Mediums & Dimensions
Aalto ARTS Course | 2018 | Teacher Pia Euro
Mediums and Dimensions is a course of Aalto ARTS, realised with multiple techniques and with a group of students from different backgrounds. The course is arranged every year with an individual theme and this year, the task was to focus on a space itself as a medium. Students worked with spaces and explored the ways one can use them as a source of inspiration or even a tangible tool for creating art. At the end of the course we arranged an exhibition called Dimensions.
The course took place in Lapinlahti, an old mental hospital in Helsinki, which was built in 1841 and emptied of its original use in 2008. The complex was designed by Carl Ludvig Engel and it consists of the main building and several small houses around it. Originally Lapinlahti was the first hospital in Finland that was built only for mental patients. It is a calm and beautiful place surrounded by a big park, cemetery and the sea.
Right by the side of the main building is a little charming house called Venetsia which is the place where we worked in. Venetsia was built in 1890 and used as a laundry as well as an apartment house for the workers of the hospital. For a long time Lapinlahti belonged to HUS but was purchased by The City of Helsinki in 1999. After all the medical use of the complex had ended, the space was left mainly empty because of its bad condition and expensive renovation costs. During this time the Venetsia-building was squatted several times by students, but they were forced to leave every time. Finally, in 2013 the main part of Lapinlahti was rented to volunteer organisations that started to arrange events and exhibitions in the area and brought it to life in a new and fresh way.
Venetsia-house was opened to the public only in the spring of 2017 and it too was rented for studio space, events and gatherings. The building itself is a square shaped block that has windows to every direction. It is located right by the sea, one side of it shows directly to water and from the other side one can look at the yellow walls of the hospital and see the industrial towers of Ruoholahti. We were working there amongst all the other users of the house and had a special opportunity to experience the magic of this little place.
Here we, students Ines and Sofia, write about thoughts and feelings that came to our minds in relation to experiencing the space:
As I started to think about spaces on this course and due to it, payed more attention to the surroundings around me, I acknowledged more sensitively how the spaces I’m in affect my mind and body. How they affect the way I feel, behave and experience things. How do the light and the colors of the space, the emptiness or fullness of it, make me feel? How I feel when surrounded by plain walls or how I feel when working in a space full of interesting objects?
Even if being sensitive to my surroundings I do not constantly think about how the space
I´m in might affect me. Could I be able to, in my everyday life, recognize and separate the effect of a space from the other matters affecting me? Could I better notice if I feel something because of the space I´m in? Is it even possible to separate these things, since we are always affected by our surroundings and our surroundings are always affected by us? Maybe the space is really created by us, by all the creatures interacting with and in it. The way we experience, see and act in a space, how we use and feel it, changes it.
As we create spaces all the time, we are constantly in a space. In a physical space and space of mind which I think, are always affecting each other. I might for example be sad. The space in my mind is dark and unwilling to encounter anything. I might enter a physical room with an atmosphere which I, despite the dark atmosphere in my mind, experience to be good and inspiring. Maybe I start to feel happier as spending time in this space. But does the darkness of my mental space change the atmosphere of the physical space I communicate with? Or is this physical space with a good feeling really also a space in my mind since I am the one experiencing it? What if I just have to decide which one to enter and the physical space becomes it?
During the course I started to see different kinds of situations as spaces. Everyday I interact with people. Are people spaces too? Spaces that are, change, form and collide constantly. Daily we walk into each other and change each other, affect each other in different ways. Sometimes we visit, sometimes we leave and sometimes we feel like staying. This got me also thinking about social media as a space. It feels like it has its own kind of ways to act and form. In social media we might for example act differently than in face to face situations. What we do or don’t, sometimes differs from what would happen in a physical contact situations. This then, of course, creates a different kind of atmosphere for a space. All the same, social media is a space that we create.
We create new spaces in different situations. Do we still often use and experience the spaces, physical and mental, which we already know? As I stared at the sea during the Christmas holiday in a place far away from home, without the strong contact to the spaces that are familiar to me, I thought about the space I was in that moment. I felt somehow more free. Like the expectations, created images and known ways to be, would have suddenly become more visible to me, more formable and less limited. It got me thinking that maybe sometimes we might get stuck in the spaces we make. Maybe sometimes it is good to step out of the spaces we already know.
When I think of humans I always end up associating us with flavours. The most interesting aspect of human interaction is that we are constantly changing and evolving, one day we are adding salt and the next day covering our existence with spoonfuls of sugar. There are many similar flavours, but not one that would be exactly the same as the other.
Could we compare experiencing built space to flavours too? There are sounds, smells, surfaces, elements and objects of different sizes and volumes. They all interact with us and constitute the whole that we call space. They create the atmosphere and they are also in a constant state of changing. Can we separate different aspects of a space, cut it down to pieces and experience it bit by bit? The air and the smells of it, the walls and objects and sounds, how does our brain combine all those things in to a concept we so often take for granted? How do we create space?
Is it possible to experience the space objectively, from a non-human perspective, or are we always rooted in our body and the perception it gives us about the world? The word ‘experience’ is itself implying a body that has a physical presence and a set of sensory organs that record the wavelengths of the world and translate them into a humanly form. Experiencing things without a body would be quite impossible and this is why any perception we have is always a human point of view.
What it is that makes a space nice to be in? Maybe when the proportions of all the architectural details are somehow close to the scale of the body they feel comfortable to the mind. Our personal history with all its memories affects how we see the space we are in, and what kind of mental images we get from different situations. Additionally the cultural upbringing we have and what we know about the space or a building beforehand plays a big role in how we perceive our surroundings and what kind of thoughts we get from the variety of built elements.
However, often the architectural space has an emotional effect on us first. The emotions have the power to direct our thoughts and actions and from there they take us to more tangible aspects of life, like meeting other people and reacting to situations. But experiencing space is also a complicated procedure in which the human mind calculates and approximates a lot of variables just in order to prevent the body from bumping into walls and windows. We embrace this mathematical aspect of our existence so fully that most of the time we are totally unaware of it.
Humans have the ability to imagine space anywhere by just focusing on any detail and see the spatiality in it, but most often we see ourselves as the ones who are in the space, using it and experiencing it. We feel the outer space, the outdoors, the sky and the ground beneath our feet, we are also aware of the space below the surface on which we live in, the one that is out of reach under the stone shell of the Earth. But humans are spaces too. In my everyday life I don’t often think of my body as a space or a place called human. What kind of a space my body is for a microscopic bug that is living in my hair or skin? Just by changing the scale I can see myself as a city too.
As our collaborative project for the Mediums and Dimensions course we made a game called SpaceFormers, a photography based board game in which one can build new abstract spaces and funny beings out of the square shaped cards. We took photographs around Venetsia-house and mirrored them to every direction so it is easy to form continuous patterns out of the cards. Player of the game can let the imagination run wild while creating new spaces from the photos of details, shapes and forms taken in the building that has seen many layers of time.
The project also has its own creatures, the SpaceFormers, that were born from the spaces and the atmosphere of Lapinlahti. SpaceFormers is a way to play and experiment with spatiality. Space can mean many things. It may for example be physical space or a space of mind. In our work we wanted to focus on the spaces around us. How do we see the space? How does the space make us feel? How do we interact with it? How do we build it?
What kind of a space would you create?
Ines Masanti and Sofia Pyykkö are first year ViCCA students who both have background in visual art