Leena Kela

Feeling for facts

Finland’s third city Turku is home to a thriving international performance art scene. This year’s New Performance Turku Festival focused on new possible futures. The festival’s artistic director, performance artist Leena Kela, says it’s vital we process our emotions around climate change and colonialism and seek words to describe our experience.

“From the outset, we decided we’d approach climate change as a material circumstance rather than as an abstract theme. It felt important to really get to grips with the landscape that we find ourselves in right now. If we’re to think about our possible futures then we really need to address the emotions we’re feeling about the present moment first.”

My performance artwork is intended as a sort of wake-up call

“Addressing these emotions is not about taking a sticking plaster approach to the ecological crisis we face. In fact, what we’re doing is ripping that wound right open and looking straight at it without mollycoddling or talking down to the audience in any way. The programme makes room for uncertainty and confusion and we’re here to confront it, as awkward and difficult as that may be.”

Your own production, Space Here We Come, is based on Expedition New Earth, a documentary Stephen Hawking made for the BBC in 2016. In his interview, Hawking talks about how our planet and humankind face an increasingly uncertain future. He says we only have another 100 years left on Planet Earth and after that we will need to find a new planet if we are to survive.

“Our deadline is fast approaching, and the tipping point is drawing ever nearer, but we just don’t see it. I decided to start with a space blanket flag motif, because this isn’t about any one country or nation anymore, the problems affect us all. I started listening to Hawking, and I came across the clip I’ve used in the piece. For him, climate change is just one of the threats facing humankind, alongside asteroids, nuclear war and AI.

My performance artwork is intended as a sort of wake-up call, I’ve got the quote from Hawking playing on a loop. It’s an opportunity for people to really weigh up this notion that upping and leaving is an option for us, to reflect on this utopian idea that we can resolve things by dispatching a delegation of our fellow humans into space. When you’re a theoretical physicist and cosmologist you obviously see the universe from a completely different perspective. For us human beings, leaving the Earth is a dystopian prospect, whereas for Planet Earth it would be salvation.”

“It’s an opportunity for us to briefly share in the melancholy feeling this greatest of all departures creates.”

Nathalie Anguezomo Mba Bikoro’s performance art and Leyya Mona Tawil’s character Lime Rickey International invite us to face up to the consequences of colonialism. Both artists are women, but their material realities are very different. How do you see the role of performance art in deconstructing the colonial experience?

“I sensed that there was a dialogue and a real kinship happening between these two works. Throughout her career, Natalie has investigated colonialism and exposed and subjected her body to that experience without the sort of masochism that tends to define body art and without summoning the gaze of others as a witness to the process. This about a pain that’s shared, communal.

Nathalie is from Gabon and weaves the sounds of parrots into her work to invoke the history of her country, which was also colonised by the Germans. The parrots now parrot the words and phrases used by German soldiers stationed there. Nature continues to bear witness to our history through the decades, even giving expression to it through human language.”

“Leyya’s character Lime represents a series of fragmented and dislocated futures. Her piece features characters that briefly appear familiar to us just as they again disappear from our view. The noise music that’s used to create the production’s soundscape drives the fragmentation. A Syrian-Palestinian artist, she has spent her entire life in the United States but is unable to long for her homelands as they have been either stolen or destroyed. The futures she conjures up are unattainable, fragmented and broken.


Leena Kela was interviewed by Hanna Helavuori (24 Oct, 2019)





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