Mythology: Nature

The fourth student workshop of the project Mythology: Nature was arranged at the Aalto Arts in Finland during 3-8 December 2023.

The fourth instalment of the DIMY-MYDI Digital Mythologies - Mythological Digitalities project unfolded at the Aalto University from December 3 to 8, 2023, focusing on the theme "Mythology: Nature." The workshop, dedicated to exploring Nordic and Finnish mythology, provided a profound dive into the symbiotic relationship between the Finnish identity and the natural world.

“In essence, the Mythology: Nature workshop not only explored the rich tapestry of Nordic and Finnish mythology but also unveiled the profound influence of nature on the Finnish identity. The intricate interplay between myth, culture, and the natural world provided students with a nuanced understanding of how these elements have shaped and continue to shape the Finnish narrative”, says VCD Lecturer (Art & Media) Tarja Nieminen, the coordinator and co-teacher of the workshop.

The participants valued the program's diversity, encompassing nature exploration, academic insights, and hands-on practical workshops. In total, 23 students and 7 tutors from four project partner schools in addition to the Aalto students and tutors participated the workshop.

The other tutors included Gautam Vishwanath and Antti Hietaniemi from the Aalto Arts, a guest tutor Jonas Johansson from Beckmans School of Design in Stockholm, Sweden, Gerard Fox from the IADT in Dublin, Ireland, Gina Poortman and Annelise Cerchedean from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp, Belgium, Aušra Lisauskienė and Marius Žalneravičius from the Academy of Arts in Vilnius, Lithuania and Paulina Tarara and Justyna Mędrala from the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Katowice, Poland.

Students visting at Nuuksio National Park.

Finding spirits within nature

The ancient faith of the Finns was deeply rooted in the rhythms of natural conditions, shaping livelihoods dependent on activities like hunting, fishing, and farming. Notably, the deities within Finnish mythology were imbued with distinctive natural elements, creating a spiritual tapestry where trees, rocks, springs, and lakes possessed their own spirits and distinctive beings.

These divine figures, including gods, possessors, and other spirit entities, mirrored the intricate interplay between nature and societal order.

Today, the forest remains a sanctuary for many, offering a space to find solace, calmness, and connection with something greater than oneself. The Finnish nation, shaped by a cultural tapestry, has drawn extensively from mythological elements, with works such as the Kalevala poems playing a pivotal role in defining and articulating the national ethos.

Workshop for a digital app

During the workshop, students collaborated in small, multi-national groups to conceive concepts for dynamic and interactive self-guided apps. These digital tools aimed to enable users to mark places, objects, and routes of interest. Beyond mere information dissemination, these apps were designed to activate users by providing insights into various aspects of nature and mythology.

The versatility of the app was a key focus, allowing users the flexibility to engage individually or collectively. Group activities, potentially incorporating gaming elements, were envisioned to enhance a sense of community and foster networking among users. The app's functionality extended to identifying plants, animals (offering educational aspects), aggregates, and significant locations of mythological heritage. It also had the potential to suggest self-guided tours and routes, offering an immersive and educational experience.

“The exploration of Finnish mythology within the app had a broader objective—to stimulate ecological thinking. The incorporation of elements such as respect for nature, the sanctity of trees, and the acknowledgment of animals as soulful beings aimed to inspire individuals, particularly those grappling with environmental challenges, to adopt different perspectives and behaviours”, says Tarja Nieminen.

Unique experiences in Finnish nature

As the week-long workshop concluded, students expressed enthusiasm for their unique experiences. The initial exploration of Finnish nature set an inspiring tone, complemented by a series of diverse lectures and talks featuring expert speakers.

“The workshop was a hands-on experience not only to our students but also for us, teachers. Working with students all around Europe with different cultural and historical backgrounds was invigorating to our teaching practice as we don't have so many foreign students at our university”, says Paulina Tarara, a co-tutor from the Academy of Arts in Katowice, Poland.

“I'm especially thankful for very inspiring talks with my colleagues from other countries about important and hot topic regarding hopes and threats of AI which we, as designers and artists, must be aware of. Not to mention mythical magical realm located not in a parallel universe but close to Helsinki - a beautiful Nuuksio National Park where all mythical creatures appear to be alive. I spent fantastic time there with a hike in woods and a barbecue at the end of the day”, states Tarara.

"I really enjoyed the forest walk were we listened to Finnish mythology and history, and visited a fun and interactive exhibition about the animals of Finland. The landscape including the forest and frozen lake was breathtaking and we ended the day with a barbecue. This was definitely my favourite part of the project and I feel like I learned a lot and felt like I was part of the culture.  I also enjoyed working with people from other countries and learning their skills and teaching them some of mine. Overall, it was definitely an experience I won´t forget!", says Julia Kuczera from IADT.

Students appreciated the picturesque winter landscape, and the opportunity to meet new people from across Europe. Memorable experiences, such as the Sunday trip, ice almost cracking on the lake, and a barbecue inside a traditional tent, added a unique and enjoyable dimension to the overall learning experience.

“Hello Forest! Hello Spirits!" seminar at Oodi Central Library Seminar

To conclude the week's activities, the students' creative outcomes were presented to the public as short videos and trailers showcasing their app concepts were featured in the seminar titled "Hello Forest! Hello Spirits!" held at the Oodi Central Library on December 10, 2023, in Helsinki, Finland.

The seminar included nine presentations by visiting speakers and provided an opportunity to reflect on the workshop's achievements and share insights gained throughout the project and invited discussion with the public during the seminar.