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UA TALKS X Kansallisteatteri: The Future of the Stage - an Art Discussion


UA TALKS X Kansallisteatteri: The Future of the Stage - an Art Discussion

UA Talks X Kansis is an "Artist café and discussion club open to all", an event organized by Urban Apa. This time it was located at Vallila's Kansallisteatteri, Finnish National Theatre. I took part as an audience member (later as a questioner) and now want to share some bits of the evening's discussions on art, theatre, collective and institutions - the fears and dreams of them.

"As an artist you always carry some kind of archieve (arkisto) with you and you have to be aware of that. The stage even or the place where one performs, carries an arcade, which affects how we experience and create and share art", Niko Hallikainen explains on the topic of "why can't we say or do things anymore the way we did before" moans of usually a white cis-people.

Laura continues: "As a translator to Amanda Gorman's book I was once asked in an interview that "okay, if a white person cannot translate a black person's book, is it now the same as someone who hasn't gone through cancer couldn't translate a book written by someone who has gone through cancer??" There is not any kind of meter you could estimate things equally like this, but the nyances and context always matters. And the question is not "can I do or say this anymore?" but rather "will I take the resposibility?" of this and be open up to critique and discussion. Do they line up with your values?"

"Why do I try to live through art", Aune Kallinen hopped on the question of what art means to you, "why doesn't art let me go? What happens in me when I step on stage? It has something to do with the experience of remaining spiritually. The fact that on stage people - in a way - grasp onto each other and can build and create something dispiteful and full of despair, which in imagined reality and utopia can still be something so full of hope symbolically... Art just keeps me alive, personally. It gives collective will to go on through all the bullshit of life."

"I'm interested in the discussion on class and its affects in arts and creators. I come from the lower class and yes, Finland is a class society, though we don't think about it much", Niko nodds, "And because I come from the lower class I want to ask questions on stage I never heard of being asked, on class, income and so on. That's what I want to do as an artist."

Laura agrees: "Institutionalism is a real issue here, on the question that who can create art: as an artist do you have the resources for surviving without an income when you have no work? Here in Finland mainly people with Arts Master's degree receive financial support for their artwork. In UK where I have studied someone is extremely into something if they have Master's and it is quite rare. In Finland there is lack of knowledge on the idea that if you do your part well, why would you have to have a Master's degree? If you have worked for years and years, in Finland, it still looks better to have the Master's degree. This issue is visible when productions are trying to cast poc-people, for example. Institutions have upper hand and power and we should focus on that aspect more.

Aune Kallinen, as a pedagog and director, raises her head on this: "As someone who comes from an institution I can say that we always come along a little late. We try to polish the image that we're the ones making the way, even though we're just reflecting and mirroring the things that are happening out on the field."

"Art", host Olga Palo starts, "how inclusive is that word, really? It seems to be so elitistic, the question on what words can we use and where? How do we welcome people to enjoy art and theatre who usually don't end up here?"

"At Tammisaari where I live there is a lot of art going on and discussion of it", Aune says, "in Helsinki it happens to be so that there are different locations and sections in town, which creates the illusion of where the big art happens. Who is gonna make it to HS or Yle, big media platforms? The line between a professional and someone who actively practises art "only as a hobby" should be questioned and not so strict."

"Looking at institutions, it's not enough that they merely open doors", Laura states, "we aren't just going to walk in if they just wait long enough. The structures of power are fundamentalistically normative, meaning that the place is not by its own a safe place or welcoming. For example if I get a role from a Finnish tv-series I may not have a hair- and makeup artist who knows how to work with my hairtype and skintone. Taking down power structures has to be active and on-going (not just a random door-opening)."

"Yes", Niko agrees, "just like auditions (to art schools) are open for everyone, it's not enough on its own."

Discussions went on and I fell heartly into them. Eventually I also asked my own question:

When you create art and try not to hurt anyone, let them be poc or queer, how can one do that? We all know the tragic example of some white person taking dreadlocks, and when they were criticized they responded that "oh my black friends said it was okay". Or if someone creates a theatre peace with a queer-scene saying that "well we have queer people in the group so the whole of it must be okay", how do we handle situations like these?

Laura took the mic: "Hurting and oppressing are different things. If someone says to me that you're an idiot, I get hurt. But if someone comes to me and calls me with the n-word, that's oppression. It's not about one person's opinion. Even though everyone has their individual experience of society, their one opinion doesn't change history and the whole picture. If you want to create responsible and accountable art you have to do research on the subject you are planning to create. Research on those power structures that lay beneath it, which weighs more than production member's opinion or friend's advice. There is always access to information. Supporting these structures is not about agreeing or disagreeing, about opinion, but is about facts that are based on history, sociological studies and so forth."

"No matter how mindful we're about these subjects, we all do mistakes", Renaz joined the conversation from behind the DJ desk, "you can only create things from your own perspective. But you have to be open to discussion. For example I did this panel on racism in Finnish rap scene where I intentionally invited only white people. I received critique that "oh here we have yet again white people taking about racism", but my fact was this: we gather these visible white people in the field and discuss with them -- instead of just getting the group of the minorities that know these issues. And this is my take on this, you have to be open to discussion as a creator. I listened to the critique and responded and they ended up understanding my take on. You musn't be afraid of taking risks and think you have to be the first person to say "I'm sorry" if you have a good meaning behind it all, which you have to be able to articulate if questioned."

"Ah", Aune cups her cheek, "I wish there was a check-list like this that'd tell me I've done all correctly, but the World is never ready."

And neither are these conversations. It's an ongoing, active process, to make the World a better place.

"Don't take these things too harshly on yourselves", Renaz encourages everyone, "don't feel like a personal failure if you can't do everything correctly, every time. But be open, and most of all ready to have a conversation."

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