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Foregrounding the score in British-Finnish artist Hanna Tuulikki’s practice

Artist and performer Hanna Tuulikki’s extensive notation and visual score making practice of the moving and sounding body unlocks new meanings and reveals new knowledges.

by Indranjan BanerjeePublished on : Nov 01, 2021

“At the heart of my practice, I explore how the sounding body communicates beyond words, to tell stories through vocalisation and gesture,” says Hanna Tuulikki.

British-Finnish contemporary artist, composer, vocalist and performer, Tuulikki works with dance cultures and performance traditions that illuminate embodied, vernacular and ritualised knowledges. In each performance tradition that Tuulikki lends her practice to and borrows her practice from, she makes site for entanglements of folk histories and bodily relationships with specific environments, ecologies and places. The intersections in her practice realise themselves in the form of live performance, moving image and multi-channel audio visual installations that host her gestural choreographies, vocal compositions, costumery and drawings and prints of visual scores. I locate Tuulikki’s visual score and notation making process as a punctum of the oeuvre of her practice.

For Tuulikki, her score sketches, drawings and diagrams during research, composition and choreography, is a play with ways of notating sound and movement. In a conversation with STIR, she reveals how illustrating, and notating plays an important role in her artistic process, which then leads to a more complete visual score making practice. She calls her scores ‘mnemonic devices’, a tool to embody performances. But often the tool itself reveals knowledges about the vernacular performance culture, over and above that which is to be embodied by the artist as part of her practice.

Sourcemouth : Liquidbody  Extract – Eyes River | Hanna Tuulikki | STIRworld
Sourcemouth : Liquidbody Extract – Eyes River Image: Hanna Tuulikki

Tuulikki’s Sourcemouth: Liquidbody (2016), commissioned by the Kochi Muziris Biennale is a collaboration with Kutiyattam exponent, Kapila Venu. Working with the form of the ancient Sanskrit theatre practiced in Kerala led Tuulikki to the Nadi Varnana – River Description, which represents a river cycle as a series of codified movements. A key tenet of the Kutiyattam practice is the Vibhava rasa, the need to make the absent object visible to viewer asks the performer to go beyond ‘imagining’ and instead ‘seeing’ and ‘feeling’ the object, and thus ‘becoming’ the object, in this case from droplets of water to flowing streams, rivers and rivulets. Embodied within Kutiyattam, she says, is “the recognition – or tacit knowledge – of a continuum between human and more-than-human that dissolves the separation between self and other.” The process of score making to aid learning the Nadi Varnana ignited this process of continuous ‘becoming’ and dissolving the self and the other - series of scored instructions for the eyes and hands, for each stage of the river formation, combining poems and drawings to represent the embodied human-river continuum helped her commit the gestures to body memory.

Sourcemouth : Liquidbody  Installation – Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016 | Hanna Tuulikki | STIRworld
Sourcemouth : Liquidbody Installation – Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016 Image: Hanna Tuulikki

The work has developed into an installation that combined a series of interlinked films, vocal compositions, and the sequence of visual scores. The idea of the river flowing from source to mouth becomes the key metaphor, made accessible to the audience by the fully realised visual scores. The scores, much more than a ‘mnemonic device’, flows into performance in the film. The text developed for scoring the movement becomes chants from her disembodied mouth instructing the performance.

In her more recent work Deer Dancer, (2019/2021) the score becomes a definitive point of return and departure. This work, Tuulikki says, “explores the mimesis of deer within traditional constructs of 'wilderness' as the site for the cultivation of heroic hetero-masculinities, and how hunting mythologies shape and impact vulnerable ecologies, unravelling connections between ecological crises and the crisis of masculinity.”

Deer Dancer - Yaqui Deer Dance Visual Score - detail | Hanna Tuulikki | STIRworld
Deer Dancer - Yaqui Deer Dance Visual Score – detail Image: Hanna Tuulikki

The work began with her taking photographs of human and animal tracks, especially deer tracks, in the desert canyon of Southern Arizona. This progressed onto drawing tracks – or scoring 'steps' – in a sketchbook, where different species emerged and criss-crossed the landscape of the page. Later, her study of three traditional dances mimetic of deer (the Highland Fling from Scotland, the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance from England and the Yaqui Deer Dance from Mexico/Arizona) revealed the gendered connotation of the deer dances – them being performed by men and their speculated origins in hunting ritual practices. Tuulikki narrates, “In an attempt to re-gender the deer dance, she returns to the notations of the dance steps replacing human foot-prints with deer hoof-prints – red deer for the Highland Fling steps, white-tailed deer for the Yaqui Deer Dance steps, and reindeer for the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance steps.” Her experiments in score making also include blind deboss printing, inspired by tracking in the snow and in the desert. The act of notation was also an act of “thinking with deer” for Tuulikki, who eventually adopts fragments of the score to make narrative choreography with deer-men characters with their own voices and movement vocabularies building it into a performance film and a durational ensemble performance.

Deer Dancer - Abbots Bromley Horn Dance Visual Score- detail | Hanna Tuulikki | STIRworld
Deer Dancer - Abbots Bromley Horn Dance Visual Score- detail Image: Hanna Tuulikki

Score drawings for her latest work for the Helsinki Biennial 2021, Under Forest Cover, is a reaction to the pandemic where paper became the new ground for a disembodied performance making. In this work, Tuulikki holds on to the idea of the enchanted forest in the face of ecological crisis and a pandemic. She explores the Finnish folklore of to be caught in metsänpeitto, 'forest cover', lost in an enchanted forest landscape where everything becomes unfamiliar and begins to move in reverse. A person lost in forest cover becomes indistinguishable from a rock or a tree, she explains. This tale becomes a metaphor for Tuulikki to grapple with trauma of ecological catastrophe in the contemporary.

Under Forest Cover (notes towards a visual score)| Hanna Tuulikki | STIRworld
Under Forest Cover (notes towards a visual score) Image: Hanna Tuulikki

Under Forest Cover contains choreography of mimetic poses of three and four legged critters and is an attempt to blur the human-animal category, thus queering ecology, much like the un-gendering of deer dances, or dissolving the human self and the other by becoming an ecological phenomenon like the rain cycle. While developing the work for the Helsinki Biennial during the throws of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the body and space took refuge on paper and ink where disembodied human form were sketched out, limb by limb, invoking instructions that could help someone lost in the enchanted forests find their way. These static notations kept score of the moving body thus keeping movement alive in the time of stasis.

Visual scores and notations, in their latent stage are memory apparatus and once fully realised act as dramaturgical keys to unlock meaning and pry open process. When asked about the relationship between body, performance and score making in her artistic practice, Tuulikki answers that the score is a “relic” of a performance. Much like the ritualised vernacular performance traditions that the artist studies for her practice, the score itself becomes a recursive act, a coming back to. Scores and notations in themselves contain a ritual of recursivity. As artistic device a score is a multifaceted tool that implements embodiment, enactment and becoming. A notation can very well be an agent of affect that becomes annotations, augmenting existing knowledges and revealing new ones.

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