Session 9

Hanna Johansson / Professor of Contemporary Art Research, University of the Arts Helsinki
Kirsi Saarikangas / Professor of Art History, University of Helsinki


Nature, non-human and ecology in modern art, architecture and environmental planning


The session explores and revisits the 20th century modernisms of art, urban and environmental planning from the points of view of nature, non-human and ecology. The session discusses nature as simultaneously and paradoxically self-evident and an unnamed — or untitled — element of modern art and architecture.

Both modern architecture and art have a tensed and complicated relationship to nature. On the one hand, modern architecture follows nature. However, while nature has been crucial in the mid-20th century architectural modernism, it has simultaneously and paradoxically been its unnamed and self-evidently present reverse side. On the other hand, architectural modernism has worked against nature by emphasizing for example pure form, technology, and separation of cities and nature.

In visual arts, the relationship to nature has been the same i.e. complicated and paradoxical; nature was both rejected as well as a source for creative work. Meanwhile abstract art has sought non-figurative, pure forms, modernism has emphasized biologism and the organic world as a co-creator, and artists have wanted to look into the natural world and been part of its processes. These ideas in art and architecture came together for example in Bauhaus where the biological system was an ideal model for planning and art making.

Recently the notion of “non-human actor” (ANT, Actor-network theory, by Latour, Callon & Law) and “ecology without nature” (by Morton) have helped to perceive and observe previously unperceived actors and might offer novel perspectives to the explorations of relations and tensions of nature, ecology and artistic and architectural expressions.

The session welcomes papers on the following topics:

  • Papers that study the connections of Nordic modernisms to “nature” and non-human from visual arts to environmental planning and their social, experiential, aesthetic and imagined dimensions;
  • papers that study twentieth century’s art’s and planning’s entanglement to ecological thinking of “nature” as unnamed or untitled in modern art, architecture and planning;
  • papers that pursuit to bridge modernisms ideas of nature to current situation in art and planning where ecology is seen as timely, disputed and expanded notion.