What happens if you put together artists and scientists and ask them to create a work of environmental art? Exactly this has been the essence of a WDC student project – a collaborative effort of the University of Helsinki, the Aalto University and the Finnish Museum of Natural History (FMNH).
“Reclaiming territories” was an idea of docent Susanna Lehvavirta, researcher of the Urban Ecology Research Group in Viikki and at the FMNH, and Markku Hakuri, professor of environmental art in Aalto University. The project title reflects two of Susanna’s main research interests: assisted migration in climate change and green roofs. In both examples nature is supported in claiming back its territory.
A colourful bunch
At the beginning of this year, 17 students were submitted to the course: a colourful bunch of natural science students, fine art students, Finnish and international students. The course topic blended in with Green Design, one of the four major programs of the University of Helsinki’s Designing the Future – World Design Capital theme. The aim of the course: finding ways of expressing scientific phenomena, research and results by means of environmental art. Doctoral student of Environmental Art Scott Andrew Elliott, plant researcher and docent Timo Saarinen and doctoral student Elina Vaara, mentored the environmental art course.
For Elina, this has been a new experience in two ways: it was her first time teaching and her first serious encounter with art in practise. She admits that “I had been sceptical about artists engaging with science in a purely emotional and unfounded way”. In order to avoid any shallow statements, the student teams attended lectures on climate change and its impact on diversity as well as lectures on the foundations of environmental art. Only then they started developing their ideas. In addition, each work of art was carefully evaluated by a professional jury of Susanna Lehvävirta and Markku Hakuri.
Eye-opener in every respect
And the outcome? Apart from five thought provoking works of art in the Kumpula Botanical Garden the course was also an eye-opener for its participants. “The collaboration between the students worked really well, I was impressed that new understanding arouse for both the artists and the scientists” says Elina. Last but not least, the project has been an enrichment for the mentors themselves. As a formerly rather rationally-thinking biologist, Elina states “I have come to look at phenomena from different angles and tackle issues more creatively!”
Creating ways towards a sustainable and liveable future is the World Design Capital’s main objective, and this demands both grounded knowledge and freedom of thought. Making artists and scientists collaborate seems a very promising strategy.
In the next weeks, five stories will tell about each of the five art pieces that arouse from the student project.