Carbon flows into a work of art – Lux Helsinki explores the lungs of Helsinki from a new perspective

This January, the Lux Helsinki light festival invites us to view art through a scientific perspective, as the University of Helsinki’s carbon dioxide measurements become a map of invisible Helsinki.

The Lux Helsinki event in January investigates the circulation of carbon in the lungs of Helsinki, that is, its green spaces. To be displayed in Esplanade Park, the experimental documentary film Lungs is the result of collaboration between the artists Teemu Lehmusruusu and Roberto Fusco, the University of Helsinki’s Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR), and Aalto University.

Lungs is a computer-based animation using laser scanning and carbon flow data. Laser scanning is a highly accurate technique of capturing three-dimensional data about an environment or structure. Lungs makes it possible to experience invisible urban occurrences: the functioning of ecosystems and their significance for the city’s climate resilience and liveability.

“We are continuously measuring the flow of carbon dioxide in Helsinki, or the amount of carbon dioxide transferred from the Earth’s surface to the atmosphere through emissions from human activities, or from the atmosphere to urban vegetation,” explains Professor Leena Järvi of INAR.

Järvi’s research group uses meteorological techniques to conduct measurements both in central Helsinki on the Hotel Torni roof and at Kumpula Campus. The latter measurements are part of the ICOS research infrastructure (European Integrated Carbon Observation System).

“The original purpose for collecting data has been to establish the place and time of maximum carbon dioxide emissions. We also strive to generate independent data about emission trends over long time periods. In Kumpula, we are interested in the temporal variation of plant sinks and their response to phenomena such as heat waves and drought,” notes Järvi.  

Bridging the gap between science and art

Järvi currently leads the CO-CARBON project, which primarily aims to increase public awareness of carbon sinks and other ecosystem services in urban nature.

“One of the ways to achieve this goal is, of course, through art.”

The team headed by the project deputy director, Professor Ranja Hautamäki of Aalto University, had the idea of using art to illustrate the invisible yet vital process of carbon sequestration at Lux Helsinki. Järvi describes how Hautamäki contacted artist Teemu Lehmusruusu, a doctoral researcher at Aalto University’s Department of Art and Media, who has previously examined the illustration of ecological processes relying on multiprofessional researcher collaboration.

Järvi believes that art can help urban residents see their immediate surroundings with new eyes.

“I hope the audience will see green spaces in Helsinki as essential components of a climate-resilient city promoting biodiversity. We must nurture such spaces to maximise their benefits.”

Lungs is showcased in Esplanade Park as part of Lux Helsinki from 3 to 7 January 2024, 17.00 to 22.00.