The sun is shining through the windows at the Helsinki Music Centre’s café. Kai Lehikoinen, lecturer at the Theatre Academy of Helsinki, is sipping black coffee by his laptop already before the start of the interview. It promises to be a busy day, but luckily Lehikoinen is at his most creative under a bit of pressure. Sometimes a looming deadline creates the best possible conditions for producing something new.
Such conditions are also provided to scientists and artists at the Saari Residence, whose advisory board Lehikoinen is a member of. He came aboard in 2013 at the request of the chairperson of the Kone Foundation’s Board of Trustees, Hanna Nurminen. The realizations that the encounters between art and science produce have interested him for long already. At the Saari Residence, one gets to peer at these intertwinements.
“It is important to bring the approaches and methods of art beside scientific thinking and theories, and find out how they can feed each other,” Lehikoinen states.
Using the zoom to get out of silos
When Lehikoinen speaks, the desire to see the world as a holistic whole, where reality is the sum of several factors emerges as a recurring theme. He wants to challenge the sort of inflexible thinking, which dictates that each professional field or arts sector should live and function independently in their own silos.
“Society’s themes and phenomena are intricately tied to each other, and the big challenges of our time cannot be solved from only one direction. The world does not happen in silos,” he states.
Art, science and working life are becoming increasingly multicultural and cross-disciplinary. Woeful problems such as new human migrations and global warming mix things up even further. In the face of continuous change, professionals from different fields have to find ways to solve problems together.
How this would happen is comparable to a camera’s zoom, according to Lehikoinen. In art and science, you have to simultaneously be where it is all happening today, and where it will all be happening in the future. Near and far, describes Lehikoinen and imitates the movements of a lens with his hands.
“Of course, you have to be able to focus on contemporary and local phenomena, and listen to where we stand at the moment. At the same time, you still have to be able to look at broader changes and emerging societal themes in a large enough landscape.”
Say goodbye to hierarchies at the Saari Residence
Lehikoinen is inspired by the thoughts of other researchers and artists daily. At the time of the interview, he has two thick books with him to browse on coffee breaks, one about systems thinking theory and another one about the significance of art for wellbeing. They provide plenty of material to think about, which can be applied to the Saari Residence’s activity as well.
“According to the modern conception of art, the purpose of art is to produce art. In my opinion, the field of art also has a responsibility to participate in discussing large societal and environmental problems,” Lehikoinen says.
At the moment, Lehikoinen is especially interested in the ideas of Indian-born literary scholar Homi K. Bhabha. The concept of the Third Space originates from him. It refers to an environment where people from different backgrounds meet and approach things from a new perspective, together, free from traditional hierarchies. For Lehikoinen, the Saari Residence represents a third space.
“At the residence, scientists and artists can contemplate issues together and exclude traditional ways of thinking. Art’s ability to make unlikely things collide can have a lot to give to science. Something new and interesting is always found in collisions.”
Encounters arise when… people are open.
Encounters do not arise when… people cling to their ingrained ways of thinking about things.
The most significant encounters of my life… have occurred in working life. I particularly value the conversations I have had with international researchers about developing organisations through the means of art. They opened up a completely new opportunity to understand the potential of artistic expertise.
Kai Lehikoinen is a university lecturer of performing arts at the Theatre Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki, and a member of the Advisory Board of the Saari Residence since 2013.
Hobbies include going to the gym and travelling