introduction

In this dossier I’d like to give - both to the reader and to myself - a summary and overview of the work I’ve undertaken during my 3rd Semester in the Master of Film programme, and to provide a ground for the reader to be able to reflect on the discoveries made. 

Since dossier is also intended for a general public (to readers who are not familiar with the Master of Film programme, and/or my perspective towards artistic research), I will try my best to do a crash course in how did I get here and why things I did seemed like a good idea at the time when I did them. I will also do all that it takes to explain some terms which are appropriated to serve different purposes, than the ones they were originally intended to do so.

About the videos:
The videos displayed in this dossier are meant to act both as materials on their own, and as supplements to what is written underneath them. If you (the reader) feel like short on time (each video is about 5 minutes long), please use them as general impressions to something that is discussed and explained in the corresponding texts.

 
Screenshot from the video documentation of 'Shake', a 1-hour participatory performance. - Bulgaria, 2016

Screenshot from the video documentation of 'Shake', a 1-hour participatory performance. - Bulgaria, 2016

 
 

INTENTION

Works in the 1st and 2nd semester

 

Initial Statement:
I don't want to the work to be about it, i want the work to be it!

 

I started the program with an interest in the liminal moment that happens during a rite of passage. This particular moment, where the domesticated laws that govern our reality seemingly collapse, allows the participant to undergo an experience of transformation. What appealed (and still appeals) to me in rituals and liminality is the sheer power that lies in this moment. I was not interested in approaching rituals form an anthropological, or a socio-cultural, or aesthetic perspective, rather using the framework of their operation as a backbone to construct new works. This was partially fuelled by a disillusion in most transcendental-art, that put the emphasis on adaptation of cultural tropes, or socio-political symbolism of spiritualism and religion, and end up re-contextualising it in artworks that did not bear any transformative effect, or potential for engagement.

The first year was mainly devoted to a series of continuous, and interwoven research projects in finding the liminal in corporal practices, such as athletics, dance. This provided a secular context in exploring this topic and emancipated from the idea of religiousness in its socio-political and cultural echo. The same way as theory is practice, the aim was to work outside the Western concept of the dichotomy between body and mind.

As a perspective, I choose to treat the Athletic, the Alchemical and the Artistic domain as identical. The Alchemical is in my context refers to a spiritual practice that manifests through experimentation (as opposed to Theological: a practice that manifests through study and discourse, or Fundamentalist, that manifest through literal repetition of the scripture).

Using a blueprint of training methodologies used in power-sports (Olympic weightlifting, Sprinting, Gymnastics), and a production-loop outlined by Matthew Barney in a note from 1992, I developed a production methodology analogous to biochemical process of Hypertrophy - the enlargement of muscle tissues. 
The experience of trance-like exhaustion that happens in rigorous physical exercise is in nature very much akin to the state of liminality in a ritual: They both come into being once a physical/mental threshold has been crossed, they both give the sensation of 'falling' outside the usuals tempo of time and space, and they bear the potential of transforming the initiator upon returning. 
An elaboration on and explanation of this principle and the production methodology can be found in the Critical Review of the 2nd semester.

This provided me with a theoretical corpus, which in an academic context would be referred to as esoteric, but if truth be told, I could actually use this to my advantage, unlike most theoretical works arising from the academia. Following that, I rejected the reading of academic material for my research altogether, and using production and research methods I was familiar with. In my Critical Review of the 1st semester, I expand on the process of shifting from an analytical and forensic type of research, to a research that operates through embodiment.

After some of the initial experiments, like hour-long shaking sessions, movement choreographies based on training intervals, automatic writing exercises in post-workout fatigue and in hypnagogic states (the moment just before falling asleep, or just before waking up), I was interested in adding a layer of language to the next work, extending it from a purely corporal experience, while still maintaining its approach to access the liminal through action - though maybe through a not so challenging one.
The result was Patience, a card game for storytelling, divination, imagination and confusion, developed for the Master research lab at the EYE, Amsterdam. In the game, elements of random outcomes, mental projection, headphone narration and synaesthesiac association were used.
The work and the feedback from it provided a good starting point for further explorations in the domains of games and situations, and as time went on, my interest shifted in embracing less props and inviting more people to join.

 

[ back to top ]

 
 


Video impression from the second run of Inside Looking Out - recorded with Ludic Collective at CLOUD Danslab, Den Haag, NL

 

INVITATION

FROM GAMING TO PLAYING

 

Initial Statement:
In experience, the fictional and the real are same to us.

 

Semester 2 was concluded with the exam work Inside Looking Out, an imagination ritual for six participants. Here, with the aid of headphones and media players, participants of the piece are introduced to a narrative that treats whatever is perceived in the real world as part of a fictional one. 
Each participants is receiving her own unique narrative and challenges, and the total six are intertwined in a shifting, synchronised choreography, where new and new social constellations take place. 

This was the first step in using people and their imagination as the prime artistic medium and subject of change, the role of the media players was to be an agency for interaction. The work relied heavily on mechanisms of projection and what I call Secret Fiction, where contradictory narratives are superimposed to one another, with the same spectacle in reality having multiple meanings in multiple fictions at once.

The work, and especially the revised version, done a few months later (see documentation in the video above) was a powerful start in a territory, which - for my practice - was so far uncharted. This was carried on, to a residency done with Belgian sound artist Roel Heremans at and in collaboration with Pianofabriek Brussels.
Here, throughout a weeks' work, we developed the first version of 'Court', a participatory experience for four players and headphone guides. In 'Court' the players are invited to step into an ecosystem of choreographed rituals, that lay in the liminal borders of fiction and reality. Drawing upon the formal traditions of instruction tapes, team-building exercises and live-action role playing, the experience aims to give participants the insight to find transcendent in the everyday, and meaning in the meaningless.

Visual score for the first version of 'Court'. Four vertical columns represent the trajectory each participants. The horizontal lines represent an event in time.

Visual score for the first version of 'Court'. Four vertical columns represent the trajectory each participants. The horizontal lines represent an event in time.

Using headphones and human voice as an aid is a powerful, yet very intrusive method. The sonic exclusion of the outside world and messages delivered right into the ear works very effectively in getting participants to obey and believe what is being said, but it was carried out in the oppressive and violent means that modern technology operates with. Participants often felt forcefully manipulated into situations and the forcefulness of that act created distance between them and the work.
In 'Court' we intended to bypass this issue by introducing the Unreliable Narrator, a voice in the headphones, that is initially set out to guide and instruct the participant, but fails at it miserably in the end. In such way, the authority of the media-player was questioned, and in a broader perspective, the authority and the authorship of the maker. This was not out of sheer gimmick, nor to provide only a mere point of reflection about such power-dynamics. It was there to really enable the participant to take things in her own hands, and embark on a journey into a more unknown territory.
Once introduced to the rules inside the Magic Circle, and how it operates, she could get rid of the device leading her, and start creating on her own, and with others.

There was drive to transform my works into something that is not fixed and orders participants to walk through it, but rather something that becomes a new reality, an invitation to be part of it, and a window of opportunity to create in it. 
This is a shift from an interactive experience, and onto a collaborative experience. Here the outcomes are not fixed or numbered, the setting and the starting point is fixed, the rest emerges in accordance with what the participants do.

 

back to top ]

 
 


Excerpts from a session testing out simple emergence situations. Recorded at CLOUD Danslab, Den Haag, NL

 

Situation

IMMERSION AND INTERACTION

 

Initial Statement:
Immersion is the excrement of action [1]

 

Even though ‘immersion’ and ‘immersive experiences’ are very much the buzzword in todays creative design discourse (and by that I mean all discourses on art, experience design, and more), I had a very hard time to wrap my head around what it really is, what draws makers to it and how to utilise it truly.

While the concrete definition is vague, most people agree that ‘immersion’ is a something, which is characterised by a deep mental or physical involvement from someone. The nature of the something is often disputed as well as the identity of the someone. We refer to technological tools as being immersive, as well as media, and design, as well as immersion is something that people do, or immersion is a sensorial experience, or some kind of all-over-everywhere sensation.

But for the sake of simplicity, here is my take on the subject:
In my practice, immersion is a state which the participants of an experience can tap into through action. 
Immersion itself is not simply an action, or an event: it does not happen purely by deciding to be immersed, nor does it befall on one just like that. Rather it is something that happens due to an intricate and intimate interplay between the participant, her fellow participants, and their joint physical and social space. 

It is an immediate state, it works first hand (immediate in space), and it is and becoming it at once (immediate in time).
It is present in time, while also creating time, rather than just filling up an empty space. There is nothing super esoteric or spiritual about it. If one can fall asleep each night, and wake up each morning, one goes through the dual state of being and becoming, every day. You are transforming, and you do it every day. There is no greater magic than that.

The importance of immersion that it is a precondition for transformation to occur. Participants who are immersed in an experience are characterised by the embodiment of themselves, an engagement with their environment and empathy towards others.
That is why it is crucial for the reality inside the Magic Circle (the social, temporal, and spatial territory where a different reality takes place) to truly become transparent for the participant, thus providing understanding and invitation for creation.

This is the same principle of transparency all media operates by (including media that is self-referential - the Circle is just drawn a tad bit wider in that case).

But for action, and thus immersion to happen, one must be invited to and step into a reality that offers Understanding, Agency and optionally Arousal for action. 
The points, Understanding (a set of constitutive rules and advices - What?), Agency (assignment of possibilities - How?) and Arousal (an individual or collective intentionality - Why?) are pretty much the same points of how most of our own social reality is constructed. What I’m interested in my practice at this point, is to provide participants with a such a set of conditions as a base for open-ended experiences. 

The first experiments were derived from  warmup exercises, used in theatre and dance practice. These exercises provide a very simple dynamic framework, that are designed to get participants into moving and interacting without the pressure of doing something wrong (see video excerpts above).

In later stages, simple roles were assigned to each participant. The introduction of 'roles' serve a triple role:
- First, roles are one of the most accessible alibis for interaction. It removes the responsibility from the person and onto a third entity. Eg. "I didn't do this or that, my character did".
- Second, roles help the creation of culture Can easily present the participant with a context, of what and
- Lastly, roles trigger Secret Fiction, and thus a vast, unpredictable number of narratives and thus stories arise within each experience.

The roles introduced were non-dramatic, allowing open interpretation and narratives to unfold. Players were usually assigned no more, than a name of a colour, a slight alteration of their movement, or simple restrictions in interactions.

At this point in my process, new discoveries, informations, and possibilities just became intoxicating, overwhelming and paralysing. To move on from here, I needed to put aside all for a while and start out from nothing and nonsense.

[1] the quote is from Gabriel Widing's amazing talk - Bodies in live action role-play

 

back to top ]

 
 


Excerpts and impressions from our residency with Marit Mikhlepp at BAU, Amsterdam.

 

[_________]

about:blank

 

Initial Statement:
None, and that was something insanely difficult to keep

 

The video above contains impressions and excerpts from the notes written together with Estonian artist Marit Mikhlepp, during our residency at BAU, Amsterdam in November of 2016.
Throughout a week, we occupied a giant studio space, where by doing self-made exercises on and with each-other, the room, simple household objects and occasional guest bodies, we started gathering an alternative theoretical framework for our individual and mutual practice, as makers working with transforming the everyday and the domestic.

The exercises involved, amongst others:
- Being followed in a room for an hour, without wanting to be noticed
- Counting to ten with eyes closed, and having to blindly guess where the other person has moved to inside the room
- Changing between lying-sitting-standing in the slowest possible speed
- Arranging relationships between objects like fold chairs, bowls, cutlery and plastic bags
- Walking towards, away, or together with someone in the space, stopping and moving at once, not losing eye contact

What is heard in the video are a few of the first impressions and thoughts noted straight after each exercise.
We set out with no preconception of the outcome of the week, other than trying to experiment as much as possible. 
We went blank, working of a theoretical Tabula Rasa and use only the experiences of the week and nothing else as a basis for a pool of knowledge and set of tools to be used in works to come.

Last year I set out to conduct this research project from with a theoretical corpus that arises from my practice.
The abstinence from academic literature, from the overconsumption of art, and having physical practices as the focal point of thinking activity all served and serve that purpose. Nevertheless, through more than a year working, enough intellectual material has gathered for it to become overwhelming, coherent and genuine may it be. 
In order to decide where to advance from this point on, a decompression of this body (body of work, body of knowledge and I as a body) needed to happen. Sessions like this, serve this exact purpose.

Some of the keywords we used as a guide both for our practice, and the nature of theory born out of it:
Nonsense, Anti-structure, Misbehaviour, Uselessness, Senselessness, Non-function, Zeal


The biggest discovery of the workshop was the usage of attention and directing attention as a tool for creating extremely powerful and easy-to-engage experiences. One does not have to create anything artificial or intrusive, nor having to worry about bringing something in, since everything that is needed for the work is already present at hand. 
Nothing is never truly nothing, a space is never truly empty, the same way as an object is never truly useless. Its usefulness may shift from one reality to another, but with the right attention, what is initially perceived as non-function, can become function.
If we accept that, all objects, spaces, situations and beings can potentially shift function and meaning, thus becoming an access point to new realities. In folk tales, in order to interact with beings of the supernatural, objects needed to loose their function in the everyday - whip used in right hand, instead of left, chairs turned upside-down and so on.

This principle was earlier this year explored in 'Court', but through our residency with Marit, its true vernacular surfaced.
The potential this carries, is that in order to create the experiences I thrive to do, nearly every environment, setup and setting can be utilised, provided that the conditions to play are given. Everything that is needed is already present. 
One only has to put attention to it.

 

back to top ]

 
 
circle1.jpg
 

Revolution and emergence

culture of The unkNown

 

Initial Statement:
In the liminal, we initiate new realities.

 

People love to play with each other, not with my work. That was a striking realisation by the end of these few months.
The highpoint of each and every work I tested was when the participants were given a chance to make their own decisions, either as an individual or as a group. In each debriefing or feedback session, the most ecstatic or heartfelt reactions from everybody was when the conversation shifted to those particular moments of engagement and pride of creation. 

Since then, those moments became key. A medium communicates at best when it is transparent. And while their are great possibilities in putting the mechanics of a work in the forefront and celebrate it’s potential for engagement, it became obvious that for the emotional engagement I wanted the participants to have, a work has to stop being a experience about something, and rather just become that something, without being auto-reflexive on its own architecture.

The essence of the work is not itself, but the possibilities it can facilitate, and the actions rising from those possibilities, creating a culture of their own. This is the ‘Magic’ of the ‘Magic Circle’, in the liminal space and moment.

Finnish experience designer Johanna Koljonen said that: ‘If after the runtime, the participants come to you, saying how great you are for designing this work, you did something wrong. If they are busy praising one-another how great they are, you did the job right!'

And while I only partially agree with that, it is true that there is a different principle in this type of design. In most other disciplines of art, this would count as a denouncement of authorship. Instead I’d like to propose that system like this does not denounce, but emancipates the notion of authorship (as well as the role of spectator and performer), and provides ground for a community to arise. 
And emancipation does not mean decontextualisation or free-for-all sandbox. There is a present (thought transparent) framework and context these works happen in, necessary for invitation, engagement and immersion and creation.


In my Research Dossier for Semester 2, I introduced the concept of Revolution, an element in my game design that allows a Closed System (for example head-or-tails, which is governed by a binary mechanic of fixed outcomes, and nothing else) to an Open System, where the initial governing rules of the game can alter, thus creating new games and consequently new realities. This is the cutting of the Gordian Knot, and introduction of a new element in a seemingly fixed paradigm, that in so transforms the status quo and allows new paradigms to emerge.

What fascinates me at this point is to apply Revolution to moments of our social reality, where by finding the slightest alteration, the domestic and everyday becomes transformed, and taps into a territory where the possibility of new realities lie.
The liminal is nothing, but that moment of change, where by entering into it and embracing its unpredictability, we can then return as more understanding, resilient and able human beings. 

thank you for reading!
Onward to the appendix!