Onerous is the task of an artist to—amidst the current political turmoil and the creeping, post-truth skepticism—re-introduce the grand themes of art and love. Without hiding behind the pretense of obscure intellectualism or calling on the solid defenses of the extreme niche, the artist would be left entirely exposed. Nonetheless, Finnish choreographer Maija Hirvanen, in ‘Art and Love,’ took this bold task upon herself, unpicking exactly those words that are universal, accessible and highly recognizable to every audience member present in the auditorium of HAU3 during Tanz im August.
Sleek, sharp and unfazed by the spotlight she stood under, Hirvanen gave an introductory speech from behind a carefully positioned pedestal. With a seriousness that was genuine in as much as it was ironic, Hirvanen explained how her performance, framed as a “lecture-performance,” would showcase her investigation into art and love. As if at a conference with an oddly well-composed dramaturgy, Hirvanen progressed to demonstrate her research findings with the help of her assistant. What followed was a physical embodiment of different types of relationships: the love for the mother, the sibling, the friend, and later the displacement of love onto objects and into images. Each element—from Hirvanen’s own body weight in salt to the playing out of a Tame Impala song during a quiet struggle—was given the space and time it needed and presented with a flummoxing simplicity.
In conversation about the piece, Hirvanen spoke about the formal style of her delivery. “It’s not an academic lecture,” she tells Berlin Art Link. Despite the crisp costumes and the lecture format, the piece does not require the viewer to have any previous knowledge or information. “Anything could be put there and brought to light, and there are many things that deserve to be in that light,” she adds. Of course, scientific breakthroughs and the latest developments in cancer research could be counted as such, but Hirvanen places emphasis on the analysis of wider, human concepts. Hirvanen utilizes the power invested in authority to gain legitimacy for alternative modes of knowledge production, such as dance. The traditional mechanism of the institutional lecture is hereby in itself broken down, as oddities enter her highly constructed world. Physicality is explored: bodies sweat, they exert themselves and they lie down, creating postures that deviate from the norm and offer a temporary insight into coexisting realities.
At times, the piece became more like a TEDx talk or a YouTube tutorial. With a DIY mentality towards making art, Hirvanen gave suggestions about how the audience could perform the tasks she was presenting. The performance was, in this way, a singular version of one of the many possible outcomes, and by becoming involved in the “how to” of the work, the viewer was elevated to the status of creator. When asked about her approach to the public, Hirvanen emphasized the need for transparency and the sharing of knowledge. In her words: “The audience as a mass doesn’t exist. It consists of individuals who are forming a temporary group.” Hirvanen hopes to leave her public with the tools they need to investigate art for themselves, and to continue the conversation beyond the auditorium.
With an eye for clear-cut categorization and a feel for the impossibility of encompassing everything, Hirvanen proposes that a balance should be found between criticality and hope. Perhaps, returning to the wider context, it is exactly in these times of distrust and disillusionment that we are in need of art that sheds light on what we hold most dear. “Post-modernism has already turned so many wheels around and we are so aware of everything, that it feels like deconstruction doesn’t do the work anymore. It is really intriguing to try to make a suggestion. If not this, then what?,” Hirvanen asks, adding urgency. Her art seems to answer to this, as she does not shy away from her responsibility as an artist to reinstate faith in the normal citizen. In reframing the archetypal and revisiting the positive notions of art and love, Hirvanen paves the way for empathic approaches to tackling our future.
Festival: Aug. 10 – Sept. 02, 2018