IHME Commission 2021

Katie Paterson. Photo © Giorgia Polizzi, 2015

IHME Helsinki Commission 2021: To Burn, Forest, Fire

The scent

of extinct forests


Those words outline the concept for Katie Paterson’s IHME Helsinki Commission 2021. All her artworks start with these little poem or haiku-like written phrases. In 2019, she published a book of these short descriptions of her ideas called A place that exists only in moonlight. Some of them have become artworks in the material world, while others await their moment of becoming. To Burn, Forest, Fire will consist of the scent of the first-ever forest on earth and the scent of the last forest of the age of climate crisis, made into incense and then burned across a variety of sites around the city of Helsinki in summer 2021.

Katie Paterson to create the IHME Helsinki commission 2021 >>

On the scientific background of the To Burn, Forest, Fire >>

Conversation documentation of the IHME commission 2021 with Katie Paterson,  Emeritus Professor of Palaeobiology Jan Zalasiewicz (University of Leicester) and Docent in Paleoclimatology J. Sakari Salonen (University of Helsinki) >>

Katie Paterson

Katie Paterson (born 1981, Scotland) is widely regarded as one of the leading artists of her generation. Collaborating with scientists and researchers across the world, Paterson’s projects consider our place on Earth in the context of geological time and change. Her artworks make use of sophisticated technologies and specialist expertise to stage intimate, poetic and philosophical engagements between people and their natural environment. Combining a Romantic sensibility with a research-based approach, conceptual rigour and coolly minimalist presentation, her work collapses the distance between the viewer and the most distant edges of time and the cosmos.

Katie Paterson has broadcast the sounds of a melting glacier live, mapped all the dead stars, compiled a slide archive of darkness from the depths of the Universe, created a light bulb to simulate the experience of moonlight, and sent a recast meteorite back into space. Eliciting feelings of humility, wonder and melancholy akin to the experience of the Romantic sublime, Paterson’s work is at once understated in gesture and yet monumental in scope.

Katie Paterson has exhibited internationally, from London to New York, Berlin to Seoul, and her works have been included in major exhibitions including at: the Hayward Gallery and Tate Britain, London; Kunsthalle Wien; MCA Sydney; Guggenheim Museum, New York; and The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh. She was winner of the Visual Arts category of the 2014 South Bank Awards, and is an Honorary Fellow of Edinburgh University.

Artworks by Katie Paterson

Future Library 2014-2114 

A forest has been planted in Norway, which will supply paper for a special anthology of books to be printed in 100 years’ time. Between now and then, one writer every year will contribute a text, with the writings held in trust, unread and unpublished, until the year 2114. The manuscripts will be presented in a specially designed room in Oslo’s new public library. Writers to date include Margaret Atwood (2014), David Mitchell (2015), Sjón (2016), Elif Shafak (2017), Han Kang (2018), Karl-Ove Knausgård (2019) and Ocean Vong (2020).

Hollow, 2016 

A compendium of the world’s forests. This immersive piece of architecture, created with Zeller & Moye, brings together over 10,000 unique tree species, including petrified wood from the earliest forests that emerged over 390 million years ago, a sample from the oldest tree in the world, and some from the youngest and near-extinct species. The Douglas Fir posts that form the façade mimic the varying heights of trees in a forest canopy system. Inside, light filters through apertures in the ceiling, suggesting sunlight radiating through a forest.

Fossil Necklace, 2013 

A necklace comprising 170 fossils carved into spherical beads. It is a string of worlds, with each bead representing a major event in the evolution of life through the vast expanse of geological time. From the monocellular origins of life on Earth to the shifting of the continents, from the extinctions of the Cretaceous period triggered by a falling meteorite to the first blooming of flowers, Fossil Necklace charts the development of life on our planet.

First There is a Mountain, 2019 

First There is a Mountain was a participatory artwork which invited participants to sculpt beaches into mountains of sand to form micro-geologies, using a series of ‘buckets and spades’ made in the form of world mountains: Mount Kilimanjaro (Africa), Mount Shasta (N. America), Mount Fuji (Asia), Stromboli (Europe) and Uluru (Oceania). The artwork toured 25 UK venues over British Summer Time 2019.

Further information: http://katiepaterson.org

Why Katie Paterson?

“I don’t find my work itself scientific: it deals with phenomena and matter, space-time, colour and light, the natural world in materials. It is rooted in sensory experience.” Katie Paterson

IHME Helsinki is deeply concerned about the environmental crisis and dedicates its work to exploring what the transformation towards sustainable artistic and art-institutional practice could be like. How can IHME Helsinki exist as a high-quality, contemporary-art-commissioning agency, and how are we to collaborate internationally and create relevant discourse and meaning in the age of climate crisis and biodiversity loss?

IHME Helsinki supports art, science, and climate-change mitigation. Our main collaborators are contemporary artists who work in dialogue with scientists, researchers and other experts in various knowledge systems to reflect on the focal questions of the artist’s research. Throughout her artistic career Katie Paterson has worked with scientists – e.g. astronomers, astrophysicists, nanotechnologists, geologists and botanists – in order to learn and to be able to materialize her imaginary ideas.

“Katie Paterson’s work is a stunning example of the power of imagination, how the impossible becomes possible and takes its place in the real world. Her approach mediates the transformative power of art extremely well. We need this approach in the midst of the environmental crisis,” says Paula Toppila, Executive Director and curator of IHME Helsinki.

Katie Paterson was selected by IHME’s previous expert team: Museum Director Emerita Tuula Arkio; Professor  Ute Meta Bauer; Dean Hanna Johansson; Museum Director Leevi Haapala; critic and curator Timo Valjakka; and Executive Director of IHME Helsinki Paula Toppila.