Mr Chairman, esteemed Examiner, ladies and gentlemen,
Today, there would be so many urgent issues to talk about, if one was to zoom out from this room, from this building, from this neighbourhood, and city, even further from this Nordic welfare state. If we look at a broader picture outside of the frame, the production of crude oil has brought the effects of climate change to the point where the damage will be impossible to repair. Plastic waste is filling the oceans, meat production causes suffering for billions of animals, simultaneously polluting what is left from this planet. The global market economy has made sure that we keep participating, or at least those, who can afford it.
Zoom out even further and see all these big circulating rocks, of which the earth is only one. These rocks have their own names. The way they are being in the world cannot be told by data alone, and their stories are not coherent. They remind us that there are mysteries for which rational explanation gives no meaning, questions and answers that have no place in the accepted forms of narration. Their stories are part of our stories, yet ever so often we seem to forget about that. In the current age of 'post-truth' and 'perception management', it matters what stories are told and how they are told. It matters now more than ever what kind of thinking produces thoughts, and what the struggles are involved in putting those thoughts into words and turning them into actions. But please remember, this is only one potential story amongst many stories and, as in any story or event, there are multiple gaps and various scenarios to imagine and potential directions to take. It is as much the presence of the words as the absence of words that characterize this story.
We have learnt to rely on words, without paying attention to the immense gap between experience and explanation. In this particular story, however, the artist-researcher tries to make us aware of this gap and the shifting sense of her presence. In this text, and in this space, the artist begins to feel both like the character within the story and the person writing it — trying to figure out how she could navigate in this space.
Here today I am divided into two halves, willing and resistant, convincing and uncertain.
As one half of me stands there and sees how the other half performs and never owns enough the strange or playful spirit. Here and now, looking at my works and my research, I am embedded in my previous subjectivity, embedded within my previous self as a thinking body, who ‘makes things’, precisely as this lecture is embedded within my work, as another thinking body, who ‘talks about things’, more personal than myself. Today there is, as always, a missing word of feeling or sincerity or unclear articulation, there is an innate inability of language to capture the experience. Controlled and vulnerable at once. The only certainty here is the uncertainty. What a wonderful paradox.
As an artist/researcher I am often concerned about the paradox of putting something into language that essentially relies on experience and affect. I think that objects or images should never be confused with the words that describe them. Today, as well, we start with a similar paradox, as there is the need to return to language in order to define my doctoral research project that actually aims to resist summary and to highlight the limits of language. However, my research project also highlights the potentialities that occur when we come to face those limits. So, in this research, the paradoxes are considered as natural and productive ingredients.
By using paradoxes, chance, and uncertainty as guiding principles and as productive tools, my research tries to deconstruct and divert perception and language, emphasizing absurdity and creating sense rather than meaning. More particularly, my research explores its own limits and reflects its involvement with the social and political structures it is addressing, in order to create or anticipate new modes of existence.
Can I, in fact, occupy many positions at once in this very moment, reflect artworks and productions which somehow seem to have the life of their own. I think the work is what it is because it can't be fully explained here at this moment.
My doctoral research project is a speculative spatial construct, an alternative labyrinthic infrastructure that is flexibly built within and as a response to the artworks it houses.
The research as a whole is a labyrinth, which plays with layers of fiction and fact, personal experience and theoretical writings utilizing my installation/performance Eden The Pow(d)er of Fear (2014) as a frame structure. The textual part takes place and follows the adapted floor plan that was used for this work.
In short, the live performance Eden, The Pow(d)er of Fear took place in a labyrinth-like construct at Lilith performance studio, Malmö, Sweden in early summer 2014. It became like a social experiment, in which 17 local actor/participants repeated strange games (6 games altogether) governed by a throw of dice and dictated by the game master. Viewers were let in to wander freely in the construct for three hours and it was hard for them to distinguish the reality from the fiction and at first, the actors from the viewers. This performance event was a reworking of the French Nouveau Roman writer and film director Alain Robbe-Grillet's film L'Eden et après (from 1970), using alternate takes and re-editing in the space.
In L' Eden et Après, a group of students gather in a place called Eden, which is some sort of a café bar with an interior that reminds us of Mondrian’s painting. They seem to have lost all their ideological beliefs and live in a world of images. They keep entertaining themselves with transgressive games, in which they play different roles and pretend various feelings to pass the time and give meaning to their ‘useless’ lives. At some stage, however, the pretend feelings and the fictional scenarios seem to go too far and start to become bit too real.
In my work, however, the idea was NOT to mimic the film faithfully; instead, it was serving as a starting point for a live performance and new unpredictable scenarios to come. The stage set of the original film was interpreted in Lilith's studios in a labyrinth-like manner, insisting on the idea of the image within the image, scene within the scene and the ideas of mirroring and doubling.
There was a strong sense of unpredictability in the whole set of actions and therefore it was impossible to predict exactly what would happen in the performance.
Most of the actor-performers in Malmö belonged to a similar 20 something age group as the actors in Robbe-Grillet's film. Thus, the performance aimed at re-contextualising Robbe-Grillet's film in contemporary Swedish society and using it as a kind of mirror to reflect the prevailing fears and beliefs. These were studied with the actor-performers through conversations that took place in the workshops before the performance.
The other works embedded in the structure and accessed through ‘holes’ are the moving image works Moderate Manipulations (2012) and Placeholder (2017). These two works have been left fairly intact and function as a kind of pre- and afterlives of Eden. They both approach in their own way the notion of how individual positions might be affected by external change, influence and power.
In Moderate Manipulations two hired advertising models pose and change positions in a front and within of a Futuro house. The film becomes a strategic apparatus, almost a simulation of a chess game, where positions are constantly repeated, re-considered and slightly adjusted.
Placeholder (2017) in turn, works as a playful thought experiment, a video collage in which Avatars created by AI have taken over human emotions and collective memories by telling stories and jokes and by manipulating our deepest fears and desires.
As a result, my final research outcome is a hyperlinked document that exists online in Research Catalogue. It is a speculative labyrinthic construct that consists of texts, images, sounds and moving image accessible by corridors, doors, objects, holes and pictures. Existing in tension with the framework affecting it, the artworks and the texts leak out from the structure and are performed in and around the physical floorplan.
The text balances between experiential descriptions of the work and an artistic working process, discussions relating to Nouveau Roman and debates concerning participatory art, affect, and art as a worldmaking strategy. In addition, some discussions about the current political situation, as well as semi-fictional and semi-autobiographic fragments in a style of prose are embedded in this.
This kind of performative or speculative writing, requires the reader/viewer's active participation, leaving holes or unknowns in the narrative structure that moves through entangled nodes of connections and different temporalities to suggest alternative and expansive forms of viewing and making art and research. It also aims to set meanings in motion instead of closing them down.
This approach is not intended as a retrospective view towards the work but proposes instead a speculative re-writing and re-scripting that in turn aims to open new 'portals' to other texts, works and worlds. Those narrative and theoretical threads then, open up new perspectives, concerns, times and spaces.
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When an artist-researcher attempts to push her art forward in the form of writing or speaking, it is, I think, crucial to be always cautious of any existing speaking or writing conventions contained and accepted in the research culture and the culture at large. In the context of the art research,language has traditionally served as a means to describe and analyze what is taking place in the work. But in art, itself, it has been a regular strategy for artists to address the fallibility of communication or gaps in language and fold politics within the poetic.
One of the main concerns of my doctoral research has been to question the relationship between the experience of an artwork and its explanation. Consequently, my ongoing question has been: Could there be a way to understand, or rather do, research performatively and spatially, so that the publication or presentation medium as a form would present a possible solution to the problems of conceptual articulations? In this way, the investigation would take place in the fields of the sensory, affective, and visual.Could there be a way to approach the artworks from within and to disrupt the linear logic and topical flowoften associated with traditional scientific reporting? In this, I have been using some formulations on art and spectatorship and politics from Jacques Rancière for whom political effectiveness of art does not reside in transmitting messages, but first and foremost consists of dispositions of bodies and the partitioning of singular spaces and times that define ways of being together or apart.
As a result, in my doctoral research project, the research elements come together in a scripted space, as a polyphonic entity composed of diverse media. One of the aims was to reprogram the research project constantly through irruptions, fragmented moments, human contingencies and outside phenomena leaking in.
Maybe we cannot find a way to escape the labyrinth, (like Daedalus from the Greek Myth, who, in order to capture the Minotaur, made the labyrinth so confusing that he could barely escape after building it)but there is a possibility to reprogram its structure – a structure that triggers interactions between objects and subjects, challenges the material aspects of meaning-making, and elicits the participatory readerly agency.
To bridge the gap between language and visual art, I am tapping into similarities of a kind of a virtual staging offered by certain literary forms. I draw from and refer to literary strategies of the French Nouveau Roman, in particular, I am referring to novels of Alain Robbe-Grillet and Nathalie Sarraute.
Nouveau Roman called into question the limitations of perception, addressing the subjective perspective of the characters. Even the narrator could be confused. She is not all-knowing narrator but rather uncertain one. She also becomes the victim in whole confusion of characters, and in a plot that is not clearly established. The goal of Nouveau Roman writers was not to set up a clear and unambiguous order of events but rather a mixture of precision and uncertainty (aporia) that makes the reader confused about what the very plot is. In the end, it does not bring forward any real conclusion and explanation. This kind of cryptic narrative form offered not so much of an escape but rather a detour back into the labyrinth of an individual thought.
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As a strategy for artistic, social, and political engagement and a reaction to a contemporary condition, in which our claim to the positions we occupy is increasingly simplified, my research project aims to create a space of thinking, imagination and resistance. By confusing the functionality of language, it also aims to make visible something of the power dynamics and infrastructures shaping our world. Dismantling the hierarchical relation between the work and the text is functioning also as a metaphor for larger societal power relations. Therefore, the notion of power is two-fold, the research examines, on the one hand, (as discussed earlier), the relationship between the experience and explanation and on the other hand, the complexity of human interactions and positions concerning hegemonic power structures.
As a response to the latter, my research project draws from the debates concerning participatory art. However, I have concentrated mostly on kind of conflictual, agonistic participation, one that acts as an interruption, a rupture and therefore, from my point of view, as a new kind of entry into 'fields of knowledge’. One that finds tensions and disagreements as something productive and as an essential part of a healthy democratic system. I am arguing that it is only when an artist comes up against the limits of her practice that the work becomes truly interesting. That what we need are new ways of emancipating, perceiving and thinking. We need art that is art because it is strange, surprising and risky. Art that contains tensions and uncertainty as essential ingredients of both its construction and viewing processes — however uncomfortable or confusing it may first appear.
My claim is that much of the participatory art under neoliberalism, serves a double agenda: offering solutions or entertaining, accessible art of and for the people, while at the same time, instead of criticizing, enforces the constant pressure to participate. I argue that perhaps the most interesting projects attempt to occupy this rift, revealing and/or testing the limits of those forces that keep us participating, pushing us to the breaking point to see when is it that we will refuse to continue the game.
"Leave the door open for the unknown for the dark, that is where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from", says Rebecca Solnit in A field guide of getting lost (2005).
“How do you go about finding that thing, which is still unfamiliar or uncertain to you?” she continues. This question strikes me as a basic strategic question in life and also as an extremely political question. We often seek for things that are somehow transformative but we tend to think what is after that transformation, not the thing itself. How do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self, into unknown territory, into becoming someone else? "For the artist, the tale of what has not arrived must be found. It is the job of the artist to open doors to unfamiliar", says Solnit. Uncertainty leaves the door open for the doubt and reveals the mind and the body that is, in fact, malleable and capable of change. This might be the paradoxical operation that life requires from us and requires from the artists and researchers. This might culminate in of collaborating with the chance, of recognising that there are some essential mysteries in the world and thereby a limit to calculation, to the plan. To be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.
In his article Pressings (2018), professor Harri Laakso suggests that artistic research explores, before anything else, how artworks, presentations and images themselves perform research gestures, separate from the intentions of their maker. He says that, perhaps, artistic research opens a pathway to another kind of knowledge (p. 186). In saying so he seems to suggest that perhaps literally artistic research does not know.
That is because it does not exhibit those ideals that we place for knowledge, as an organized, stable and coherent economy of meaning]This kind of artistic research does not consider the art as an object of knowledge. It does not fit comfortably into given parameters and into what we think knowledge requires, but opens up, instead, new perceptions and new worlds that are a part and at the same time apart from the world we live in. Could the solution lie on the potentiality of a world within a world, a story within a story, an image within an image? Ruled by both chance and order. Set of tentative steps taken by the narrator through endless doors and potential returnings and the throws of dice…