Sunday 29 January 2012

anti art / gift

The following texts emerged from an invitation to attend the ANTI Festival in Finland (27 September - 2 October 2011) as a visiting writer, and to respond to the festival. After a short introduction below, subsequent posts focus on five of the festival's performance events - by Blast Theory, Lone Twin, Gaëtan Rusquet, Juha Valkeapää and the 100 Year Old Rock'n'Roll Band. These texts were first published as a review essay in Performance Research 17:1 ('On Failure'), alongside a series of photographs by Pekka Mäkinen.  

Since its inception in 2001, the ANTI-Contemporary Art Festival in Kuopio, Finland, has become known internationally for its commitment to site-specific and contextual live art practices. Its ongoing brief has been to displace art from galleries and other conventionally designated spaces, and to root it in public and social spaces, making it available and engaging to new audiences as small invitational frictions in the civic everyday. One of the meanings of the word ‘anti’ in Finnish, I am told, alongside its more familiar oppositional associations, is ‘gift’.

The festival’s 10th anniversary programme, ANTI 2011, was curated by joint artistic directors Johanna Tuukkanen and Gregg Whelan in loose relation to the theme ‘Remake Rebuild Renew’. In part, this ‘ANTIversary’ festival offered an opportunity to invite a number of artists to return to Kuopio, and to revisit sites and develop earlier projects for a city in transition. In addition, ANTI was seeking artists’ engagements with and responses to changes in the political culture and material fabric of the city. During the festival itself, most of the expansive city centre square remained inaccessible, fenced off around a cavernous pit. The void sculpted out of the earth during this long-term excavation down to the city’s bedrock fractured the rhythms and flows of the city centre, and left a number of buildings and public walkways propped precariously on its edge; this hole is to be the location of – surprise, surprise - an underground car park. 
In what follows I have chosen to focus on five performance projects from ANTI 2011. Taken together, perhaps they reflect something of the curatorial flavour and dynamic of this most civic, emplaced and human-scale of international festivals. In the print version for Performance Research, my short account of each project sits alongside and in dialogue with photographs by Pekka Mäkinen, who has documented every artist and project at ANTI over the past ten years. As part of ANTI 2011, date-stamped prints of Mäkinen’s images from past festivals were on display in diverse locations around the city. Furthermore, a wide range of images from his remarkable photographic archive of hundreds of ephemeral events hosted by ANTI in Kuopio over the past decade animate a lavishly illustrated new book launched to mark the festival’s anniversary (1). Mäkinen’s fine photographs provide glimpses and traces that perhaps enable us to revisit and remake something of a startling array of artists’ actions, processes, images, encounters, situations and exchanges, each of them now disappeared from locations that are themselves in process.

Finally, I have listed the awards presented to these artists by a roving jury of local children from Kalevalan koulu who attended almost all of the performances at this year’s festival in Kuopio. The Children’s Choice Awards, coordinated by members of the Toronto-based company Mammalian Diving Reflex, were staged in the main chamber of the city hall as the final event of ANTI 2011. 

(1) Johanna Tuukkanen, Laura Tervo, Minna Jaakkola and Gregg Whelan (eds), ANTIVERSARY - Performance, live art and site-specificity: a decade of ANTI Contemporary Art Festival, Finland: ANTI, 2011. The book contains contributions by Jennie Klein, Anna-Reetta Suhonen, Juha-Heikki Tihinen, Helen Cole, Kira O’Reilly, Dee Heddon, Rosie Dennis, Kirsi Pitkänen, Simon Whitehead, Richard DeDomenici, Juha Valkeapää, Eungyung Kim and Shoji Kato, as well as an interview with the festival’s artistic directors.

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