This text was was written between August 2018 and April 2020. It begun two years ago in the wake of Anna’s death. Although today the present is so much more, well – present than the past and the beginning times of Oblivia, I still want to share this reflection on when we started out and of what we were influenced by.
In 2015 Oblivia created The Rave, a live streamed performance where four people were dancing in the studio for 2.5 hrs. The performance was live streamed around the world and to Mad House in the adjacent building. The video is from a rehearsal edited by Meri Ekola.
The mythical beginning
The story of the beginning is a soothing place. It roots you and explains something about the core of what you are looking at. It is situated nearly as far away in the past as when Eos was rising rose-fingered from the sea in ancient Greece. The beginning is an innocent place where everything is possible, where the sun is shining and the spring rain is drizzling on the streets of London.
Alain Platel started out working in his living room together with his sister, a friend and a sofa. Such a cool beginning. We worked in cellars, living rooms, bed rooms, kitchens, parks, gyms, borrowed offices, shopping malls, department stores. In the empty foyé of the Barbican, Anna and I held our own DIY residency, planning while eating discount-sushi from TESCO the Beckett What Where performance on the disused railway tracks VR:n makasiinit 2002 in Helsinki.
Anna and I spent a lot of time talking, planning, and dreaming in different locations. We hung out, brainstormed, and discussed art and life. We talked and laughed through the streets of Helsinki, Glasgow and London, in the escalators of department stores, at the cashier at food stores, in cafés and museums. Wherever we could get in for free. We had no money, but lots of time and plenty of ambition. We scrutinised and analysed, told stories from our lives and looked for the essential in art. Annas probing, ceaseless curiosity and strong love for art, Cage and Cunningham paired with my anarchic new dance background and academic training fertilised the ground of Oblivia.
Basically we had fun in a careless yet eager way. The kind of fun that bubbles up in the beginning, a falling in love fun. We fell in love with art and ideas and with the possibility of creating something totally new together.
The genealogy bit
When I was young I wanted to be part of a group in the tradition of Odin teatret, Grotowski and the other big theater groups where art and life merged. Or do something with a pal, just the two of you like Porquettas (Ana-Yrsa Falenius och Ida Lotta Backlund). The problem was that I did not have a pal like that until Anna came along.
Much later – in 2000 when Anna arrived in September she quickly reformed Oblivia into the company that we became. The role models were Forced Entertainment, Needcompany, TG Stan, Baktruppen, Goat Island, Black Market, and from the history books: Judson Church and the whole NY avant-garde. Most of the companies I had seen at Helsinki Act – (an incredible, but all too short lived festival in Helsinki 1997-2001). Others I saw as I was travelling around Europe writing for journals and newspapers on new trends in performance and dance. The American company Goat Island became a great source of inspiration, but was a company that I never saw and only met much later, when they already had dispersed. Anna brought some exercises from workshops with them, but most of all an attitude of presence and heterogeneity in expression. When I saw the videos and texts in the Goat Island retrospective last year, when we were in Chicago performing Nature Theater of Oblivia I was shocked by the similarity between them and us. I knew there were connections, but to this extent. Mind blowing. It was not only the genuine mix between genres, choreography and performers, but the attitude, rigour, normality, rhythm and many layeredness of the work. Co existence without knowing. Surely there are more groups in the world creating work in the same vein, that we do not know that they exist, more affiliations and connections to be discovered. We discovered one field when we started to work in Germany in 2009.
Our artistic home is in Germany, especially with artists coming from the for us way back then unknown Angewandte Theaterwissenschaft at the University of Giessen. Nobody understands our work as well as somebody coming from Giessen. They perceive every detail, meaning and more. It was a revelation to understand that there existed a whole field of groups and artists who shared the same ideas in another country. We connected and shared ideas about working collectively, creating quirky work, the importance of freedom, respect for each other and many other things with companies that we are of the same generation of like She, She pop, Showcase Beat le Mot, Gob Squad and more. Now we are happy to be working with two Giessen alumni: Alice Ferl and Stine Hertel.
It gives hope that there will always be people that share your ideals, your thoughts, your aims in a parallel existence. You are not alone. You just have to find them.