(Picture: Carmen C. Wong. This Experimance Exercise aimed to fuse both roles of performer/spectator in a single experiential performance. I created a set of instructions within a food framework and Saara Hannula was my performer/spectator. After picking out items from the pantry, Saara’s first instruction pertained to “Creation”.)
Helsinki, true to form, delivered a jolty welcome to remind me that in the land of the thousand lakes and infinite stoicism, fortitude begets good things. As part of the TCG Global Connections program, I was able to return to Finland to continue the work I started during a month-long artist residency last September at HIAP (Helsinki International Artist-in-Residency Program) to research creating a culturally-specific version of my TACTILE DINNER project, and uncover ways to produce it in Helsinki and beyond. The year apart saw acquaintances blossom into solid connections and the birth of several friendships that opened up channels for potential project collaborations, so arriving and starting out seemed to begin fine, until…
The first jolt, the absence of a key collaborator due to ever-extending travels to a place where e-communique slowly proved impossible, happened shortly before my arrival. The ensuing cocktail of panic and helplessness led me to scour leads and put me face to face with Reality Research Center (Todellisuuden Tutkimuskeskus/TTK), “a performing arts garage run by theatre professionals devoted to questioning the prevailing concept of reality.” Small world that Helsinki is, I quickly also found out that TTK’s producer Annu Kemppainen and I had met briefly the year prior and she became a fast friend, fellow-theatre-and-seminar-goer and valuable resource for me on theatre and arts production in Finland.
TTK’s “The Anatomy of an Experience-Oriented Performance Workshop” was exactly what the doctor ordered. The week-long workshop, an “audience education project”, covered a brief but wonderful introduction to Nordic LARP (live-action role-play) by Jaakko Stenros with its roots in game and performance, then led participants through processes embodied and practiced by TTK: Environment and Performance; Body and Performance, and Consciousness and Performance. All of these topics were first expounded on by each topic leader (Saara Hannula, Julius Elo, and Risto Santavuori), seminar-style, and workshoppers were then dispatched to create “experimances”, demos, exercises and other small but effective experiential projects that we tried and tested on each other.
Being made to create small lab-test-versions of these immersive experiences was an amazingly enlightening way to observe my own decision-making instincts and question the reasons for devising concepts. Performing them with the guidance and feedback of professionals and learners alike was so instrumental in seeing which decisions were sound, effective, total or subjective. It became uncanny how the TTK processes that were unveiled mirrored mine, and were apparent the body of work that I’d slowly built with my avant-pop theatre collective banished? productions, where the internalized or immersed performance created by the audience was just as important as the rehearsed practice of the performers. Notably, I realized that I’d unconsciously been working with the same dictum of earning the trust of my audience by a careful setting of tone and selection of words, allowing them to feel safe despite the other sensations, emotions and experiences they may encounter.
Saved by an apple. Not a bad way to start building an appetite.
banished? productions’ Artistic Director Carmen C. Wong is a self-confessed appropriator and provocateur who hails from Singapore. Following an artist residency in Helsinki the previous year, she was awarded a TCG Global Connections travel grant in 2011 to return to Europe where she mounted several formats of her Futurist-inspired TACTILE DINNER project, notably Tactile Taste of Helsinki as part of the city-wide Ravintolapäivä/Restaurant Day. In 2010, Carmen received DCCAH’s Young Artist Award to create Walk With Me, an alternative art audiowalk exploring DC’s Columbia Heights and Mt. Pleasant neighborhoods. Her other directorial dabblings include A Tactile Dinner (2009 and 2010) and Tactile Dinner Car (2011), an international interpretation of Charles Mee’s bobrauschenbergamerica (2007) and Pablo Picasso’s luridly surreal Desire Caught by the Tail (2006).
Carmen got her start in interdisciplinary performance from working with the dance-theatre company Dorky Park, on Constanza Macras’ Back to the Present at the Kaufhaus Jandorf in Berlin, Germany.
The Global Connections program was designed by TCG and is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Learn more here.