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Non humans

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Exploring the possibilities
Ongoing research and experiments





Maria Nurmela began to collaborate with photographer and filmmaker Vesa Loikas 2020 by creating dance films. Their intuitive and sensual processes are based on a shared aspiration to find a common interdisciplinary language in which visual, corporeal, and sonic aesthetic and material perspectives are in constant equal and processual dialogue. They are interested in biological and artificial systems, embodiment, performance art, visual design, and technology. In their work, they explore the entanglements and tensions of these across artistic cross-disciplinary processes and productions.

Maria Nurmela and composer-soprano Jane Sheldon, on the other hand, toured the Tero Saarinen Company's acclaimed work "Borrowed Light" around the world from 2004 to 2014. They also collaborated with American opera director Crystal Manich in 2014 to develop the "Women in the Woods" project, which combines contemporary dance and new music.



How can I understand and listen to non-human messages? How can I become sensitive to being present with the non-human? How can I practice sensitivity and empathy with the non-human in a non-hierarchical way? Can we explore the raw sources - the elements, the primordial roots - of the perceptions (kinesthetic, auditory, tactile) we experience in the forest? And as we become more sensitive, what stories does the forest tell us?

What kind of embodied interaction do we have with the non-human, or conversely, the non-human with us? What kind of knowledge and art do we construct through these processes of perception and conversation?



Entanglement is a project initiated in 2022 by dance artist Maria Nurmela and photographer - filmmaker Vesa Loikka. It is a multidisciplinary work of artistic research exploring the oak forest, its trees, vegetation, animals and people, and engages embodiment, contemporary dance, sound, and live image. The project is an attempt to understand our place in the biosphere.

The ancient oak grove in Kaarina's Vaarniemi, a Natura 2000 protected area, will serve as a research site and artistic collaborator in a process influenced by the weather and the seasons. The process aims at empathic coexistence with the inhabitants of the oak forest (plants, trees, animals, organisms, cells, bacteria, etc.) through observation, and imagining the conversations between the non-human and the human that naturally arise through co-presence. From these conversations emerges our multi-disciplinary work, Skin Rivers.

The group's work takes place at the interface of eco-somatic work, visuals, and sound design, which are placed in a complementary dialogue. We move from one artistic field to another, with all our practices grounded in the strong embodied work of the Feldenkrais method, a resource engaged by each member of the group in their artistic process. Theories of autopoiesis, enactivism and phenomenology thematically inspire the work.

The year-long process will result (from January 2024 to September 2025) in a multi-channel immersive installation, Skin Rivers (working title), which will premiere in autumn 2025 as a hybrid ecosystem of looping multi-channel video projections, photographs, 3D sculptures and soundscapes created throughout the year and installed in the performance space. The three performers in the installation will evoke a sense of the human relationship with other species through a choreographic event lasting around 50 minutes. The audience can freely choose their place in the installation, and can also enhance their experience at the meta-level if they wish, through additional visual elements created by AR and artificial intelligence.

It is hoped that the immersive work will be a multi-sensory and affective experience for the viewer, prompting in people a poetic reflection on their own contribution to biodiversity, its disappearance, and how we dream the future will unfold. The work is suitable for audiences of all ages and with a wide range of interest in art, including people with no previous experience of an installation of this kind. The installation is open, even when the performance event is not in progress, like an exhibition.

The work will be designed to be installable in various performance spaces.

In addition, the working group hopes to carry out a wide range of public outreach activities through the project, including dance workshops and public discussions.

The work will be realised by the artists Vesa Loikas, a photographer-filmmaker from Turku, and Maria Nurmela, a dance artist. In addition to Loikas and Nurmela, the initiators of the work, the authors and directors, the production will also feature composer Jane Sheldon (AU) and performers Jonna Aaltonen and Gesa Piper with Nurmela. The conceptual mentor is Bart HM Vandeput (Doctor of Arts and currently visiting researcher at Aalto PHYS). The costume designer, sound/lighting technician and producer are yet to be named.



As you travel south from Kaarina (Finland) towards Rauvola Bay, the landscape changes to a grassy one. Further south, an oak grove of elm trees, Vaarniemi, is revealed. It stands out from the rest of the Rauvolanlahti landscape both for its trees and its biota. Vaarniemi, an ancient oak grove in Kaarina, is a typical oak grove and unique in Finland. The noble wood groves are not only important because of their unusually rich vegetation compared to the rest of the Finnish environment, but also because they play a special role in the Finnish cultural and historical tradition. The Bronze Age tombs still found in Vaarniemi indicate the importance of the oak grove long before our time. In particular, the oak tree had many mythical and sacred meanings; before Christianity, in Finnish nature religion, oak groves often served as sacrificial groves in annual rites where a community of members of a region or a family would gather.


Today, Vaarniemi is designated as a site of national importance in the Natura 2000 grove conservation programme, which covers the whole of Finland. The Rauvolanlahti Natura 2000 site, where Vaarniemi is located, covers ten hectares. Today, the old oak grove is a complex ecosystem where animals and plants live in symbiosis with each other. Old decaying oak trees, a key part of the Vaarniemi environment, provide space and shelter for new species. Decaying organisms such as fungi and insects feed on decaying wood material. There are complex interactions between the inhabitants of the Vaarniemi ecosystem, with different species benefiting from each other's presence.

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