Urban Nature 2015

Tuula Närhinen, Baltic Sea Plastique, installation view, 2013. Närhinen was one of the speakers at the Urban Nature Symposium in October 2015. 

The Powers That Be, exhibition view. Mika Taanila, The Future Is Not What It Used To Be, 2002 . Photo: Cameron Blaylock

Year 2015 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York. FCINY was established in 1990 as a residency center for Finnish artists, designers and architects. Deriving from that legacy, all the FCINY's functions aim towards setting people and ideas in motion, and creating international dialogue, as well as dialogue between visual art forms. This happens through the residencies and other mobility programs, but also through organizing exhibitions and events, and actively communicating about progressive contents of the visual arts.

The theme of the 25th Anniversary year’s program was Urban Nature. The interesting and paradoxical term “urban nature” combines two traditionally opposite concepts of city and nature, and provides a fruitful tool for analyzing the local nature. Urban nature is generated by humans and nature together and therefore it can be understood as a hybrid entity, originating from the interaction between human and non-human factors. It helps noticing the presence and importance of nature in the urban environment and as a significant part of the inhabitants’ everyday lives. For the urban planning it provides a tool for creating and cherishing rich and multilayered spaces for urban living.

Smog Tasting in Bangalore, image courtesy the Center for Genomic Gastronomy

A detail of the Smog Tasting Cart. Image courtesy the Center for Genomic Gastronomy

In Spring 2015, FCINY collaborated with the Center for Genomic Gastronomy and Edible Geography, presenting a project titled Smog Tasting as a part of the New Museum's IDEAS CITY Festival on May 30th. The custom-made Smog Tasting street cart offered New Yorkers a chance to taste aeroir – the atmospheric taste of place – with a side-by-side tasting of air from different cities.

The cart includes a built-in smog chamber that enables the production of a range of synthetic smog recipes the Center for Genomic Gastronomy and Edible Geography created. The synthetic smog is harvested in egg foam and served in meringue form. Egg foam is up to 90 percent air, and whipping the eggs causes particulate matter to be trapped in the batter. The batter can be tested for heavy metals and VOCs, compared in a microscope or baked and served as “Trojan horse” sweets.

The inventors of the Smog Tasting street cart, Zack Denfeld and Nicola Twilley, also presented their work (and offered the audience taste bites of different smogs) as part of the Urban Nature Symposium organized by FCINY and The Environmental Studies Program at the New School in October 2015.

Mika Taanila, The Future Is Not What It Used To Be, still from video, 2002 . As part of The Powers That Be

Danila Tkachenko, from the series Escape, 2013. Image courtesy the artist. As part of The Powers That Be.

Erkki Pirtola, Shaman Johannes Setälä, still from video, 2010. As part of The Powers That Be

In July, FCINY presented the group exhibition The Powers That Be at the Station Independent Projects on Lower East Side. The exhibition focused on manifestations of physical energy and fringe knowledge, and reflected on the overlap of the built and natural habitat. The approach leaned towards fringe knowledge; highlighting speculation, surrealism, shamanism, future scenarios and retreat. The exhibition presented work from Marcel Mariën, Erkki Pirtola, Mika Taanila and Danila Tkachenko, and was curated by Ilari Laamanen. 

In conjunction with the exhibition, FCINY produced an accompanying publication featuring work by the exhibiting artists and written work by cultural ecologist and geophilosopher David Abram, artist and researcher Vappu Jalonen and media theorist Jussi Parikka. 

Gena Wirth of the SCAPE Studio, giving her presentation Approaching Urban Nature, as part of Urban Nature Symposium in October 2015.

Jari Niemelä and Timon McPhearson in discussion as part the Urban Nature Symposium in October 2015. 

Artist and the founder of City As Living Laboratory, Mary Miss, talking about her work in the contexts of art, city planning and social practices as part of the Urban Nature Symposium in October 2015.

The Urban Nature Symposium, organized in collaboration with FCINY and the Environmental Studies Program at The New School, explored themes of urban ecology, energy, planning and art as they relate to and utilize urban nature. Urban Nature Symposium was presented in association with Archtober, Architecture and Design Month New York City, in October 2015.

Cities are often conceptualized as regions external from nature, yet urban ecosystems including novel and hybrid urban nature provide critical benefits affecting the health and wellbeing of human societies. The symposium considered urban nature from aesthetic, historical, ecological and experiential point of views. The program also presented site-specific Finnish and American artworks in relationship with urban nature.

Presentations on urban nature research, art and design included a multi- and inter-disciplinary roster of speakers from Finland and USA, including Kirsi Saarikangas (Professor of Art History, The University of Helsinki), Timon McPhearson (Assistant Professor of Urban Ecology and Chair of Environmental Studies Program, The New School), Jari Niemelä (Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, The University of Helsinki), Susanna Lehvävirta (researcher, The University of Helsinki), Gena Wirth (SCAPE Landscape Architecture, NYC), Nicola Twilley (author of Edible Geography and cofounder of Foodprint project), Zachary Denfeld (artist and founder, The Center for Genomic Gastronomy and CoClimate), Tuula Närhinen (artist), Hanna Johansson (Professor of Arts History, the University of Helsinki), Mary Miss (artist) and Rick Bell (FAIA, Executive Director of Design and Construction Excellence, City of New York’s Department of Design and Construction).  

Furthermore, two of the FCINY’s Mobius fellowship program participants, Johanna Hyrkäs and Paavo Järvensivu, worked with topics that resonated strongly with the Urban Nature program. Paavo Järvensivu, a writer and researcher of economic culture who works at Mustarinda and BIOS Research Unit., collaborated with James Gallery / The Graduate Center, CUNY to organize a symposium around the topic Post Fossil Fuel Futures.

Artist and architect Johanna Hyrkäs spent two months in Upstate New York to research and document alternative communities and modes of living. Her project will conclude in a documentary film that will be presented in NYC during Spring 2016. 

The aforementioned projects realized in 2015 have been made possible with the generous support of Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland, Kone foundation and Frame Visual Art Finland. 

Beka Economopoulos of the artist group Not An Alternative giving presentation as part of the Post Fossil Fuels symposium in November 2015.

Rochester Folk Art Guild was one of the intentional communities Johanna Hyrkäs familiarized herself with as part of her Mobius fellowship during the fall 2015.