Looking With “Fingeryeyes”: An Exploration of Material Touch in Sonja Jokiniemi’s Performances Blab and Howl

Lieze Roels*


This essay explores the tactile interplay between human performers and nonhuman things in the performances Blab (2017) and Howl (2019), by Finnish artist Sonja Jokiniemi. The work of Jokiniemi can be situated within the recent upsurge of “posthumanist dramaturgies” (Stalpaert et al.), which explore, among other things, the performativity and agency of nonhuman things on stage. In the following essay, I examine a specific dimension of posthuman dramaturgies, by looking into the human-nonhuman relationality that emerges when things withdraw from anthropocentric intents. Through an analysis of the modes of touch in Blab and Howl, I aim to foreground how the work of Jokiniemi not only highlights the active presence of material things, but also provides layered reflections on how humans, as material beings, can engage with these agential materialities—in ways that are both playful and potentially violent. 

Keywords: performance, Sonja Jokiniemi, posthuman dramaturgy, materiality, touch

Setting the Scene

Brussels, March 2018. On a white theatre floor lie several sculpturesque and colorful items. Among them, a black piece of hairy fabric, a ball of pink textile wrapped in blue chords and a leather-like, elongated item attached to an iron bar. Somewhat in the middle of the stage lies one of the most prominent sculptures: a large, pink mass of fabric attached to multiple iron chains, a PVC tube and a wooden bar. Three paintings that are just as colorful are attached to the rear wall of the auditorium, portraying a playful blend of human body parts and abstract figures. 

In an interesting sense, the visual artworks reveal what the spectators are about to see happening on stage. Once the audience is fully seated, three performers dressed in textured fabrics enter the performance space. With curiosity and determination, they begin to touch the sculpturesque materials: they lift an iron chain, carefully move one of the items into a different position, or softly wrap their body around one of the sculptures. After a few minutes, they collectively shift their focus to the bigger, pink item that lies center stage. While two performers hold an iron chain attached to the sculpture, the other performer lifts the thing from the ground. Slowly, they move a few steps, after which they let go of the sculpture and move towards a different material on stage, seemingly without a clear rationale or goal. Once again, just playfully touching and engaging with the things. 

Ivo Serra performing in Blab by Sonja Jokiniemi, 3 November 2017, Zodiak—Center for New Dance/Moving in November festival, Helsinki. Photo: Simo Karisalo

This is the opening sequence of the performance Blab (2017), created by Finnish choreographer, performer and visual artist Sonja Jokiniemi (b. 1983).[1] Since 2013, Jokiniemi has been developing a rich oeuvre of transdisciplinary works, comprising choreographies and solo performances (RRRRR, 2016; Blab, 2017; Howl, 2019), community-based projects (Without an Alphabet, 2014), workshops (Objects, Language and the Body, 2017; Weaving Textures and Feelings, 2020) and textile art and drawings (Lumps, Ghosts and Other Jimble Jamble, 2018; WORKS and TAP & PAT, 2021–23). Her versatile work is characterized by a desire to move beyond categorical thinking, both in form and subject matter.

Jokiniemi’s performances are typically hybrid creations, blending visual art and choreography, and almost always start from a strong interest in alternative modes of language, communication and relationality. In a conversation about her work, Jokiniemi explains how she wants to challenge the (societal) inclination towards normativity and categorization and, instead, foster space for multilayered ways of being and meaning-making: “Perhaps it is something like a blurring of the wall between unconscious and conscious, between intelligences, opening window for complex, non-logical, non-linear, non-explainable, even mysterious universes of the mind and the environment it is speaking with that I am interested in exploring and proposing through my work” (Jokiniemi, “Hmm”).

As indicated by the short description of Blab, the interaction with material objects is an important, and recurring, element in Jokiniemi’s search for multifaceted experiences. In her work, material sculptures, drawings and other things act as “participants and collaborators” (Jokiniemi, “Meningslöshet”; own translation) that evoke a more sensorial reality. This aspect of Jokiniemi’s work resonates with a broader interest in nonhuman things, which has been identified as a defining feature of many contemporary choreographies (Lepecki; Ruhsam “The Comeback of Objects”; Georgelou). As noted by dance scholar André Lepecki in a 2011 article, this current engagement with material things in performance, choreography and installation art differs from the use of objects in (late) twentieth-century dance and performance: “Today, objects do appear, but not as [. . .] ‘props’ [. . .], nor as generators of ‘scenic effects’ or ‘surrogate performers’ (i.e. as puppets)” (“9 Variations” 57). Similarly, choreographer and performance scholar Martina Ruhsam distinguishes the contemporary exploration of nonhuman objects from traditional object or puppet theatre, in which things primarily have a representational function (Moving Matter 60). In recent “object-oriented performances,” as Ruhsam writes, objects are no longer present as décor or props merely used to “emphasize or amplify the actions of human beings” (“The Comeback of Objects” 53). Instead, these contemporary performances actively explore the recalcitrance and performativity of nonhuman things (Ruhsam 55), often by highlighting how things co-constitute and shape the unfolding of the performance.

As Christel Stalpaert, Kristof van Baarle and Laura Karreman observe in their introduction to Performance and Posthumanism, this recent exploration of nonhuman things can be situated within a broader move towards posthuman modes of dramaturgy, as it dislodges the anthropocentric focus on the human performer. In “posthumanist dramaturgies” (14), as Stalpaert et al. write, things often move in ways that defy functionality or human control, and consequently acquire a form of agency (18): “Performers and artists let go of preconceived notions of what things are supposed to be able to do, and open up to what things evoke, allowing things to matter” (17). Building on Lepecki, they frame this changing role of material entities in performance as a posthuman shift from object to thing. Unlike the object, often deployed as an inert prop by a “utility-driven or intentionality-driven” human subject (12), they define a thing as an active entity that eludes instrumentalization by humans. In other words, as Stalpaert et al. note, in posthuman dramaturgies, objects are often “freed from their ‘proper’ function as prop in a theatre context” and “allowed to remain merely a thing” (19).

In what follows, I want to zoom in on a specific dimension of posthuman dramaturgies by looking into the human-nonhuman relationality that potentially emerges when objects become things. More specifically, I will analyze the material contact between performers and things in Sonja Jokiniemi’s performances Blab (2017) and Howl (2019). Both Blab and Howl invite the audience into a highly sensorial universe in which human performers and nonhuman things interact through haptic, bodily and intimate modes of touch. Via an analysis of the dramaturgical strategies in Jokiniemi’s performances, I aim to foreground how the work of Jokiniemi not only highlights the active presence of nonhuman things but also provides layered reflections on how we, as material beings, can engage with these agential materialities—in ways that are both playful and potentially violent.

Blab and the Performativity of Things

Jokiniemi’s performance Blab first premiered in 2017 at the Moving in November dance festival in Helsinki. In a short text about Blab, Jokiniemi explains how the performance “seeks to escape the world of categories towards the unknowns; towards unions and blurs of humans and objects, extensions and expansions of different bodies, penetrations of forms and acts of desire” (Jokiniemi, “Blab”). In this intent, Blab is closely connected to earlier performances created by Jokiniemi. In previous works, such as her solo performances OH NO (2013) and Hmm (2015), Jokiniemi already explored the intimate interplay of human performer and nonhuman things. In OH NO, for example, Jokiniemi generates a playful universe in which she and two pens encounter one another and the performance space via movements and rhythmic, often nonsensical, speech. As Konstantina Georgelou points out in her analysis of the performance, the language in OH NO, “based on brevity and discontinuity and intertwined with the objects on stage” (310), dislodges the anthropocentric focus on the “human speaking subject” (308): “[The performance] articulates a form-of-life—here a discourse, or a way of being together—that can only operate when abandoning individualistic, binary and anthropocentric modes of thinking” (311).

In Blab, Jokiniemi extends this exploration, seeking different ways to connect with nonhuman things that move beyond human-centered or linguistic communication. This time not by making use of a discontinuous language to engage with material things, but by eliminating human language altogether. Blab explores a universe in which pre-conceived categories or a clear-cut narrative are not at one’s disposal, hence the title of the performance: “Blab” literally means “to talk idly or thoughtlessly” (“Blab”).

The absence of human-centered logic and language becomes very noticeable in how performers Mira Kautto, Sara Gurevitsch and Ivo Serra engage with the material sculptures in Blab. Throughout the entire performance, they maintain the purely tactile interaction with the materials initially established in the opening scene. Over the course of fifty minutes, they continue to touch and move the things in a sensorial, almost child-like, way: they attentively stroke the hairy piece of fabric, put the sculptures in their mouths or walk through the space while playfully swinging one of the iron bars. A captivating aspect of these movements is the apparent disinterest of Kautto, Gurevitsch and Serra toward each other. When they do interact with one another, this only happens through or via the sculptures, but most of the time the performers are simply focused on the haptic exploration of the material sculptures. 

Sara Gurevitsch performing in Blab by Sonja Jokiniemi, 3 November 2017, Zodiak—Center for New Dance/Moving in November festival, Helsinki. Photo: Simo Karisalo

Via their bodily exploration of the sculptures, Kautto, Gurevitsch and Serra also encourage the audience to focus their attention on the material things and how they actively move and affect the performers. In this regard, Blab aligns with the aforementioned shift from object to thing that can be found in many posthuman dramaturgies dealing with nonhuman entities. In Jokiniemi’s performance, the sculptures do not function as passive props that are narratively framed or instrumentalized by human performers. The interaction between the performers and the things is not only devoid of language, but the unidentifiable nature of the sculptures also challenges the human desire to read them as symbolic signs. While the individual materials might be recognizable, their fusion into larger sculptures creates material things that do not represent or signify existing objects. In other words, the singular materiality of the sculptures and the purely sensorial interactions in Blab allow the sculptures to be a thing, “[freed] of being a sign in a logical, human-centred, meaning-making process” (Stalpaert et al. 18).

As Stalpaert et al. note, the performative presence of things in posthuman dramaturgies also impacts the position of the human performer: “to allow a ‘thing’ to remain a ‘thing’” also implies “freeing the performer from habitual expectations of virtuosity, beauty and skill related to classical drama” (18–19). While this observation fully applies to Blab, there seems to be an additional layer at play in Jokiniemi’s work. In this regard, the interaction between performers and things in Blab partly differs from certain dramaturgical strategies often mentioned in discussions about the role of things in posthuman performance. Unlike many posthuman dramaturgies, Kautto, Gurevitsch and Serra are not necessarily “exposing the disobedience of the objects” (Ruhsam, “The Comeback of Objects” 56) or “tarrying alongside” things “to initiate a becoming thing by giving space (within objects and within subjects) to things” (Lepecki, “Moving as Thing” 81). Instead, they actively and continually engage with the materials in Blab, albeit in a highly haptic manner. In this sense, their bodily interaction with the sculptures does not seem explicitly aimed at subverting human instrumentalization or skill. Rather, it appears to function as an opening toward an alternative, intimate relationship between human performers and things—a relationship built on the sensorial touch and shared materiality of human and nonhuman entities.

The Relationality of Material Touch

In her book Matters of Care: Speculative Ethics in More Than Human Worlds (2017), María Puig de la Bellacasa explores how touch can function as an embodied and relational mode of knowing that highlights the material connectedness of the entity touching and the entity being touched: “to touch is to be touched” (114). As Puig de la Bellacasa notes, being attentive to the “reversibility of touch” (114) not only foregrounds the transformative potential of touch but also challenges the anthropocentric idea that the human can shape the world without being touched in return: “It is not only the experimenter/observer/human agent who sees, touches, knows, intervenes, and manipulates the universe: there is intra-touching” (114). Through her concept of “intra-touching,” Puig de la Bellacasa extends the posthumanist ideas of feminist physicist-philosopher Karen Barad. In a 2003 article, Barad introduced the neologism “intra-action” to challenge traditional views of agency and interaction, which often presume that the ability to act is a pre-existing property of individual (human) beings (Meeting the Universe Halfway 33). Intra-action, on the other hand, points to the “mutual constitution of entangled agencies” (33).

In Barad’s view, the world does not consist of separate individuals acting upon one another but of relational phenomena that “acquire specific boundaries and properties through the open-ended dynamics of intra-activity” (172). Christopher N. Gamble and his co-authors summarize it concisely in their analysis of Barad’s posthuman theory: “No property of any discernible thing, that is—whether its physical features, agency, or even its speech or thought—entirely precedes or remains unchanged by its actions or encounters with other things” (123).

Elaborating on the work of Barad, Puig de la Bellacasa explores intra-touching as an instance of intra-action that similarly troubles the idea of the independent human subject: “Thought as a material embodied relation that holds worlds together, touch intensifies awareness about the transformative character of contact” (115) and, consequently, emphasizes interdependency (114). In an interesting sense, the haptic contact between human performers and nonhuman things in Blab similarly foregrounds the material relationality of intra-touching. A vehement scene, in which Kautto and Gurevitsch take the same small sculpture in their mouths, is a fascinating example thereof. Seemingly captivated by the ovoid thing, they start to fight and horse around while biting the sculpture, until one of the performers loses interest and moves her attention to another item on stage. The sudden shift toward another thing suggests that the minute-long contact with the small sculpture mostly stemmed from its materiality (quite literally) touching and affecting them, rather than from a deliberate or intentional act. Furthermore, the material contact zone in which their mouths and the thing touch vividly captures the reciprocal nature of intra-touching: are they holding the sculpture or is the sculpture penetrating them?

Mira Kautto, Sara Gurevitsch and Ivo Serra performing in Blab by Sonja Jokiniemi, 3 November 2017, Zodiak—Center for New Dance/Moving in November festival, Helsinki. Photo: Simo Karisalo

In another remarkable sequence, the three performers of Blab gather around the large, pink sculpture that lies in the middle of the stage. Carefully, they attach it to a smaller sculpture, wrap it in iron chains and then collectively tilt it above their heads. Seemingly impacted by the weight of this materiality, they begin to shake, which in turn causes the sculpture to move—and so forth. After several seconds of intense trembling, they drop down to their knees, bring the item back to the ground and, once again, move toward another material in the space. This particular moment powerfully embodies the material relationality and contact presented in Blab: in Jokiniemi’s performance, human bodies and nonhuman things connect and co-transform each other via material, “intra-active touch” (Puig de la Bellacasa 114).

Consequently, the interplay of performers and sculptures in Blab does not only reveal the performativity of nonhuman things. It primarily points to how human and nonhuman entities can encounter one another via non-anthropocentric modes of contact, through sensorial and material touch. Leaving binary ideas about subjects and objects behind, Kautto, Gurevitsch and Serra move across the stage as material beings that simply relate to other material beings, in their shared materiality. More specifically, their sensorial exploration of the sculptures evokes the idea of perceiving with “fingeryeyes”—a term coined by Eva Hayward (580) and further discussed by Puig de la Bellacasa. Hayward developed this notion during her ethnographic research of cup corals in the Long Marine Laboratory to describe the interplay of sensations and senses in engaging with nonhuman species (Hayward 581). As Hayward explains, fingeryeyes is a “haptic-optic” (580), a form of tactile and multisensorial perception: “To see, to feel, to sense, and to touch—“fingeryeyes”—slide into each other, making new prepositions of observation” (582). By elucidating the overlap of sensory experiences, Hayward’s concept not only names the specific “interplay of vision and touch” (581), but also points to the mutuality of touch: “Fingeryeyes [. . .] is the transfer of intensity, of expressivity in the simultaneity of touching and feeling” (581). Although the performers in Blab are not engaging with living organisms, their bodily contact with the sculptures similarly suggests a haptic mode of perception, wherein “intensified curiosity is figured by a particular way of seeing-touching” (Puig de la Bellacasa 115). To use Hayward’s words, moving and feeling with fingeryeyes, the performers embody a way of “knowing,” or getting to know, “by percussing, touching, and tasting” (584).

While the spectators may not be physically touching the sculptures in Blab, I would argue that the multisensorial interplay of performers and material things similarly invites the audience to look with fingeryeyes and center their attention on the specific materiality of the sculptures. As Hayward suggests, seeing does not have to entail a lack of tactility: “our eyes are contiguous with—not divisible from—the body’s sensorium” (582). Through its exploration of material relationality and tactile communication, Blab thus presents an alternative, sensorial way of connecting with nonhuman things, both via touch and via “visual contact” (Puig de la Bellacasa 115). In sum, it foregrounds a mode of contact marked by sensorial curiosity, tactile intimacy and a fundamental openness for what the embodied encounter with material things may bring forth.

Howl and the Ambivalence of Touch

In line with her earlier work, Jokiniemi’s more recent performance Howl (2019) centers around the sensorial contact between human beings and nonhuman things.[2] However, there is an interesting difference between the intent of Howl and Jokiniemi’s former performances: while a performance like Blab explored how to highlight the material interplay of performers and things, Howl explores what happens when this interplay does not automatically result in a constructive or co-equal dynamic. In previous creations, as Jokiniemi mentions on her website, she “was finding in those stage objects real play partners” (“Howl”). In Howl on the other hand, “the constructive dialogue” between the performer and material things “is for the first time failing” (Jokiniemi, “Howl”).

The performance space of Howl by Sonja Jokiniemi, 8 August 2019, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki. Photo: Simo Karisalo

When entering the performance space of Howl, it immediately becomes clear that Howl continues the ideas explored in Blab, albeit in a less playful manner. One black and one white weaved textile, as well as two black-and-white drawings hang from the ceiling. Like the paintings in Blab, these drawings were made by Jokiniemi and portray an intimate interlacing of naked bodies, abstract patterns and shapes. Their black-and-white palette, however, evokes a more serious and sober atmosphere than the colorful paintings included in Jokiniemi’s previous performance. On the floor lie a few objects, such as chunks of white clay with a thin black stick plunged into it, a tangled cord and an oblong, purplish glass sculpture. A white mixing table, behind which composer Natalia Domínguez Rangel and light and spatial designer Heikki Paasonen are seated, is positioned against one side of the preforming space. The audience fully encircles the floor on which Howl will take place.

In the first minutes of Howl, nothing really happens. While Domínguez Rangel’s composition of electronic and eerie sounds reverberates, the spectators are given the time to slowly take in the performance space and the materialities placed in it. After a few minutes, Jokiniemi enters the space in black overalls and green rain boots, holding a big plastic bag filled with lichen. In a determined way, she empties the bag, creates two piles of lichen on the floor, buries the plastic bag under one of the piles, places a purple sculpture into the pile and leaves the room again. A few seconds later, she enters the space once more, this time holding a white sculpture resembling a hand. With care and concentration, she places the sculpture on the floor, after which she shifts her attention to another thing in the room. For some time, this is the predominant mode of physical contact between Jokiniemi and the material things. Jokiniemi moves from one material to the other, touching and moving them in a repetitive, yet intimate manner. Particularly striking are her facial expressions and the way in which she shifts her attention from one thing to the other. While touching the materials, Jokiniemi often grunts, breathes heavily or twists her body in unexpected ways. When she moves through the space towards a different item, however, she does so in a neutral and determined manner. Moreover, the entire time, both when touching the materialities and when moving towards another thing, Jokiniemi’s facial expressions remain rather unaffected—almost as if she is not fully connected to her own bodily movements or the performance as a whole.

Throughout the performance, it becomes increasingly apparent how the material contact between human performer and nonhuman matter in Howl departs from the sensorial engagements explored in Blab. In Blab, the audience is brought into a colorful universe in which performers playfully and intimately touch, move and connect with nonhuman matter. In Howl, on the other hand, the contact between the performer and the material items is more intrusive and conflicted. To better understand this difference between Blab and Howl, it might be interesting to take the titles of both works into consideration.

As previously mentioned, Blab points to a universe without pre-established categories, in which human-centered language is not present as a way to understand or frame reality. It is almost as if the performers in Blab are re-entering the world via sensorial touch, while leaving anthropocentric conceptions behind. As Jokiniemi words it, the performance explores “a liberation from categories and ideas of difference” (Jokiniemi, “Experience Report”). In Howl, on the contrary, the sensorial contact with matter does not bring forth an experience of liberation but, rather, one of confusion and aggression. While bodily touch and the invitation to perceive with fingeryeyes are still the predominant dramaturgical strategies in the performance, the human performer in Howl no longer seems to be fully able to connect with the materialities around them.

Sonja Jokiniemi performing in her performance Howl, directed by Sonja Jokiniemi. 8 August 2019, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki. Photo: Simo Karisalo

A review of Howl aptly summarizes the shift from Blab to Howl: “from babbling to howling: that is growing up. [. . .] After the joyful liberation of the life of ‘things,’ there is room for the raw and dark side of this [liberation]” (Huybrechts; own translation). This dark side of Howl becomes more pronounced as the performance progresses. Throughout the performance, Jokiniemi begins to act more and more capriciously around the material items. She starts to hammer the chunks of clay or hauls around the chord while making howling and grunting sounds. The intriguing aspect of Jokiniemi’s movements, however, is not necessarily the act in itself, as most of the choreographed actions, such as the hammering, already occurred in the opening scenes of Howl. Rather, it is the particular manner in which Jokiniemi approaches and shifts between the things. While she initially encountered the materialities in a direct and almost calculated manner, Jokiniemi starts to act more and more erratic as Howl continues. Completely engrossed in the presence of the things, she goes from one item to another in an increasingly less controlled manner. No longer wearing the overalls, Jokiniemi crawls like a wild animal between the audience and the sculptures; sometimes, aggressively throwing and biting the things; sometimes, erotically rubbing her naked body against them.

In doing so, Jokiniemi also demonstrates how the act of touching, and being touched in return, does not always result in a material relationality that is devoid of power or potential harm. As Puig de la Bellacasa points out, we must remain wary of the tendency to romanticize touch as an easy tool to gain unfiltered access to the other in ways that are supposedly attentive or beneficial by default (98). “[T]o touch or to be touched physically,” she argues, “doesn’t automatically mean being in touch, with oneself or the other” (99). In Howl, Jokiniemi similarly shows that the interdependency of material touch can as well be marked by “intrusiveness and appropriation” (Puig de la Bellacasa 119). In this sense, the performance also adds an interesting layer to the performative presence of things in posthuman dramaturgies: while the material items in Howl are still actively affecting and moving Jokiniemi, this interplay does not automatically result in a freeing or caring dynamic, on the contrary. 

Sonja Jokiniemi performing in Howl. 8 August 2019, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki. Photo: Simo Karisalo

A visceral scene, taking place towards the end of Howl, vividly embodies this “threat of violence and invasion” inherent to the “unavoidable ambivalence of touch” (Puig de la Bellacasa 100). While the soundscape intensifies, Jokiniemi pours a blood-like liquid out of a sculpture onto her naked body. Covered in the red substance, she moves frantically through the space for a few more minutes, after which she settles her attention on a pink piece of fabric that is dangling from the ceiling. Heavily panting, she moves her body back and forth on the textile in a way that is both erotic and cramped, almost animal-like. After one hour of bodily engaging with the material items, it seems as if Jokiniemi is fully exhausted by her own ferocity towards these materialities. In an insightful text about the performance, Jokiniemi herself articulates the experience as follows:

In Howl it seems that in the end I work with what is left when language fails, when communication fails, when connection fails, when what is left is loss; loss of connection and loss of potential. The work deals with destruction, destruction of language and what is left is blood, saliva, bodily fluids, fat, flesh, bones, dirt, the ungraspable, growling flesh.

Jokiniemi, “Experience report”

An interesting facet of this quote is the fact that, much like in the performance itself, it is not fully clear who is mostly marked by the loss of constructive communication and connection: the material things that have been violently touched by the performer or Jokiniemi herself, who leaves the stage as a howling material being—clearly transformed by the sensorial contact with these nonhuman materialities. To put it differently, while the intra-touching in this performance might not generate a playful mode of material contact, it does, like Blab, accentuate how human and nonhuman beings unavoidably affect each other through their haptic, “reciprocal exposure” to each other’s materiality (Puig de la Bellacasa 116).

Concluding Remarks

In conclusion, both Blab and Howl provide a layered experience of the presence of performative things, that is often explored in posthuman dramaturgies. In these performances, the undoing of anthropocentric categories mostly functions as an entry point from which performers and material things can encounter one another in a highly haptic, bodily manner. While Blab emphasizes the intimacy and potential playfulness of this material interrelation, Howl is more ambivalent in its exploration of material relationality. The specific intra-touching of Jokiniemi and the sculptures in Howl highlights how the reciprocal and transformative nature of touch does not necessarily entail an experience of liberation or connectedness. To word it with Puig de la Bellacasa, Howl makes tangible how human and nonhuman beings can affect each other in “relational processes that are far from being always pleasant or livable” (116). As this performance shows: violently engaging with nonhuman things does not negate the (potential) transformative power or agency of materialities touching, but it does leave behind a bloody destruction of the environment.

I would like to end this essay with a vivid description of the nature of touch, articulated by Karen Barad. While Barad’s words are part of their complex work on the quantum field theory of touch and matter, they also eerily echo the vulnerable exposure to things that is present in Sonja Jokiniemi’s work:

A cacophony of whispered screams, gasps, and cries, an infinite multitude of indeterminate beings diffracted through different spacetimes, the nothingness, is always already within us, or rather, it lives through us. We cannot shut it out, we cannot control it. We cannot block out the irrationality, the perversity, the madness we fear, in the hopes of a more orderly world. But this does not mitigate our responsibility. On the contrary, it is what makes it possible. Indeterminacy is not a lack, a loss, but an affirmation, a celebration of the plenitude of nothingness.

“On Touching” 163


[1] Blab premiered on November 3, 2017, during the Moving in November festival in Helsinki, Finland. I attended the performance in the Beursschouwburg, Belgium, on March 17, 2018.

[2] Howl premiered on August 8, 2019, in the Museum of Contemporary art Kiasma in Helsinki, Finland. I attended the performance in STUK, Belgium, on December 5, 2019.


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*Lieze Roels is a PhD candidate in Cultural Studies at KU Leuven (Belgium). She holds a Master of Arts in Theatre and Film Studies from the University of Antwerp. Her doctoral research explores the relationship between the contemporary European performing arts and the thought of feminist new materialism. Her work has been published in FORUM+ and Etcetera.

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