The artistic directors of Studio Total sum up the experiences of Future workshops and analyze the echoes the work on digitalization of performing arts left them with.
Future workshops was a year-long process of shared learning where six artistic teams gathered around the topic of digitalization in performing arts. The workshops were organized by Dance Info Finland / Performing Hel and led by filmmaker Thomas Freundlich and choreographer Valtteri Raekallio.
Cable Factory, Helsinki in the beginning of March 2023. The last time the bunch comes together as a whole. A small hint of sadness in the air as we have shared the journey for almost a year now. A lot has happened to all of us. Many thoughts seem to have taken a concrete form. And above all a lot of shared learning has happened along the way. Time to sum up the process somehow. In this last gathering there was no external guests or creative interventions. Instead we focused on where we started from, where have we arrived and what was significant in between. And where to go from here?
The theme that seems to resonate with us from the previous meeting was TIME – rhythm in the art and in its making. This is something we already discussed during our first gathering and now it bounced back to be topical again. The concept of time seemed important as artistic-productional question as well as an artistic tool.
Rhythm as such seems interesting in art. First and foremost, rhythm is essential in digital artforms because rhythm can be used to manipulate the material and the experience. From the classical point of view the editor creates final artwork through her/ his artistic process. Rhythm is also essential when we think of the concept of each artistic creation. Especially fast tempo tells a lot about the time we live in. In today’s world the questions such as how many works we produce and what is the life span of each creation are essentials. These questions seem to have risen to be the main theme for many of the artistic teams at this final gathering.
As Valtteri Raekallio stated it, when the work approaches the end you are at the point where the process starts to take a clear shape. The initial ideas have become more concrete and they can also be presented easier. As currently the economic resources are limited and contested, today presenting and selling your work plays a significant role. Clearly and concretely presented interesting artistic ideas are easier for the funders to understand and support. This is something us artists should not overlook.
When it comes to digitality we are in a situation where we create the field as we move along. Furthermore, many of our teams had stated that the concept of digital has become more commonplace. As Thomas Freundlich summed up, digital is everything that our six working groups do but at the same time a lot more. At times it feels that digitality has been turned into a freaky phenomenon and at the same time we walk around with smartphones in our hands. We live in a world where digital is all around us and that we often notice it only when something breaks down – network stops working, social media account gets shut down or hijacked or when a hard drive gets destroyed.
One of the good features of digitalization is that digital artforms tend to endure whereas creations bounded by the moment of presentation are moved to the archives of memory at the moment when the last member of the audience leaves the theatre. But when it comes to digital we are creating a new genre. And probably not just one genre but a diverse field where each artwork is able to create a form of its own. Also the technical development supports the artists in this as various systems and platforms are becoming all the time more accessible.
The excellent presentation by team Tupu Tirkkonen and Metsälintu Pahkinen on parasocial interaction was able to crystallize our collective sensations. Performing for a camera does not create the same sort of interaction with the audience as performing for them in the same physical presence. Therefore, digital provides also something to reflect upon not only from performer’s but also audience’s point of view. In digital the non-verbal communication gets crippled. This becomes obvious only after we lose the direct interaction. All of us most certainly came across this in the various online meetings during the corona times.
One of the questions we often returned to in the workshops was whether we consider us creating material for a digital artwork or are we “digitalizing” already existing material. This speaks loudly about the transition we are going through at the moment in the art field and that was accelerated by the pandemic. Are we talking about cinema, video, digital material or something else? Do artworks have yet another universal form that humans approve without binding it to a cultural context? Does the classical beginning-middle-end dramaturgy still apply? As artists we find ourselves in a fascinating situation where we are free to answer to these questions as we please. With a new kind of thinking we surely can reach new kind of audiences. But what about the eternal question about what kind of art gets funded and by whom? How is the livelihood of us professional artists constituted in the end?
“If only I had money, so I could get a sound designer for this. But instead I’ll learn to do this by myself. If only I had money so somebody could edit this. If only I had some money so I could rent a space and shoot this all with big resources and live audience. If only I had some money so I could hire a producer / distributor / an agent / marketing / a colleague / more performers…” The list is endless. The lack of funding in the field is enormous. This has been remarked over the past year. Even the bigger grants are small and they are available only for a few. Many of the artists have become experts in spreading the dime and masters in self-learning. At best, this produces interesting artistic solutions and original outcomes. But you can only spread yourself thin for so long. Many also get exhausted and even exit the game due to the lack of resources. Naturally getting funded creates a self-fueling chain of events. Some productions get funded from all sources whereas some just don’t get any support from anywhere. Regardless of the work or the creators. If only we could one day reach the point in Finland where art is seen as intrinsic value instead of a heavy expense. Maybe someday…
One of the most cherished qualities of these workshops has been the community as a tool for reflection. It has been valuable to be together around incompleteness. And this would not have happened without trust. So big thanks for that to the whole team, and thank you Valtteri and Thomas for bringing us together. But what about after all this? Do these experiences fall into the category of “never again” – or is this the beginning for a whole new direction for our carriers? We probably won’t fully see this now but at least there are six artistic teams with new winds undes their wings. So look into the future!