Circus artist Sakari Männistö: I hope the viewer feels they have met us

Circus artist Sakari Männistö: I hope the viewer feels they have met us

Unum is a series of circus performances that can be experienced virtually with your own mobile device and headphones. In this interview, the curator and performer of the work, Sakari Männistö, discusses the intimate potential of technology and his experience of performing for a 360 degree camera.

The work features three performers, but you all work from different countries. How has the project progressed?

You have to try the 360 camera to understand how it works and what it allows. When creating the work, we had to be aware of how the location of the camera affects the image and how different perspectives, sounds, or speeds work with it. We only have one camera to work with, and is just on it’s way to Inka Lilja who’s in Berlin. As a performer, she specializes in the Washington trapeze, with Inka balancing on her head and swinging on it. Inka will send the camera to Canada, where dance acrobat Emile Pienault records his part of the performance. I specialize in juggling, and I’ll do my part last when the camera arrives back in Britain. 

Do the three parts of the work have connective themes?

Unum is a performance specially made for the camera. It is not a media art or a video project. We are circus professionals, so we aren’t trying to make digital art. We focus on what we know, that is, performing and creating performances.

Choreographically we have paid attention to the gaze for which the placement of the camera plays a great role. Are the eyes of the viewer and performer on the same level, or does the viewer perhaps see the performer from the ceiling? It is surprising how close to the audience it’s possible to get via the camera. From the viewer’s perspective it can feel pretty intense if the performer moves close or looks them into the eyes.

The sections of Unum are independent pieces of work, but are all built around the theme of intimacy. We strive to create a space that feels as intimate as possible, a space which the viewer can share with the performer, possibly from their home. At the heart of the work is not technology, but human. I hope experiencing the performance leaves the viewer feeling that he has met us and seen us performing live.

Is Unum a result of the COVID-19 restrictions or something that you’ve wanted to implement for a longer period of time?

This project has been in my mind for many years but this was the moment that pushed it underway. Recently there’s been more and more performances with 360 technology. I’ve come across videos of dance and music but also extreme parachute jumps and BMX biking. However, I felt that the human-to-human aspect was lacking in them. I was left wondering why the videos wouldn’t make more use of the intimate potential that the technology bears.

In a traditional performance setting there’s often multiple things happening on stage at the same time. What do you need to considerate when making a performance for a 360 camera?

The camera records 360 degrees of visual information. The video allows the viewer to direct their sight by turning their head. 360 image is revealing by its nature and voyeuristic even to a humorous extent. I recorded my part in the woods and had to think about where to put my stuff so they wouldn’t be seen in the video. I had to specifically hide them, in this case behind a tree. On the other hand, you can also “hide” things at sight that not all viewers will notice.

Unum is composed of pre-recorded videos, but traditionally circus is performed in front of a live audience. What are the differences between these two forms of performance?

Live performance is a ‘come what may’ situation. The performer has one go and it either works or it doesn’t. In turn, the audience forgets, and a moment on stage is over in an instance. Unum, on the other hand, is uploaded to a web server and remains there. Each of us will record a few versions of their performance. Personally, I try to act in front of the camera as if I was doing a live performance – or perhaps a small tour. The footage won’t be edited and no camera tricks will be used. In this way, the result is more realistic and the feeling of the live performance is more present.

When performing for a 360 camera the ambience is not as responsive as in a live performance. However, my experience is that when performing for the camera you can reach the feeling of a live performance. While the situation lacks real-time dialogue with the audience, performing for the camera is comparable to performing in a large theater where the audience is just a black mass. You can’t see them, and may not even hear them, but you still know that they’re there


Unum premieres on Youtube with Inka Lilja’s performance on 24.6. Following Sakari Männistö on 26.6. and Emile Pineault on 28.6.


Text: Rosaliina Elgland      Photo: Sakari Männistö

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