On my last day in Palermo, visiting Manifesta 12 a few weeks ago, I walked all the way to see one work from a bridge by the sea, at the outskirts of the city. And there I also made a short video, inspired by the title of the series City on Stage, which I misread ”city as stage”. I though that could be developed into a once-a-week type of series, made with my iPhone, and my little tripod, of handbag size, which I did not have with me in Palermo, of course. The rough sketch made with the iPhone leaning on my handbag shows a blurry shadow in the lower part of the image. I liked, however, the idea of simple and quick sketches made at the outskirts of cities or in places that I happen to visit. I edited three versionS of the small work: one where my movement into and out of the image is included (1a) one with the still pose only (1b) and one with a slow crossfade between the image with the human figure and the one without, a slow disappearance (1c). Here are stills from a and b:
Today in Bergen, Norway, I made another attempt, a quick sketch while waiting for the bus to the airport, placing my phone with the tripod on top of a rubbish bin and simply walking into the image, inspired by the presentations and discussions at the Artistic Research Forum I had enjoyed. And this time the city really served as a stage, because there were some passers-by performing with me. While waiting for the plane at the airport I edited two versions of the work, one with my movement included (2a) and one without (2 b). Here are stills from both of them:
Now, when I have made two sketches, in two cities, and when I know that with the right equipment it is rather easy, I can confirm that this is something I can try to keep up as a practice, at least while visiting various cities. The first video clips are available on the RC, here. This is not at all related to my project performing with plants, but rather linked to my previous attempts at performing landscape. There is something unpretentious in this way of making improvisatory notes that I like, anyway…
The title of this years’ Manifesta, the European Nomadic Biennial, which changes host city every time, Manifesta 12 Palermo, is The Planetary Garden. Cultivating Coexistence. That is so directly connected to my research topic, performing with plants, that I simply had to go and see it, especially when I noticed that the garden was not only understood on a metaphoric level. One of the main venues, L’Orto Botanico, is the Botanical Garden founded in 1789. And of course the city of Palermo was seducing as well. I visited the place during Christmas 1975 and have very few memories of it, being stranded there, on my way to Tunis. I was very yong, trying to get away from Christmas celebrations and landing in the midst of the very Catholic city. I remember marveling at the amount nativity displays, which I had not seen before, and the huge bundles of Poinsettia branches, the red flowers that we had in pots and called Christmas stars. I spent Christmas Eve alone in a class z pension, burning a candle and eating dried figs, that is about all I can remember. It was about time to make acquaintance with the city, so now I spent three full days there, running around in all the rundown or abandoned palazzi that served as the venues for Manifesta, and really enjoyed the city.
The curatorial concept was divided into three strands: Garden of Flows, which “explores toxicity, plant life and culture of gardening in relation to the global commons”, Out of Control Room, which sees Palermo as “the ideal stage on which to test what space is now left for individual or collective, human or non-human political agencies”, and City on Stage, with Teatro Garibaldi as a place “to come together, start conversations, explore exhibitions and participate in live events open to the public”. Well, I did not have the chance to see any live events, only videos documenting some of them, nor did I make trips to the sites in the suburbs where some collaborations had taken place. There was plenty to see within walking distance. Many works hinted at the theme of garden, by including or referring to plants in some manner. Two works, however, I would like especially to remember.
First of all the disturbing installation by Lungiswa Gqunta “Lituation – The Gardner’s Revenge”, a mixture of litter, glass bottles, petrol, papaya trees and more, a creepy replica of what many urban gardens actually look like. According the program, in the words of the artist, I suppose: “This garden is a contested landscape, one we water with liquid that will ignite the masses because the revolution is lit”.
Another work that was disturbing in a different way, trying to be useful, experimenting with the idea of cultivation in collaboration with scientists and local food establishments, was called “What is Above is What is Below”, by Cooking Sections, a group founded in London 2013 consisting of Alon Schwabe and Daniel Fernández Pascual. I bumped into one part of the work in the form of citrus trees in the small Giardino Dei Gusti covered with yellow gauze, in an experiment to “water without water”. By the ruined Chiesa di S. Maria Dello Spasimo there was a related experiment with citrus trees enclosed by circular brick walls, a contemporary interpretation of the traditional mode of planting a tree in an enclosed yard.
More about the program and these works can be found at the manifesta 12 website.
There is only one spruce tree growing on Harakka Island, so it makes sense to speak of revisiting the spruce. There are more rocks than one, however, so revisiting the rock sounds slightly strange. These visits are linked to my work with Animal Years, a series of yearly projects, weekly performances for camera on the island during the years 2002-2014. And they could take place now because of my sitting as a gallery guard on the island for more than a week, taking care of the small exhibition Trees in Victoria in the old Telegraph (3-12.8.2018) The specific rock in question is the one I was sitting on in 2008 while posing as something resembling the little mermaid, or her sculpture in Copenhagen, and later edited the material into the work Year of the Rat – Mermaid 1-2 as well as Day and Night of the Rat – Mermaid. That year there was no proper ice, no more than what is shown in these images:
The “re-enactment” happened on a windy day, and I sat and hold on to the tripod after it almost tumbled over on the rocks. Although I managed to recreate the image fairly well, despite the water level being quite low, I forgot that the new proportions would leave my head out of the image. Well, the feet were the important part, anyway:
The spruce has also figured in a work, Under the Spruce I-III, made in the year of the pig, 2007, and edited into a three-channel installation. There my performing for camera is really invisible; the human figure sitting under the spruce is not discernible in most of the images. The spruce is video recorded from three different perspectives.
The idea was to insert all three images into one larger image of the spruce in full size. I made one version first, but the following day, while walking around, I noticed that a full portrait of the spruce might be easier from another angle.
Besides the rock and the spruce I also recorded a long take of the cliff on the northwestern shore in order to create a base image to insert the videos of the installation Year of the Pig – Installation or perhaps rather the two parts of shorter version Year of the Pig – Sitting on a Cliff I-II (short).
The cliff is steep, and it was difficult to frame a recognizable image; I might as well have recorded only the sea, or then tried from a boat, but a moving image would be something completely different, of course. A simple and rather steep shoreline is all I got:
I am not sure if I will make all these compilations, but at least it is worth trying. Year of the rat (2008) was the last year I used a DV camera and recorded images in TV-format. The quality is fairly poor, and inserting the images in a “proper” base image makes for a clear upgrade. And perhaps my little exercise on the rock has some value, mainly due to my funny bright yellow outfit…
The exhibition "Trees in Victoria" was opened yesterday at the Telegraph on Harakka Island and will continue 3.-12.8. 2018. It includes two video-installations (as split-screen videos) Trees in Victoria (Apollo Bay) 14 min 30 sec., and Trees in Victoria (Lorne), 13 min 40 sec., both of them recorded in respective locations, Apollo Bay och Lorne, in Victoria in southern Australia during a week after the PSi#22 conference in Melbourne in July 2016 and then edited during 2017.
There is a blog post from the trip to Victoria, here
Both works are also available on the Research Catalogue as small files, here
The exhibition will go on for a week only, and it is open from Tuesday to Sunday noon to 6 pm. I will sit as a gallery guard – that is my holiday this year…
After the very big and quite successful World Congress of the IFTR (International Federation for Theatre Research) in Belgrade, Serbia, (the program is available here and the book of abstracts here) and the executive committee meeting after it, I had an afternoon to spend on my own. With my camera and tripod and the same yellow outfit I wore in Daegu, I headed directly to the park next to the Museum of Contemporary Art where we had a big party on Thursday night. I remembered seeing a small tree suitable to sit in at the border of the large lawn outside the museum on the other side of river Sava, and there it was, right next to the parking lot. The tree was one of many of its kind, a species quite unknown to me. The taller trees on the shore were some sort of poplars, but these small trees covered with puffy pepper-looking fruits I had never seen before. There were quite a few of them; all the smaller, yellowish trees in these images are of the same kind, although only one of them had a trunk with a place to sit in.
After my session, on returning from the park I asked the reception sit in the hotel, googled trees in Belgrade and so on, to no avail. Finally I found an image of something similar, albeit reddish, by looking for dried flowers in Finnish and that way I came to a whole group of plants and trees called lantern trees. There are several types, The Chilean Lantern tree, the Chinese Lantern tree, a creeper of the family Solanaceae related to the tomato and the potato and so on. Most lantern trees have colorful fruits, and these were yellowish-green, but perhaps they will turn read later in the summer. And although I did not think of it at first, these trees probably had flowers earlier this summer. To put it simply: plants change their appearance over the year! And that should not come as a surprise to me, living in the north. Nevertheless I was not sure exactly what this specific tree is called, so I decided to call it a lantern tree.
The video will be uploaded on the RC here The video still is from the beginning of the 15 minute session, when the sun was burning bright, but very soon there were some clouds covering it providing a relaxing shade. Since I was not there, behind the camera to adjust the light, most of the video is rather dull and dark. Despite the image of the tree being framed as rather wide to include more of the tree, its foliage is nevertheless not included. Some snapshots of the tree and its fruits taken after the session will give a better idea of what kind of tree it is:
After attending the PSi #24 conference in Daegu, Korea, I had one day, or morning, to spend in Daegu before heading back to Seoul and Helsinki. Pilvi Porkola from the project How to do things with performance, with whom we made a presentation, returned home with her son a day earlier. My plan was to take a walk to Dalseong Park to see if I could find a suitable tree to sit in for a while, and I asked a colleague from the conference who stayed in the guesthouse, Megan Evans, if she would be interested in visiting the park and looking after the camera behind my back while I was sitting in the tree. And she agreed, so in relatively fresh and sunny weather we walked there and followed path around the park up on the ancient fortifications. It was actually Megan who noticed a possible tree, which I had not noticed and I immediately agreed, because most of the trees were either to old and tall or too young. At first I thought this tree might be too young as well, that is, too weak to carry my weight, but on closer examination it proved quite strong. I had my pale pink woollen scarf with me, but for some reason the yellow clothing I happened to wear seemed more appropriate for the circumstances. Megan would sit on the nearby bench, keep an eye on the camera and perhaps restart it, if for some reason it would stop unexpectedly, as it sometimes does. But this time all went well, and I sat approximately eleven minutes, listening to the birds, the traffic and the amused passersby. At the guesthouse I downloaded the images from the camera and on the train to Seoul I edited the material into a one-image video ”In Dalseong Park” (11 min), which is available on the RC: ”In Dalseong Park”. I named the video thus because I did not recognize the tree. It had some small berries, like miniature cherries, but looked otherwise unfamiliar. It would be very difficult to get its species verified, so I decided to accept that it was a stranger, albeit a rather friendly one. Here below are some stills from the beginning and end of the naterial, where I try to get up in the tree and then to get down again. The larger image in the middle is what the actual video looks like – a bit too dark, really. The park was nice in any case.
This image, taken by Megan Evans as a still with her phone, is actually quite nicely framed:
A small conference on Cultural Mobility of Performance and Performativity Studies organised in the beautiful old building of the Jagellonian University brought me to Krakow together with the HTDTWP group, that is, the How to do things with performance research project. I did carry my camera, tripod, pink scarf and black trousers with me, with the plan to spend the last day finding a suitable tree. After the conference I felt exhausted and joined Pilvi Porkola and Hanna Järvinen on a walk to the Kantor Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art, both located other side of the river. And I decided I would NOT carry my equipment with me, ”just in case”. When we were returning to the hotel through the park and passed an elder tree with a low bending trunk that we had passed the day before, I asked Pilvi to take a snapshot of me sitting in the tree. What was meant as a simple souvenir to begin with, nevertheless turned into a small performance recorded on video, with my phone. The transformation from snapshot to ”serious” image making can be seen in the sequence of images, below. What was remarkable, from my perspective, was not so much to have other people with me, nor missing my costume, perhaps not even the use of a simple phone camera, but the idea that somebody else was holding the camera and framing the image. Suddenly I became a performer, a model or an actress for somebody else, even though I suggested that Pilvi might take an ”arlander-style” image from the back side. Later I edited a short video by reversing the order of the three video clips, With and Elder in Krakow (2 min. 6 sec), and uploaded it on the Research Catalogue, here.
Afterwards I thought about it, and realized, this could be one way to develop my practice of sitting in, on or with trees to be something more sociable: to invite people to use the camera, rather than to pose for it, as I have previously tried to do in the swinging together images. Hm. I have to think about that…
As part of re-examining the series of video works or performances for camera made on Harakka Island called Animal Years, I have revisited the same sites and recorded some sort of action reminiscent of the actions I repeated weekly during one year in that place. I have actually made a compilation of Animal Years I (2003-2009) and Animal Years II (2010-2014) including one video for each year. After visiting the shore of Year of the Goat, the ledge of Year of the Monkey, the shore with birches of Year of the Rooster as well as the pine tree of Year of the Dog, it was time to revisit the city skyline on the northwestern cliffs for Year of the Pig. My plan was to do it before the geese had occupied the area with their nests, but arriving to the island with the ferry-boat for the first time in quite a while on Friday afternoon, I quickly realized my mistake. The geese were everywhere, not all of them but most of them with nests. Some of the guys are extremely aggressive nowadays, because their territories are shrinking and they are combating fiercely with each other. Some of them tolerate humans reasonably well, if one does not go too close, but others are really mean, and run towards you from afar with their tongues out. One of these angry ones was blocking the path with such ardour, that I had to walk around the house and choose another path to the cliff, disturbing three or four other geese couples, which luckily took my passing by relatively easy. Fortunately there was no nest close to the spot where I would place my camera, nor on the cliff where I would enter the image. Further up on the slope one proud wanna-be head of family kept a strict eye on me and my camera, but relaxed after a while when he noticed I would not come closer.
Negotiating with the geese and the wind on the sunny island, looking at the city across the small strait was quite a contrast to the experience of participating in the Finnish Urban Studies conference and presenting my work from last year, the Tree Calendar, there. ALthough a lot of urban studies seems to be centred on city planning issues, there were some nice discussions, and interdisciplinary contexts are always good for you, despite being frustrating and exhausting. Letting the wind empty my brain to end the day was not such a bad idea after all.
This exercise in clumsy swirling against the city skyline took place in order to create a contemporary context and background for the old videos created ten years ago. But at that time I was using a large grey scarf, which caught the wind, while performing as a weird weather vane, as you can see on a still from Year of the Pig (2008),23 min., performed approximately once a week between 6 January 2007 and 3 January 2008:
Another video I will try to insert into the image I recorded is Day and Night of the Pig (2008) 8 min 20 sec., performed during the autumnal equinox between 22 September 4 pm and 23 September 2 pm with two-hour intervals:
A compilation of these videos, augmented by some academic reflection, will be presented at
PSi #24 in Daegu, South Korea this summer. What to do with the other works made in the year of the pig 2008, like Year of the Pig – Sitting on a Cliff 1&2 and Under the Spruce 1-3, which would be nice to compile into one Frame, too, I have time to think about later in the summer, when the geese have moved on…
After reading a nice little book by Jeffrey T. Nealon, Plant Theory – Biopower and Vegetable Life (2016), which consists of a preface, four chapters (on Foucault, Aristotle & Heidegger, Derrida, Deleuze & Guattari and their ideas on vegetation), and a coda What difference does it make? I decided it was time to get out for a change. On the last day of March I followed a walking path on the slopes of the hills east of Puerto Rico on Gran Canaria in order to find some shrubs to sit with. And there were indeed plenty of them. At the bottom of the small valley, where the path crossed something that at some point might have been the bed of a brook I could get off the path, both above and beneath it, and made some attempts at performing for camera. The first image, above the path, is nice as a view, but there I placed myself much too close to the camera and become the main focus of attention:
The second attempt, below the path, is more interesting, because the shrubs are bigger and the branches produce interesting shadows. They are actually two different shrubs, a Tabaiba on the left and a Balo further down on the right, as I later learned:
The third image is perhaps the most fascinating, partly because the Euphorbia or Cardón as they are called here are so peculiar, partly because I managed to place myself more subtly with the plants:
These three images were my first attempts this Easter, oddly yellow in tone. I hope there will be more.
And there was to be more, for sure. On Sunday 1 April I made a new trip to the valley. First I sat with some flowering Tabaibas:
And on the way back I saw a Balo next to a rock providing some inviting shade, in a romantic image I had seen in so many fairy tale illustrations that I simply had to enter it. But too tired I miscalculated the distance, placing the camera much too close:
On Monday 2 April I made a third trip, with the aim of finding some Cardóns, which I remember grew higher up in the valley. And there were plenty of them. But first I sat with a Balo:
The Cardóns are quite amazing when watched closely, parts of them really old and withered, and then some parts growing new shoots directly from their fleshy but spiky trunks. They are not really inviting, but more evoking respect, I would say, hard to make acquaintance with but with a strong character:
Walking down the riverbed I decided I might make one more trip tomorrow to sit with some of the Balos I passed on the way. And in the park on the way back I posed on a bench under a Mimosa tree in order to remind myself to enjoy the places purposely made for humans, too, instead of always insisting on making everything so tiresome and exhausting and unnecessarily complicated:
The wood behind DOCH (Dans och Cirkus högskolan, School of Dance and Circus), where I have my working place these days, is part of Norra Djurgården (The Northern Djurgården Park) but unofficially called Lill-Jansskogen.I have been walking around there, along the various paths, looking for a nice tree to sit in, preferably a pine, but have not had much success in finding a suitable one. The wood is fascinating because it is deliberately left rather feral with lots of dead trees, and the terrain is rather varied as well. After making some excursions in the area I finally decided, on the eve of the Chinese New Year, to just make up a round for myself as near as possible to my base, with some stops on the way, something easy to repeat, if not daily, at least weekly. I wanted to begin a series of images to be repeated during the year of the dog – partly because I had missed the chance to begin at the ordinary new year – and to revisit my actions during the year of the dog twelve years earlier. At that time I was sitting in a pine tree on Harakka Island, lying on the rocks as the shadow of a small pine at the shore and also visiting an old pine tree in Kalvola about 100 km north of Helsinki, hanging from its branch and leaning on its trunk, although only once a month. Some of these works are archived on the research catalogue: Year of the Dog – Sitting in a Tree, Day and Night of the Dog, while all of them are available on the pages of AV-arkki, the Distribution Centre for Finnish Media Art, like Year of the Dog – Sitting in a Tree, Day and Night of the Dog, Year of the Dog in Kalvola – Calendar or Year of the Dog in Kalvola – Calendar 1-2, Shadow of a Pine I-II and Shadow of a Pine I-IV.
Since sitting in a tree, or on a tree or with a tree is the main action I have been engaged with during the first year of my artistic research project Performing with plants, which I am now continuing with in Stockholm, that seemed like an easy choice to go on with. But of course you want to find the right partner if you are going to commit yourself to a collaboration for a whole year. And nothing seemed really inviting or seducing or inspiring in any way. To simply get started I decided to make a try-out, and to begin with the stub of a recently felled old spruce, which had caught my eye during my walks, to sit on the stub as my first stop, and to continue from there. Moreover, I thought I would perhaps make do with some of the small pines on the hill right next to the building, since they were growing conveniently right there. So, the day before new moon I took my camera and chose these four stops.
Sitting with the tragic corpse of the spruce:
Resting in the corner of the fairy tale forest:
Swinging on the branch of an old pine on the hill:
And finally, sitting in, on, with or amongst a small pine by the path:
These four actions and four images, two with spruces and two with pines, are all very different in atmosphere, but I was rather happy with making these choices without further ado. This was a beginning, despite small technical problems, like the attachment part of my microphone being broken, or my memory card not finding the video files and so on. In the evening, in a professional photography shop, they managed to repair the microphone stand and to explain why my card reader did not find the files: I had accidentally recorded them in the wrong format. So, to celebrate the start of the Chinese new year, I decided to change the format I have been recording in to MP4, following the advice I received. This was after all only the first test.
The following sessions I will document on my Stockholm-blog, here. Still images and links will in any case be available on this page of the project site.