Anti-plastic art and ecological issues

Dancer-choreographer Riikka Theresa Innanen visited Villa Karo in the winter of 2012-2013.


Text: Maikki Salmivaara, photos: Miikka Kiminki


“The twins had so much fun that they weren’t allowed to stop. The party finally went on all day until midnight. Women of all ages danced, men played. The twin fetish dolls from the whole village were brought together to celebrate. ” Riikka Theresa Innanen describes a twin ceremony celebrating her family's twins, and can't hide her enthusiasm: "What a gift of life it was to be in this voodoo ceremony!"


The dancer-choreographer came to Benin to see how people come together - face each other in space. The residency has been fruitful.


"The job of a choreographer is to build user interfaces that bring people together for an experience."

Plenty of workable material has been found as a basis for future work. In addition to the encounters she observed, Riikka was involved in community art projects.

Ihmisiä on rannalla.

Community art projects - own contribution to the local community

Before coming to Benin, the Kiasma Theater performed Riikka-Theresa and Outi Yli-Viikarinre-ANIMA-ted dance work which deals with the relationship between the animal kingdom and nature and man-made culture. The choreography is based on systems theory and Jaana Parviainen's theory of negative knowledge, experiential anatomy and ecological systems. The design language and text are organic and the work itself is ecological.


“I try to ensure that everything from the idea to movement material and dramaturgy sits on the theme of the work. In other words, in the performance situation itself, no electricity is used, recycled and purchased only as necessary or something that contributes to the ecology of the work. A restriction on oneself forces one to change one's own conventions, to ask how one can do otherwise, or to delete something altogether. ”


Riikka continued to discuss nature relations in Benin. Together with the NGO ADJD in Grand-Popo, the art school CLAN and local children, a dance work on the waste problem “What Happens to Animals That Eat Plastic?” was performed. It was presented as part of the promotion of a beach cleaning project aimed at making the local population more environmentally conscious at Villa Karo’s December concert. Through the example of children, parents are also hoped to learn about environmental issues.

In addition to the environmental project, Riikka participated in a charity concert in Grand-Popo with Finnish and Beninese musicians.

Ihmisiä on piirissä rannalla.

Reflection on the awkwardness of interaction


“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; None but ourselves can free our minds.”

The words of Marcus Garvey, who influenced the pan-African movement from 1937, quoted by Bob Marley in the Redemption Song, make Riikka Theresa Innanen pensive at the Grand Popo at the end of her residency in January 2013. Although slaves have not been shipped from Africa still relevant.


“Ghosts of history are carried here. True liberation is, in one's view, closed. Although injustices have taken place and continue to do so in many respects, they must be overcome. As long as resentment is carried on or refrained from helping, a mental balance of power is also maintained. ”

During her residency, Riikka read Aravind Agida's book The White Tiger. In it, the protagonist of the book states, "I could never be a slave because I understood the meaning of beauty." In Finland, too, the function of art in the consumer society is being considered.


“I strongly believe that art itself - not just as a recreational or hobby activity but as an aesthetic experience that encourages creative thinking - can change a lot. In addition to art, Villa Karo influences the local community in Grand-Popo by also bringing in people who are not tourists or aid workers. ”

However, Riikka sees that Finnish artists are also easily placed in a ready-made puzzle, in which they are given the “role of lord”. This may complicate the implementation of partnership, collegial cooperation.


“Sometimes it feels like we wanted to organize recreational activities instead of cooperation. Let's build an entertainment track in Riga, it would probably like and be happy about it! ”

And it’s not really a question of the artist not being happy about this.


“However, the intention is not to make projects for the rest! You don't have to please me! I don’t do them because it’s nice for myself, but because they’re part of my job, which also includes the need to broaden my perspective and learn more! ”

Ihmisiä on kerääntynyt kilpikonnan äärelle.

From artists to artists


To enhance the collaboration between the artists, Villa Karo’s Open Day artists ’association, the L’Association des Artistes créateurs de Grand-Popo, was established. Riikka Theresa sees that an association operating outside the cultural center helps artists to face each other easily and forget about hierarchies.


"Professional collaboration between artists is paramount."

According to Riga, in order to create an equal co-operation, it is wise that the art association operates independently outside Karo's doors.


“Hopefully, the connections between Karo and the association will grow to work so that new entrants can routinely introduce themselves to local artists. When the first contact is made, the cooperation will certainly grow naturally, based on common interests! ”

Villa Karo could play an important role in the arts even at the national level, if we invested in cooperation between professional artists, made more efficient use of the sharing of their know-how and kept that level of cooperation high enough.

Ihmisiä rannalla auringonlaskun aikana.

From artists to the rest of the community


In addition to local artists, the rest of the community could come to learn about Villa Karo - for example, for lectures, courses and workshops, Riikka suggests.


“African and Finnish actors could be invited to lead projects aimed at the community and certain groups. Why not apply for a scholarship directly for some specific projects? For example, local job opportunities could be improved through some kind of business incubators or business idea development workshops. Not all residents should host community projects, but there are certainly some artists who would be enthusiastic about it. ”

The arrangement would allow for the continuity of community projects and could build something more durable in Grand-Popo instead of constant revolving projects.


“It must be taken into account that children in particular may suffer when projects that have lasted for a long time suddenly end,” Riikka reminds.

Pienempi joukko ihmisiä pimeällä.

Improving interaction


It is fruitful to consider how encounters between Finns and locals could be streamlined in Grand-Popo. Instead of each guest going through the cultural learning process on their own, one could draw more broadly from these experiences. They could provide a strong and unique starting point for a deeper discussion of the intercultural encounter with its associated problems and taboos.


“It would be important to have a discussion about what constitutes an obstacle to cooperation, why it comes from and whether it should even be broken. Even if nothing changes, at least the understanding of otherness could grow. ”

The hierarchy still makes it difficult for people to collaborate and learn. Even with very young children, it is difficult to implement a bottom-up, student-centered curriculum if they have not adopted this model at school.


“Yes, teachers do their work here from the heart, but the lack of new teaching models is striking. Often children are just shown how things are supposed to be done. However, learning by heart is not enough to solve the problems of the future in a post-colonial society, but eagerness is also needed. ”

Finnish teaching models have been very successful in international PISA surveys. Riikka thinks that teachers and art educators in Grand-Pop could also be inspired to know more about these models.

Modern art - Multicultural art

Having studied and taught at an international art school in the Netherlands and because of her international career, Riiikka has a lot of experience in collaborating with artists from different cultures. Experience with African contemporary dancers made Riiikka go to Villa Karo.


“Contemporary art uses a lot of conceptual tools. It could provide the keys to working on your own cultural background without abandoning its core. ”

One's own tradition can be applied to the present day with new technologies and topical questions.


“Many African artists are already doing this, so why not Grand Popos as well?” Riikka encourages.

“Finns have their own educational background, which they work for and draw on for their work - Beninese have their own, but we all live in this time. Both can share and apply their know-how and cultural history knowledge to their own work. ”

It would be great if the artists here could get tools to work on their own context more and more independently.


“My theory or thesis is that the work of today’s artists must be context-aware - aware of the questions of our time. It's great that art is a very different part of life here than in Finland. ”

This is what made Riikka go to Villa Karo - to absorb the influences of her own work.


“We have a more distant relationship, but as an artist, I believe that art can be part of a community in a multidimensional way, more than just entertaining background music.”

All in all, it is difficult to assess how well we, coming from a foreign culture, can read local art, its tones, conceptuality and historical layering - appreciating its topicality. After all, we don’t even necessarily understand what the songs we hear deal with. And do the questions of Western art stand out to the African?


There is plenty to discuss between the artists.