Physical Dialogues of Nature and Humanity – Helsinki’s Kiasma and Coexistence
Helsinki’s Museum of Contemporary Art, known as Kiasma, is a physical testament to the interplay between humans and nature, comprising a fascinating complement to one of its featured art exhibits. Designed deliberately in harmony with Finland’s unique natural lighting, the structure of the museum underscores the concepts evoked by the Coexistence exhibit, providing a tangible example of its core theme: the relationship humans have with nature.
Open until March 2020, Coexistence showcases ecologically-themed artworks by dozens of artists, primarily challenging the assumption that humans have transcended the natural order. The view that humans are superior to animals has a long history, but the artwork of Coexistence prompts us to reconsider the truth of this hierarchy by investigating concepts such as animal rights and our responsibility towards other species. Environmental issues such as these are particularly relevant in today’s climate crisis, which arguably necessitates a reorientation of our point of view; the exhibit thereby constitutes a timely reminder for us to re-examine our attitudes towards nature and the reciprocal relationship we share.
The incorporation of natural and human influences in the design of the museum extends the conversation of Coexistence into the physical realm. American architect Steven Holl paid deliberate attention to the use of natural light in his design, utilising expansive windows to create a transparent façade on one side of the building. Artificial lights take cues from the outdoors, adapting to natural light levels to produce a seamless transition between the interior and exterior. Holl’s design closes the loop between human and nature with its sense of scale: the proportions of the doors and galleries are informed by the eye-level of a person who is 165 centimetres tall, highlighting that, despite the emphasis on incorporating nature, the building was constructed deliberately for the use of humans.
The dialogue between Coexistence, Kiasma, and visitors to the museum will broaden in August of this year, with an expansion of the exhibit that will delve deeper into the human-nature bond. The additions will pay particular attention to more spiritual approaches to the natural world, such as sacred rituals and alternate ways of knowing, bringing new perspectives to the main exhibit. In addition to questioning our position in the natural world, the new works will prompt discussions on the potential limitations of human knowledge, taking a philosophical tour from ethics to epistemology. An accompanying programme investigates the study of knowledge and our ethical responsibility more deeply, featuring essays by the exhibit’s curators and various academics. Through both visuals and texts, Coexistence encourages visitors to consider multiple perspectives on each theme, while Kiasma simultaneously grounds the discussion in the building itself.
The close connection between the Coexistence exhibit and Kiasma’s beautiful architecture makes the building’s design all the more special, not merely housing the exhibit but contributing to it. The environmental themes of Coexistence are salient and inspiring, and we at Casper & Casper are excited to learn about the new additions in August!