Before the rehearsals

Otso Huopaniemi, leader of the love.abz. working group, writes about the work of the international and multidisciplinary group. How will he be able to deal with any conflict situations and what kind of role will he play as the leader of the working group.

As I write this there are only a few weeks to go until the start of the (love.abz)3 rehearsals. The performance is the conclusion to the love.abz­ series of performances on the relationship between language and technology that I have been working on for the past five years. At this stage, anything is possible. The many years of preparations – which have included the preparation and performance of previous parts of the performance series, countless individual and group experiments, lots of production, many grant applications and changes to plans, joy and letdowns, success and failure, dead ends and new beginnings – will soon be over and preparation of a different kind will begin: transforming invisible work into visible actions. We will invite the audience to bear witness to, and even become a part of, the writing process that we have been working on since the start of the project.

And there are no guarantees, of course. While one member of the audience may become absorbed by the textual whirl that we create on the stage – the countless translations back and forth, by humans and machines, and rewriting of personal and sometimes autobiographical texts – another member of the audience may leave the performance, untouched and unchanged, without his own translation or interpretation.

The beginning is always challenging, according to a former leader. To begin with teamwork is always a letdown in some way. I write this, if for no other reason, to console my mind. Three performers from Finland and three from the USA will soon arrive in Berlin, which was once divided city. Four performers and the rest of the members of the working group, a dozen or so people, are here waiting for them to arrive. The performers who come from four different cities have never been in the same place at once before. I ask myself how our international and multidisciplinary group whose members have six different mother tongues and speak countless different languages will be able to band together in this city, which in many ways is still divided.

Or is it even necessary for the members of the group to connect? Is it more a question of the parallel existence of various members of the group, which is based on trust and mutual understanding, of sharing the same space, but not necessarily forming a team?

Either way, the working group is a community, whether it is loose or tight. As its leader I have the chance to suggest, and at best, establish working methods that I hope to encounter also outside of rehearsals and performances. If we succeed, effective working methods will become part of the process and ultimately the performance. This is particularly the case in the process-like performance of (love.abz)3 in which the twists and turns of a group writing process with its many authors, and the unpredictable events that can be predicted are the things that matter whether we reach the audience or not.

The multi-level negotiations that take place between languages, systems and individuals during rehearsals and performances is demanding. We try to find effective compromises, as in this context an effective compromise equals success. The work is sometimes a little hit and miss, a bit like a searching for a statistically most probable (even if the part is not the most linguistically credible) translation. I have noticed that a well-rested body and mind is more likely to make good compromises, which is why I prefer to rehearse every other or every third day. One day off to recover and another to make a new plan. However, our busy timetables and the cost of rehearsals mean that this type of luxury is a utopia.

The most important thing to do after a conflict, in other words an unsuccessful negotiation or translation, is to return to the workspace and carry on working. It might be possible to find a solution later even if we do end up having to live with the break-up for a long time. The tension between individual participants and the project as a whole forms the platform on which I do my work. Sometimes I notice that there is not very much space or time in this area to ask myself how I feel about this now. And that is, also for that reason, why I am writing this.

What type of role will I play? How do I commit to the working methods that I ask my working group to commit to? How do I “gently push” or “flexibly pull” – clumsy expressions to describe an important matter, the type of weak role of leader that creates the conditions for a sustainable process.

When a machine translates something incorrectly it is an event in the process that requires an immediate reaction from the human writers. Roughly speaking there are two alternatives: either to reject or accept. In this context rejecting involves removing the mistake and an attempt to reinforce the power of the writer. In contrast accepting involves retaining the mistake in the text that is being worked on, just going along with it, so that the mistake, the unlinguistic speck in the text, looks like something else: a possibility, a creative misappropriation by the machine, which encourages us human beings to write in new and unknown directions.


Photos: Catalina Fernandez


Otso Huopaniemi

Otso Huopaniemi is a performer and artistic researcher whose love.abz working group has received funding from Kone Foundation twice, originally through the Multilingualism and Art funding round in 2013.