Finland in Biennale Arte 2013

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How to become a ‘falling tree’?

In Biennale Arte 2013 there are a some exhibitions where the presence of human body plays a central role. The Russian exhibition involves live performers, in the Romanian pavilion a group of performers embody the artworks exhibited in Venice during the previous biennales. The show is thought-provokingly entitled Immaterial Retrospective of the Venice Biennale. The main exhibition of the Biennale Arte 2013, Encyclopedic Palace, includes Tino Sehgal’s prize-winning performance in which two or three people in changing constellations hum and beatbox while moving on the floor.

The contribution of the Finnish Other Spaces group adds to this incipient trend the question of bodily mimesis and imagination beyond anthropomorphism. With regard to the theme of the main exhibition of Biennale Arte 2013 offering the dream of a universal and all-embracing knowledge, Other Spaces urge us to ask, whether it is, actually, our own body that constitutes an ‘encyclopedic palace’ par exellence. Isn’t the body itself a multi-layered archive of silent knowledge, both individual and collective, perhaps even in a phylogenetic perspective?

If one of the paradigmatic figures of ossified knowledge structures, the taxonomic tree, is today put in question, seen as a ‘falling tree’, what, then, might be needed in order expose the anthropomorphic image of our bodily existence for a similar transformation? How to make our body image fall? In light of the work of the Other Spaces group, one possible answer to this is the steady practice of imagining the body otherwise with help of its own capacities.

Through a series of exercises that build on carefully worked-out bodily techniques the performers gain access to the latent layers of experience slumbering in our body. With help of these techniques and collective work it is possible to undergo a transformation into non-human forms of being, such as bats, worms, sun-rays, buildings or mushrooms. In fact, this was recently witnessed by a number of exhibition guests in front of the Aalto pavilion.

During two days, 2 and 3 July, 10 members of the Other Spaces collective (Jaakko Kiljunen, Esa Kirkkopelto, Lauri Kontula, Pyry Kääriä, Minja Mertanen, Laura Pietiläinen, Sanni Priha, Jaakko Ruuska, Jaana Taskinen and Paula Tella) presented parts of their work in form of a demonstration of a series of exercises entitled Olives and Stones. On both days more than 200 biennale visitors were actively following the performance. On 2 July additionally 6 co-performers from the ScarlattineTeatro (Lecco, Italy) participated in the performance.

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Esa and the Italian co-performers Martha, Giuditta, Maria, Barbara and John during the rehersals © Mika Elo

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Barbara, Esa, Laura and Pyry preparing the exercise solar system © Mika Elo

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Maria, Barbara, Martha and others during the exercise bats © Mika Elo

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Mushroom rhizome from the exercise mushrooms © Mika Elo

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John and others as mushrooms during the exercise mushrooms © Mika Elo

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Lauri, Jaakko, Jaana and Esa as proto-animals during the exercise animal circle © Mika Elo

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Pyry as a plant in the exercise solar system and Minja as revolving sun in the background © Mika Elo

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Lauri in the exercise three graces © Mika Elo

© Mika Elo

toisissa tiloissa-pressi1

Olives and stones

 

 

When a tree falls or is felled, something gets uprooted. What kind of resources do we have for approaching this something in terms of experience?

The Helsinki-based performance art collective Other Spaces, founded in 2004, is committed to working with questions like this. The group, consisting of around 30 artists from several fields of arts, meets regularly every week, since continuous physical training makes up the core of the collective’s working principles. Even their performances take the form of collective physical exercises, where the audience is invited to take part. Unlike in performances where volunteers are sought from the audience, in the performances of the Other Spaces group the participation does not become a question of overcoming the fear of appearing on a stage. In contrast, the physical exercises strive for undoing the stage as we are used to know it, and letting the performance emerge from the unobtrusive becoming a stage of the world itself. Our very appearing starts to show traits of an unsettling performance, and, in its own innermost strangeness, our human shape and state of being starts to become permeable to other states, shapes and spaces. This metamorphosis is the leitmotiv of the exercises continuously developed by the collective over the years.

Olives and Stones -event supplements the ensemble of the two exhibitions. It is realized by the Other Spaces in cooperation with ScarlattineTeatro (Lecco, Italy). The convenor of the Other Spaces collective Esa Kirkkopelto, a theatre director, dramaturge, and philosopher, characterizes this project in following terms:

Olives and Stones consists of a series of demonstrations during which we will transform ourselves into crickets, worms, mushrooms, bats and other non-human beings. Our social choreographies, in turn, are influenced by the Nordic midsummer feast tradition. Towards the end the audience will be invited to participate in a walking tour across the space in-between the species.

With regard to the Falling Trees exhibition and its implicit themes, our performance takes a clear stance: it is possible for us humans to reach non-human forms of experience and to know, for example, how it feels to be a tree or a stone. This kind of experiences need not be mere anthropomorphic projections or phantasies. It is, in fact, nothing else than anthropocentricism to claim that non-human forms of experience would be out of human reach, since this claim presupposes that the human being has a distinct position amid other beings. This leads either to ignorant relation to other species or to rational care, that is, ethical and ecological attitudes. In both cases we tend to deny the existence of a mimetic exchange between the different beings – the fact that we as a multiplicity of species are born images of each other. The exercises of the Other Spaces collective aim at reactivating and unfolding these mimetic relations.

Olives and Stones is also a comment on Joseph Beuys’s work entiled Olivestone (1984), which deals with the elusive metabolism between the non-living and the living, Italian sand stone and olive oil.

Olives and Stones will take place at the Finnish Alvar Aalto Pavilion in Giardini della Biennale di Venezia 2 July at 4-6 pm and 3 July at 10.30-12.30 am. Meeting point: Finnish Alvar Aalto Pavilion.

The event is open to all biennale guests.

Further information: Other Spaces

Opening words

Venice is a city of art, not because of the Biennale or because of its renaissance palaces but because of the fact that the whole city is artfully constructed on a ground that is not stable.

Venice reminds us that in art we are facing certain groundlessness at the core of our actions. This sinking city reminds us of the elemental forces that make up the backdrop of our humanly conceived world. In short, this place lays bare our tensional relation with nature.

During the five weeks we were building up the exhibition we often heard the high tide alarm. For me, it felt like an echo of this tension.

Tension is actually a good word to describe our two part-exhibition Falling Trees. Our curatorial concept was developed with regard to the fact that this time Finland has two very different pavilions in use. Instead of a thematic approach we decided to work with tension. As a singular and totally contingent event the falling of a tree on the Finnish pavilion in the last Biennale offered for us a conceptual tool for setting up a framework that ties the two pavilions together.

With regard to the theme of the main exhibition of the Biennale Arte 2013, The Encylopedic Palace, tree is also a metaphorical figure: one of the “falling trees” is the tree of taxonomy. Both Antti’s and Terike’s work suggest new taxonomies.

When a tree falls it necessarily falls in some particular direction, partly in accordance with a certain tendency or tension inherent to its life, partly in accordance with contingent circumstances. Similarly, an artistic process, or an exhibition project finds its way to an end-point through a series of contingent incidents and singular decisions.

We chose to this exhibition two very different artists, Antti Laitinen and Terike Haapoja who share the interest in working in-between different art forms. We also saw an intriguing tension between contingency and singularity at play in both artists’ work.

In Antti’s case his new work Forest Square is exemplary of this. This work lays bare the way in which sense emerges in and through a set of contingent rules and singular decisions. As you can see in the exhibition, Antti felled 10 by 10 meters of forest and rearranged the forest material into a colour composition. During this process Antti not only invented methods of sorting out he also invented the units. There are no pre-given units and categories in a forest.

Terike’s work entitled The Party of Others includes a quote that explicitly addresses the ground of legitimate decision-making and the mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion that constitute the framework of humanly conceived world. This ground is both contingent and a result of singular decisions. Terike’s exhibition challenges us to imagine other ways of being.

There is lots of work behind the two parts of the exhibition. The most laborious phase of Antti’s project was in the winter when he spent almost five months, sorting out the forest materials. In Terike’s case the biggest effort was the building phase here in Venice.

We want to thank Frame for trusting us with the prestigious task of curating this two-part exhibition. And most of all we want to thank the artists, Antti Laitinen and Terike Haapoja, for their visions, efforts and relentless willpower, sisu, as we call it in Finnish.

Gruppo 111 / Mika Elo

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The snapshot moment

Just before the opening days the long and laborious building phase of our two-part exhibition finally found its end-point. In this magical moment when the dust settles and the lights are set the exhibition appears as if it would embody its own image. The work is about to live the life of its own. This snapshot moment is the moment of shine; it incorporates both glory and the possibility of decay.

Antti’s concise exhibition revolves around two new works: Forest Square (in the background) and Tree Reconstruction (in the front).

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Antti Laitinen: Untitled (Nails and Wood) and Forest Square.

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Antti Laitinen: Untitled (Nails and Wood).

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Forest Square, Lake Deconstruction and It’s my island.

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Installation views from the Nordic Pavilion, which Terike transformed into a “pavilion of species”. The black diagonal wall separates the theatrical installation Closed Circuit – Open Duration from the exterior parts of the pavilion.

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© Mika Elo

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Reshaping the given

Antti felled down five birch trees in his home town Somerniemi, chopped them up and transported them to Giardini. The next step in the process of the work entitled Tree Reconstruction is the laborious putting together of the puzzle consisting of more than five cubic meters of logs in front of the Finnish pavilion.

 

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At the same time as Antti’s birch trees will successively find their new shape under the Italian sky, the trees inside the Nordic Pavilion are adapting themselves to a new rhythm. Terike has turned the days into nights and the nights into days. The trees inside the pavilion will get light only during the nights when the exhibition is closed. For this purpose numerous UV lights had to be to be installed into the ceiling.

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© Mika Elo

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© Mika Elo

tavaraa

Building up the exhibition

building

© Terhi Tuomi

pasi ja niko

© Terhi Tuomi

Only a few days after the container arrived at Giardini the first walls of the exhibition were already standing in the Nordic Pavilion. Pasi and Niko worked 12 hours a day in the first phase in order to prepare the space for following steps. One of the next operations was the removal of huge windows of the pavilion.

lasinpoisto

© Terhi Tuomi

viimeinentaitelijajokapoistilasit

© Terhi Tuomi

neljä-rakennuskuva

© Terhi Tuomi

Francesco and Ugo worked for weeks to darken the pavilion with aluminium paper and grey Molton. The task turned out to be quite time consuming partly because we were not allowed to make any holes in the roof trusses.

hugo ja francesco

© Terhi Tuomi

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© Mika Elo

First one to visit the exhibition at the Nordic Pavilion was a beetle.

Näyttelyvieras_NRO1

© Terhi Tuomi

At the end of the third week there was still lots of construction work to do on both sides of Terike’s diagonal wall. The materialization of the plans tends to be an exiting process with many surprises. Also in this case some details needed to be reconsidered on the spot.

mika ja terike

© Terhi Tuomi

In the meanwhile… the last steps of the extensive restoration of the Finnish Aalto Pavilion were being made. Antti can soon start installing his work here.

last renovations

© Terhi Tuomi

Falling trees, again

19 March 2013 a sycamore growing at the west corner of the Nordic Pavilion was felled. The tree was severely affected by the fungal parasite ceratocystis fimbriata and threatened to fall over the pavilion. The first note in the curatorial process that was played by nature itself (the abrupt falling of a tree on the Finnish Alvar Aalto Pavilion in 2011) had another rather surprising reverberation here. Now we had new circumstances to deal with in regard to Terike’s installation.

Plataanin kaato blogi1o

Plataanin kaato 064 kopio

west conrer1

Plataanin kaato blogi2

 © Suvi Tirronen

© Antti Laitinen

Technics of gathering

 

A city square is an open place where we gather; it is city’s heart. Antti’s Forest Square involves another kind of gathering…

 

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© Mika Elo

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© Mika Elo

After sorting the complete organic body of an are of forest into its constituent parts Antti finally rearranged the material into a carefully assembled composition to be photographed.

Sorting the forest and the layer of peat in a factory hall took several months, and in the end, necessitated working nearly around the clock. Eventually the sorted forest found its definite shape and size: it looks like a colour composition and takes exactly one hundred square metres of space, just like the original patch of forest.

The process of photographing the composition proved challenging, and to show the smallest of details the final work had to be composed of over 60 images stitched together.

FG2

© Terhi Tuomi

FG1

© Terhi Tuomi

In the meanwhile in Helsinki… Terike is in the process of building various measuring instruments to be included in her installation Closed Circuit – Open Duration with help of her assistant Kristiina Ljokkoi and the engineer Aleksi Pihkanen. Among others, in the work entitled Dialogue there will be CO2 detectors that facilitate the communication between trees and humans. Nordic Pavilion will constitute a meeting place for multiple species.

Kristiina hiomassa kyvetin läpän reunaa

© Kristiina Ljokkoi

Aleksi kyvettiä kasaamassa

© Kristiina Ljokkoi

sarjatuotantoa

© Kristiina Ljokkoi

kyvetti

© Kristiina Ljokkoi

Community and death

 

Death is something we cannot share, and yet it plays a central role in any community. In Western philosophy and political theory there are wide discussions concerning this. Terke’s work Community pushes these questions further: what if we would be able to think of the death as the common denominator of animals and humans. The work includes 5 infrared videos of animals that have just passed away.

 

TH Community stills from video's

© Terike Haapoja

In the meanwhile… Antti prepares a photo session. Something like a resurrection of the forest is about to take place in Somero…

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© Mika Elo

pölkyt ventsiassa

How trees travel

As a part of the project Tree Reconstruction Antti felled and chopped five birch trees in Somerniemi, Finland, and transported them to Venice. As the title suggests, he will rebuild them in Giardini in front of the Finnish pavilion. Antti has done similar projects in Vienna, North Finland and Bristol. In these previous projects the trees were reassembled close to the place where they had grown. This time Antti is about to make a transplantation. The five birches already traveled from Somerniemi to Venice. The logs are waiting.

https://vimeo.com/65458529

A1

 

Terike’s exhibition will also include trees, living ones. Besides the three large trees growing through the roof of the Nordic Pavilion she will include some smaller trees in the installation. Her trees travel only a short way form Serra del Giardini, a garden shop close by Giardini della Biennale.

puusaapuu

© Terhi Tuomi

Nordic katto-lowres

© Harri Laakso

puut alakerta

© Terhi Tuomi