An Archive in a Library

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This is me on my 45th birthday in one of the best places in the world: the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, New York, New York. The Academy of Finland funding has allowed me to have my first full-time research leave in a decade, and to spend the time efficiently, I gave myself a birthday present: a two-week “residency” in this collection. The above photograph is of the second floor circulating collections, where books are on open shelves, but much of my time was actually spent with archival collections in the third floor.

The archive requires certain specialist tools of the trade to deal with paper in various stages of disintegration – special supports for books whose spines are like those of a very old person arthritic under the weight of years, led string wrapped in cloth to hold one’s place without cracking the page, and a microspatula for turning a new leaf because a fingertip will only turn the edge to dust.

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A historian is taught early on that very old materials or things that are in poor condition have to be treated with care so as to preserve them for others who might need them later. You are never the last person to want to read this or see this or touch this. Someone else – probably someone smarter – will come along and discover it anew. This is a lesson in ethics: I am not who matters, the matter itself has the right to be treated with respect.

Yet, as with ethics, we always will fail and are thus encouraged to try anew and improve on ourselves in treating these material remains of a past chosen for preservation. Disintegration is simply inevitable, entropy seeks to overpower the universe. The materiality of this paper is one of brittleness, the foxing of old pages a sign of passing years like wrinkles on skin. Archivists conserve materials: they use cotton tape and special quality glue, twine and tweezers and brushes and yes, microspatulas, to fix damage, prolonging the life their chronically ailing patients. Some of the materials I sought for were not available because they were scheduled for conservation, others I encountered because they were on exhibit:

Contrasting video of rehearsal and performance, showing costumes with photographs of stagings, posters and film stills, and displaying a wealth of manuscript materials like diaries and letters, the current gallery exhibit celebrates the life of Jerome Robbins, after whom the Dance Collection of the library is named. As with previous exhibitions, most of the objects shown are from this library’s collections, and many have never been shared with the general public. Although the exhibit cannot be as critical as a research might wish it to be, the selection of different kinds of things somehow emphasises the sheer range of what remains of a long career, if some of the sacrifices made on the altar of that career are only hinted at. At the same time, it draws attention to how finding out what is actually in the collections might require a degree of detective work simply because what is on the shelves and on display is merely a fragment of what is there in the vaults, and for those in the know to request and figure out.

No matter how much care one takes, after some time in the archives, one has breathed in dust that was once part of the archived object, but one has also touched where another has cared enough to turn this particular page – if a little too rapidly for the fibres that used to form a whole but due to their age simply came apart in that one flip of a careless finger. Digital versions of archival materials do not have this immediate materiality, not even to the degree of the object meticulously positioned in a display case. Reading a digital book lacks the smell of dead organisms used in conveying its message, just as a costume on a dummy lacks the movement of the dancer. The more yellowed and fragile the leaves, the more worn the fabric, the more they recall the turning of the season outside from summer to autumn – fall, in the old version of English still used in America. Archives are corporeal work: a few more hours of sitting in a chair in the cool, air-conditioned room, and my body aches like the book in front of me does not.

Outside, in the rain, leaves are falling.

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What is Refugee?

A collective article published at the Performance Philosophy Journal, Vol 4, No 1 (2018), with Will Daddario, Janhavi Dhamankar, Milton Loayza, Jon McKenzie, Yana Meerzon, Theron Schmidt, Aneta Stojnić and Tero Nauha.

http://www.performancephilosophy.org/journal/article/view/198

 

Regurgitated Perspectives – SAR 2018

A performance by Annette Arlander, Hanna Järvinen, Tero Nauha and Pilvi Porkola
At the 9th SAR – International Conference on Artistic Research
University of Plymouth, April 11th 4 pm – 13th 6 pm 2018
http://www.sarconference2018.org/

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This performance in four parts included A Sermon, A Wake, A Communion and A Hymn. We were dealing with the issues of sympoiesis, anthropophagy and necropolitics as forms of creation to play with critical approaches to artistic research.

In her revisiting of “Day and Night of the Dog and Year of the Dog,” from the video series, Animal Years (2003-2014) Arlander explored whether a process of regurgitation as an artistic method would produce something equally valuable as the production of honey?

A Wake included four different speeches, where gathering around the urn including the possible remains of the deceased did not reveal, who the deceased might have been? A white, male authority, a friend or an unknown heretic?

In a Communion, all four of us consumed a portion of Finnish delicatessen ‘mämmi’, while Järvinen and Nauha discussed the possible alternatives to questioning colonialism and racism in performance practice. They introduced the concepts of anthropophagy, perspectivism, necropolitics; cultural appropriation, philosophers, bears and jaguars.

At the end of a Wake, Porkola leads an intervention, where four different performance scores were written on paper, and send to the audience as paper aeroplanes. The utopian thinking is demonstrated by using event scores when asking one to do something that is more or less impossible.

As the finale of the performance there was a Hymn. The music was based on the traditional Finnish folk song, “Taivas on sininen ja valkoinen”, with new words in English proposing if and how artistic research would eat itself. With this hymn accompanied by synthesizer and Theremin, we asked, if the world will notice, when artistic research may eat itself, and proposed that only united performers and artists will guarantee that art will matter in the future.

An excerpt of this performance was presented at the TUTKE – The Spring Research Day event at Kiasma Theatre, Helsinki on April 25, 2018.

 

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Greetings from Research Day II!

Last week we had Research Day II at Theatre Academy, Uniarts, Helsinki with plenty of interesting papers and experiments! Thank you for all presenters and the audience!

Find more information from here http://www.uniarts.fi/en/events/wed-31012018-1135/research-day-ii-materiality-and-performance

and here https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/281037/281038/1677/1168

We are also happy to announce that Research Day III will be held 23.11.2018!

Presentation at the “Digital Humanities in Nordic Countries”, March 7-9, University of Helsinki

Abstract

In this presentation, the process of learning performance art is articulated in the contextual change that digital archives have caused starting from the early 1990s. It is part of my postdoctoral research, artistic research on the conjunctions between divergent gestures of thought and performance, done in a research project How to Do Things with Performance? funded by the Academy of Finland.
Since performance art is a form of ‘live art’, it would be easy to regard that the learning processes are also mostly based on the physical practice and repetition. However, the origins of contemporary performance art are closely connected with the 1960’s and 70’s conceptual art and video-art. Therefore, the pedagogy of performance art has been tightly connected with the development of media from the collective use of the Portapak video cameras.

Digital archives and the learning processes of performance artDigital Humanities in Nordic Countries, March 7-9, University of Helsinki

Panel Teaching and Learning the Digital, Friday March 9, 11-12, at the Helsinki University, P674.

 

PERFORMANCE ARTIST’S WORKBOOK! The book launch Wed 11th Oct at Muu

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Pilvi Porkolan toimittama teos Performance artist’s workbook: on teaching and learning performance art: essays and exercises julkistetaan Helsingissä Muugalleriassa 11.10 klo 18. Tilaisuudessa kirjan artikkeleiden kirjoittajat Ray Langenbach, Annette Arlander, Hanna Järvinen, Tero Nauha ja Pilvi Porkola kertovat teksteistään. Ennen tilaisuutta on mahdollisuus tutustua Annette Arlanderin näyttelyyn.
 
 
Performance artist’s workbook: on teaching and learning performance art: essays and exercises edited by Pilvi Porkola will be launched in Helsinki in Muu gallery 11 October at 6 pm. The writers of the articles included in the book, Ray Langenbach, Annette Arlander, Hanna Järvinen, Tero Nauha and Pilvi Porkola will talk about their texts. Before the event there is a possibility to enjoy Annette Arlander’s exhibition.
More information about the book

 

You will find an online version here.

You can buy it here.

 

How to Do Things with Performance in Turku?

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Last weekend we visited Turku; our seminar “How to Do Things with Performance?” was part of the New Performance Turku -festival programme (www.newperformance.fi). Turku was autumnal but nice, and the festival as enchanting as usual.

I started the seminar with a performance, “Some Things”. Hanna Järvinen talked about the project Jeux and asked the seminar participants to do a walking exercise. Annette Arlander showed us a video essay, “Year of the Goat Revisited”. Tero Nauha had a presentation with the title “Some Thoughts on Actualizations and Becomings” and played a theremin.

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Besides the seminar I had my project “The Nomad Library” in the main library in Turku and Tero had his performance “An Advent of Performance” in WAM (Wäinö Aaltosen Museo).

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We were also very happy to have a book launch for our new publication Performance Artist’s Workbook: Essays on teaching and learning performance art (ed. Pilvi Porkola) on Friday at HULLABALOO – club. As part of my speech I asked people to actualize one exercise from the book. For this situation I chose Helge Meyer’s exercise “Walking in Somebody Else’s Shoes” (well, we didn’t have time to do it for 30 minutes, but already 7 minutes in a club context worked very well.)

Walking in Somebody Else’s Shoes
Ask the participants to take off their shoes. Let them put their shoes into the middle of the space. Tell them about the meaning of clothes: on the one hand, clothes have a practical need. On the other hand, worn clothes have a deep personal meaning to their owners.
Ask the participants now to take one pair of shoes from the middle, but not their own shoes. Ask them to put them on and take a walk for at least half an hour, preferably one hour. Tell them to do normal things in the public space, maybe going shopping or just strolling around.
After their return, do a reflection of the experience: did their way of moving change? Did they feel different? Did they think of the owner of the shoes?
Explanation of the exercise: on the one hand, this exercise has a body-centered meaning, which is important in the teaching of Performance Art (in my opinion). The participants create a physical experience, which is maybe even a painful experience. On the other hand, this exercise might have a more poetic value: the participants “walk in somebody else’s shoes”, which can mean that they change their perception and perspective to take an empathic position through the eyes (here shoes!) of another human being.

by Helge Meyer, Performance Artist’s Workbook page 113.

 

The first photo: Pilvi Porkola

Other photos: Jussi Virkkumaa