Trans-Horse: Horse & Performance for TeaK 2020

We were fortunate to organize the fourth Horse & Performance course for the Theater Academy in the fall of 2020. Together with Pietari, we experienced challenges teaching art during a pandemic face but in the end things sorted out well. At the time COVID spread in Finland was at a decline and the University of Arts Helsinki deemed the course possible. The horse-hobby and equestrian industry here seems well equipped for dealing with the pandemic. Riding group sizes seldom exceed 10 members (and horses) and activities are organized in sparsely spaced sites, which deems it a safe activity. In fact horseback riding is a booming hobby, it offers a much needed outdoor experience and companionship. We were kindly welcomed to Malminkartano by Kaarelan ratsutalli Oy. Kaarela was a well suited site for organizing the course, it is easy to access with public transport and the area has an interesting history.

Horse & Performance had seven participants: Antonia Atarah, Anna Lehtonen, Daniela Pascual, Martta Jylhä, Gaspare Fransson, Mikael Karkkonen and Jouni Tapio. On previous courses most of the participants have been from the acting department but this time around attendees formed a balanced mixture of dramaturgist, actors, live-artists, pedagogist and sound/light designers. In 2017 we started to collect course notes to collective study journals which participants can access online. The journals present open ended questions which the course stirs up, links to texts people refer to and discussions on the exercise we partake in. This time around the document is semi-public and can be accessed  as a .pdf document. We didn’t offer the same volume of practical horse handling exercises as before. Instead we focused on working with the animals at their pasture and got to engage in an array of stable chores. Participants build a hay-shelter, erected fences and collect a lot of droppings from the pasture. I think the course was ultimately about maintenance art and laced with a crafty approach to non-human knowledge.

Taru Svahn who had established the stables twenty years ago gave a thorough introduction to the site. We learned that there has been horse related activity in the area at least since the 18th century and that the site had been a farm until the 60ties. She presented us documents from -62 which detailed farming experiments Helsinki University conducted on site and provided a history of the Malminkartano mansion from 1579 onward. Svahn told us that her motivation for establishing the riding school was set in motion by a dream which presented her a galloping horse. The dream led her to equestrian studies in Ypäjä and eventually to start a business in Malminkartano. Quite recently they have managed to expand the stable by building a manège which enables them to organize courses comfortably during the winter. When we started with horseback riding with Pietari in 2014 the manège was yet to be build and the outdoor classes in Malminkartano were really cold.

As expected working with city officials for permits to build a horse stable to a suburb was an enormous effort. Rights were eventually granted based on the site’s historical value and history with horses. In short: The horses of the past, paved way for the horses of the future. There are archaeological sites (röykkiöhauta) close by and the nearby forest is protected from development (Malminkartano was an island until 3000BCE). Svahn explained that ultimately the permission process was paved by personal relations she formed with individual city officials and a lucky coincidence where the right mix of city committee representatives happened to be in the same room at the same time. It is revealing that charisma and luck are central for city development. Svahn’s motivation for establishing the site was to grant access to horses to the youth of the district. The suburb was troubled in the 90ties. Still is.

Each day started with a morning meeting at a forest opening. Pietari heated water with a portable stove, we all sat on a branch and chatted while having coffee. The morning sessions worked well for establishing a casual relationship to the texts and theory which we structured the teaching on. There were lectures in the forest too. I fondly remember Pietari’s introduction to speciesism, with yellow rays of sunlight reflecting from the moss. When preparing for the course we were inspired by the Gustafsson&Haapoja: Museum of Becoming HAM exhibition and picked up texts by Cary Wolfe and Terike Haapoja from it. The main culprit for the theory of human-horse-relations was yet again Haraway and we turned to Soppelsa for developing insights to the role horses have had for the development of modern Europe.

At the end of the two week long course participants were invited to develop group exercise or artistic outputs, which reflected their evolving relationship to horses. This lead us to organized a miniature horse-art festival of sorts. It offered dance pieces (witnessing a horse-human dance led me to understand the relationship as a highly choreographed communication), audio-based-works (which presented arbitrary horse movements as dance), meditation and body awareness sessions (we could imagine ourselves as plants and experience ourselves as a self organizing assembly). Summaries and group reflections on the exercises are documented in the collective study journal. One of the most memorable experiences I had was a session titled “Horse’s Birthday” (Jylhä & Karkkonen). The session started with us setting a picnic table in the middle of the pasture. As we started to eat cake and to perform a birthday ceremony, our gathering and the sweet smells lured the horses in and soon our assembly was rearranged by a herd of animals. They revealed their ultimate power-move: Breaking crowds with their hulls and caused disarray in organization. Our picnic was efficiently disbanded and we were caught between rivaling horses.

Previously, in teaching art I’ve emphasized the act of “stopping” and we often practice it as a part of physical exercises: I encourage students to be rude, to halt the charismatic flow for making notes, formulate opinions and set new plans in motion. During the pasture-birthday session I noticed that I have not developed artistic exit strategies which would afford sensible and secure retrievals from difficult situations. Most horse-human exercises I’ve participated in have been focused on becoming with the animal and after the exercises have peaked we look for an opening where we can depart peacefully. This works great for establishing a sense of security but requires that the horse-human session is carefully planned: I’ve witnessed numerously how facilitators work towards soft departures. Working in the pasture –which is the horse’s domain– requires that people would also be equipped with skills in distancing themselves from the horse at haste. I think I should develop artistic skills to escape a bad situation (like a rodeo clown). I was petrified during the performance. We got stuck between five horses, a table and the cake we brought with us. I didn’t know how to safely distance our group from the dominant maneuvers of the horse herd.

On the last day of the course we got a tour of the Ruskeasuo Police horse facilities. Senior Constable Jukka Aarnisalo took us in and offered a glimpse to the offices of the 130 year old police unit. We were invited to their very compact kitchen and debriefing room, which is located in a corner of the Ruskeasuo horse stables. Inside we were presented with old Russian era swords (brought from their old headquarters in Kasarminkatu), WWII memorabilia and trophies from past competitions. Their current stables were built for the Helsinki Olympics and manifest the functionalist architecture movement in its prime. Modernist traits can be identified in the facilities waste disposal arrangements and the usage of natural light, which early modernist architects associated with hygiene (as defined by Kirsi Saarikangas).

Our visit to the stables ended the course to a very conflicted setting. Participants had just spent two weeks (re)sensitizing themselves to the nuances of horse-human communication, after which we were confronted by a professional with over 30 years of experience in working with animals in urban settings and effectively teaching multiple generations of horses skills for desensitizing themselves. To add to the confusion the skills in question were taught in a respectful working relationship, in institutionally monitored and publicly scrutinized setting. All done just so that the police-horse and the police-human could enforce the law effectively. It safe to argue that mounted officers (and their horses) are the most visible public servants and most criticized law enforcers. I personally enjoyed the conflict because the sensitive and emotional sessions we shared with  horses in Malminkartano, were balanced by the reality and lived experience of people working with animals and animals working with people.

Horse-pedagogical efforts will continue in the spring as well organize a course called Horse & Build Environment for Aalto University. On this course we will explore horse stable designs and the relations they afford us.

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Modulisme Session 034 a playlist by Modular Music Station. Which is a “internet radio & web portal dedicated to electronic music made with modular synthesis, test equipment & experimental instruments”. The 034 session focuses on Serge instruments and introduces a comprehensive palette of sounds the system can produce. My favorites on the playlist include Bevis att Napoleon aldrig existerat by Överklassen, Serge Time by Miguel Frasconi and To Bring Out The Shame by Francisco Meirino. Thomas Ankersmit is featured too.

I think Lowercase/Onkyokei/extreme minimal ambient composition as it is being defined on the llllllll thread is the best form of cultural input for these times. It’s like listening to nothing, which is something I need at a time when everything is a performance: When all relationships are confined to the attention we perform trough screens. Times are rough for peppy radio hosts and music producers. It is being revealed that observing high energy performances demand energy (which I don’t have, busy surviving) and that space is a luxury (sounds which give space are a gift). Being-Sound – From Wandelweiser to Onkyô (2018) Jason Brogan is a good source for learning about the aesthetic.

[…] given the notion of affect as posited by Deleuze and Guattari, sound-itself may be understood as being always already real. Thus, sonic actualization — contrary to its common meaning — entails the contextual, qualitative exteriorization of sonic interiority. Performance, then, may be understood as the site-specific fulfillment of the process of actualization.

A complicated sentence. I read is as a way to approach all sounds as already existing and the performance of a composition as tapping into a sound or tone. This is a nice and comforting approach, a process of becoming with sound. It feels similar to tasting (a spring water): The taste is there already and is actuated by the performance!

I don’t like wearing headphones unless I have to (last years weekly online teaching gigs were headphone-heavy) and I often listen to music from the crappy speaker of my mobilephone. I think this suits lowercase/onkyokei/extreme-minimal stuff well. The distortions and space ambients make the music even thinner. The sounds are seeping from the minuscule holes of the device and counterbalanced by remote machine sounds, plumbing, the radiator and the fan of my computer. I get energy from looking for the sounds in the noise. My curiosity is sparked: Am I really hearing this? Did an artist conceive this?

Once, while on a run I didn’t notice a track had ended and I took the wind howling on the edge of my headphone as music. A perfect example of a sound becoming. Or was it a hyperchaotical listening experience (a defined by Quentin Meillassoux)? “hyperchaos […] suggests that […] randomness remains as only one particular mode of presentation among others”. All work (which is not work to maintain the flesh or gray infrastructure) is performed in screens and earcups. Majority of the performances seek to resolve events. I think art which sparks curiosity is needed for energy.

Seven Points for a Computer Critical Computer Art by Sarah Groff Hennigh-Palermo. A simple list to keep in mind. She also operates in the LiveCode.NYC which is developing artistic live coding tools.

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We are preparing a public artwork to Ruosniemen Kukkulakallio, Pori. It’s an Ore.e Ref. effort, an extension of an initiative we call p3rm46r4ff171 which was set in motion early 2020. This phase will be executed in the framework of the second iteration of the Performing the Fringe -exhibitions and hosted by the Porin Art Museum. The museum will also be responsible for commissioning the work. This is the second permanent public artwork we’ve made. What we are planning merges p3rm46r4ff171 with my previous efforts on mineral waters. The site is an abandoned granite quarry which was established in the 20ties. Rocks from the site have been used to build the Pori bridge. A newspaper article details that WWII Germany troops, who prepared an expansion to the Pori airport forced Soviet war prisoners to work at the mine. The area has an interesting history. There is Bronze Age site called Ruosniemi metsäsarat right next to the quarry and well preserved hiidenkiuas tomb constructions called Ruosniemi 1 located close by. A pond, named Ankkalampi  (Duck Pond) has formed to the quarry pit and serves as a popular swimming site. A pair of local entrepreneurs have established an accommodation service next to the pond which they call FinnDome. Guests of the service are hosted in plastic geodesic domes and there is a sauna too. Bronze Age and Buckminster Fuller (here is a nice interview on his philosophy) merged with mineral waters and a initiative tiled p3rm46r4ff171.

The Ruosniemi quarry is featured on the photo archive of the Geological Survey of Finland. The images are by Ilkka Laitakari who passed on in 1996, which dates the graffiti on the walls of the quarry to the 90ties! Some text read -93 and I’m imagining that as many of the texts are painted using the same color and same width of strokes, they could be traces of a youth event organized in 1993. Jussi Matilainen told me that just behind hill is (or was, he hadn’t visited the site in a while) a skiing resort (one lift) which earned the area the title Ruosnimen Alpit (the Alpines of Ruosniemi). Found  downhill mountain biking videos titled with this site name (mentioned this to Polukord!). I spotted a swastika symbol on site which led me to investigate its role in Finnish folklore. Suomalaisista taikamerkeistä: kansatieteellinen tutkielma [Finnish magical signs: A folklorist study] (1937) Sulo Haltsonen provides detailed investigation of different magical symbols used in the region and concludes that the symbol is not common in Finnish magical practices. The article underlines that organizations in the 30ties have attempted to framed as a locally significant sign, which is how it became the emblem of the Finnish air force but judging from evidence it is not very common or frequently used.

I will be looking for minerals and waters from the quarry area. A recent discussion in relation to the Protection Spells -curatorial project  by Native Art Department International (for MOCA Toronto/Shift Key) led me to explore water as a relation to a locality. Processes were we explore spring waters nurtures appreciation of locality and the nature of specific sites. By drinking the spring water we become aware of the taste of a locale and become with a site. This is problematic, as in Finland we don’t really know who we will become when drinking spring water here. Everyone in Europe is afraid that if we root identities on locality we risk becoming violently territorial. Weirdly this portrays bottled waters like evian or sanpellegrino as deterritorialization potions. We must drink the spring waters from a far to keep our nationalistic tendencies at bay. On the other hand I will be manufacturing artificial mineral waters. If we can become with a site trough the taste of a spring water, then we should also be able to imagine a completely new site from the taste of an artificial water. By tasting, we can imagine assemblies yet to come. The water I’ll produce form the Kukkulakallio will be an attempt to document the obscure p3rm46r4ff171 project as a taste. Making a mineral water is getting pretty complicated.

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Artists have started to mark cancelled events into their CVs. Covid removed the affect from social interaction and turned coexistence into a performance. Our senses are crippled by quantifiable data and we cling to different statics on the disease for feedback. The value of social life, our capability for empathy and rationality is publicly scrutinized by statistics on the spread. We all look like sinners. The pandemic and the capitalism which statistics feed to are turning us into cyborgs. We are in relation through data.

Bought a beat-down Volca Beats for 40€. A lot of issues and missing components due to a misfortune snare mod/other stuff (pads torn, dabs of solder everywhere and tips of potentiometers burned by careless iron handling). Has a good punk vibe thou! Spotted the system79 Korg Volca Beats Snare Analysis site with an accurate (but not full) schematic and after a full day of studying the board managed to restore pitch&decay control by placing a 100nF to C91. Made the 100nF c78 modification too and might go for “Snappy” noise mod next. I’ll have to source SMD components to replace the trough hole parts I used for testing values. Sourced a 1k SMD resistor from an Alesis Micron board I horded from a dumpster in NYC.

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Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors and Other Articulations of the Real (2015) Bernhard Siegert proposes that “culture is a humanoid-technoid hybrid” and advances media theory as posthumanistic practice. The chapter on Door Logic works great for drafting an understanding how build environments author behavior. After defining doors as ideological apparatuses, which construct a distinction between the inside and outside, Siegert branches out to read logic gates (in computing) and religious processes which carve out a distinction between profane and sacred, as belonging to the same genre of binary categorization.

Adorno places gesture and mechanism, human and nonhuman actors into a relation in which both sides are invested with agency and in which the nonhuman actor has the power to decenter and disable the very being of the human subject.

Doors and door sills are not only formal attributes of Western architecture, they are also architectural media that function as cultural techniques because they operate the primordial difference of architecture—that between inside and outside.

The text feels wild because it presents doors both as metaphors and physical barriers. The materialistic reading of metaphors Siegert offers feels comfortable. For example: “[…] the closed door is both closed and the sign of this closedness” is particularly true in relation to horses, who respect fences and gates even thou they can pass them at will.

The Greek nomos, usually translated as ‘law’, is connected to the concrete operation of land division. […] it separates a circumscribed space from an outside, thus creating a difference on the basis of which political, social, and religious orders can be established. […] law is constituted in the first place by an opening that grants access to the law. A door is a place where the difference that constitutes the law has to negate itself in order to become effective.

The last part feels like an utter abstraction but I think this “negation of law” is something we can witness in computer game speed-runs: Players outsmart game intelligence’s by idling between rooms (staying right at the threshold of a door frame) to confuse the game AI’s which are programmed to confront the player when they enter or leave a space.

As long as doors functioned as operators of difference between inside and outside, they also helped to create, in line with the public-private distinction, an asymmetry of knowledge.

Thinking about this makes it easy to read reindeer herd separation acts as a process where the animals are coded. The reindeer as a species, with all its species specific trades had been authored.

Their (and our) genes are a receipts of transactions. #ॐ