Hanna Pajala-Assefa rewarded in a virtual reality festival in Chicago

Emma Vainio, 3.11.2020

Contemporary dance artist Hanna Pajala-Assefa and her artistic team were awarded at Altered Festival in Chicago. Pajala-Assefa’s work Skeleton Conductor XR Art received the People’s Choice Award.

Hanna Pajala-Assefa

Hanna Pajala-Assefa © Uupi Tirronen

Altered Festival 2020 featured 13 cutting edge projects that used taste, smell, haptic and other senses through VR/AR technology. Exhibiting artists were from around the world, including Finland, Australia, Japan and the United States.

Skeleton Conductor XR Art had its international premiere at the festival. The work was thanked for its immersion, emotion and quality of being artistic.

Hanna Pajala-Assefa was interviewed for the magazine Finnish Dance in Focus 2020-2021. “I experience and understand the world through my body,” cross-media choreographer describes in the article. During her 25-year career as a dance artist, she has created traditional stage choreographies, though film, sound and interactive media have already been at the heart of her artistic work for a long time. “I’ve always heard movement as sound within me,” she muses.

In 2008, Pajala-Assefa was one of the founders of the Loikka dance film festival and acted as the artistic director and producer of the festival in the early years. “Finland had hardly any makers of dance films, so that Loikka’s festival and educational activities were inherently international from the start.”

Loikka has played a significant part in the development and internationalization of the Finnish dance film. The last Loikka festival in 2018 screened the VR film Devil’s Lungs, which was produced by Pajala-Assefa and constructed in a 360◦ environment.

Skeleton Conductor XR Art researches kinaesthetic thinking in a virtual realm

In History of a Love (2013), a stage production, Pajala-Assefa began for the first time to explore ways of making music through movement. She used contact microphones attached to the space and the body. “How can I produce a sound and still keep my thinking kinetic and play the moving body as if it were an instrument?” she wondered. The work evolved into developing a practice called Sounding Motion where music was produced through body-placed sensors from dance improvisation.

Currently, Hanna Pajala-Assefa is working with transferring the movement sonification mappings into a virtual environment and researching kinaesthetic thinking in a virtual realm.

Skeleton Conductor XR Art – that was performed at Altered Festival – is a work experienced wearing 6dof VR gear which allows full movement freedom. “The player produces sound and visuals through moving in the virtual space,” Pajala-Assefa explains. The essential thing is that the perceiver becomes the performer in his/her own unique artwork. “VR allows to create an embodied experience where anyone can feel the wisdom of the body and the joy in creating beautiful things with it.”