Avoin kasvihuone / open greenhouse is a communal art project founded in Helsinki in 2012 by Minnamari Toukola and Niina Tervo. The idea to built the greenhouse came suddenly, followed with a question “should we build a greenhouse?” Answered with a swift reply “ Yes, I already have the windows for it” From this quick change of thoughts, started a years long project which grew both in size and in ideas while making it.
From the beginning the idea of the greenhouse was to see what happens if we make a public space and hand it over for people to use. This meant both using it as a greenhouse and as a place for culture, mixing with random events and everyday life. We got interested in an idea of having a place where exhibiting, performing and other kinds of public presentations would be possible in a soft and low threshold environment - having in mind the way how people would feel when performing and being surrounded with plants and the greenhouse, but also creating an exiting place to show different kinds of artworks where they could create interesting connections and communications with the surroundings, greenhouse and the plants growing there.
Another thought we had in mind was to create a possibility to exhibit something without a long curatorial process, bringing another kind or rhythm into the exhibition making and showing, and also giving the artists more freedom to decide when and what kind of artwork they would like to show. In this way the space opens up a possibility to exhibit projects and artists that are in different phases of their process or careers, but also a place where to practise publicly and open up the process of making art, maybe in some ways connecting the working process with the greenhouse and its growing cycle, and proposing an idea of not always having to be ready in front of someone else. And on the other hand, to have a place where to get to watch for example a theatre or dance practice, where the repetition of movements and acts can be mesmerizing, or sound making, where sounds come together and spread out, expanding the idea of what to do and see in a public space.
The growing follows these free thoughts and, in the limit of the resources it has, the greenhouse publicly invites anyone to join. The group gets together and freely organises themselves yearly, making plans what to grow and how to do it, where the makers of the greenhouse try to mostly help and listen. Ideas behind of what to grow have been in edible plants, flowers, plants to make colors with, plants to have certain history and plants that are grown to be part of some of some exhibitions, event or so on. And since there are a mix of people, usually a mix of ideas are growing at the same time, which everyone takes care of. Usually, and even slightly surprisingly though the main interest has not been in the crops but in a change to be connected with soil, seeds and the whole process of growing. The people who are part of the growing group are the people who spent most time at the greenhouse and are in that way the core for all the activities. Also because watering and growing is months long project on which people are dedicating their time. During these months the group is also a place to find ways to communicate, share, learn and listen, and a try to create a place without hierarchies and ways to include everyone. The yearly cycle keeps in trouble solving too, since a public space brings along also some challenges
The greenhouse was built illegally and that also expands the conversation around it to a political questions of how cities are built and what are the ways citizen can affect in their surroundings. In 2016 the formerly abandoned park where the greenhouse was built, was cleaned up by the city of Helsinki and turned into a dog park. We were lucky to have people there to support the greenhouse and take it as part of the planning of the new park. The city made an effort to find out whose was it and contacted us about it. After some conversations the park was renewed and the greenhouse moved to another corner of the park. This process was followed by years long, still on-going conversation of how the structures of city and its planning work and who makes these decisions. Rising also questions of what is a place for culture and growing in a city area and is there a space for it. But finding also answers and people behind the system who actually see the need for it and find ways to help us.
During this last decade the greenhouse has been molding into a place of something that we thought might happen and other things. There has been music and sound works, poetry, movies, food, dance, paintings, sculptures, installations and performances. It’s also a place to have a break, a place to steal potatoes (all of them, every year!), and a place where the mixing of planting, growing, life, culture and artworks finds connections and new ways of coming together. It’s also a place of support, collaborating and working together, and learning how to create a supportive surroundings and atmosphere. And with all that, open greenhouse is hoping to give space for many voices, but also to create a communal feeling around it so that the place would feel welcoming and as their own for as many people as possible.