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.
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…
The most stressful moments are the most calm sometimes… I am sitting in an apartment in Odense, Denmark, listening to the quiet sound of the refrigerator and the regular ticking of the clock by the entrance, waiting for my poor little computer to render a video, or not even render it but export it non-rendered. There is 1 hour and 50 minutes of export time left and the participatory performance is supposed to start in an hour in a park at the other end of town. I have all equipment here with me, and it is too far to walk there and make everything ready and then come and fetch the computer. And I do not even have a car… and, and. Luckily Danish people are fairly relaxed, but they also like their comforts, so I guess nobody wants to stay up one or two hours extra simply for the joy of swinging with an image projected on a tree. Well, well.
The first part of the performance went well, the sun was shining, the swing was nice and well placed, and quite a few people were interested in swinging and seemed to enjoy it. That is one reason why I am late, the video is more than 30 minutes long. And I have not even had the chance to see it yet. Wow. I thought of walking across town with the computer open on my arm, in order to be able to prepare the projector and the rest while the program is exporting the material, but then I am afraid that the electricity there will not work, or that the power runs out in the middle of the walk or whatever. So I just have to wait patiently…
I got a ride to the park and there were other things happening so people did not have to wait too long, and everybody was very helpful giving light with their phones as torches – what an idiot I was not to take my headlamp with me, it would have made life easier in the darkness. But then again, the darkness was good for the projection. No time to experiment or try out things, I just dragged the cable to a spot left of the swing and placed the tripod with the camera in line with the swing, at least somewhere in the vicinity where it had been during daytime. I had nothing to put the projector on, except its own bag, and the same with the computer. Miraculously everything found the right place, somehow, and the swinging movement was visible on the foliage and the swing was hit by the light of the projector sufficiently to be distinguished and so on. Some people were trying out the swing and I would have liked to run through the whole half hour film, but people were tired. I suggested that I could just stay in the park, because I would have liked to film the whole thing on the foliage, perhaps swinging there myself. But the electricity cables could not be left there, and they wanted to pack them away, so I had to stop it before it even really began. Well, people liked the image, and I have a few moments on video, although not much is visible in the darkness. And the photos are completely dark, really. So not much remains to show of this afterwards, but it was an experience and for me a learning experience for sure…
Because I was editing the video all day I missed the rest of the program of the first day of the seminar “Sense it … don’t tell it” in Odense 1-2. September, organised by Nordic Performance Art – reaching a new audience, an organisation that specialises in new music theatre, despite its name. The second day I joined in and had my talk amongst the other presentations and exercises. It was very interesting and fun although more about relational aesthetics or what seemed like participatory strategies in working with theatre and performance than about the environment, so in some sense I was quite out of place. Hopefully my small contribution about process and performance – based on the text for the coming book edited by Emma Meehan and Hetty Blades – was at least somewhat relevant to some of the participants, who seemed to represent a broad scope of practices from children’s theatre to dance, from music theatre to socially engaged art practices and more. And as you could expect in contexts linked to theatre it was all about doing, improvising, moving together, and of course sharing emotional exercises, which was engaging, but exhausting, too.
The artist’s book has not been a personally relevant notion for me. And it has no direct connection to performing landscape. I am proud of the books I have written (two) and the books I have edited (five) and of the web-publications I have been editing with others and in general of all the texts I have written. However, when the artists on Harakka island decided to make an exhibition of artists’ books I wanted to join of course. And without much thought I decided I could participate with some kind of diary. And I especially did not think of it as a video diary, although one could think of the video works I have created on Harakka Island as video diaryies, too. The diary should be a material object, either a notebook bought from a shop (one such I did fill with daily I Ching drawing, but rejected as too easy), or then a pile of paper somehow made into a book.
For a while I had made ”the drawing of the day” each morning, and now I decided to develop this practice into some kind of result. First I drew the phases of the moon, with my ”inktense” pencils, which you can spread out and thin out with water and a brush. Then I started drawing horizons, simple combinations of two colours. And finally I ended up filling small watercolour sketchpads in such a way that the backside of the previous page and the actual page functioned as mirror images or opposites to one another (see image above and below). And in the upper left hand corner I wrote the date with a pencil. To begin with I experimented with placing the horizon on different levels, but soon ended up placing it more or less in the middle. Perhaps this was a result of my video project ”After Sugimoto”, which I started around the same time. His seascapes are divided exactly in two, one half is sky, and the other half is sea. At some point I planned to try all the possible colour combinations of my set of colour pencils, but soon realized that the ”book” would become much too thick. Thus my diary consists of drawings from 17. February to 5. June.
The real problem turned out to be how this pile of paper could be bound or tied or somehow compiled into a book. I planned to take the pile to a shoemaker and ask him to make some holes, so I could tie it myself. A fiend recommended a professional bookbinder, but I hesitated, since the papers did not have any margins for binding. When I finally dared contact them it turned out that they were on holiday. Luckily, I thought. But how to bind the book? I tried with a needle and thread, but the paper was thick and the needle bent. Finally I ended up sowing the papers together one at a time. And because I did it haphazardly, carelessly, the result looks rather funny, or actually clumsy. But why could not a diary be clumsy?
Funny enough, the first art exhibition I ever participated in consisted of diaries, curated by Hannu Gebhard for the Kluuvi Gallery in 1989. There I showed a notebook that was pierced by three holes and tied with wire and three Chinese coins. At that time my diary was irrevocably closed to others and to myself as well. Now my diary is open although it consists only of colours. An a little bit of black thread…
More information about the exhibition Kirjatekoja_English_tiedote+avaj and also here.