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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Visited Performance and Feminism seminar at TeaK. I went particularly for Marina Valle Noronha’s and Kaino Wennerstrand’s Performing professionalism: Why do we travel for art and what does it do to us? talk but stayed for Lim Paik Yins movie and Minna Harris presentation about time. The three presentations formed a loose arch, which dealt with ecology and challenges caused by development. The Performing professionalism… was a performance. The stylish duo played a prerecorded sound piece while sitting confidently in front of the crowd. I interpreted the presentation as an attempt to problematize the image of the contemporary creative (art) professional, whose relevance is measured by the amount their international flights and prestige appetites, which attempt to transcendent the limits of bourgeoisie taste (and end up being mega-bourgeoisie).

Yins movie IN[formal] INTERchange (2018) offered a good contrast to the critique. She had conducted interviews (video-voip) with various amateur(?) practitioners of performance art in the Southeast Asian region. The performers talked candidly about their relationship to performance art while engaging in various joined performances (or performance exercises) with each other and the Yin. The film was appealing because it used low-key/accessible esthetics and utilized consumer services (such as Skype) for artistic research. It reminded me that there are global alternatives and strategies that work against the performance of professionalism.

Made a short teaching gig to Hyvinkää for middle to high-school aged kids who take art classes at Willa Arttu. I continued with the “Poststructuralism for Kids” program. We talked about strikes and how the act of “striking” halts movement (which offers a good time to contemplate what to do next) and practiced halting trough contact improvisation. After this we played with doors. We explored what doors are (the kids had some really smart ideas: gates to new dimension etc.) and then we experimented with different ways of opening a doors and discussed about the experience. Used this door opening tutorial (1979) as reference. I’ll do a full write up after the last gig.

Also dabbled with electronics during the week. Scavenged smd components from a failed project and used them to make a voltage regulator for a headlight (9v-to-5v) and a assembled solder smoke removal fan.

I’m making electronics to energize my grant application process. I’ve prepared 16 pages for a five year plan. Five years is not enough. The application consists of an array of loosely linked projects and ideas, some of which are framed as development motifs for work that will be executed around 2038. I’m currently most excited about the idea to organize Smithing in Public Spaces forging workshops. I’ve written the texts so that Jesse can use them in his personal grant applications too. If everything goes as planned we’d host public forging workshops in open city spaces, during which participants would learn how to mend and make metal things. The workshops will also serve as a vessel for collecting stories partisipants tell of metal objects they hold dear.

Catching up on Critical Making. Design and the Construction of Publics (2009) Carl DiSalvo.

[…] the notion that publics are “constructed” is perhaps most salient to contemporary design because it prompts a consideration of the means by which publics are assembled; begging the question: “How does, or might, design contribute to the construction of publics?” [John Dewey]

[…] inquiry into design and the construction of publics begins with a more thorough understanding of the Deweyan public. The assertion that publics are not a priori existing masses is central to the notion of the construction of publics. The public is not something that has been and always will be. It is neither universal nor an abstraction. […] for Dewey, the public is an entity brought into being through issues for the purpose of contending with these issues in their current state and in anticipation of the future consequences of these issues.

As designers and educators, [Anthony] Dunne and [Fiona] Raby are well known for their development of “Critical Design,” which they regard as an alternative to mainstream design in that the goal is the use of design to expose and explore the conditions and trajectories of contemporary design rather than the utilitarian problem-solving or surface-styling that has historically characterized design (particularly industrial design).

By the contributions of design, will publics inherit problematic qualities of being “engineered” or “commodities”? Such concerns are legitimate and substantial. The subject of design ethics should go hand-in-hand with the construction of publics, and have a significant place in future discourse.

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SOW Blacksmith ed.1 spotted in the wild as a part of a Novation Circuit Sample Set! Some new entries in the Freesound.org comment page on the collection too. Feels really good to see the pack in use!

Ordered parts for a second Lorre-Mill uTone building session (more on that later – Planning to attach the unit to a 42hp blank eurorack panel). Also got parts for a PMFoundations Clock Divider (Eurorack PCB set). I now have an elementary set of modulation tools in the works. I’ll start compiling the units next month. The uTone will likely be build at Oodi. Odered parts from Digi-Key on Friday and they are already in Helsinki!

Saw dance works at Zodiak. Mira Kautto: Station to Station to Station was a faux-one-person-techno-party, framed as a reminiscence of the traces that past performances had left in the dancers body. Laura Jantunen: Talvi  was a monotonous, repetitive and pattern orientated piece. It placed human bodies and abstract electronic patterns on the same plane. I liked the experience of looking at human movement as a pattern but disliked the academic/neutral-tone of the work. For me the performance felt like a display of the concepts of repetition and patterns, rather then an exploration of them. Kaino liked work a lot and their text on the piece is a good read THE CIRCUIT I NEED: TALVI, A CHOREOGRAPHY BY LAURA JANTUNEN  (2019) Kaino Wennerstrand.

Also saw Their Limbs Their Lungs Their Legs at TeaK. I enjoyed the views and read the piece as a post-humanism for kids sort of show. The outer forms of the dancer bodies where changed with various disguises. Some parts were very humorous but it didn’t offer new insight to dance.

 

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Visited Aruna D’Souza’s talk Writing in the Reparative Mode (video link) at the 8th floor. The event was organized by the The New School. She offered a road-map on how she developed from an academician into an art-writer and art critic. D’Souza became disillusioned by the academia after witnessing numerous race related scandals which the organizations failed to respond to. After leaving university, she felt that Facebook helped her to develop as a writer. Posting on her wall felt like brainstorming and gave her the opportunity to pose questions instead of re-affirming what is already known (I really dislike her emphasis on Facebook and Instagram as “real venues for art writing”, because the technology is based on exclusion).

She invited the audience to think about “reparative criticism” which is an attempt to compensate for the injustices which effect the decedents of the enslaved. In the beginning she started to “write as a student”, which means she wants to understand an artwork on the artworks own terms (I’m weirdly reminded by the self-reflectionism of minimal art). Her writing is “drawing attention” to works which teach her how to be “an ethical and political citizen of this fraud moment in history” (D’Souza acknowledges this as signal-boosting). She is also constantly learning to talk about her own failures. “Our culture is weakened by peoples inability to apologize”. She refers to her writing concerning a Jimmie Durham exhibition, in which she downplayed the critique stirred up by Durham’s claims of Native Ancestry (More on the topic by Sheila Regan). After she re-freshened her opinion on Durham (after learning about the topic trough the debate), her act was seen of as opportunism (changing sides) instead of rethinking and apologizing.

In D’Souzas view art writing is primarily made for the white gaze. Art writing excludes the subjectivity of the artist (and the critic). When writing for the black-gaze, she is more sensitive when talking about race and politics. There are benefits too: Some key concepts such as “the existence of structural violence, “the consent of white fragility” and “the weaponized use of white tears” do not need explaining. She invites writers to “punch up” in their critiques and not to be afraid “name names” of people who are responsible for oppressive acts. She wants to name people so that we will not talk “around the problems of institutional racism” (I find this troubling. Naming people feels like vain punishment and I find it hard to imagine how it will help in changing structures). This process has made her friends, peers and audiences feel uneasy.

She wants to center on the voice of the protesters, instead on the “voice of analysis”. This approach has helped her to understand “the protest as a site” which gives some artists (who are excluded by institutions) the only opportunity to engage with the art world. Her starting point is that freedom of speech is not a universal value but a relationship. In her own words she is “not writing good art history” but “writing good something-else”. She points out that all art criticism is “advocacy” and the majority of contemporary art criticism is “advocacy of the supremacy of white male artists”. D’Souza is currently working on a book which is called “Against Empathy”. A critique of the individual affect, at the center of political transformation (in a manner which de-centers collective action). Her argument that “There is no aesthetic understanding, unless there is structural understanding” feels heroic but coming from a new-materialistic, Marxist point of view it feels old.

Our proposal (with Ilari) to have the publication on land- and environmental art conservation co-published by the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York and the Fine Art Academy of Helsinki was excepted and the book will be out this spring! I’ve been busy editing my text for it. Currently re-reading Entropy Made Visible (1973) and Entropy And The New Monuments (1966) by Robert Smithson. Revisited Dia: Beacon to make photocopies of Moira Roth’s interview of the artist found in Eugenie Tsai’s book Robert Smithson (2004). Feeling like a ghetto scholar (I’m literally stealing knowledge to make ends meet).

I got into the interview phase for the Doctoral Studies Programme in Artistic Research in Performing Arts at the Theater Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki. I felt that I couldn’t reply adequately to the questions: Why I want to conduct my research in the framework of the Theater Academy and what its my relationship to performance studies. I mumbled something about, public craft fairs being transparent process of the production of commodity value. I wanted to say that I see performance a material deposit of located behavior, squeezed into acts by the design and affordances which places offer.

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Bought a book by Michel Serres and started working on an application for the Doctoral Studies Programme in Artistic Research in Performing Arts at the Theatre Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki. I’ve written a 12 page research proposal called “Horse & Performance” (it’s taken me two-to-three weeks and I’m currently waiting for comments/guidance from friends). The English summary is the last part (I’m having trouble with it). Apparently I want to spy on people, talk to horses and ask them what they think about our perception of them.  I can’t read the the summary without giggling – Which has to be a good sign.

The “Horse & Performance” research investigates “what do we talk about, when we talk about horses” at Finnish horse-stables. The research is rooted on an ethnographic study which analyses how horse-hobbyist and professional construct the figure of the contemporary-horse. The ethnographic part of the research will focus on situations were people explain the animals behaviour trough unintentional utterance, murmured while working with them. I will also engage in an “performance architectural” analysis of the sites, where people meet with horses, trough which I will formulate an understanding on how particular sites (and particular technologies presented in them) affect our perception of the animal. The fieldwork will be contrasted to the work of artists and theorists who have contributed to the development of the “animal-turn”.

From these sources I will develop a set of post-humanistically geared exercises and grooming techniques, through which I will direct the question to the horses themselves and ask for their feedback. These exercises will be presented as public performances, organized in urban spaces. The feedback audiences provide will be used to further develop an understanding of the contemporary-horse. Performing publicly with an animals cause conflicts through which we can access views and assumptions people project on them. Techniques developed through this research, can be used to ask animals for feedback on how build environments should be organized. The research aims to advance the wellbeing of animals and to advocate ethical environmental design.

Here is a list of texts I refer in the full proposal:

  • Barad, Karen. 2003. Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter
  • Butler, Judith. 2015. Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly
  • Cull, Laura. 2012. Theatres of Immanence – Deleuze and the Ethics of Performance
  • Despret, Vinciane. 2016. What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions?
  • Haraway, Donna J. 2007. When Species Meet
  • Haraway, Donna J. 2013. SF: Science Fiction, Speculative Fabulation, String Figures, So Far.
  • Haraway, Donna. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene
  • Hribal, Jason. 2003. “Animals Are Part of the Working Class”: A Challenge to Labor History
  • Hribal, Jason. 2012. Animals are Part of the Working Class Reviewed
  • Ingold, Tim. 2011. The Perception of the Environment. Essays on Livelihood
  • Korhonen, Pauliina. 2014. Ratsastusreitit kaupunkialueella – Suunnitteluesimerkkinä Länsi-Vantaan ratsastusreitit
  • Leinonen, Riitta-Marja. 2013. Palvelijasta terapeutiksi – Ihmisen ja hevosen suhteen muuttuvat kulttuuriset mallit Suomessa
  • Mbembe, Achille. 2003. Necropolitics
  • Mitsuda, Tatsuya. 2007. Horse in European History 1550-1900
  • Kaimio, Tuire. 2004. Hevosen kanssa
  • Malm, Andreas. 2016. Fossil Capital – The rise of Steam-power and the Roots of Global Warming
  • Mejdell, Buvik, Jørgensen & Bøe. 2016. Horses can learn to use symbols to communicate their preferences
  • Morton, Timothy. 2017. Humankind
  • Ojanen, Karoliina. 2011. Tyttöjen toinen koti – Etnografinen tutkimus tyttökulttuurista ratsastustalleilla
  • Salminen, Antti & Vadén, Tere. 2016. Energia ja kokemus: Naftologinen essee
  • Serres, Michel. 2010. Malfeasance – Appropriation Through Pollution?
  • Schweder, Alex. 2011. Performance Architecture
  • Urry, John. 2004. The ‘System’ of Automobility
  • Weizman, Eyal. 2015. The Roundabout Revolutions
  • Weizman, Eyal. 2017. Hollow Land: Israel’s Architecture of Occupation
  • Wright, Stephen. 2014. Toward a Lexicon of Usership