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Inari Virmakoski (Finland), Groundwork, Future Of Imagination 9, Singapore. Photo by Jason Lim
Inari Virmakoski (Finland)
Future of Imagination 9, Singapore
September 5, 2014
by Jennie Klein

Inari Virmakoski’s Groundwork was a beautiful meditation on space, time, geography, and belonging that incorporated ritualistic gestures, textiles, clay and sand. The performance was comprised of simple, minimalist gestures, executed carefully and slowly. In a festival dedicated to a future imaginary state, Virmakoski’s Groundwork points elegantly to lives that have been lived, and pasts that exist only in memory. Although not noted in the performance program or on the web site, the performance was also homage to the late Juliana Yasin, a Singaporean performance artist that Virmakoski had hoped in vain, to see.

In fact, it is Virmakoski’s past, and all of the connections and journeys that she personally experienced, that informed this performance. Virmakoski came to performance art later in life, after having lived a completely different life, one that was nomadic and altruistic. For many years, she worked as a nurse in Tanzania and Somalia. Virmakoski encountered people in Africa who lived their entire lives as nomads, people who moved from one place to another with minimal belongings as a way of life. Even today, Virmakoski continues to move between many countries and places as she travels from country to country for her art. The longing for roots, and for a sense of cultural belonging, is very strong in most people, which is why it is uncommon for someone to willingly undertake a series of journeys that takes them far from what they knew. Virmakoski solves that by taking up objects from places she has been and transporting those objects to the next location where she will be going. In this way, she carries place, and site, on her person, while staying grounded in what really matters.

For Groundwork, Virmakoski came to Singapore, a post-colonial, ultra modern, global Asian city, carrying a bag of sand, taken from two beaches in Norway where she had spent time at a residency and her summer home in Finland, where she is originally from. She brought with her as well a beautiful Singaporean dress, a gift from her sister, a soft, soft Ethiopian shawl, a cloth from Mexico, and her own hair, which she had collected over time. Hair is, for Virmakoski, particularly powerful—suggestive of an atropaic feminine power, hair becomes abject and horrifying once it is no longer attached to one’s head. Once in Singapore, Virmakoski collected clay from the art school to add to her sand and purchased a lovely piece of fabric in Little India. These objects became the material for her performance, which Virmakoski permitted to unfold in its own time.

The bag of soil was emptied into a large silver basin. Virmakoski ran her hands through this material, allowing it to fall back into the basin, and imbuing it with the aura of ancient fertility rituals. The basin was passed around, the audience, myself included, were invited to feel the sand and clay. Many of us smelled it— there was a real feeling of an awakening of the senses that was at odds with the very urban environment in which this piece took place. Audience members were invited to take up a teaspoon and transport this mixture from the metal bowl to a ceramic basin on the floor. Meanwhile, Virmakoski gently unfolded and presented her textiles, taking time to mover through the audience with the Ethiopian shawl so that people could stroke the fabric. Finally, Virmakoski opened the cloth from Mexico, which contained locks of her gray hair. As the audience watched, she added to a crocheted chain of her hair, a symbolic gesture of her corporeal connection with Singapore, a connection that will continue as she travels to her next destination with her Singaporean clay and Little India cloth.