Visa Knuuttila: Hypnagogia
Hypnagogia refers to the experience of the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep. In the hypnagogic state, the contours of concrete reality dissolve into a peculiar psychedelic flow. Body, identity, culture, personality all lose their normal meanings, as the mind drifts away, and a world of strange associations and imagery emerges.
In this exhibition, hypnagogia serves as a metaphor for liminal states in general, seen from various perspectives. This includes literal explorations of traveling in between places, witnessing various physical and mental transitions, as well as dreaming and the high weirdness of the subconscious mind. Also “dreaming” is to be understood in its broadest sense. In addition to night time dreams, Dreaming can be seen as consisting of all the aspects and dimensions of our being and lives that fall outside the conscious mind: bodily symptoms, discontinuities of consciousness, peripheries of perception, and so on.
The exhibition consists of photographic and video works, deriving heavily from my background in
performance and butoh. I’d like to encourage the viewer to interpret (or not interpret) the artworks freely, and there is no need to read any texts or know any special terms in order to enjoy the exhibition. The following will provide some background and perspective to the exhibition.
Starting off this process a few years ago, all I knew was that the upcoming work was going to deal with various liminal states. Naturally, I had no idea about how 2020 would turn out. The world looked very different back then. The concept of liminality comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold – thus it includes the idea of a doorway, a transition from one state to another. In the liminal, a previous state as its rules have been left behind, yet the new state and new rules do not apply yet – thus for a moment, a state without any normal rules exists. As mentioned by Tom Selänniemi in the book “Kulttuurin muuttuvat kasvot / “The changing face of culture” (SKS 1999): “The liminal state has often been likened to death, being in womb, invisibility, darkness, bisexuality and the desert”. I began coming across the concept of liminal more and more often in my own work as a performer, years ago, first in the context of sideshow circus, and later with butoh and performance. Since childhood, I’ve been drawn to intermediary spaces, grey areas, non-places, both physically and metaphorically; in my work, I’ve typically ended up in cross-disciplinary spaces, or preferred processes and tools that come with as few rules as possible. Traveling in unknown territories, one gets to be surprised. Nowadays the subject of liminality in arts is extremely common, to the point of feeling a bit clichéd. Yet this year alone has shown us in multiple ways how we are actually living in a liminal era. The massive changes brought about by the corona pandemic have turned the experience of the liminal into a determining factor of our collective reality. On the other hand, the slowing down and scaling down of social life have created
optimal circumstances for introspection. The events of 2020 have no doubt left their mark on this exhibition.
Before the pandemic I travelled with my partner Ella, in artist residencies around Europe and in Brazil. Thus many hours were spent in transit halls, inside various vehicles, airport lounges, public toilets, waiting rooms and so on. Being on the road also brings about inner states of liminality: there is jetlag and general soft-headedness, cultural and language barriers, feelings of dissociation and dehydration, and strange, meandering dreams.
These kinds of voluntary everyday experiences, created by humans are known as ‘liminoid’ or resembling the liminal – in contrast to the total shifts of the liminal experiences. Hypnagogia the video is a treatise on these kinds of liminoid states. Hypnagogia is a collage of three interwoven, parallel realities, a cycle of dreaming while awake. The video was shot during our travels in France, Brazil and Finland during the winter and spring of 2018-2019. The main characters are played by the artist Ella Tahkolahti. Production of the video has been supported by AVEK /Tuuli Penttinen-Lampisuo.
The other two video installations refer to the mythology of Ancient Greece. Pan and Kronos are reinterpretations of ancient myths, via performance and video art. In the Greek mythology, Pan was a god of nature and the source of natural creation. The etymology of the word Pan refers to “all-encompassing”, the ubiquity of nature and its laws. Pan was the most animalistic of all the divinities: living wild in the woods, Pan never took part in the drama or power struggles of the other gods at all. The rise of modern religions, Christianity in particular, made sure Pan was thoroughly demonized and suppressed. Nature is seen as subdued under man’s will. Now, the near-forgotten Pan has burst back into collective consciousness via pandemic and panic.
My visual art has typically run parallel with physical performances. The starting point of the photographs in this exhibition is performative, with additional tools borrowed from various visual arts, resulting in works extremely mixed in media. Also the digital retouching process is related to collage and painting. The images feature the dancer Jonna Lehto, as well as myself. On the subject of the performative: in the early 2000’s I bumped into the Japanese art of butoh, which seemed
immediately familiar and inviting. Butoh is a form of dance, but it is radically different from all other dance modes. Butoh shows the way into the darkness of body, to the borderlands of dream and the subconscious. I have studied butoh in the Subbody Butoh school in India and workshops by the Oddance collective of St. Petersburg, among others. For me personally, butoh has provided ways of free and flowing physical expression and opened up new channels in between mind and body. The methods of butoh have since become central tools in my performative and visual work, and butoh has greatly influenced these pictures as well.
About the Artist
Visa Knuuttila (born 1973) is visual artist as well as performance artist based in Helsinki. He graduated 2002 in Tampere Visual and Applied Arts (today TAMK Mediapolis Art and Media). Artist has been shown widely in Finland as well as internationally both in solo shows and group exhibitions. He has performed with contemporary circus and performance groups in festivals and videos home and abroad.
The exhibition is supported by Suomen Kultturirahasto Etelä-Pohjanmaan rahasto.