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Posts Tagged ‘Helsinki’

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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Sniff, Sniff

I spent Sunday afternoon at Kiasma, Helsinki’s contemporary art museum. There was a lot to love there. One installation in particular, by Hilda Kozári, was appropriate for this blog. It’s called Air. Kozari created three acrylic bubbles, each representing a different city: Helsinki, Budapest, Paris. She worked with Parisian perfume designer Bertrand Duchaufour to develop a scent for each city, which is then piped into the bubbles. You stand underneath and take in the smell. Film footage is projected onto the acrylic, creating ghost-like images that you can barely discern to go along with the wafting aroma. Kozári seemed to be making the point that sometimes we need our eyes to take a back seat and let our other senses lead. (more…)

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City Branding

A tagline on the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau website reads: “America’s birthplace. History’s showcase. The past is present in Boston.” Meanwhile, Frommers.com calls Boston “relentlessly historic.” And Fodors.com says “to Bostonians, living in a city that blends yesterday and today is just another day in their beloved Beantown.” History is the core of Boston’s brand.

Consequently, I have found it interesting to move to a city that doesn’t particularly consider itself historic. Turku maybe, but not Helsinki. (more…)

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My Approach

When I describe my project here in Helsinki, I’ve had a few people make the assumption that I spend my days doing research in various archives around the city. It’s happened enough times that I feel I should clarify my approach.

I want to start by emphasizing that I am not an academic historian; I am a public historian. That means my job is to take the research academic historians produce and translate it into something that is not only easy for the general public to understand, but that also is meaningful, unexpected, captivating, or even entertaining. (more…)

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It will come as no surprise that I’ve visited a lot of city museums lately, both in the US and in Europe. Patterns are emerging. Today I want to discuss one in particular: the permanent city history exhibition. Almost every city museum has one, and they are remarkably similar. They are almost always chronological in nature, starting with prehistory and native communities, and winding up somewhere around 2000. The following topics are covered, more or less in the following order: (more…)

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The Helsinki City Museum

While I am here I am working informally with the Helsinki City Museum, exchanging information and ideas. So far I have visited three of their ten sites, met with the senior staff, and toured two storage facilities. I will write much more about their work in coming days, but for now, a want to give a few first impressions.

I can’t help but start with the fact that the Helsinki City Museum is considerably larger than its Boston counterpart, in every way: (more…)

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Why Helsinki?

Everyone asks me this. On some level there are many cities in which I could conduct this research. But there are some interesting parallels to be made between Boston and Helsinki.

First, they are more or less the same age, which is rare when comparing North American and European cities. (more…)

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