Who defines how we experience art?

Aalto University commissioned a study to map the experiences of the main users of Väre and the School of Business buildings about the public art in the premises. The visitor survey was conducted for the first time
Lotta Mattilan teos Leijonanosa Väre-rakennuksessa lähikuvassa
Lotta Mattila's piece 'Lion's share' intrigues passersby in Väre building. Photo: Aalto University/ Mikko Raskinen

Aalto University is the first Finnish university to commit to the percent for art principle. The percent principle is a financing model for art acquisitions, in which about one percent of the budget for a construction project is spent on art. Aalto is a major supporter of the arts and an employer in the field of art.

The university commissioned a visitor survey related to the public art collections of the Väre and the School of Business buildings. This study was conducted for the first time in Aalto. Very little research has been done on public art visitor research and the experiences of the users of the facilities, both in Finland and internationally. The study was conducted by Aalto alumna and Master of Arts Anni Avela.

If there is no art in the space, it is just space. Art makes it special.

School of Arts, Design and Architecture; academic staff
Kauppakorkeakoulussa on pohjakerroksen lisäksi kolme ylempää kerrosta
Nanna Susi's 'Sensitive World' and Tuomo Saali's 'On the Edge' help also to navigate the School of Business building. Photo: Aalto University / Mikko Raskinen

The study mapped the significance of the users of the facilities in the buildings in question for the public art of the university and the relationship between the users of the facilities and the art seen in the facilities.

Are all works of art in the public space experienced in the same way? And how does the surrounding space affect the experience of the work? How important was the art on the university premises and was it given any attention at all?

In what situations did art come across in the daily lives of the users of the facilities?

Art can at the same time inspire and distress, please and distract

The research material was surprisingly extensive and varied. The material was collected in the form of a survey and research interviews utilising the sound thinking method. This was a qualitative study with 307 respondents and 11 respondents.

According to the study, public art at the university is perceived as relevant. 94 per cent of the respondents considered it very or fairly important that there is art on the university premises.

I pay attention to this every day because when I walk past this, it always bumps into the wall a bit from that airflow.

School of Business, other staff, on Tuomo Saali's 'On the Edge'
Grönlund-Nisunen's piece Insight as seen from below
Tommi Grönlund and Petteri Nisunen's 'Insight' strives to offer an equal view of the space in Väre's cluster lobby. Photo: Aalto University / Mikko Raskinen

Only one percent of respondents felt that art was not important at all on university premises. The art collections in the buildings were perceived as very concrete in their significance, related to everyday activities, and partly as abstract, image-building.

Eighty-five percent of respondents said they pay attention to art to some or a lot while moving around the school premises. The work in the university's premises can at the same time serve as an aid to navigating the premises and as communicators of the university's values.

Art evoked a wide range of emotions in the respondents regarding the space and working there. Among other things, the works inspire, create comfort, remind of the values and ideologies of the university, bring perspective, elevate the mood and provide moments of breath in everyday life, and help to structure ideas. On the other hand, they are also distracting, distressing, restless, in the way and confusing.

I always get excited, when I pass the massive lion statue on Väre's third floor.

Other staff
A close-up of Kirsi Kaulanen's piece Lumen inside Väre building
Kirsi Kaulanen's LUMEN highlights endangered wild plants. Photo: Aalto University / Mikko Raskinen

Art was recognized as belonging in the space, but not much was known about it

Different ways of approaching public art were seen in the responses of the study participants. Art was seen to have absolute value, spatial value and spiritual value.

Participants in the study felt that they had little knowledge of Aalto's public art, and they did not know much about the principles of the university's collection work. The most significant reasons for this were the perceived incomplete art information in the premises, as well as the respondents' uncertainty about where to find information related to art collections and whether it is available at all.

Outside, on the west side of Väre, there's a metal rut on top of a railing. I don't like it. It looks like huge rubbish.

School of Arts, Design and Architeture student, on Lauterbach, Kreutzstrasse
Gloria Lauterbach's piece Kreutzstrasse on the wall next to Väre
Gloria Lauterbach's Kreutzstrasse was moulded on-site on top of the outer wall next to Väre and School of Business buildings. The piece mimics a roof ripped by storm Niklas. Photo: Aalto University /

Respondents also had hopes for the collections. The three most desirable characteristics of the university’s public art were aesthetic pleasure, creating an atmosphere, and evoking thoughts. In addition, the respondents hoped that the works would be the work of Aalto's students, alumni, other artists and possibly also art enthusiasts.

At present, the works in Aalto's art collections are mainly made by Aalto's students, alumni and other artists.

Kauppakorkeakoulu päärakennus aula Stage Kirsi Kivivirta Kuva: Mika Huisman
Kirsi Kivivirta's Stage is by the main entrance to the School of Business building. Photo: Mika Huisman

In addition to experiences, the study mapped change needs

The study also provided suggestions for further action. Signage were often perceived as incomplete or difficult to find, and some works were also perceived as spatially difficult to reach. As many as 83 percent of respondents said they wanted to know more about works as well as collections.

The aim is for all of the university's art collections to be communicated more widely through various channels. Where possible, both virtual and physical art tours will be held on campus.

It is nice to marvel at art during study breaks, even if you don't understand anything about it.

School of Business student
Kauppakorkeakoulu Saana Murtti Disappearance 2 Kuva: Mikko Raskinen
Saana Murtti's Disappearance 2 images the interaction between humans. Photo: Aalto University / Mikko Raskinen

The art catalogs produced from the collections had remained inaccessible to the public, and most of the respondents had not seen or even heard of them. A catalog has been produced for each collection, and can be found in the lobby and break areas, among other places. In the future, art catalogs will be available in additional locations, while we seek better ways to bring the same information online visitors.

The suggestions derived from the visitor study will also be utilised in the procurement of future art collections. In January, Aalto announced a competition and an open competition open to all artists, with the aim of finding exceptional and feasible proposals for works of art located in different spaces in the Aalto University Works block.

The collection brings fame to the school, the works tell about the cultural values of the school & the place. They also challenge thinking.

A visitor

More information 
Outi Turpeinen, Senior Specialist, Exhibitions and Art
[email protected]
Read more on public art on Aalto University's campus and premisesTwo art competitions for Aalto Works blockArt competition open to all artists

The visitor study report below in Finnish.

Read more

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