listening moment that led to reflection on the relationship between humanity and nature or on how we are humans and nature.
The inability of the speaker to touch the dried wood and the seeking of an expression for it is a place of in-between, as described by Elo and Luoto. The inability does not return to singular bodies but enters into a common area that is accessible to other speakers as well. This is manifested in the episode depicted through the actions of others. They contribute by listening, sympathizing, and supporting. A broader analysis of the discussion would reveal what everything in this particular situation involves the presence of the persons. As Cooren says, any interaction constitutes a dislocated locus where various agencies and figures express themselves through the people who communicate with each other (Cooren 2010, 9).
Our two hours of working outdoors provided a good basis for discussion. The exercises serve both as content and as a method of preparing the participants to encounter in the conversation. The persons who come together for an excursion would possibly never have met anywhere else, in any other way. So, a single excursion becomes a unique event of dialogue.
The conversation and its documentation encouraged me to keep going with the exercise. Gradually I was able to take up space and introduce my part of the excursion. The exercises are like doors for stepping into different worlds. The conversation is like sharing different experiences behind the same door. This short excerpt, in all its limitations, sheds a little light on how we worked and what the excursions were like. Later, when I stopped recording the conversations, the job changed.
As a kind of outcome of the year in the Research Pavilion #3 project, we organized five sensory excursions during 12-16 July 2019, every day from Wednesday to Sunday, at different times, on the island of Giudecca in Venice. Our excursions in Finland took place in different places, but the five excursions in Venice took place in a one and same place on Giudecca, starting from the same place, Sala del Camino, following the same route through the canal pavements to a square and from there to the boat shore.
The day before the first excursion we explored the surroundings. We wandered around the island and looked around. I got the impression that almost all the surfaces were stone, and that the houses and other buildings were behind walls. The walls were high so you couldn’t see the courtyards. Nature was exposed to the eyes of the tourist only in a few restricted spaces. The route of the excursion was based on how we found places to practice: touching different surfaces, encountering trees and plants, places to settle.
Our idea was to change the routes and places on the different excursions, but over the days we realized that switching between alternative routes would have taken too much time in relation to the total duration of the trip. We did not find it meaningful to walk long distances during the excursion just to move from one place to another. Sometimes walking can, of course, be a goal in itself. One alternative would have been a lawn, but we didn’t want to lure people into tall grass. For these reasons, we decided to stay on the same route.
We had the opportunity to explore and observe this cultural environment, as many others have done, mostly as tourists (e.g. Whybrow 2015). During the excursions the weather was sunny, the temperature +26° – +32°C. There were always four of us guides on the excursions. Our idea was first that two or three of us would act as a guide at a time, so that we would also be able to attend other artist workshops at the Research Pavilion. However, we chose not to be away, but took part in all the excursions as guides.
We had one to eight participants on the excursion: people from the RP #3 project, Italian tourists, employees of the Venice Biennale and locals alike. The last trip on Sunday was part of the joint Convocation event for RP #3 and the participants on our excursion were participants from the event. They came from all over Europe. There were no participants on Thursday’s early morning excursion at 07:00. One had enrolled but did not show up. She came on a later excursion. The time had been too early for her. We made good use of the time and worked by ourselves, going through the excursion and talking about it. We hiked together. We went to potential places in the surrounding environment and discussed exercises and more.
The day before the first excursion we prepared for it by getting to know the environment by wandering around and watching. We were living in the same apartment. It made it possible to talk together a lot and make plans for the next day’s excursion. We went through our speaking sections on the excursion and at the same time sought suitable English expressions. My colleagues asked me about my exercise and its name:“Why do you say encountering an object, why not a thing?” I explained what I meant and wanted with the exercise and, as a result of our verbal collaboration and negotiation, I chose the word “thing”.
On our first excursion we had three participants, colleagues from the RP #3 project. In the end we asked them to describe their experiences but, instead, they wanted to know about our thoughts, goals and working methods. We had a good conversation that gave us a lot of valuable feedback. The participants felt that one of the exercises was too long. They paid attention to the instructions for an exercise: nothing should be shown but the participants should be allowed to find their own way of working. In one exercise the guidance was seen as insufficent. They did not like our way of using the word exercise, how we would say in the beginning: “Our trip consists of different exercises” or how during the trip we would say:“The next exercise is about…” Moreover, they felt that the different parts of the excursion should have stronger continuity, to form a clearer picture of the whole.
They asked about the ethics of our work: How do the exercises open us up and how do we take responsibility for the action? They wanted to know what the purpose of the exercises was and where they were leading us. We also discussed with the RP #3 colleagues our own, critical and controversial feelings about working in Venice. Throughout the year we had been asking whether our actions would increase the overpopulation of tourism in Venice, whether we were destroying the lives of the locals and just producing more spectacle. Many of the persons involved in RP #3 wondered why go to Venice and just Venice. How to justify traveling there and working there? This article attempts for its own part to clarify that point.
The critical questions of those involved in our RP #3 project over the course of the year proved relevant, and even after the first trip, we were still thinking about the same issues. We felt that we were disturbing the lives of the locals: invading their home surroundings, reminding ourselves of the ubiquitous presence of tourism, bringing others to view and be astonished by activities that have no purpose other than to pay attention and to exist only for themselves (Debord 2005). But we had put a lot of effort into getting into the project.
After the first trip we changed our own behavior to be more discreet during the excursion. The feedback we received from the participants helped us to continue our activities and reflect on them. It also helped us to understand how participants in an excursion can have very different perspectives and expectations. Discussion and feedback also illustrate the importance of reflective discussion and listening. That is what makes the difference. 
My colleague from the Ajauksia group later recalled the experiences in Venice:
I felt we were increasing overpopulation, destroying local life in a rare area like Giudecca where the tentacles of Biennale and tourism have not yet reached. Because of the area and its sort of untouchability with respect to Venice, I felt that our trip had become a kind of spectacle. I have to say that I was very sensitive to this, and it became easier with later trips. 
My colleague points out how going to Venice felt contradictory and distressing. Preparing in Helsinki, and discussing and discovering what we found on the island of Giudecca, a peaceful area still relatively free of tourist crowds, just seemed too much.
The conversation and feedback helped us make some small changes and improve the excursions on the following days. The trip was shaped by the combined effect of many different factors. Everyone had at least one exercise they wanted to bring to the trip. Or some of the places we found made us want to do some specific exercise. The route we found and the places along it led us to think of some specific exercise. We wanted to be equal with each other so that no one would be overshadowed or highlighted more than the other. The level of English language skills was an affecting factor. Personally, I felt that I wanted to seek out appropriate phrases and practice them beforehand. We thought about the weather, the temperature, the amount of light, the sunshine, the direction of the sun and protection from the sun. We explored architecture, structures, surfaces, shapes and distances. We experimented with the time required by different exercises and noted how different people would need different amounts of time. We explored what it felt like to leave the exercise and what it was like to keep going. We pondered on when and where it was possible to talk, with whom and for how long. When did we need verbal decompression and when not? What did the different exercises and guiding them evoke in us? We gave each other feedback. As the excursions progressed, we also explored what kind of compositions the different trips were generating. The rest of the four excursions were realized in the following frame.
1. Inside the Sala del Camino building:
Starting together. We welcome the participants and introduce ourselves by saying our first names. We mention some practical things. We lead the people out.
2. Outside the Sala del Camino building:
We have an exercise where we stand and pay attention to the soles of our feet and their contact with the ground. This works as a preparation for walking.
3. From the yard of Sala del Camino along the side of the canal, on the pavement, between different buildings and the canal:
In this exercise, we explore the environment with the sense of touch. We walk while looking for contact with organic and inorganic things around us. We try to find different kinds of touches with our bodies. We test sensing with different parts of our body in a slighter or stronger way.
4. In the small square:
Introduce yourself to a plant, tree, or some other non-human body, one that “invites” you or that you are drawn to. Think about how you want to approach it and how you want to present yourself to it. How you want it to see you.
5. In the small square:
Open your senses. Settle down somewhere to receive the place, in the way the place presents itself to you.
6. Down the street leading to boat shore:
(exercise in three parts)
Choose one thing, it can be, for example, a plant or a construction. Something organic or non-organic. Go to it, look at it, touch it. If possible, place your weight a little on it. And finally, breathe with it in the same rhythm.
Take a partner. Show each other the things you have chosen. In this way you get to experience your partner’s thing.
Finally, share your experiences by talking. Tell your partner what you thought or experienced, and listen to what your partner tells to you.
7. Common discussion:
You are free to speak about your thoughts and experiences during the excursion. You can comment, ask, give feedback or just listen.
When I participated in my colleagues’ exercises, they surprised me, making me suddenly very sad, and this happened two days in a row. This took place in a small square where we got to settle down and sense how the place presented itself to us. I was visiting a tree of my choice (exercise 4) and when I was about to finish the task, I realized that I was going to have a hard time leaving the tree. I knew I was going to miss it and feel sadness. Finally I had to leave the tree and I turned my back on it. Tears ran down my cheeks. I did not want to leave the tree, and it was hard to walk away from it. I stepped aside to calm down. I did not want to show my sadness to the others and get attention.
I was one of the guides, and I was afraid that I would appear as overly emotional, and thus stupid and unskilled, and cause an embarrassing situation for my colleagues. The next step was a three-part exercise which I was responsible for guiding. The exercise was the first and only situation for which I was responsible during the excursion. My crying surprised me and I was afraid I couldn’t handle my bit. Or rather, I was afraid I wouldn’t be convincing in the eyes of the others if they found me crying.
Now, afterwards, I think that if I were alone as a guide on the trip, I could show the others that I was crying. Then I would be a communicating guide from the very start of the excursion. The realization of the trip would then be solely my responsibility. The situation is different when there are several guides, a group. I am responsible not only for myself but for the entire group. This is one of the countless things that are good to discuss in a group.
The next day, in the same square (with the exercise 5), I settled down on a bench this time, to sense how the place presented itself to me. A local elderly person came to sit next to me and started talking to me. The person spoke for a long time and intensely and unskilled in Italian, I only distinguished a few single words. I did not understand much. I listened to the person and smiled and kept nodding my head. I don’t know if the person realized that we did not speak the same language. It was fun and touching to sit there side by side. As I listened, I thought about the task I was performing, taking in how the environment presented itself.
The task was about to end. Most of the others had already assembled. I did not want to leave yet, but I did not want to attract the attention of the others. We said goodbye to each other, the elderly person and I, with a smile. Again, as I turned my back to the person, tears were running down my cheeks. I was surprised to find myself again in this very embarrassing situation. As I struggled with emotion in my mind, within a few seconds all the rejections, divorces and abandonments of my life flashed past. At the same time, I tried to instruct myself: breathe in and get ready for the next task. Later in the common discussion some of the participants spoke about similar feelings during the trip:
I had a lonely feeling for a long time. That’s why it was so nice at the end to share experiences with the partners. 
My dad lives near the square. The excursion has been meaningful. I told to my partner about my experiences but didn’t want to share them with everyone because it was too personal. 
It seemed that the exercises were meaningful for the participants. It was a good idea to time the sections that included discussion, first with a partner and then jointly, towards the end of the trip. One participant commented on the dramaturgy or composition by saying:
Other exercises paved the way for the exercises on the shore. From working alone to working together. 
As I see it, a temporary community was created during the trip. Gathering together during the excursions, the common exercises, and sharing thoughts at the end in discussion, gave birth to a community that reached the very core of existence. The discussions often lasted a long time and many of the people involved wanted to share their experiences. Many also wanted to ask something.
The frame of the excursions gives the participants the opportunity to make individual choices. It also gives opportunities to improvise. During the excursion the participants are able to select, consider and change the amount, quality and intensity of their participation. However, it is up to the participant how they will take advantage of this opportunity. It may be easier for an experienced participant than for an inexperienced participant. In addition, when we, the artist group, participate as guides, we may also inadvertently provide models for others on how to participate, on how to engage in a particular exercise. This is not purposeful, as we strive for the participants to find their own way of doing things. On the other hand, the model we unintentionally offer can provide encouragement to an uncertain participant.
So far, when speaking about the participants on the excursions, I have meant human participants. Non-human things should also be seen as participants. Kokkonen (2016, 199), for example, criticizes humans for being more serious and more involved with the same level of ‘us’ than the ‘other’ we regard as lower (or sometimes higher). I worked with two dancers at Mustankivenpuisto (Black Stone Park) in Vuosaari, Helsinki, for one year from August 2014 to August 2015. In the project we explored how we could interact with the park itself and the various non-human things in the park. (Martin 2017) I am therefore familiar with this mindset.
When I met that tree on Giudecca Island, I met it as a collaborator I could open up to. My colleagues have also spoken about similar encounters. We as a group have not however taken the idea to the level of an excursion. Our attention has gone to other issues and the questions have been different. When we have spoken with the participants, we have spoken with the people present, none other. I now imagine participatory art or community art as something with any human and non-human, organic and inorganic involved. I notice that my familiar patterns of thought are not supporting me now, and I notice that new questions and reflections begin to replace them. I’m at the borders of imagination.
The tasks on the sensory excursions lead to seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling. They lead people to touch, to face, to sense, to imagine. They lead to words, memories, questions, stories. They lead to sharing, community, understanding, transformation. An excursion is a site for a potential temporary community and in this sense it is reminiscent of another artwork in the Research Pavilion #3, Temporary Agora. The artist-researcher Anni Laakso describes it as an ongoing collective construction of a sculptural space. It develops during a process of constructing together. This kind of a collaborative work makes space for encountering.
The concluding discussions on the excursions illustrated that people have experienced the exercises in very different ways. Many mention some certain exercise that has been particularly meaningful to them. Different exercises have been meaningful to different people. This is also where the spirit of group work rests: together we bring something to the excursions that none of us could bring alone.
This kind of a work allows us to also reflect on the city, on what it is, on its history, its present day and future, on how the city allows people to live, who gets space and who is left behind and how to find space for everyone. In this regard, the work enables people to critically question the order and structure of society. Society is systemic as such and all systems are invented by humans (e.g. Cooren 2010, 160-165). Our activities in RP 3# took place throughout various forms of power and hierarchy. The achievements of power and hierarchies include the University of the Arts Helsinki and its various academies, the art world, the research world, the RP #3 project, the Disruptive Processes group, the Ajauksia group, the urban environments in which we operate and society as a whole. What we as artists can do is contribute, through our observations and actions, to the perception and also the dismantling of systems.
The work of our group resembles sensory mapping, on a micro and macro level. At micro level I may connect with a tree or a lingonberry leaf when walking in an area. Artist and researcher Markus Tuormaa remarks in the context of passing through a forest: “Traveling draws an experiential or rather an emotional map” (Tuormaa 2018). At macro level, when visiting different areas in a city, I gain experiences that give me large-scale understanding of the city and its different parts.
Encountering small things and the context of the encounters open up a larger context. The small thing leaves a noticeable memory trail. Bruno Latour (2019) regards geopolitics through the term “terrestrial”. He says that the terrestrial is no longer the milieu or the background of human action, whereas"geo" designates an agent that participates fully in public life (Latour 2019, 40-41). When we regard sensory mapping at micro and macro levels as belonging to this broadest possible understanding of the space we inhabit, we do not need to think about what is global and what is local, because they are interconnected. Small actions are then of great importance. Politics become possible.
The tree in the square was, as the guide of our group instructed us, an actor that invited me. What followed of that invitation was my private and silent conversation with the tree, from my part in Finnish, from the tree’s part, if I try to interpret, through its existence as a tree. Alaimo (2010, 32-44) examines Meridel Le Sueur’s short story Annunciation (Le Sueur 1940), in which she describes an encounter between a woman and a pear tree. The tree speaks to the woman and the written story we receive through this encounter demonstrates the imbrication of word and flesh. Alaimo says that the “speech” of the trees is not reducible to human language (Alaimo 2010, 41). I spoke Finnish to the tree, in my mind, but I didn’t know what to call the language the tree spoke to me, its own language. The tree participated in the encounter with its size, shape, bark structure, color, location and its openness to the situation. I could touch it, I could lean on it, I could stand under its branches. It protected me from the sun. The tree made me talk about things that I would not easily talk about to somebody else. It existed, but still, it remained silent to me, in my human language. But, if I so wish, I can interpret that the tree spoke to me, in its own way. (see e.g. Heathfield 2017; Arlander 2012).
According to Alaimo, even as we attempt to formulate new understandings that do not isolate the human from the flesh or from nonhuman nature, we need to mark the limits of our own ability to render the material world with language (Alaimo 2010, 42). My limit was when I encountered the tree by sensing it with my eyes and hands, perhaps I heard and also smelled it, and had my inner conversation with it, and then left it, because I couldn’t do anything more. Here Alaimo shows the meaning of a sense of limits: it does not pose nature as exterior to human language, but instead acts to ensure an awareness that the process of making meaning is an ongoing one, a process that includes nonhuman nature as a participant rather than as an object of inquiry (Alaimo 2010, 42).
The moment I turned my back to the tree, I felt a sense of loss. In all objectivity, the same environment, the small square, surprised me the next day as I sat on the bench quietly and open to receive what the environment was offering me and when an old, talkative person sat next to me. What a surprise, I got to meet a living person. And again, the moment I turned my back, I felt a sense of loss, regardless of whether it was a non-human thing or a human being, the sense was same. I felt I belonged to that square with the tree and the old person. The moment I turned my back, I felt as if I had violently ripped myself out of those situations.
Sensation and encounter are nothing more or less than creation of a new world. Latour (2019) defends sensitivity and sensuality. He calls the division into global and local brutal and pays attention to sensation as a counterforce to that division. According to him, this brutal division has produced and forced objective positions that have had to give up all sensitivities. In this division, the local has become a reactive, reflective and nostalgic figure. (Latour 2019, 71). The division should be abandoned and room should be given for thinking terrestrial. According to Latour, we should also stop using the word"ecology" except to designate a scientific field:
There are only questions of dwelling places inhabited with or defended against other terrestrials that share the same stakes. The adjective “political” ought to suffice from now on to designate these terrestrials, once the meaning of polis, which has for too long restrained the term “political” has been expanded. (Latour 2019, 90)
Political theorist Jane Bennett (2010) articulates her concept of vibrant materiality to see how analyses of political events change if we give more weight to the power of things. What Bennett recommends in political activity equally applies to artistic activity. She says:
The capacity to detect the presence of impersonal affect requires that one is caught up in it. One needs, at least for a while, to suspend suspicion and adopt a more open-ended comportment. If we think we already know what is out there, we will almost surely miss much of it. (Bennett 2010, xv)
How do we terrestrial artists act in practice? I recommend openness and encounters that are not local or global but terrestrial, and that will become an impressive activity. My experience of Mustankivenpuisto has been impressive for many reasons. One impressive thing, for example, was the feedback we received from a father. We met at the park 45 times during a year to work. We did a performance at the end of the year, although that was not our initial intention. By the time we started preparing the performance and practicing, many children had become very interested in our work. Some came to work with us, some followed farther. They also came to watch the final rehearsals and to the premiere. So did the father and mother of the children. After the performance, the father came to thank us. He praised the performance and our work in many ways. He said it was interesting to be able to follow our work for a year, and it was great to finally hear that we were also making a performance, offering an opportunity to get involved as a spectator. He also remarked enthusiastically that such activities should be available everywhere, at all times. (I describe the project in Finnish in my article Martin 2017).
I would like to imagine that artists pay far more attention to public places as their workplace. As we know, presence changes a place. A changed place also causes a change in attitudes.
In the park project it was important for me to work in a public place and look for ways to settle down there. What is important to me is the ability to meet others, collaborate and make our work visible. I wanted to continue to work in urban areas. Working in the Ajauksia group has made it possible. I support the spread of live art to public spaces on a wide front. This can lead to reciprocal encounters that take us to the boundaries of touch. We may have to face one another and change.
Alaimo, Stacy 2010. Bodily Natures: Science, environment, and the material self. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Arlander, Annette 2012. Performing Landscape – Notes on Site-Specific Work and Artistic Research (Texts 2001-2011). Theatre Academy Helsinki, Performing Arts Research Centre.
Bennett, Jane 2010. Vibrant Matter. A Political Ecology of Things. Durham and London: Duke University Press.
Bishop, Claire 2012. Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. Brooklyn, New York: Verso Books.
Boal, Augusto 1979. Theatre of the Oppressed. Get Political. (Teatro del Oprimido. Trans. Charles A. Maria Odilia Leal McBride and Emily Fryer.) London: Pluto Press.
Cooren, François 2010. Action and Agency in Dialogue: Passion, Incarnation and Ventriloquism. John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Debord, Guy 2005. Spektaakkelin yhteiskunta. (La Société du Spectacle. Trans. Tommi Uschanov.) Helsinki: Summa.
Elo, Mika & Luoto, Miika 2018. Preface. In Mika Elo & Miika Luoto (eds.) Figures of Touch. Sense, Technics, Body. The Academy of Fine Arts at the University of the Arts Helsinki.
Gröndahl, Laura 2018. Scenography: Touches and Encounters. In Mika Elo & Miika Luoto (eds.) Figures of Touch. Sense, Technics, Body. The Academy of Fine Arts at the University of the Arts Helsinki.
Heathfield, Adrian 2017. Remembering Air. In Adrian Heathfield (ed.) Ally. Philadelphia, PA: The Fabric Workshop and Museum 2017.
Kantonen, Lea 2010. Yhteisötaiteen estetiikkaa ja menetelmiä; yhteistyötä, vuoropuhelua, palvelua ja provokaatiota. (Aesthetics and methods of community art; cooperation, dialogue, service and provocation.) In Lea Kantonen (ed.) Ankaraa ja myötätuntoista kuuntelua. Keskustelevaa kirjoitusta paikkasidonnaisesta taiteesta. (Harsh and compassionate listening. Conversational writing on site-specific art.) Kuvataideakatemia.
Kester, Grant 2004. Conversation Pieces: Community + Communication in Modern Art. Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press.
Kirkkopelto, Esa 2012. Inventiot ja instituutiot - taiteellisen tutkimuksen yhteiskunnalliset ehdot. (Inventions and Institutions - Social Conditions for Artistic Research.) In Teija Löytönen (ed.) Tulevan tuntumassa. Esseitä taidealojen yliopistopedagogiikasta. (Near the future. Essays on university pedagogy in the arts.) Aalto-yliopisto. Taiteiden ja suunnittelun korkeakoulu.
Kokkonen, Tuija 2017. Esityksen mahdollinen luonto: suhde ei-inhimilliseen esitystapahtumassa keston ja potentiaalisuuden näkökulmasta. (The potential nature of performance: The relationship to the non-human in the performance event from the perspective of duration and potentiality.) Helsinki: Teatterikorkeakoulu, Esittävien taiteiden tutkimuskeskus. Acta Scenica 48. http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-7218-01-3
Kokkonen, Tuija 2016. Kun emme tiedä. Keskustelemassa “meitä” uusiksi: lajienväliset esitykset ja esitystaiteen rooli ekokriisien aikakaudella. (When we do not know. Talking about “us” again: interspecific performances and the role of live-art in the era of eco-crises.) In Karoliina Lummaa & Lea Rojola (eds.) Posthumanismi. (Posthumanism.) Turku: Eetos-julkaisuja 15.
Korhonen, Kuisma & Räsänen, Pajari 2010. Introduction. The Event of Encounter in Art and Philosophy. In Kuisma Korhonen & Pajari Räsänen (eds.) The Event of Encounter in Art and Philosophy. Helsinki: Gaudeamus.
Kwon, Miwon 2004. One Place after Another. Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity. Cambridge, Massachusetts – London, England: The Mit Press.
Latour, Bruno 2019. Down to Earth. Politics in the New Climatic Regime. (Où atterir? Comment s’orienter en politique. Trans. by Catherine Porter.) Cambridge, UK and Medford, USA: Polity Press.
Le Sueur, Meridel 1940. Annunciation. In Salute to Spring. New York: International.
Levinas, Emmanuel 1996. Etiikka ja äärettömyys – Keskusteluja Philippe Nemon kanssa. (Ethique et infini – Dialogues avec Philippe Nemo. Trans. Antti Pönni and Outi Pasanen.) Helsinki: Gaudeamus.
Martin, Mari (submitted for publication) 2020. Aina uudesti syntyvä hetkellinen yhteisö. (An instantaneous community that is always reborn) In Lea Kantonen & Sari Karttunen (eds.) Yhteisötaiteen etiikka. (Working title.) (The ethics of community art.) University of the Arts Helsinki.
Martin, Mari 2017. Dialogissa kaupunkiympäristön kanssa. (In dialogue with the urban environment.) Teoksessa Annette Arlander, Laura Gröndahl & Marja Silde (eds.) Tekijä – teos, esitys ja yhteiskunta. (Author - work, performance and society.) Teatterintutkimuksen seuran verkkojulkaisusarja Näyttämö ja tutkimus 6. http://teats.fi/tekija-teos-esitys-ja-yhteiskunta
Martin, Mari 2014. Minän esitys. Ohjaajan pohdintaa oman, yksityisen päiväkirjakatkelman työstämisestä näyttämölle. (A Performance of Me/I – A Director’s Reflection on Working a Fragment of a Private Diary onto the Stage.) Helsinki: Teatterikorkeakoulu, Esittävien taiteiden tutkimuskeskus. Acta Scenica 35. Doctoral Thesis. http://hdl.handle.net/10138/41965
Matarasso, François 2011. ‘All in This Together’: The Depoliticisation of Community Art in Britain, 1970 – 2011. In Community Art Power. Essays from ICAF 2011. Rotterdam: ICAF International Community Arts Festival.
Pearson, Mike 2010. Site-Specific Performance. Palgrave Macmillan.
Tuormaa, Markus 2018. Ansavirsuissa sammalikkoon. (In birchbark shoes, to moss.) In Henna Laininen (ed.) Taiteen metsittymisestä – Harjoitteita jälkifossiilisiin oloihin. (The Art of Reforestation - Exercises for Post-Fossil Conditions.) http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-7131-49-7
Whybrow, Nicolas 2015. Losing Venice: Conversations in a Sinking City. in D. J. Hopkins and Kim Solga (eds.) Performance and the Global City. Palgrave Macmillan.
Conversation recorded in Kontula 15 April 2019 (39:05) and its transcript.
Photographs reported by © ajauksia: taken by the Ajauksia group.
Videos and other photographs: taken by me with my mobile phone.
My work diary.
Writings by a member of the Ajauksia group.
Emails with the members of the Ajauksia group.
Research Pavilion #3 website: www.researchpavilion.fi
Ajauksia group / Disruptive Processes group / Research Pavilion #3 project: http://www.researchpavilion.fi/disruptive-processes-workshops
Research Pavilion #3 website: www.researchpavilion.fi ↩︎
Ajauksia group / Disruptive Processes group / Research Pavilion #3 project: http://www.researchpavilion.fi/disruptive-processes-workshops ↩︎
Research Pavilion #3 Info Lab 25 Oct. – 17 Nov. 2019 at the Exhibition Laboratory, Helsinki. ↩︎
Martin 2014. Minän esitys. Ohjaajan pohdintaa oman, henkilökohtaisen päiväkirjatekstin työstämisestä näyttämölle. (A Performance of Me/I – A Director’s Reflection on Working a Fragment of a Private Diary onto the Stage.) During my doctoral studies I worked on a theatre performance together with the actress Heidi Lindén (My Other, Theatre Academy of Helsinki, 2010). My intention as a director and artistic researcher was to find out what an autobiographical me on the stage could be. I wanted to use a dialogical attitude in our collaborative work, using as a source the philosopher Martin Buber. Dialogical attitude meant reciprocal encountering, equal listening, asking, answering and suggesting. The work showed that the dialogue itself produced material that we could use in the performance, deriving from, for example, our constant questioning of what we were doing and Heidi’s subsequent confusion as to what our goal really was. ↩︎
I explain these in Martin 2017; 2014. ↩︎
The other members of the group wish to remain anonymous. I have agreed with them on how to introduce them in my text. They have also read, commented on and corrected the text. ↩︎
Radical Relevances conference program 16 April 2018: http://radicalrelevances.com/conference-program/thursday-workshops/ ↩︎
I write about this in more detail in my Finnish article (submitted for publication) Martin 2020. ↩︎
Sometimes a participant has told us at the start of an excursion that they will have to leave before the end of the trip. ↩︎
Co-writing would do a much better job of describing our group’s efforts, ambitions and activities. I have discussed the matter with the members of the group and received their approval for it. They have also read and reviewed the text before publication. ↩︎
Levinas (1996) and the ethics of reciprocity. ↩︎
This also brings to mind Rancière’s idea of dialogue as a disagreement. ↩︎
Fragment of a conversation at the end of the excursion, originally in Finnish. ↩︎
Participants’ reflection in the common discussion. Fragment of the conversation, originally in Finnish. ↩︎
In 2019 Ajauksia organized different kinds of sensory excursions in various neighborhoods in Helsinki: Kontula, Uutela, Kalasatama, Merihaka and the Lapinlahti hospital area. In addition, the other members of the group organized an excursion as part of the Back to Senses symposium at the University of the Arts Helsinki (October 2018). The group had also an excursion in Brighton, England (October 2018), which I was not involved in. I gave a lecture performance together with another member of the group in the post doc art gathering at the Centre for Artistic Research (CfAR) at the University of the Arts Helsinki (December 2018). Up until now, our latest performance was at the Conference on Artistic Research CARPA at the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma in Helsinki organized by the University of the Arts Helsinki (August 2019). ↩︎
Esa Kirkkopelto (2012) writes about art in art institutions, artistic research, reflection and self-reflection and their significance. ↩︎
Colleague 3 read and commented on the draft for this text and also reflected on the experience. ↩︎
Participant’s comment in the common discussion at the end of the second excursion in Venice. Work diary notes. ↩︎
Participant’s comment in the common discussion at the end of the second excursion in Venice. Work diary notes. ↩︎
Participant’s comment in the common discussion at the end of the second excursion in Venice. Work diary notes. ↩︎
See: http://www.researchpavilion.fi/disruptive-processes-workshops ↩︎
Nicholas Whybrow (2015) writes about his students’ practice-based, multi-method artistic exploration in Venice. ↩︎