“Hello Forest! Hello Spirits!” – The fourth instalment of the Digital Mythologies - Mythological Digitalities project a success

The fourth student workshop, Mythology: Nature, of an EU-funded 5-country Erasmus+ Cooperation partnership project DIMYMYDI Digital Mythologies - Mythological Digitalities was arranged at the Aalto Arts during 3-8 December 2023.
Kuva: Gerard Fox
Photo: Gerard Fox

The fourth instalment of the DIMY-MYDI Digital Mythologies - Mythological Digitalities project unfolded at the Aalto University from December 3 to 8, 2023, focusing on the theme "Mythology: Nature." The workshop, dedicated to exploring Nordic and Finnish mythology, provided a profound dive into the symbiotic relationship between the Finnish identity and the natural world. 

“In essence, the Mythology: Nature workshop not only explored the rich tapestry of Nordic and Finnish mythology but also unveiled the profound influence of nature on the Finnish identity. The intricate interplay between myth, culture, and the natural world provided students with a nuanced understanding of how these elements have shaped and continue to shape the Finnish narrative”, says VCD Lecturer (Art & Media) Tarja Nieminen, the coordinator and co-teacher of the workshop.

The participants valued the program's diversity, encompassing nature exploration, academic insights, and hands-on practical workshops. In total, 23 students and 7 tutors from four project partner schools in addition to the Aalto students and tutors participated the workshop. 

The other tutors included Gautam Vishwanath and Antti Hietaniemi from the Aalto Arts, a guest tutor Jonas Johansson from Beckmans School of Design in Stockholm, Sweden, Gerard Fox from the IADT in Dublin, Ireland, Gina Poortman and Annelise Cerchedean from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium, Aušra Lisauskienė and Marius Žalneravičius from the Academy of Arts in Vilnius, Lithuania and Paulina Tarara and Justyna Mędrala from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Katowice, Poland.

Photo: Justyna Mędrala
Ulla-Maija Rouhiainen, writer and our competent tour guide led the group on the Sunday morning 3 December on the Maahinen path at the Nuuksio national park to explore and discuss the values of the forest. Photo: Justyna Mędrala

Finding spirits within nature

The ancient faith of the Finns was deeply rooted in the rhythms of natural conditions, shaping livelihoods dependent on activities like hunting, fishing, and farming. Notably, the deities within Finnish mythology were imbued with distinctive natural elements, creating a spiritual tapestry where trees, rocks, springs, and lakes possessed their own spirits and distinctive beings. 

These divine figures, including gods, possessors, and other spirit entities, mirrored the intricate interplay between nature and societal order.

Today, the forest remains a sanctuary for many, offering a space to find solace, calmness, and connection with something greater than oneself. The Finnish nation, shaped by a cultural tapestry, has drawn extensively from mythological elements, with works such as the Kalevala poems playing a pivotal role in defining and articulating the national ethos.

In his opening lecture on Monday 4th December, Gautam Vishwanath, a Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University’s Department of Media in the School of ARTS discussed the evolution of apps and designing them by incorporating several aspects of history, mythology, culture, sociopolitical issues, and education. Photo: Tarja Nieminen
In his opening lecture on Monday, doctoral candidate Gautam Vishwanath discussed the evolution of apps and designing them by incorporating several aspects of history, mythology, culture, sociopolitical issues, and education. Photo: Tarja Nieminen

Workshop for a digital app

During the workshop, students collaborated in small, multi-national groups to conceive concepts for dynamic and interactive self-guided apps. These digital tools aimed to enable users to mark places, objects, and routes of interest. Beyond mere information dissemination, these apps were designed to activate users by providing insights into various aspects of nature and mythology. 

The versatility of the app was a key focus, allowing users the flexibility to engage individually or collectively. Group activities, potentially incorporating gaming elements, were envisioned to enhance a sense of community and foster networking among users. The app's functionality extended to identifying plants, animals (offering educational aspects), aggregates, and significant locations of mythological heritage. It also had the potential to suggest self-guided tours and routes, offering an immersive and educational experience.

“The exploration of Finnish mythology within the app had a broader objective—to stimulate ecological thinking. The incorporation of elements such as respect for nature, the sanctity of trees, and the acknowledgment of animals as soulful beings aimed to inspire individuals, particularly those grappling with environmental challenges, to adopt different perspectives and behaviours”, says Tarja Nieminen. 

Photo: Hanna Karkku
On Tuesday 5 December, the groups started developing their concepts and action plans for the week. Photo: Hanna Karkku
Photo: Tarja Nieminen
Mr. Frog (Core Research Fellow, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies) gave a lecture on approaches to mythology and discussed nature in Finno-Karelian and Scandianavian mythologies. Pictured talking with Len Thompson. Photo: Tarja Nieminen

Unique experiences in Finnish nature

As the week-long workshop concluded, students expressed enthusiasm for their unique experiences. The initial exploration of Finnish nature set an inspiring tone, complemented by a series of diverse lectures and talks featuring expert speakers. 

“The workshop was a hands-on experience not only to our students but also for us, teachers. Working with students all around Europe with different cultural and historical backgrounds was invigorating to our teaching practice as we don't have so many foreign students at our university”says Paulina Tarara, a co-tutor from the Academy of Arts in Katowice, Poland.

“I'm especially thankful for very inspiring talks with my colleagues from other countries about important and hot topic regarding hopes and threats of AI which we, as designers and artists, must be aware of. Not to mention mythical magical realm located not in a parallel universe but close to Helsinki - a beautiful Nuuksio National Park where all mythical creatures appear to be alive. I spent fantastic time there with a hike in woods and a barbecue at the end of the day”, states Tarara.

"I really enjoyed the forest walk were we listened to Finnish mythology and history, and visited a fun and interactive exhibition about the animals of Finland. The landscape including the forest and frozen lake was breathtaking and we ended the day with a barbecue. This was definitely my favourite part of the project and I feel like I learned a lot and felt like I was part of the culture.  I also enjoyed working with people from other countries and learning their skills and teaching them some of mine. Overall, it was definitely an experience I won´t forget!", says Julia Kuczera from IADT.

Students appreciated the picturesque winter landscape, and the opportunity to meet new people from across Europe. Memorable experiences, such as the Sunday trip, ice almost cracking on the lake, and a barbecue inside a traditional tent, added a unique and enjoyable dimension to the overall learning experience. 

Importantly, the workshop underscored the accessibility of education for EU citizens, emphasizing the collaborative and inclusive nature of the DIMY-MYDI project.

Merle Karp
Merle Karp, visual designer & artist talking about her subject Nature as Magic - on an audiovisual performance. Photo: Tarja Nieminen

“Hello Forest! Hello Spirits!" seminar at Oodi Central Library Seminar

To conclude the week's activities, the students' creative outcomes were presented to the public as short videos and trailers showcasing their app concepts were featured in the seminar titled "Hello Forest! Hello Spirits!" held at the Oodi Central Library on December 10, 2023, in Helsinki, Finland. 

The seminar included nine presentations by visiting speakers and provided an opportunity to reflect on the workshop's achievements and share insights gained throughout the project and invited discussion with the public during the seminar. 

Text: Tarja Nieminen and Gerard Fox

The DIMY-MYDI is a three-year educational project involving a collaboration between five countries. The project is coordinated by the School of Arts, Design and Architecture at Aalto University, with partner institutions including the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Katowice, Poland; Vilnius Academy of Arts in Lithuania; IADT, Dun Laoghaire Institute Of Art Design + Technology in Dublin, Ireland; and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium.

Over the course of this three-year project, each partner country hosts a week long student workshop investigating mythology and exploring it's historical and contemporary roles in shaping social, cultural and political meanings within the context of technological advancements. Rooted in local mythologies, each workshop incorporates lectures on the historical and current manifestations of mythology in each country's cultural production.

The fifth student workshop of the project titled Mythology: Body will be held in Antwerp, Belgium, from 25th February to 1st March 2024. The workshop will be hosted by the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. It will take place at Plantin-Moretus Museum, a Unesco World Heritage site, in Antwerp, Belgium.

The ongoing DIMYMYDI Digital Mythologies - Mythological Digitalities project is coordinated by Tarja Nieminen (Lecturer, VCD Art & Media) and Hanna Karkku (Specialist, International Relations) of the School of Arts, Design and Architecture / Aalto University.

Co-funded by the European Union
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