“Future Parts: What Happens When It Stops” a performance at Exhibition Lab, photo by Aleksi Kallioja
By: Dasha Che
A queer dance artist and a lonely foreigner I went into corona state with a full force of rebellion against the regulations of self-confinement inside my tiny student room in Merihaka neighborhood in Helsinki. I was worried about my body.
There was a strong need for my body and thoughts to continue extending beyond these unfortunate restrictions, especially, since emerging from a six-month long heavy depression, I couldn’t afford another deep sinking. Full of rage and futility, I watched the sites that I favored and safely extended into in this foreign city – dance studios at Theater Academy of University of the Arts, Kallio library, McDonalds a.k.a. my personal writing studio, the plastic sitting area at the discounted grocery store of my neighborhood Lidl – closing down. During a week-long time of uncertainty which I sensed as a solemn and saturnine goodbye, I visited these semi-empty places nearly daily, trying to “embody and embed” them, to collect haptic memories of their surfaces.
When the places finally shut down I surprised myself discovering a kind of rigor that I haven’t sensed within me for a while – I biked around the neighborhood looking for open areas, blasted music in my headphones and danced till sweat, perhaps, nearly violently connecting with my virtuosity and a dancer’s body. At some point the rigor started to break down, evaporate, became less and less solid. There was a moment when I biked to Suvilahti, a vast artsy concrete plane, and instead of dancing, sank to the ground and stretched in the middle of the parking lot watching the sky until my back froze into a rock. There is a lot of pleasure in giving up. A body as a sack, a trash bag, a log, a patch of weedy soil, a rain paddle. Kick it, step on it, drive over it – it doesn’t give a shit.
My body felt expended and defeated, weak, precarious, the one that couldn’t perform strength, grace, extensions any longer. I became tired and scared. Tired and scared to remain invisible in my struggles, while being terrified that my affects were too shitty and whiny and took too much space. Trauma of being a lonely foreigner during the pandemic finally caught up with me. I was no longer able to efficiently orientate myself around hyper-discourses of current times while battling my own mental instability and personal economic and social precarity of life in a foreign country.
The outside spaces of attraction also shifted – I started visiting small enclosed alleys, spending time in the corners, near the trash piles, inside the trash piles. My body lost its ability to carry itself vertically, straighten up, cut air with the kind of warrior speed that both traditional dance training and successful sociality demand. Perhaps, I began to turn myself into waste, a trash of Helsinki, a foreign trash of Finland.
There is kinship with other expendables of urban spaces that one can develop when feeling like a surplus themselves. About a month ago a whole bunch of seagulls arrived to the roof of the garage building that my student housing window faces. They communed, courted, fought and fucked day and night. In “Staying with the Trouble” feminist and researcher Dona Haraway writes about kinship with pigeons, the animals that many humans usually see as expendable – city pests, decease spreaders. Urban seagulls are also considered to be vermin – crowding, taking space and peace away from humans, obnoxious and unwanted; perhaps, like other (seen-as-not-so-human) bodies, the bodies of migrants, the bodies that do not fit neat boxes of regulations, brown bodies, poor bodies, queer bodies, anything, anyone that/who can be seen as waste, a surplus, during the times when one has to look out for themselves using the resources that they have or, perhaps, don’t.
A couple of seagulls made a nest on the roof to the right of my window. One day I started watching their family life. I think how a body needs secure presence and touch of other bodies, how it cannot sustain itself alone for too long. I think of my body which hasn’t defined it contours and surfaces by others’ touch and weight for many months. I touch myself: squeeze my muscles with my hands, pat myself down, rub oil onto my skin. I sleep clutching my fists in an unconscious need to keep holding myself throughout the night. Sometimes, I try to share online time with others, heads and glimpses of people’s houses through zoom’s rectangles – just to have other bodies presence in my proximity, or at least, imagine that that what it is. But seagulls – there are just there. They don’t need me the way I need them, but they tolerate my close body separated from theirs by a window pane. That is enough for both of us.
At enough distance, we watch each other through the glass, our thick differently-shaped bodies live their lives in proximity of an accidental neighboring. The difference doesn’t call for hierarchy, on opposite, it evokes solidarity in me, human, sensing camaraderie in being a surplus in this city and temporality. Indeed, being a dance artist in itself feels like being a surplus. Being a foreign student and a queer dance artist cut from intimacy with other artists’ communities brings my body into some kind of non-existence.
I start calling those neighboring seagulls my seagulls, and when occasional snow hits Helsinki in May I cannot resist but transfer my human affects onto them worrying whether they are going to be okay, whether there is something I could do to protect them from the harsh weather. I throw them pieces of my lunches, I try to maintain the fantasy union of our neighboring bodies by imagining that I am useful. In the end, my white, perceivably able human body, cannot escape itself, but it still fails at what it supposedly can do best. Holding memories of my body lying on the concrete of the parking lot in Suvilahti, holding memories of William Pope L.’s black body crawling on the urban dirty surfaces of New York City, holding memories of socialites collapsed over a span of several weeks, I document a defeated self into a monument of the time, which perhaps has always been here.
Video art performance made together with An Ode to Weak Body
Dasha Che (they/them) is a Russian-American gender nonbinary artist. As a dance artist, activist and educator Che is committed to creating accessible art spaces that uplift and empower those whose voices have been previously silenced. As a performer and a researcher, currently Che works with queer, ‘undercommons,’ and other-than-humans’ corporeal memory, estrangement and foreignness through reading philosophy, economics science fiction, giving presentations, wandering around, writing scores and making solo and collaborative performance work.