In your work, you have been occupied for a while with the movement of animals, by studying the relation between humans and animals. Can you tell more about your interest and the research behind it?
Matilda: Yes, the relationship between humans and other animals has been my major interest for quite a long time now. In 2020, I began working on the research project – “Can animals be expressed? The challenges of conceptualising animals in science and art” – which combines artistic and scientific research. Since then, I have been writing and performing artistic work with these questions in mind.
I have noticed, that by researching their movements, I am able to learn a great deal from an individual animal. Because we have no common spoken language between us and other species, the language of the body and movements may be the answer to interspecies encounters and interactions. My work is grounded in embodied empathy, through which I can experience our shared bodily existence with other beings. When working with embodied empathy, I don’t imitate the other but acknowledge that they are subjects with their own perspectives and try to connect with them. Like humans, other animals express themselves with moving bodies. So, I study the movement, respond to them, and try to understand the possibilities that open in this action.
I believe that the question of animal – how we understand other animals and live in relationship with them – is one of the most important societal questions of our time. The ongoing widespread abuse and discrimination must come to an end. Society, as well as art, could work towards the well-being of all animals.
Performing Animalities – A Praxis you describe as an “invitation to interspecies dialogue”. You invited choreographer Veli Lehtovaara to share this praxis and dialogue with you. How did you develop this praxis/ dialogue? How did you work together with Veli on it?
Matilda: I realised that we have many shared artistic points of interest with Veli, so I asked him to work with me. We began by sharing past experiences and exercises, and after a time a common practice was forming between us. The performance witnessed today is one phase of our research journey. We want to preserve the feel of an un- resolved question and curiosity because our topic is so extensive that it would be foolish to imagine that it could be contained within a single artwork or performative event. After working with each other for a while, we invited the sound designer Markus Tapio to work with us and bring his own voice to the project.
In the context of this project, “Interspecies dialogue” means that we are asking about our relationship with other animals, willing to let their physicality affect our own.
On the other hand, the practice is also about exploring our own animality. We recall this human animality by tuning ourselves and each other into a certain bodily mode. This happens via specific tasks and exercises which enhance our sentient corporeality. We also use touch as a method of operation: the one who intentionally touches affects the other’s bodily movement and activates their senses. The body becomes highly sensitive – at the same time both impulsive and gentle.
Honestly, I do not think that any characteristics in us are more or less animalistic. We are animals, in every way. But maybe there are some aspects of our physicality, which can be emphasized to reveal the artificiality of a dualistic human-animal divide. So, in our interspecies dialogue, the focus is to re-position ourselves in relationship with other animals – thus enabling the dialogue with others.
With “Performing Animalities – A Praxis” we want to invite our audience to ponder together with us how we unders- tand other animals. What is common between all of us? What might a swan or a cat tell us about corporeality?
Out of curiosity, asking both of you, what are you looking at, when you are observing nature and animals around us in the Helsinki area?
Matilda: In this project and my other works before, I like to observe how our human and non-human lives happen side by side in urban areas. Helsinki is a multispecies city, a home for many different beings. I like to look for encounters and ways to experience co-existence with them.
Veli: I enjoy looking at forms of different kinds of bodies and how these co-create and relate to spaces. These can be bodies of buildings, trees, insects, other humans, clouds, machines, basically any bodies or parts of them. I am particularly interested in perceiving and experiencing the passage of energy and information between and among things, in the natural world as well as human cultivated phenomena. I find it mesmerizing to tune into the diversity of movement and allow myself at times to sink into it – to kind of forget the preconceptions or learned knowledge of what I’m looking at and just wonder about the ongoing poetics of movement and transformation. I guess it is the dance that I am looking to take part in, a form of movement, a choreography.