The landscape was lit by gold orange light. We used to take long walks through it, mostly in the afternoon, after having cooked lunch together, and before cooking dinner together again. We were more than three and less than ten, and were doing artistic research in collaborative mode, during two weeks at a small village in the south of Estonia, called Mooste, just about 10 to 15 km from the Lake Pskov, which marked the Russian border.
We were friends who had never lived in the same country, we made art and cared about embodied knowledge. There were others. Our hosts and their daughter. Two cats. One, younger, prowling outside, the other, old and grey, the lord of the manor house. There was a young blacksmith who was also a shaman and told me of his past lives. Gore, blood, iron and glory in his dreams, but also everyday poetry. He gave me as a gift a knife he had made “just because he needed to cut something that day”. When I held it I noticed we had the same hand size.
One of us had just come from a near death experience. Being near to someone else’s death. Later this happened again, someone else told me about being near to someone else’s death, actually many deaths at one single time. I myself have been close to someone else’s death too.
In the upper floor I shared a room. In the wide room just outside there was a fireplace and a hanging chair made of braided rope like a hammock. I sat there a few times, dangling my feet. It was really confortable, especially when music was playing in the room. One of my friends liked to play his favourite songs, they all had a crescendo just like his soul and his conversation style.
Sitting in that chair I felt closer to the children and the cats, but every now and then I had adult thoughts too. I thought about sex quite often, though sex was not part of the bonds that brought all of us together. We were spread out in age, gender, and family situation, just like everybody else in the world. We were really happy for a while and we knew it.
The food was amazing. Not a lot of variety, but delivered in person once a week by the local farmers. Some things I had not tried so often before, like pickled mushrooms and pickled pumpkin with some ginger in it. There was fresh apple juice everyday, though the apple trees we could see nearby looked tired and dried as if by a too early spring.
I had some work to do, play around with sounds, listen to the soundscape, make something for later, for when we would leave the village and come to Tallinn to present our work. I kept myself busy and had a lot of opportunities to spend time alone. I fought the wind, like any field recorder often does, then I gave up and so did the wind. I recorded sound from the quiet woods, from the quick sharp echoes bouncing off of some of the surrounding architecture, decayed remnants from pre-soviet times, every now and then refurbished back into a suggestion of old glory. I also recorded myself making noises, both with my throat and with my skin, amplifying the natural friction I felt as a foreigner surrounded by foreigners in a mutually foreign land. We were supposed to be working around the theme of “local”. And so we did, I guess.
Later in the week there was a time for miracles. One night, the widest, most grand and encompassing northern lights were visible in the sky – I had seen them before, but not like that. Then, two days after, came a partial eclipse of the sun. We missed the eclipse, the sky was overcast. During the northern lights all the dogs in the farms around us kept howling like crazy, their screams echoing over long distances in the flat landscape. I do not know what they felt but I can guess.
Soon we had to leave, not all together and not all at the same time. Before that though, I managed to record a local choir rehearsing in a community house that was also a small gymnasium. The choir was composed of around fifteen people, all women but two men. Apart from a 19-year-old girl, most of the women were between 40 and 60 years old. The two men were well into their 70s.
Everybody seemed so tired. They were sitting down but their bodies’ posture looked as if they would liquefy and spill into the floor if gravity would only allow it. Some were knitting, some were chatting in low voices, not much choral singing was taking place. In the gymnasium space next-door young people were playing some seriously violent kind of badminton, I was told. I could hear the bumping bass sounds of their feet hitting the floors, and the rubber soles screeching.
The choir teacher on the other hand, a shaved head middle aged man with the body of a former dancer, had all the energy in the room, and all that his voice did not cover up, his way of banging the piano did. I thought “fuck, this won’t do at all”. But then, after an hour or so, it happened. Some of his energy spilled into the tired bodies and the voices rose in both power and attention. A few fleeting distracted smiles appeared in the faces and the knitting and side activities were abandoned. The 19-year-old girl sat on her iPhone and looked around with renewed lust for song.
It happened, for a few minutes. They actually sang together and the voice-that-encompasses-voices was heard. It was one of the worst choirs I had ever heard, and for a few moments I loved every single person in the room.
I was one of the last to leave Mooste. Then I took the bus to Tallinn. In Tallinn most of us that had been at Mooste met again, together with maybe 20 others, some old friends, some old colleagues, some I had never met before.
Tallinn is a town, it is even a city, if a small city, and we had just come from the deep countryside, so we definitely felt the transition. We were to spend three intense days sharing the same working space, having meals together, this time meals we did not cook together (except one), falling in love with one another’s work, fighting with ideas, hoping to try things out, do, do, do while thinking and keep doing, doing, doing while thinking. This thing we call artistic research. It is to try to be in the presence of that dynamic of thought and practice, which in a creative context, brings to light critically and boldly the bonds of the ethical and the aesthetical. It is about thinking about what we do, how we do it, and why we do it the way we do it – and then do the same for the other, in the mutuality and intimacy of a nomadic community.
So, this sound thing I am sharing here, was it done with some of the material presented in Tallinn? No, it was done with what was not presented in Tallinn. It is an audio wandering composed of some of the experiences and encounters I had in the period of preparation, living in Mooste, but also in the breaks and in-between presentations at Tallinn. It is about intimacy, both being a body in a landscape, and being amongst bodies in a landscape. It is also about experimenting and being always a bit lost, a bit unsure on one’s feet, pretending to dance while actually stumbling around with the unfamiliar.
Yes, there was also dancing, but that is another story and there is some happiness in never-ending.
Kärrtorp, Stockholm, 3 April 2015.
Eduardo Abrantes trabalha som pensante e cria situações.