Aleksandra Mir


HELSINKI—4-8 Nov 2001. A week-long workshop at the Helsinki Art Academy centered on a public art proposal from 1995 of the same name. Access was originally conceived to embellish the Lutheran Cathedral on Senate Square, a major piece of architecture in town with some very steep steps leading up to it. I thought it should have a wheelchair ramp prominently positioned right in the middle of the stairs

In the workshop, we set out to realize this work independently, by first communicating the idea to the world at large. The students contacted both architects and organizations for the disabled, gathering much interesting feedback. Not surprisingly, these camps seemed to be on opposite ends of the wheelchair-access issue. While some of the more militant disability representatives were forming control units to randomly investigate new buildings for access, the prevailing concern of the architects was the necessity of incorporating what they found to be ugly ramps and lifts into their designs, thus resulting in these features most often being hidden away

Next we did some field research. The students found an old wheelchair in the school’s basement and headed towards Senate Square. The same morning, fresh snow had fallen on the city, glorious and untouched on the stairs themselves, but already forming slush on the streets around. Bravely, we ventured out with the wheelchair to enact fake disabled people in order to investigate the matters at stake. The immediacy of my proposal was clear: if someone could push the disabled person, it would be a great trip up. But on the way down, the steepness and length of the steps called for a life-endangering endeavor: the wheelchair would mostly likely fly off and the disabled person would break every bone in his body

We continued to discuss the implications of material type and visibility, the uses of permanent and semi-permanent structures, the organization of lobbies and media exposure and the celebration of taboo subjects. Back on site, the students experimented with what was immediately available to them as artists, making a wheelchair ramp out of snow - an absolutely beautiful and poetic response to it all. Then we all went to a café to warm up