On interspecies interaction

Performance artist and researcher Tuija Kokkonen reflects on interspecies interaction in the context of posthumanistic art research. Through art, she explores the human relationship with plants, animals and natural phenomena, such as weather in her doctoral thesis titled “The potential nature of performance: The relationship to the non-human in the performance event from the perspective of duration and potentiality”. Tuija Kokkonen has served on the Advisory Board of the Saari Residence since 2014.

You received your Doctor of Arts in Theatre degree last spring. Your doctoral thesis is titled The potential nature of performance: The relationship to the non-human in the performance event from the perspective of duration and potentiality. How did your research come about?

Tuija Kokkonen (TK): Artistic research arises from and by creating art, in relation to the artistic-theoretical framework. When I started my doctoral research in 2006, I wanted to reflect on the meaning of performance and its potential in the age of ecological crises. I approach ecological crises as defined by Felix Guattari as phenomena emerging in three interdependent ecological levels – mental, social and environmental. Since many of our current crises seem to derive from the fact that we perceive human beings and the social domain as separate from the so-called natural and non-human domain. I approached this by looking at what it means to our understanding of performance and subjectivity if we widen the agency of performance and its social domain beyond the human, and begin to relate to beings of other species as non-human co-actors. My research is situated in the framework of posthumanistic theory, performance research and artistic research.

I started to create performances not only with people, but also with animals, plants and so-called natural phenomena, such as weather, and to develop the theory and practice of interspecies performance. The core of my research is the performance series Memos of Time – performances with and for non-humans (2006–). In the performance, I approach non-human agency as something whose perception, manifestation and affectiveness, according to my suggestion, require weak (human) agency based on hospitality. I present the idea of performance and subjectivity as an interspecies gatherings where the interaction of weak actors and non-human actors and the ethics of hospitality enable the birth of a new kind of polis.

What were the significant moments in your research performances?

TK: In addition to other non-humans, one dog played an important role in A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog) – II Memo of Time (2008). I remember, for example, the moment when I realised that the dog that participated in our performance set at the ancient shore in the Kivikko outdoor area in Helsinki did not like our next place of performance, the asphalt rooftop of a department store, a possible future seashore, and it occurred to me to plan and perform the entire performance for the dog. The idea of creating art for a non-human led to many considerations essential to my research as regards, for example, the borders of performance society and the impact of the responses of a viewer or witness of another species.

The place itself, a rocky, wooded and battered post-glacial seashore with trenches, lichen, heathers and traces of passers-by all over, is also printed on my memory. It was the location for both the above-mentioned performance as well as Performance by Non-Humans, a thread of Chronopolitics – III Memo of Time (an endless performance since 1 March 2010). The performance, that place with its non-humans, weather and other “natural” processes, has been left as it is, in time. I visit the performance every now and then to see how the place has changed, how the plants and animals are doing, and what thoughts about duration emerge through non-human times.

What landscape or view opens up for you after your research? What kinds of things are you focusing on?

TK: The questions of my research still interest me, and they branch out into many questions relating to society, economy and education. I think about human agency in society and institutions, the shifting or disappearance of values and content, and the future of education, art and research. I am still interested in further developing alternative forms of agency and new forms of action based on my research.