Sensory excursion in the area of Lapinlahti Hospital and working with the unnoticed
I organized a sensory excursion in the area of Lapinlahti Hospital last July together with my colleague visual artist Jolppu Rae (a pseudo name). The sensory excursion was part of the symposium on artistic research organized by the Nordic Summer University (NSU) and its study circle 7: Artistic Research - Performing Heterotopia, which was held this time in Helsinki from Sunday to Monday, July 26-27, 2020. The English-language meeting consisted of two intense days and evenings first on Harakka Island and then in the area of Lapinlahti Hospital. I participated in several different workshops, lectures and discussions on each day. In this post, I describe the implementation of the excursion at that event and my activities related to that.
specializes in realizing sensory excursions in urban environments. I
have been a member of the group since 2018. In addition to Jolppu and
myself, the group includes dancer-choreographer Pia Lindy and visual
artist Paula Tella. A sensory excursion is a trip planned to a place
we have chosen in advance, to which we invite participants. We plan a
route along which we offer various sensory-based tasks and exercises
to the participants. When a sensory excursion takes place as an
independent art event, we spend two to three hours implementing the
trip. If, on the other hand, we carry out the trip in connection with
some event, we will adjust its duration to the given schedule. In
Lapinlahti, we had one hour. In that time we gathered the
participants, gave them initial information, took together extra
items to the locked room, took the trip itself and moved back to the
Jolppu and me had
one task to give to the participants. We started with a task
instructed by Jolppu, a slow walk where, feeling the ground on the
soles of the shoes, we progressed from a starting point to another
place. With the task, we sought common calm and stillness and the
opportunity to shift attention to the body and the environment.
When we arrived at
the shady square, it was my turn to share the task. It was:
Go to it, look at it, touch it.
If possible, place your weight a little on it.
Breathe with it in the same rhythm.
And finally, smell it or the scent it leaves in you.
You can take about 10 minutes to the exercise.
After the task, I asked participants to form pairs and share with each other a few ideas about the task. The trip ended with a conversation with the couple. We thanked the participants for being present and noted that the discussion could continue as we walk back to the starting point.
Usually, at the end of the excursion, as time allows, we will have a joint discussion where participants can share their experiences with others. We then hear something about how the participants have approached the tasks we have given and what they have experienced during the tasks. The discussion then also serves as feedback to us, although we don't actually ask for feedback for ourselves about the excursions. We get feedback from each other when, as the guides of the trip, we discuss the implementation of the trip afterwards: we share our experiences of the tasks, we participate in the tasks instructed by each other. We also share our impressions of the success of the excursions.
This time as we walked away, one participant asked how long we had worked as a group and whether we had any person or theorist according to whose method we were working. We replied that we as members of the group have different backgrounds and come from different fields of art. The activities of the group have been shaped by our collaboration, and we cannot nominate any outside person to follow.
At the end of the symposium day, experiences from different parts of the program were shared quickly. When dismantling the sensory excursion, one participant welcomed the slow work and stressed the importance of slow work in general. Another participant wanted to hear how our activities have evolved and changed during the time we have worked together. We told that the sensory excursion has become a form of artistic work that changes every time. How the excursion takes shape depends on, for example, the context of the event, the season, the time of day, the weather, the temperature, and the background and number of participants. It depends on how much time there is for the trip, who are the guides and how they are prepared for the trip. It depends on the life situation of the guides. It depends on how the trip as part of an event becomes part of the overall program and how participants are informed about the trip. One glowed that it was great to be able to leave all their belongings in a locked room and get rid of them for a moment.
The next day I came to the same place myself to photograph the places of the trip. At the same time, I did a task I gave to others, a plant encounter exercise, to know something about the experience for the participants. I chose a plant about half a meter long without knowing which plant it was. I rubbed the plant lightly on the back of my palm, recognizing the scent of the saunavihta (a bundle of birch twigs tied together, which has traditionally been used in the sauna for bathing and washing) or iron leaf: as a child, I rubbed an iron leaf on mosquito bites. After doing the task, I walked around looking for clues to the plant. I immediately identified the plant as an aspen seedling. Growing up in the middle of the forest, as a country girl who ran along the riverside shores all my childhood, I don't remember making acquaintances with tree seedlings. Tree seedlings may have mixed with other low vegetation, shrubs and grasses. Only when the seedlings grow into trees do they stand out.
The plant I chose,
the aspen seedling, at first seemed almost unnoticed. As I approached
it, it seemed thin and delicate, but when I touched its arm and even
gave it a little weight, I was surprised to find that its arm was
strong and flexible. Appearance deceives, especially when you don't
know anything about what you're looking at. From one point of view,
I also crystallize the meaningfulness of the work of the Ajauksia
group. It is dangerous to surrender to draw conclusions based on a
quick look. That is why the Ajauksia group emphasizes the
sensitization of all the senses in its work. Therefore, the group
also suggests deliberate slowness. The aspen seedling, for example,
grows into a large tree. It only takes time.
I have developed the task of encountering a plant one and a half years in different contexts. I have described it as part of Ajauksia group's activities in my publications Martin 2020a and 2020b, as well as in Ajauksia group's article (2019).
Ajauksia artist group 2020. Sensory Experiences - A Perceiving, Encountering and Articulating Body in Urban Space. Edited by Mari Martin. CARPA 6 Conference publication on artistic research. University of the Arts Helsinki and Kiasma. (Research article.) The Artistic Research Performs and Transforms: Bridging Practices, Contexts, Traditions and Futures -https://nivel.teak.fi/carpa6/ajauksia-artist-group-sensory-experiences-an-articulating-encountering-and-perceiving-body-in-urban-space/
Martin, Mari (submitted for publication) 2020b. Aina uudesti syntyvä hetkellinen yhteisö. (An instantaneous community that is always reborn) In Lea Kantonen & Sari Karttunen (eds.) Yhteisötaiteen etiikka. (Working title.) (The ethics of community art). University of the Arts Helsinki. (Peer-reviewed research article.)
Martin, Mari 2020a. Sensory Excursion as a Site of Encounter. In Mika Elo, Henk Slager and Tero Heikkinen (eds.) Ecologies of Practice. RUUKKU #14. Publication in artistic research. (Peer-reviewed research exposition.) https://ruukku-journal.fi/en/issues/14