The sea was open when I came over to the island, but since there was no wind it felt like it could be freezing any moment. There was no thin layer of ice on its surface yet, but near the shores there was a sort of porous jelly that could turn into ice floes any minute. For a good ice to form it was not cold enough, though. I got a ride across to the island and went to perform, to stand and sit in front of the camera with my dark blue scarf on the hill towards west for the last time. This remake of my weekly performance during the year of the horse 2002, done once a month in 2014 ends here. The year of the goat will commence a month from now, at 19th of February. This remake is like an epilogue to “Animal years”, the twelve years I have documented on Harakka Island 2002-2014. There is a sense of endings in the air in other ways, too. I have bought a new camera and will start to use it for future projects, which means, among other things, that I will no longer be recording on tape. When I look at the small DV tape cover on my table, I can read the dates I have visited the hill and the rock below it: 6 February, 30 March, 12 April, 11 May, 2 June, 14 July, 12 August, 17 September, 11 October, 9 November and 14 December 2014. And now, today, on 19 January 2015.
The book by Laura U. Marks The Skin of the Film – Intercultural Cinema, embodiment, and the senses (Duke University Press 2000), which was recommended to me by a doctoral student who is interested in postcolonial memory, is the only work related to video or film I have recently read. Mark’s idea of haptic visuality is a concept I have long wanted to explore. She focuses on independent films describing diasporic experiences and places the phenomenon of intercultural cinema in a historical postcolonial context. To begin with she also mentions some formal and political precedents like the Third World News Reel tradition or Black British Cinema and describes the infrastructure for funding and producing such films as well as the specific audiences addressed and involved, that is, touched by the actual “skin of the film”. Her idea that many of these filmmakers try to evade objectifying visuality and work with the blurring of vision in order to evoke other senses is perhaps not connected to my work in any obvious way. After all, working with landscape as a view is very much about overlooking the scene and keeping a distance. But the idea of standing in front of the camera in the first image, clothed in a scarf, which covers and hides the landscape behind it, with the image showing mainly the texture of the scarf, might resonate with her ideas of tactility or haptic visuality. As does in some strange sense also the idea of repetition, of returning to the same place, showing the same thing over and over again, trying to grasp what exactly is happening there, waiting for the details of the landscape to come to life. The focus on diasporic experiences in her examples makes the application of her ideas to this work somewhat artificial, but her emphasis on other senses than vision does resonate with my experience of trying to convey the experience of a landscape. Perhaps that is something I should really focus on in the future: to look closer, to forget the view and direct my attention to the details, the small more or less living things everywhere in the environment…
While uploading the material to my computer I took a walk around the island, for the first time in more than a month, and noticed that two big trees in the northwest, a birch and a rowan, had fallen in a storm. And I also saw a thick soup of ice floes floating out through the Uuninsuu or “mouth of the oven”, as the strait between Harakka island and Uunisaari Island is called in Finnish. Where did they all come from, obviously somewhere in the northeast. As long as the stream keeps moving, we will be fine, but if the movement stops the ice might freeze and there we are – or here we are, stuck on the island.
That was almost what happened. It was completely impossible to move through the ice in a small rowing boat. Luckily Saara came with her strong buster boat bringing her children home from the mainland, and agreed to try to take me across before nightfall. And the ride was exciting, to say the least. She brought me to the Ursula peer, since the skin of the sea seemed thinner in that direction. It was not possible to go around the floes; the soup was too thick for that. So she had to press the boat up on the floes, then back off if they did not break and try again. It was quite an achievement to get me ashore. And walking along the shore I saw her struggling back to her family on the island. I do admire her strength; what brave and tough woman she is.
Last night some of the rainfall came down as wet snow, but nothing of it remained in the afternoon when I went down to the shore to empty my boat of water. The ground was as dark and gloomy as before, only more wet. To my surprise the wind was blowing from west-northwest in such an angle that there were no big waves between the mainland and the island. Thus I quickly decided to return and bring my things and to row across to record the December session of Year of the Horse now, and thus to have it done well before Christmas. I am visiting the same rock that I sat on once a week during the year of the horse 2002, but this year 2014 only once a month. And this session today was the next to last one. One more remains to be done in January, before the Chinese year of the horse ends and transforms into the year of the goat.
These days there is not much daylight; dusk sets in already at four o’clock. And on a cloudy day it feels like the day never really begins. In the city centre all the Christmas lights try to cheer people up to shop, but by the shore the occasional lights here and there feel dim. You would expect people living here for generations becoming somehow immune to the effects of lack of light, but no. Most people suffer, feeling constantly tired and slightly sad. I was energized by my dread for the strong wind, though. On the way to the island it was pushing me, but on the way back I really had to work hard against it. And nothing keeps you awake better than a kick of adrenaline.
Many performance artists work with that, I guess, when they experiment with risk or pain or hint at terror. Like Peter Rosvik with his blood soaked globe in flames in the rain last night at the event Tonight at Suomenlinna. Or Michelle Lacombe with her subtle mixture of saliva and tears in the strong and simple performance at the end of that same night. My small performances for camera do not involve any real risk, or even imagined dread, although I keep repeating the same actions as if forced by some mysterious trauma. No symbolic self-immolation or other type of violence is hinted at. The most scary part is often related to the unpredictability of the weather and is nothing the viewer of the artwork will encounter.
I recently read a dialogue between Borradori and Derrida called Autoimmunity: real and symbolic suicides, a dialogue with Jacques Derrida. The reason for engaging with a text that deals with the aftermath of September 11 was a recommendation by Rustom Bharucha. He visited Helsinki last week and gave a lecture on his book Terror and Performance, speaking admiringly of this dialogue. The debate on terrorism is not as heated as at that time, but much of the analysis is still valid. And with the situation in Palestine being what it is the discussion of state terrorism is as relevant as ever. Even a peaceful activity like performing landscape could turn into a dangerous affair if there are disagreements concerning who is entitled to use the land. Terror, territory and ‘terra’ go together.
On returning to a damp and chilly Helsinki from the rainy but considerably warmer city of Porto I inevitably thought about the influence landscape and the environment in general has on our moods. After discussing various approaches to artistic research during a small well-organised and fairly informal event called Conversations on Artistic Research at the department of fine arts of the University of Porto, where I gave one of the keynotes with the title On Doing Research, it seemed almost an anti-climax to resume my modest research project on Harakka Island. The purpose of my quick visit to the island today was only to fetch some hard disks with videos now, while the wind was not too bad. While on the island I realized that it might be a good idea to perform and shoot the November image while I was there, so I did exactly that, standing on the hill and then sitting on the damp rock, listening to the howling of the small windmill. I have repeated the same action, which I used to repeat once a week twelve years ago during the year of the horse 2002, only once a month during this year of the horse 2014.
The notion production of space in the title of the blog note today refers to the classic work by Henri Lefevre The Production of Space, written in the beginning of the seventies (1974), which has been on the reading list of everybody interested in issues related to space ever since. Of course I had some brief references to his tripartite division of space into lived, conceived and perceived space, or to his slightly confusing distinction spatial practice, representation of space, and representational space, in my doctoral work called Esitys tilana (Performance as Space) in 1998. But I never really studied his thinking at that time. Now, almost twenty years later, reading him for a seminar on performance and the environment (and performance as environment) I realize that I really should have devoted more time to studying his work back then. Reading him now is fun in another way. His critical arguments against the proponents of the linguistic turn fashionable at the time and his ironical comments dircted at orthodox Marxists seem funny now, but many of his ideas on the production of space make sense today.
With the help of his ideas I could try to analyse how the particular place of Harakka Island has been produced, and is continually reproduced by the social practices of its various user groups, although understanding my own practice as part of that production is of course more difficult. Or perhaps not, if I decide that I don’t mind simplifications. In a very obvious way I am involved in a practice, which transforms our lived space into the conceived and percieved space of a video work. This spatial practice participates in producing the space of the island, and is also creating a representational space (the video work), which is at least partly based on and also to some minute extent influencing the prevalent cultural representations and conceptions of space. Rather than the different levels of representation, however, the notion of production seems most relevant today, and is also closer to something that could be called the performativity of space.
Revisiting the rock on the western shore of Harakka Island once again made me think of the materiality of this kind of reworking, remaking, returning, replaying of what was before. Although the rock, the wooden stairs, my scarf are all the same as twelve years ago, I have a hard time making the connection. I do not remember what I experienced in October 2002, rather, I have some vague images in my mind of the video thus created, Year of the Horse – Sitting on a Rock, which I saw recently. Probably the same goes for many memories, we do not remember the events but only our retelling of them.
In her paper at the conference New Materialist Methodologies – Gender, Politics and the Digital, Barbara Bolt spoke about her work based on Robert Motherwell’s paintings and mentioned a text by Jan Verwoert about appropriation and invocation. I was fascinated and found the text called “Apropos Appropriation: Why steeling images today feels different” on the web, published in Art and Research vol 1 no 2 summer 2007. He is discussing postmodern practices of appropriation in the 1980’s compared to appropriation today, and contends that invoking images involves dealing with ghosts, referring to Derrida, as well as the ceremonies involved in invoking them. He describes the move away from interest in the arbitrariness of the sign to the performativity of language, how things are done with words, how language through injunction and interpellations enforces meaning, like a spell cast upon a person. When you call up a spectre it will not be content with being analysed, it will have to be negotiated….
Invoking the spectre of German romantic painting, as I did in the year of the goat (2003) by trying to re-stage “Der Mönch am Meer” by Caspar David Friedrich on various shores besides Harakka Island resulted in the work Year of the Goat – Harakka Shore 1-3 and Three Shores, among other things. And in that context the idea of negotiation made sense. Referring to that painting evoked a whole legacy of idealist interpretations and also recreations.
But what about now? I am not appropriating a previous work of my own by recreating it, but I do invoke it in some way. And then I have to ask, why call up exactly these ghosts? Why sit on a rock again? Should I not rather consider what kind of ghosts could be worth calling forth at this moment, what spectres should be summoned for help right now? And in the spirit of acknowledging the performativity of all kinds of artistic practice, what kind of injunctions or spells should be used at this moment?
Beautiful warm summer days in the middle of September are rare in Finland, and what we call ‘Indian summer’ always feels like extreme luxury. Very, very soon the dark, damp, stormy autumn is upon us. I went to revisit the slope and the rock I used to visit weekly in the year of the horse in 2002, and now visit once a month this year, and was surprised by the view. After a few days of rain the moss was light green on the cliffs, and all the yellow leaves of the birches were gone, so the few remaining green ones almost reminded me of spring. And it was warm!
I found my notes on a text called “Immaterial land” by Brian Martin in the anthology edited by Estelle Barrett and Barbara Bolt Carnal Knowledge (2013), which I read this summer. It is written from the point of view of the indigenous population in Australia and their view of art in contrast to western notions of art, representation, ideology, and enlightenment. The central notion for the indigenous worldview, according to Martin, is “country” or land, which makes the text sometimes hard to comprehend. It is clear that a more active and sensitive relationship to the earth, the soil and to the environment in general is needed, but too much talking about belonging and land sounds in my ears too much like ‘Blut und Boden’ ideology. Of course I do not mean that aboriginal ideas of land and landscape have anything to do with that, but for my European ears the association is inevitable. On the other hand the idea of a work of art as a map and a ritual aid as well as the materialization of memory is fascinating. And of course the point of refusing the binary between the material and the immaterial or spiritual, is fascinating, too. The few aboriginal works I saw in the last Documenta in Kassel were truly impressive, like huge shimmering colour fields of small ornamental patterns. But the works Brian Martin speaks about are more concrete, like two images of slightly ornamentalized fish. The idea behind them is great though. You catch a fish, you respect it, you eat it and then you paint it and bring it back to life in that way – absolutely perfect. I thought about my colleges who caught a lot of perch on the western shore here, simply by throwing in a fish trap with a sufficiently long rope down the slope, and served us a delicious soup.
I am still wondering, what to do next. Painting fish is not an option for me. Well, how about photographing what I eat? This remake of the Year of the Horse is like a small exercise once a month to keep me warm, while I wait for some new ideas. Perhaps I should simply move to another place, look at another kind of landscape, investigate a different environment…
The hiking path called the Little Bear’s Trail is a 12 km circular walk that touches the real 80 km Bear Trail in Oulanka National park. In Finnish it is called pieni karhunkierrosThe huge park is situated quite near the Russian border in Koillismaa (northeastern land) in the northeast of Finland. It is supposed to be one of the most beautiful national parks in the country, and yes, after seeing a small corner of it I have to admit that it is quite spectacular, especially now when the colours of autumn start to spread on the slopes. It has some beautiful gorges and river valleys with rapids that attract people engaged in white water sports. The small suspension bridges swinging with each step are quite scary for a person unaccustomed to them.
I came here following the suggestion of a friend, who thought this would be the right place for a one week hike. I quickly realized that sleeping in a tent in the forest in the autumn, when the nights are dark and chilly, was not such a good idea, especially since I have no experience of hiking or camping since the 1970’s. So I came here like an elderly tourist, staying at a local inn enjoying my warm bed and some good food, and experiencing the park in daytime only. I was not the only one to do that. This weekend the trail was absolutely packed with families and elderly couples who had estimated that the autumn colours would be at their best right now. Two weeks from now, with the first frost, might me even more beautiful, I guess.
I walked the Little Bear’s Trail twice, counterclockwise on Saturday, as suggested by the Forest Department, and clockwise on Sunday, as suggested by the locals. Of course the latter knew what they were talking about. And Sunday morning was quiet, too. I had the wilderness park (what a contradiction in terms!) almost for myself. Performing landscape on a popular trail in a national park is a weird idea, of course. Actually I brought my video camera and my scarf (my costume) with me more in order to reassure myself that I might do something useful, too, and not only enjoy myself by watching the arriving “ruska”, as the autumn colours are called in the north.
I made some small attempts at performing landscape for video camera on tripod, in my usual manner, sitting with my back to the camera, wearing the dark blue scarf of the year. And I quickly realized this was a vertical landscape, with the riverbed in the gorge, the cliffs on the banks, the tall trees. Everything suggested a vertical composition, so I simply turned my video camera sideways on the tripod. The most beautiful views with the rapids down in the gorge were difficult to record, but I made some small attempts anyway, relying on chance, as always. At least the image by Myllykoski, sitting near the water in the shadow of a cliff while the sun sparkled in the whitewater, should be OK. Sitting by rapids could be an interesting series to create, the sound of the water rushing through the rocks is fascinating and the forceful movement of the water is captivating and dramatic. Of course it is very romantic, too, so some form of antidote is probably needed. Or perhaps my presence is enough of an antidote, after all.
I also made some experiments with a small pebble I picked on Harakka Island earlier and painted a red arrow on, somewhat reminiscent of the double happiness sign I painted on a roof tile in Farrera in 1999, which resulted in the video work Double Happiness in Water (2001). This pebble with the arrow I placed in the corner of the image, pointing towards something worth focusing on. I soon realized that the only interesting images were again the vertical ones were the arrow points upward at the view. Much depends on the light, which I never know how to manipulate, I simply take it as given, and occasionally it is marvelous, though most often not.
The images were more of a side effect of this trip, which after all was more about clearing my mind than filling my hard disk with images. Some ideas were emerging, however, grace to the refreshing environment, like experimenting with vertical composition, searching for rapids and playing with the arrow – and perhaps visiting more national parks…
After a long period of warm, dry weather the birches on the cliffs on Harakka Island, (which I visit once a month during this year of the horse 2014 as a remake of my weekly visits during the year of the horse in 2002) have been completely yellow, like in autumn, since there is very little soil on the cliffs and no water without rain. But today, after the rainfall last night I expected them to look invigorated. Because of the brisk wind, however, most of the dry leaves had fallen, so the landscape looked even more autumnal, despite some fresh greenery here and there.
Since my last visit in July I have participated in another conference, the world Congress of the IFTR (International Federation for Theatre Research) at Warwick University in the UK, with the theme Theatre and Stratification. The reason I visit that conference almost every year, despite my very limited interest in theatre, is the active and supportive Performance as Research Working Group, which I have been a member of from the start. Baz Kershaw and Jacqueline Martin started the group (the first official meeting took place in Helsinki in 2006), which I now co-convene together with Jonathan Heron and Emma Meehan. We had a great meeting again this year, or several meetings, during the conference.
My paper for the working group was called “Performing with Plants – Challenges to Traditional Hierarchies?” and did not deal with this remake of the Year of the Horse at all. Rather, I focused on my work from last year, the year of the snake, which was all about swinging. And the assemblage formed by a plank and some rope attached to a tree called a swing, is of course a good example of how we normally take for granted the plants that support our activities. In a workshop organised together with Stefanie Bauerochse and Juan Manuel Aldape Munoz we invited people to swing from an old oak (me), to climb that oak and read some lines of Shakespeare (Stefanie) and walk into the art centre and watch a small performance with one of the volunteers (Juan). The book of abstracts, including these ones, can be found online here.
The huge oak I attached the swing to in Warwick (see video clip) resembled the tall redwood tree the swing was attached to at the PSi conference on Stanford University campus last year 2013 (see video clip). It was very different from the birch I tied the swing to at the opening of the Water Images exhibition here on this island this spring, and at the full moon party again last Saturday, 9 August. Or from the ash tree next to gallery Augusta on Suomenlinna during the t0NiGHt performance art event in May and again on 25 July. The mechanism was the same, though. I invited people to swing, video recorded them swinging, and then cut out the change beteeen peple so the movement of the swing continues uninterrupted, although the person swinging changes.
In my experiments here in Finland, which have been performances in the context of contemporary art rather than conference presentations, I have added another layer, by projecting the video back onto the same place and trying to swing together with the image as a performance of sorts. (see a very dark video clip of the beginning of the performance at t0NiGHt). The second experiment here on this island, Swinging in Moonlight, worked a little better, as you can see from this short video clip. An older birch is actually an ideal projection screen, with its white bark.
Revisiting the same rock on Harakka Island in Helsinki, which I used to visit weekly in 2002 and which I now visit once a month as a kind of re-enactment of that previous year of the horse, feels like a relaxed return home after a trip to Shanghai in China. During the conference Performance Studies International 20 at the Shanghai Theatre Academy I actually showed a quickly edited version of the first part of these re-visits together with the original work in a small performance-presentation called “Revisiting the Year of the Horse”. Besides the original video Year of the Horse (12 min) from 2003 I also showed the work Sitting on a Rock (Rock with Text) (6 min.) which I made the following spring at Easter time in the same place. Moreover, I presented a work performed recently in Koivumäki after midsummer Sitting on a Rock in Rain, which I have described in the Finnish version of this blog and which I edited specifically to be presented in Shanghai. The occasion was an event organised by the artistic research working group Porous Studio Avant-Gardening.
Sitting on the same rock again, knowing that the second half of the year is still in front of me, feels both strange and familiar at the same time, like engaging with the remains of some ancient practice that does not really belong to me or my concerns at the moment any more. On the other hand I have not invented any significantly different approaches to performing landscape, not yet. In Shanghai not only the landscape and the environment are different, the temperature, humidity and consistency of the air is perhaps the most striking difference. The whitish fog in the hot and humid monsoon-time city is very different from the cool breeze on this semi-sunny afternoon here by the sea. In general a certain amount of warm humidity feels nice to breathe and soothes your skin. When it is combined with heavy pollution, the effect is not so nice, though. In Shanghai they seem to understand that oxygen must be produced, since they have planted lots of trees everywhere. And for the first time I really sensed how my body automatically started to navigate closer to trees and bushes in order to find more air to breathe.
In fact I did not sit on a rock during my performance in Shanghai, nor did I try to find a rock to sit on in the nearby parks or on campus. Although I carried my video camera with me, and unlike the sessions of the Porous Studio at previous conferences, I did not document anything on video or create any new work. I took a lot of snapshots with my phone, of course, but that was part of my duties as a tourist. Some of the rocks in the famous Yuan Gardens, which I visited already on the first day, would well be worth sitting on, although the classical Chinese garden is packed with people most of the time. While visiting a huge new recreational park in Chanzhou, a nearby city where we were taken for a “retreat” after the conference, I realised that the idea of combining natural and artificial elements and creating mixtures of nature-culture has been part of the Chinese civilisation from very early on. It is only the enormous scale that makes it scary.
For the presentation I tried to write a new version of the text “Sitting on a Rock”, without much success. I am not happy with the version I presented, so I will not reproduce it here, but only the informative text I began my presentation with:
The popularity of various forms of re-makes, reconstructions, re-enactments etc. has been discussed in recent years, for instance in the anthology Perform, Repeat, Record Live Art in History, by Amelia Jones and Adrian Heathfield (2012). And the fascination with all these repetitions (with variations) of classical performance art pieces could certainly be discussed in terms of the avant-garde (one of the themes of the conference) as a historical phenomenon, the radical gestures of which we can only repeat and rehearse with a historical interest for want of any real innovation or critical force in the current situation today. But what about revisiting your own work? Is that not the ultimate evidence of total stagnation, even stultification of what might have remained of a critical impulse?
In the year 2002 I decided to document changes in the landscape by visiting the same place on Harakka Island in Helsinki approximately once a week for an entire year. It was a development of a work called Wind Rail, where I visited the same place once or twice a day for two weeks to show the changes caused by changes in the weather. In that work I had placed myself in two different positions in the image space, first at the side in the foreground, like the marginal shepherd figure in classic landscapes, who is supposed to guide the viewer’s gaze into the landscape, and then further in the image more centrally, as a smaller figure embedded in the landscape. In both cases the human figure dominates the image. This dichotomy I wanted to exaggerate further and thus placed myself in front of the camera first in such a way that my shoulder covered half of the view, literally preventing the viewer from seeing the landscape. And secondly, as you will see soon in part two, I placed myself deeper in the landscape as a tiny figure sitting on a rock. My idea was to create a two-channel installation with part one, the shoulder, on the left, and part two, the figure on the rock to the right. Due to automatic light balance the colour and brightness of the images did not combine well; they change between the first part with the scarf covering half of the image and the second part with the view of the landscape and me sitting on the rock to such an extent, that presenting them next to each other as a two-channel installation was difficult. So the work turned into a single channel video, in two parts, one after the other.
To call the work Year of the Horse was almost a coincidence. While documenting a day and a night on the same rock the following spring, I realized it was the year of the goat. The size of the rock somehow worked with the size of a goat, and I liked the idea of years having names. Only much later did I learn more about the Chinese calendar and its twelve animals, and decided to try to document a full twelve-year cycle. Although I had started it in the middle, in the south, as it were, in the year of the horse, rather than in the year of the rat, in the north, as is traditionally done. I completed the cycle of years in the year of the snake in 2013 (actually January 2014, since the Chinese new year falls on the first new moon after the winter solstice). To accentuate the idea of cyclic return I decided to revisit the same site this year, in 2014, since we are living in the year of the horse again. But this time only once a month, to form a calendar of sorts.
Now, in the year of the horse 2014, I sit once a month on the same rock, with the same scarf, but with a new camera (HD) and new image proportions (16:9 instead of 4:3). The year is obviously not finished yet, so what you see is February, March, April, May and June, only. What you see is the “remake”, revisiting the same site. The small windmill is the only visible difference in the environment. I seem to repeat the original technical problems, too, however, because I still use only automatic camera functions. At least time is speeded up in this monthly version…
Standing on the hill in front of the camera and walking down to sit on the rock below the slope, during this one session in June, made me aware of the small windmill again. It is the only feature in the environment that has visibly changed since I sat on the same rock once a week for a year twelve years ago. At that time I was interested in recording the seasonal changes in the environment during one year. Now my focus is on changes that have taken place during these years in between. Which reminds me of the notion of the excluded middle, and the environment as one example of that, discussed in an article by Jondi Keane, “Æffect: Initiating Heuristic Life” in Barrett & Bolt (eds.) Carnal Knowledge – Towards a ‘New materialism’ through the Arts I. B. Tauris 2013.
According to Keane a new materialism must be built on the subtle difference initiated by embodied reality sensitive to Æffects and prompted by atmospheric intricateness. (Keane 2013, 61) His notion Æffect is “a relational/corelational tool devised to help one learn how to negotiate the material processes of self-organisation.” Practicing embodied cognition, or distributing the mind throughout the body and into the environment, means “first, the recognition of the role of the environment in the co-selection of the organism-person-surround”, that is, “cognition as perception and action”, and “second the role of abstract relationships in the coordination of the organism-person-surround”, that is, “cognition as attention, emphasis, and the production of value-based distinctions”. (Keane 2013, 60)
What would that mean in terms of my sitting on a rock once a month? Or in terms of documenting visits to the same place regularly? I do recognise the role of the environment in what Keane would call the organism-person-surround of me sitting on the cold rock among young birches bending in the wind and geese walking around followed by their young. I am not observing and reflecting but rather engaging in actions in order to perceive. And I do admit that I focus my attention on some parts of the environment and put more emphasis and value on some aspects, like the familiar rock and the view of the open sea. And that my eyes are intent on noticing changes since my last visit in May, like the full-grown leaves of the birches or the profusion of violets blooming on the cliffs.
In springtime water is everywhere in the mountains. All the snow has to go somewhere, so it runs, flows, falls in trickles and cascades down the slopes in various forms of brooks and rivulets. In Kilpisjärvi I was experimenting with recording them, focusing on the small ones. I recorded the sound and took some snapshots of all the murmuring creeks I crossed on my path. When I looked at the snapshots on my comptuer I was disappointed at first; the grey sky was reflected in the water and produced strangely bland and flat pictures. After seeing many variations i realized that these snapshots are actually more fascinating than the recordings. I posted some on the ArsBioarctica blog as well:
Recording the small mountainbrooks in Kilpisjärvi reminded me of the very first video work I did on my own in 1999 in Centre D’Arte i Natura in Farrera de Pallars in the Catalonian Pyrenées. There I followed two small mountain brooks to the point of their confluence, and combined the material with some fragments from an essay on exactitude by Italo Calvino, some images of me walking down the slopes and some medieval music. The four channel installation was formed into a table and you could listen to the sounds with headphones.
For the exhibition Calvinomemos in Kontti gallery in Kiasma 2000 (curated by Irmeli Kokko) I wrote a text, which I copy here in in its original form:
Where the sea begins
In writing about exactitude Italo Calvino mentions two symbols that are used to describe the process of formation of living beings, the flame and the crystal. “Crystal and flame: two forms of perfect beauty that we cannot tear our eyes away from, two modes of growth in time, of expenditure of the matter surrounding them, two moral symbols, two absolutes, two categories for classifying facts and ideas, styles and feelings.” (Calvino 1993, p 71) Though Calvino speaks about literature, those two images or ideals are relevant even for one who makes performances; “in a live performance these two forms of existence are united a performance is both a composition and an event (communicative field) even if the emphasis between them can shift and the creation process can follow either path.” (Arlander 1998, p 155)
When I started to plan this work in autumn 1999, those two images evoked different questions. Could water perhaps be a third? I had worked with water sounds as material for a radio play and noticed, that it was an interesting starting point to think of water as a metaphoric solvent, where both factual and fictional destinies and stories melt and mix and which reflects them in a distorted form. Water could also be related to radio as a medium, or the media flow more generally formless, sipping in everywhere, melting everything together to sameness. Nevertheless I was fascinated by the idea of Joseph Brodsky that water is the image of time. “Should the world be designated a genre, its main stylistic device would no doubt be water.” (Brodsky 1992, s 124) According to him a thought itself possesses a water pattern, as one’s emotions and even one’s handwriting.
Could water, like the crystal and the flame, be a form of `perfect beauty that we cannot tear our eyes away from’? And Gould we perhaps continue with the analogy? What is water’s mode of growth in time? To flow, to unite with other waters, to “return to the sea”. And what is its expenditure of the matter surrounding it? To erode, to carry along, to solve into oneself or to reflect. But water not only consumes, it also nourishes. As a symbol as well as in practice water is necessary for life, `the water of life’, which purifies, refreshes and heals. When it is polluted, it feels almost as deeply terrifying as if the earth would tremble or the sky fall down. And in what way is water be a moral symbol, an absolute? Lao Tzu says: “Highest good is like water. Because water excels in benefiting the myriad creatures without contending with them and settles where none would like to be, it comes close to the way.” (Lao Tzu 1963, s 64) And: “In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it. This is because there is nothing that can take its place.” (Lao Tzu 1963, s 140) Calvino speaks of a “Party of the Crystal” and a “Party of the Flame” in twentieth century literature. What would the poets of a “Party of Water” be like? How Gould water be used as a category for classifying facts and ideas, styles and feelings? The continuous, endless flow of water can be associated at least with the stream of consciousness, with everything that flows, like for instance text. In Chinese mythology water represents communication, in Western astrology it stands for emotion. For me the most beautiful thing with water is how it adapts to the environment, flows with its surroundings but always retains its uniqueness; evaporates, condenses to drops, freezes, melts and flows again, but remains always irrevocably and inexorably what it is water.
In September 1999 when I went to Centre D’Art i Natura in the village Farrera in the Pyrenees to explore what a mountains landscape sounds like, I was a little scared at the thought of staying for a whole month so far from the sea. Once there I immediately realized, that the blue mountains on the horizon were excellent surrogates, like waves turned to stone. The strongest audible element of the landscape was the murmur of mountain brooks, which I at once fell in love with. While climbing up the slopes following the routes formed by the brooks 1 also understood that here `the sea begins’.
I video filmed the two branches of a small brook, Barranc de Farrera, until the point where they unite below the village. From there the brook continues towards the village of Glorieta, where it joins another brook, Barranc de Burg, and at the bottom of the valley the river Noguera Pallaresa, which flows as a bigger stream toward the plains, the river Segre, Ebro and the Mediterranean. I filmed the journey of the brooks very simply; close ups of c. one minute at five to fifteen meters intervals, without camera stand or zoom, with automatic light adjustment, downstream, even if the waterfalls of course looked more magnificent upstream from below. I thought I would document a few moments on their path, to learn how to see, to take pictures, to be patient. I wanted to be ascetic and get for one moment away from my own preferences, stories, intensity and fiction. I hoped the work would be a humble tribute to the multiplicity of nature and at the same time an exercise in (towards) exactness. Later I noticed, that what I thought was exact was nothing of the sort, but rather sloppy after all. I also understood that exactness, exactitude, is basically absurd as an aim. Nothing in water is exact.
Arlander, Annette: Esitys tilana, Acta Scenica 2, Teak 1998.
Brodsky, Joseph: Watermark, The Noonday Press Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1992.
Calvino, Italo: Six Memos for the Next Millennium, translated by Patrick Creagh Vintage books 1993.
Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching translated by D. C. Lau, Penguin Classics 1963.
That was almost fifteen years ago. Now in June 2014, one day in Kilpisjärvi, I came by a beautiful waterfall near the village, and was hypnotised by the force of the water again. Today video technology is much improved.The still images show a moment of the movement which is not discernible with human eyes, the splashing is frozen into an image which changes every second. The images with only water are the most abstract but also the most interesting ones. There is no grass, no shore, no fixed landmark to hold on to: