“The art impacts people through a shared experience” – Sanna Kekäläinen goes under the skins of humans and the earth

Sanna Kangasluoma / Finnish Dance in Focus 2020-2021, 8.9.2022

Sanna Kekäläinen's critical perspective on performance strips 'performing' from the stage. In her recent pieces she examines the human impact on the planet but does not want to start 'performing' the climate crisis. Read here extracts of her interview in Focus magazine 2020.

Kekäläinen & Company: Epidermis. © Pietari Purovaara

“Climate issues and big themes have always been a part of my work, though perhaps not explicitly. Now it is such an acute, burning question that I couldn’t, as an artist, continue without bringing this issue to the forefront,” says choreographer Sanna Kekäläinen.

Her newest piece, Epidermis – The Fragile Skin of the Earth, will premiere October 28th at the Dance House Pannu Hall. The poetic work contrasts human skin and the earth’s skin – its layers of soil – as intimate and shared, and leads its audience to something we may be losing.

“Although the subject of the work rises directly from climate change, mass extinction and the loss of biodiversity, representing it in the informative way felt not so rigorous rather than representing it in a poetical and empirical way,” Kekäläinen writes.

“First step to envisage the metaphor of the work was to understand it as a space in which performers and audience encounter each other. A shared space in which the very intimate and on the other hand the very common encounter in a very intensive way.”

Two years ago, she created a piece called If I Would Lose My Voice, dealing with the same topics and the same kind of representation practices. In the new performance, Epidermis, she continues to develop her ideas she explained to Finnish Dance in Focus magazine in 2020:

“The starting point in the piece If I Would Lose My Voice is the earth, and a human being is just a little grain of sand, a small part of the vast universe. We try to create a reality where the viewer lives through the events with us. We don’t ‘perform’ anything for the audience in the traditional sense of performing arts; we created a shared space,” Kekäläinen explains.

You can’t just start ‘performing’ the climate crisis!

“This is my political way of approaching the subject. The stage space is entirely free of performing. Performance techniques are a key part of the content of the work, and this kind of critical perspective on performance politicizes the commercial spectacle and at the same time the reason for climate change.” Kekäläinen explains the context of her idea: “The capitalist system has invaded performing arts in the form of commercial spectacle, which does the same thing in art, and to art, that it does elsewhere in society. – You can’t just start ‘performing’ the climate crisis!”

“You can find plenty of information about the topics the piece covers elsewhere anyway. I prefer that people identify with the situation. So whether you’re on the stage or in the seats, we’re all similar people here, at the mercy of the earth in the same way.”

“I feel that contemporary art, which is the context where I place my own work, can bring a poetic angle to eco-catastrophe, making it easier for people to approach the subject than it is through facts, which can make people feel afraid, or guilty.”

“I believe that our art impacts people through a shared experience. By creating understanding that this climate crisis is a shared reality now, for all of us. By asking, together, what do we do now?”