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Posts Tagged ‘Helsinki’

I’ve seen two interesting open air history exhibitions this spring, a permanent (or at least semi-permanent) one in Alexanderplatz, Berlin about the fall of the Berlin Wall:

And a temporary (one month) one in the Kamppi plaza in Helsinki about Warsaw Pact countries and their efforts to shed Communism during the Soviet Union’s final years:

I watched a steady stream of people checking out both of these exhibitions. With the Kamppi exhibition, I think one of the reasons people stopped to investigate was that it presented an unexpected change to a public space that was otherwise very familiar. In other words, if you walk through Kamppi plaza every day on your commute and suddenly the landscape changes, you want to know why. I’m interested in the idea of inserting some public history into public spaces for just a month or two so that it becomes an event, as opposed to those permanent historic markers on buildings that start to blend into the background and almost become invisible over time. There’s also the concept of it being right in the middle of your path, instead of having to make an active choice to walk into a museum to see an exhibition. I’m wondering if this would be a good thing to try in Boston, perhaps at Quincy Market, or along the Esplanade?

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Lenin Slept Here

While waiting for a bus the other day in Helsinki’s Hakaniemi Square, I snapped this photo of a plaque on an apartment building. In English the plaque reads “V. I. Lenin lived here 1917.” There are similar plaques on a few other buildings in Helsinki, and there’s a Lenin Park. There’s also a restaurant I’ve eaten at a few times, Juttutupa, that boasts in its menu of serving Lenin. Such tributes are not as ubiquitous as the “George Washington Slept Here” markers up and down the east coast of the United States; and they have attracted their share of controversy. But nonetheless Lenin does have a presence in Helsinki, particularly in Kallio, a neighborhood with a strong working-class identity.

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Locals and Tourists #14 (GTWA #7): Boston, Eric Fischer

I just heard about the work of Eric Fischer, a programmer in the San Francisco area who has created a series of maps of major cities showing where people take photographs. Because the public photo-sharing websites Flickr and Picasa enable geo-tagging of the images people upload, Fischer was able to create maps that show the hot-spots—the places that are photographed by many people every day. This is interesting for my research because it could help city museums visualize the urban spaces that are most important to the public—the places that possess a high amount of social capital, the ones we want to remember.

As if that weren’t enough, Fischer took it one step further and used the timestamps on photos to divide them into those taken by tourists and those taken by locals.   (more…)

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Accessible Stuff

The photo above is for all my collections manager friends who like to check out other people’s work. In March I was lucky enough to get a tour of Helsinki City Museum’s main collections storage facilities from curator Elina Kallio. I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of their old cataloging system. Don’t you just love the hand-drawn pictures? They have card after card like this. Here are some more on the outside of storage boxes:

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Continuing on the topic of history-themed contemporary art, on Sunday I checked out a project called Encounters at the Helsinki City Museum’s main building on Sofianinkatu. For this project, the museum hosted a group of students from Aalto University who are taking a class called Museums as Artistic Medium. It’s taught by the artist Outi Turpeinen, whose work often centers on issues of museum display. The students created artistic interventions that were sprinkled throughout the city museum’s galleries, in and around the permanent exhibition Helsinki Horizons, during the month of May.

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos of the students’ work—I forgot my camera that day and now the show has closed. But I want to tell you about one piece that got me thinking. This particular student had gone out across Helsinki, in different neighborhoods, and knocked on doors at random. If someone answered she would ask for an object to be donated to her display at the museum. About 20 of these objects were then exhibited as part of Encounters. Accompanying text listed the neighborhood and a few sentences about the donor, the meaning of the object, and why it was chosen. Objects ranged from a broken cell phone, to old cut nails found during renovation work, to a custom shot glass made by the owner’s husband (he had worked in the Arabia factory). From the text you could tell that these folks probably felt a little put on the spot—some of them chose the first thing they could get their hands on, or pieces that clearly held little value for them (a bottle of cologne bought for a husband who turned out to be allergic to it, for example). But others were thoughtful about their choice and told stories of personal significance.

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Forgive the recent silence; I have been preoccupied by a tough deadline. I was asked to write about my city museum research for a collection of essays on cities and memory, to be published (in Finnish) by the Finnish Literature Society. Now that I have sent my draft off to the editor, I can turn my attention back to you, dear reader.

One of the topics I discuss in my essay is historically-themed public art. I think it can be a particularly interesting way to interpret city history, and at the same time build meaningful urban spaces. Here are a few examples of particularly successful pieces:

First, there’s the sculpture pictured above, at the beginning of the post. It’s Balancing Act by Stephan Balkenhol, on Axel-Springer-Strasse in Berlin. It poignantly marks the borderland of the Berlin Wall with a larger-than-life figure of a man, perched on a section of the Wall as if it were a tightrope. The effect is iconographic: anyone who knows even a little bit about the history of Berlin immediately gets the message with no need for complicated interpretation. (more…)

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The Helsinki City Museum operates a Worker Housing Museum. It opened for the season on May 5, so yesterday I went to check it out with a Finnish friend who lives nearby. It’s in Kallio, a working-class neighborhood just to the north of Helsinki Centre.

The museum is part of a block of four buildings with a central courtyard, built by the City of Helsinki to house city workers. Visitors can step inside nine one-room apartments, each furnished to represent a different time period from 1910 to 1985. Here’s an apartment that housed a widow and her seven children, in 1925:

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