Clay room workshop was organised in collaboration with my University and The Natural Building Company. (There is something special to me about the company, as Paul Lynch, the head of the organisation, comes from Limerick, and not only that, but also my good friend Beth used to live in the house where Paul grew up. To hear the Irish brogue and the sarky jokes after being away for a few months was a balm for the soul.)
It was actually another lovely guy, Charlie, who was leading the workshop in the studio. The idea was to build a space, using natural breathable materials within the concrete walls of a former nuclear research lab that our studios used to be.
Clay is a locally sources, 100% recyclable and waste-free material. It purifies the air by absorbing and releasing moisture according to the changing conditions of a space.
Sampo, our technician, built the wooden frame before hand, disassembled it, brought it into the space and put together again. Around 30 cm was left around the structure for access to the radiators and fire safety. Inbetween the wooden planks, there were reed blocks. At the start, the outside of it looked like this:
Charlie showed us how to put together the ready-mix (clay and sand) and straw to make the paste to work with. Us four girls did some hard-core mixing.
So here I am in Aalto university in Helsinki. Our first workshop lead by Joel Rosenberg was called Foraging and Urban gardening. We cycled a lot. About 30 km a day. I mean for me it really was a lot, but the Finns didn’t seem to mind.
On the first two days we went around Helsinki and collected fruit and berries from public gardens. There is an “everyman’s right” in Finland, so everybody is allowed to forage for food in public as well as private spaces (as long as they are reasonable away from the private residential property).
We also went to the Pasila railway garden organised by a local environmental and urban gardening organisation Dodo. There is a glass house placed on the former railway turntable, several outdoors allotments, and a restaurant serving food just grown. The fantastic place is located right in the city centre of Helsinki, on a wasteland on the side of the railway and it is just magical to see the garden transforming the space so much.
On Wednesday we went to Nuuksio National park about half an hour from Helsinki. We learned about mushrooms and made a Shamrock and mushroom soup.
On Friday we each had to present our own projects (more about the projects here)
My work was centred around an apple tree, tucked away by the former gate of Helsinki prison. Immediately I was compelled by the parallel of the apples rotting on the ground and the people wasting their time away in the prison. In attempt to highlight this process, I brought a pack of bleached A4 office paper, normally used for documents, the likes of birth certs and life-sentences.
I carefully placed the gone off apples on the blank pages, one on each own sheet. I didn’t pick every single one, just a few, as I was getting a bit nervous because of a gentleman sitting down on the bench nearby and staring at me. He wouldn’t leave until I had picked all the sheets up.Through this semi-experimental and experiential work I was curious to see what imprint an apple would leave on the white sheet.
The next day I brought the group of fellow students with me to the site, wishing for them to experience the work in a participatory way. With me I had a second hand book, Охрана окружающей среды, environmental protection in English (Google translate says it’s ympäristönsuojelu in Finnish, I love the way it’s one word rather than two or three). I invited everyone to tear the pages out of the book and, again, place them under the fallen apples, see how many wasted apples we can find.
Team work was much more fruitful than my own attempt, and we used up the whole book of 559 pages.
It was a good week!