Hirvanen ja Valkeapää

A Work of Art Emerging from Disagreement

Creating a work of art can be like a game that involves an element of chance. Choreographer/performance artist Maija Hirvanen and voice and performance artist Juha Valkeapää let their first joint effort develop at its own pace.

Provisionally titled Life as We Know It, the work will not be completed until 2020, and from the start it is intended for an international audience. Hirvanen and Valkeapää were selected for Theatre Info Finland’s (TINFO’s) MOTI programme, which assists Finnish drama and performance art practitioners in finding new audiences for their work on the international market.

TINFO had a chat with the two artists, which turned out to be a jump into a boundless ocean.

Hirvanen and Valkeapää both happen to be reading Hannah Arendt’s The Human Condition. The fact that the book found its way onto their reading lists at this point in the artistic process is an instance of the unconscious collective connections (synchronisations) that form a key source of material for Life as We Know It. Empathy, fear, love, forgiveness, rhizomes, bacteria, water and the ball as an object are among the many tokens brought to the game by the two artists. They do not aim at an artistic consensus; on the contrary, disagreement is a necessary ingredient for the porosity of the micro-soil of motifs.

Huge Thirst for Life

Maija Hirvanen and Juha Valkeapää have long-established careers in art that have involved collaborations with both Finnish and international partners. They are also familiar with each other’s work, which makes this the perfect moment to create a piece together:

Now in middle age or thereabouts, our thirst for life has in a new way reached a new pitch for both of us. So our starting point in this project is nothing less than the incomprehensibility of life itself. It’s like looking life in the face, with infinite care.

And when you very carefully examine – and for long enough – some specific point, particle, cell or perhaps a movement or a sound, you can suddenly discover an entire world. There’s no room for hurrying in that process. Taking time is also something that Ruth McGowan, Director of the Dublin Fringe Festival, stresses when she was reading applications for the MOTI programme: Work passionately and with rigour on the ideas that compel you as an artist. Don’t rush. Hold a steadfast commitment to your impulses.

Hirvanen and Valkeapää have good reason to take life apart, down to its very atoms:

Life as We Know It points toward the idea that our knowledge and experience of life, of what it is or can be, is always incomplete. We are searching for a state of not-knowing, a state where we avoid fixed ideas in our thinking, being and working.

Slow and Unhurried

‘Time is too valuable to be wasted in hurrying.’ This aphoristic notion underlies the plans for Hirvanen and Valkeapää’s piece. The artists put it to me in plain terms: they insist on taking their time and refuse to hurry. I find myself suspecting that they are talking about an essential component of the piece itself:

Yes. Taking time and being slow is a method and an attitude that defines how the work will turn out in the end. Time is such a valuable thing, and with valuable things you must both give and take time. Stopping can be a way of finding your way forward again. Being slow also makes you calm – most of the time. When you take things slowly, you find yourself needing less. But being slow and being unhurried is not the same thing. Although we work without hurrying, we are both dynamic in our temperament, which has many sides.

In their peak years and in a work culture that stresses efficiency and performance, Hirvanen and Valkeapää like to create places and situations that are devoid of all sense of hurrying. It may not be easy, but they think it is vitally important:

When you lose the sense of hurrying and slow down, it allows new aspects of ideas, creatures and people to emerge because there’s room for it. Sometimes slowing down creates a space for incredible intensity and dynamic change. Time and space arise from each other. Slowness can also be seen as a quality that opens up the potentiality of time.

My understanding of the two artists’ thinking is that plurality cannot be forcibly compressed into a coherent whole. Creating a piece together results in neither one nor two. It is a manifold that can give rise to another manifold. 

Sari Havukainen, TINFO, 23 May 2018

Kunst soll aus Meinungsverschiedenheit entstehen