Now in its ninth year, the latest iteration of the ANTI Festival continued to present site-specific work in the public realm, drawing together diverse live, sonic, visual and text-based practices over a single week in order to explore the ways in which artists working with writing and language navigate, read and inhabit the city. If the spatial or geographical potential of a location is often foregrounded in such projects – where the term ‘site’ often appears interchangeable with ‘space’ – ANTI 2010 resisted this tendency with works conceived in relation to both spatial and temporal experience.
In John Court’s Eight Hours Writing (all works 2010), the artist performed an unbroken act of writing on a large, hardboard ‘page’ located on the floor of a school entrance hall. These inscriptions gradually overlapped and then obliterated the previous layers of writing, producing a dense text whose repeated words – like lines set as a written punishment – became increasingly meaningless. Other works actively wasted, lost or shared time through social acts of collective writing or reading – from Holly Rumble’s intense bird-spotting assignments (One Minute Bird Watching) to the hours whiled away stitching the lyrics of love songs remembered in the company of strangers (during performance group Toimintaryhmä Olettamo’s Embroidery Love Songs).
In Everyday Opera, Johanna Hällsten interrupted the daily routines of Kuopio’s residents with unexpected refrains of live opera, so that the actions of selected individuals – the first blood donor, the last passenger on a train – were momentarily coupled with the libretto of an accompanying score. The potential of chance encounters also underpinned Sarah van Lamsweerde’s Instant Fiction, a real-time video dramatizing the actions of often-unwitting coffee-shop customers through the addition of subtitles culled from popular television programmes and films. On one occasion, the recording of two rather bored looking baristas perfectly captured the sentiment of the subtitle underscoring their non-action: ‘Why do we always have to do something special?’
Other artists explored the timing of apologies, with absurd consequences. In GETINTHEBACKOFTHEVAN’s Weigh Me Down, a list of more than 1,000 anonymous apologies – ranging from the mind-numbingly trivial to the desperately confessional – were uttered by a lone runner during a 12-hour treadmill session. Elsewhere, artist Heather Kapplow limited her verbal communication during the festival to the phrase ‘I’m sorry’; a singular statement of atonement following what she refers to as her failed relationship with Finland.
As with the apology, the art of stand-up comedy often rests in its timing. Not so in Johanna MacDonald’s Badly Translated Stand-up, in which an eight-hour set lost its verve through the hesitant translation of English jokes into faltering Finnish. Words intended to be delivered with urgency became limp. However, for Caroline Bergvall, the event of speaking out of time or turn assumed a political imperative. Her work, Flag Up, honoured the speech acts and activism of 19th-century proto-feminist Minna Canth alongside contemporary Finnish artist-activist, Sirpa Kähkönen. Canth was a playwright who spoke out against the oppression of women, whilst Kähkönen uses fiction and storytelling to advocate contemporary radical social ideas. For both, language operates as a tool for taking a stand; their words issue as the soundings of a dissident body speaking out or against. As for many of the artists in ANTI, the act of writing, reading and speaking has the capacity to activate openings within the continuum of daily life.
Herein, perhaps, lies the dilemma at the heart of many site-specific practices in the public realm, for the interruptive capacity of the art event can often rest in how it breaks with or ruptures the flow of everyday occurrences. Undoubtedly, it was the unsuspecting audiences – those accidental witnesses who were not purposefully looking out for the art – that probably experienced the disruptive potential of the work most powerfully. However, there were times when this potential seemed compromised by festival signage or the anticipatory gathering of an audience (programme in hand), whose presence often pre-empted – and on occasion distracted from – the experience of the live event itself.