‘FROM ANONYMOUS APPLICANTS TO OUTSTANDING RECRUITS: THE STORY OF FIVE STRANGERS’ BY ALEX KOLLEROVÁ
‘From Anonymous Applicants to Outstanding Recruits: The Story of Five Strangers’ is a story of Eva Juutinen, Sofia Molin, Pete Santos, Katia Skylar and Tianna Valta. This seemingly random group of individuals has two things in common; the first is their love of performing arts and the second, each one of them was anonymously recruited to participate in this year’s GAP LAB, a programme organised by Globe Art Point in collaboration with the Regional Dance Centre of Western Finland, Turku in April of 2022.
GAP LAB is a programme enhancing artistic collaboration between Finnish and non-Finnish-born artists as well as Finnish art and culture institutions. It was born out of necessity to connect local and international talents who often don’t get the opportunity to collaborate with one another.
The field of art and culture in Finland is small but still very segregated. The foreign-born professionals tend to work with their foreign-born peers, the Finland-born professionals work with other local Finns and so on and so forth. Instead of a flourishing multicultural art and culture scene, one can witness a lot of friction and competition among the so-called “established tribes” in the sector. Tribalism is however natural and stems from peoples’ need to relate and be understood. That’s why DEI practices come into play.
Diversity, equity and inclusion are hot topics in the arts and culture sector these days. But just because you get to work with a bunch of international professionals, it doesn’t make your group necessarily diverse, does it? In the perfect world, when it comes to creating new partnerships, nobody should examine peoples’ backgrounds or for how long they have been residing in a given country. In the ideal world, people only judge one’s talent based on their professional skills. Prejudice is however very hard to eradicate as it’s deeply rooted in everyone’s psyche. Forming since our early age, the prejudice morphs based on the environment, education, culture and many other socio-political aspects. One can learn to ignore prejudice by practice, but one can never suppress it completely.
That’s how Globe Art Point came up with the idea of GAP LAB. The aim of GAP LAB is to employ a group of anonymously recruited professionals and based solely on their skills hire them to produce a work of art. In case of the latest GAP LAB group that worked together with the Regional Dance Centre of Western Finland, the professionals were hired to create a performative piece for GAP ART SUMMIT 2022 in Helsinki as well as for the International Day of Dance celebrated in Viinatehdas, Turku. The open call sought for artists from any artistic discipline of performing arts who like to work with projects where the process itself would be open to the public. In the following interview, you can read about the journey of these artists; their experience, learnings and collective work that took place during the GAP LAB project.
What drew you to apply for the GAP LAB programme and what expectations did you have from the project before applying to the GAP LAB open call?
Katia: “There were multiple reasons, I don’t even want to call them reasons..it was more feelings. I have a very interesting connection to Turku, I used to live there for a few months and I really like the place. I was also excited to get rehearsal space for practice because that’s usually one of the most difficult aspects of working in the performing field, in general. You just don’t get funding that can cover rehearsal spaces.”
Sofia: “I find as an artist enjoyment in midwifery of different kinds of artistic processes. I really enjoy the collective language and vocabulary that emerges and develops inside the multidisciplinary working groups- a possibility provided through the open call. The fact that this vocabulary is developing simultaneously with the process being open to the public was quite interesting for me. Thirdly, I was also motivated to get to know new people and to see what kind of networks we can build together during and after this process.”
Pete: “For me, this was something I have never done before. I am in the performing arts but in a very different field so the whole grand scenario I never experienced and I wanted to learn about that. In hindsight, I realise I wanted to learn about that but initially, when I saw the call it excited me and I thought it would be a great opportunity to take the offer from.”
Tianna: “I saw the call in a number of places but the fact that the process was open to the public really intrigued me as there can be multiple ways to open a process to someone. I was also freshly graduated and eager to create, yes, I was ready to create. It was also such an open project which would allow me as a creator to produce almost anything within limits. I remember reading the call and thinking wou, we can create anything.”
You mentioned that in the beginning some of you didn’t really understand what it meant to have the creative process open to the public, are you able to explain it to the readers now?
Tianna: “I think we asked about it multiple times during the process and we were always given a very open answer, whatever it means to you, so we just played with that. But, I think it means a different thing to each one of us. There are some similarities, but I don’t think we found the ultimate definition to that.”
Sofia: “The creative process being open appeared mostly as us creating visibility on social media. It therefore became more of a production work that had to be done, not than much of artistic work. Then again, our performances were public and we were very open with describing what was happening inside the performance during performing so that can also be seen as us opening up the process. We had different ways in doing so: Either by posting photographs, tasks, thoughts or feelings from rehearsals but I think we all did different inserts on social media.”
Tianna: “I agree, I think social media was the main way for us to open the creative process. There were things I wouldn’t usually share on my social media. There was never a clear direction where we were headed but the entire process was very open.”
Have you considered continuing to open your creative processes to the public after this experience?
Tianna: “I think it’s tricky because on social media, we only share the things we want to, which means, it is not completely open. For example, we do not share our mistakes, we only share what is interesting to target and attract a certain audience into the project. Personally no, I don’t think I will continue even though I liked doing it in this project. I like mystery in my work and I don’t want to share too much. To me, the audience needs to come up with their own story. “
Sofia: “I remember during our first meeting I did ask whether the open process means we are on camera during the rehearsal at all times. If that would have been the case, the outcome would be very different. However, as there were no specific rules considering the openness, the open process became a rather curated way of profiling our working group on our social media feed. We also always checked amongst each other upon sharing when we shared certain things online, but in any case we did not share the most vulnerable moments of our process in public..”
How did you find the creative process? What was your main source of inspiration?
Katia: “We just started to move! For me, it was very important to have a physical space where one can try things.”
Sofia: “We decided quite early on that everyone in the group will lead a workshop for all of the group members. The leader of the ws would act as a primus motor, proposing exercises that we all could do together in order for us to play, interact and get to know each other.”
Katia: “And also to learn what language we each use in our work and craft.”
Sofia: “Yes, something we thought we could share with others and wanted to try out with the other people in the group.”
Pete: “The workshops or the sessions that everyone led were very reflective of our personalities and the performing art we all come from individually.”
This one is a rather personal question. Was there a clear story or a message you had in mind when creating this piece? Was it supposed to be understood in a certain way?
Katia: “We didn’t discuss this from this point of view. We didn’t discuss what we wanted to say, we didn’t discuss what we wanted the audience to see. I think it’s this way pretty much with any abstract piece. Anyone can find their own story there.”
Pete: The components of our performance came from the sessions that we all had the chance to lead. From there we formulated how we wanted to piece our performance and due to the performance structure changing several times throughout the month (based on how much time we had, the arrangement of the space we were to perform in) the performance changed, but ultimately it derived from the workshops we led. Something I would like to also mention is that it was really great that we did not have a specific leader in the group. We all allowed each other to give feedback. All feedback was heard, had meaning, was important and that’s a great quality of the GAP LAB programme. No one shied away from giving their opinion or voicing their concerns about what we should do. We all had a voice, we all heard each other when needed or when someone wanted to add value to what we would do.”
Sofia: “I think that there is really no wrong way to interpret Art or at least that there is no right answer to how one should understand Art. It probably wouldn’t be Art if there would be only one right answer to its interpretation. Of course we could claim that our piece has to be interpreted in only one specific way, but that would just be an intentional provocation.”
Can you tell the readers a bit about your working group? How did the name Outstanding Recruits come about?
Katia (laughing): “Democratically by voting.”
Tianna: “We came up with an assignment to name the group.”
Pete: “Yeah, we had a task, what would we call ourselves? It morphed into our official name over lunch. We were all sitting around the table politicking our name and it took quite some time for us to actually get something down on paper. Once we did, it was as Katia said, democratic. We voted and we had a lot of fun voting because some of the names were pretty funny and Outstanding Recruits is what came out!”
Sofia: “I remember us mutating different kinds of name proposals. We had a long list of proposals and one of them was this tricky word which I cannot pronounce, anonymous, but if I remember correctly, we wanted to have a name that had both a positive connotation but still represented our process honestly. We have had some tensions but they were sometimes amusing, and that’s how the name of our performance Amusing Tensions came about..”
Pete: “We do have a common theme of food in creativeness, food and thinking.”
Tianna: “But I think, we have to emphasise that in all of these situations, our attitude was really humorous, we weren’t creating strict guidelines for our creation. We were all joking, making each other laugh, goofing around and not at all too serious.”
What were the toughest challenges you experienced while working on the GAP LAB project?
Katia: “It was tough getting up at 5 am trying to reach the rehearsal space in Turku by 9 am.”
Tianna: “Well, creating something with a bunch of strangers is a challenge on its own. We are all from a very different spectrum of a performing art scene and we have very different ways of working not only as artists but also as persons. In my case, I noticed I was missing certain things that I am used to having in my usual practice. I felt like the time period was also very short for me to create something and it was only towards the end that I realised the emphasis on the process rather than the outcome. This helped me to enjoy the process much more than for example in the beginning. Once we got to know each other artistically and personally, the process became much more relaxed no matter what we did.”
Pete: “We discussed this together one day in the studio that not having the set structure led to a slowness in the process…just the overanalysis and the paralysis of analysis was due to the structure of the programme. Most projects provide a specific set of guidelines that ought to be followed but in this programme there were no guidelines at all so it’s almost like we were all babies coming out of the womb, we had some knowledge but mostly gained it throughout the process. Once we were able to get certain ideas down on paper it was much easier but getting there took some time. We were like wow, we can do whatever! How do we approach whatever?”
Sofia: “I found that our internal conflicts and tensions throughout the process were the most challenging thing for me. It was emotionally pretty hard most likely because the time was so limited. We didn’t have a basecamp to stay in and the timeframe of the project didn’t really allow us to resolve the matters straight away which sometimes led to issues lingering for days before we could sit down and discuss them in the group.”
Pete: “Also, we had to get to know each other very quickly which can contribute to conflicts as well.”
Tianna: “Yeah, we had some conflicts, some were smaller, some were bigger, they varied. I think the main problem was us not being based in the same location. Over the weekend some people forgot what happened, some people moved on before we had the time to even discuss so having a residency base is really crucial in these kinds of projects.”
Do you see your group taking the performance further producing independently or do you feel satisfied with the results of your collective work?
Sofia: “The performance contains elements that came from all of us so at this point, we just need to see what can be done in the future, who can do it and how can it be altered based on site specificity and other elements of chance.”
Tianna: “We do have a very strict structure for this performance.”
Sofia: “And vocabulary!”
Tianna: “Yeah, we have very clear guidelines and choreography.”
Katia: “We would love to perform this piece again but none of us is really interested in producing. If somebody offered to take care of this aspect, we would be totally into it. I see this performance as very beneficial for occasions such as conferences filled with information-exhausted people. The performance can be adapted to any space whether it is inside or outside. I personally have a lot of fun performing this piece, it is such a joy.”
Name one thing you took away from this experience.
Katia: “For me, going through our inner tensions taught me how valuable it is to stop and pay attention. Usually, in most cases projects have a very specific goal or end product to work towards so tensions are ignored and put aside, the focus is given to work. This project, however, was process oriented and solving inner tensions was very important. This time, I felt encouraged to stop and think about the matters. I learnt a lot and it was very valuable for me to see how one relates to other people and to the world as a whole.”
Sofia: “My word would be friction, but in a positive sense, meaning friction that creates energy.”
Tianna: “I was going to say vulnerability. By vulnerability, I mean letting my guard down and being completely free of judgement from both myself and others. We did many things that made me feel vulnerable so yeah, vulnerability is my word.”
Anything else to add?
Sofia: “I would like to say, I think that it is very important to have these kinds of opportunities for freelance artists. To meet and get to know each other, interact and create networks, I think there should really be more of these opportunities. And I really give a thumbs up to the anonymous recruitment!”
Katia: “You know, usually artists get to work with their friends and like-minded people with whom they are comfortable working. It’s great to be put together with someone you would never think of, or expected you could do something together. It’s really good, I support this.”
Tianna: “I also like that we all have our professions but did not hold on to them during the process, we could do whatever we wanted. Me as a mover, I was not expected to only move and I like that. Together we are such a diverse group of professions which is strongly reflected in our performance.”
So would you say, you were pushed outside of your comfort zone?
Sofia: “Well maybe not pushed because there were no borders to what is the comfort zone and what not.”
Tianna: “What I meant was that I was not hired as a dancer, titles meant nothing in the group. We were all equals and could do whatever we wanted.”
Sofia: “We had artistic freedom.”
Katia: “We were each from different backgrounds hence we could support each other in a variety of ways. I wanted to try Swedish rap. Sofia taught me Swedish, Pete taught me rhythm. I don’t think we were pushed outside of our comfort zones, we were supported to get outside of our comfort zones.”
Sofia: “The door was open. If I wanted to go a totally different direction there was no one holding me back.”
Tianna: “I think we liked the challenge. We were challenging ourselves through exercises and we liked the fact of working hard. We weren’t suorittaa ,we weren’t doing only what we were asked but much more!”
This GAP LAB would not be possible without the support of the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland (Svenska kulturfonden) who generously granted Globe Art Point 100 000 € to organise a number of GAP LAB programmes in the years 2021-2022.
Article written by Alex Kollerová.
May 13th, 2022.