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Making a work of art: What can the relationship between science and art be?

Roberto Fusco and Teemu Lehmusruusu’s experimental documentary Lungs was born in cooperation with the CO-CARBON project. The work can be experienced for free at the LUX Helsinki light art festival on January 3-7, 2024 at the Esplanade from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.  From Lungs there will be also a screening version, as well as a video documentation of the implementation of Esplanade.

At the beginning of December 2023, Lungs artwork began to take physical form. Until now, it has lived as a concept and an idea about implementation, as well as an animation on a computer screen. We have a leisurely conversation with artist Teemu Lehmusruusu at Aalto University’s staging art workshop, in a high space amidst the constant roar of large machines and dust flying in the sunlight. Teemu makes connections to a wooden wall to be erected in the urban space, on which the experimental documentary film about Helsinki’s lungs will be projected.

Not everything always goes exactly as planned at the idea level. One of the small practical challenges of making Lungs was to find a laser cutter that could handle large enough wooden boards to draw the contours of the geographical map of Helsinki. But that is precisely the salt of artistic creation, and often of research as well. That something surprising, which pushes thinking into new directions and execution into something different, previously unknown. “In art, this sense of surprise is a natural part of the process, desired and accepted, the end result must be something unexpected. In science, we try to control the process more, and thus we may lose some paths that would lead to previously uncharted areas.” Teemu thinks. “Art is freer. Art does not have to be directly usable in that way. It’s different than, say, utility furniture.”

Many things cannot even be properly planned, they are only refined in practice. And often the schedule is tight. For example, at LUX, the time to set up and test the artwork is one day. For a person who is not familiar with the practice, many solutions may be surprising. For example, the screen on which the work will be projected is painted dark gray. Wouldn’t white be the best? “White would reflect too much of the scattered light present everywhere in the city,” says Teemu. “The powerful light beam of the video projector reflects the dark gray more clearly as it does not have to compete with diffused light. In the end, we will see the future shape of the work and, for example, how strong the light of the projector is, only once setting the work up in the location. After all, it requires cool nerves and trust in the process of making. Potential challenges are usually followed by solutions. And at the same time, you have to dare to face disappointments as well.”

Place and situation define a lot. No remedial painting or plastering can be done once outside the workshop. Because of the low winter air temperatures, the video projector is usually placed in, for example, a construction hut. “We couldn’t do that in this location on the Esplanade, so luckily we got a special outdoor enclosure for the projector from a snow castle in Lapland,” says Teemu. Usually, the works at the LUX Helsinki festival are larger, for example playing with an entire facade of a building, similar to which Teemu has done before. Lungs, in opposite, is a compact work that invites you to stop. In LUX, large masses of people pass between the artworks, so small-sized works may create bottlenecks in the flow of people. But a small work can also be a nice human contrast in relation to other huge ones. This remains to be seen at the festival.

In his own and his colleagues’ artistic work, Teemu has noticed several different ways of linking to science. “In its simplest form, it can be a matter of visualizing information, but we rarely stop at that level. It is much more interesting, for example, to be inspired by some data or a scientific result, in which case science becomes a source of artistic observation, perhaps the start of a dialogue.” Considerations like this in relation to environmental data play a central role in Teemu’s dissertation work for Aalto University’s Department of Art and Media.

I know that the conversation with Teemu only revealed a small part of the process involved in making the work. It is with even greater respect that I will face the work Lungs. In the end, the work takes shape only in the viewer’s experience, and I myself will look at the work with new eyes. What if we opened up the processes of doing science in the same way, would the public of science also look at the achievements of researchers with new eyes and be more impressed by them? Teemu’s recently completed Trophic Verses -project traveled in these borderlands of science and art, and it is very possible that cooperation with CO-CARBON in the future will further stimulate these discussions.

Pictures of the construction of the Lungs work, Elina Alatalo.


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