Day and Night with Malla

 

Author: Annette Arlander
Format: Video Documentation
Duration: 30’ 20”
Published:  June 2018


Research Statement

Day and Night with Malla (2014) was performed, recorded and edited during an Ars Bioarctica residency at the biological station in Kilpisjärvi in the North of Finland. It is only loosely related to my current research project but seems relevant in response to the call regarding the Anthropocene. Three aspects are particularly interesting for discussions related to geological time. First, juxtaposing Malla Fell in the background and the human figure sitting relatively immobile on the rock in the foreground, their differing relation to time is brought to the fore; by recording the same view with two-hour intervals, the planetary time of one day and night, and the so called deep time of the mountain are breathing side-by-side. Second, focusing on the movement of the ice melting on the lake produces associations to glaciers melting due to climate change, with its dramatic consequences for the Arctic landscape. Third, and perhaps most importantly, the beer can that suddenly appears floating in the water next to the rock in what looks like an idealized wilderness, a trace of human activity that will probably stay in the sediments of the lake, functions as a piercing detail, a punctum, in the otherwise beautiful landscape. This is no wilderness, however, but Sami or Sapmi land; today the village is a popular tourist resort with more people than reindeers and the road between Lake Kilpis and the iconic Saana fell l is busy with traffic across the border to Norway.

The background for Day and Night with Malla is the research project “Performing Landscape”, a twelve-year project resulting in the series “Animal Years” (2003-2014) created on Harakka Island, briefly summarised in “Performing Landscape for Years” (Arlander 2014). At present I am re-examining those works in the context of the Academy of Finland funded research project How to do Things with Performance? https://www.researchcatalogue.net/profile/show-exposition?exposition=281037  The four-year research project investigates what actualises in performance, when a performance is documented, and when it is analysed, often as an excess to what is expected. We ask in what ways can we understand ‘performance’ today, as a new materiality in the light of new materialist theories of agential realism or post-humanism? Within that project, I explore the performative potential of Animal Years when viewed as a series, thinking about how that work could be relevant today. And further, how could the working method developed in that project be understood as an intra-action with the environment, and developed into an everyday practice for non-artists that could increase our understanding of our interdependence with other forms of life and matter on the planet. My goals during the residency, however, were more modest. In performing with Malla Fell I explored how to use the technique developed on Harakka Island in Helsinki in other contexts, in this case in Kilpisjärvi in the North, during two weeks in April and June 2014.

In terms of methodology my approach to practice research (or artistic research as it is mostly called in Finland) is rather unorthodox. I tend to make art following simple procedures and problematize issues related to the works only afterwards. This could of course be understood as a form of action research cycle, where reflecting on a previous work forms the basis for the next one, which is then again reflected upon, and so on. Therefore, I would like to distinguish the questions asked while planning the work, from the questions we could ask of the work today.

When applying for the Ars Bioarctica residency organised by the Finnish Bioart Society, I wrote: “My work is related to landscape rather than bio art in a strict sense. Thus, I would like to explore the landscape in Kilpisjärvi and see how I could document changes taking place in the landscape during the spring or early summer. For twelve years, I have performed landscape on Harakka Island, off Helsinki, by documenting the changes in the environment either once a week for the duration of a year or with two or three hour intervals during a day and night. In February 2014, this project is finished and I am curious to explore new ways of looking at the environment. Some of the techniques I have used on Harakka could probably be utilized in Kilpisjärvi as well, for instance documenting a day and night with three-hour intervals. [–] Ideally I would like to come at a time when the snow is melting or almost gone and there is a lot of light.” When I visited the biological station by lake Kilpis in April, there was indeed lots of light, and plenty of snow as well (1,55 m). When I returned in June, and recorded Day and Night with Malla, most of the snow was gone, but there was still ice on the lake.

Day and Night with Malla (30 min 20 sec.) was originally a two-channel installation. The synopsis, written after the fact, is simple: Part 1. Wrapped in a dark blue scarf I am sitting on a rock by Lake Kilpis looking at Malla Fell for a day and night between noon on June 7 and noon June 8 2014 with two-hour intervals. Part 2. Malla Fell videoed on the same occasions. By juxtaposing the same image with and without a human figure the human presence in the landscape was problematized, I thought. Day and Night with Malla has been on display as a two-channel video installation at Rock Body Exhibition, Thornlea University of Exeter, UK 8-9.9.2016, as part of the project “Rock/Body. Performative Interfaces between the Geologic and the Body” organized by Dr João Florêncio and professor Nigel Clark.  http://rockbody.exeter.ac.uk  The first part was shown as a single channel work, in the exhibition “Once Again – Video Works from Harakka Island and Lake Kilpis”, at Muugallery in Helsinki 7.10-12.11.2017. http://www.muu.fi/site/?p=10612&lang=en

The immediate context for Day and Night with Malla consists of the other works created during the Ars Bioarctica residency, which are archived together with notes, snapshots, and blog posts on the Research Catalogue, an online multimedia database for the exposition of artistic research, with the title “Arsbioarctica Residency 2014”. https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/266988/266989  This online archive was created as an appendix to the article “Data, material, remains” (Arlander 2017), where I try to show how in artistic research the role of research data or material and the role of research output can be interchangeable, mixed or hybridized. The text reflects on works created during the residency as data, material or remains, problematizes the use of artworks as data and asks what happens to data when the research question, the method or the material is prioritized. Finally, referring to physicist and queer theorist Karen Barad’s notion of agential cut, the text argues that a cut determining what is data and what is output, what is material and what is result will be enacted in each case.

In another article, “Agential cuts and performance as research” (Arlander 2018), I develop the ideas of Karen Barad in relation to performance as research using the works created in Kilpisjärvi as examples. I suggest that Barad is especially interesting in the context of artistic research, as she proposes a new understanding of how discursive practices are related to the material world. She criticizes Judith Butler’s theory of performativity for a re-inscription of the nature-culture dualism and for privileging discursive over material concerns (Barad 2003; Barad 2007, 34–35). While performative accounts by social and political theorists focus on the productive nature of social practices, Barad’s ‘agential realism’ acknowledges that the forces at work in the materialization of bodies are not only social, and that the bodies produced are not all human (Barad 2007, 33–34).

In a third text, “Performing with the Weather” (Arlander 2017-2018), partly based on a paper presented at the conference Performance Studies International #22 in Melbourne in July 2016, I discuss recording the shifting weather conditions at the biological station in the ‘thumb’ of Finland in the Spring 2014. Performing for a video camera with Malla Fell by Lake Kilpis provides an example of working with the weather, with or without the human performer, with or without text, with regular intervals for a day and night and with real time duration. The works created with Malla are juxtaposed with some small attempts at performing in rain or snow in Falmouth, UK and in Stockholm, Sweden. Problems touched at include the entanglements of technology, the presence of the human figure and the use of rough time-lapse technique or real time, with focus on the performing weather, like rain or snow.

The wider artistic context for this work, however, is harder to define. One of the reviewers mentioned early experiments with duration by structural film makers like Michael Snow and sections of Tacita Dean’s Film (2011). Some discussions within eco-cinema could be relevant to the aesthetic choices of video works like Day and Night with Malla as well. For example, slowness and static images of long duration have been considered the hallmarks of an ecological approach to film. Certain films are defined as eco-cinema because they provide within the film experience an experience of nature that functions as a model for patience and mindfulness, characteristics of awareness that are decisive for a deep appreciation of and commitment to the natural environment. (MacDonald 2013, 19) Following this line of thought the main task of eco-cinema would not be to produce traditional narrative films to propagate for an ecological awareness, nor to create traditional documentary films, but rather to provide new kinds of film experiences, to offer an alternative to conventional modes of watching media and thus help to foster a more sensitive relationship to the environment. (MacDonald 2013, 20)

In another sense this work could be seen as visually rather conventional, unwittingly supporting an untenable attitude to the environment by romanticising “Nature” as “Landscape”, a notion widely criticized as colonialist (DeLue & Elkins 2008). By creating “a picture within a frame” looked at from a distance, and from a human perspective, one is actually indulging in a “profound form of idealism” (Morton 2011, 80). For a truly ecological view, following this line of thought, we should leave the idea of landscape and “look for a zero-person perspective” or, (if that seems difficult after decades of feminist theorizing) “at least allow other entities, sentient or non-sentient, to talk to us.” (Ibid.)

Looking at the work today, the idea of spending a day and night ‘with’ Malla, resonates the most with contemporary concerns, and with the debates related to the Anthropocene, which are articulated by Donna Haraway (although she criticizes the term) in the following way: “Staying with the trouble requires making oddkin; that is, we require each other in unexpected collaborations and combinations, in hot compost piles. We become-with each other or not at all. That kind of material semiotics is always situated, someplace and not no-place, entangled and worldly.” (Haraway 2016, 4)

The idea of spending time with a mountain, of trying to grasp time from the perspective of a mountain, is in some sense a completely absurd endeavour. In another sense, it could be considered a necessary task.

Research Questions

A core question for most of my work has been How to perform landscape today? And for this work, more specifically, how to utilize the working method developed in making Animal Years (2003-2014) in other contexts?

Context

The immediate context for Day and Night with Malla consists of the other works created during the Ars Bioarctica residency, which are archived together with notes, snapshots, and blog posts on the Research Catalogue with the title Arsbioarctica Residency 2014 and conceived as an appendix to the article “Data, material, remains” (Arlander 2017). https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/266988/266989

The background context for this work is my research project “Performing Landscape” on Harakka Island, and twelve-year project resulting in the series Animal Years (2003-2014) briefly summarised in “Performing Landscape for Years”. Performance Research 19-3 2014, 27-31. http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/hmjsGrUVhbky97bGKbwb/full#.U_H9z1b42Vg

For more information about the previous and ongoing work of the author, see:

https://annettearlander.com/

http://www.av-arkki.fi/en/artists/annette-arlander_en/

https://www.researchcatalogue.net/profile/?person=4072

The wider context for this work is harder to define and that is something I hope to have comments on.

Methods

My background is in performance and radio plays. Usually I situate my work with moving image, like this one, in the border zone between performance art, video art (or media art) and environmental art. My research interests are related to performance studies, performance as research and artistic research, site-specificty and the environment. I usually make art following simple procedures and problematize issues related to the works only afterwards.

Outcomes

Performance artists might think of the possibilities in performing for camera. Artists working with moving image, might consider the possibilities of a static camera on tripod. For both, the idea of the same person working behind and in front of the camera might be inspiring.

Dissemination

The primary phase of the work, the ars bioarctica residency, did not receive external funding. Editing, writing and distributing the work has been indirectly supported by the University of the Arts Helsinki as part of my work as professor of artistic research there. Reflection on this (and other related works) is supported by Academy of Finland via the research project How to do things with performance.

This work is distributed through the Finnish Distribution Centre for Media Art, AV-arkki. So far, it has been shown as a two-channel video installation at Rock Body Exhibition, Thornlea University of Exeter, UK 8-9.9.2016, as part of the project Rock/Body. Performative Interfaces between the Geologic and the Body (http://rockbody.exeter.ac.uk) and in the exhibition Toistamiseen – Videoteoksia Harakan saarelta ja Kilpisjärveltä [Once Again – video works from Harakka Island and Lake Kilpis] at Muugallery, Helsinki 7.10-12.11.2017 together with other works created in Kilpisjärvi. http://www.muu.fi/site/?p=10612&lang=en

I have used this work, as well as other works created during the ArsBioarctica residency as examples, while discussing the role of data in artistic research in “Data, Material, Remains”, published in Mirka Koro-Ljungberg, Teija Löytönen & Mark Tesar (eds.) Disrupting Data in Qualitative Inquiry. Entanglements with the Post-Critical and Post-Anthropocentric. Peter Lang Publishing 2017,171-182.

In another article, “Agential cuts and performance as research”, in Annette Arlander, Bruce Barton, Melanie Dreyer-Lude and Ben Spatz (eds.) Performance as Research: Knowledge, Methods, Impact. Routledge 2018, 133-151. I have used this work, among others, as an example while discussing the notion agential cut developed by Karen Barad. Moreover, this work was used as one of the examples in a conference presentation “Working with the Weather”, at PSi #22 (Performance Studies international) Performance Climates, at University of Melbourne, 6-9.7.2016. This paper was developed into “Performing with the Weather” for Global Performance Studies issue 1.2. (2017-2018). http://gps.psi-web.org/issue-1-2/performing-with-the-weather/

There is no article or presentation, however, that is focusing on this particular work only.

Impact

The impact of the work is mainly within contemporary art through the exhibition at Muu gallery and through the Distribution Centre of Finnish Media Art. The impact on academia comes from the texts where the work is used as an example, listed above.

References

Arlander, Annette. (2018). Agential cuts and performance as research. In Annette Arlander, Bruce Barton, Melanie Dreyer-Lude and Ben Spatz (eds.) Performance as Research: Knowledge, Methods, Impact. London & New York: Routledge, pp. 133-151.

Arlander, Annette. (2017-2018). Performing with the Weather. Global Performance Studies Issue 1.2. Performance Climates.  http://gps.psi-web.org/issue-1-2/performing-with-the-weather/

Arlander, Annette. (2017). Data, Material, Remains. In Mirka Koro-Ljungberg, Teija Löytönen & Mark Tesar (eds.) Disrupting Data in Qualitative Inquiry. Entanglements with the Post-Critical and Post-Anthropocentric. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang Publishing, pp. 171-182.

Arlander, Annette. (2014). Performing Landscape for Years. Performance Research Special issue: On Time. 19-3 2014. pp. 27-31

Barad, Karen. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham: Duke University Press.

Barad, Karen. (2003). Posthumanist performativity: Toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3), pp. 801–831.

Dean, Tacita. (2011) Film. Presentation available at  http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibitionseries/unilever-series/unilever-series-tacita-dean-film

DeLue, Rachel Ziady and Elkins, James. (2008). (eds.) Landscape Theory. New York and London: Routledge.

Haraway, Donna. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham and London: Duke University Press

Macdonald, Scott. (2013 [2004]). The Ecocinema Experience. In Rust, Stephen, Monani, Salma & Cubitt, Sean. (eds.) Ecocinema Theory and Practice. New York and London: Routledge, pp. 17-41.

Morton, Timothy. (2011). Zero Landscapes in the Time of Hyperobjects. Graz Architectural Magazine vol 7, pp. 78-87.

Snow, Michael biography http://www.cfmdc.org/filmmaker/797


Peer Reviews

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows:

Review 1: Accept work subject to minor revisions of statement

Day and Night with Malla (2014) is an exploration into philosophical questions raised by the arrival of the anthropocene. It is an artistic performance about human time and the geological time of a mountain, the changes nature is undergoing due to climate change and a problematisation of the reified concept of “nature” itself.  As the artist writes: “The idea of spending time with a mountain, of trying to grasp time from the perspective of a mountain, is in some sense a completely absurd endeavour. In another sense, it could be considered a necessary task.” The artwork thus engages with important theoretical questions around new materialism both in terms of its artistic practice and theory and, as such, it fits the special issue of Screenworks on “Digital Ecologies and the Anthropocene”.

While the submission is ready for publication with minor modifications, some broader suggestions (as requested by the artist/author) are given here regarding its artistic and theoretical output:

Firstly, the artwork uses video and performance art to present the illusion of pristine nature/landscape, but one that is nonetheless punctured by ambient human presence: traffic, dogs barking and a floating beer can on the water. These elements force the viewer, initially transfixed and fascinated by the beautiful scene of the slowly changing mountains reflected on the half-frozen lake, to question this naturalised image. As such, the artwork belongs to practice-based experimentation with natural elements that the artist has been using in her performance. Elsewhere, the artist has also explicitly written about using time-based video techniques such as loops, repetition and alternative durations to produce different illusions of time that go beyond our anthropocentric understanding of it. Despite this, however, Day and Night with Malla is quite conventional in its format. In other words, while using video techniques such as time-lapse or time remapping can be often overdone, in this case one is left to wonder: (1) whether techniques that extend beyond the conventional 24-frame format could have been used to strengthen the contrast between the time-scales of the artist and the mountain (especially when representing the rapid changes that take place in Finnish Lapland in late spring/early summer); and/or (2) how these techniques could be used, in particular, to create alternative representations of geological time of natural objects such as mountains from a more practice-based theoretical perspective.

Secondly, to complement its engagement with new materialist and the post-humanist theories (Barad, Bennet, Braidotti, Haraway), this work also touches many debates in new materialist ecology that have critically examined concepts such as “nature” and “landscape” in contemporary thought. I am reminded here especially of the work of Timothy Morton who has written extensively on why ecological thought needs to develop a conceptual vocabulary that better represents the ecological interconnectedness of humans and natural objects. Engaging directly with these critical debates could thus help further question some of the presuppositions behind human-centered perspectives to the anthropocene. This also raises the question of who then represents such “natural” landscapes as what, on what occasion and for what purpose? While this particular artwork was done in 2014, its framing reminds me of another artwork that took place on another mountain in the same region in Finland. The adjacent Saana mountain was projected with the colors of the Finnish flag in celebration for Finland’s 100-year of independence. Activists from the indigenous Sami population saw the superimposition of the colors of the Finnish flag as representing a long legacy of colonialism that has consistently erased their presence from the natural image of the region in which they have lived in for thousands of years. Critics called this artwork an “affront to indigenous rights and amounts to cultural appropriation.” (See: https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/sacred_fell_to_be_worlds_biggest_light_show__sami_people_left_out_says_researcher/9960704) This suggests that mountains such as Malla do not represent the wilderness to different people the same way thus complicating the notion of the anthropocene even further: not only is the landscape always-already punctured by human presence; there are also complicated politics behind this imagined presence/absence of humans in nature. While these debates may not be – nor even should be – relevant to the aims of this particular artwork, exploring the political underpinnings behind why certain areas such as beautiful mountains are articulated as metonymic of pure nature is perhaps another interesting question to further explore (such as the vested interests involved in marketing Lapland to non-Sami tourists as the “last wilderness” in Europe).

But, all in all, an interesting and provocative piece that, with minor modifications to the theoretical framing/statement of purpose, would indeed provide an excellent contribution to Screenwork.

Review 2: Accept work subject to minor revisions of statement

Day and Night with Malla (2014) was a pleasure to watch. Such still framing and continuous, but changing thematic focus allows the viewer to apprehend the mountain under dramatically different climactic conditions, something that changes significantly over the duration of filming. The importance and originality of the film primarily resides in the consideration of time – in stillness, in transition and in nuanced approaches to transition. Time also implies both connection to the human in the time that is shared in the performance and distance from it in the ages that remain outside the duration of the shots, the performance on the day. The impact to time is also evident in the temporal flows (and disjunctures) in ripples on the water, in the ways that the wind catches the fabric of the cape and in the sounds as markers of both continuity and change across the film. Whilst the beginning of the film (and the sequences from earlier in the day) records impressions of the wind in the movement of the cape, hair and as water rippling, another sense of time passing is offered in the sounds of the wind. This is a dramatic element that is also foregrounded when its affect disappears later in the film. Framing is also important in this context because it provides consistency and stability for the dramatic change that is evident when Malla becomes subject to the often surprising transformations of a visible climate. Aesthetically, this film is startling as the still framing offers the viewer an opportunity to see into the image, not to merely survey its surface. This allows the viewer to see the mountain with a different view each time, with each shot. Day and Night with Malla can be related to films that rely on shots/views of elongated duration like the early experiments in time created by Michael Snow, the more recent exploration of the mythical Mount Analogue by Tacita Dean in Film (from the novel by Rene Daumal), perhaps even the studies of Mt Fuiji by Hokusai. Finally, the originality and innovation of Day and Night with Malla is evident in the subtle, almost seamless transitions between shots, dissolves that mark the passing of time poetically throughout the film.

The quality of the Statement is good, the writing and presentation is clear and articulate. The Statement could, however, offer even more information for the viewer/reviewer about the location, some history about this space as a protected reserve, perhaps it could also provide an indication about how the mountain, water and surrounds has been seen and though about in mythology, narrative, or in Northern European histories. Additional context would help viewers/readers who are seeing this mountain for the first time.

Additional information about the agential cuts and agential realism would help to link theory and practice clearly. It may also help to identify how these beautiful, often seamless transitions are used precisely within the context of this film, this landscape, this performance. This conceptual framework might be also extended in relation to the duration of the shots.

Similarly, I am very interested to read more about the relationship between the landscape and the human, how do they breathe together? How is breathing conceptualised when comparing ancient rock formations and transient human forms?

A further conceptual framework that the Statement might address is the complexities involved with apprehension. In each shot the mountain is remarkably different. Sometimes outlines, contrast and definition are very clear, sometimes the Malla is visibly reflected and doubled in the still water, in one instance it is almost completely obscured. How are the various views conceptualised? There is a lot of work on color, optics and light, the apprehension of color in aesthetics, philosophy and science that would help to inform an exploration of apprehension. The transformation of color vision in distance observations – atmospheric perspective – could be explored in the Statement.

There is reference to Roland Barthes’ notion of the ‘punctum’ in the appearance of the beer can, but he notes that this affect cannot be produced by film, it is a phenomenon that is related primarily to photography. For Barthes the punctum cannot be produced within a time based medium. However, film theorists have often used this concept to define exactly that sting, prick or impact of recognition that objects offer. How might the punctum be re-conceptualised within a film that prioritises time, change, impact and the complex connection between the human and the Anthropocene?

There are many questions, suggestions and potential directions offered in the response to the Statement, but these are merely ideas that may or may not be taken up by the author/artist. Both Day and Night with Malla and the accompanying Statement are original, intriguing and entirely appropriate for inclusion within this edition of Screenworks.

All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response.

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