Kiasma showtime. Live Museums

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1 Kiasma showtime Throughout the 15 years of its existence, Kiasma has also had a theatre. The focus in the Kiasma Theatre s programming is on Finnish and international visiting performances. In addition to the venue on the museum s ground floor, performances have also been staged elsewhere in Kiasma and around Helsinki. These other venues have included the Natural History Museum, the observatory in Kaivopuisto park, as well as soon to be demolished apartment blocks in Myllypuro. A suitable venue for the 2013 URB festival performances was sought under bridges and in parking facilities. The Kiasma Theatre has also given visiting performances at the Stoa cultural centre and once in the National Theatre. Several productions have toured Finnish and international theatres, culture centres and festivals after their premiere in Kiasma. The profile of Kiasma Theatre programming is on live contemporary art. Video art and film screenings are also an important part of its programme. Performances in the Kiasma Theatre are often connected to the exhibition programme, such as when the ARS exhibitions gathered the entire house around a single, shared theme. The performance programme was incorporated into the planning of the Kiasma Hits exhibition from the very beginning. Live Museums Museums of contemporary art around the world have in recent times incorporated performing arts prominently onto their programmes. In London, the Tate Modern launched its new The Tanks exhibition space with Art in Action, a 15-week festival in July 2012, the Whitney in New York has an entire floor dedicated to the performing arts, and MoMA has its own Department of Media and Performance Art. Also the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Metz, Serralves in Porto, Kumu in Tallinn and Mori in Tokyo are all carrying on with their performing arts programmes. Even the British Museum recently launched a debate about whether its historical Reading Room might be used as a performance venue. 1 A new kind of interest in performing arts has reared its head also in Finland. A new Performance Centre has been established in Helsinki, and contemporary performance is presented at international art festivals across the country. As education and research have advanced in this field, so has institutionalisation. For example, the University of the Arts Helsinki has a programme in live and performance studies, which operates within the tradition and framework of contemporary art, and another on time and space arts, which incorporates performance art as well. Theoretical studies in the performing arts can be completed at the universities of Tampere and Helsinki, as well as in the postgraduate programmes of the University of the Arts Helsinki. Kiasma too seeks to act as a venue that links the audience and the artists and which supports, consolidates and develops the field of performing arts. 1 RoseLee Goldberg: The Performance Era is Now, in The Art Newspaper, Issue 240, November 2012.

2 Content coordination between the exhibition and collection departments, the theatre and audience development in Kiasma has increased in recent years. One important reason for this is the new, hybrid forms of contemporary art. Such art is interactive and experiential, based on teamwork and process. It relies on ideas and concepts, it is ephemeral, online and/or actional. All these elements are familiar from the history of contemporary and performance art as such, but their evolution today is different. Boundaries between different forms of art are fluid: many visual artists are tending towards performative and community art, while many performance artists have acquired an interest in installation, which has brought about a transformation in the performer s role. One good example is Rabih Mroué and Linah Saneh s 33 Rounds and a Few Seconds, a performance in which the performers are a Facebook, an answering machine and a television set. Wild Conceptual Jungle The conceptual jungle surrounding contemporary performing arts is a jumble. New interpretations are constantly cropping up, and they change from one country and tradition to the next. Broadly speaking, we may say that performance in the traditional sense of the term is associated with the tradition of visual art, whereas other performing arts, such as contemporary dance and theatre, arise from the legacy of dramatic art. Contemporary dance always has its roots in choreography, even when there is virtually no dancing in the actual performance. Contemporary theatre is postdramatic theatre a form of theatrical art that, unlike traditional theatre, is not based on a narrative. The most recent newcomer among the terms is contemporary performance (esitystaide in Finnish); a close correlate is live art. The boundaries of contemporary performance, traditional performance and contemporary dance are fluid, and the disciplines are constantly borrowing from each other. When we talk about a Gesamtkunstwerk, we are referring to a multidisciplinary work, and that often incorporates performative elements as well. Sometimes the difference between art and life has vanished. The artist is a living work of art, a walking performance; a classic example is the iconic performance art duo, Gilbert and George. The German artist Joseph Beuys claimed that art and life cannot be separated, and that we are all artists. According to Beuys, change in art will always lead to change in society. 2 The difference between art and other aspects of life was also fluid in the case of revolutionary situationism in the 1950s and '60s. Radical actions in the name of art are a part of life and thereby become political. Perhaps the ultimate key question is how can art create a good life. These questions are also explored by many artists featured in Kiasma Hits, including Tuija Kokkonen and Sanna Kekäläinen, who are responsible for the performances. 2 Anne Rorimer: New Art in the 60 s and 70s, Redefining Reality, Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, printed in Singapore/C.S. Graphics 2001, 28.

3 From the Pages of History Performance became an integral part of contemporary art in the 1960s and 70s, but of course its roots go much deeper. They can be traced as far back as 18 th century "living tableaux" and to the synthetic theatre of sensory experience championed by futurism in the 1910s. Modern dance took its first steps in the late 19 th century through emancipatory women such as Isadora Duncan. Duncan wanted to do away with classical ballet and corsets, and found in a freer form of dance a Dionysian ecstasy of the spontaneous soul. Her dance was performative, underlining the freedom and natural movement of the body, the shape of the body was of no importance. 3 From the mid-20th century onwards, performing arts underwent renewal on several fronts. Merce Cunningham brought chance and randomness into dance. He also collaborated closely with many visual artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Frank Stella. In the 1960s, postmodern choreographers in America wanted to challenge the concept of dance and focused on the use of time, body and space instead of virtuosity or techniques in dance. The Judson Dance Theater was an experimental forum in New York that brought together artists from different disciplines. Performances were given not only on stage but also in galleries, streets and parks. Arising from a similar multidisciplinary mix, the 1960s happenings focused on the role of the audience as recipient and that of art as a dislocator of everyday things. The legacy of happenings is today continued not only in contemporary art, but also in urban activism, an area external to the art world. In 1970s performance art, attention once again focused on the body (body art), its politics and, in some cases, its limits of tolerance. 4 Performing arts as an element of the history of contemporary art come across in the 1960s and 70s video performances featured in Kiasma Hits. Vito Acconci, Bruce Nauman and John Baldessari have all moved in many ways between live performance and other forms of visual art. Nauman often used his own body and those of others as material in his works. As a sculptor, he was also interested in the relationship of the body to space, which provided the concrete starting point for some of his performances. For instance, in Walking in an Exaggerated Manner Around the Perimeter of a Square (1968), Nauman walks around the perimeter of a square marked on the floor of the room. 3 Anne Makkonen: Länsimaisen taidetanssin historiaa [History of Western Dance Art], p. 101, Theatre Academy teaching material (unpublished). 4 Anne Makkonen: Länsimaisen taidetanssin historiaa [History of Western Dance Art], p. 141, Theatre Academy teaching material (unpublished). Hans-Thies Lehmann: Draaman jälkeinen teatteri [Postdramatic Theatre], Theatre Academy, Otava Book Printing Ltd., Keuruu, 2009, Helenä Erkkilä: Ruumiinkuvia! Suomalainen performanssi- ja kehotaide ja 1990-luvulla psykoanalyysin valossa [Body Images! Psychoanalytic Analysis of Finnish Performance and Body Art in the 1980s and 1990s], Central Art Archives, Vammalan kirjapaino Oy, Vammala, 2008.

4 Nauman typically played with the concepts of boredom and repetition in his work. In many of his videos he repeats the same gesture endlessly, to the point of exhaustion. Nauman also wanted to criticise the media of his time: he would have liked to have an hour or even thirty minutes of airtime to be able to broadcast utterly dull material. John Baldessari s humoristic and performative videos broke away from the seriousness of conceptual art and played with the notions of art of his time. The title of Baldessari s piece in Kiasma Hits is self-explanatory: Teaching a Plant the Alphabet (1972). Vito Acconci was originally a poet. He was interested in the body as alternative paper, a substratum or medium for his art. In many of his performances he investigated so-called power fields between people. He wanted to construct situations or spaces that would allow the viewer to participate. Kiasma Hits features a screening of his video, Open Book, and, in November 2013, Acconci will pay a visit to Kiasma, together with Vladislav Delay (Sasu Ripatti), to create a sound art performance in the Kiasma lobby. 5 Kiasma Hits Proudly Presents The Kiasma Hits programme at Kiasma Theatre features two women, Sanna Kekäläinen and Tuija Kokkonen, who have both performed in Kiasma since the launch of the museum, and who may metaphorically be considered the theatre s collection artists. They are very different as artists, yet they are both key figures in Finnish performance art and are known for their uncompromising attitude towards art. Sanna Kekäläinen is a choreographer who sees motion as a form of communication that equals the other media. She is generally considered a conceptual artist, and her works are clearly thematic. One prominent theme in her work is the issue of gender, and Kekäläinen can also be seen as belonging to the continuum of feminist art. In her new piece, Queer Elegies, Kekäläinen returns once more to the issues of gender and identity. The body has always been prominently present in Kekäläinen s performances. Rather than sexual or erotic, nudity in Kekäläinen s performances is sculptural. In her statement on the performance, Kekäläinen stresses that she champions the discovery of shared and collective opportunities rather than separation and isolation. She is particularly concerned about simplistic dualities: how the world is divided into north and south, people into A and B class citizens. Kiasma Hits includes a few works that have points in common with Kekäläinen s work. For instance, Peter Land s video The Cellist (1998) features dance and performing nudity. The new wave of feminist art is represented by Iiu Susiraja, whose video performances are featured in the exhibition. There are also links between Acconci and Kekäläinen. Where Acconci feels his body to 5 RoseLee Goldberg: Performance Act. From Futurism to the Present. Thames & Hudson Ltd, London, printed in Singapore/C. S. Graphics, 2006,

5 be paper for a poet, Kekäläinen has developed a method of writing with and in dance, and she has also incorporated written and spoken word into contemporary dance. It will be interesting to see what kind of resonances arise between the works of these two artists. Sanna Kekäläinen creates conceptual choreographies that are loaded with meaning, and in which the audience has its clearly appointed place in the auditorium, whereas Tuija Kokkonen offers viewers the role of co-experiencers. Her most recent works have been site-specific pieces in which the performers (which also include animals and other creatures of nature that are on-site) and the audience have shared a common world. For Kokkonen, challenging the traditional role of the performer is a political gesture, and she talks about defending the performer s weak action : By weak action, I mean a human performer, who actively chooses to make herself weaker, to abandon the use of power and force, even chooses inaction. Instead, the performer concentrates on focusing the viewer s attention away from herself and helps them to perceive the sensory fields constructed or selected for the performance. 6 Performing with a non-human counterpart has become increasingly important for Kokkonen; she wants to challenge the idea of a human-centric world in which humanity has raised itself to the pinnacle of all creation. The central issue is the question of how life can be made more meaningful. In autumn 2013, the audience will be able to experience a world shared with dogs and plants. A bit like Joseph Beuys's performance How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965), it will allow the audience to spend a Saturday afternoon in Kiasma, reading with Kokkonen, dogs and plants. Communication and contemporary performance are both searching for new forms once more. Jonna Strandberg 6 Tuija Kokkonen: Esityksen mahdollinen luonto [Possible Nature of Performance], in Nykyteatterikirja, 2000-luvun alun uusi skene [Book of Contemporary Theatre, the New Scene of Early 2000s]. Ed. Annukka Ruuskanen, Like Kustannus Oy, Otavan Kirjapaino Oy, Keuruu, 2011, p. 262.