The paper deals with landscape conservation of rural areas as a new application for cultural mapping and artistic engagement. The target area are the rural parts of Kokemäenjoki River Valley in West Finland. The river stretches for about 120 km and the population of the target area, combining parts of six municipalities, is ca 4.000 inhabitants. The trigger for research was its suggested designation as a landscape area of national interest in 2016, based on top-down expert evaluation and met with indifference or indignation by the locals. The designation is still pending. According to the European Landscape Convention landscape is closely connected to communities and they should be engaged in its conservation. The objective of the research was thus to study an alternative down-up approach to landscape conservation, based on negotiating between the local place meanings and expert views. Cultural mapping and participatory art were chosen as methods.
Landscape Studies of the University of Turku has experimented with cultural mapping since 2013, having mapped high-rise suburban areas and smaller communities in the City of Pori. This time, cultural mapping was carried out by choosing six mapping locations and communities for “rural acupuncture”. Its usual focus on public spaces needed to be adapted to the spatial practices and framework of the countryside. Artistic participation was introduced simultaneously with cultural mapping, both supporting it and using its results.
The paper discusses the roles of researcher and artist in the mapping and artistic processes, arguing that cultural mapping is a valid approach for community-based landscape conservation and also performs well outside its habitual urban context. The key findings highlighted the importance of the river in everyday life and place attachment – a “sense of river”. It is also argued that cultural mapping and artistic engagement can be closely knit together from the outset. The place-based artistic approach helped in reaching the communities, co-producing knowledge and deepen the place experience. Together, cultural mapping and participatory art could contribute to more engaged and democratic landscape conservation, adding to its legitimacy by strengthening its social acceptance.