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Facing the unknown

                At 7 pm on Friday, February 22nd, 2019, we attended the performance of Nature Theatre of Oblivia at Link’s Hall in Chicago. Of all the things we could say about this performance, we will say only two.

                First, the performance began with the softest imaginable light. It rose to illuminate a quintet of performers who appeared to stand very still in postures imitating trees. Nothing else happened for some time. It became clear in that first moment, and clearer as time went on and the light intensified, that the five human performers would pretend, physically and sonically, at signifying various plants, animals, birds, or other sentient non-human entities, and with their pretending they would supply the “theatre” of the title, just as the objects of their pretending supplied the “nature.” But we will get to that when we say the second thing. First, about the light: it seemed to have no source, like the rising glow of a predawn atmosphere with the sun still below the horizon. Once the sun rises, all light draws into it as a gradient. Shadows find themselves cast in one particular direction. The light changes the air, warms it, and with the thickening air the creatures too quicken and become expansive. We mean to say that, unlike the human performers, the light did not pretend. It suffused the room, behaving in the same way as the light in fields that we have seen, or walked through, or stood still in beside a marsh, in order not to frighten away the red-winged blackbird cocking its head to assess us from its precarious grip on a bowing stalk of cattail. If you think birds or mammals in the wild do not notice light, you have never been out at this early hour, when they begin to rustle, to chorus, and eventually to rush about going who knows where. You have never been walking at the other end of the day, in the hour when light withdraws, slowly at first, and dark advances, when swallows dip in the air for insects, the bats in a column rise “in their million hordes,” the larger creatures join in a parade, and “the fox ran out of its hole.” All of them seem to measure life by the photoperiod; the length of each day during which an organism receives illumination. What do we mean by “receives”? They seem to operate always on a basic knowledge, from which we in our human hives recede, of an equation between light and life, the two as resonant and rhyming as their words in this language. Every day’s time of light lengthens or diminishes, depending on the earth’s position in its solar orbit. The light changes in every moment. All creatures attune to each micro-shift, as anyone will tell you who has attended to a sunrise and the awakening of a field. Lights up on the field stage in the nature theater. Thus in the theater that evening, before the light dawned, we knew only the void, the dream of the world from which the performance awakened us. With light, like in those first verses of Genesis, there came breath and then movement. A world comes into being that comes from the same forces that give rise to the dance of cranes with tail feathers flying, and the five slowly start to move in their pentatonic permutations. They move as if they must recreate this world again and again or else it will stop existing. They move as if wonder is an environmental affect. They move as if joy is a way out of ecological despair—the joy of imitation of those photosensitive creatures who live according to this simple rule that we have forgotten, but remain capable of recalling, of experiencing as a return, this theater of life/light. It’s the simplest reason why some among us say, again and again, I cannot survive away from the presence of wild things.

                Second, about that movement, its quality — the performers scamper into what cannot be said, co-stepping with

a tree

a mushroom

fungi and

skittish animals.

They say —

stay tethered to pleasure while presenting the ominous and

possess the air of the non-sequitur.

Did you know that animals need to balance the effectiveness and efficiency of their behaviors with just enough variability to spare them from being predictable? Otherwise they would fall victim to predators. The performers get down on all fours and rotate to keep the world spinning. They up the ante, their toes leave the ground, and wonder surrounds them as an environmental by-product. We will call it “wild” choreography, semi-planned, predicated on simple rules of simultaneous leading, following, and deviating. Each one at all times remains sensitive to the shifts of all the others, and specifically correcting for the maneuvers of the nearest neighbor. Each metamorphosis entrains the collective. We note flocking patterns that we have come to identify with any set of like-minded creatures, as well as a set of performers who, roughly one year later, celebrate their ensemble’s 20th year of existence. They have developed themselves within the secret codes of closeness. Such laws of similar movement speak of the mind of the herd. Roughly two years later we find ourselves wandering in a new wilderness, facing the unknown, the unknowable, facing it less as a group than as groping individuals. Those least sensitive to the risk that others endure speak of “herd immunity,” a vocabulary unconditioned by suffering and loss. Is this the herd they mean? They apply the term to humans in their least herd-like behavior, at their most self-absorbed. Back then, on February 22nd, 2019, at 7:20 or so pm, the herd of five inhabited that strange, familiar zone in which the individual redistributes itself within the group’s constellation, proving once again the strange dictum that in the repetition of group uniformity the nuance of individual difference makes itself most known. This one has this quality, and that one has that quality, demonstrated as they all play at the same stork wading in shallow water. We recall this loose choreographic rule now with a kind of nostalgia, recognizing in it, after the fact, a form of care, and knowing, now that they have gone, those days when we moved according to this word: “together”— when hardship seemed less hard, and happiness more happy, because we experienced them “together.” Maybe it was the beginning of the end of a cycle. Now before another beginning presents itself, we remember the movement of that evening this way, as it recedes in the mirror behind us.

                Silently howling at the rivers that can no longer swim, they listen to the rain.

Tuntemattoman kohtaamisesta Oblivian kanssa

Tiedättekö sen tunteen, joka tulee, kun istuu katsomossa ja odottaa esiintyjiä saapuvaksi? Tai katsoo esiintyjiä ja odottaa mitä he alkavat tehdä? Sitä yrittää pitää itsensä mahdollisimman avoimena kohtaamaan sen mitä tulee. Sitä haluaa kohdata jotain uutta ja tuntematonta luottaen, että on itse turvassa. Kun esitys alkaa, ensimmäiset minuutit menevät siihen, että yrittää saada kiinni esityksen logiikasta. Joskus siinä onnistuu ja kokee ilahduttavia oivalluksia, toisinaan voi vielä esityksen loppuessakin olla hämillään siitä mitä tuli nähtyä. Näin minulle on käynyt useammin kuin kerran Oblivian kanssa, silti tulen aina uudestaan.

Kohtasin Oblivian ensimmäisen kerran elokuussa 2014, muistaakseni. Tai se on ensimmäinen kerta, kun olen tehnyt Twitter-merkinnän Oblivian esityksestä Super Mopma, johon sisältyivät Museum of Postmodern Art I, Super B ja Ka-Boom. Twiittasin 22.8.2014:

”@Juhlaviikot @Oblivia1 #SuperMopma postmodernin jälkeistä puhetta, liikettä ja mitä meistä jää siitä jäljelle. Individualismi?”

Selkeästi kolmen esityksen putki oli jättänyt kysymyksiä ilmaan ja hetkellisesti heijastanut niissä jotakin yksilökeskeiseen kulttuuriin viittaavaa. Elävämmin mieleeni on jäänyt seuraavan vuoden lokakuussa näkemäni Entertainment Island -trilogia, josta olin twiitannut 23.10.2015:

”#EntertainmentIsland ’Oh, I had so much fun!’ viihdeteollisuuden koko kirjo ja kaikessa absurdiudessaan. Tusen tack!”

Muistan nauttineeni, nauraneeni ja saaneeni jonkin oivalluksen liittyen viihteessä toistuviin kaavoihin, miten outoja ja naurettavia ne ovat, kun niihin kunnolla kiinnittää huomionsa. Tämä onkin se mikä Obliviassa viehättää. Esitykset tekevät tutusta tuntematonta ja tuntemattomasta tuttua, katsojana tasapainoilen näiden kahden välillä.

Miten tämä tapahtuu?

Kirjassaan Varieties of Presence (2012) mielenfilosofi Alva Noë osuvasti kuvaa sitä, miten taiteessa mikä tahansa teos voi tuntua tyhjältä ja merkityksettömältä kun sen kohtaa ensimmäistä kertaan. Teokseen tutustuminen vaatii katsojalta tietoa, taitoa ja ymmärrystä, joka karttuu vain teosta havainnoimalla. Se, minkälaiseksi katsojan suhde esitykseen muodostuu sen aikana, määrittää sitä, miten läsnä ja saavutettavissa oleviksi esiintyjien tekemät asiat näyttämöllä tulevat katsojalle.

Noën ajatuksia seuraten, katsojakokemuksessa on kyse taidokkaasta sitoutumisesta ja kytkeytymisestä esitykseen. Sen läpi elämisestä havainnoimalla, mitä esiintyjät tekevät ajan kuluessa ja kiinnittämällä huomionsa toiminnan yksityiskohtiin. Tässä taidossa ja ymmärryksessä ei kuitenkaan ole kyse harkitsevasta ja pohtivasta arvioinnista vaan kokemuksen myötä karttuneesta kehollisesta tiedosta siitä, mitä esityksen katsominen itseltä vaatii. Tämä on sisäistynyttä tietoa ja ymmärrystä, joiden mukaisesti esitystä eletään. Esityksen ”tajuamisen” miellyttävyys nousee yhteyksien löytämisestä ja oman tiensä tuntemisesta niiden välillä.

Tämä vaatii kuitenkin katsojalta vastaanottavaisuutta ja avoimuutta.

Viimeisimmässä Oblivian esityksessä Verdrängen, Verdrängen, Verdrängen tämä avoimuuden vaatimus konkretisoituu kirjaimellisesti:

Timo pyytää yleisöltä keskittymistä kysymällä ”Let’s say what you can make of this?” Kun kaikki eivät vaikuta tajuavan, Timo osoittaa päälakeaan ja kysyy ”Can you see it? It has to remain open”.

Omalla kohdallani Oblivian esitykset tarjoavat mahdollisuuden vastaanottavaisuuden taidon harjoittamiseen ja kehittämiseen. Aina en tätä tiedosta tai siinä onnistu, mutta luotan, että joka kerta Oblivia haastaa minut jollain uudella tavalla pysymään avoimena kohtaamaan tuntemattoman ja tulemaan sen kanssa tutuksi.

Tässä yksi tunnistettava keino on toisto: tiettyjen liikkeiden tai rakenteiden toistaminen, jonka Oblivian esityksissä olen kokenut kiehtovana. Kun jotain asiaa näyttämöllä toistetaan tarpeeksi monta kertaa ja tuota toistoa seuraan, alan huomata siinä vinoutumia, outouksia ja huvittavuuksia. Tässä tasapainoilen jonkin tunnistettavan ja tuntemattoman välillä.

Esimerkiksi Children and other radicals oli esitys, joka hämmensi suuresti, mutta nautin myös siitä käsittämättömyyden tunteesta. Lopulta huomion vei lähellä istunut poika, joka äidilleen selitti, mitä näyttämöllä näki, ja siitä tuntematon oli kaukana. Nature theatre of Obliviassa taas rauhoituin, tunnistin ihmisen kaipuuta luontoon ja pyrkimystä olla yhtä sen kanssa, mutta aistin myös luontosuhteessa vinouman, joka vaatii korjausliikettä.

En voi enää sanoa, että Oblivia olisi minulle tuntematon. Tunnistan Annikan ja Timon hahmot näyttämöllä, jotkin maneeritkin, joista olen oppinut pitämään. Anna Krzytekiä muistelen lämmöllä. Anna-Maija Terävää, Alice Ferliä ja Mikko Bredenbergiä opin tuntemaan aina enemmän kerta toisensa jälkeen. Arvostan tyylin tunnistettavuutta ja tinkimättömyyttä, valojen, puvustuksen ja äänen kokonaisvaltaisuutta ryhmän teoksissa. Olen jo oppinut löytämään yhteyksiä ja kiinnittämään huomioni yksityiskohtiin, mutta silti odotan, että ryhmän esitykset edelleen yllättävät, hämmentävät ja vievät tuntemattomaan. Tähän mennessä näin on joka kerta käynyt.

Jokaisen esityksen alussa huomaan kysyväni: Miksi ne tekevät mitä tekevät? Mitä ne haluavat sanoa? Mitä tästä pitäisi ajatella? Tunnistan, että olen tehnyt noin itsekin. Miksi ihmiset tekevät noin? Mitä ne tekee seuraavaksi? Ja hetken päästä olen mukana esityksessä. Tai sitten kysyn näitä vielä esityksen jälkeenkin. Noë on kuvaillut taidetta omituiseksi työkaluksi, joka pistää näytille toimintamme ihmisinä ja jonka avulla voimme organisoitua uudelleen (Strange tools, 2015). Ehkä Oblivian esitykset ovat juuri sitä minulle. Omituisia työkaluja, joiden avulla kiinnitän huomion asioihin joita en muuten ajattele, harjoittelen pysymään avoimena ja organisoidun uudelleen. Tässä tutustakin tulee hetkellisesti tuntematon.


On encountering the unknown with Oblivia

You know that feeling as you sit in the audience and wait for the performers to arrive? Or as you wait for the performers to make their first move? You try to stay as open as you can to encounter what is about to take place. You want to encounter something new yet familiar, all the while trusting that you are safe. When the performance starts, the first minutes are spent trying to get a grasp on the logic of the performance. Sometimes you succeed and you experience delightful realisations, at other times you still find yourself confused after the show about what happened. This has happened to me many a time, and yet I come to the shows, over and over again. 

I first encountered Oblivia in August 2014, I think. Or that was the first time I made a Twitter announcement about Oblivia’s performance Super Mopma, which included Museum of Postmodern Art I, Super B and Ka-Boom. On 22.8.2015 I tweeted (translated into English): 

“@juhlaviikot @Oblivia1 #SuperMopma post-postmodern talk, movement and what is left of us. Individualism?”    

Very clearly the series of three performances had left questions hanging in the air for me and I momentarily saw something in them related to individualist culture. The most vivid memory in my mind is the trilogy Entertainment Island that I saw in October of the following year, about which I tweeted on 23.10.2015: 

“#EntertainmentIsland ‘Oh, I had so much fun!’ the whole spectrum of the entertainment industry and in all its absurdity. Tusen tack! Thanks!’ 

I remember that I enjoyed myself, laughed and experienced an epiphany regarding the patterns that repeat in entertainment, how strange and silly they are when you really pay attention to them. This is what attracts me to Oblivia. The performances make the familiar into something unknown and the unknown into something familiar, as a spectator I strike a balance between these two. 

How does this take place? 

In his book Varieties of Presence (2012), the philosopher of mind Alva Noë very accurately describes how in the field of art, any artwork can feel empty and meaningless when you first encounter it. Getting acquainted with a work requires of the spectator information, skills and understanding and one only racks these up only in observing the artwork. The formulation of the spectator’s relationship with the performance during its course will define how present and accessible the actions of the performers on stage will become for him or her. 

Following Noë’s thinking, the spectator experience is about a skilful commitment and feeling of association with the show. It is about living through it by observation of what the performers do with their time on stage and by paying attention to the details of the actions. This skill and knowledge are however not about a considerate and reflective evaluation, but also about corporeal information about what is required of oneself to watch a performance. This is in-built knowledge and understanding that is used to live through a show. The pleasure of “getting” a performance arises from finding connections and securing one’s own bridges between the connections.

This requires of the spectator receptiveness and openness.

This requirement of openness became concrete very literally in Oblivia’s latest performance Verdrängen Verdrängen Verdrängen:

Timo asks the audience to concentrate by asking: “Let’s see what you can make of this?” When part of the audience seems to not comprehend, Timo points to the top of his head and asks: “Can you see it? It has to remain open.” 

In my own case, Oblivia’s performances present the opportunity to work on and develop one’s skills in receptiveness. I do not always consciously realise this or succeed in it, but I trust that every time Oblivia challenges me in some new way to remain open to encounter the unknown and become familiar with it. 

Repetition is a tactic that can be pinpointed to serve this aim: repeating certain movements or structures that I have found thrilling in Oblivia’s performances. When something is repeated often enough on stage and I follow that repetition, I start to notice some quirks, oddities and points of amusement in it. I find myself looking for an equilibrium between the recognisable and the unrecognisable. 

For example, the performance Children and Other Radicals puzzled me greatly, but I also enjoyed the unfathomability. My attention was finally taken over by a boy sitting near me who was explaining to his mother what he was seeing on stage, and any unknowing remained far in the distance. Nature Theatre of Oblivia was calming to me, I recognised people’s longing for nature and the attempt to be at one with it. I also sensed a quirk in the relationship to nature that needs fixing. 

I can no longer say that Oblivia is unknown to me. I recognise Annika and Timo’s characters on stage, even some mannerisms that I have learned to enjoy. I remember Anna Krzystek with warmth. I become more and more familiar with Anna-Maija Terävä, Alice Ferl and Mikko Bredenberg every time. I respect the recognisability and integrity of style, the comprehensiveness of lights, costumes and sound in the group’s works. I have already learned to find connections and to pay attention to details, but I still expect the group’s performances to surprise and confuse me, to take me into the unknown. This has happened every time so far. 

After each performance I find myself asking: Why are they doing what they are doing? What do they want to say? What should I think of all this? I recognise that I have done this as well. Why do people do that? What will they do next? And after a moment, I am inside the show. Or then I keep asking these questions also after the show. Noë has described art as a strange tool that illuminates our actions as humans and through which we can reorganise ourselves (Strange Tools, 2015). Perhaps Oblivia’s performances are exactly this for myself. Strange tools through which I can pay attention to things that I would otherwise not think about, through which to remain open and reorganise myself. This way also the familiar becomes momentarily unknown.        

Translation: Simo Vassinen     

Kohti tuntematonta

Saga Korkeamäki ja Marie Bergholm tekivät yhdessä podcastin aiheesta tuntemattoman kohtaaminen. Podcastissa he keskustelevat aiheesta suhteessa kokemuksiinsa Obliviassa. Saga ja Marie ovat yhdessä kolmen muun nuoren kanssa olleet Oblivian mukana kansainvälisellä teatterileirillä Lyonissa, Ranskassa (Théâtre nouvelle génération) sekä mukana kahdessa Oblivian teoksessa; No(s) Futurs ja Children and Other Radicals. Nuoret ovat esiintyneet Oblivian kanssa mm. Helsingin Juhlaviikoilla Kansallisoopperassa, Live Art for Children -festivaalilla Aalborgissa, Tanskassa ja Dangerous Minds -festivaalilla Kampnagelissa, Hampurissa.

A Christmas story

Oh these Christmas times. There is so much to do, all these things to prepare. This year I will make an even bigger gingerbread house.

Gretel Johansson took another sip of her morning coffee, wrinkled her forehead and started to plan. Her oven was a regular sized oven, which meant that the house that she envisioned that would be so big that a small child could enter it, needed to be made out of oven sized elements. The question was, would they last? When you make a big house, you did not want it to crumble into pieces before its opening hour.

Crumble, she chuckled. No, we do not want any crumbles. A shadow passed over her face and she shuddered. No more crumbles for me, no more of that. She swallowed, and set to work. Halfway through the calculations of the amount of flour, sugar, butter, syrup, spices and all the decorations that she would need for the house, it was a remarkable amount, it hit her. I need a car, she thought, and somebody to carry the sacks up the stairs. 

Most of Gretels friends were dead or too feeble or gone gaga, so they could not help. But Gretel wanted to maintain her yearly gingerbread  house tradition and this year it was going to be something very, very special and spectacular.

There must be a strong person somewhere who could help me out, she thought. At that moment her cat meowed and she bent over to strike its black fur. What a great idea. I did not think about that, she said appreciatively to the cat. That is how I will do this. But first I need to finish my calculations, the question remains, she said and turned towards the cat. How will I make the material of the house last? To mix concrete in the dough as mr Woolf did back then, is out of question, it needs to be edible despite it’s size. 

Gretel Johansson placed an ad in the local Facebook group: “strong person needed to carry Christmas surprise materials, once or twice” (in case something was forgotten). She did not want to give away her plan, but still wanted to make the ad tempting enough for some strong Christmas charitable person. Therefore she was mighty surprised when the doorbell rang and a small elf looking woman stood outside.

I am not buying anything, Gretel said harshly and was about to close the door, when the woman smiled and said: I am here to help you. Oh, said Gretel and lifted an eyebrow. You need some management skills, the woman said. Well yes, answered Gretel, and asked the woman inside. After some coffee and cigarettes the plan was ready. We take Hans the Hunk. She is reliable and discreet. Great at building and great at carrying, and she has a van, concluded the woman.

The next day Hans the Hunk appeared early at Gretel’s door and they drove to the local food thrift store to get 100s of kilos of flour, eggs, sugar, syrup and all the rest of the ingredients. Hans was as strong as promised, and everything was carried inside and placed so that Gretel easily could access it all. That was not too bad, said Gretel and smiled at the cat. However, it was bad. It was simply too much flour, syrup, sugar, butter, eggs and decorations. For the first time in her gingerbread house baking life Gretel felt conquered by the mass of the stuff and the enormous task she had in front of her. How on earth will all this be turned into a house, she sighed and squeezed past a stack of flour on her way to the sink. Listlessly she picked at a crate of gingerbread spices, when the doorbell rang.

I thought you might need some building help, said Hans. Gretel fell into tears, I do not need any building help. I do not want to build a big house anymore, I do not want to build any gingerbread house, not big nor small. I have done it every Christmas as long as I can remember and despite them growing in size, less and less people saw them. I do not want to do that anymore, Gretel was crying her heart out. Oh dear, said Hans and looked at Gretel sympathetically. It is fine, we give it all away and then we do something else. 

Snow started to fall as people in need for different reasons flocked to Gretel’s little flat where Hans, the elf woman and Gretel portioned out all the ingredients that they had bought. Some offered to bake gingerbread in the oven, “just for the smell, darlings”, others made coffee and everybody had a great time singing Christmas carols and feeling overall joyous and happy. This went on until close before Christmas, when everything was gone. Gretel looked at the empty house that felt so much bigger all of a sudden.

I have never had so much pre-Christmas fun before. Now it is our turn to have some Christmas eve fun, Gretel said and showed Hans and the elf the tickets that she had booked for them all. Amazing. I always wanted to go away for Christmas, Hans looked at Gretel gratefully and the next day they all flew to Bangkok to celebrate Christmas on the playa. Then they lived here and there and in the flat that was big enough for all of them and the cat, happy ever after.

December Flashback

Christmas is soon here! It comes every year and it’s always pretty much the same; spending time togetherwith the family, eating (too)well, decorating the house and the christmas tree, kids waiting for Santa to come, you name it. Christmas is repetitive and we love that repetition, we love to do the same things from year to year and that’s good.

Your Flashback team wishes you
a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!