“Feed me, so that I may feed the horses”. My Kone Foundation application in a nutshell. The text is in Finnish and available trough this link. I think this is the last time I’ll apply funding for the Trans-Horse initiative in a research framework. This marks the fifth year I’m approaching art and research funders in Finland with the same core idea. The idea is simple: To ask a horse what we should do next. If this application returns as a dud, I have to move on before the zombie-proposal consumes me. I will also have to seriously reconsider if I can continue in the PhD program at Aalto. The university has been generous by offering a few teaching gigs and I’ve also inspected two master’s thesis but there isn’t enough paid academic work to sustain active participation and involvement with the faculty. I don’t have the means to commit. The odd-jobs and gigs I manage to secure require dedication which make reading and writing difficult. If the Kone and Finnish Cultural Foundation applications fail, I’ll try to source money for a small independent publication which will summarize the work I’ve done teaching art with-and-in relation to horses. I don’t believe not having a degree is a hindrance for the work I do and I don’t think it has a severe impact on my opportunities to be employed by universities because my asset lie in engagement rather then research.
Interpreting animals in spaces of cohabitance (2019) Nora Schuurman and Alex Franklin. An inspiring article exploring manifestations of animal agency at horse stables (livery yards to be specific). The article builds a model for horse agency from an array of interviews in which yard managers explain or “narrate” the animals’ behaviour. The approach feels supportive to my own research plans. Yard managers are a convenient source for information because they are responsible for the daily well being of the animals and have to communicate the animals current state to their owners, who possibly only meet their beasts on weekends (as I’ve witnessed at Kylmälänkylä). In short they have to speak for and in behalf of the animals. I think it’s particularly interesting that their expertise is constantly open for questioning as the observed behaviour of the animal can challenge their narration. Also ownership in itself affords an authority in decision making processes.
Referencing Michael Polanyi (1983 ) the authors emphasize tacit knowledge as a key element of the animal interpretation processes: “[T]acit knowledge refers to a personal knowledge or skill that is used in action, but is difficult to explain verbally.” I’m familiar with the claim that tacit it is “difficult to explain”. But I want to underline that there are many reasons for the struggle for verbalizing stuff: Trade secrets, efforts to maintain the aura of the trade, hangover and fatigue. My cynical view is that the struggle is a performance: A performance of professionalism, to be specific. I find this to be a big part of crafts culture. I believe that everything is “difficult to explain” and that every explanation is a crude approximation. From this angle all knowledge (Ikea furniture building guides, academic paper) depends on a tacit-sity (or tactic perhaps?). Also, some aspects of some trades are very easily communicated by sharing choreographies and this makes them more accessible then spoken or written accounts. This would portray academic knowledge as more tacit than craft knowledges. The authors also emphasize that tacit knowledge is an complicated framework, referencing Auli Toom (2006).
Citing Rebecca Cassidy (2002) they bring forths that “[t]acit knowledge is also highly contextual, often tied to working environments and social practices such as the care and training of horses and working with them.” to which I full heartedly agree with to and would like to emphasize on in my reseach. The arrangement and placement of tools (pitchforks, shovels, wheelbarrows) at a stable manifest an intellect (which we can discover by mapping items). The distances of tools and how they are in relation to each other, reveal the choreographies of labour and companionship. This design is informed by both human and animal desires. For example the directions and angles stable doors open to are choreographic apparatuses, they guide the movement of horse handlers and animals so that both will feel safe in manoeuvring in tight spaces (they afford safety). Gates, the complicated process of passing trough gates (which I think horse handling is borderline centred on) and trust issues are discussed relation to Vinciane Desprets writing (2004).
For me it feels like, that in this text tacit is used as a leeway for developing intuitive approaches to caregiving (opposed to a medical approaches etc.). Citing Schuurman (2017) they detail that “tacit knowledge about horses has adapted to the new environments and practices of contemporary horse keeping. Today, it carries information on horse management and care, including the task of communicating with horses and interpreting them as animals in different ways.” This approach works great for me and notes on care is something we could map-out during the upcoming Horse & Build Environment course for Aalto University. But I want to underline that an exploration of the tacit knowledge we develop through horse-human relations may reveal challenging to how care and compassion are currently understood. For example, what how should we approach physical violence from the horses point of view?
To be able to enroll all horses in the process of caring for and being cared for themselves, the yard manager has to specifically identify and manage different subgroups of horses. The size and mix of horses placed in any one field, for example, is significant in maintaining optimum conditions for selfcare. The less conflict there is in the relationships between the horses, the more they can be relied upon to take care of each other. In the case of the livery yards, field groups are commonly kept relatively small or single-sex for this very reason.
The article describes the complexity of social skills (“horse reading”) which maintaining a healthy herds depend on. It’s great that social skills animal management depend on are brought forwards. A regular performance where heard organizations and human activity interplay can be witnessed, is when a singular horse is pulled away from the pasture for work. I would like to add that not all intents for “horse reading“ are benign. For example mounted police officers use their heard and horse reading skills to drive the animal into violent situations and it can also be that the horses are partly driven by this opportunity. Also, horse handlers pick personal favourites and work to advance their position in the herd-organization. I also believe and have witnessed that horse handlers work against the perceived enemies of their favourites.
The type of “narrative analysis” they are developing feels linked to literary or discourse analysis but their approach feels more open for creative interpretations. It also has an archival quality:
The situations in which narration is invoked are multiple. It is used as a technique to communicate interpretations of animal agency within both mundane and eventful human–horse interactions as they take place. It is also drawn upon as a tool to communicate these interactions to others at a later occasion. […] Narrative analysis thus becomes an extremely malleable, flexible, and largely effective method for understanding embodied communication and tacit knowledge within human–animal interaction.
Upholstered a Håg kneeling chair which I bought for cheep. Might have to replace the gas spring and wheels too but it works for now. Found a good supplier for strong plastic foam (LIMI P80) in Kerava and sourced leftover canvas from an upcycling bin. The foam is sturdy but soft, intended for upholstery of industrial machine seats. Felt weird to buy new plastic foam to this world but SURREAL SALAD (2020) by Heini Aho comforted me. Her video is perfect for coping with toxic-futures. I think I used too much glue. There is a faint intoxicating smell in the room I work but I’m using it for my benefit (working on grant-applications and preparing a teaching gig for Aalto).
Spotted a small clip about the expo2001∞ fanzine/exhibition by Daniel Kupferberg online. We contributed an angry Trans-Horse text to it. The zine-format is inspirational. We will be hopefully produce a zine during the upcomming Horse & Build Environment course too.
Participated in a creative writing class at Aalto facilitated by Fer Boyd. The week was rough but rewarding and I learned a lot on how to host collective writing efforts. Boyd was great and it was relieving to experiment with writing in the Aalto academic context. The group was fun, smart and active! A lot of piercing one-liners and concepts were thrown in the air. “Holy, as in it has holes” was offered was a way to explain the positive effects porousness provides texts. We also discussed that the term and concept of “Native-Speaker” should be abolished. An alternative from Russian language was proposed “Language Carrier”. This would work great in Finnish too: Kantokieli (Äidinkieli < Kantokieli). This would be translated as “tree stump” -language.
There were also some revealing experiments with citations. We observed that in fiction, stories within stories deepen the reading experience. The relations of a reader following a fiction, from were the antagonists of a story hear a new story as a part of their quest, blurs distinctions and suck the reader in (I’m trying to describe the framing techniques of One Thousand and One Nights). In academic writing quotations work in an opposite direction. They push out from the text and present themselves as unnegotiable, hence shallowing the reading experience. I’m tempted to write the bulk of a text as a quote and to infuse my own thinking to it as a quoted fiction.
Wrote two texts I feel confident to tag as Art-Writing.
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.