Performances inspired by ecology

The Theatre Academy’s relationship with ecology – and consequently, performance, as well – is about to go through a reformation. A new master’s programme focusing on ecology will be launched in autumn 2016.
Marianne Salin
Riikka Hurri ja Mitro Härkönen

Katsaus1_600x370What is the role of performing arts in a time that is marked by the ecological crisis in many different ways? This has been the subject of debate for a long time now at the Theatre Academy. In autumn 2016, the topic will be tackled by a new English-language master’s degree programme pilot: MA in Ecology and Contemporary Performance, abbreviated as MAECP.

”Our premise is to start researching the concept of performance as an open playground, on which many different people can work together without a fixed set of job descriptions. Our goal is to not just teach established traditions, but to reach out to the future”, says Aune Kallinen, project manager of the programme.

”One of our central goals is to educate artists who are capable of asking the question ”what is a performance” time and time again and are able to formulate the answer both on a theoretical and a practical level.”

Between arts and sciences

In retrospect, having ecology as the theme of the programme almost seems self-evident. However, the decision was preceded by Maija Hirvanen’s comprehensive report, which began by studying master’s programmes in performing arts on a European level and then continued over to discuss the characteristics that are typical for Finland.

”Artistic research on ecology is on a very advanced level in Finland, and we have a lot of artists who discuss these questions in their work”, Kallinen says. She also mentions the significance of Finland’s location near the Arctic and the fragile Archipelago Sea.

”Science universities conduct high-quality research involving these geographical areas, and they also develop technological solutions to ecological problems”, Kallinen notes. She hopes that the organisers and students of the programme will manage to establish strong networks between science and art as well as different fields of art. According to Kallinen, the purpose of the programme is to understand and discuss the world as a system of relations and interdependence.

Fixed theme with the perspective wide open

Kallinen assures that students are allowed to choose their own point of view, even though the name of the programme ties up ecology together with contemporary performance.

”All students approach the subject from their own perspective. We can’t decide for them how they’re going to react to the interplay of ecology and performance. Some artists organise events and rituals to mourn how we’ve already lost everything. Others have an at least seemingly calm approach, because we’re going to be engulfed by the sun in a few billion years anyway”, Kallinen notes.

She says that it’s important to have freedom and new ways of thinking when planning where and how students study.

”It doesn’t necessarily have to take place in a training theatre or elsewhere at school. It doesn’t have to be in the forest, either, but maybe in a laboratory, for example”, says Kallinen. She points out that it’s essential that theory and practice are organically linked to each other, just like in other degree programmes at the Theatre Academy.

Introducing the subject through emotions

Kallinen expects the students of the new master’s programme to renew the methods of performing arts and also bring about new ideas to life amidst the ecological crisis – and consequently have an impact on matters.

”An artist can’t do the same thing that a natural scientist or an environmental activist does, but an artist can research how people feel, and thereby have an impact on matters. An artist doesn’t have to provide data and tell what people should do. An artist can pose questions and ask people to imagine what kind of world their great-grandchildren will live in”, says Professor Peta Tait from La Trobe University in Australia. She notes that people turn climate change into stories regardless, and artists can perhaps transform these stories by not only featuring human elements in them, but also non-human elements: animals, plants, and even machines.

International, highly skilled group with a plurality of voices

Tait visited the CARPA4 Colloquium organised by the Theatre Academy in June. The Colloquium brought together international experts to discuss the meaning of non-human extent in performing arts, and also to criticise the traditional anthropocentrism in arts and sciences. The participants were in fact creating a posthumanist framework which also encompasses the Theatre Academy’s new master’s programme.

Tait finds the idea of the master’s programme extremely good and rare even on an international scale. She has experience in collaborations between ecological and artistic research from her own university.

“Ecology is still most prominently seen in the fine arts”, Tait points out. She expects the new master’s programme to encourage people to renew prevailing working methods with an even stronger determination also in performing arts. Already at this stage, it’s evident that the programme will attract students.

“We’ve been contacted by people from all over the world”, says Kallinen. According to her, the programme is in search of a group of 6 to 8 students who are international, highly skilled, and as multi-voiced as possible.

MA in Ecology and Contemporary Performance (MAECP)

  • The application period starts next spring, the first academic year will begin in autumn 2016.
  • A two-year, English-language pilot with 6–8 students selected to the programme.
  • The goal is to have close co-operation between different art forms and between art and science.
  • One of the Theatre Academy’s spearhead projects, which aim to develop an environment for inspiring learning, research, and artistic activity.

Kira O’Reilly appointed as the lecturer

  • An internationally known professional in performance art, Kira O’Reilly, has been appointed as the lecturer and head of the MA pilot in Ecology and Contemporary Performance.
  • O’Reilly currently resides in London and has taught in different universities around the world throughout the 2000s.
  • She has previously taken part in events such as ANTI Contemporary Art Festival and Field Notes in Finland.