Living in the Landscape

Project Spotlight: An international summer school course coordinated by the University of Lapland in Finland combines arts, humanities and natural sciences to foster greater understanding of Northern and Arctic communities. 

Territoire Collaboration circumpolaire Création
A photograph of a wall in Helsinki shows a street number and sign on a white wall. Beneath the words “Kongontie” and “Kongovägen,” a handmade cursive text in blue reads “for cobalt.”

Living in the Landscape (LiLa) is an international summer school course organized annually under the University of Arctic’s thematic network Arctic Sustainable Art and Design. The main coordinator of the event is the University of Lapland in Finland. LiLa brings together students, researchers and lecturers from different disciplines to learn from each other in the art-based study of Arctic environments, communities and landscapes. Long-term multidisciplinary partnerships between arts, natural sciences and humanities are designed to meet the emerging challenges of environmental, social, cultural and economic changes in the North and the Arctic caused by megatrends like climate change and globalization. LiLa has now been realized three times: first in 2018, second in 2021 and third in 2022, which is currently ongoing. This year’s coordinators are based in Scotland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. 

A photograph of a wall in Helsinki shows a street number and sign on a white wall. Beneath the words “Kongontie” and “Kongovägen,” a handmade cursive text in blue reads “for cobalt.”
Maikki Salmivaara, Congo for cobalt (from the series: Thank you for my everyday) (2021). Maikki Salmivaara examined the materiality of her surroundings by the street names in Helsinki.
A group photo shows participants from the 2018 program outside of a large log cabin.
LiLa’s field work week 2018 in Komi, Russia.
A photograph shows a yellow paper bag, a wooden cutting board arranged with dumplings, a laptop and a small green lidded dish on a tabletop. On the laptop screen, a person holds up a dumpling, smiling, showing it to other participants in a virtual meeting.
Anelia Lyantsevich, photo from the series: The Dumpling meeting (2021). Due to COVID-19, participants couldn’t meet in person during the course so virtual tea-times were arranged to strengthen togetherness. Anelia Lyantsevich’s Dumpling meeting was one of these moments where participants gathered together virtually to learn something from each other's culture.

LiLa aims to find culturally and socially sustainable solutions to meet the need for sustainable development and thus benefit its participants, communities and other stakeholders, including creative industries and cultural tourism. Collaboration produces new understanding and creative capacity, research methods, aesthetic products and processes to support people’s sustainable living in the North. Central themes of the project, besides environmental questions, are the expressions of the Northern environmental culture, such as art, handicrafts, narratives and living in nature. The intention is to create dialogue and support people living in northern landscapes. Participants in LiLa share similar challenges regarding the Northern and Arctic environment and communities. 

A clothing line suspended between trees near a lake is strung with several pairs of felted mittens in brown, grey, black and white tones.
Mette Gårdvik, The Fisherman’s Mittens of Helgeland (video still) (2021). Mette Gårdvik’s community art project was an invitation to cross borders by the art of knitting a pair of Fishermen’s mittens. The participants were given an opportunity to wander from the coast of Helgeland Norway, into the memory of the fishermen’s struggling life, through their own experiences of knitting and felting a pair of mittens.

Participating universities are seeking ways to implement community and place-based summer school in the hybrid model using art-based methodologies. LiLa Summer School consists of annual periods: online seminars, place-based fieldwork, both on-site and virtual exhibitions, catalogs and publications. Participating researchers take part in the current year’s Relate North publication. Each annual realization is evaluated and further developed using art-based action research and design research methodologies. 

Due to COVID-19, the LiLa 2021 was realized as a hybrid model where studying and communication took place virtually, but the art-based investigations materialized in the locations where the participants of LiLa were living. The online version of the school reached collaboration on a completely different level. Working both online and onsite gives participants an opportunity to explore their own environments while learning from others, and allows new partners to be accompanied more easily. Beside working and communicating digitally, LiLa seeks ways to implement virtual exhibitions so that they would serve art-based action and the public alongside a physical exhibition. Through the exhibitions, awareness of the challenges facing Northern regions can be shared with a wider audience, opening up new avenues for  art-based project to participate in the conversation.

Viewers can visit the virtual exhibition Our Places, Common Arctic (which contains artworks from 2018 and 2021 LiLa summer schools) here.

Credit: Lotta Lundstedt, Mette Gårdvik and Elina Härkönen, Meeting in landscape (2021). This video was originally published as part of Relate North 2021. COURTESY RELATE NORTH.

Note: The events described in this article were organized prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.


Credit: This text is a shortened version of the article originally published in Jokela, T., & Härkönen, E., “Living in the Landscape in the Time of COVID-19” in T. Jokela, & G. Coutts (Eds.), Relate North: Distances (International Society for Education Through Art, 2021), pp. 178-198.

Original published link

This story is part of the Finland Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.