Esa Kirkkopelto & Leena Rouhiainen Conference Welcoming Dialogue

Esa Kirkkopelto & Leena Rouhiainen Conference Welcoming Dialogue

Leena: Good morning everyone! Thank you for being here! I am Professor in Artistic Research at the Performing Arts Research Centre, known as Tutke, here at the Theatre Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki. It is my pleasure to welcome you to our 5th Colloquium on Artistic Research in Performing Arts CARPA titled Perilous Experience? – Extending Experience through Artistic Research. To set you off on this three-day event filled with exciting topics such as monkey mind, trans-subjectivities, neuro-receptor theatre, phone booth, paranormal theatre, dimensional claustrophobia, remote control, monkey-mind, I will shortly contextualize the event.

CARPA was first established in 2009 by the Theatre Academy to promote the then still emergent field of artistic research through international collaboration. The purpose of these colloquia has been to contribute to the development of research practices in the field of the performing arts and to foster their social, pedagogical, and ecological connections. In them the term ‘performing arts’ has been understood broadly and considered to encompass a variety of creative practices. With increased collaboration at the University of Arts Helsinki between the doctoral programmes of the Fine Arts Academy or KuvA and Theatre Academy or Tutke, this time round CARPA was planned by the two academies together. The conference committee included professors Mika Elo and Lea Kantonen from KuvA and Esa Kirkkopelto and myself from Tutke. As the chair, professor Kirkkopelto is responsible for forging the conference’s vision statement and mission on the basis of the team’s mutual discussion. In general, the cross-fertilisation of conceptions of performance and artistic research between the two academies has paved the way to explore together the manner in which the artistic practices are involved in generating different and unprecedented forms of experience.

Up to date the CARPA has specifically focused on timely issues in artistic research by questioning, for example, how artistic research changes us, how it takes place in action, and by addressing the kinds of impacts it has as well as the how it relates to the non- and in-human in the arts. Even if artistic research is grounded in the experience and practice of artists and many of the research projects of doctoral candidates at this university explore the experiential dimensions induced by artistic activities, experience itself has not been a focal concern of CARPA before. It is time to look into how artistic research redresses experience and fosters encounters with the strange.

Esa: Good morning and welcome also on my behalf! This colloquium is dedicated to the study of anomalous experience in and through performing arts. Anomalous experience is a special area of a more general class, called altered states of consciousness, which usually cover all the ways in which a consciousness can alter itself or be altered by different kinds of techniques or arrangements. Many of these alterations are considered part of our everyday experience and reality and there are various culturally established modes of mental alteration. The area of the anomalous, or anomalistic, begins when this no longer is the case, when the experiences are considered exceptional, inexplicable and therefore mysterious. Anomalous experience does not have a place in our so-called common reality. It either does not respect the norms of established discourses of knowledge or goes beyond them. Despite its singularity, it has consequences for our sense of reality and vision of the world. It puts us face-to-face with the unknown.

One part of these experiences can be considered merely inexplicable empirical phenomena that we can encounter and wonder about as empirical subjects. In these cases, the experience does not need to have any transformative effect on its observer. Another area of the anomalous are the mystical, religious or transpersonal experiences, which may be totally singular encounters or, alternatively, produced by and connected to some cultural techniques or rituals. These states are clearly transformative and distinguishable from so-called “normal” states of mind, but a person involved with such experiences can nevertheless accept and understand them as an integral part of her individual life, for instance in terms of spiritual growth or well-being. In closer observation, the mentioned areas are often blended, and in many cases, it is not easy to draw a clear line between a “paranormal” and “transpersonal” phenomenon.

To these we should still add different kinds of pathological states, and finally, artistic experiences which both individually and culturally communicate with all the mentioned areas. This latter, quite obvious aspect makes the case of arts particularly interesting and mysterious. Artists have always been interested in and inspired by various forms of the anomalous experience, esoteric, mystic or religious doctrines, paranormal practices, drugs and mental disorders. Instead, what is totally new is the idea according to which artistic practices and techniques could provide us with a means for the study of these phenomena.

Leena: A dimension that the performing arts often involves is bodily engagement with creative and performative ventures. Most of us are well aware that physical training regimes or techniques and embodied performance induce altered states of consciousness. Performers are physically trained to become more sensitive to their own bodily sensations, other performers as well as objects and environments with which they perform in order to evoke qualitatively diverse states of consciousness that bear an impact on what they do and how they aesthetically influence their viewers. Artists intentionally physically hone their absorptive abilities, which in psychology have been shown to make subjects more susceptible to altered states of consciousness. Moreover, arguably anomalous experiences indeed are embodied experiences. They are accessed through the senses and thus entail a sense of familiarity. However, they likewise involve a foreignness, this they do to the extent of being non-sensible. While what might be termed affective physical practice can induce such states, anomalous experience cannot quite be appropriated. In having significance to and affecting their bearer, anomalous experiences likewise retain their strangeness. They thus focally question the borders of embodiment and subjectivity. This fact points towards a lack or muteness in our embodiment, us being entwined with radical otherness, a wild being. Here might lie the creative potential and close kinship of anomalous experience with artistic expression and performance. The latter being identified by its singularity – it disobeys predetermined categories, rules and hierarchies and focally employs the sensible. CARPA 5 asks: how does research of the anomalistic, through artistic means, help us relocate experience in a world that has multiplied by extending beyond all human-centred perspectives? How do we produce experience and retrace its limits through artistic research?

Esa: There is still another significant reason for this gathering. Besides their artistic practices very many performing artists, like other artists as well, uphold a spiritual or somatic practice that derives from some Western or Eastern esoteric or transpersonal tradition, an ancient or modern one. These practices may also inform their art, like in some famous cases, but not necessarily. In most cases, the connection is and remains inexplicit, and quite often those alternative practices are considered as the person’s “private affair”. For the same reason, this very common feature among artists is rarely discussed or studied as such. Given that for the arts there should not be any domain of reality where it would not be allowed to enter, or what it would be prohibited to challenge, this mentioned state of affairs can be considered as an alienation, which we, in the age of Artistic Research, see no reason to tolerate any more.

Before we get started I would like to make two notices: Since this is among the first encounters with this subject matter in this environment, we have not wanted to restrict our area of study or modes of approach too much in advance. This naturally implies the risk that we will be faced with too many simultaneous areas and approaches. However, since we are taking the first steps in the given direction, we have to take that risk and maybe return to these topics next time with a more restricted and sophisticated focus. Variety can also be an advantage, insofar it gives us an occasion for comparison, variation, and search for connections.

Like all real laboratories, this one may also explode. We have invited key-note presenters who come from quite different fields and may have little in common with each other and us beforehand. We have artists and pedagogues with long experience of practice in different kinds of transpersonal psychosomatic methods and techniques, both Western and non-Western ones. And we have critical minds informed by the latest currents of arts making, artistic research, posthumanistic studies and philosophy. In order to get ahead, we should be bold enough to express our criticism and doubts when we feel that is important, but I hope we could do it in such way that it does not block the discussion and that the questions remain sufficiently open and the wondering could continue until the end of this event.

Leena: We hope these questions and the presentations in this conference benefit art-making and artistic research in a way that opens new prospects for forms of thinking in both an un-prejudiced and critical manner. We are pleased you all are here with us and bring with you a variety of questions, approaches and points of views. We hope these days prove to be insightful and enjoyable for you all!