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Dwelling In Nothingness:

in Conversation with Yelena Arakelow

P5_Moving sideways, Attempt Nr.3_Dagur J

Moving sideways, Attempt Nr.3, photo by Dagur Jóhannsson

Thousands upon thousands of earthquakes have been shaking Iceland for the past three weeks and Yelena Arakelow is feeling the effects. The 27-year old dance artist from Switzerland has been presenting a piece in Listasafn Reykjanesbær since January, and her energy is running low. Her performance, 'Moving Sideways Attempt Nr. 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11’, is based around the theme of dwelling and resting, and is being carried out in the epicentre of these quakes where rest is constantly disturbed and dwellings are being shaken. Despite these geological disturbances to the body and soul, she arrived to Dansverkstæðið for this conversation in good spirits.


Can you tell me the main ideas behind this piece?

The main idea I started off with is the idea of dwelling, or resting, and being in the intimacy of nothingness. Maybe how you move, or how things move or how things touch in this space of doing nothing or dwelling. Like in these moments when you space out. So you’re not doing nothing, but you’re also not doing anything.

How did the collaboration start with the museum?

Helga Þórsdóttir, the curator and the museum director, contacted Dansverkstæðið and they invited me. So I applied through Dansverkstæðið and the board chose me to do the work. The open call was in the first week of January [2021] and the work started in the second week of January. So it was a very short time. I was working for one and a half months, and then we opened mid-February. It was a crazy start of the year. 

That’s really intense. With such a short time to develop it, how did your process go?

Because it was such a short process, the experimentation phase was really short. It was probably a week only. I knew I was going to have a little amount of time so I used a lot of things that I’ve used before in a sense of practice or scores or materials. There was no, so to say, completely new elements, but I think that never happens for any artist. Because I have been working here a lot freely, on my own researching, and because I am very young I haven’t had many opportunities, I have a lot of material that’s been waiting.


Were they things that you’ve had in your bank but haven’t had their moment to be presented?

Exactly. A lot that came with this topic comes from the last few months or year of the times we’re in. I was trying to find a job so there was a lot of time of doing nothing. Then also together with this stress of such a short time [to work]. I started working in the space of the museum really fast so I was in Keflavík a lot. Somehow everything just came together. Also some materials I had ordered a year ago to work with and then never used them, so that’s how they came in.

Like what kind of stuff? 

My main material was tape. Gaffer tape and masking tape. That was the main material I had last year. In May, I did a performance with two friends during covid here in Dansverkstæðið—I have been getting a lot of support from Dansverkstæðið. For that performance we ordered tape and I ordered extra because I had a feeling I wanted to use it. So finally I used the tape in this performance.

How did the ideas of dwelling and nothingness and bringing in this element of tape translate into physicality?

I have this practice that I call taping corners, which is I tape a corner on the floor or on the wall or in a space. I kind of give myself a space and within that I start kind of dwelling in nothingness and just being and allowing the movement or the physicality that comes with it. In this case I started taping more with the wall and that’s where the physicality came. In the relation between the floor and the wall, it started to translate from how I’m moving. So it’s following a natural instinct.



















How have things progressed or changed from the point of experimentation to the point of presenting?

Quite a lot. It started more standing upright, pressing against the walls with my hands, and it changed to be upside down. I’m mainly on my hands, pressing against the floor. That’s the most literal change that happened.

Was that an instinctual response to your environment?

Yes, and also because I got feedback. I was pressing against the walls and I got feedback from someone that their experience—there’s no right or wrong about that—was that I was trying to break out of something. It felt like I was trying to push away something, that I was trying to come out of my four walls or my corner. I realised that that was not really what I wanted people to experience at first sight. So then I don’t press against the wall which is meant to break out, but it’s more to the floor to go inwards. The physical piece, how it has changed… I’m performing it every Saturday and with each attempt I’m trying to watch how it changes.



















It’s like giving yourself multiple tries.

I think it’s also kind of taking away the stress of needing to be the same in each performance and also needing to know when I start exactly the right mixture of what I’m doing. I learned that this didn’t work and that didn’t work so I adapt it a little bit as I go along.

What do you have planned next?

There are a few things lining up. I’m starting to work with Steinunn Ketilsdóttir who is having a premiere in Tjarnabíó. I’m gonna be a dancer in her piece. After there’s many applications going on but everything is still in the open. As it seems, this year has been very good at giving me a lot of spontaneous things. I’m not stressed about it.


Rehearsal photo by Yelena Arakelow

P1_Taped Corner, a Manifesto.jpg

Taped Corner, a Manifesto photo by Yelena Arakelow

P3_Moving sideways, Attempt Nr.3_Dagur J

Moving sideways, Attempt Nr.3, photo by Dagur Jóhannsson

P6_Moving sideways, Attempt Nr.3_Dagur J

Moving sideways, Attempt Nr.3, photo by Dagur Jóhannsson

P5_Moving sideways, Attempt Nr. 7_Dagur

Moving sideways, Attempt Nr.3, photo by Dagur Jóhannsson

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