The recently opened Porvoo Art Factory is a great asset on the Porvoo River west bank and I am looking forward to increased cooperation between Campus and Taidetehdas. This morning I had the wonderful opportunity of attending the Taide elää yhteisössä (Art Lives in the Community) seminar, organized by Porvoo Artist Association. Upon arrival, the atmosphere of eager anticipation was tangible and I was welcomed by the impressive sight of Mutatis Mutandis, a co-creative sculpture consisting of magnetic stone-looking building blocks of which the spectator could construct mythical creatures. What a joy to behold!
The seminar was opened by Nelly Nio, chairman for Porvoo Artist Association. She was soon joined by photographer Johannes Romppanen and Jaana Hännikäinen, practical nurse at Rinnekoti Espoo. The purpose of their talk was to present a community art project that had been targeted to gravely mentally and physically handicapped people, many of them visually impaired as well as deaf living at the Majakka unit of Rinnekoti. None of these people possessed a spoken language, thus the communication happened by touch, signs and tactile sensations, nurse Hännikäinen serving as interpreter. The presentation was accompanied by photographs of the inhabitants when participating in the art workshops. Nelli Nio had chosen clay as material: some preferred cold clay, others clay heated in the sauna. One inhabitant had so sensitive receptors on the palms that he could not initially endure any touch. However, he eventually found joy in working with clay. The workshop would take place indoors and outdoors, in warm sunshine or in windy conditions. The space seemed to matter very much, often when choosing some alternative space, the workshop participant would suddenly feel comfortable. The photos were beautiful and deeply touching – revealing the human experience at its most naked. This is all beyond words, and I deeply hope that these people can continue to have art in their lives. As told by nurse Hännikäinen, the Majakka inhabitants would be seemingly content to sit all day in the same comfortable chair, lost in their own world. However, sensory stimulation is of utmost importance for their general well-being and here the art experience played an important role in stimulating the senses.
The following presentation was by Katja Kaulanen and Marko Ruotsalainen on a community theater project that took place in Kallio district, Helsinki. Senior residents had been invited to pick their favorite spot in Kallio and to tell their life stories. These in turn were compiled into a theatre performance on the small stage of Helsinki City Theater. The actors included the seniors themselves, the average age of the performers being 75. They were joined by high school students from Kallion ilmaisutaidon lukio, a school specializing in the art of performance. This turned out to be a wonderful blend of generations. A similar community theater project had also been conducted in Porvoo, where elderly people were invited to share their stories about working in Taidetehdas when it still was a factory owned by August Eklöf. These stories were developed into a performance in the Avanti Hall at Porvoo Art Factor. Wonderful video clips were shown from both performances, revealing the power of stories and shared memories. The power of doing something together was also evident in a project conducted by artist Antti Raatikainen aimed at the personnel at Joensuu library. The results of this wellbeing at work project were presented and the feedback of the participants revealed that creating a sculpture together had enhanced the overall communication between co-workers, contributing to a warmer and more tolerant atmosphere at the work-place.
The inspiring seminar got a sparkling ending when the floor was taken by the last speaker, Russian-born and Moscow-educated artist Alexander Reichstein. He presented his community art projects with children: a mesmerizing princess project that took the children to a real fairy tale world, no half-measures here. Reichstein also introduced a giant quilt installation called Alma Terra. Here children had been invited to climb Mother Earth: with waterways of silk and forests of furry material. Apparently, there is no limit to Reichstein’s extraordinary imagination, he had even produced a three-dimensional Picasso painting, into which the spectators could climb. Inside you could phone Picasso and he would answer in raspy French with a heavy Spanish accent. The presentation ended with an introduction to Mutatis Mutandis (Latin for “the necessary changes having been made”). This co-creative sculpture will be exhibited at Taidetehdas until 22 December. We would have had the opportunity to take our shoes off and play with the sculpture, however, I had to depart for my Business English class on Porvoo Campus. Yet, I will soon be back with my students to play. The imagination of Dancing English teacher immediately started developing ideas of a conversation class that would start with a visit to experience Mutatis Mutandis. Students would create their own mythological creature, name it and take a picture. In class we would then discuss the life of the creature: where does it live, how does it move, what does it eat? This would be a fantastic trigger for a story telling class. Wouldn’t it?
In conclusion, today’s seminar left me with many thoughts on the importance of art in quotidian life. During my career at Haaga-Helia I have worked hard to bring in the art of movement into all my teaching. As I teach English, it is also natural to introduce other art forms such as drama, music and visual arts. However, is this enough? Today, when watching the photographs of the handicapped Rinnekoti residents, I became painfully aware of the fact that we all need the experience of dropping our hands into clay. To rest our over-heated brains by just sitting back and enjoying the sensation of smooth clay on our skin. We are an educational institution educating people for a profession. However, simultaneously we are also educating our students for life. Is there a risk of crippling young minds by pouring too many facts into their heads? Maybe we should stand back, breathe deeply and send a thought to homo ludens, the playing man. In the words of poet Willim Henry Davies: What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.