The grand ceremonial staircase is a challenging space for contemporary art: there’s little wall space, lots of wood and nature intrudes from the wall-to-ceiling windows. Perhaps that’s why it feels like, at first glance, that Color Space–Color Lensing Blind is in a strange place. It’s colourful and made with acrylics, a material that is often used in, for example, lighted advertising signs.
Art Coordinator Outi Turpeinen stands on the landing and says the piece is the handiwork of Hans-Christian Berg.
This space called for something big and powerful, a sharp contrast.”
Berg’s work is one of the first art acquisitions made by Aalto University on the basis of the percent principle, a model that is gaining popularity around the world under which about one percent of a construction project’s budget will be spent on art. It is also a part of a Finnish government spearhead project, which aims to make art an aspect of the everyday lives of as many Finns as possible. Aalto is the first – and so far the only – Finnish university to make a commitment to observe the principle in all of its construction projects, from new buildings to renovations.
The decision to commit to the percent principle was made last spring by Aalto’s then President Tuula Teeri following an initiative by Vice President and Dean of the School Arts, Design and Architecture Anna Valtonen.
Dipoli, which was just renovated to serve as the university’s new main building, was a natural choice for a pilot project. Outi Turpeinen cooperated with Valtonen to find suitable, interesting artists for it. All of the selected artworks are made by Aalto graduates who have already achieved success in their careers.
The three largest works were made specifically for Dipoli. Berg used acrylics in his piece, while Renata Jakowleff made her sparkly work Blue out of glass and Inni Pärnänen bent plywood to make the flowers in her piece Keto.
“I felt it was important to bring tangible materials here to counteract the ever-present digitalisation,” Turpeinen says.
Challenging good taste
The glowing pink and orange, yellow and green, blue and violet strokes of Berg’s acrylic piece mimic the vertical lines of the window frames and the large pine trees beyond. Turpeinen mentions that the artist also picked the bright colours
of his work from the nature of Finland.
“Hans-Christian lives in the countryside and works a lot with colour and light. He, like the other artists, was enormously inspired by Dipoli’s architecture and its Radical Nature art concept.”
The art concept is like a thread that unites the collection’s pieces. Turpeinen started her search for the concept at the Museum of Finnish Architecture, where she delved into the history of Dipoli. The building, designed by Raili and Reima Pietilä, was completed in 1966 as the student union building of the Helsinki University of Technology, attracting many accolades as well as harsh criticism.
The ideal architecture of the time was black and white, reduced, and streamlined. Concrete brutalism was also in its heyday. What the Pietiläs created, however, was a representation of organic architecture, a design that took advantage of natural shapes, colours and structural solutions. The exterior walls of Dipoli are devoid of straight angles and there’s just two windows of the same size. Large granite blocks anchor it to the surrounding terrain.
Turpeinen says the Pietiläs wanted Dipoli to challenge preconceptions of good taste.
“Nature and the radical, both of these are very strongly present here. Radical Nature also speaks for the significance of our relationship with nature, and of how radically important a matter the future of the environment is for us all.”
In addition to the large, place-specific commissioned artworks, there are more than 25 photographic pieces at Dipoli. Turpeinen found them with help from Professor Timothy Persons and Lecturer Marko Karo. A three-strong committee consisting of Anna Valtonen, Ateneum Art Museum Director and Aalto University Board member Susanna Pettersson, and President Tuula Teeri decided on the art acquisitions.
They wanted Dipoli to have artworks that encourage fresh thinking and discoveries in students, staff and guests. Turpeinen is proud of their choices – even if they won’t please everyone.
“Studies demonstrate that public art increases wellbeing, but it can also arouse feelings of many kinds, even of irritation. I think it’s always good if art gives you something to think about.”
Lots of investment
Public art will soon be all over Otaniemi, as the campus is the locus of lots of rapidly proceeding major construction work. Turpeinen is already working full steam on the School of Arts, Design and Architecture’s Väre building, which will be completed in the spring, as well as a new School of Business building due for completion in 2019. Each will have its own art concept, which will take account of the building’s architecture and intended use.
Väre combines red brick and glass, and it will house the university’s artistic activities and teaching as well as the Metro Centre A Bloc with its shops and restaurants. Some 12 000 passengers use the adjacent metro station every day.
“Väre is exciting as a building, but challenging from the perspective of art. After all, permanent, place-specific art has to endure both contentually and technically for decades.”
Outi Turpeinen believes that the investment will yield not only enhanced wellbeing and fresh ideas, but also boost campus visitor numbers. There are a lot of artworks around the world that have become popular tourist attractions. In addition to building interiors, Turpeinen wants to see art placed also around the magnificent outdoor areas of Otaniemi.
“Focus on one staggering work”– statements by Outi Turpeinen:
1. When planning a public art acquisition, first familiarise yourself with the building’s architecture and history.
2. Consider what you want the works to communicate. At Aalto, for example, acquired artworks are strongly associated with the university’s vision and strategy.
3.Think about the piece’s lifespan. A politically themed work may be topical now – but will this be the case five years from now?
4. Be critical and courageous. Publicity is no guarantee of quality – although quality can be a matter of taste, too. Don’t be afraid to invest in one staggering piece instead of many small works.