Turku: A green capital of culture

Turku: A green capital of culture

By Jo Caird 04/05/11

The Finnish city of Turku is the European Capital of Culture in 2011 (along with Tallinn in Estonia), and has stood out among other cultural capitals with its thoroughly green approach. If you're thinking of applying for Ideas Fund Green, take inspiration...


As part of its tenure as European Capital of Culture 2011, the Finnish city of Turku is embracing environmental art in a rather remarkable way.

Dozens of the cultural events taking place over the course of this year are environmentally focused, with commissioned artists taking some truly innovative and unusual approaches towards presenting art with a green theme.

Back in the autumn, Kaisa and Timo Berry worked together with local residents to plant 15,000 bulbs in selected locations around the city for a project called You are Beautiful! (pictured above and below).

Now that the ice on Turku’s River Aura has finally melted and spring is well and truly on its way after the long, dark Finnish winter, their project is beginning to bloom, with positive messages appearing as if by magic in public green spaces. The phrases spelled out by the flowers, which include “I’m thinking about you” and “Let’s kiss!”, are designed, the artists say, “to make people happy”.

While some of the work the couple does with their design firm, BOTH, is overtly political – using art as a “powerful tool in communicating” issues around climate change and other environmental concerns –You are Beautiful! deliberately takes a more subtle approach.

“When we tamper with the living environment of other people”, the Berrys explain, “one has to speak with a gentle tone of voice and respect the experience of the passersby…We wanted to whisper a soothing idea to their ears, and to empower them to claim their own streets and parks.”

Other environmental projects under the Turku 2011 banner take a rather different, more private approach than the community engagement favoured by the BOTH duo. Taking inspiration from the toy boats that Finnish children have been carving from bark for generations, multimedia and performance artist Antti Laitinen spent several months last year constructing a boat out of bark collected from the forest floor on the island of Vartiosaari.

He then sailed it solo across the Baltic from Finland to Estonia, and film and photographs documenting the epic, 20-hour journey will be shown as part of Curated Expedition to the Baltic Sea, a multi-disciplinary programme exploring Finland’s watery neighbour.

Laitinen says that he is often labeled as an “environmental artist”, but that he doesn’t agree with this categorisation of his practice. He is not interested, he says, “in artworks which have only one message like ‘save nature’. It’s something you know already, you don’t need art to tell you that”.

“Art can make comments about these issues”, Laitinen adds, but it is not for him to seek to change anyone’s perspective: “My control over the work ends when it is finished and exhibited”.

Further green projects happening this year in Turku include Vol.at.ilit.y, a Baltic-focused dance performance blending science, art and technology, and Antspotting in Turku, a science project and video installation based around the life cycle of ants.

The diversity of these artistic undertakings, all of them happening in just one modestly sized city, goes to show the great range of options available to artists working in the field of environmental art.

It’s time to go green.


For more information on these projects, visit www.turku2011.fi. And if they’ve inspired you to create your own sustainable or green-themed creative project, submissions are open for Ideas Green Fund.


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