Architecture is one of the principal forms of fine arts. It surrounds man at every step and plays an important role in studying the questions of not only the history of man's dwelling evolution, his attitude to nature, his devices to climactic and geographic conditions, but also gives full idea of customs, belief, spiritual development and aesthetic thinking of any people and any nationality.

N. Tsultem, Art Historian
Quoted from Mongolian Architecture

The project ART OF INHABITATION - of which this book is a part - was initiated by Tiina Mielonen, Saara Hacklin and myself. I first came to Rotterdam to stay in an artists’ residency in Stichting Kaus Australis and found Rotterdam a fine and fascinating place to be. So much so that others I knew back home in Helsinki wanted to come to Rotterdam, too and so in the end we also wanted to bring some of Rotterdam with us. This book and the associated exhibition organized in Galleria Huuto in Helsinki in November 2006, presents a view to Rotterdam we thought intriguing. All this is, however, only meant to be the beginning of the project. By making this presentation of artists and ideas we hope to create a future platform for the project to develop in diversity of views. The next aim is to produce an exhibition of these Rotterdam-artists together with a group of Helsinki-based artists and writers to be presented in Rotterdam. What will follow simply remains to be seen.

This publication, however, is not an exhibition catalogue for the exhibition ART OF INHABITATION in Helsinki 2006. It is more like a notebook of those works, projects and artists that originated the idea for the project. Conflicting and ambivalent ideas of the urban and the natural, was what caught my interest both in the works of the artists whose works I saw and what I then wanted to work with myself. Where it all began and where the title comes from are one and the same place and moment in time: visiting a Witte de With exhibition on the Smithsons (Alison and Peter) called From The House of the Future to a house of today, I came across the term ‘ art of inhabitation’. As I remember it, it was in a shabby type written text (from 1956) about how their House of the Future would have an inside garden, diverse-function-furniture….and an all-around air of glamour. The Smithsons wanted to address all the facets of the art of inhabitation. The mismatch of the futuristic intention of the mid-fifties and the sci-fi comic view to the past of future thinking kept on twisting in my mind. There seems to me to be something utopian with all urban (and environmental) planning; a vision of a better society, a better world. But how to understand the way we are in the world in the first place? These functions and parts of every day life, which seem quite meaningless, if not invisible… How can they be understood and made better? Except in a sci-fi that will be ridiculous 50 years later?

The purpose of the project and works presented in this book and in the exhibition, ART OF INHABITATION, is not to criticize existing solutions of architecture or furniture design or environmental planning, nor to make suggestions for future ones: the purpose is stirring awareness about an act – the art of inhabitation – the slow invisible way in which we settle into our environment and start to belong. This is not anything we would normally think about, but it may become suddenly quite visible when moving to a new place. Then, for a moment, it is possible to perceive everything sharp, clear and detailed. As long as you don’t know where the nearest supermarket is, the world is strange and full of surprises. When a flat is just acquired and empty it is of utmost importance to furnish it with at least a few objects that will make it a “home”. A few weeks, definitely a few months later, the few blocks to the supermarket are already invisible; and even the home has become more or less just as it is. Familiarity makes us blind to our actual surroundings. Partly this is of course necessary for the smoothness of living, but every once in a while it maybe recommendable to notice the chair one sits on, the escalator that takes one up from the metro tunnel every morning, the historical background of the pot-plant on the window-sill.

The intention of the ART OF INHABITATION- project is to comment these themes in general, but with a special emphasis on the multi-layered ways in which nature (constructed and unintentional) intertwines with built environment. This because the way we conduct ourselves towards nature and use nature as commodities (materially or ideally) is most enlightening about how we in general think of ourselves being in the world. After all, houses are built and cities planned in order to keep us safe and comfortable, away from the inconveniences and chaos of nature, and by the time we feel snug enough in our little nests of brick and furniture, we invite the nature back in, in different forms: house-plants and aquaria are the forests and seas of the world, gardens and parks just the appropriate amount of nature convenient and necessary. And still nature is not really something separate from either human or urban: it can be used as a marker of difference, but it is always there. Opposite to the rather common idea of nature as a normative good, I think it more constructive to work with the idea of nature as an all-covering base of things. What maybe once were a flowing river and a sparkling fire are now indoor plumbing and central heating, but it is nature all the same. Or, to say it more concisely as geographer David Harvey does somewhere: There is nothing unnatural about New York City , and so definitely not about Rotterdam.


Annu Wilenius
June 25th 2006, Helsinki, Finland