It’s always surprising the change that can come in a year. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes right?
I can remember applying to Carleton’s M.Arch program with the primary intent of participating in the Directed Study Abroad semester in Helsinki and expressing in my letter of intent: “Finland in particular, and Scandinavia in general, can offer unique cultural opportunities as the nation in many ways seems to be continually influenced by both eastern and western countries and ideologies, given the proximity to both the European Union as well as Russia and the remnants of the eastern bloc. This is an experience that cannot be replicated in a DSA to a Western European nation.”
Yet it’s always the things you never would have expected to be the biggest shocks to your system. Like when you buy shredded cheese and realize halfway through your meal that this is, in fact, definitely NOT cheese (and I’m willfully avoiding finding out what the hell that was at this point).
More relevantly though, our lead instructor TT made a point of explaining to us that in Finland broadly, and Helsinki specifically, there is an attitude of freedom to everyday life not found in far western cultures. So long as you do not give someone an obligation to tell you “NO” (ie. willful or accidental destruction of property or harm to an individual), the local attitude is to carry on as needed. Case in point: The Aalto University FabLab and ADDlab, the campus’s two dedicated workshops for design and fabrication studies.
Upon visiting the FabLab for the first time, one from our group asked how much blocks of time and materials cost on the laser cutter for students who are studying adjunctly to the school but not directly within it. Response from the attendants: “You’re not from Finland, are you?”
The fact is that all public institutions of post-secondary learning open their facilities to the public for experimentation and learning to whoever is willing to explore the skills, techniques and software. This breaks the limitations that might be put up from over-regulation or lack of resources, and simply allows the individual to push themselves as far as they are willing to go. The mind truly becomes the only boundary in this scenario. In contrast, I believe at each of my alma-matters we had to take a safety course, pass a test, fill out safety forms and follow a pay-per-use cost structure – yet here, the attitude appears to fall into the “just giv’r” camp.
Finding this gem has woven into our studies at the perfect time. Currently we are working as a class to re-create Nolli’s map of Rome in the context of Helsinki – if we were to break down the city as it currently exists and rebuild it saving only the most important landmarks of Finnish culture, what would we choose? Each student would be responsible for creating a palm-sized model cast in bronze. We will also be building the kiln for baking the actual statues, and have recruited a local artist who has significant experience in the process to help guide us through the assignment.
For this particular exercise I am looking at Hilding Ekelund’s Velodrome for the 1952 Helsinki Olympics. Because of the openness of facilities I have decided to explore the CNC as a representative tool for the bronze casting mold.
While this is all happening within our assignments, we’ve begun to realize how well-connected our instructors are to the local arts scene and beyond. Recently the artist MOMUS was in town and invited to come give an intimate talk in the small public sauna we call home to the students of our exchange and a small group of Finns. He spoke for nearly three hours of his work as an artist, provocations into the social and political spheres and the lessons learned from a life of travel.
How do you measure a year?
An on-going documentation of the work happening in Carleton University's semester-long work for the Directed Studio Abroad to Helsinki, Finland in the joint studies program with Aalto University. January-April 2014.