Creativity through disability

A chance reunion of two artist-researchers at the Theatre Academy has led to a groundbreaking joint project during this year’s Research Pavilion.


Becoming Disabled by doctoral students Liisa Jaakonaho and Kristina Junttila challenges Research Pavilion visitors to see disability in a new light – as a concept to be explored creatively rather than as a biological ‘fact’.

The workshop and installation are part of a Research Pavilion in Venice.

“We offer an opportunity for participants to reflect on their own – potential – disability through simple, accessible exercises that leave traces in the space,” the artists say. “We want to explore how disability might suggest different affective and relational experiences in relation to oneself, others and the environment.”

The workshop, on June 30 and July 1, will produce an installation.

“The actions that we facilitate will create marks that can be viewed by the audience during and after the workshop,” explains Jaakonaho. “These traces will include ways of documenting the workshop and leaving these documents in the space.”

Images are taken in early 2017 at a day centre run by the Rinnekoti Foundation in Helsinki, where Jaakonaho works with differently abled people. These documentary photos are part of Jaakonaho’s doctoral research entitled Fluctuation, Cross-Fertilisation and Friction: From artistic/pedagogic/ therapeutic encounters to rhizomes of ethical questions (and back).


Their project’s theme dovetails with that of the entire Pavilion, Utopia of Access.

“We’re quite excited, because we feel that this collaboration is taking us both in a new direction,” says Junttila.

“We’re both involved with arts pedagogy, in different ways. Liisa is currently focusing on her research as a dance pedagogue with differently-abled people, but she also has a background in performance and live art. I’m a performance artist and a researcher in exercises and participation in performance art pedagogy. So our project for the Research Pavilion came from this combination of our interests.”


The Research Pavilion’s theme, Utopia of Access, ties in directly to Junttila’s and Jaakonaho’s work in recent years – and their hope for a more inclusive future.

“We want to explore how disabilities, potential or otherwise, influence people’s access to the world of art and research. This relates to political questions of inclusion and social justice, as well as authorship and agency in art-making. The art world is still, in many ways, quite exclusive, giving access to certain kind of artists and certain roles of participation,” observes Junttila.

 “Our utopia is to broaden the various ways of experiencing and making art to include people’s disabilities, so that they’re not seen as weaknesses but as opportunities and potentials.”


The two studied together at the Theatre Academy Helsinki in 2010–11. They met during an arts pedagogy course, where Junttila focused on theatre pedagogy and Jaakonaho on dance pedagogy.

Last autumn, they re-connected at the Uniarts Helsinki, where Jaakonaho is working on her doctorate and Junttila was a visiting research fellow as part of doctoral studies at the Arts Academy of Tromsø, Norway.

“We were working in the same room, and started chatting about our interests over lunch,” recalls Junttila. “Liisa has worked in various roles in the arts, social care, education, and mental health settings. She likes to collaborate with different people and cross boundaries between fields and disciplines.”

Some 15 years ago, Junttila led a theatre group with differently abled people and ever since then has been fascinated by the possibilities suggested by that work. More recently, she has worked as a performance artist and teacher constructing events, performances and teaching with different modes of participation, as well as collaborating extensively.

These experiences and interests naturally led to the focus of their shared Venice project, says Jaakonaho.

“We’re interested in how the themes of disability and access might offer us different perspectives in relation our research interests – including in a practical sense, in relation to the performative exercises and encounters that take place in the workshop,” she says.

In photo (from left): Kristiina Junttila & Liisa Jaakonaho

This article has originally been published in the May issue of Uniarts Helsinki's IssueX magazine, this time a special edition dedicated to the Research Pavilion.

Research Pavilion's Camino Event Becoming Disabled will take place June 30 - July 1 at 10am-1pm. See event details.