Art, Science, Ecology Course – spring 2021

In January 2021, the Art, Science, Ecology course will begin on the initiative of the contemporary-art commissioning agency IHME Helsinki, and in collaboration with the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science HELSUS at the University of Helsinki and Uniarts Helsinki’s Academy of Fine Arts. The aim of the course is to increase consciousness of the impacts of the sustainability crisis on art, science and society, plus producing and analysing the information necessary for the change in thinking and acting required by the sustainability crisis. On the course, practitioners of art and science will together be able to investigate some complex phenomena of our time. The course workshops are aimed at students of the collaborating universities, all the lectures in the course will be given online, and will be free and open to everyone who is interested.

The objective of each part of the course is to consider the changes in thought and action required by the environmental crisis and how that change is/will be visible in the life, work and environment of each artist/curator/researcher/student. Questions that the course is aiming to raise are for example what sort of change does the environmental crisis call for in our relationship with the following concepts and manifestations of them: artistic/scientific freedom – materiality – corporeality – language, concepts – the importance of biodiversity – relations between humans and other species – the attitude to the environment in our own professional work, what load does it place on the environment? How to transform this load into it´s reverse?

The course lecturers and workshop leaders are artists, researchers and curators from Finland and abroad who work in the middle ground between art and science.

  • The artist and BIOS Research Unit researcher Antti Majava opens the course by considering, with the aid of historical examples and workshop activities, what task art should perform in the ecological transition.
  • In her work the Britain-resident researcher and artist Susan Schuppli studies the material evidence of conflicts, environmental destruction and climate change. On the course she will talk about her latest research and her works, which deal with research on the subject of frozen water and the politics of “cold”.
  • The maker of this year’s IHME Helsinki Commission 2020 Jana Winderen will talk about making  Listening Through the Dead Zones art project  in Helsinki in August 2021, and in the workshop the students will practise listening as an artistic and scientific method.
  • The maker of IHME Helsinki Commission 2021, the Scottish artist Katie Paterson, will give a lecture about her work To Burn, Forest, Fire, to be made in Helsinki, and discuss the dialogue between art and science with researchers who helped in the project.
  • The artist Samir Bhowmik unpacks the concept of material and cultural extraction in the context of media culture and art, in order to open up, on the one hand, understanding of the exploitation of natural resources and, on the other hand, of the changes occurring in the environment as consequence of it.
  • IHME Helsinki’s Executive Director and curator Paula Toppila will expand on IHME Helsinki’s efforts to achieve ecologically sustainable solutions in its annual artwork curation and production. 

The contributors to the programme living abroad will all participate online and most recordings of their contributions will be posted on IHME’s YouTube channel. The Finland-resident workshop leaders – Antti Majava, Samir Bhowmik and Paula Toppila – will run the workshops as contact teaching, if government and the universities’ COVID-19 policies permit. At most 20 students, ten from the Academy of Fine Arts and ten registered and selected through HELSUS will be accepted for the course in the order of registration. From the University of Helsinki, we can admit 5 students studying at faculties in the City Centre campus and 5 jointly from the faculties at the Viikki, Kumpula and Meilahti campuses.

Scope of the course

5 credits.

Course language

The course will be organized in English.

Course evaluation


Teachers in charge

Janna Pietikäinen, Mikko Saikku, Sirpa Tani / HELSUS

Additional information

More information on the course on the IHME HELSINKI website.

registration for university of helsinki students

Information on the registration.

Mon 25.1.2021 at 16:00-17:00 ONLINE LECTURE (ENG)

Artist, researcher Antti Majava, Art – a radical transition strategy. Open to all.

Mon 1.2.2021 at 16:00-19:00 WORKSHOP (ENG) Artist, researcher Antti Majava, Art – Radical Transition Strategy. Where: HELSUS. HELSUS and KUVA students.

The lecture and the workshop following it will make a cross-exposure of the history of art and the history of socio-ecological transitions in modern (and postmodern) societies. The participants will discuss the inter-linkages between communication in the cultural sphere and the metabolism of the material sphere, and how these links are present in contemporary art. Art practice is often a combination of material and theoretical elements, and thus provides an interesting backdrop for better understanding of the materialities of cultural and societal processes. Culture can be seen as a collection of material and conceptual conventions. Especially the avant-garde art of the 19th and 20th (21st) centuries has been understood as a transitional force, breaking old conventions and establishing new ones. What is, or would be, art’s role in the ongoing energy-related, social and ecological transitions?

Objectives & Outcomes: During and after the workshop, students are free to choose any medium – images words, video, etc. – to make their own rendition of what the next major transition could be like. The work can be done individually or with a working partner/group. 

Mon 8.2.2021 at 16:00-17:00  ONLINE LECTURE (ENG)

Artist Katie Paterson lectures on her artistic practise, the IHME Helsinki Commission 2021 To burn, Forest, Fire. Open to all.

Collaborating with scientists and researchers across the world, Paterson’s projects consider our place on Earth in the context of geological time and change. Her artworks make use of sophisticated technologies and specialist expertise to stage intimate, poetic and philosophical engagements between people and their natural environment. One of the best known works of Paterson is Futture Library in Oslo, Norway.

Further information.

Wed 10.2.2021 at 16:00-17:00 ONLINE DISCUSSION (ENG)

IHME Helsinki Commission artist Katie Paterson, Emeritus Professor of Palaeobiology Jan Zalasiewitcz (University of Leicester), Docent in Paleoclimatology J. Sakari Salonen (University of Helsinki) – discussion. Open to all.

The artist Katie Paterson will discuss with Emeritus Professor Jan Zalasiewicz, School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, University of Leicester and Docent in Palaeoclimatology J. Sakari Salonen, University of Helsinki. They will discuss the research done for Katie Paterson’s IHME Helsinki Commission To Burn, Forest, Fire, and go on to the role of art and science in reclaiming our belief in the future in the age of climate crisis. How do scientific and experiential knowledge, past and future, occur in Katie Paterson’s art? What is art’s role in the ecological transition?

Objectives and outcomes: Students will learn about the dialogue between art and science in an artistic production, and about the methods used in Katie Paterson’s artistic practice. Students will receive three questions before the course and write a summary based on their learning experience.

Tue 16.2.2021 at 16:00-18:00 FILM (screening venue will be announced later) and ONLINE LECTURE (ENG)

Artist Susan Schuppli, Ice Cores film (documentary, dir. Schuppli) and online lecture, film duration 1h 6 min, lecture 30 min, 15 min for discussion. Open to all.

This presentation will introduce a body of artistic work and research exploring the many different knowledge practices that are mediated by “ice”, from scientific expertise to local knowledge and indigenous traditions. While the first phase of my work explored ice-core science and resulted in documentary films shot in the Canadian Ice Core Archive, a US geochemistry lab, and the Svalbard Arctic Archipelago, the next phase shifts the focus to conducting fieldwork and related activities in the Himalayan mountain regions. This is an area of the world where the changing material conditions of glacial ice are not only impacting directly upon local communities but also climate systems globally. In developing these sequenced projects my research aims to coalesce disparate – and oftentimes incommensurate – forms of knowledge across a wide range of spatial scales and contexts that, when taken together, create a more complex understanding of our current ecological condition.

Wed 17.2.2021 at 16:00 ONLINE WORKSHOP (ENG)

Artist Susan Schuppli, JUST ICE: Cold Rights within a Warming World. HELSUS and KUVA students.

This workshop aims to explore a series of “cold cases” in which we engage with the various ways in which the changing material condition of frozen water has become a subject of wide-ranging contestation, arising from human processes that have damaged cryospheric stability and even sought to operationalize cold. From ecological issues of glacial retreat and sea-level rise, renewed demands for indigenous sovereignty and environmental governance, territorial claims aimed at increasing access to oil and gas resources made possible because of Arctic melting and permafrost thawing, legal petitions arguing for the human right to be cold, conservation projects focused on glacial guardianship and the preservation of ice cores from endangered glaciers, to the weaponization of cold as a strategy of policing at the US/Mexico border, where migrants are held in freezer-like cells known as “Iceboxes”, to the use of cold-water cannons against protestors at Standing Rock in the dead of winter. Although ice is a familiar domesticated material, it is also intensely political – it is this complex thermostatic condition that we will explore together through a series of cold cases generated by participants in this workshop. 

Objectives & Outcomes: Each participant is asked to present one case study at the workshop (please be as specific as possible) outlining the context and contestations that are at stake. Ideally this mini-presentation will include audio-visuals, maps, reports, and any other related supporting documents. Together we will aim to build an online archive of cold-case files.

Further information.

Wed 3.3.2021 at 16:00-17:00 ONLINE LECTURE (ENG) 

IHME Helsinki Commission artist Jana Winderen, ‘Listening Through the Dead Zones, the work for a sound installation’. Jana Winderen will talk about her work for the commission from IHME, with examples of earlier work and methods of working. Open to all.

Thu 4.3. 2021 at 16:00-19:00 ONLINE WORKSHOP

IHME Helsinki Commission artist Jana Winderen called ‘Screaming at a small bird’. An active-listening workshop. HELSUS and KUVA students.

Before the lecture, students will be given the task of going to particular sites and listening, for example, at different distances from the shore, in the water etc. In the workshop the participants will share their listening experiences, how listening works as a tool for sound as information, and how it relates to the concept of sustainability and the other topics of the course. Students are asked to share their experiences on a video, max 5 min, as audio or written word, sketch or photograph. Jana Winderen will write to students with more detailed instructions in January 2021.

Objectives and outcomes: In this workshop students will learn to use listening as a method, as a tool for understanding sound as information, and through sound to gain empathy for other species and each other in our shared environment. Students from different disciplines will share their expertise with each other and learn about artistic and scientific approaches.

Further information and sound samples.

Mon 15.3.2021 at 16:00–20.00 LECTURE (ENG) and WORKSHOP (ENG)

Artist Samir Bhowmik, Media Cultures of Extraction. Lecture 1h, open to all, workshop 3h. KUVA and HELSUS students.

This lecture and the workshop following it tackle historical and contemporary questions of extraction in the context of media culture and artistic work that deals with extraction. Besides investigating the concept – its usefulness for understanding the material processes of resource extraction and the transformation of planetary landscapes – it is also articulated through contemporary art projects that deal with themes such as Unknown Fields’ Lithiumproject, and others. 

Objectives and outcomes: Students will learn about the concept of extraction int context of media culture and art, how it works as a tool for understanding transformation of planetary landscapes. In the workshop they will make a short cartography of extraction in the Finnish context. 

Tue 23.3.2021 at 16:00-19:00 ONLINE LECTURE (ENG)

Open to all. WORKSHOP (ENG) Executive Director, curator Paula Toppila, Ecologically sustainable curating – IHME Helsinki. Collaboration with the artists Jana Winderen and Katie Paterson. KUVA and HELSUS students.

IHME Helsinki’s goal is to achieve a carbon-neutral art-institution practice as soon as possible. The focus of IHME Helsinki’s work is on the annual commissioned art work in the public realm. With the artist making it we consider: How are we to safeguard artistic freedom within a framework of life-sustaining systems? In her lecture Toppila will put forward the art-institution viewpoint on the works produced in collaboration with Jana Winderen and Katie Paterson. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic IHME Helsinki Commissions 2020 and 2021 are both being realized in August-September 2021. 

Objectives and outcomes: Pairs/small groups of workshop participants will be given the task of thinking about curating and producing contemporary art from a sustainability viewpoint by devising an example work (selecting the art work, display context, ecologically sustainable implementation plan). What kind of world would have only sustainable solutions? What will we have to give up, what will be put in its place? What does artistic freedom within a framework of life-sustaining systems mean? A written and/or visual summary will be made of the outcomes of the workshop, with case examples and implementation scenario(s). 

The students of the University of Helsinki are selected on the first come first served principle. The accepted students will be granted the right to complete this course by the Academy of Fine Arts / University of the Arts Helsinki. After completion of the course the students will get a transcript of studies, which will allow them to transfer the credits to the University of Helsinki degree programme. 

The registration for the course is open until 10.12.2020. University of Helsinki students can register on the course via the online form, where you will also find more information on the registration.

Register on the course via the online form (requires logging in with University of Helsinki username).

Students from other institutions than the University of Helsinki must register via their own institution's registration platforms. More information about the registration for students who are not studying at the University of Helsinki.