Contemporary Design

Personal Exploration

Each year the course has a special theme and it starts with five-days excursion to a theme-related destination in Finland. The starting point of the course is an idea of a research artist/designer with a capability to conceptualize the perceived phenomena and experience. For supporting the process, the students keep a working diary throughout the course. In the diary, the students reflect the working process by sketching and writing. In addition, the students document the entire process by photographing, videotaping or with other recording media. The students can utilise different studios when elaborating their individual tasks and producing their final artefact. This work is supported with tutoring sessions, shared discussions, lectures, excursions and literature assignments. The course consists in three phases: (I) collecting information (excursions, lectures, literature); (II) processing and interpreting the collected data (working in studios, sharing the process in group sessions); and (III) presenting the interpretation (final artefact and related exhibition).
Crusade, Pietro Lora
Crusade by Pietro Lora. Materials: Clay and flowers
Professor Maarit Mäkelä


Exhibition poster with text on the left and a black and white images of trees on the right
Light shining through an organically sahped clear glass lampshade

NIX: Una lampada coi fiocchi by Mattia Anderle

Exploring the crystallization of snowflake geometrical formations, this research project delves into the captivating beauty of nature's patterns.

Contemporary Design
A red bucket fastened to the window

A bucketload of Finnish stereotypes by Birta Brynjólfsdóttir

The work is a celebration of the whimsical and joyous sides of Finland as seen through the eyes of a foreigner.

Contemporary Design
A collection of three organically shaped glasses, on of them is is being picked up by a hand

CURA by Daniel Georg Schiechl

As unassuming as this tableware appears, it tells the stories of our disguised daily gestures.

Contemporary Design
A collection of square biomaterial samples of earthy tones and marble like, organic aesthetic

ClaySkin by Hana Rehorčíková

ClaySkin is an experimental project that explores a biodegradable alternative to synthetic tattoo practice skin, commonly used by beginner tattoo artists.

Contemporary Design
A collection of writings and paintings laid out on a black background

Riidenliekoja by Johanna Martiskin

Porcelain, Acrylic on paper and wood, Poetry

Contemporary Design
A collection of ceramic objects and a glass sculpture in an exhibition setting

Shifting Focus by João Justino

This interactive artifact represents my journey of personal exploration through wheel throwing.

Contemporary Design
An exhibition layout presenting the mould, finished porcelain object and presentation  alongside initial sketchesposter

Personal Form-Finding by Kauri Rantala

Exploring nature-inspired design.

Contemporary Design
Shelf made of colourful textile

Shelf Version 1 by Lauriina Markkula

By switching from an end result focused process, to a more playful iterative process, I give myself the freedom to make rough prototypes, play with the material while doing it and see where the exploration leads me.

Contemporary Design
A hand resting upon a white ceramic sculpture

Snow’s recognition by Yutaro Komaki

Snow recognises the shape of the place where it piles up carefully and gradually. Snow accepts any shape. How can I recognise the shape of my thoughts and imagination like snow?

Contemporary Design
A collection of drop like looking glass objects, some of them empty, some containing pine needles or colour

白 by Zhonglei Li

(Pronounce: Bai/Meaning: hollow)

Contemporary Design


Poster for the course exhibition

Our exploration started in January with a week-long inspirational trip to Inari, Lapland.

Guided by materials, light and sound, and the community of us, we worked on individual projects through design and crafts that relate ourselves to our surroundings, stories, bodies, and connections.

We reflected and questioned our creative process and experiences, which resulted in artefacts that range from artistic research and curated narratives to material explorations and installations.

The exhibition is part of the Contemporary Design course 'Personal Exploration' led by Maarit Mäkelä and Priska Falin, showcasing various artefacts as personal interpretations of the given theme 'local'.

Wooden birdhouse
Contemporary Design
White clay pieces with a bark texture
Contemporary Design
Clay and clay stains on a white surface

A negotiation with snow and earth by Jimin Hong

How are our ecosystems affected by the inconsistent snow blanket?

Contemporary Design
A blue sculptural object with three black flowers

Mummu and me by Lotta Paananen

A portrait of me and my grandmother ‘Mummu’, who suddenly passed away during the Personal Exploration course.

Contemporary Design
A body made of photographs/collage

Embodied Forest by Samanta Kajėnaitė

What is a body? Can it be separated or extended?

Contemporary Design
A pink glass blown piece placed on a white pedestal, two black objects on each side

Yhteen hiileen by Sanni Havas

Finnish oak, mouth blown glass, microcontroller

Contemporary Design
A square textile art piece in white, green and two different shades of blue

Halvvägs / Halfway by Vala Boucht

wool, mohair & synthetic blend yarns

Contemporary Design
A notebook and curious object placed on a pedestal with a title saying ”DON'T AXE MY WHY”

DON’T AXE ME WHY by Unkown

Materials: Reindeer bone, porcelain

Contemporary Design


A COURSE poster for Personal Exploration course of 2022
Soil horizons exhibition poster

The 2022 edition of the flagship Contemporary Design course Personal Exploration started in March  on a week-long inspirational trip to Koli. Through meditative walks in snowy forests, cross-country skiing and reflective writing, students learned to dive in their personal practice, find a connection to the theme of the course — soil —  which was sometimes fantasized by the inability to dig through meters of snow. On the edge of recovery from the global pandemic and its social restrictions, the trip was also a moment for simply being.

Upon return to Helsinki, each individual was able to experiment a variety of processes around one’s metaphysical experience of soil, nature in general, and personal stories. 

The Soil Horizons exhibition was introduced in April 2022 and showcased the variety of artifacts produced by the cohort, ranging from graphic expression, material exploration to installation and video-making. 

Students: Sonja Dallyn, Lennart Engels, Nahyun Kim, Ruut Launo, Janne Melajoki, Nina Naveršnik, Mira Niittymäki, Henriikka Pahkala, Sesilia Pirttimaa, Zoë Robertson, Pegah Shamloo, Teemu Siika, Liv Telivuo, Etienne Thevenet. 

Teachers: Riikka Latva-Somppi, Maarit Mäkelä.

Exhibition time: 14.4. - 27.4.2022                           

Venue: Väre building - Second Floor - F Lobby

Photographs by Anne Kinnunen, unless stated otherwise. 

sculptures made of ceramic, zinc and oil

Ghost Town by Etienne Thevenet

The emergence of latent images and forms through the manipulation of matter. Ghost Town is the thermal shock between ferrous and clay-based soils, both cracking and setting the other. The artwork aims to channel emotional frictions as generative force, by letting untold memories of childhood surface. 

Contemporary Design
an art piece with footprints on it

The Birth of Breath by Janne Melajoki

“Do we breathe or are we breathed? The sanskrit prana, “breathing forth,” refers to the source and force of life and the vibratory energy of all manifestation”

Contemporary Design
an artist in the middle of a performance

Saturday Night Fever by Lennart Engels

This video exhibits a performance in which Lennart Engels approaches rock climbing as an artistic practice to expose the underlying creative processes that occur in the act.

Contemporary Design
ceramic sculptures next to each other

Soil Care Products by Mira Niittymäki

What if we treated soil as we treat our skin? After all, soil is the skin of the Earth, and our own skin is soil for billions of microbes. The project investigates ways to care for the degraded land and barren soil resulting from human actions. It also speculates on a future where soil care would be one of our daily routines. The work also satirically comments on the oversaturated field of beauty care products of our time when more than ever we should focus our care to more fundamental issues.

Contemporary Design
five ceramic pots

The moment before the music begins by Nahyun Kim

This is an instrument which is Jangdok-shaped, a traditional Korean jar that is buried in the soil to ripen Kimchi. The reason why the food made in Jangdok is delicious is that until just before it comes out to the world, they adapted to the environment in the soil and prepared to become delectable. When we play this instrument, the moment we have to focus is not the moment when the sound comes out, but the moment when we adapt to this space, focusing solely on the instrument and all thoughts disappear. Wait for silence and concentration in your mind like the soil does.

Contemporary Design
three plants in pots and heaps of little ceramic creatures around them

Little Creatures by Nina Naveršnik

”Once upon a time, when magic was still strong in all parts of the world, a curious event took place every spring. As the snow began to melt, revealing the first plants, sometimes, if you were lucky, the soil beneath your feet would come to life. They called them Little Creatures. Some say they carry messages, and should you listen closely, a little creature might have one for you.”

Contemporary Design
ceramic pots and vases in outdoors next to sea

Till Death Do Us Together by Sesilia Pirttimaa

Death does not part us, it unites us. We all die eventually. Ten hand-built raw clay vases have been left in nature to fall apart, disintegrate and dissolve into the environment, symbolizing the death of loved ones. The vases have been photographed daily to reveal their decomposition. The artist has not had to face the death of a close relative and the resulting grief that is inevitably coming. With this artwork, she wants to prepare for it and address the topic she fears.

Contemporary Design
text "if i don't remember this nobody will* repeated on a canvas

If I Don’t Remember This, Nobody Will by Zoë Robertson

The act of remembering takes its toll: each recall creates distance from the initial event, a memory of the memory. If I Don’t Remember This, Nobody Will manifests the intangible: what does forgetting look like?

Contemporary Design
Several photos overlaid on top on each other showing different stages of movement.

weight/resilience by Sonja Dallyn

Documentation from artistic research

Contemporary Design


common ground exhibition banner

Common Ground is an exhibition that presents 11 projects made in the Contemporary Design programme’s ‘Personal Exploration’ course by Master Students from Aalto ARTS. The works were built around the given course theme ‘Ground’, which each student handled from their own perspective.

The starting point for the course was an excursion to Koli, Eastern Finland. The change of environment gave time and space to start the creative process and personal exploration. The course was postponed from Spring 2021 to Autumn 2021, giving a very different environment in Koli, shining in all the colors of the autumn time ‘ruska’. The course was also the first one held entirely in person in Aalto for the students who have done their studies during the pandemic.

Koli worked as an inspirational source for the works, where each student found things that excite, scare, interest or troubles them. Issues around the environmental crisis as well as more personal challenges were brought up. The shared experiences formed a strong common ground within the students. The exhibition pieces tackle these issues through their subjects, materials and techniques.

Common ground = an area of shared interests or opinions held by two or more people or groups. Explanation by Cambridge Dictionary.

Students:  Alejandra Alarcón, Tiia von Becker, Antti Grundstén, Johannes Kaarakainen, Roosa Muukkonen, Maria Nurminen, Hannakaisa Pekkala, Taísa Ribeiro, Katrīna Šatalova, Turkka Taipale, Emilie Tuuminen

Teachers: Maarit Mäkelä, Bilge Aktaş

Exhibition time: 29.10.- 08.11.2021

Venue: Aalto University, Väre galleries V2 & Q109 Kipsari, Otaniementie 14

Text by Hannakaisa Pekkala & graphics by Antti Grundstén.

Photographs by Anne Kinnunen, unless stated otherwise.

Pieces of nature, stones, leafs etc. on a pedestal

Terra Cognita by Alejandra Alarcón

Through an exercise of filtering and curating, Terra Cognita is a landscape composed of multiple fragments encountered while walking around different locations in Finland. The objects reflect on the mistaken idea of the intact landscape and the far from natural scenery that surrounds us.

Terra Incognita: (unknown land) is a term used in cartography for regions that have not been documented.

Contemporary Design
a series of organic shaped sculptures with dark background

Vessels for the voices of subconscious by Johannes Kaarakainen

The work is a series of sculptures, that give a physical form to a variety of pessimistic inner voices stemming from deep within the subconscious. The beings feed on the feelings of fear, insecurity, frustration, self-doubt and uncertainty. They speak through their synthesized voices, craving for attention and validation, constantly reminding of their existence.

Contemporary Design
a hanging sculpture made of wooden parts and metal wire

One by Roosa Muukkonen

This work was a means to make sense of my own lived experience with a dissociative disorder. Along the way I found out that wholes are not necessarily ones, and that more important than unified fronts are the dialogues in-betweens. Sense of connection creates a sense of common ground, a safe space for change and growth.

The end result is “one” sculpture made of numerous separate parts, coming together to form a whole, held together by their connect.

Contemporary Design
four organic shaped works hung on a white wall

To Become by Maria Nurminen

This work explores the moment of change. What happens when something comes to a point of its life cycle, where it ceases to be what it was? At that moment, old structures get dismantled and its substance splits into a countless number of particles. These particles then travel where they are taken to, and become a part of something else.

Contemporary Design
artefacts made of hay

In Search of Serenity by Hannakaisa Pekkala

The hand-sewed surfaces explore the connection between making, crafts and creativity. Focusing on simple crafts can offer calmness, a way to be
grounded and present through repetitive work led by intuition and freedom. The outcome is a dialogue between the fragile, subtle material and the working hands.

Contemporary Design
photo of installation made of ceramic circles and a ball in red light

I Have Always Been Here by Taísa Helena

‘I have always been here’ is a ceramic and audio installation where women are invited to listen and connect to Mother Earth. The designer embodies the voice of the cosmos, summoning the sun and moon, the elements of nature and the cycle of life in one novel ancient ritual. The ceremony is set around ceramic rings centered by one sphere, that broadcasts the voice of the Earth.

Contemporary Design
clay objects on a table with a lamp

Clay for the Process by Katrīna Šatalova

In my project I put focus on the process of interaction with material. I work without sketches or expectations of the final outcome. My intention is to experience a full cycle of clay, so I prepare it myself straight from the ground. The practice reflects anthropologist’s Tim Ingold’s theory on thinking through making.

Contemporary Design
an information banner about identity and being grounded

Grounded by Turkka Taipale

How to ground yourself? Instead of pushing forward, what if we would take a look back for a while? Could it help us to go forward? By looking at your personal journey it’s easier to see the growth. Rather than comparing yourself to others, take a look at the steps you have already taken. This is a tool to map yourself, to visualise your journey, to give more credit to yourself, to watch from the right perspective, to put things in perfect scale. To be grounded.

Contemporary Design
a branch of juniper hanging from a wall

Homesick by Emilie Tuuminen

Ground is a state of mind. Homesick represents the processed feelings and mindscapes I went through on this personal journey. Being with the material and working with my hands acted as tools to find my way back to the missed comfort and serenity.

Contemporary Design
a side table / sculpture made of natural stone and cast aluminium

Emergent by Antti Grundstén

These materials that we excavate brutally from the earth frighten, excite and worry me simultaneously. We rarely stop to think the origins of metals we consider human made or synthetic.

Contemporary Design


Traces of Care_map
Traces of Care Exhibition Poster 2020

“Traces of Care” – Exhibition of the Personal Exploration course

Traces of Care is a virtual exhibition of 15 Master's students of the Aalto ARTS Contemporary Design program under the course Personal Exploration. The presented works were made using different techniques from various viewpoints under the subject of care.
We started off with an inspirational trip to Koli in March 2020. During these five days students did quick-and-dirty exercises, had discussions, heard lectures and wrote diary reflections around the theme ’care’. The most memorable experiences for the group were witnessing the winter during a year when thermic winter did not arrive to Helsinki at all, enjoying the silence of the nature as well as the calm atmosphere among peer students, and playing with our companion dog Cookie. Care was present all the time: in baking Karelian pies to go with evening tea and rolling-in-the-snows together during the sauna.

When we arrived back to Helsinki, absurd times were ahead. The Covid-19 pandemic affected everyone’s lives in general, and the content of our course changed radically. The contrast of the carefree trip from Koli to the middle of the corona-panic was huge. The situation forced us to work from our homes without the use of our studios in Aalto. Needless to say, this affected the final work we chose to make. Many of us shifted from our material-oriented ideas to completely new mediums. However, our theme, care, was still visible all the time, as we cared about other beings by isolating ourselves inside our homes.

All of us were affected by our trip to Koli and its landscape, and many chose to explore the relationship between humans and non-humans in our final work. Some of the key questions were how can we take care of nature in return when it gives so much to us, and what kinds of traces do we leave from our care?

Another central theme was identity, and how it related to our theme of care. Questions of security and protection also arose from the current situation of the world, and many were thinking about the fragility of humankind in the face of disaster. How can we shelter ourselves from these events and what are the things we hold dear?

Chen Tzuyu, Guridi Sotomayor Sofia, Henttu Sini, Kilpi Linnea, Latva-Somppi Aura, Levander Joel, Luhtasela Salla, Lötjönen Miia, Niemelä Iines, Nieminen Sirena, Purasachit Irene, Rinne Julius, Shenyer Jenna, Strand Julia, Virasjoki Vertti

Krista Kosonen and Maarit Mäkelä

World Wide Web

Text by students 

Posted on April 2020

PE2020_Irene Purasachit_Forms of Care_01

Forms of Care by Irene Purasachit

Forms of Care is a collection of care in the form of vases. In contrast to human-centric design, these pieces are formed by having flowers in the centre of the making. As the flowers continue growing, their postures are constantly changing. The same vase they were comfortable in yesterday might not be the right one tomorrow. By observing and caring for the same tulip, alstroemeria and freesia throughout the course of two weeks, the eight vases in the collection were made in dialogue with the flowers, responding to their needs for support in each stage.

Contemporary Design

Cocoon by Iines Niemelä

When a caterpillar coils a silky covering over itself it surrenders to a process of breaking apart and arising as a new beautiful being. The current situation of the world has forced us to curl up into our own cocoons and question our ways of living. So how about us humans? Are we willing to transform?

Contemporary Design
PE2020_SiniHenttu_"I'm always happiest alone"_01

"I’m always happiest alone" by Sini Henttu

"I'm always happiest alone" reflects on loneliness in a society that pressures us into sociality. Everyone feels an individual need for loneliness and each of us is alone in a different way. The desire to be alone is also a privilege that can be safely felt, when social networks and relationships are plentiful and healthy. It’s easy to want to be alone, when you don’t feel lonely.

Contemporary Design

Underwater traces by Julia Strand

It clears the sea by eating plankton but it is not native to our ecosystem and causes harm by attaching to any surface. What is left from it is the small round traces and beautiful details.

It is not always clear what is best for nature, but most important is that we care for and pay attention also to the smallest details of the world.

Contemporary Design
PE2020_Tzuyu_Threads, Forces, Web of Entanglements_Main_photo

Threads, Forces, Web of Entanglements by Tzuyu Chen

This video explores the intertwined relationship between human and non-human forces involved in a conceptual care network. Red threads are used to point out three different concepts that co-exist within this entangled relational web; its unforeseen forces, its tension of co-dependence, and its convergence that interweaves the living and non-living into other forms of being. By following these threads and forces, I want to express care as relational thinking. If our lives are tangling with many other forces, how would it affect the way we care for many non-human others?

Contemporary Design
parasvaakapimeessä1 - Aura Latva-Somppi

A Manifesto in my room by Aura Latva-Somppi

This is a manifesto for myself, to be presented in my own room with the dust and hair lying in the corners, next to my messy bed and piles of clothes, letters and drawings, with the houseplants and fruit-peels and the smell of my biodegradable. It is not still or silent; there is light reflecting from a window of a neighbour house, the shadows of trees of the nearby forest and the sounds of buses and dogs and bicycle bells skipping around the neighbourhood. This manifesto is born from within myself but also from the outside, readings and discussions and perceptions, and it is to be presented and projected from and to all these directions.

Contemporary Design

Place to be by Sirena Nieminen

‘​Place to be​’ is an experimental painting process, in which the journey is more important than the final artefact. The main thing was to paint mostly blindfolded, to get deeper in touch with paper and paint to forget rationalisation and overthinking. I mind-travelled to the places and freedom of my childhood to let go of the stress and control of adult-me.

Contemporary Design

Weight lifting by Jenna Lee Shenyer

'Weight lifting' is an ongoing process between human and nature and the weight we put on the land. By walking through memorable islands, finding objects of affection that don't belong to the landscape, and doing an exchange between the land.

I've taken the objects back where they belong, replaced their form in unfired clay and left it for the land to absorb in its natural way. In this process the land gives me an opportunity to ground myself, to study and enjoy everything it has to offer, and in exchange I thank the ground by helping it recover from the trash that doesn't belong there.

Contemporary Design
PE2020_Linnea Kilpi_Earthly bonds_01

Earthly bonds by Linnea Kilpi

Earthly bonds is a series of sculptural vignettes studying relational dynamics and the complexity of care. Each scene depicts a relationship inevitably compromised by notions such as power, trust, and dependency. Their varying stages of decomposition question if and how the relationships function without tension holding them together. Who is dependent on whom?

Contemporary Design

Maja by Julius Rinne

“Maja” in Finnish means “shelter” or “blanket fort.” A shelter is a place to feel safety and care.
In my project I wanted to fulfill a childhood dream of living in a self-made fort. I built a blanket fort in my apartment from materials I already owned and spent a week there taking care of myself, by doing things I have not had time to do in a long time. Maja offered me a safe place to be relaxed, creative and playful.

Contemporary Design

How can I unsubscribe from patriarchy? by Vertti Virasjoki

We at war.

We at war with racism, sexism, but most of all we at war with ourselves. In this complex situation the enemy is invisible and the weapons we use are not made of steel.

Through exploration into the past environments, emotional atmospheres and cultures I’ve lived in I’ve tried to make sense of how they have shaped me as a person and how to accept the fact that it has not always changed me for the better.

Contemporary Design
Main Picture - Sofia Guridi

Objects of Care by Sofia Guridi

Our days are full of silent care. Care for others expressed through small gestures and actions like combing a child`s hair or cooking for the family, which are accompanied by objects normally considered trivial. This collection explores the beauty of these everyday objects and the relevance of this invisible care that is usually taken for granted, but that is so fundamental for everyone's wellbeing. Through the repetition of small hand made porcelain items, jewelry pieces are created to show the value of these marginalized actions usually asociated with feminine care, while being in contact with our bodies.

Contemporary Design

Crown of Thoughts by Joel Levander

Crown of Thoughts is animated short film made with stop motion technique. It follows a figure created from various materials and its encounter with a humanlike head. Through a coalescence, the head changes the figures perception of time and their surroundings.

Contemporary Design _

Kuuleeko metsä? by Miia Lötjönen

"As we humans are big beneficiaries in our relationship with nature, my goal was to give something back in return. I wanted to use music to help the spring forest grow. Studies have shown that music affects the growth of plants as it is enjoyed by humans in general. Could we use music as a way to re-connect and coexist with nature?

Contemporary Design

Twig Lady by Salla Luhtasela

Twig Lady is a series of ongoing works executed outdoors as a way of taking care of myself through the repetitive and meditative action of making by hand. Working with new materials, mainly twigs and reeds, forced me to really get in tune with them, feel their will in my fingertips, and forget my own designerly ambitions - and just have fun.

Contemporary Design

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"The Empirica group approaches research with an attitude, where making, acting and engaging play important roles".

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