Last week Holly Holmes and I traveled to Turku, Finland to stay with artist Jan-Erik Andersson and his family. We made the journey to see Life on a Leaf, the house that Andersson designed in collaboration with architect Erkki Pitkäranta and built over a 10 year period from 1999 to 2009.
The genesis of the house is told in a series of stories published by Andersson on his website. They weave together personal narratives with historical figures to create a dreamlike fable establishing the Life on a Leaf as a phoenix-like structure born from a tragic tale of loss and longing.
Andersson conceived of the project in part as a counterpoint to generic, mass-produced, minimalist housing in his native Finland. Situated in Hirvensalo on the banks of the River Aura, Life on a Leaf emerges from out of the woods like a flower blossoming in the spring. Getting planning permission to build the structure was fraught with difficulties, but after intervention from the Turku city council he was given the go-ahead to build Life on a Leaf in a park area on the island, close to the city center.
The design of the house is a synthesis of decorative ornament, combining a range of motifs with natural elements in harmony with Modernist features and nautical references. Bright-yellow wooden exterior cladding sheathes the structure, embellished concrete interior walls and floors divide the space vertically, and metal decorative features provide both useful elements and unique touches. Andersson, along with his family, close friends, and fellow artists, built significant portions of the house themselves, a process that he has documented really well on both his website and in the book produced to accompany the house, Life on a Leaf My House as a Total Artwork published by AraMER in 2014.
Standing inside the house, one is struck by the absence of right angles and corners. All of the interior walls follow a curvature of some kind. Where any two curves diverge at the perimeter of the house, architect Pitkäranta inserted large floor-to-ceiling windows. This is intended to give the effect of light permeating through the forest. The walls themselves are a combination of wood and concrete. In the case of the concrete walls, they are beautifully adorned with impressions made during the casting process, with lines and cones representing water drops and leaves.
Andersson’s goal for Life on a Leaf was to create a total artwork that stimulates the imagination of residents and visitors alike. Andersson invited 20 artists to contribute individual works of art to the house. Holly and I created a wallpaper design for the upstairs bathroom based on images of consumerism and warfare. Other pieces in the house include Chicago-based artist Shawn Decker’s soundscapes and British artist Trudi Entwhistle’s outdoor sculptures.
If you are interested in seeing the house in person, Andersson hosts tours, providing guests insight into the construction of the project and its origins. More information: http://www.anderssonart.com/