PRIMA MATERIA – four artistic positions on ecology

The exhibition PRIMA MATERIA is the result of an interdisciplinary collaboration facilitated by the Finnish Society of Bioart and HENVI/University of Helsinki. Artists Laura Beloff Ursula Damm Mari Keski-Korsu and Tuula Närhinen present the results of a year of artistic research alongside the HENVI environmental research groups.

Opening: 22. November 18h – 20h with a scoop of Baltic Sea soup by Chef Antti Nurkka
Location: Tiedekulma – Aleksanterinkatu 7 Helsinki.
Duration 22. November – 13. December


Have you ever thought that the water in the Baltic Sea has a history? The dissolved organic matter (DOM) can be tracked down to soil particles that rivers carry into the sea. The multiDOM researchers study the surface runoff and soil erosion in order to map out this process.

I have put together a simple device for the visual study of the provenience of water. A box made of clear acrylic contains a camera that takes split images of the waterscape. The simultaneous under/over view reveals the colour of the water under the surface (brown indicating the degree of humus = organic matter). And above the vegetation tells about the environment on the sampling site.

My instrument could be used for recording the course of water in the whole catchment area starting from ditches and lakes through rivers into the Baltic Sea. A series of photographs (or videos) would demonstrate how the colour and the turbidity of  water vary on its way to the sea.


Henvi multiDOM researchers from left to right: Laura Hoikkala Ilmo Massa (in the background looming under a black umbrella) Janne Helin Pirkko Kortelainen Riitta Autio (red umbrella) Mika Rahikainen Sakari Kuikka coordinator Kati Vierikko Eila Turtola Harri Kuosa and Helena Soinne. Kari Hyytiäinen is missing from this picture.

September 12 2012 all the researchers Henvi-coordinator Kati Vierikko and myself went to MTT Jokioinen research center for a seminar day and fieldtrip.

The day was a success. “My group” is finally getting together: the researchers decided on how to join their forces in order to solve the secrets of the mysterious dissolved organic matter (DOM). And I got a chance to present my work for everybody. The feedback was great and the discussions with the researchers will take me further.

After the seminar we went to see the Jokioinen experimental fields for the study of agricultural nutrient loading and runoff. In the evening smoke-sauna and swimming by the river Loimijoki ended the perfect day.
MTT researcher Eila Turtola pointig at a well on Jokioinen experimental field.

The turbid river Loimijoki seen through my DIYinstrument for studying the provenience of water.

Oh sorry – it seems that I’ve forgotten to blog about the instrument. Just wait a moment and see my next post…



Sep 112012

A friend of mine Kirsi told me about Swedish tradition of white rhubarb. Apparently the rhubarb is covered from sun and for that it grows white. Then some nice Swedish delicacy is cooked out of it. So I covered my precious bio-organic rhubarb.
And it turned out like this:

Possible reasons for failure:

  • You should cover the rhubarb earlier in spring


  • Only Swedish people can do this.

As I’ve been designing albedo covers my idea is to shape the cover that is fits perfectly to its’ place. My first choice of material was cloth that is used to protect plants from insects and cold (hallaharso). I thought this was perfect fabric because it’s light and the plants can grow under it. With starching you can create the shield but easily get rid of it if you don’t have enough space to store it.
Note to myself: Hallaharso is made out of some sort of space textile and you can’t starch it. It absolutely takes no liquid in. Try natural fabrics for natural starching.

Aug 282012

In spring after visiting all the researchers and forest station Hyytiälä I had a pile of ideas what to do. I decided to write down all of them in research group’s wiki and ask for comments from the group. The ideas varied from biofuel installations to smells of different landscapes. I got a lot of enlightening comments and after couple of discussions with researcher from Helsinki University Frank Berninger I found the path I wanted to take. I’ve been working with albedo since the beginning of the summer. Albedo means simply amount of sun radiation reflected back to space from different surfaces or “whiteness”. If a lot of sunlight is reflected away from earth it cools the planet and this way mitigates the climate change. The possibilities with albedo and forest management vary. Naturally the snow coverage in winter is very reflective. But different forest types matter too.  For example birch trees reflect the sunlight a lot because they have light leaves. They also sequester CO2 as they grow fast. Clear-cuts also have a good albedo value which doesn’t make me very happy though. Of course it is a discussion then what this type of thinking does to the diversity of the forest nature.

Manipulating the albedo is considered to be one of the most promising ways to control climate change. It is rather cheap and it has a fast affect: for example pretty much anyone could paint their roof tops lighter. On the other hand in my opinion   many other geo-engineering projects just prove the grandiotic nature of human kind. I understand we don’t have many choices anymore. Still I want to question if it’s really true that we can’t stop the endless consumption of natural resources and economical growth as the only solution for well-being. Geo-engineering theme is rather interesting from the point of view of forest management. Isn’t forest management the largest geo-engineering project in Finland ever?

So far I have been making there kind of albedo shields. The shields are carefully shaped to fit their location perfectly and each shield is marked with its’ gps-coordinates. The shields are different sizes but the affect should be 2 watts per square meter. The material is white cotton and some shields possibly with trash birch peelings that I got from my friend who makes birch shoes and other birch products.

Above an albedo shield drying – it looks like flexible but in fact is not…

Another branch of my albedo explorations have been albedo suits. I first made them for pets but then decided to make a logger’s albedo suit. This is a kind of heroic suite and I’ve been preparing one for my neighbour. He is starring a video about tree cut and wearing the suit. This is just in process so I don’t have many pictures about it yet.
Professor Martin Welp has made an interview study for forest owners on how they see the future of forest management. Martin promised I can use the interview materials for the video as there is one specific question about albedo too. Probably some parts of the interviews can be used for Clear-cut Preservation tree growth time laps or even to be attached to the albedo shields.

I’ve been planning to make experiments on making birch trees even whiter. This plan hasn’t taken me so far yet but I’ve collected some small birches read some plant anatomy and tried to find white rabbit protection stuff I heard about. Don’t know where this is going. I just find this politically incorrect idea of whitening things very amusing.

These are some birch waiting to be whitened… I took this during summer so at the moment there are not too many leaves left..

Art&HENVI projects deals with environmental issues. One idea for the November Science Corner exhibition I had was that we could calculate the amount of natural resources consumed when making different prototypes art pieces or demos for the exhibition. This could be interesting because many times art projects comment on environmental issues but could this be one step further? If this is found interesting I can ask a friend of mine to help with the calculation.


Since spring 2012 there is a water quality monitoring device on Harakka Island near the place where most of my water samples for the “Soups of the Day” and the “Stock Cubes” are taken. The instrument measures the salinity temperature and turbidity levels of sea water. Not exactly dissolved organic matter (DOM) research but still related to it. Around the island Harakka the quality of water is greatly influenced by changes in discharge of river Vantaa.
I was in contact with the researcher Emil Vahtera from Helsinki Environment Centre. He promised that I could use the data from the device in order to produce lists of ingredients to be attached to my soups and stock cubes. The instrument takes measurements every 15 minutes and a statistics of the results is available online as well.
This is how the instrument looks like. From above and under water.


In May I took round 40 litres of Helsinki seawater to be evaporated in room temperature inside a picture frame (70x96x4cm). It took over a month to dry the first ready-one looks like this:

On the left two evaporation frames. On the right the resulting watercolour of the month of May.
A detail of the watercolour painting


A Soup of the Day (Tuesday 12.6.2012) was prepared on Källskär – an Island in the Finnish outer archipelago in Åland. The water looked extremely clear compared to Helsinki. The soup as well as the stock cube is almost white. In addition to cooking I made a series of underwater photos on Källskär see the one below or load a pdf portfolio (1 Mb).


I have started my work in the Baltic Sea/MultiDOM -group with a series of experiments studying the colour of the sea. The colour of the water is one indicator of the amount of dissolved organic matter (DOM). One of my experiments is called Soup of the Day. I take one bucket of seawater and boil it up to a point where the water has almost evaporated. The resulting mixture of salt and coloured residue is poured in a soup plate and left to evaporate. After that I cook another bucket (i.e. 9-10 liters of seawater) completely in order to produce stock cubes for making instant soups. To my surprise I noticed that the soup contained quite a lot of salt one bucketful produced a stock cube of the size of a matchbox.- see the image below

My first Soup of the Day (left) and two stock cubes (right) for making 9-10 L of instant soup each.

Another rather unpleasant surprise happened when I started cooking seawater with a lot of pollen on it (see image above). The soup became thick as a pea soup and smelled horrible. The pale yellow pollen turned red and the amount of the residue was huge. Only one bucket of sea water with pollen produced 8 and a half !!! stock cubes compared to my previous instant soups with one cube per one bucket.

During cooking the pollen soup smelled so bad that I had to move my “kitchen” outside. The smelly residue in a kettle (left) and the 8 stock cubes made of it (right).
After a few weeks the pollen stock cubes looked like this – a beautiful (?) mold!

© 2011 Art&HENVI Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha