interview Sonja Jokiniemi

‘It raised questions about community and individual’

This spring, DasArts students visited Greece for a three-stage programme on alternative modes of production and the role of art in times of crisis. DasArts participant Sonja Jokiniemi from Finland, talks about her experiences.

Upon arrival, you visited the occupied Embros Theater in Athens. What did you do there?
‘We asked the theater collective what they needed, how we could help them. They wanted to reactivate an upstairs space in the theater. So we staged a ‘facilitator’s day’: the twelve of us from DasArts cleared the space, to make it ready for use. Of course, apart from that, we participated in the festival about alternative modes of production. There were panel discussions, speed dating sessions, lectures, performances. We also went on a mapping tour through the neighborhood, together with an architect who’d initiated urban gardening.’

The clearing of the theater space: was it physical labor or artistic practice?

‘It was both labor and artistic practice. For instance, we created a dreaming room, with a bed, in which people could dream about the future of the Embros Theater and write about their dreams. And we made a room of memories, where we gathered old pictures of the theater that we found during the clear out, thereby evoking its history. At the end of the day, we reactivated the space with a collective ritual: all the visitors brought something with them that had a personal ritual significance. The ritual really built the group.’

You also visited an eco-village in the mountains. What did you do there?

‘There too, we became part of the group’s practice. We helped plant seeds and create so-called ‘vertical gardens’. But we also discussed the group’s ideals and values - equality, freedom and responsibility. And we brought our own artistic view to the village by filming and creating visual material. They can use this footage in a video about their community. Their current video felt too artificial. We gave our video a more handcrafted feel.’

Upon returning to the theater in Athens, you staged a ‘collective dreaming performance’. How did that work?
‘Mala Kline and I invited the audience – about a hundred people – to write freely about their wishes and dreams for the Embros Theater. What would they like the theater to be like in fifty years time? We asked them to paint key words from their dreams on a big canvas. About ten people then collected all the wishes. On stage, they connected the keywords, telling a new story. By doing this, they created a new future. A future that everyone in the audience somehow felt part of. It was very powerful and beautiful. It created a sense of energy, connectedness and belonging within the audience.’

Is this a practice that you will use more often in your own work?
‘Both Mala and I are very interested in the practice of Social Dreaming, as created by Gordon Lawrence. A group of people sits randomly in a space, with everyone facing away from each other. One person relates a dream. The next person doesn’t react, but starts free-associating. Social Dreaming is about the meaning and potential of dreams within groups, and not about the individual dreamer. I learned about the power of the method during my residency with the Daghdha Dance Company in Limerick, Ireland, where we practiced it together in a former church, together with local communities.’

The main question of the Contextual was: ‘what is the function of art in times of crises?’ Did you reach a conclusion?

‘For me, it’s about connecting people. I think certain people in the Athens theater were really concerned about that, they truly wanted to invite the surrounding community to enter the theater and be part of a community.’

What did you learn from the Contextual and how does it apply to your own artistic practice?

‘It fed my artistic thinking. I mainly make solo works but, of course, I always ask myself: what is meaningful? For me, this visit raised questions about how to connect the individual with the communal, how to connect to people.’