Photo: Veikko Kähkönen

Research across borders

Multidisciplinary research produces knowledge that helps us challenge social injustice. Uniarts Helsinki’s core value is to bring research and art ever closer together.

Arts research is exceedingly breaking new ground. And this is exactly as it should be. According to Lauri Väkevä, Vice Rector in charge of research and doctoral studies at Uniarts Helsinki, multidisciplinary research plays a crucial role in providing decision-makers with new information and challenging social injustice.

“From the perspective of Uniarts Helsinki, multidisciplinary research is key when it comes to emphasising the significance of art. It allows us to showcase how art can promote wellbeing.” There was much activity on the research front at Uniarts Helsinki in 2017. The university’s three new research centres were strengthened with internal resourcing and received additional funding from the Academy of Finland. The Centre for Educational Research and Academic Development in the Arts (CERADA) focuses on researching art pedagogy, the Centre for Artistic Research (CfAR) targets artistic research, and the History Forum researches art history.

Borders between universities have also been crossed. Collaboration between Uniarts Helsinki, the University of Helsinki and Aalto University resulted, for example, in a seminar at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art. The emphasis was on the networking of researchers within the arts. “We are in the process of establishing two shared professorships with a multidisciplinary profile. One will be based in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Helsinki, and the other at Uniarts Helsinki.”

The idea of strengthening the multidisciplinary aspect is not just intended to support impactful research, but also to promote the individual career paths of researchers, summarises Väkevä.

In the global arena

Art research is not only becoming more multidisciplinary, it is also becoming more networked internationally. Lauri Väkevä is especially happy about the research pavilion, which was arranged in connection with the Venice Biennale last year. ”The pavilion was unique. It brought, for the first time, a research perspective to this internationally significant visual arts event. Representatives from all our different fields of art participated in the pavilion, making it stand out from the mainstream Biennale programme.”

So what kind of understanding can you gain through multidisciplinary research? Uniarts Helsinki already has a number of interesting examples to showcase. Professor Heikki Uimonen participated in a multidisciplinary research project where his group investigated the impact music and background noise have on our choice of food in supermarkets, fine dining restaurants and lunch restaurants. The project combined food science, sociology, architecture, music research and economics.

Visual artist and Dean of the Academy of Fine Arts Jan Kaila collaborated with archaeologists and used items from a transit camp for German soldiers in Hanko as material for his artistic research. Markus Rissanen, who defended his doctoral thesis last year, combined approaches from fine art, maths and cultural history in his investigation of basic shapes used in art and science – meanwhile solving, as the first in the world, a certain mathematical hypothesis.

Susanna Hast, Research doctor at the Theatre Academy whose background is in researching international relations, is studying corporeal techniques in proximity to war. In her research, she uses interviews and movement analysis to investigate how capoeira is taught at the Zaatar refugee camp and how cadets are trained at the National Defence University.

Research at Uniarts Helsinki is also increasingly stretching outward from the academic community, says Lauri Väkevä. “When it comes to researching the arts, Uniarts Helsinki has assumed the role of facilitator with a responsibility of calling together the whole field. This serves the art world but also the whole of society.”

The text has originally been published as part of Uniarts Helsinki’s annual report. Read more stories here or browse the pdf version of the annual report.