Guest Column: Helsinki’s hidden stories
Over the course of their existence, each artwork will have seen hundreds of arguments and witnessed thousands of romantic embraces – and will now be eyeing the exploits of hordes of Pokémon hunters.
Helsinki is a city full of hidden stories. The Finnish capital is home to a rich variety of public sculptures that enjoy central locations across the length and breadth of the city, in the very spots where residents go about their everyday lives and gather to celebrate their special occasions. Over the course of their existence, each artwork will have seen hundreds of arguments and witnessed thousands of romantic embraces – and will now be eyeing the exploits of hordes of Pokémon hunters.
With some 250 works of art dotted around the city’s parks, streets and squares, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) truly covers the entire span of the city. All in all, there are nearly 500 outdoor sculptures, environmental artworks and historic monuments to be discovered in the Helsinki area. Public art is integral to the very fabric of the city. The artworks provide insights into the city and whole country’s past and also serve as an introduction to notable historical Finnish figures whilst also shedding light on the everyday lives of the local residents. On your travels across the city, you might bump into legendary Moomin creator Tove Jansson, or come across a man climbing out of a rubbish bin and even be moved to ponder the strength of maternal love or the nature of goodbyes.
The sculptures act both as urban landmarks and as settings for public celebrations; the Three Smiths are a well-known meeting spot, while the Havis Amanda statue has witnessed gatherings of all sorts from ice hockey world championship street parties to festivities marking Finland’s first ever Eurovision Song Contest win. People also opt to visit them for much more private affairs, including first dates and romantic anniversaries.
Helsinki is full of art and stories. The sculpture info bank on the HAM website has long been one of the museum’s most popular services. This year, we have launched a more light-hearted way to discover these artworks, to complement the more detailed art history knowledge on offer. Our sculpture trails, optimized for mobile use, offer visitors different ways to discover Helsinki’s public art.
One of the routes takes you out for a jog, another invites you to stop and think about the really big questions, while a third will help you discover the perfect picnic spot. The Tove Jansson trail features both sculptures and sites of interest and along the Yayoi Kusama trail, eagle-eyed art lovers will even be able to spot sculptures suspended from trees. The routes also serve as an introduction to a rainbow-hued Helsinki.
Every year, HAM acquires new works of art for public display. These are usually placed in urban settings, including parks, and occasionally in indoor locations. The museum strives to distribute the art evenly across the city, including in new residential areas. The objective is to give as wide a platform as possible to new contemporary art within the urban setting and to enhance the city’s amenity. The latest acquisitions can also be discovered along the sculpture trails.
One of my own personal favourites, Janne Siltanen’s Love Helsinki, is located on Baana, Helsinki’s pedestrian and cycle corridor, surrounded by thousands of cyclists and runners. Completed in 2012, the second half of the sculpture is intended as a skate park and has been adopted as a regular hang out by many of Helsinki’s young people.
Writer is a Director of HAM Helsinki Art Museum.