Sunday, 29 January 2012

song for the decade

100 year old rock'n'roll band (UK & Finland)
On its final evening, the festival culminates in appropriately celebratory and boisterous fashion in the main hall of the Kulttuuriareena youth centre, with a one-off performance of a single six-minute song written for and performed by a group of people from the city of Kuopio. The project proposition to mark the tenth anniversary of ANTI was ‘one week, one band, one song, one gig’. British artists Sue Palmer, Joff Winterhart and Simon Roberts (above), in collaboration with the Finnish musician-composer DaveForestfield, set out to gather one person aged from within each decade from one to a hundred - someone under ten, a teenager, someone in their twenties, in their thirties, and so on - and to assemble a ten-strong band. Forestfield drew on existing musical contacts in the city to provide a rhythm section from local r’n’b musicians as well as a well-known jazz clarinettist in his mid-seventies. Sue and Joff found other band members through chance encounters on the street, in a community centre and elsewhere, including a sixteen-year-old vocalist met while buying milk in a local corner shop.
For Sue and Joff, such encounters with strangers were conceived to be as much a part of the ‘work’ as the song itself. They spent five days on the streets of Kuopio asking people whether they played a musical instrument, using this initial point of contact both as a mechanism for invitations to join the band and to generate material about Kuopio for the writing of the song. In the moment of performance of the song itself, a hilarious punk-pop reflection on ten years of ANTI, the band members’ pleasurable, energised engagement is palpable, realising some of the artists’ core concerns in this participative, inter-generational undertaking. In addition, a range of less visible connections and alliances are reaffirmed in the civic gathering around the song’s performance; for a significant number of those others encountered en route return to witness the performance as spectators, whooping and hollering as part of a broader temporary community celebrating ANTI, the band, the song, and new friendships enabled by unforeseen meetings with strangers.

Kuo-Kuo-Kuo-Kuo Kuopio, where does the smiling runner go?
The hundred year old band will play, laulu vuosikymmenelle
ANTI-fest in Kuopio, it started here ten years ago,
The hundred year old band has played, laulu vuosikymmenelle

* Children’s Choice Awards: ‘Most Musical (Fastest & Loudest)’, ‘Funniest’, ‘Most Relevant’
Photo by Pekka Mäkinen 2011


Lone Twin (UK)

The ANTI 2011 programme included a number of events that either targeted or implicated children, and as suggested above, all events apart from Blast Theory’s Rider Spoke were evaluated by the school kids who made up the jury of the Children’s Choice Awards. One work made specifically for younger audiences is Lone Twin’s Beastie, an encounter with an anomalous other: part Big Foot, part affable biped horse-muppet (the animatronic costume was designed by Darryl Worbey Studios in London), part imaginary friend concretised and unleashed into the urban everyday. Drawing on Gary Winters and Gregg Whelan’s experiences as writers for children’s television, Beastie has the characteristic immediacy and playfulness of much of Lone Twin’s work, its apparently joyous simplicity unfolding gently into greater complexities – related to imagination, desire, belief, identity, friendship and temporary communities constellating around stories.
The opening sequence of Beastie, rarely witnessed by adults, occurs here in a closed room in the Kultuuriareena youth centre. At each performance a small invited group of children become active participants in the naming of this particular manifestation of the creature. They propose certain attributes and narrative details, and help assemble the costumed figure from inert body parts laid out in dismembered form on a grid outline on the floor. In one performance in Kuopio, for example, it is decided that ‘Otsu’ has been hatched from an egg on Jupiter, and is still a youngster at 700 years old. Mistaking the egg for a football, another creature had kicked it through space to land on earth near the youth centre. Once the performer is ensconced within the full costume, an exquisitely effective and mysterious transformation occurs at the moment when the seated figure’s head is lifted and its aquamarine eyes blink open for the first time to countenance those who are there. Although the process of construction has been witnessed from the outset, and the creature’s artifice is wholly apparent – everyone knows it’s a performer inside a costume - at this moment of initial animation the impulse/desire to ‘believe’ the illusion seems to be compelling for the adults almost as much as it is for the children. From this point the creature is seen in a complex way that is reminiscent of a ‘both-and’ mode of spectatorship in forms such as Bunraku: a pulse between immersion in a wide-eyed illusionist credibility and a knowing distance that fully acknowledges manipulation and artifice.

Beastie leads the children out into the streets of Kuopio in search of a similar creature, a ‘friend’ on the loose and concealed somewhere within the city, and they accompany him through comic chance encounters with passers-by and moments of predictably unpredictable animal behaviour (e.g. pissing out of an elbow). Finally, the friend is located and the two waving creatures disappear into the distance, arm-in-arm. For the children, perhaps this simple open-ended narrative trajectory seeds the possibility of future encounters, other creatures, other forms of befriendable life happily at large in their city.  In the course of the festival they have already had a fleeting encounter with another anomalously shaggy ‘outsider’, Aaron Williamson’s ‘marooned wildman’, a pathetic, abandoned figure glimpsed and heard in the undergrowth of Vasikkaasaari Island, a short boat trip from the shoreline out into Lake Kallavesi. The city teems with others, it seems, in need of our help.

* Children’s Choice Awards: ‘Hairiest’ (tied with Aaron Williamson’s The Marooned Wildman), ‘Most Extraordinary’, ‘Best of the Best’
Photo by Pekka Mäkinen 2011

vocal portraits

Juha Valkeapää (Finland), Äänimuotokuvia
Inside the Pirkko hair salon, everyday life and work proceed as usual. A chirpy conversation between a hairdresser and a customer, interspersed with quiet laughter, bursts of hairdryer, the muffled clinks and snips of the tools of the trade. A couple of other customers wait their turn, flicking through magazines. On the walls, glossy posters of models advertising products and ‘looks’. This space is also shared with a group of festival-goers silently queuing for another kind of attention to and re-writing of identity. We watch and listen as Finnish voice and performance artist Juha Valkeapää elaborates ‘vocal portraits’ for one person at a time, in a return to the same space he first occupied eight years earlier as part of ANTI 2003.
As each person is invited to sit in a barber’s chair in front of a mirror in one corner of the room, Juha hands them a comfortable black blindfold that temporarily suspends sight and amplifies hearing and internal response. Three pulses of the foot pump at the base of the chair raise the person’s feet slightly off the ground, and then Juha begins to voice a sonic representation, an improvised auditory landscape triggered by … what? The clothing, hair and energetic field of each person? An intuited auratic flavour or feel? As each portrait unfolds, Juha continually changes his spatial relations to the ‘subject’, moving into intimate proximity, then slowly retreating to a greater distance, then close again to the other ear. Throughout this pedestrian choreography – a translated echo of the hairdresser’s own small ‘dance’ - his voice and breath morph dynamically and inventively. Over time they assume a tactile quality, sculpting space, sound and the contours of a self-in-play. The quality of Juha’s conviction and attention to each person remains generous and intricate throughout, his engagement immersive and physically implicated. 
From the perspective of a spectator witnessing these performances from the edge of the room, Juha seems consumed and transformed in the voicing - and yet he remains porous to the sounds and rhythms of these everyday surroundings. He is able, with great fluidity and humour, to dip in to and out of a kind of open dialogue with other voices, the ambient sounds of hairdryer, water, scissors, kettle, cameras, without ever seeming caught by them. As the blindfolded subject of the portrait, suspended in the eye of this singularly unthreatening and virtuosic soundscape, one reads the associative complexity and playfulness of Juha’s vocal composition as the gift of a ‘song of oneself’: the sounding of a personal topography of what one perhaps gives off, contains, or could be. Then, after a final pause and a hydraulic release of the foot pump that frames the performance’s ending like a sigh, one returns gently to the ground - and to sight, the mirror, one’s own reflected image, Juha’s smiling acknowledgement, the audience, the salon, and an everyday that is somehow slightly lighter and brighter.

* Children’s Choice Awards: ‘Most Interesting’, ‘Most Confusing’

back and forth

Gaëtan Rusquet (France/Belgium)

Scattered on the floor of the light-filled entrance foyer of the College of Social and Health Care, at Kuopio’s Savonia University of Applied Sciences, lie several hundred inflated balloons. Each of them is a uniform sausage shape, and either red, cream, white or brown, as if the space is to be decorated for a children’s birthday party. Taking off his clothes and leaving them neatly folded at one side of the space, performance artist and scenographer Gaëtan Rusquet starts to bend, loop and tie them, as if he’s making balloon animals and other odd shapes. Gradually, over a period of about forty minutes, he elaborates an interwoven structure incorporating all of the balloons, an exo-skeleton or ‘second skin’ full body mask into which he inserts and attaches himself. In this eccentric aggregate, the coloured balloons accrue suggestions of bodily components, an infinitely complex schematic representation of blood, bone, flesh, muscle, like the spatialised interiority of some eccentric anatomist’s écorché. In this somewhat unsettling détournement of balloons’ familiar associations, the insides seem to have burst through the envelope of the skin. This quietly practical task generates squeaks, the occasional pop and some embarrassed giggles from the Children’s Choice Award judges.
Eventually Gaëtan all but disappears inside this sculptural structure, only his naked feet still visible to the onlookers. After a pause, he throws himself to the floor and begins to writhe, thrust and roll, using his body’s weight, friction and occasionally his teeth to burst the balloons. The process produces a startling cacophony of bangs and squeals, like a miniature firework display or war zone, each explosion a small violence in such epidermal proximity to Gaëtan’s increasingly exposed body. Many of the onlookers, in particular the children, have their fingers in their ears and their eyes clenched shut. The formal reversal of accretion and accumulation in the clear symmetrical shape of the performance (‘back and forth’) triggers a wide associational field related to bodily and life cycles: the inspiration and exhalation of breath, the growth and decay of cells, the mortal trajectory of all corporeal forms over time. Ultimately Gaëtan’s naked, sweating, marked torso lies still in the debris of countless ruptured balloons. He stands to survey the traces of his Sisyphean task, before silently putting the familiar second skin of his clothes back on and returning to the everyday with a smile. (1)

* Children’s Choice Awards: ‘Most Disgusting’, ‘Most Beautiful’, ‘Liveliest’

(1) An earlier performance of Gaëtan Rusquet’s Back and forth, at the AccionMad Festival, Madrid (November 2010), has been documented on video by Christopher Hewitt, another artist involved in ANTI 2011. The liveartwork DVD issue 12 is available through the liverartwork website.

rider spoke

blast theory (UK)

After a short briefing at the Festival Centre at Kummisetä, I set off into the mid-evening darkness on an unfamiliar bike along the streets, alleys and pathways of Kuopio, a city wholly unknown to me. Guided by the screen of a handheld computer console (Nokia N800) mounted on the handlebars, I listen to Ju Row Farr’s quiet instructions and questions through earphones. The task is to find ‘hiding places’ not yet occupied by others, to leave recorded verbal responses to trigger questions, and to access the audio traces that previous cyclists have left. So a choice of four possible modes for this game of hide and seek: ride, stop, listen, speak/record. During this solitary drift in search of virtual companions, in which my shifting position is located through WiFi hotspots, the onscreen imagery reveals places where other flâneur-cyclists have ‘hidden’: a porch, a car park, a clump of trees, the entrance to a college, a bus stop, a park bench. Swallows flit across the screen until an alert signals arrival at a location as yet unoccupied.

As rider, one’s focus shifts continuously: an outward negotiation of traffic, people (many dog walkers at this time of night), track surfaces, and of the spectral presences rooted invisibly in particular places, many of them deserted; and an inward trajectory inviting personal association, memory, imagination, reflection and their articulation. I am struck by the sense of vulnerability, gradually supplanted by a growing confidence and pleasure, in the anomaly of dismounting in the dark to listen in silence to an unknown voice whispering in one’s ear - or of speaking out loud on one’s own into a tiny microphone in the earphone lead, knowing that this sonic trace is now deposited to linger here invisibly, accessible only to subsequent networked cyclists pausing in this place.

Gradually, different orders of reality proliferate and blur, and a layered mapping of places, voices and presences starts to ghost and re-write the actual. Empty spaces become inhabited and peopled, sometimes mysteriously (a secret or promise delivered in Finnish remains entirely secret to me), sometimes surprisingly or comfortingly; and the fleeting company of a teeming virtual community of participant-author-strangers both reveals itself and remains withheld, unknowable. After an hour, my embodied trajectory has constructed a detailed web or palimpsest of the public and the private, the palpably literal and the imagined, the intimate and the distanced. I am happily imbricated in an interactive, dis/orienting chorale of confessional secrets, desires and fictions, as both witness and contributor to a work-in-progress archive: an unfinished register of the whispers of the world in a here that is both now and past, elsew/here and to come. 

Photo by Pekka Mäkinen 2011

anti art / gift

The following texts emerged from an invitation to attend the ANTI Festival in Finland (27 September - 2 October 2011) as a visiting writer, and to respond to the festival. After a short introduction below, subsequent posts focus on five of the festival's performance events - by Blast Theory, Lone Twin, Gaëtan Rusquet, Juha Valkeapää and the 100 Year Old Rock'n'Roll Band. These texts were first published as a review essay in Performance Research 17:1 ('On Failure'), alongside a series of photographs by Pekka Mäkinen.  

Since its inception in 2001, the ANTI-Contemporary Art Festival in Kuopio, Finland, has become known internationally for its commitment to site-specific and contextual live art practices. Its ongoing brief has been to displace art from galleries and other conventionally designated spaces, and to root it in public and social spaces, making it available and engaging to new audiences as small invitational frictions in the civic everyday. One of the meanings of the word ‘anti’ in Finnish, I am told, alongside its more familiar oppositional associations, is ‘gift’.

The festival’s 10th anniversary programme, ANTI 2011, was curated by joint artistic directors Johanna Tuukkanen and Gregg Whelan in loose relation to the theme ‘Remake Rebuild Renew’. In part, this ‘ANTIversary’ festival offered an opportunity to invite a number of artists to return to Kuopio, and to revisit sites and develop earlier projects for a city in transition. In addition, ANTI was seeking artists’ engagements with and responses to changes in the political culture and material fabric of the city. During the festival itself, most of the expansive city centre square remained inaccessible, fenced off around a cavernous pit. The void sculpted out of the earth during this long-term excavation down to the city’s bedrock fractured the rhythms and flows of the city centre, and left a number of buildings and public walkways propped precariously on its edge; this hole is to be the location of – surprise, surprise - an underground car park. 
In what follows I have chosen to focus on five performance projects from ANTI 2011. Taken together, perhaps they reflect something of the curatorial flavour and dynamic of this most civic, emplaced and human-scale of international festivals. In the print version for Performance Research, my short account of each project sits alongside and in dialogue with photographs by Pekka Mäkinen, who has documented every artist and project at ANTI over the past ten years. As part of ANTI 2011, date-stamped prints of Mäkinen’s images from past festivals were on display in diverse locations around the city. Furthermore, a wide range of images from his remarkable photographic archive of hundreds of ephemeral events hosted by ANTI in Kuopio over the past decade animate a lavishly illustrated new book launched to mark the festival’s anniversary (1). Mäkinen’s fine photographs provide glimpses and traces that perhaps enable us to revisit and remake something of a startling array of artists’ actions, processes, images, encounters, situations and exchanges, each of them now disappeared from locations that are themselves in process.

Finally, I have listed the awards presented to these artists by a roving jury of local children from Kalevalan koulu who attended almost all of the performances at this year’s festival in Kuopio. The Children’s Choice Awards, coordinated by members of the Toronto-based company Mammalian Diving Reflex, were staged in the main chamber of the city hall as the final event of ANTI 2011. 

(1) Johanna Tuukkanen, Laura Tervo, Minna Jaakkola and Gregg Whelan (eds), ANTIVERSARY - Performance, live art and site-specificity: a decade of ANTI Contemporary Art Festival, Finland: ANTI, 2011. The book contains contributions by Jennie Klein, Anna-Reetta Suhonen, Juha-Heikki Tihinen, Helen Cole, Kira O’Reilly, Dee Heddon, Rosie Dennis, Kirsi Pitkänen, Simon Whitehead, Richard DeDomenici, Juha Valkeapää, Eungyung Kim and Shoji Kato, as well as an interview with the festival’s artistic directors.