Artist Maija Tammi: “It is really frustrating when an immortal dies”

Artist Maija Tammi: “It is really frustrating when an immortal dies”

Unheroic Labours #2 by composer-performer-sound artist Charles Quevillon, artist and Doctor of Arts Maija Tammi and choreographer Tedd Robinson combine movements of fresh-water polyps hydra with human dance movements. They told us what to expect from this Together Alone project.

Hydras are never aging fresh-water polyps. Why did you choose to focus on these particular creatures?

MAIJA: Hydras are magnificent little predators and their movement always makes me think of deadly sirens. Our exhibition, in which hydra is a key motive, was supposed to open in March in Helsinki but was postponed to June. While everything was cancelled we tried to figure out a project that could be done completely at home and I did have hours and hours of extra video material on hydra.

I had been planning to hire dancers to make a piece where human movements could be combined with the ones of hydra. This was a perfect opportunity for that. I think Charles was a bit shocked at first that HE has to do the dancing, but he has composed and performed in dance pieces for almost a decade so he got around it relatively quickly. 

You have been studying hydra for three years with two professors of biology, do you have some anecdotes or fun facts to share with us? 

MAIJA: Hydras are biologically immortal, that means that they do not age, but they can die of course. For example they might overeat and die because of that. Or they might climb out of water and dry. It is really frustrating when an immortal dies. 

And maybe another is that in the States professor Daniel Martinez made me help him build a pizza oven with him in exchange for helping me document and experiment with hydra in his laboratory.

How has this project changed along the way?

MAIJA: We went from trying to become a hydra to interacting with the hydra.

At first we were also frustrated at the idea that we have to publish the video online where it will compete with the cat videos and music videos and Tiktok challenges.

And our cat kept terrorizing all the shoots at home, so we finally gave up and let it be part of the piece.

CHARLES: I first wanted to include an electric guitar in the choreography that was to be filmed. However it became clear very quickly that it was not going to work. It just felt really awkward!

Were there any surprises during the creative process that took place between Finland and Canada?

MAIJA: Things went surprisingly smoothly, considering that most of the planning and shooting had to be done during our toddler’s naptime.

TEDD: I found that only the time zone situation was a new thing to work with. The seven hours’ time difference meant that my feedback to Maija and Charles was perhaps too late to incorporate into their current day’s work.

CHARLES: It was so cold! We shot most of the dancing sequences in a barn on a rainy day in plus five degrees. I was performing in shorts while Maija sat ten meters in the air in a shovel of a sort of a telescopic tractor with the camera. She was wearing a winter overall.

What has been the best thing about this project so far?

MAIJA: Maybe the most interesting aspect has been that we did not plan to make a piece that would comment on the Covid-19 situation. But now in hindsight when watching the piece, it is very much a piece of this particular new era.

TEDD: I have not really been involved with work of this nature before so navigating this unknown has been a journey that may seem small but the water was deep that we travelled over.

CHARLES: Collaborate with two talented artists that I love and admire.

The pandemic has reminded people of their mortality. How does it feel to work with the theme of immortality in times like these?

MAIJA: It might seem a bit morbid to talk about immortality when we are reminded every single day of how many people died during the previous one. It is a matter of perspective though, if we would also be reminded every single day how many babies were born the previous day, perhaps our attention would shift from dying to living.

What would you like people to remember about the project?

CHARLES: I would hope that after watching, people would feel a bit more relaxed.


Immortal’s Birthday, Forum Box gallery in Helsinki, Finland 12.6.–12.7.

Text: Estelle Leroux  Picture: Teemu Ullgrén

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