The recently formed Bodytalk research team includes Simo Vassinen, Maria F. Scaroni and Roope Mokka. Their work explores potential futures through physicality and dance. We spoke to researcher and dancer Simo Vassinen about dancing bodies, club culture and the intersection of movement and research.
Your project combines research with dance and physicality. What is the relationship of these three in Bodytalk?
Roope has knowledge on futures research and political philosophy, and Mariai on dance, physicality, and the art world in general. My background is in futures research, but the last few years I have worked in the field of dance. I kept these two fields separate for a long time until realizing that dance is a much broader concept. I’ve returned to themes of social research, but want to practice it through dance. Bodytalk is the first project to synthesise and develop these ideas. The project approaches movement from a sociocultural perspective. We have focused on rave and techno culture, as it’s dance that takes place alone, so to say, but also together, in a shared space. It’s a solitary exercise, which you might not reach if you weren’t in a group.
Has the nature of the project changed during covid-19?
In the project, we study nightlife and the particular forms of knowledge associated with it: what rave and club culture is about. Originally, we had agreed to organize a workshop in Kiasma, Helsinki, but due to the covid-19 restrictions, it has expanded into a long-term project. Our working group includes Maria and I in Berlin and Roope at Demos, a think tank in Helsinki. From the perspective of futures research and social development, this kind of a global crisis adds new angles and perspectives to consider. Instead, dance, theater and nightlife have been in a particularly vulnerable position. There are many marginalized people in these sectors. Sectors related to physicality will be the last on the list to restart their activities. The past spring has also been a stark reminder of the importance of physicality.
The importance of nightlife in art has seemed to be on the rise in recent years. What does rave culture mean to you?
For me, it’s always been a space free of judgement. Nightlife offers an escape from pressure and expectations of everyday life, and it has provided a place to be truly alive. The past spring is the first time in 22 years that I haven’t been clubbing. I’ve stayed involved for so long because club culture continuously provides something new for me. I started clubbing under circumstances that had to do with decadence and escapism, which is fine too. Today, I’m interested in how the feeling of the raves could be transferred into everyday life and be more spontaneous with your everyday-self.
In what ways have you documented movement and dance?
We’ve been having discussions and have shared existing research material in an effort to find structures outside everyday society. At our last meeting, Maria talked about technologies of ecstatic states. She’s been doing research on contemporary dance and resistance mechanisms within underground club circles. It doesn’t mean someone’s nuts if they dance to techno for three hours straight. It’s part of a millennia old tradition of people getting together, perhaps on the fringes of everyday life, to dance together.
Physically and dance-wise, rave culture is linked to religious states of ecstasy or, for instance, active meditation. Drug use related to clubbing is also known from cultures around the world. It’s not a thing Western people have invented for their nightclubs. We’re not researching the drug culture as such, but we’ve talked about the huge stigma associated with it. It, too, is often taboo if someone dances wildly in public. It’s something people don’t want to see on the street. It’s both funny and interesting how a freely moving body still is so dubious and easily judged.
We’ve also developed technodrift dance exercises. The exercise stems from Maria’s longer-term idea that became a tool to cope with the lockdown. The exercise draws from the situationist concept of derive, according to which aimless drifting becomes meaningful in itself. We’ve talked about drifting since it is also a way to explore the city – and the empty city has been a great platform for it.
What kind of feedback have you received from the people who’ve tried drifting?
For technodrifting, we’ve commissioned and collected techno mixes, which maintain a certain rhythm for an hour. We’ve tried the exercise alone, in pairs and in small groups. You meet with the group on the street corner or in the park, with soundtracks and headphones ready. Then you hit the play button at the same time and start moving for an hour nonstop so that your heart rate remains high.
The exercise is simple, but the feedback has been really good. When done alone, drifting might just become an adventurous walk, which can be awesome too. From my experience, the exercise works best when done with a small group of people. The group motivates and encourages each other so you may end up dancing in unexpected places. Maria has also written a manifesto that contextualizes the exercise. Fundamentally, the exercise is designed to be fun and good for you. On another level, it keeps nightlife, queer bodies and other marginalized people visible. The idea is not to perform, but to use urban space, even during the time of social distancing. It’s not self-evident that there are green spaces in cities or that all kinds of bodies could move there safely, especially alone.
How’s the Kiasma’s workshop different from the technodrifting?
In Kiasma we’ll be testing the basic format for Bodytalk workshop, which aims to combine movement and futurology workshops. We’re expanding the concept of drifting to make rave culture known and to show that it is not just mindless, but can be used as a practical tool. I hope the workshop will be attended by people of different ages and professional backgrounds.
We do a technodrift exercise together as a group and raise our heart rates for an hour, after which discussion will take place. Maybe on the first day we’ll talk about the age structure of the population or elderly care. The next day, a techno session could be followed by a discussion on the climate crisis. The hypothesis is that the conversation will be different when we first experience together some kind of ecstasy state together or maybe just shake a week’s worth of crap out of our bodies. Hopefully the workshop will get people to use their imagination more adventurously and encourage people to feel free to share their feelings.
Text: Rosaliina Elgland Photo: Maria F. Scaroni
Sign up to the workshops on Kiasma’s website, by clicking here. The workshop is flexible in terms of language – we will use both Finnish and English and adapt to the language background of the participants. The workshop is suitable for all kinds of bodies and no previous knowledge or experience from dance, nightlife or futures thinking are required. We recommend to dress comfortably.