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Animal Performance Studies

Laura Budriesi

(Zoo)antropologia e (zoo)semiotica

Non-humans and Performance

Tuija Kokkonen

Note de l’éditeur

Published in «Journal for Artistic Research» 0 (2011), see at the end of this article, A brief note to the republished article Non Humans and performance (JAR (0) 2011):
This article was written in 2008 and 2009 and published in February 2011, in the form of an online exposition including videos and images in the first issue of the Journal for Artistic Research. It was my first attempt to outline some of the key topics in an ongoing artistic research project that had started 2005/06, but whose rhizome in my practice extended much farther in time (to the questions of relations, ecology and performance in mid 1990’ and to the questioning of the anthropocentrism of performance in the turn of the century), and which has continued after the article.
While writing this article, I was in the middle of making a site-specific performance series entitled Memos of Time – performances with and for non-humans(2006) – with various collaborators. A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog/for a Dog) – II Memo of Time(2008)1 was followed by an endless, still ongoing performance Chronopolitics – III Memo of Time2. It branches to three threads, which all started 1st March 2010 including a live performance (2010), an ongoing ‘Non-Human Performance’, and an ongoing online performance3, whose main input is a proposal to create performances with non-human actor(s) or for a non-human spectator. The work with other animals and plants, together with some humans, was enormously interesting. It raised new questions all the time and produced various presentations, articles and new performances. In 2013 I organized an international Symposium on Interspecies Performance in the Theatre Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki, and in 2017 published a monography4 based on this artistic research project on interspecies performance and the role of performance at the age of ecological crises. This singular artistic research practice goes on, following the same and new interests.
Performances and published texts are visible milestones in the temporal terrain – ephemeral performances leave memories and traces, texts their full body. They reveal the speed of change, as well as the areas which remained still. The terrain of this article has experienced a vast shift within this rather short period, 12-15 years). The acceleration of the ecological crises to the state of emergency, the rise of posthumanism, the interest to non-human agency, the growth of the animal and plant studies, the emergence of the animal performance studies, the numerous performances that are now being made with animals, plants and elements and processes of “nature” make visible and enhance the complexity of our time and field(s) and – to my understanding – at the latest now make it impossible to avoid the ethical and political responsibility embedded in these research questions.
In Helsinki, 20th October 2021 Tuija Kokkonen

Texte intégral


1An impossibility: these weaves float before you like Stratocumulus clouds, the spaces between pictures become filled; the screen opens up, it’s windy, and for a moment we can wander in those places, those climates.

  • 5 The other performances in the series are Mr. Nilsson – I Memo of Time (2006, 2. version 2007) and (...)
  • 6 In presenting the performance or live event in other media, one must take into account the fact th (...)

2My artistic research project The potential nature of performance. The relationship to the nonhuman in the performance event from the perspective of duration and potentiality began in 2006 at the Theatre Academy Helsinki. The research incorporates a series of performances called Memos of Time – perfomances with and for non-humans. This exposition for JAR is built around the second part of the series, A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog/for a Dog) – II Memo of Time (2008). These two interlinked performances focused on weather, time, potentiality and non-human co-actors. A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog) was performed on the ancient shore of the post Ice-Age Yoldia Sea, located in a suburb of Helsinki, while A Performance with an Ocean View (for a Dog) took place on a potential future seashore on the roof of a city-centre department store5. This exposition, comprising words, photographs and video material, can be seen as forming a reflective, ‘third shore’ on the screens of each viewer6.

3The underlying question in my research, as well as in the exposition for JAR, is the role of art and artistic research in an age of ecological crisis. I want to explore what it means if we begin to perceive ‘nature’, its beings, creatures and phenomena, as agents or actors – and the ways in which that perspective can potentially change our understanding of performance, of the human and the question of duration. To date I have concentrated primarily on developing the practice and theory of non-human agents in performance – non-human actor (text I) and non-human spectator (text II) – and what I have termed ‘weak (human) action’, which is a prerequisite for the perception and participation of non-human agents. I explore the actual and (im)potential relations between the human and the non-human as a space in which the performance takes place. I approach these relationships from the perspective of time and duration and seek to widen the perspective of time within the performance and to heighten human agents’ ability to perceive duration. Through performances in which agency is no longer based on spectatorship or even humanity I ask whether there is a realm outside performance and spectatorship in our performative societies.

  • 7 The two interlinked texts in this exposition, ‘I Non-human co-actors: Acting with Weather’ and ‘II (...)

4I understand the performance and the world – and also their respective subjectivities – as producing one another. Artistic research in and with a performance seems to offer the opportunity to explore both the performance and the world as well as their processes of subjectivity. This seems particularly possible when we bear in mind that our age has been called “the age of global performance”, that the dominant paradigm of our times has been posited as a performance paradigm, and that it is has been claimed that our subjectivity is based on spectatorship (McKenzie 2001). Even within the field of artistic research it has been claimed that a performative turn has occurred (Haseman 2006, Bolt 2008). Artistic research takes forms other than those associated with knowledge; indeed the very term ‘knowledge’ may be too narrow a concept for it – though not necessarily. But there are also differences in the idiosyncratic qualities and smells of knowledge. From the perspective of this research, it seems possible to produce in and with performance three different kinds of knowledge: firstly it can produce the sensual, potential knowledge of the participants of the performance, knowledge which can be sensed but not understood immediately, which only opens up over time. (This knowledge, however, has the potential – perhaps for this very reason – to change a human’s actions and relationship to the world/performance). Secondly it can produce the experimental knowledge of the artist(s) about how to produce that potential knowledge. Thirdly it can produce theoretical knowledge: as the theory of performance studies, art research and other disciplines is improved and extended through artistic research practice, or theories begin to develop transdisciplinarily. In Text II, I consider the possibilities that artistic research and the knowledge this produces appear to offer: the possibility of creating a reflexive and future/potentiality-oriented relationship with weak action, «the non-power at the heart of the power» (Derrida 2008, 28) and the almost non-knowledge born from it, at the animal heart of reason7.

I.1 Non-human co-actors: Acting with weather

5I begin amid the things, the performance and the rocks, where walks a human called a spectator or a visitor. He crosses a trench, passes an ancient stone shore, a birch tree coming into leaf, and a pile of planks behind which a hippy lost in the 1970s is lighting a campfire. He reaches the edge of the cliff where there is a white table and two chairs. The visitor sits down at the table. The chair wobbles. He looks at the chart of a cloud classification on the table, originating from the international Cloud Committee at the end of the nineteenth century, the sky and the city. About a kilometer away, on the edge of another cliff, there is a similar table with a man sitting there for hours on end, beginning to feel the chill, watching the clouds, the setting sun, the forest, the motorway and airplanes taking off from the runway behind the road. A visitor sits down next to him. A woman holding an enormous red balloon on the end of a string, is crawling through the performance from the first cloud committee table to the other, in amongst the trenches, the ants, the wood violets, the snakes and the spectators. Between the two tables, beneath, at the foot of a third cliff, is a cave where a man and a terrier are wading through the water, one catching air bubbles, the other picking up garbage. Elsewhere in the forest, a woman is standing on stairs without a house, looking into a video camera on a tripod with nobody behind it. A helicopter flies overhead; a bird sings. One visitor sits motionless, for a long time, on a concrete slab in the middle of a clearing that looks like a stage, listening to an mp3 player, looking at the woman listening to the helicopter. This is all recorded on the video camera. Two crouching viewers have come across the time capsule for a fading world, spread out on the moss and in the hollows of the rock face. In another place, a spectator is sitting on the cliff, an ant creeps up her leg; the air smells of rain; planes land and take off; a dog growls; the motorway rumbles. Time passes. The clouds form a queue. The sun sets, the sky heaves.

6Later, in the autumn, after the storm and the rainbow, I encounter a spectator on a path, with the pockets of her army jacket bulging with mushrooms. Along the next path, a group of Thai women, is crouching down with baskets on their arms. The man performing with the dog comes up after the performance with two boletuses in his hands and says: these were growing on the stage. An sms from two viewers says: we found the ingredients for dinner at the performance. Another message from a viewer: the dog bit me. One of the dogs that roamed the paths in the evenings. On another evening, on the roof of a department store, we perform everything for a dog. But we also perform for the clouds, as we spend most of the time looking out towards the horizon and the sky, and as they surround us also when human visitors have gone. A few evenings later, the dog chooses her place in a formation of two performers, and starts looking at the clouds.

I.2 Five Questions

7I will now address five interlinked questions arising from this performance. What do the viewers perceive when they watch (this) outdoor performance? In a performance in which human actors are weak agents or whose agents are not all humans, the question of watching and spectatorship becomes a question of perception. I will link this directly to the question of agency. Which kinds of action and actors do we perceive, and which do we shut out, particularly in this case when the performance is placed outdoors? How and with whom do we act? I also relate to this the question of potentiality: How to perceive and recognize things, which only exist potentially? How to produce this potentiality in a performance? What is the significance of impotentiality – of not-acting and incapacity? Also connected to this is the question of time: How does our ability to perceive the actors and their relations to one another affect our perception of time? What politics of time does our relation to non-human actors and durations require and what can it produce? And all the previous questions relate to the question of the boundary of the performance, its inside and potential outside.

I.3 The Invisible Part of Performance

8The oldest, most invisible and yet most significant mycelium in the performance is a practice and set of views shaped over a long span of time, ones from which the central, if not always conscious, choices of the specific performance occur. Like my research as a whole, A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog/for a Dog) – II Memo of Time is based on three views. The first of these is understanding the performance in terms of relationships: my holistic understanding of performance and the world as a complicated network of different agents dependent both on their environments and on each other, and connected to one another in a variety of ways. The second is a view of the performance and the world – and also of their respective subjectivities – as producing one another. The third view is that surrounding the boundaries and relations between humans, nature and machines is a political, ethical and aesthetic area in which the fundamental questions of our age are condensed. Time has been the most important tool in my work and one of the central materials I have used in exploring the relationship to (performance) place/environment. In this way, all of my performances (from 1992 onwards) have been site-specific performances that move between different disciplines and genres taking contemporary theatre and performance art as their primary starting point, approaching visual art, specifically conceptual and environmental art, and to a certain extent bio-art, given the subject and material of these performances.

9In my artistic research I explore the relations and connections between the humans and the nonhumans as a space where the performance takes place. I approach these relationships from the perspectives of duration and potentiality. With the term ‘non- human’, I refer primarily to “nature”, to the ways we understand and have understood the cultural historical ideas of nature. The ‘nature’ that we know today has been shaped both by the actions of people of the past and by their perceptions of nature. This relationship to ‘nature’ is plural and complex. In addition to existing alongside other species, humans themselves consist of a variety of different species. We also regularly fill ourselves with non-human elements, such as air and other species that we use to our nourishment; indeed there is no place on earth untouched by the impact of human activity – and no human not directly affected by the feedback of our impact on nature. For these reasons I perceive the human and non-human worlds as inseparably intertwined with each other. ‘Nature’ is a precondition for existence: «the totality of the processes at the foundation of humans existence forms nature that holds meaning for humans [...] Nature is also ‘larger’ than the sum of experiences created by human life practices.» (Haila, Lähde 2003, 14). Thus the question is of necessity of how we define nature and how we understand ourselves. As cultural anthropologist Raymond Williams, who has researched human concepts of nature, points out: «Our concepts of nature are in fact our concepts of humans projected on to nature» (ivi, 62).

10The problem of the term ‘non-human’ is an old and familiar one: it is based on a binary opposition and takes as its starting point the human perspective, as something different from and opposed to “nature”. However, I still think that the term can be useful so far, since its dichotomized, out- of place being does not allow us to forget the split, built into our understanding, from which the most difficult problems arise. My research is not, however, about denying the human, as this formulation of questions is sometimes interpreted. On the contrary, this is essentially an attempt to ask how humans and human subjectivity are linked to the ways in which we understand the non-human; who are we in this world and in the environment in which we live? This research is about what role, and significance, performance can hold for the questions above, and how an examination of these questions can affect performance practices and theory. Furthermore, this research aims to explore what kinds of potential relationships to nature and the non-human are – and could be – opened up in performance.

I.4 A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog/for a Dog) – II Memo of Time

11Mr. Nilsson – I Memo of Time examined humans’ relation to animals and death. The second memo focused on our relation to the weather and the air. The starting points of making A Performance with an Ocean View... were weather, time, potentiality and non-human agencies. The weather formed the performance space, its subject and material.

12In the beginning of my research, I considered the weather and air as non-human elements that are constantly changing, becoming more visible and conflicting. On the other hand, air is the matter in which we live, that surround us but that we also sense internally. Air fills us and flows through us, but it also connects us – we all breathe the same air. At the same time, due to the growth of humans’ potency and of global power, this condition of our lives has become a source of potential catastrophes.

13During the years working on this project the relationship of performance and of art to the human made changes concerning the whole planet and threatening conditions of life inevitably became the ground of the performance. I approached the weather also as a function between duration and place. These thoughts defined the choice of where to perform. The two performance locations and the relationship between them came to form the core of the performance itself, as well as the first conceptual level, which could function as a textual artwork on its own.

14The performances took place outdoors, in two ‘in-between places’ and ‘in-between times’: on an ancient shore and on a potential future shore. The first performance (and a Dog) took place on the prehistoric shore of the post Ice Age Yoldia Sea in northern Helsinki, the granite rocks surrounded by the forest at the highest point in the city, situated between the suburbs, the motorway and a small airport. The place was also situated between different times: here amid the marks of today there was a rocky beach formed 10,000 years ago by the retreating glacier, and First World War trenches and maintenance roads built with the prehistoric rocks. The second performance (for a Dog) took place on a potential future shore on the roof of a department store, which is also the top floor of a multistorey car park, in the center of Helsinki; between consumerism, transit and the sky, between this moment and the future.

15These performances consisted of a variety of different elements and materials. The performance (and a Dog) on the prehistoric shore spread out wide, and included:

  1. a bus journey from the city center to the performance place itself;
  2. the program, a small book with texts8 and a map of the area;
  3. a tent, where you could get what you needed there (advice, soup, warm clothes etc.) and spend time;
  4. place and weather, which formed the basic elements of the performance and created the concrete atmosphere of it, whereby changes in the weather also transformed the place, the humans, the nonhumans, the whole performance;
  5. mp3 files containing the performers’ text and the sound of waves. Spectator were given a player of their own, so that they could listen to the files at their own pace, wherever they wanted, with the choice of re-listening or not listening to them at all;
  6. joint durational events based on the interaction between humans and non-human actors around the performance area. Some of those we built did not include human actors at all (like the Time Capsule for a Fading World or the Cloud Committee I). Most of the events were produced by nonhuman actors. Events built by human agents were e.g:
       – a man and a dog picking garbage from the water in a cave and posing by the growing pile of garbage after every item;
       – a woman listening to the performance place, by the ruined steps and the tree coulisse in the forest, as a video camera recorded the event;
       – a man sitting by a table on a high rock and watching the view in front of him (the Cloud Committee II);
       – a woman crawling with a big red balloon about one kilometer across the performance area. The producer at the tent, taking care;
  7. spectators or visitors, the central actors, who created the relations and connections between these elements and materials for themselves and transformed the diverse fields of perception to actual and potential fields of experience.

16On the future shore the performance (for a Dog) was open over a specific time, so the visitors could come and go in their own time. With the exception of the air and the weather, so-called ‘nature’ – as an environment – was now absent. On the roof, as technological or other kind of mediations, there were small installations, traces of events on the ancient shore and their “nature sites”. There was also something I called the axis of potentiality, pointing to two different kinds of potentialities or virtualities: to the abilities or skills and to the clouds. On opposite sides of the roof there were a table and two chairs, on the table there was the International Cloud Atlas, on the other The Book of Skills from the 1950s, in between the white arrows of the parking place. All the human performers were standing or sitting on the roof with their backs to the roof and looking out towards the horizon and sky – for hours. They changed places using a set of simple rules. A dog and a human pair, a kind of hybrid, were walking and lying around the roof area and spending time or “doing time”. All performers spent some time playing or doing other things with the dog.

I.5 The Challenge of Perceptibility: Place as a set of Relationships between Co-Actors

17I return to the five questions I posed in the beginning, through this pair of performances. What exactly happened in those places, who were the actors in the performances and how? From my point of view, tens of thousands of actors and performers were involved. Central tools in this performance were the concepts drawn from my earlier practice: the weak actor and the non-human actor. By weak actor I mean human actors who can actively choose to weaken themselves, not to use power and strength, even not to act. The actor can concentrate for example on directing the spectators’ attention somewhere else, and on helping them to perceive the different (built and chosen) fields of perception in the performance. I also consider weak action to be a powerful form of resistance, or rather a form of regravitating. An even more important tool than the weak actor was the concept of non-human (co)actor. With that term I refer to the diverse agencies of concrete natural events, processes and creatures,.

  • 9 Latour notes that it is no coincidence that the word ‘actor’ comes from theatre: «To use the word (...)

18The Memos of Time performances and the research into their action and agency are linked to the work of the cultural sociologist Bruno Latour. In general, they relate to his questioning of the boundaries between nature and the social, and specifically to actor-network theory (ANT) developed by Latour and Michel Callon, in which agency is seen as a quality of a network of different actions. This quality arises throughout the performance process, as the basis of the action remains uncertain and plural, and is possible for both human and non-human actors. «An actor is what is made to act by many others» (Latour 2005, 43-47)9.

19In A Performance with an Ocean View… I focused on the agencies of “nature”,. As the concepts of action and agency define – at least, subconsciously – our understanding of humans, performance and place, it is pertinent to reassess them again. If, like in Cartesian terms, action must be ‘internalized’, we cannot, giving our contemporary knowledge of ethology and evolution ecology, discount the agencies of animals, as they too display language, culture, morality, intelligence and aesthetics. And if we examine all those creatures and processes that affect human beings’ actions and establish the foundations for life, we must also accept plants, non-organic materials or natural processes as actors (Haila, Lähde 2003, 10). What does this mean from a performance point of view? What are the consequences of extending the concept of agency beyond the human? One of my observations is that non-human actors materialize the performance and its relation to the space (world), making it perceptible. They create the place – as a space full of actors and their relationships; the place as action. The central actors in A Performance with an Ocean View... were the sun, clouds, wind, rain, temperature, photosynthesis, a carbon atom – in addition to the dogs, ants, snakes, the oldest bedrocks in the world, motorways, wood violets, trenches, aeroplanes, seagulls and so on. We considered them as non-human co-performers, with whom we rehearsed from the outset. During the rehearsing time, almost daily each of us created sketches of performances with non-human actors in several potential performance places.

I.6 From Spectator to Action Unit

20Opening up the performance to non-human agents changes the central position of the viewer and our perception of spectatorship. According to the German theatre researcher Hans-Thies Lehmann «Common to all open forms of space beyond drama is that the visitor becomes more or less active, more or less voluntarily a co-actor» (2006, 150). Given the working concepts and methods used in A Performance with an Ocean View..., a variety of complex, shifting relationships and connections were formed between the human and non-human actors.

21The central job of our group was to draw attention to the non-human actors in the performance space. Our aim was not simply to turn the spectator into a spectator- performer taking part in the event, but by guiding the visitors’ attention, using a variety of methods and means, we strove to suggest new links – or perceiving existing links – to the ubiquitous ‘nature’ and the non-human world (both internal and external). The viewer was always necessarily connected to the weather and the place, the fundamental elements of the performance, and linked for varying lengths of time to the other performance elements and agents s/he chose. The space in which the spectator was able to move and make choices was exceptionally large, but even given this degree of freedom s/he could not refuse to be a part of the entity that regulated her/his being. With these various possible connections, the spectator inevitably became a unit larger than the individual, a unit in which the agency and positions of spectator and performer mixed and interchanged with one another. These local performance cells can be considered, in the words of Latour, as action units in which not only is the whole larger than the sum of its parts (for instance, a blind man, a dog and a stick), but also an agent in its own right, a network of agents. That being said, defining the boundaries of such action networks in outdoor performances (at least in this one) always ends with the globe and its atmosphere.

I.7 Producing (the Experience of) Potentiality

  • 10 Theatre and performance art have always been anthropocentric genres in a special way: not only is (...)

22Extending action and agency beyond the human sphere is a more fundamental question for the performance than that of human beings’ weak action, but the two are essentially linked to one another. Due to the anthropocentric tradition of theatre and performance art10, non-human agency goes easily unnoticed by humans unless it is given space and attention. This therefore requires a change in human action. I use the term weak action – stemming from my earlier practice – to describe the way the human performers in A Performance with a Ocean View related to non-human agents and nature. In this performance it can be examined in particular from the perspective of impotentiality.

23Giorgio Agamben expands Aristotle’s concept of potentiality and demonstrates that the humans way of being, our faculties and skills, and the fact that we “can”, is fundamentally potential in nature. We have, for example, a faculty of vision. For me, impressive within this reasoning is Agamben’s demonstration that we are potential insofar as we have the potentiality not to act. The potentiality for vision (to see light) means that we have the potential not to see, to experience darkness. «Dynamis, potentiality, maintains itself in relation to its own privation. [...] To be potential means: to be one’s own lack, to be in relation to one’s own incapacity» (1999, 182). For Agamben, the greatness of human potentiality is exactly the potential not to act, the potential for darkness. «To be free is to be capable of one’s own impotentialitya » (ivi, 183).

24The most acute question of our time, relating to the climate, can be seen as a question of not-acting, not-doing: how not to increase, not to consume, not to constantly exceed. Actualizing potentiality and increasing potency is more familiar to us than practicing the ability not to act but to increase potentiality – the richness of the mental ecology – and to perceive this event. These abilities and this event were among the basic things that I wished to explore in and with this performance, alongside the concepts and the techniques their creation requires, particularly in relation to ‘nature’.

  • 11 About perceptibility, Lehmann 2006, 99.

25In A Performance with an Ocean View… the weak actors, in this case human, aimed to produce potentiality by, for instance, not acting upon their various skills. For example, the lighting designer was sitting at a table that was partly covered with light filters, and did nothing but follow the events opening up across the cliffs, the clouds, the forest, the aeroplane landing and taking-off. By acting through our impotentiality, we tried to suggest and open up different options of where (and how) people might focus their attention and form new assemblies, new events. By combining impotential yet perceptible human action with diverse fields of perception (which consisted of material, sensible actors of “nature” and technology as well as the connections between them) for the spectators, I aimed to introduce a space where new possibilities, abilities and associations can be perceived but not yet understood11.

26This area is potentiality, an early form of becoming aware and of knowledge, just as carotene is an early form of Vitamin A. The area challenges the human sense of perception: how to perceive subtly, free enough from determination of the past, and to allow things you don’t fully understand to affect you? The process of producing this area of potentiality occurs (or here occurred) within the body, therefore it is inevitably partly beyond the verbal. But largely it was the process of producing consciously, through a variety of methods developed in the performance practice, a darkness lightening slowly, in places. For the agent, the experience of such developing potentiality and potential knowledge can be compared to our sense of smell, something that in our outdoor performance came to hold great significance for us human actors both directly and through our canine companion: «in the case of some animals as well as human beings, aroma functions as ‘a metonymy for knowledge’» (Lippit 2000, 122). It goes without saying that the transformation of such potentiality or smell into fields of experience and knowledge requires time, as it is a matter for which there can be no guarantees, and which is always partial.

I.8 The Politics of Time

27An essential way to answer this challenge was the use of time in the performance. The performance on the ancient shore was, in a sense, a kidnapping of the audience, who then had to ‘do time’: the relationship of the performance material to the duration of the performance was such that it was impossible to use time effectively, to ‘act’ the whole time. The audience was kidnapped and taken into a duration, which acted as a possible ‘switch’ or a shadow region. On the future shore, time, change and vanishing – principally in relation to ‘the actors of nature’ – became the performance’s primary event.

28One central question in A Performance with an Ocean View… was how to widen the performance’s/humans’ perspective of time and the ability to experience duration. The rationale of this question lies, both in performance theory and practice, and in our age. Our inability to comprehend the durational effects of our actions has brought about the current global situation in which human action, producing changes, is comparable to a geological force, and according to certain scholars has given rise to a new geological era, the Anthropocene Period. At the same time, «climate change breaks down the notion of the strict hierarchy of different levels of time and represents a change occurring in geographical time, a change that is happening far more rapidly than had previously been thought possible» as the Finnish environmental politics researcher Yrjö Haila has commented (2007, 328).

29Lehmann posits that theatre has always been essentially a question of experienced time, of duration, and not necessarily of time that can be objectively measured. In contemporary theatre, time as such has become an object of the aesthetic experience, and durational aesthetics is one of its central points of interest (2006, 156). And yet the same narrowness as with the ‘durations of the world’ can be seen in smaller perspective with regard to our understanding of the temporalities of the performance itself. One of my observations on the reasons for this inability lies in the narrow definition of action and agency within the performance. As the Finnish palaeontologist Mikael Fortelius has noted, our ability to experience time is in direct relation to how we perceive our environment and what processes we are able to notice therein.

30The central tool of this performance, non-human agency, was also the most important with regard to the perception of time, as it named many agents and processes that have hardly existed within the world of performance. As I have noted earlier, these agents and the interaction between them creates a space. But that place becomes full only once we take into consideration the durations of the various agents and the diversity of connections that exist between different durations. An organism cannot be in a relationship with its environment without also being in a relationship with the various temporalities of that environment.

31The temporal foundation of A Performance with an Ocean View... was built on collaboration with non-human agents. The performance intertwined or tried to open itself up to different non-human rhythms and durations, all of which affected the performance’s ‘internal durations’ and the ways in which we experienced its temporal boundaries. In his book Postdramatic Theatre Lehmann states that «at the end of 1950s, one could observe parallel developments in Informal painting, Serial music and dramatic literature», which led to the loss of time frame (2006, 155). The frame was being replaced by open processuality, which has no structural beginning, middle nor end. In A Performance with an Ocean View..., non-human durations and rhythms also made the temporal frame of the performance as a question to be reflected upon. As one viewer commented: «When does the performance start? In the Ice Age, or when I get on the bus, or when I arrive at the tent?».

32Once the final human viewer had left the roof of the department store, the performance continued with the section performed to the canine viewer. Has the performance on the potential future shore come to an end, or is it ongoing? Did it end as the dog left, or will it continue until the sea level has reached the top of the roof?

33By thus intertwining the different rhythms and durations of non-human agents, it is possible to open up the temporal multiplicity to the performance as a whole. At the same time, the material concreteness of non-human agents and performance spaces raises the question of the temporality of perception and visuality. Multiple times were suggested by the two different geographical performance sites in A Performance with an Ocean View… as well. Some viewers experienced the approaching future shore echoing around and through the prehistoric shore, and felt able to move in different directions of time, in pasts and potential futures.

34Alongside non-human temporalities, the human performers’ slow rhythm and long duration could sometimes appear flashing fast, sometimes the opposite was the case. On the other hand, simply perceiving the non-human actors also demands a different use of time, both in rehearsal and performance. The performance practice was based on slowness. We spent several weeks in the performance places over the period of a year, so that at least to some extent we might be able to perceive the connections between the agents and the processes at work in the different locations and to explore our own relationship to them: what is time of a rock, a mushroom, an adder, the clouds, the rain, a dog? What is the nature of the network of these times and how do we act within it? (At first, with choreographer Ari Tenhula, we also rehearsed very slow events in different sites and weather conditions: slow movements in a hail storm on a cliff in Kivikko, in the biting wind on the roof of the Cable Factory or in the cold spring rain on a shore of Baltic Sea, left traces on our understanding of duration).

  • 12 Henri Bergson in the article of Vähämäki 2004, 30.

35This kind of working and the performance itself was an attempt to create a break, a slow area filled with possibilities; an attempt to dwell in time which – and here I agree with Henri Bergson12 itself is both multiplicity and slowness. Time is what prevents everything being given to us immediately. Above all it was an attempt to move from the aesthetics of duration to the politics of time.

I. 9 The Hospitality of Performance and the Politics of Nature

36Widening the performance’s action and agency beyond the human, I have traced a mode of performer and performance akin to that of the grass and the ants: a way of existing between other creatures, other things, of joining them, of spreading out. This vision questions the place of human beings, both in the performance and in the world, as well as the limits of the performance. My experience from A Performance with an Ocean View... was that by perceiving and using the relationships between human and non-human, we also perceived more non-human elements in the human subject; humans no longer looked so big within our immediate environment and anthropocentrism did not appear as the only option for the performance.

37This raises a more detailed question of the faculty of vision: how to perceive our connectedness with actors that surround and penetrate us all the time – like a background, like a fog of potentiality- such as air, the weather, “nature”? How to perceive the darkness of actors? The change in action presupposes change in our perceptions. And the change in perception presupposes a change in our language, new language or new concepts.

38I return to the question at the beginning of this chapter: what is the relation between the performance space and the way we understand agency – one of the things that strongly shape performance practices? How does the place affect what kind of actors and connections we can perceive there? If the black box can be seen as «a state of exception, which has become a rule» (Hannah 2008), has it also become a kind of death machine, which eliminates so-called nature and its non-human actors (the vast majority of the world’s actors)? What is the relation between the model of perception provided by the black box and the current ecological crisis? If human actors are defined in relation to place, what is a black-box actor like? Outdoor performance spaces force one either to notice or to eliminate non-human actors, which, on the other hand, are becoming «more and more explicit as the threat of losing them increases», as Latour has commented (2007). An essential question is how to open up black boxes, which are controllable, more to a tight and unpredictable network of non-human actors. In doing A Performance with an Ocean View, I was inspired by Jacques Derrida’s idea of hospitality, which I see as a kinder, more open and philosophical version of Latour’s idea of connection. That the performance is opened up to mushrooms, clouds, rocks, dogs, rain; that they are already within us, but the (black) boxes prevent us from perceiving this.

39Above I have examined what can happen in the simultaneity and interaction between human and non-human agents, and the impact this can have both for performance and for the subjectivities assembled within it. One possibility arising from this interaction is an encounter with the politics of nature. According to Yrjö Haila and the environmental philosopher Ville Lähde, the politics of nature is nature’s complicity in the possible transformation of human communities: the creatures of nature take part in the shaping of human possibilities and impossibilities, and our concepts of nature affect what we believe is possible and what impossible (2003, 9-22).

40I consider this shift, extending the agency of performance, also to be a political project. But I do not think of it as a revolution or a rupture, but rather as a moving in between, a joining and a widening, both in the actual and potential areas. This requires a heightened ability to deal with dissonance, because, stretching the notion of agency makes the performance more complex: it includes a whole host of new and strange actors, relations, information, possibilities and impossibilities. I believe that this complexity is unavoidable – for why repeatedly yield to simplicity, when there is a danger of losing sight of weak signs, weak phenomena, the impossible that will soon be possible, although it is not what we wanted, and of the possible that we will lose because we did not perceive it.

II.1 Non-human spectators: (Mis)performance for a dog

41Widening and complicating the performance into the area of the non-human highlights a mounting question of our time: is there anything outside the performance? In performative societies, can performances have an exterior? If they do, do we perceive such a performance as a misperformance that has lost its efficacy? Because performances and the processes of subjectification produce one another all the more, it is necessary to consider these two notions in relation to one another. The questions of the boundaries of human subjectivity and performance, of interior and exterior, became more acute during my work on A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog/for a Dog) – II Memo of Time. I will ponder these matters in the light of a question that arose during the process: what does it mean to perform or to create a performance for a non-human (as a spectator) – in this instance, a dog – and could this bring into the open the limit and the outside of performance, and even provide a possible way out of performative societies? I will also touch on the relation of this question to the production of knowledge and artistic research.

II.2 Relation to the exterior

42Felix Guattari has presented the idea of mental, societal and environmental ecology as inseparable. He argues that the relationship between subjectivity and its exteriority – «whether social, animal, vegetal or Cosmic» (2000, 10) – has deteriorated and is moving towards regression and implosion. Another perspective on subjectivity, unavoidable in this context, is that of Jacques Derrida, who posited in his late animal texts that human subjectivity is based neither in reason, nor in being, nor in the human other or unconscious, but in animals (2008, 90). According to Derrida the limit between humans and (other) animals is not an abyss, but a multiple, divided and moving border, in light of which we are now passing a historical phase, one for which we have no scale, namely the edge of an anthropocentric subjectivity (2008, 31).

43I will first pick up on two trends that have exploded in recent years. One is that of animals disappearing, meaning not only the removal of animals amongst humans, but also animals becoming extinct. Recent reports show that over a third or even half of all species on earth are in risk of extinction by 2100, and the numbers of around half of all species are in decline. Researchers consider this to be the single greatest threat to humans. The other trend is the vast growth of ‘performance species’ – performance practices, discourses and research. Jon McKenzie (2001) has written about the age of global performance, and Baz Kershaw (2008) about performative societies and performance addiction. By following these two ‘mega trends’, we can create a possible future world, which is a dystopia. It is a world without animals, but filled with different representations of animals, attempts to remember animals and to bring them back to life and perform them with the help of gene banks and cloning technology.

44What do these trends and their logical conclusion, the disappearing world of animals and the developing world of their representations, mean for our understanding of human subjectivity? Research into biology and environmental history has indicated that humans and human intelligence have developed as responses to the challenges created by living together with other species. Over the last 200 years, this joint life has changed essentially: having once surrounded humans, the circle of animals and the animals’ gazes have withdrawn, while representations of animals have increased enormously, as cultural historian John Berger has pointed out (1991, 3-28). At the same time, as Derrida states, the development of new forms of knowledge and intervention techniques have replaced, with violence, the traditional forms of treating animals, and live animals have been reduced to mere products (2008, 25, 89). He posits that the creation of our subjectivity and of our entire society is based on the sacrifice of animals and animalism – also of humans branded ‘animals’ – and «organizing on a global scale the forgetting or misunderstanding of this violence» (2008, 25-26, 90-91). Thus, animals have turned from being our companion species, who constituted us and our reason, into something that is entirely outside the human, something nonhuman. We may ask whether becoming a representation means becoming a victim. At least – in light of this – one can argue that the central question of human subjectivity is our relation to nonhumans, principally to animals. The disappearance of animals would appear to present an unthinkable threat to the processes of subjectification.

45Of the other trend, the explosion of performance research and knowledge during the last few decades, I will extract two features. One, presented by McKenzie, is an idea of a mutation, the becoming performative of knowledge itself: postmodern knowledge legitimates itself by performance-efficiency, and this «contains a certain level of terror: be operational (that is: commensurable) or disappear» (Lyotard in McKenzie 2001, 14). Another feature presented by Kershaw, based e. g. on McKenzie, is that we are currently living in performative societies in which performance and spectatorship are so pervasive that they constitute human subjectivity, producing a global addiction to performance. Kershaw also links the performance addiction to our current ecological situation (2007, 11-14).

46This raises the following question: If we live in performative societies in which animals are rapidly disappearing, and yet we become humans in relation to animals, what does this mean to performance practices and research, artistic research in performing arts, and the knowledge they produce?

II.3 With whom do we live on this earth?

47I return to the possible world I presented earlier. The dystopia in question has, in various ways, haunted the Memos of Time performance series. One example concerns the performance Mr NilssonI Memo of Time (2006), which dealt with our relation to animals and death and ended up as an attempt to recall animals. It included a dolphin scene, and working on it, my collaboration with an evolutionary ecologist Jussi Viitala and the new knowledge about dolphins’ so-called human and ‘super- human’ abilities, senses and their interiority – which developed in my mind as my knowledge of dolphins expanded – brought my imagination to an area that, though it felt somehow familiar, was in fact unreachable and impossible. This led to great artistic frustration (which was then followed by some new ways of working, especially working with a real, living dog in A Performance with an Ocean View…).

48The other example concerns a text in a spectators’ booklet in A Performance with an Ocean View…, a short depiction by Jared Diamand of the execution of human limits and the way the white researchers – just over 100 years ago – presented their research objects, who faced a genocide during the research. For example, one researcher introduced a tobacco pouch he had made of skin of the last Tasmanian man, William Lanner (parts of his body were kept as research souvenirs by the researchers), and the bones of the last Tasmanian woman, Truganini, which were exhibited in a museum until 1976. The question as to who is human is generally understood as a question of who/what can be considered within the boundaries of our species and who/what is outside these boundaries. Only until very recently (Western) research still considered Tasmanians to be non-human.

49These misperformings of humans and animals can be seen as markers on the path towards a world without animals but filled with representations of animals. At the same time, they too expose the fact that the concepts of human and animal are, at the very least, unclear and that their limits are uncertain. Is it possible, that we do not yet know who we are, or that we have never been humans, as philosopher Donna Haraway has argued (2008). If we do not know who we are, and if our subjectivity is constituted through animals, one has to ask: what are animals – as long as they still exist? With whom do we live on this earth?

50Instead of asking “Can animals reason, speak, use tools, die?” etc. – as animals have been assessed until now – Derrida suggests that we should ask “Do animals suffer?”. As he has posited, this is no longer a question of skill or ability: «Being able to suffer is no longer a power; it is a possibility without a power, a possibility of the impossible» (2008, 27-28). It is a question of compassion, of sharing mortality, our joint finitude with animals, and the possibility of this non-power (ivi 2008, 28).

II.4 A performance for a non-human

51Donna Haraway seeks a more active relationship and radical, positive knowledge of and with animals, and in her recent book When Species Meet she questions Derrida: isn’t the more promising question, can animals play or work (2008, 21-22)? While developing and rehearsing A Performance with an Ocean View… I began to work with a dog, Eka, and ended up directing a performance for this dog. In a performance (with a dog) Eka was one of the performers, along with other non-human and human actors. The other performance (for a dog) turned towards the animal: the dog was the spectator, the being for whom the performance was produced. Yet human spectators were present for some of the time. Human performers were putting on small performances for her – blowing soap bubbles, feeding her a bone, throwing a ball, dwelling. Otherwise they stood on the edges of the roof with their backs to roof (and to the human spectators), leaving the space to the dog, watching the horizon and the sky, waiting.

52The impulse to make a performance for a dog came from practical reasons: Eka didn’t enjoy being on the roof, especially after the woods, rocks and water-filled caves on the ancient shore. I wanted to produce this performance on the future shore for the dog, so that she, as our only or last animal, would remain with us on that tarmac roof, a place offering few sensory stimuli. And because I do not have a special history as an animal lover, the first time I looked more closely at an ‘animal’ was when it became my colleague. In working with a live animal, I realized I was constantly asking myself: who is she? And in that case, who am I? What is a performance produced for a dog, and what happens to its human actors?

53Although the human spectatorship in a performance for an animal is an important question, I give only a tiny glimpse of what it was like to perform for a dog – specifically to a living dog, not to its representation. I put on my own small performance for Eka only when the human spectators had left. It was part of a series of variations I have slowly been developing based on Joseph Beuys’ performance How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965). Together we walked through the installations and I asked what she remembered of that earlier performance on the ancient shore. The dog didn’t seem at all interested in the installations, sometimes there were interesting smells, or I had hidden something to eat in them, but she enjoyed running between them. Thus, every evening this part of the performance turned to our joint running, dotted with brief flashes of the installations, static and moving images, fleeting human figures, stops in unexpected places and the joy of that movement, of relating to the sun, the asphalt, the wind, the smells, the clouds. The animal spectator’s response changed the event: what I had originally planned as the content of the performance became a fleeting object, but my senses, movement and awareness changed along with Eka’s participation.

54What happens to a performance performed for non-humans? Eka was the liminal area of our performance. Though the performance was designed for a dog, we could not predict her as a spectator the same way we can with humans. From human plans, we moved more towards being with or becoming-with a dog. The becoming happened in the direction of the sensuous; for humans the world returned in order to be sensed, but with the dog’s different kinds of senses the world also became more unfamiliar. The becoming also happened in the direction of widening time: the humans’ and dog’s time was right now and unquantifiable; the limits felt by humans were not our common limits. Together the world appeared differently.

55The performance for a dog was a performance, and yet it was not. Eka watched the performance, yet did not. Perhaps she remembers it, perhaps not. And what about the seagull chick who followed every performance from a nest on the edge of the roof, the feathered oblivion that our performance probably sunk? Or the clouds, the central agents of our performance? A performance for nonhumans is a misperformance as it loses its efficacy by reducing the significance of both humans and the spectatorship or by making them something different; the positions of spectator and performer are combined, often contradictorily, into something approaching co-action and co-being. However, it is precisely this ‘mis-’ that could provide us with a way out of performance addiction and performative societies, even simply as an act of sinking the performance into non-human oblivion, into other kinds of memories. But just as some aspects of the performance – or, the performance as we know it – will disappear into that event, at the same time the performance and its human participants will obtain from the non-humans (who in addition to our shared qualities have other senses and different minds) answers that humans cannot give. In performance, at work and art, those responses may be taken more seriously, and new links and communities are made possible. Then, perhaps, the impossible, almost frozen traces in human subjectivity – an almost dead memory of close contact with animals – even in the reason itself, will move. And, perhaps, our new answers will be subjectivities and performances that are to become something other than performance, something resembling a meeting place emerging on the different boundaries between species, but which is currently standing sideways to us, difficult to perceive or name.

II.5 The non-power at the heart of the power

56But perhaps the biggest opportunity for a potential exit from performative societies, stems from humans relating to the non-power of animals. The ability to suffer indicates an inability, «the non-power at the heart of the power» (Derrida 2008, 28). For modern subjectivity it is this weakness that is the most unpleasant exterior to relate to. In performative societies, powered by the norm of operational efficacy, it is actually impossible. This norm cannot be broken using the same tools as have been used to create it, and yet the norm repels other tools. Breaking the efficacy of the performance paradigm requires that it takes place within performative knowledge production and performance related research. It also requires that it be related to the senses, which subjectify the exteriority, to the sensuous life, which in performative societies has drifted further away from us, and, on some level, to our relationship to animals. Artistic research taking place through performance itself always incorporates a concrete, sensory event, in which the limit and the connections between humans and non-humans can once again be questioned, and can also be answered by the non- humans. Furthermore, the knowledge produced by that event is only partly controllable. Sensuous knowledge remains always, and perhaps even primarily, in the area of potentiality, as an insight; it can be sensed, it is effective, but not entirely understood. As such, artistic research could appear for the moment, in its unshaped form, to offer a possibility of creating a reflexive relationship with this non-power and the almost non-knowledge born from it, at the animal heart of reason, a possibility of creating one entrance to this complex, delicate terrain of weak and non-human co- agents and other times, where subjectivity and spectatorship are not indivisibly intertwined.

57If, as it appears, we are facing a fatal error in our understanding of human subjectivity, misperformances for non-humans and all the other exits from performative societies are needed faster than we realize. Artistic research is not a solution, but for the time being it happens to have suitable tools for addressing this error.

Tujia Kokkonen, A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog) – II Memo of Time, 2008, the ancient sea shore

Tujia Kokkonen, A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog) – II Memo of Time, 2008, the ancient sea shore

Tujia Kokkonen, A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog) – II Memo of Time, 2008, the potential future shore

Tujia Kokkonen, A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog) – II Memo of Time, 2008, the potential future shore


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Haila Y., Lähde V. (eds.) 2003, Luonnon politiikkaa, Vastapaino, Tampere

Hannah D. 2008, Black-box. Architecture of the Void, Keynote lecture at 14. Performance Studies international conference in Copenhagen

Haraway D. 2008, When Species Meet, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis- London

Haseman B. 2006, A Manifesto for Performative Research «Media International Australia incorporating Culture and Policy, theme issue ‘Practice-led Research’», 188, pp. 98-106

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McKenzie J. 2001, Perform or Else. From Discipline to Performance, Routledge, London-NewYork

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Vähämäki, J. 2004, Muutos filosofian asiana, in Vastarintaa nykyisyydelle, T.Taira, V. Pasi (eds.), Eetos, Turku


Maus & Orlovski performance collective 2007-2008:

A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog /for s Dog) - II Memo of Time


Eka (Ninacan Evita, a dog), Sini Haapalinna Jukka Hytti (producer), Kaisa Illukka (visual design together with work group, photography), Tuija Kokkonen (concept, text, direction), Tomi Suovankoski (light and sound design), Robin Svartström, Tuire Tuomisto, Non-human coperformers

Workshop on slow event choreographer, dancer Ari Tenhula

Exposition for JAR:

Translation David Hackston & Tuija Kokkonen

Video Sini Haapalinna & Tuija Kokkonen

Photography Kaisa Illukka





4 Tuija Kokkonen, Esityksen mahdollinen luonto – suhde ei-inhimilliseen esitystapahtumassa keston ja potentiaalisuuden näkökulmasta, «Acta Scenica», vol. 48, 2017, free pdf.

5 The other performances in the series are Mr. Nilsson – I Memo of Time (2006, 2. version 2007) and Chronopolitics –2. In presenting the performance or live event in other media, one must take into account the fact that documentation of the event can only ever be partial. Particularly in the documentation of these large, almost endless outdoor performances we simply have to accept that the documentation will be fragmentary and random. In addition, photographs and video material inevitably change performances, making them more of like representations, a state that, as they were taking place, these performances almost avoided. That being said, I believe that photographs and video material are essential tools in opening up performance and research to others.

6 In presenting the performance or live event in other media, one must take into account the fact that documentation of the event can only ever be partial. Particularly in the documentation of these large, almost endless outdoor performances we simply have to accept that the documentation will be fragmentary and random. In addition, photographs and video material inevitably change performances, making them more of like representations, a state that, as they were taking place, these performances almost avoided. That being said, I believe that photographs and videomaterial are essential tools in opening up performance and research to others.

7 The two interlinked texts in this exposition, ‘I Non-human co-actors: Acting with Weather’ and ‘II Non-human spectators: Misperformance for a Dog’ are based on two conference presentations at the Performance Studies international conferences 2008 and 2009. I have also presented versions of these papers at the Art and Technoscience Conference, Academy of Fine Arts in Finland, Helsinki 2010, at a Cloud Committee session at the Colloquium on Artistic Research in Performing Arts, Theatre Academy, Helsinki 2009, and at the Winter Seminar of the Nordic Summer University, Tampere 2009.

8 The booklet included e.g. Primo Levi’s short story Carbon, about the circulation of a carbon atom during millions of years, and a description by Jared Diamand of the last Tasmanians, who died out after a genocide at the end of 19th century.

9 Latour notes that it is no coincidence that the word ‘actor’ comes from theatre: «To use the word ’actor’ means that it’s never clear who and what is acting when we act since the actor on stage is never alone in acting» (2005, 46).

10 Theatre and performance art have always been anthropocentric genres in a special way: not only is their subject matter always without exception human beings, but human bodies and human time are also at the heart of their appearance. “Nature” has been generally taken as a self-evident, unconscious terrain, for example a resource or an ideal, from which the performance arises.

11 About perceptibility, Lehmann 2006, 99.

12 Henri Bergson in the article of Vähämäki 2004, 30.

Table des illustrations

Titre Tujia Kokkonen, A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog) – II Memo of Time, 2008, the ancient sea shore
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Titre Tujia Kokkonen, A Performance with an Ocean View (and a Dog) – II Memo of Time, 2008, the potential future shore
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,1M


Performance artist (director & writer) and a Professor of Artistic Research in Theatre Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki. Since 1996 she has worked on a series of site-specific memo performances, which are explorations on relationships between performance, “nature”, non-human and time, and on the role of art in the age of ecological crises. The core of her doctoral artistic research project was an interspecies performance series entitled Memos of Time -performances with and for non-humans (2006- ). Since 1999 the memos have been performed mainly in the program of Kiasma Theatre / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, and internationally.


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