Kivi Sotamaa's architecture for ARS 01 invites interpretation
For Kivi Sotamaa, designer of the exhibition architecture of ARS 01, the third space can be found in the unpredictability of multi-cultural metropolises, in the evolving contemporary reality, or in biological organisms.
Third space, the theme of the ARS 01 exhibition, is not a new thing for Kivi Sotamaa, who designed the exhibition's architecture. In fact, his thinking and works have revolved around the subject for a long time. Sotamaa sees the third space as being linked, above all, with the contemporary reality of multi-cultural cities and their unpredictability.
"Life in big cities is characterised by changing reality and unpredictability. It's difficult to predict anything, especially the economy, more than a couple of years in advance. One just has to learn to live with reality. At the same time, reality is rich and complex, it contains the potential for several interpretations."
According to Sotamaa, major urban conglomerations are a prime example of the concept of hybrid used in connection with ARS 01. The character of cities does not rest on culturally specific features, but on the distinguishing marks of global metropolises.
FLOWS IN TIME
ARS 01 is an exceptional exhibition for Kiasma in that, for the first time, the entire building is filled with one single exhibition, and the borders between the various spaces are blurred. In order to emphasise this special feature, it was decided that the exhibition architecture must have an exceptionally robust role. However, the architecture of the exhibition must not conflict with that of the building itself, says Sotamaa, it is rather a web of structures that functions within the scale set by the Kiasma building. Sotamaa's aim was to blur the borders between the various galleries and reinforce Steven Holl's idea of a flowing space.
"Often exhibition architecture merely provides a frame for the works. We have consciously sought to depart from such a collage-like approach. The main goal was to create natural paths and to strengthen the flow of visitors with abstract directions."
Sotamaa's point of departure was, nevertheless, different from that of Steven Holl, who designed Kiasma. Instead of Holl's phenomenological approach, Sotamaa wanted to give visitors an active role, an opportunity for multiple interpretations.
"The abstract level – natural scenery, form, colour, material, light… does not contain culturally specific clues, but allows meanings to be formed through the interaction between people and the material environment."
One of the greatest challenges of the architectural design of ARS 01 was, for Sotamaa, the creation of a harmonic whole with artworks by 73 artists. His solution was to give up the idea of a modernistic grid and the consciously conflicting presentations of postmodernism. Instead, he compares the architecture of the exhibition to a biological organism, which changes gradually when one moves from one space to the next. All works have their own space, yet they are in contact with each other. In some places, the architecture is prominent, in others it retreats into the walls of the museum, as it were.
"The work actually began by defining the approach: the role of architecture in this exhibition is exceptional. Another distinguishing feature of the architecture is the thematic grouping of the works. The third, of course, is Kiasma itself."
Sotamaa has worked in Kiasma before, but this time it took a considerably longer time to go through the artistic material of the exhibition.
"The artists had already been chosen when the design work began, but some of the works had not. Some of them were made specifically for this exhibition, so naturally there was no material available on them. This meant that we had to familiarise ourselves with the entire oeuvre of the artists and their distinctive characteristics."
One important milestone in practical design work was the completion of scale models for each floor. The models allowed everyone to explore alternative hangings and to modify and discuss spatial solutions. "The architecture and the hanging were developed together with the builders, as well as the curators. We never had to resort to compromises or last-minute alterations, because all parties could already effectively influence planning in its earliest phases."
Architecture is not the only thing linking Kivi Sotamaa with ARS 01. Sotamaa and Markus Holmstén's Extraterrain from 1995 is one of the works featured in the exhibition. Extraterrain is at least a design object, a seat, an architectonic sculpture, a utility article, and a topology inviting interaction, all at the same time.
"I don't think the roles of exhibition designer and artist are in conflict. For me, the role was a natural one, and I believe that it even served to dispel the kind of conflictual opposition which sometimes can arise."
Although Extraterrain is an old work, it, nevertheless, contains in a condensed form Sotamaa's ideas about the third space, in which form does not dictate use. The "spirit" of Extraterrain is illustrated by Sotamaa's idea of the designer as a choreographer and of form as an adventure.
"The art community is one context in which my work fits quite well. We have no corresponding experimental field in architecture in Finland. On the other hand, the work of many artists is based on architecture and the convergence between these two fields."