Hanna Tuulikki: 'There's a crisis of masculinity and an environmental crisis, and each are intertwined'

This article is from 2019

Hanna Tuulikki: 'There's a crisis of masculinity and an environmental crisis, and each are intertwined'

credit: Lydia Honeybone

The artist's new commission, part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, uses stag archetypes to examine deer dance, macho behaviour and the environment

A Highland Fling is a lot more than looking good on the dance floor in Hanna Tuulikki's new work. Deer Dancer is the Finnish-English, Glasgow-based visual artist, performer and composer's new commission for Edinburgh Printmakers (as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival), and is inspired by the influence of deer on dance across various cultures, including Scotland's ceilidh favourite. In particular, Deer Dancer focuses on the connections between male preening and the creation of hyper-macho behaviour alongside how hunting mythologies impact the environment on a global scale.

'It's a project that's been developing for a couple of years now,' says Tuulikki. 'I received an artistic development attachment award from Magnetic North Theatre Company, which gave me the opportunity to do extensive research into the mimesis of deer dances.' The award enabled Tuulikki to embark on first-hand researches into how deer dances have been used across the world. With this in mind, she studied the indigenous Yaqui people in Mexico and their descendants in Arizona. Closer to home, Tuulikki also looked at the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance of Staffordshire.

The result of this is a two-screen film, in which Tuulikki embodies a series of stag archetypes, using costume and choreography to realise images of Monarch, Warrior, Young Buck, Fool and Old Sage. Filmed in a black-box theatre space, with Tuulikki playing each character, the piece will be soundtracked by an original vocal score. 'There are two parts to the film,' she says. 'There's the wilderness world where the characters first encounter each other, and out of that comes the dance. I thought about having other people play each character, but at this stage I really wanted to understand each one through my own body. That's going to be challenging because they're all very different, and I have to find a different kind of movement language for each one.'

To this end, Tuulikki has been working with theatre artists Peter McMaster and Will Dickie to dramaturg and work on the choreography of the piece. Alongside the film, Tuulikki has created a series of visual score printworks made during a residency at Edinburgh Printmakers. 'I got really interested in tracking,' she says, 'and I've started making these visual scores of how the feet form, replacing human footprints with deer hoofprints. This will form the basis of the choreography performed in the film.'

Animal behaviour has long informed Tuulikki's work, from the name of her first band, Nalle (which means 'little bear' in Finnish) to large-scale works such as 'air falbh leis na h-eoin – away with the birds', written for a female vocal ensemble and performed on the Isle of Canna. Performance too has become a major part of Tuulikki's increasingly intertwined practice. 'I'm surprised I'm working so much with characters in Deer Dancer,' she says. 'I thought it would be much more like working in an ensemble way, but it's ended up more individual in essence.'

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the long-term Tuulikki aims to realise Deer Dancer onstage, extending her theatrical reimagining of ancient ritual. 'I eventually want to work with four other women and do it live as a durational work. I want to develop that over the next year and see where that goes. Essentially it's a life crisis ritual for a damaged planet. There's a crisis of masculinity and an environmental crisis, and each are intertwined. I'd like to think we could move beyond both, but it may already be too late.'

Hanna Tuulikki: Deer Dancer, Edinburgh Printmakers, 26 Jul–5 Oct, Tue–Sun, 10am–5pm, free.

Deer Dancer

Hanna Tuulikki: Deer Dancer, commissioned by Edinburgh Printmakers An ambitious cross-artform project by artist, composer and performer Hanna Tuulikki, investigating deer mimesis within traditional dance, specifically the Yaqui Deer Dance in Mexico and Arizona, Highland Fling in Scotland and Abbots Bromley Horn Dance in…