Labyrinths and mazes



My name is Juho Hellsten. I’m a 5th year student of art education in the University of Arts and Design, Helsinki. Naturally, as an art educator, my areas of interest are diverse, and instead of listing all the stuff I find interesting it would be easier to just list the things that don’t make me tick (dog breeding, ice hockey, Hollywood entertainment indystry awards, well that already constitutes roughly half the list). Recently I’ve been occupying myself with somewhat traditional oil painting, struggling with the dis-/non-information released by the instances carrying out a merger between the universities of economics, technology, and arts and design in Helsinki, and analyzing the holistic experiencing of the Nature during my solitary hike in the Finnish Lapland some months ago.

Of Signs of Power: I’ve had a few starting points to the assignment, out of which I ended up choosing the labyrinth as a metaphor of power, as the surroundings of an individual trying to find her/his way through the world kept together by complex power structures. The question of how to visualize my theme still remains. I might end up making paintings. If only paintings weren’t so “voluntary” to experience… Using “virtual reality” (computers) could be an ok compromise between the physical world and the world of images. For now, I’ll just post some miscellaneous thoughts and interpretations. The artwork/sketches follow soon, if I get the pieces to fall in place.

In Finnish there’s no distinction between the concepts of a labyrinth and a maze. There are just more or less complicated labyrinths. Originally “a labyrinth” used to mean a unicursal (non-splitting) although confusing path where possible obstacles (such as the Minotaur, or just one’s own fears) could have been encountered, whereas “a maze” offered up to infinite amount of chances of getting lost by choosing to take the wrong turn in an intersection of the path.

A labyrinth: conquering obstacles, acheiving spiritual growth through travelling. A possible allegory for bureaucratic procedures, or a metaphor of a fatalist/determinist view of life.

A maze: One choice leads to a new crossroad. From the point of the view of the traveller, a series of these choices, stacked up, lead to unpredictable consequences, as in the chaos theory. A maze could be a metaphor of life. A maze offers choices as well as limits and restrictions, some hints and an unknown amount of secrets. A maze (unlike life) has an author, which in my way of thinking makes it a potent metaphor of power.

The Three Types of Labyrinth according to Umberto Eco – The Name of the Rose. (source:

1. The Greek Labyrinth

“This kind does not allow anyone to get lost: you go in, arrive at the centre, and then from the centre you reach the exit.” eg the labyrinth of Theseus,at the heart is the Minotaur […] Theseus killed the Minotaur in the Labyrinth and emerged using a length of thread for a passionate embrace from Minos’ new wife. A myth of sexual passion and labyrinthine doings. “if he were not there the story would have no zest, it would be a mere stroll. Terror is born, if it is born, from the fact that you do not know where you will arrive or what the Minotaur will do. “Eco. Reflections.

2. The Mannerist Labyrinth

“if you unravel it, you find in your hands a kind of tree, a structure with roots, with many blind alleys. There is only one exit, but you can get it wrong. You need an Ariadne’s thread to keep from getting lost. This labyrinth is the model of the trial and error process.

3. The Net or Rhyzome Labyrinth

“so constructed that every path can be connected with every other one. It has no centre, no periphery, no exit because it is potentially infinite. The space of conjecture is a rhyzome space. The labyrinth of my Library is a rhyzome space.”


2 Responses to “Labyrinths and mazes”

  1. 1 oslomats

    I don’t feel I have much to offer in advice etc, or time to reread your post just now, but I just want to say I like your idea. I feel that for this blog to keep going without laying too much weight on our tutors/profs, then we students also need to start commenting eachothers work, agree?

    Anyway, have you thought about this; in the greek labyrints it would probably be pitch black? Not seeing in a labyrinth would cause terror in me…and how to visualize/capture this if this interest you as well…The reason why I make this point is because I’m going to do a project where fear and blindness has a central role. I hope we can keep on posting and commenting on our exam project since we are already finnished with the signs of power on monday. Looking forward to see non-text from you as well.

    Have a good one, mats.

  2. The labyrinth as an environment or the labyrinth as an image of our consciousness or ways of the mind working. The Labyrinth as a metaphor of our mind or an image of our ways of living our concrete life. The labyrinth is a metaphor, or a device for telling something about ourselves. Which ever option you will vote for, the form of the labyrinth is intriguing. Still, I think that the main effect will be a visual one, unless you start writing a winding long story… Somehow, I would like to have both. Perhaps, Juho, you should write as well as, say, do a few paintings which you already said you will. This means that the labyrinth will make up an visual element, a topic or a subject in the painting. The labyrinth is, then, a version of an environment, a place we find ourselves in, or the protagonists in the painting.

    Here, I think, somewhat resembling the narrative ideas of Per´s animation, you find the power-related motif of the labyrinth as one of the main elements in the work, as an environment or landscape. The landscape or our surroundings, the big thing around us, is in many ways, as nature, something we can not escape from.

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