Life on a Leaf- a total work of art

Life on a Leaf

The Finnish artist Jan-Erik Andersson’s Gesamtkunstwerk (or ‘Total Art Work’), the leaf shaped house Life on a Leaf, has been completed. The unique house, which functions as a home for Andersson’s family in Turku, was first conceived in 1999. It was was planned with architect Erkki Pitkäranta, with whom Andersson has worked for many years under the name Rosegarden Art & Architecture.

The house is the main part of Andersson’s Doctorate in Fine Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. In it Andersson imaginatively explores several issues which address the relationship between art and architecture, and between a house and its surroundings: Can you live in a picture or a sculpture? In which ways can nature be mediated gradually into the house? Can a building based on stories and on representional shapes — like a leaf, a bluebell, and a Brasilian ferry — still be considered as architecture? Why don’t we see more houses shaped like flowers, hats or shoes?

Writer Robert Powell has described his impression of the house in an article in the BLUEPRINT Magazine (December 2009)

“The form of the Leaf House is unique. By day it resembles a strange hat or misshapen boat; by night a Jack O’ Lantern, glowing from within, its windows evoking the abstracted eyes and mouth of some Finnish folklore giant. Though the structure appears quirky and follyesque – modernism goes Moomin – it is far from haphazard.”

Along with sources like Kurt Schwitters, Le Corbusier, Antoni Gaudi, Bruce Goff, Konstantin Melnikov, Hundertwasser, Archigram and Rem Koolhaas Andersson has also been inspired by the Swedish children’s author, Elsa Beskow, whose tales include houses shaped like hats and umbrellas. One of Andersson’s constant themes during his 30 years as an artist is the investigation and questioning of the border between the colourful and iconic aesthetics constructed by adults for children and the somber seriousness which usually is related to adult visual culture.

Dr Judith Collins describes Andersson in ”Sculpture Today” (Phaidon 2007):

” His works are usually about love, longing and nostalgia. The intention is to create sculptures and installations that inspire children and adults to create their own fantasies and stories …”

The Life on a Leaf house has inspired a dozen of Andersson’s artist colleagues to make art works and poems, which are incorporated into the building — wall and floor details, a laminated kitchen table top, wall paper, light fixtures, in-floor video work, outdoor tables and benches, environmental planning and a sound installation in a handrail which responds to changes in the wind and light outside. Andersson describes it as a way to have the friends of the family present. It also points to the social and communicative side of the house project. The house is not a sealed private house — it is a place where people with diverse thoughts and aesthetic views can meet and collaborate.

This is also reflected in the interior design. Modernist elements such as the six meters high curved white walls are combined with strongly ornate floors, kitchen cupboards from IKEA and mosaic works made as a collaboration between all the members of the family. All the wash basins, toilet stools and the bath tub are from recycle centers. The house is heated by a thermal system.

Andersson believes strongly that research into the visual and design aspects of a sustainable future has to be done on many levels. In the Life on a leaf project Rosegarden explores the ecologic dimension of dream, the imagination, the iconic space, and “slow living” — ideas which have roots in the Arts and Crafts movement.

In the theoretical part of his Doctorate dissertation Andersson stresses the role of detail, ornamentation and artistic intervention in making a building “come forward” and become architecture in its fullest sense. Another important issue is the exploration of ways through which the surrounding nature can be mediated into the house through various cultural elements –- for example through the leaf- shaped floor plan, which eschews right angles; pictorial elements as in windows shaped like leaves, teardrops, a heart, a mouth; and also through the curved shapes of the inner walls, intended to create a feeling of walking on a pathway in natural surroundings. The house contains three storeys, each of which has been created with a unique feeling, like experiencing the various levels of a mountain climb.

The importance of these carefully considered designs has been the departing point for professor Yrjö Haila in discussing the house in Framwork (The Finnish Art Review) 10/09.

”Nothing less is at issue with the project Life on a Leaf than the creation of a new world. Houses not only provide space for inhabitants, they also create inhabitants.”

The following visual artists and poets have kindly made proposals for works in the house, most of which have been are realized: : Shawn Decker, Trudi Entwistle, Amy Young & Kenneth Rinaldo, Jyrki Siukonen, Pierre St-Jacques, Leah Oates, Kari Juutilainen, Pertti Toikkanen, Susanna Peijari, Karin Andersen, Ismo Kajander, Yuichiro Nishizawa, Jan-Kenneth Weckman, Robert Powell, Frank Brummel, Alice George, Johanna Kunelius.