Artificial Paradise @Kiasma

Kiasma, the contemporary art museum in Helsinki, is currently running a performance art show called Artificial Paradise (by Timo Muurinen and working group). I don’t think I’ve ever been to Kiasma theatre before, and I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually intentionally gone to see a performance art show. Well, it’s a first.

I don’t know where to start. There’s been some discussion lately about art and what’s good art or bad art, what’s the meaning of art, and if art has to be easily understood by even the ”stupidest” viewer. The current trend in the Finnish politics (thanks to currently popular right-wing, mostly) is that art should be able to sustain itself without government support*.

I’ll start by saying that I wasn’t sure if I ‘understood’ the performance.

And that it doesn’t matter.

What mattered to me was that I enjoyed the act; some of it was simply baffling, some of it was absolutely beautiful in all its simplicity. Did I understand it as it was meant to be understood? Probably not. And that’s not the point. The performance was based solely on three actor/artists, lights, and sounds; the viewer was free to make his own interpretations. What you get out of art, I think, is what you take in there with you. If your head is full of expectations or prejudices, there’s no room in there to receive anything else. In case of performance art, I think you’re supposed to experience with all your senses, rather than looking at it through the ”is it pretty?”-filters, which most people try to understand art with.

People who go to a gallery as if they went into a church tend to think art is supposed to be serious, and that there’s no room for comedy within serious art, and gods forbid if you should laugh during a performance. They can be roughly divided into two groups: those who take pride in not understanding any of this hogwash and think the people who claim to enjoy it are full of shit; and to those who think they can appreciate art by the price tag and believe they are somehow better, more civilised than the aforementioned.

Is art then really just made for other artists?

No. Art, and performance art is something you should take it as it comes… a free association exercise. It’s OK to not understand; but I dare say that if you go see a show and you get absolutely nothing out of it, it’s because you didn’t allow yourself to. There were moments of beauty in Artificial Paradise that, even out of context, would have been mesmerising to watch.

Aside from the individual actions of the performers, the rhythm of their movements was significant, the choreography was obviously carefully planned, different temperatures of light was used in a very clever way, and shadows were played with. The music and the sounds were a large part of the experience as well. I enjoyed, and I was also glad it wasn’t more than 50 minutes long. If nothing else, the seats in the Kiasma theatre are somewhat less than comfortable (THOU SHALT NOT ENJOY ART! THE PLEASURE OF YOUR MIND IS TO ASCEND MERE PHYSICAL DISCOMFORT!). Despite the multi-sensory experience, I did appreciate not having to use the olfactory senses, because – let’s face it – the artists tend to choose smells with powerful feeling associations, and usually that means faeces.

I’m glad we caught this performance, because I love things that make me think about what I’ve just seen. I was captivated, even, at points. My muscles ached in the performers’ stead, because I just couldn’t fathom how anyone could hold such poses as they did with evident ease. That thing they did with the white sheet was wicked cool! These are not just wine-guzzling, pot-smoking artist hippies; they were obviously professionals with very strict self-control; the fact they made the performance look easy is a testimony to this.

If you missed the show, too bad: Sunday, March 20th was the last showing.

*Another favourite of mine is that the receivers of the said support should be chosen by ‘ordinary people’, such as politicians. Based on this, I’d say the participants to any sports event should be chosen with a popular vote, too. Welcome back to elementary school, folks.

But wait, there’s more…

Since I promised my interpretation of the show to my date Jussi, here goes…

I have two different versions; one of them is from… watching too many zombie flicks… and probably from the recent catastrophe in Japan; my first impression was from a fallout shelter. The performers were wearing modern-day uniforms – i.e. corporate suits – with some parts missing; one of them had the jacket and the trousers but no shirt or a tie; another one didn’t have a jacket, and his tie was a mess. So, what I saw was somehow a symbolic awakening after an apocalypse of some sort; the people were trying to learn to live again, to find their feet, and carry on with life.

The second version, or impression, is pretty much what the flyer says:

”The revolution came, and we were sleeping. Or perhaps we just blinked, seized suddenly (as we are from time to time) by a sort of petit mal. Whatever the cause of our lapse, it seems that he world has changed – profoundly, but also almost imperceptibly.” – Shawn Wilbur

Artificial Paradise illustrates the mindscape inhabited by contemporary humanity […] The contemporary human is a creature […] who is present in many places and dimensions at once, yet dissociated and lonely at the same time. A creature endowed with technological senses and instruments, who nevertheless sees and participates in hardly anything in reality. While our vistas are broadened by the Internet and other media that enable long-distance communication, our proximate environment is shrinking and becoming standardised.

That’s also exactly what I could see in the performance. Just to mention a couple of examples… The performers were each a separate entity; even on the rare occasion when the movements seemed to be synchronised, they were separate from each other; just like, in reverse, you might imagine seeing patterns in Brownian motion. At one point the female performer made a clumsy little show that was almost, but not quite, allowing emotional interaction with the audience; she almost danced and pranced and almost flirted; just like, well… just like people who write blogs. We think we’re interacting with the audience, but what we’re really all about is ourselves.*

* I rest my case.

PS: Feel free to tell me if you think I’m full of shit. :D


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March 2011
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