Nordic Lights is the union of three emerging audiovisual festivals in Sweden, Finland and Norway on a mission to explore culture synergies through experimental collaboration. At Monument Festival 2022 two site-specific performances were showcased as part of this collaborative process. Johan L. Heinstedt aka Dyur and Alice Presencer, two of the participating artists, reflect on the first edition of the Nordic collaboration, and look ahead to what is to come next. 

In 2020 Aavistus Festival (Merle Karp, Hannu Häkkinen, Suvi Parrilla) invited Swedish artists Jonas Johansson and Tove Nowén. Through communal dinners and conversations, seeds were planted for future collaborations. In 2021 Tove founded Nonagon Festival, and so there were two prominent audiovisual festivals with only the Baltic Sea between them.

Together the Finnish and Swedish teams invited Marit Launes and Monument, and under the banner of Nordic Audiovisual Artists (NAVA), the three festivals ignited NORDIC LIGHTS – a bi-annual union on a mission to explore culture synergies through experimental audiovisual collaboration. Through an open call 12 artists are selected and paired into 6 new acts, which through a residency and light mentorship, produce a site-specific audiovisual performance to be presented at one of the three festivals.

Audiovisual art has immense potential in its artistic value which can encompass several artforms, from dance to cinema, to music and noise. Instead of pre-planned sets and performances, working site-specific is a key ingredient for making unique works that breathe the same air as the nature and culture that surrounds it. Through this process both artists and audience can feel included, and be left surprised. The poem “Gläntan” by Tomas Tranströmer says it best:

Deep in the forest there is an unexpected clearing that can only be found by someone who has got lost.

Jonas Johansson, who is the founder of NAVA, has produced collaboration-based projects since 2017. But this was the first time leading a project with several partners, and across nordic borders. The first steps were simple: design the open call, and use all channels possible for communication. The real work began as the deadline passed and all 119 submissions required a thorough look. From a shortlist, the three festival partners curated artists that aligned with the specificity of their events. For instance, Nonagon is an experimental electronic arts and music festival that takes place in two oil silos with a 25 second reverb.

The final selection included:

  • Francesco Fabris (IT/IS) and Ava Imogen Grayson (CA/FI) for Nonagon
  • Zuzana Bottova (SK/FI) and ROSYAN (DK) for Nonagon
  • John & Julius (SE) and Liis Ring (ES/SE) for Aavistus
  • MSEA (CA/IS) and ssusui (HK/UK/SE) for Aavistus
  • Dyur (SE) and Alice Presencer (UK/DK) for Monument 
  • Quantum Foam (UK/SE) and Xana (FI) for Monument

Through a residency, the artists were given time to meet physically prior to the event to embrace the local culture as well as each other’s qualities and ways of working. The strength of the project came through the process, which everyone who experienced any of the six acts could witness. With each piece being a world premiere, the raw energy that comes with the untried is contagious. Anyone who joined in for the final dance at Dyur and Alice’ performance would have a hard time disagreeing.

Looking towards the future, the Nordic Lights team noticed a lack of applications from Greenland, Faroe Islands and Aaland Islands (also part of the Nordic region), and the intention in 2023 is to work towards being more inclusive and grow the Nordic network towards the arctic region.

What was the mission and how was it being part of the residency at Monument?

Johan L. Heinstedt aka Dyur: Alice and I were among 6 people selected for the Nordic Lights Art Residency at Monument Festival 2022, where we spent a week in a cabin in Veggli, developing a new audiovisual performance to be presented at the end of the festival. I produced the music and Alice, being a dancer and a singer, created a character and a choreography for the show. The process and the work was very rewarding, and sharing the cabin with the other talented artists added a lot to the experience. The house was like a creative pressure cooker and having the stunning view over Veggli valley, right outside my bedroom window, did not hurt at all. I’m grateful to the wonderful people at Monument who put a lot of trust in us to deliver an experience of high quality, even though it was quite a different thing from the rest of the festival lineup.

Alice Presencer: We had some interaction over the few months before the festival, but we met for the first time on the Monday before the festival and had to finish the work the following Sunday. So we worked super hard to create a new piece in just a few days! We worked long hours in the house, where I would frantically run up to Johan to tell him my ideas or progress and see how everything related to what he was doing. It was so helpful to work so close by and really assisted our mission to tell a story with music and movement through working with the different ways that sound and dance can emote and express a narrative. 

Throughout the week, we were in this strange in-between space where the friendly festival-goers were inviting us to party with them but we had an impending deadline so had to hustle to complete the piece. Funnily enough, that somehow put me into an observational role at the festival, and ended up inspiring my choreographic work quite nicely! 

What was the performance about?

A: The performance told the story of a spiritual journey that ebbs and flows while we yearn for guidance and coping mechanisms throughout life. The notion of feeling lost and searching for greater meaning is a timeless tale, which linked our work to ritualism and folklore. Also, the music was a very important element of the work as it represented a greater presence that dictated the actions and physicalities of my character (like a puppeteer). 

With the time slot we had (Sunday at noon), we had to wake up the festival-goers… So we decided to make our own kind of ‘wake up call’. We started the performance with the intention to call people in and tell them a story through music and performance. This was done with the help of a moose cranium, cow horns, cello samples and my singing! That was the introduction of the three main sections of the work, starting with the theme of “devoted worship”, with a mysterious, repetitive and meditative motif within the music and the movement. Then, my character became increasingly bewildered, lost and confused as she actively searched for guidance. Eventually, she became neurotic in her devotion and exerted herself wildly, blindly following the forces of the music and dancing to death. By the end of the work, the audience watched my character become increasingly exhausted and chose to support me or exclude me. We actually had two different endings depending on the response! I am extremely pleased to say that the audience chose to join me and we all danced until total exhaustion – quite willingly as the music was fantastic! Thanks Johan! 

J: There was definitely a strong spiritual aspect permeating the work that we did. It all tied together nicely, with the scenic environment around us, the narrative Alice mentioned about devotion and ritualism, as well as the musical domain where I come from, since I’m very much inspired by Nordic folklore and mysticism. Creating a set that people were supposed to wake up to, we decided to lean toward a more ambient, uplifting and melodic vibe with a lower tempo. Working with some warm pads and a tender double bass contributed to a “morning feel”. Another artist in residency from Nordic Lights – the wonderful cellist Rosyan – were happy to contribute with some really cool cello recordings. I also asked my brother Fredy Clue to record some string samples with his nyckelharpa as the cherry on top in the final section of the set. I really felt that we could bring a contrasting experience to the festival-goers, so keeping it melodic was a good choice.

How did being at the festival influence your work?

A: As a choreographer, I ended up being heavily inspired by my observations of the festival-goers. It was a bizarre but very fun experience to be working around people letting loose. I spent a lot of time at the festival exhausted from rehearsing and so I watched people dancing. This fueled the qualities of my movements and I think it also helped inform a narrative to our work. I observed all the different physicalities of the people at Monument and I thought about folklore tales of ‘dancing to death’ while watching the tired bodies bobbing to the music, entranced by the sets played. It fitted our themes so well, with huge emotional potential to be explored through performance. Also, Johan and I talked about the types of dancing styles at Techno events such as: 1) the “gorilla” – all heavy, broad and low down, 2) the “seaweed” – introspective, flowy, loose and blissful, and 3) the “horsey” – energised, fast footwork and a playful optimism. As a self-proclaimed seaweed, I found it really fun to work with the different qualities and throw them into the piece!

J: Having our stage in a rather special location, I really wanted to build upon the scenery around us and have that being reflected in the music. The openness of the fields as well as the forests and mountains around us – all of that was decisive for the work we did throughout the week. Being at Monument you quickly realise that what ties everyone together is the love for sound and that very niche genre of music. So in my set, I knew that I could take my sweet time with building up each section and also utilise a lot of rhythmical elements that I know the Monument crowd loves. The decision to use traditional instruments such as nyckelharpa and cow horns also added to the ancient Nordic panorama.

What was your main highlight from the week?

J: It’s always difficult to choose one… Of course, playing the live set and presenting our work in front of an audience was clearly the peak of the week. The interplay between me playing live and Alice’s transcendent dancing was powerful and incredibly fun!

But a little later the same day, Vincent Rang (a videographer, also part of the residency) and Alice went out into the forest to record some footage of her dancing. I followed along as a helping hand. And I vividly remember standing on the hill above the festival area, looking out over the green and grey valley landscape with looming, low-hanging rain clouds embracing the mountain peaks. Just watching the creative work by Alice and Vincent while listening to the serene opening of the set by Marco Shuttle and Jane Fitz… One could become religious for less.

A: Working alongside the other artists in the house was truly amazing. We worked long hours problem-solving and talking things through with each other. The energy and momentum of the process was truly invigorating and all-encompassing. 

But of course the highlight for me has to be the end of our performance! I prepared two endings of the work, depending on the reactions of the audience. After dancing for a long duration, I looked out to the audience and gestured them in to join me. Either they would come and dance with me (a huge gamble) or they would watch me exhaust myself, dancing alone and growing more and more tired. To my surprise, a crowd formed and danced with me! It was tremendous to feel the support of the audience and their generosity in that moment! The open-mindedness, willingness and kindness displayed by the audience was so incredible to experience and demonstrated the inclusiveness of the festival and the social atmosphere so beautifully. I actually don’t know if I will ever experience that again – it was so special!

Selected as part of the art residency Nordic Lights, Dyur and Alice Presencer collaborated to create a new original work, debuted at Monument Festival 2022 in Veggli, Norway. This interdisciplinary work is an ode to the ritualistic enchantments of folklore, depicted through the amalgamation of electronic music, live voice and dance.

Composition – Dyur (Johan L. Heinstedt)

Singer/Dancer  – Alice Presencer

Featuring recorded samples from 
Fredy Clue
and Melker Brodin

Photos by Jonas Johansson (Nordic Lights)