Kai Ruohonen began designing blocks for the fine art scene in 2006. Initially the blocks were static objects meant to be exhibited, but practical experience showed that they were even better suited as tools to promote a more active role for the viewer. Artworks made of the blocks were structural and formal solutions that were assumed to be untouchable, just as art objects in general. At the debut of block sculptures in the Finnish Institute in Madrid, however, the audience was unable to comply with the universal custom and altered the works into shapes that differed from the original, intended configuration. The same thing happened in the following exhibitions, including one at the Finnish Institute in Stockholm and another at the Poriginal Gallery in Pori. This was the original impulse for perceiving the blocks as interactive objects and their usability as covering a broader scope than just ordinary exhibitions, allowing them to be used also as tools in workshops and events. The design no longer focused on finding a permanent configuration for the individual components of the work, the building blocks, but rather on their functionality as tools for creating new shapes and uses. This gave the idea of animating the abstract and static objects by moving the sculpture from the pedestal to the workshop table and the theatrical stage, expanding the scope of the sculpture from a unique end result into a versatile instrument. Kai Ruohonen has been conducting workshops that emerged from this shift in Finland and abroad since 2007.

The story of the Block Theatre got its start in July 2011, when Ruohonen was having a conversation with Roosa Halme in the café at Pori Art Museum and asked if the blocks could have a use in her puppet theatre. Halme promised to try to think of something, and took a set of blocks home to experiment. The theatre performance with blocks developed gradually over the course of the autumn, and on 20 November 2011 a demo performance, Block Drama, was ready for the events programme of the Pori International Puppetry Festival and the Children’s Rights Day event of the regional Satakunnan Kansa newspaper. Together with the Turku International Puppetry Connection, Halme also studied the possibility of using the blocks in workshops at the Pori Centre for Children’s Culture, where she worked at the time.

The experimental project dreamed up by two innovative artists found its focus in January 2012, when cultural producer Annukka Ketola joined the team. Together the trio developed the KO-KOO-MO concept, and continue to refine it further, aiming among other things to employ it in the field of wellbeing and creative economy.

The Block Theatre as a Tool for Wellbeing

During autumn 2012, the KO-KOO-MO Block Theatre enriched the everyday life of nearly a hundred children, young people and adults at various institutions. The target groups included special needs children, elderly people, and youths in child protection centres. In conjunction with the institutional visits, the project studied the use of a combination between puppet theatre and art therapy. After the performance, a workshop devised by Bernier and Halme was conducted, using blocks to explore the themes of family, home and childhood. Matthew Bernier is an expert and art therapy pioneer that the project recruited from the United States. Associate professor in art therapy, Bernier spent a week in Finland in September 2012 as a guest of the Block Theatre and accompanied the project team on their tour of institutional visits. The programme also included a seminar at the Pori Art Museum. Featuring Finnish and international experts, the seminar explored themes in puppetry and art therapy, and Matthew Bernier summarised his observations and experiences of institutional visits with the Block Theatre. Halme conducted the Block Theatre welfare project as part of her job as regional artist for the Arts Council of Satakunta (currently Arts Promotion Centre Finland). The welfare project was administered by the puppetry association Nukkero from the Satakunta province.

ANNUAL REPORT (separate file)