What is ‘esitys’?

My presentation in Kick off 4th Oct (without images).

Kick off -seminaarissa pitämäni esitelmä (ilman esityksessä näytettyjä kuvia).

WHAT IS ’ESITYS’?

My research in the project How to do things with performance is about performance and institutions, in other words how to understand the performative turn in certain public institutions such as a library, elementary school and an art museum. Moreover, it is about how to explore this turn from the perspective of artistic research. I have just started the project so I don’t have much to say about it yet. I’m therefore not going to talk about my project here, but I will spend a bit of time contemplating the Finnish word ‘esitys’, which in the context of performance studies and art is translated as ‘performance’.

It feels quite tricky for me to do this, for a number of reasons: firstly I’m neither a linguist nor a translator. I’m going to do this in English, well aware of my limits in the English language. I also wonder if trying to explain Finnish language nuances is interesting for English-speakers at all, and IF it is interesting for those who speak Finnish, why do this in English… And most of all, because this all is just a very tricky thing. But here we are, and may be the complexity is the whole point, let’s see.

Among other things, I have been working with Esitys magazine for 10 years now. In one of the very early magazines from 2008, artist Tuomas Laitinen wrote about the term ‘esitys’ like this:

“The Finnish word for performance, Esitys, is a good name for a magazine, as it describes well the happening to which it refers. The word originates from an ancient root esi, which expresses a relative position, i.e. a position in relation to another. In performances this relative position refers to how the receiver is related to the artist. The artist displays something in front of the receiver. For the artist a performance consists of both being on display (esilläolo) and pre-experiencing (esikokeminen). Similarly the most performative part of sing-along-happenings is the fore singer, who presents the model of the proceedings, while the rest take part by following that model. The English word performance on the other hand refers to executing something, bringing it through a form (per + form). The word demonstrates how the artist brings something through a form in order for it to be available for the receiver. Both Finnish and English terms leave a lot of room for what will actually happen.”

In daily life we rarely ask what words really mean, or where they come from; we take words mostly for granted. The context is pretty much part of our communication with words, as Derrida has noted. Lately I have noticed this importance of context well in social media such as Facebook. For me, Facebook doesn’t always carry the contexts of the discussions and statements and sometimes I find it very difficult to understand sarcasm or humour there, even when I know the people and the way they talk.

The Finnish word ‘esitys’ is, at any rate, somehow more constricted than the word performance. When I teach performance studies in Finnish I need to spend time explaining the difference between ‘esitys’ and ‘performance’, because the word ‘esitys’ doesn’t carry same meanings and connotations that performance does. The use of the word is just different. ‘Esitys’ is more indicative of the concept of representation or something which is constructed, in other words something that is staged. For example, the word ‘esitys’ doesn’t include meanings of sport or business or technology. So for students it’s sometimes hard as there is so much information anyway, and then you say that here we use the words a bit differently.

When you take a look at the meaning of ‘esitys’ in different Finnish dictionaries, it will give you Finnish meanings but also references to other languages, with words like:

presentation, proposal, rendition, show or representation

In the online dictionary you will get the word performance as well, but when I checked the books, which are a bit older, the word performance was not included.

Anyone who has worked with translating has of course noted this:

Riina Maukola translated Marvin Carlson’s A Performance – Critical introduction to Finnish in 2005. She noted the problems of translation and the wide concept of the word esitys. Still, having a background in theatre and perhaps also because there was a debate on the word ‘esitystaide’, (live art) going on in Finland at the time, she was struggling more with questions of definition and the borders of art forms; how to understand these terms in a local context with the local history. I think the title of the book tells something as well, you need two words and still you won’t get it all; ‘Esitys ja performanssi’. ‘

The title also shows another challenge we have: we do have the word performanssi, so why don’t we translate performance to performanssi? Well, in everyday use the Finnish word performanssi often means just performance art. In the academic context, the word performanssi is also used to mean performance. E.g. art historian Helena Erkkilä, whose 2008 research is about Finnish performance and body art from a psychoanalytical perspective,translates the word performance consistently to performanssi, so she is much more loyal to the roots of the word in that way. She doesn’t take it for granted but notes that the word performance can be translated to many words, like esitys, toiminta, suoritus and that the concept itself is very wide..

Richard Schechner’s Performance Studies. Introduction. was just translated to Finnish in 2016. I think it’s beautifully translated if you think in terms of intelligibility, which is, of course, the point of translation. Still, as you can see, performance studies is not performanssitutkimus but esitystutkimus. The translator of the book, Sarianna Silvonen, remarks on the problems of translating wordplays and multiple meanings of word performance and the concept of performance studies, which are not stable in the Finnish environment. She also comments on the complexity of translating words like play and act.

In her preface to Schechner’s book,  Annette Arlander points out the multiple meanings of the word ‘esitys’: often the word ‘esitys’ refers to representation, pretending or proposing something, but not really to fulfill, execute, actualise or do something. She suggests we could use the words ‘esitys’ and ‘performanssi’ concurrently. Further she ponders that because of these nuances in the Finnish word ‘esitys’, performance studies in Finland might get some local colour and end up going in new directions.

Conclusion

My conclusion is that when we work in the field of performance studies in Finnish, we need to broaden and extend the meaning of the word ‘esitys’. The language is in flux all the time for sure, but I think it’s different when language is transformed in daily life as opposed to when the impulse for transformation comes from an academic context. Actually, this is what I think I do when I teach performance studies in Finnish, I try to broaden the word.  Anyway, these things take time and let’s see how things are after ten or twenty years.

We also need to be aware that translating is a political act. For example, even though Schechner’s Performance Studies is trying to talk and create space for others as well, I find it very America-centred and we need to ask what performance studies are in a Finnish context, in Finnish, eli mitä esitystutkimus on suomeksi, suomalaisessa kontekstissa tänä päivänä, millä tavalla se voisi purkaa tämän päivän suomalaista yhteiskuntaa, viitata niihin ajattelijoihin jotka ovat tässä ympäristössä relevantteja, suhtautua kriittisesti kulttuuri-imperialismiin, ja ymmärtää miten sanat ja käsitteet toimivat paikallisesti.

Englannin kieli otetaan annettuna, erityisesti akateemisessa kontekstissa. Esimerkiksi tällä viikolla tämän puheen lisäksi pidän luennon ja esiinnyn festivaaleilla, Suomessa, englanniksi.

Kulttuuri-imperialismia Suomessa lietsoo voimakas stereotypia siitä, miten me olemme edelleen eristäytyneitä ja kansainvälisyys on edelleen kova sana täällä. Tämä on toki paljolti myös totta, mutta minusta on sääli, jos se tarkoittaa sitä, että akateemiset tekstit kirjoitetaan vain englanniksi, tai jos käsitteille ei pyritä kehittämään suomalaisia vastineita. Toisin sanoen,  jos me lakkaamme ajattelemasta suomeksi. Tämä kieli on kirjoitettuna nuori, joten arkoittaako se sitä, että imperialistinen englanti syö sen kohta kokonaan. Tällaisena aikana, kun ääriliikkeet ovat väkivaltaisesti omineet suomalaisuuteen/paikallisuuteen liittyviä käsitteitä, on haastavaa käydä edes keskustelua siitä, mitä paikallisuus jollain alalla voisi tarkoittaa, ettei keskustelu paikallisuudesta ja sen merkityksestä ala  heti kantaa mukanaan  vastakkainasettelua tai nationalistista diskurssia. No, tarkoitus ei ollut lähteä vetämään tähän tällaista esitystutkimuksen snellmanilaista linjaa, mutta erityisesti akateemisessa kontekstissa tämä on asia, joka helposti unohtuu ja jonka poliittisuus myös unohtuu.

Everything is in English, be aware.

 

 

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Jeux: ensi-ilta, arvostelu ja seuraavat esitykset

Kick-off seminaarissa esittelemäni teos, Jeux: uudelleen kuviteltu / re-imagined sai ensi-iltansa Turussa 19.10.2016.

Tiedotustilaisuuden pohjalta tehty puffijuttu: http://www.aamuset.fi/naista-puhutaan/kulttuuri/koreografi-liisa-pentti-juhlii-tanssiteoksella

Pidempi ennakkojuttu ja (kirjautumisen vaativa) video: http://www.ts.fi/kulttuuri/2964226/Nijinskyn+Jeux+uudelleen+kuviteltuna

Arvio teoksesta Turun Sanomissahttp://www.ts.fi/kulttuuri/nayttamotaide/2966916/Tanssiarvio+Kuvittelevat+kehot+ja+tanssittu+historiankirjoitus

Esitykset Kutomolla Turussa 29.10. asti:

http://www.ehka.net/jeux-uudelleen-kuviteltu-re-imagined/

Tämän jälkeen esitykset Ateneum-salissa Helsingissä 4.-6.11.2016:

http://www.ateneum.fi/tapahtumat/liisa-pentti-jeux-uudelleen-kuviteltu-re-imagined/

 

 

Presentation

IMAGEs in this text refer to this powerpoint presentation (without video)

IMAGE 1 Jeux 1913 and 2016

I am Hanna Järvinen, Senior Researcher in this Academy of Finland research project. By training, I am a historian, and writing is my principal form of practice. My job in the How to Do Things with Performance? project is to ask questions about the history of performance and of performing history. This project, I hope, will allow for exploration of collective, collaborative practices and performative writing.

IMAGE 2 According to Della Pollock, performative writing has six qualities. It is evocative, rendering the absent present. It is metonymic, meaning that it is self-consciously incomplete. It is subjective, not autobiographical but rather it subjects the reader to the writer’s reflexivity. It is nervous in its crossings of theories, contexts, and practices. It is citational – in other words repetitive and reiterative. It is consequential, that is, it does something, produces something, as with Austin’s performative utterances.

Let’s keep these qualities in mind and discuss practice. IMAGE 3 I am currently working as a historical context advisor in a dance piece, Jeux, Uudelleen kuviteltu / Re-Imagined, which will premiere in Turku in a fortnight, on October 19th. There will also be performances in Helsinki from November 4th to November 6th at the National Gallery Ateneum.

This project started in the spring of 2014, when the choreographer Liisa Pentti and I had a discussion about the term “reconstruction” which Liisa had used for her collaboration with the choreographer Liisa Risu in their piece Liisas danst Rosas IMAGE 3. This is a work on their shared but different relationship to Anna Theresa de Keersmaeker’s choreographies, especially Rosas danst Rosas of 1983. In Liisas danst Rosas, which I saw on 28 May 2014, the two Liisas dance excerpts of the Rosas style works that were significant or meaningful for them in the 1980s and now. Through factual and fictional stories, video recordings, and dance they ponder on what remains in their bodies of those dances three decades later, their current relationship to those works and that time, the 1980s, more generally, and they do so with a great deal of humour.

For me as a historian, this work was not re-constructing anything. Rather, it was about the corporeal history of dance: how dance practitioners interpret, develop, and recall the techniques, choreographies, performances, and aesthetics they encounter both professionally (here, in the work of the ROSAS company) and as amateurs – as lovers of – dance (here, the choreographies of Bob Fosse). Obviously, this work was about aging IMAGE 4: these particular kinds of virtuosic choreographies are hard on the bodies performing them, physical exhaustion being almost a requirement of the fourth movement of Rosas danst Rosas, where also the dress of the dancers emphasises their youth: school skirts, as Liisa and Liisa point out, not really being the kind of thing women in their fifties perform in IMAGE 5 – hence, the flowery summer dresses of the last movement in Liisas danst Rosas.

So Liisa Pentti and I talked about bodies as archives and as transmitters of memories, interpretations, and signification, of histories that are not linear but circular as the dancing bodies return and reinterpret past dances. Every dance irrevocably changes the body dancing. It is, after all, impossible not to have danced something: the body is, in a sense, an archive or a repository. As a consequence of our talks, Liisa invited me to collaborate on a new piece that would be about the origins of contemporary dance, IMAGE 6 by which she meant Nijinsky’s 1913 choreography for Jeux to the music of Claude Debussy. After I sputtered a bit about my objections to the claim that Nijinsky’s choreographies influenced modern dance, Liisa interrupted me and said she was not speaking of modern dance but of contemporary dance. Jeux, she claimed, was the first instance of contemporary dance, which is a term usually associated with European post-Second-World-War dance, including the effects of American postmodern dance in Europe since the 1970s.

I asked her to explicate and she pointed to an image by Valentine Gross and asked me how many times had I seen that in ballet. IMAGE 7. Well. Um. Okay, she had a point. The virtuosity of small gestures and everyday movements in Jeux, the dancers standing and sitting and lying on the floor – all this resonates with American postmodern dance, the so-called New Dance in Britain and France – or in Finland – and even with certain European dance theatre forms such as Pina Bausch. On the other hand, Nijinsky’s manner of choreographing to the musical score – even if, for Jeux, this meant asking the composer to change certain parts of the music to fit the intended action – is far closer to many forms of modern dance and the kind of choreography where the choreographer sets steps on the dancers than it is to postmodern dance techniques. IMAGE 8 Also, as the critic of The Times found, the choreography mixed movements familiar from ballet with a new kind of movement vocabulary that did not, in his opinion, quite match up.

Besides being known as a ‘failure’, Jeux is also a work no-one alive has any direct experience of: despite some plans for revival, it was only performed in Paris and London during the summer of 1913 and all the three dancers who ever danced it have passed away – Nijinsky died in 1950, Ludmila Schollar and Tamara Karsavina both in 1978. In addition to the six photographs posed for publicity purposes, a few drawings made by artists who saw the performances, notably Valentine Gross and Dorothy Mullock, and reviews, IMAGE 9 the materials remaining of the 1913 Jeux include musical notation of Claude Debussy’s score, hand-written notes by the choreographer on a four-hand piano rendering of the score into which Debussy has also scribbled his changes as per the choreographer’s request, and some designs by Léon Bakst, whose set was used but costumes seemed to mix up tennis with football. IMAGE 10

There are also reminiscences, cartoons and even a satirical poem. IMAGE 11 For Jeux: Re-Imagined, I shared these materials first with the choreographer and the dancers, Anna Torkkel, Maija Reeta Raumanni and Jouni Järvenpää, later with the set and costume designer Graziella Tomasi, the sound designer Jouni Tauriainen, and the lighting designer Vespa Laine.

Liisa and I devised various exercises that aimed at not just re-embodying the visual images but the words used of the choreography, its setting and affective content. From these exercises and others, movement material began to emerge. The work as it currently is comprises seven episodes and lasts about an hour, over three times as long as Nijinsky’s 1913 choreography.

IMAGE 12 The video I will now share with you shows a short section from the first full run-through last Friday, 30 September. This is part of the episode utilising the dancers’ exploration of the drawings by Gross and Mullock, seen here. So, these are the drawings we have used, and as the choreographic sequences repeat, I will point to some of the poses.

IMAGE 13 VIDEO during which I hold up pictures of the 1913 production as the poses occur in the 2016 choreography.

Each of the dancers also has an episode in which they speak, semi-improvised, on a theme related to the choreographic process (by Jouni), devising movement from still images (by Maija) and time (by Anna).

IMAGE 14 What, then, of this presentation as performative writing? A historian always tries to be evocative, render something long gone present and accessible. Such renderings, however, are rarely this metonymic: for my part in How to Do Things with Performance? any attempt at discussing a collaborative effort will always be tied to my subjective perspective and my experience, and therefore necessitates I accept it as always-already incomplete and imperfect. I have little use for the passive voice that pretends to omniscience.

As an exploration in practice of what emerges in the studio from historical materials, this 2016 Jeux is also atypical because it does not attempt to construct a whole out of fragments or pretend to a reconstruction. Working with dance makers like this, in the studio, crosses the contexts of history, writing, theory, devising movement, improvisational practices, and performance – practices that do not often come together in quite this fashion. I have no idea where this will take me.

In terms of citationality, the two Jeux, the two games, repeat themselves also in my writing. What will become a challenge, I presume, is to write the minute, concrete materiality into a text that would itself perform: a text in seven episodes would reflect the structure of Liisa’s choreography. But using the affective responses of the critics of the 1913 Jeux, however, the text should be about nothing, nothing happening, a very boring text that just goes on and on, ending nowhere, meaningless, with Debussy’s beautiful score just playing quietly in the background.

To end with an ironic remark, the sixth clause from Pollock’s list is actually the easiest: anything I produce is reported, measured, calculated in terms of impact in today’s academia. Whether that is actually consequential, however, whether that matters, always remains to be seen. For me as a historian, the studio practice offers insights not simply on dance and its particular relationship with the past and memory but on the aims of historiography and the role of the researcher working in and with art. I hope that my writing will not become reporting or explaining practice but an expressive register parallel to studio work and performance.

IMAGE 15 Thank you.

 

Kick Off, abridged thought.

First Theremin Orchestra  at Carnegie Hall, New York, April 25, 1930.
First Theremin Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, New York, April 25, 1930.

Briefly said,  a presentation with a voice pressed on vinyl records and theremin. A text in progress. 

The performance is not a copy of the original. The thought of performance is a mutation itself. It is performing mutation of the real. The performance do not represent a body. The performance is not anti-art or anti-philosophy, but subtraction of attributes. A body in performance is not a representation, but matter in the process of subtraction. The performance is mutation of the real, it is a fiction. Fiction is a clone of the real, the only way how we approximate with the real. Performance is real, it is not real and it is not-not real. This is not a project, which produces more predicates of subject, like militant, activist, leftist, ad nauseam. Not more philosophy, but less. Not more dialogue, but polylogue and a shift from agon or oikonomia to a heretical choice without a reason. A heretical practice has no superior identity, system, or absolute, but it is without reason. It is an advent of practice. It is fiction, which is the fiction is a counter-creation of the World. The fiction is not an analysis of the world, but it is a organization in advent… The art is not creation for better world, or for better fiction, but art is the end of the world. A body remains foreclosed in the radical immanence and it is performed. Art already thinks, without the representatives of the archbishops of philosophy. It does not think for or through the philosophers.

How to perform landscape with repetition – At the outskirts of the City

A seminar titled Site-specific Performance and the City was organised by Leena Kela and Christopher Hewitt as part of New Performance Turku Festival on Wednesday 5th and I was honoured to be invited to speak. See programme. This was right after our kick-off seminar the previous day, so I based my talk “At the Outskirts of the City”  – Harakka Island where I have done most of my work is at the outskirts of Helsinki, although it is fairly centrally located on the map – on an old text. It is published as part of the introduction to Performing Landscape – Notes on Site-specific Work and Artistic Research. Texts 2001-2011. Acta Scenica 28. Theatre Academy Helsinki 2012 and the whole book is available online as a pdf file, here. The fragment in question (arlander_as_28-fragment) is discussing the relationship of place and performance in general terms. In the background I showed the two videos I never had the time to show at our kick-off seminar, namely the first part of Year of the Horse  (2003) and the first part of Year of the Horse – Calendar (2015).

My brief and informal talk at the kick-off seminar at Theatre Academy on Tuesday concerned repetition, and was partly based on an article “Repeat, Revisit, Recreate—Two Times Year of the Horse” in PARSE Journal Issue #3 Repetitions and Reneges. 2016, 43-59, also available online, here. There I describe those two video works or rather the process of recreating an old work by revisiting the same site after twelve years. In my presentation I chose to show my small powerpoint notes-on-repetition, rather than take up time by showing the videos, especially since we had just seen some great live shows…

Kick-off

Usually, a research project ends with a seminar, where the research results are outlined for interested parties outside of the research team. But since we do not yet know how to do things with performance, the How to Do Things with Performance? project decided to start by hosting an event in which we asked our colleagues to give us their responses to the title: how would they do things with performance?

We received a wonderful array of suggestions from artists and researchers, who shared, through different kinds of performances and discussion, both modes of performing and of thinking about and through performance that we hope will help us answer our question: how to do things with performance. We are particularly grateful for these people for giving their time and labour at such short notice and without proper compensation – thank you for your gift, we hope this project can offer something reciprocal by 2020! We also had a great number of people in the audience both during the morning session at the Auditorium 1 and the afternoon session at Tori – thank you for attending, listening, commenting, and appreciating this moment.

The event was opened by Professor Leena Rouhiainen, the Vice Dean for Research at the Theatre Academy, who explained the significance of the project for the Performing Arts Research Centre, The Theatre Academy, and the University of the Arts Helsinki. Professor Heike Roms, member of our Advisory Board, introduced her research on the history of performance art in Wales, followed by Senior Researcher Hanna Järvinen speaking of the dance performance project, Jeux, based on her earlier historical research. Two members of our Advisory Board also sent their greetings because they could not come in person: Professor Simon O’Sullivan sent a video discussing his current research on re-tooling of philosophy, and Professor Edward Scheer a presentation on how to do things with performance, translated by Postdoctoral Researcher Pilvi Porkola. Professor Esa Kirkkopelto then spoke of bodies and objects, showing two examples of objects performing. Postdoctoral Researcher Pilvi Porkola finished the first half of the Kick-off seminar by discussing translation, translatability, and meaning of ‘esitys’, the Finnish word for performance.

The afternoon session convened after lunch with Postdoctoral Researcher Tero Nauha, who exemplified thinking in performance through playing records and a theremin. The fourth member of our Advisory Board, Dr. Katve-Kaisa Kontturi then discussed an event she had co-convened, Feminist Colour-IN. Lecturer Kira O’Reilly performed her piece I came to the sea and I was scared, my heart was broken and Karolina Kucia did a lecture with a cockroach. Tuomas Laitinen played with sound and the claim he had an idea, and Henna-Riikka Halonen shared her work on labyrinths and avatars. Saara Hannula asked whether what we were up to was actually “something doing”, and Kimmo Modig asked if performance is changing something from transformative to transfigurative mode. The event was finished by the Principal Investigator of the research project, Annette Arlander, who presented a powerpoint on her video work and discussed repetition as an inherent quality of performance.