The five-day Trouble festival, starting in Brussels on 22 April, will feature performance art from every continent. Finland will be represented by Johanna Lecklin, Essi Kausalainen and the xxx-group. They told us about the background to their performances.
Trouble is one of eight performance art festivals forming part of the A Space for Live Art project. Kuopio's ANTI festival is Finland's participation in this five-year project organised by the European Commission, and it was ANTI's turn to organise a festival last spring in the Kuopio area of Finland. Here at Trouble, the ANTI festival will attract a lot of attention, and its artistic directors Johanna Tuukkanen and Gregg Whelan will present their own festival on 24 April at the Salle Cave at Les Halles.
Essi Kausalainen is contributing his performances Five Moments for Temporal Beings and Street Garden to the festival. Five Moments for Temporal Beings examines being through different physical functions. "In preparing my performance, I have been reflecting on the prerequisites for existence: what things unite living beings and what things separate us. For example, feeding is essential for all life forms, but the enjoyment of food is an altogether different experience, depending on whether you examine it from the perspective of a plant or of a fledgling bird. I am trying to present the logic behind being a plant or an animal by placing my own body in the position of each living thing," Kausalainen explains.
Right now Kausalainen is especially interested in metamorphosis. "I am interested in melting, flowing, accumulation and growth – the moment when a thing or a material changes from one thing into another. This theme is present indirectly in the Five Moments performance. The work does not concentrate as such on material metamorphosis, but more on examples of displacement: when day-to-day things or objects are placed in the "wrong" environment, their meaning changes – they become something else, even though they remain exactly the same physically," Kausalainen reflects.
In the Street Garden performance Kausalainen walks the streets of Brussels carrying a mini-garden on his back. The route takes him from the Parc Royal to Les Halles in Schaerbeek. "I am performing Street Garden for the first time in Brussels and I am looking forward to people's reactions. The idea for the performance came about when I was looking at some pictures of the festival venue and the surrounding area that had been sent out by the event organiser. I felt the need to position something living and human in size in the middle of the city. The fact that the festival is being held in spring seemed to be crying out for a mini-garden," says Kausalainen excitedly.
The idea underlying Johanna Lecklin's Story Café is that of exchange: tell a story and get a coffee in return. Lecklin records the stories told by the café-goers on video, produces scripts of some of them and finally dramatises them in different ways on video, cine film and 16 mm film. The basis of the film work are stories which she recorded in London in 2004, Limerick in 2006, Helsinki in 2006, Tallinn in 2007, Moscow in 2008 and at the Finnish Institute in London in 2008. "Before I worked on this, I produced photo portraits, from which I moved on to video portraits. At the beginning, I interviewed people that I knew, whose lives were unusual in one way or another. This gave me the idea of getting people to talk that I didn't know," says Lecklin, explaining the background to her performance.
Lecklin says that the over 160 stories that she has recorded so far cover every conceivable subject: personal memoirs, adventures, embarrassing coincidences, anecdotes, stories overhead on buses, religious tales, experiences read about on the internet, childhood memoirs and travel escapades. "In the new story cafés I show the narratives that I recorded in the previous ones. The viewer can then observe how people tell stories, the different and similar ways in which they start and end a story, maintain the tension and heighten the atmosphere. As my story archive builds up, you can start to see how the earlier stories have influenced subsequent storytellers," says Lecklin about the way she works. "People don't absolutely have to contribute a story of their own; they can also stay and listen to other people's stories and watch the earlier videos if they want."
The xxx_group came into being at the initiative of Pekka Ruuska and Eero Yli-Vakkuri for the Theatre Gallery project organised at the Gallery Titanik in Turku. The group was soon joined by Paula Lehtonen and Pia Sirén. All the members are graphic artists and have known one another since their student days in Tampere. This was the formation of the group that performed in Turku and Kuopio as part of the ANTI Festival in 2008. Nowadays the group is an open collective, which allows it to work with the same performance format but in different formations. "In Brussels the group will be made up of Paula Lehtonen, Pekka Ruuska and Eero Yli-Vakkuri, with the performers being counterbalanced by Arttu Merimaa, a video artist who will be observing events from the perspective of an outsider and by Emmi Vainio, a community media professional who will be cutting and compiling the video work with the benefit of hindsight.
It is important to the group for there to be few obstacles to exchanging views, sharing ideas and influencing the course of events together with the community that is following the performance. The audience is thus offered an opportunity to see how a performance is structured and with what techniques a performance or gesture can be made to work. "Working in this way, the group illuminates the power structures that guide the ways in which we act in a community," Yli-Vakkuri stresses. This mission is also reflected in the way in which the group relates to the space in which it is performing. The architectonic solutions arrived at for that space regulate the way in which people behave there. "The group has found expression for those tensions, for example, by vacuuming the ceiling," explains Yli-Vakkuri, clarifying that "the group's performances are born of a dialogue with social conventions and space; the group explores power in concrete terms and approaches it from the perspective of performance technique."
xxx_group has announced its intention to produce a series of 100 performances over 24 hours. Parts 50, 51 and 52 have now been presented. In Brussels the group will be putting on performances 26 and 27 over two days. "If we continue to perform at this pace, we will have the full set of 100 performances ready by 2057," Yli-Vakkuri calculates.