2 June 2015 | This 'n' that
Hidden in plain sight in Sven Hirn’s Kameran edestä ja takaa – valokuvaus ja valokuvaajat Suomessa 1839-1870 (‘Behind the camera and in front of it – photographs and photographers in Finland 1839-1870’), published more than 40 years ago, the image shows four men standing in front to the theatre designed by Carl Ludvig Engel in 1827 (and demolished when it became too small to accommodate the city’s enthusiastic theatre-going public in the 1850s). Unusually, in those days of slow shutter speeds, the photograph shows people, among them Carl Robert Mannerheim, father of the Marshal Mannerheim who was to lead Finland’s defence forces in the Second World War (third from left).
Among the other photographs published by Helsingin Sanomat are some images of Helsinki decked out in garlands awaiting the arrival of Tsar Alexander II to the capital of his autonomous grand duchy of Finland in July 1863.
Other mid-century images show central Helsinki looking not unlike its present-day self. It’s only when the camera ventures outside the few blocks of the city centre that the view becomes more unfamiliar, the streets lined with one- and two-storey wooden houses.
Most intriguing of all, however is a sequence of eighteen photographs taken in 1866 by one Eugen Hoffers from the top of Helsinki Cathedral. Helsingin Sanomat has linked them into a panorama with views of Suomenlinna fortress, the new Russian Orthodox Uspenski Cathedral, Books from Finland’s old publisher Helsinki University Library, and the burgeoning city beyond.
The country comes to town in this coyly modern fairy story of 1937 by the classic children’s writer Raul Roine (1907-1960). Reynard the Fox, the village taxi-driver, celebrates restoring his beat-up old Ford by taking his woodland friends – squirrels, chaffinches, bobtails… – on a day out to Helsinki. Trouble starts when a policeman tells them off for eating the plants in the Esplanade park, but the fun really begins when the hares find themselves participating in the marathon which is being run through the city streets that day…
The translation of this delectable tale is by Books from Finland’s long-time collaborator Herbert Lomas (1924-2011), who was often at his best when working on the whimsy of children’s literature.
Spring had come to the forest homeland. The wood anemones were raising their heads shyly from under the moss, large tears of joy were flowing down the spruce trees’ beards of lichen, and sky-ploughs of cranes were coming from the south. They bugled mightily on their trumpets and then landed in the Great Marsh to sample the cranberries More…
5 February 2015 | This 'n' that
From time to time we have featured the charismatic photographs taken of Helsinki by I.K. Inha (1865-1050) in 1908 – most recently in a book pairing Inha’s iconic images with contemporary photographs of the same scenes by Martti Jämsä (2009). Fifty-one of the images have now been made available online to the public for the first time on the Finnish Museum of Photography’s Flickr page.
Many of the scenes are so little changed that it’s a shock to see them peopled with behatted gentlemen and ladies in long skirts. Commissioned for Finland’s first travel guide, the photographs show the handsome buildings, parks and seafronts of a solidly bourgeois looking city that is still the capital of a Russian province, an autonomous Grand Duchy actively fostering the dream of independence that is to be realised nine years later, in 1917.
Aho & Soldan: Helsinki 1950-luvun väreissä / Helsingfors in 1950-talets färger / Helsinki in 1950’s colours
Aho & Soldan: Helsinki 1950-luvun väreissä / Helsingfors in 1950-talets färger / Helsinki in 1950’s colours
Teksti / text: Eino Leino
Translation into Swedish by Marjut Hökfelt, into English by Elina Adams
Helsinki: Gummerus, 2014. 168 pp., ill.
The photographer Claire Aho (born 1925) is the granddaughter of the author and journalist Juhani Aho (1861–1921) and his artist wife Venny Soldan-Brofeldt. Two of Aho’s sons, Heikki and Björn, became photographers and documentary film producers, founding the company Aho & Soldan. In the 1940s Heikki’s daughter Claire began to work for Aho & Soldan and becme a well-known fashion photographer. She also began photographing her native Helsinki; in 1952 she was assigned to film the Helsinki Summer Olympics. She continued her collaboration with Pathé News until the early 1960s. Colour came, literally, into the picture after the war; the photographs in this book feature life in the 1950s Helsinki. The photographs in their gently faded colours of the still small city, its inhabitants, parks, buildings and monuments are taken by either the two brothers or Claire Aho – in their time they were all signed just by Aho & Soldan. In his essay journalist Eino Leino portrays life in the city that he remembers from his own childhood in the post-war era, which to today’s reader appears sweetly idyllic, somehow optimistic and peaceful; the city has changed greatly – and yet stayed the same.
31 December 2014 | This 'n' that
Time for Lux Helsinki light event again: the January 2014 festival (see photos here) brought 150,000 visitors from Helsinki, the rest of Finland and around the world to the city. It is organised by the City of Helsinki.
The artworks – 17 of them – will be on display in 13 places around the centre of Helsinki, from the courtyard of the Tori Quarters to Finlandia Hall. The light and media artists and sound designers come from Finland, Germany, France, Belgium and Japan.
Lux Helsinki is also part of as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies of the United Nations in 2015.
Darkness will slowly diminish, and there will be more light: it’s great that Helsinki winter – at times white with snow, at times not – will again (thanks to artists and the latest technology) be filled with colour for a while. Let light be made!
6 November 2014 | This 'n' that
The winner of the Guggenheim Helsinki Design Competition, organised by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, will be announced in June 2015. ‘An innovative, multidisciplinary museum of art and design’, the winning building, if it will be realised, is likely to be a new ‘architectural dream’.
1,715 submissions were received from 77 countries; a shortlist of six finalists will be announced on 2 December.
In 2012 when the Guggenheim project (see our post from 2012) began to be discussed, the deep ranks of Helsinki taxpayers protested in public by saying that they did not want a costly new monument (building costs 130 million euros) in the city for which it would have been necessary to pay – in addition to maintenance costs – ca. 26 million euros to the American brand for the use of its name during the next 20 years. Finally the City Council voted 8-7 against the mayor’s motion to build the museum.
A comparison: the building costs of an urgently needed new children’s university hospital are 160 million euros: as the state was not able to fully finance the project in the near future, it was decided (in 2013) that 30 million euros would be raised by private sponsors and the general public in order to ensure the beginning of the construction work in 2014. (The goal was reached last August, but the fund-raising campaign will go on to decrease the loan capital, 50 million.) This project has been referred to by the opposers of the Guggenheim project in particular: if the state cannot provide the funds for a national children’s hospital, how could – and why should – it commit itself, albeit with smaller sums, to sponsoring an American art museum in Finland?
No money from the state was promised. No art-minded private sponsors of a future Guggenheim announced themselves in the public either. It turned out, however, that enough private sponsor money was available for an international architecture competition: in 2013 a tentative, central site for a future Guggenheim building was reserved for the competition project, for two years, in Helsinki harbour.
Since that, a group of independent arts organisations has issued a call for submissions for alternative ideas: ‘The next Helsinki’: a new competition aims at bringing forth projects that ‘attach artistry to all aspects of everyday urbanism’, and it is open to all, not just ‘starchitects’, ‘…because the solution is not simply an urban designer’s or artist’s task.’ Deadline is 2 March, 2015.
The organisations taking part are Checkpoint Helsinki, G.U.L.F. (Global Ultra Luxury Faction), Occupy Museums and Terreform, New York. ‘The next Helsinki’ states: ‘The Guggenheim Foundation has launched a design competition on one of Helsinki’s most valuable and compelling physical sites for a new Guggenheim building, in hopes of a transformation akin to the “miracle” in Spain [Bilbao]. The City of Helsinki is tempted to spend hundreds of millions of municipal euros in return for the benefits of the branding of the city with someone else’s mark. Is this really the best use for the site and tax money?’
It remains to be seen who will be the winners, and what will be won.
21 August 2014 | This 'n' that
Pop-up restaurants came into being in Helsinki in 2011: a few times every year any eager amateur cook is able to set up a ‘restaurant’ for one day on a street corner or in a park: citizens are welcome to take their pick, at a modest price.
In a northern city, not exactly suitable for street food trade all year round, in a country where rules of food hygiene are strict, the innovation of the Restaurant Day has been welcomed by the public. The latest event took place on 17 August.
The idea has now spread to at least 60 countries. Foodie culture thrives.
We find an article in The New Yorker by Adam Gopnik, No rules! Is Le Fooding, the French culinary movement, more than a feeling? interesting – according to comments quoted in it, ‘food must belong to its time’, and the traditional French cuisine ‘was caught in a museum culture: the dictatorship of a fossilized idea of gastronomy’.
In the 1960s, ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as opposed to cuisine classique, began to promote lighter, simpler, inventive, technically more advanced cooking. Well – some of us may remember that, at worst, this could also manifest itself in, say, three morsels of some edible substance placed decoratively on a plate topped with three chives: expensive, insubstantially elegant and pretty useless.
Today, Finland, the traditional stronghold of liver casserole, brown sauce and ham-mincemeat-pineapple pizzas (yes), seems to have moved onto a higher level of the culinary art – at least in selected restaurants. In a recent article, Helsinki’s food scene, coming on strong, published in The Washington Post, Tom Sietsema enjoys the pleasure of discovering things Finnish.
He is treated to parsnip leaves turned into ice cream imparting a coconut flavour, crackers made from leek ash and risotto in which ‘tiny green hops and their purple flowers interrupt the beige surface of the bowl, whose rim is dusted with golden chanterelle powder.’
The Executive Chef of Helsinki’s esteemed Savoy restaurant (est. 1937) cooks braised pig cheeks served with rhubarb and spring greens. A hunter-gatherer chef collects wild things: wood sorrel, spruce shoots and orpine and serves them in an omelette, with a drink made of chaga mushrooms (used for making tea; a sort of ‘sterile conk trunk rot of birch’, currently very much in vogue among the most eager of foodies for its medicinal [antioxidant, anti-inflammatory] properties).
It is true that Copenhagen and Stockholm have advanced further on their way to international fame of cuisine, but perhaps Helsinki will follow suit. And people who go out for a meal are no longer expected to settle for morsels with chives on top – food belongs to its time, and time changes food(ies).
A comment on Sietsema’s article claims though that his ‘verbiage’ has ‘nothing to do with what 99.999% of Finns eat! and what 99.99% of Finnish restaurants offer!’
But the truth (we know) is now closer to Sietsema than the commentator: ambitious restaurants may play with golden chanterelle powder, and even if it is not exactly what Finns often have for tea, we believe Finns today are losing interest in cheap chicken slivers in industrial marinade for dinner, and even beginning to accept that greens may not be only for bunnies.
Chanterelles have always been considered as a treat: fresh from the woods, quickly cooked in butter and cream, served with new potatoes and rye bread, or in an omelette: bon appetit (even without orpine)!
22 May 2014 | This 'n' that
Karttalehtinen, a company that specialises in making orienteering maps, has posted 133 photographs of Helsinki from 1907–1912, by Signe Brander, the pioneering city photographer, together with contemporary Google street shots, on this zoomable site.
Click ‘Google street view’ (Google Maps) down left, for a bigger view. (Kuvan tiedot gives details of Brander’s photo, in Finnish only.) The old photos are from the Helsinki City Museum archives.
Brander (1869–1942) was hired by Helsinki City Council’s Board of Antiquities to record the fast-growing city for almost seven years between 1907 and 1913.
The southernmost photo on the map shows the barren Ursin rocks on the seashore, with Hernesaari (‘Pea island’) in the background. Today, as the Google shot shows, there is a park and a monument for seafarers, particularly those who lost their lives at sea.
Helsinki life and buildings as they existed a hundred years ago are portrayed in these calm shots of a small town going about its business. Signe did a very good job in her capacity as official photographer.
6 March 2014 | This 'n' that
Photographer Signe Brander (1869–1942) was hired by the Helsinki City Council’s Board of Antiquities to record the fast-growing city for almost seven years between 1907 and 1913.
Signe was not keen on working indoors, so she must have been pleased to be able to get out into the streets. She chose to capture lively views of the town with people – passers-by, animals, children, flaneurs, people on errands (even though portraits were not her cup of tea either), in all seasons.
Brander’s thoroughly professional work can now be downloaded on the Internet: all of her 906 photos of Helsinki and its citizens a hundred years ago are available from Finna.
The National Digital Library – and its public interface Finna – project aims to ensure that electronic materials of Finnish culture and science are managed with a high standard, are easily accessed and securely preserved well into the future.
Unfortunately Signe Brander was not able to rest peacefully on her laurels. As her eyesight and health deteriorated, she was hospitalised in 1941. Then the war broke out, and when the patients were transferred to a mental hospital outside Helsinki, more than a hundred of them tragically died of hunger in 1942, Brander among them.
30 January 2014 | Reviews
Rasvaletti. Valokuvia 1950-luvun Helsingistä /
Fotografier från 1950-talets Helsingfors
[Hair-grease. Photographs from 1950s Helsinki]
Työryhmä [working group]: Yki Hytönen, Tuomas Myrén, Riitta Pakarinen, Aki Pohjankyrö, Hilkka Vallisaari
Helsinki: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo, Helsinki City Museum,
2013. 211 pp., ill.
Onnen aika? Valoja ja varjoja 1950-luvulla
[Time of happiness? Light and shadow in the 1950s]
Toimittaneet [Ed. by]: Kirsi-Maria Hytönen & Keijo Rantanen
Jyväskylä: Atena, 2013. 249 pp., ill.
The 1950s rocked! They literally did – that is when the world got rhythm: Blue Suede Shoes by Elvis and the film Blackboard Jungle, with Bill Haley’s hit Rock Around the Clock, for example.
The development of new sound reproduction – long-playing records and tape recorders – was essential to the spreading of the gospel of rock and pop here, there and everywhere.
In Finland, the shocking new music was a smash hit among a group of young urban men called lättähatut, flathats, who also wore tight trousers, black overcoats and pointed shoes. Their girls dressed in angora sweaters and tight trousers or skirts. These teenagers, who hung around together very late in the evenings, were largely considered not only a nuisance but also a possible danger to the peaceful development of society (not only in Finland…). More…
9 January 2014 | This 'n' that
When there’s no snow in January, as is the case this year, the darkness does make Helsinki appear somewhat joyless. This year Canada and parts of the United States got more than a taste of freezing Arctic temperatures – but at the time of writing winter is still postponed in the lower half of Finland.
A temporary relief was brought by Lux Helsinki – staged now for the sixth time – as light, colour and sound made the capital brighter and more beautiful between 4 and 8 January.
The core of the city, the Cathedral, was adorned by a large heart placed at the top of the steps, beating in colours to music.
Corazón, by the Madrid-born artist and fashion designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, in collaboration with the production and design company D-Facto, reflects her design themes of love and happiness.
One of the participants in Lux Helsinki was Unen ääret / Edges of Dreams: projected on to the façade of the Hakasalmi Villa (1843–46), between the Finlandia Hall and the Music House, it was inspired by the history of the building and its inhabitants. Now a museum, it became known as the home of a benefactor of the city, a rich and famous woman of her time, Aurora Karamzin from the 1860s to the 1890s.
The building was seen through dreamlike visions formed by painted films and shadow patterns by Mika Haaranen, a lighting and set designer and photographer. His works extend from the world of theatre and musicals to contemporary dance, concerts and film. The accompanying music was composed by Aake Otsala.
Helsinki trams have been transporting citizens from 1891. One of the trams was transformed into a moving light installation by the use of programmable LED floodlights. The work was designed and realised by the Theatre Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki lighting design students Riikka Karjalainen and Alexander Salvesen. A pity it was not possible to hop on…
28 November 2013 | This 'n' that
Low-rise wooden buildings in the late 19th-century small town of Helsinki began to disappear as they were beginning to be replaced by houses built of stone. Last century wars and economic interests further changed the façades of Helsinki.
The oldest buildings may contain several generations of constructions, clearly visible or more discreet. In the past houses have been treated in a way which is no longer acceptable.
They were altered in various ways – made taller, smaller or stripped of original ornaments, often after damage in various wars, when restoration would have proved too expensive. In the end, they have become mutts and mongrels of architecture.
Architect Juha Ilonen has wandered around Helsinki with his camera, capturing views that often take a Helsinki citizen by surprise.
In his new, capacious book Kolmas Helsinki – kerroksia arjen arkkitehtuurissa (‘The third Helsinki – layers in the architecture of the everyday’) Ilonen features ca. 300 buildings, from the mid-18th century to 2010. Most of them are apartment buildings situated in downtown Helsinki.
Why is it that I’ve never paid any attention to this or that extraordinary building, even though I hurry past it almost every day? Simply because I often don’t lift my gaze up from street level. The buildings speak volumes about history, aesthetics and demands of practicality.
But take a look at this house in Kruununhaka in the heart of the city – Books from Finland resided in the back yard building for years, and we had absolutely no idea that the façade had been thoroughly altered and stripped of its beautiful Jugend ornaments…
Ilonen’s book is a treasure trove for anybody interested in architecture, housing or city life – or photography: hundreds of black-and-white photographs feature delightful samples of the variety and quality of Helsinki architecture.
Kolmas Helsinki – kerroksia arjen arkkitehtuurissa
The third Helsinki – layers in the architecture of the everyday]
Helsinki: AtlasArt, 2013. 304 pp., ill.
5 September 2013 | In the news
…Poets was the main event of the annual literature festival Runokuu, Poetry Moon, taking place on 24 August in a Helsinki restaurant. The theme was the sea: the invited guests were from around the Baltic Sea – as well as beyond.
The Poetry Moon festival is organised by Nuoren Voiman Liitto and Helsinki Festival, now for the ninth time, with more than 30 events taking place in the city between 22 and 28 August.
‘In four hours writers and languages kept changing fast,’ reports Irene Dimitropoulos, an intern at FILI (Finnish Literature Exchange): ‘You had to throw yourself into the rhythms and sounds of languages both familiar and strange.
‘The programme contained lots of poetry, but the short story and non-fiction were also included. The idea of the literary evenings is to meet with writers from abroad and also to support translated foreign poetry, as very little gets translated into Finnish, so translators perform with poets.
‘The stylistic and thematic variations of different generations of writers were introduced in many ways. A translation of I Am Going to Clone Myself Then Kill the Clone and Eat It [2009/2012] by the American poet Sam Pink was published in Finnish earlier this year: his style, both simple and strikingly comical, and the way he depicts everyday experiences and the violent fantasies they invoke, made the audience laugh. Crowds were also drawn to listen to the Finnish novelist Monika Fagerholm and the German poet and translator Ulrike Draesner; Fagerholm read from her book of lyrical essays on the sea, Draesner her poems dealing with womanhood and the interaction between language and body.’
Among the other poets were Peeter Sauter and Maarja Kangro from Estonia, Igor Belov and Irina Maksimova from Russia and Toh Hsien Min from Singapore.
30 June 2013 | This 'n' that
Helsinki is relatively young city, Finnish literature even younger.
Flushed with a huge wave of migration at the beginning of the 20th century, the capital and its people went through the dramatic times of gaining independence and the Civil War (1917–18). The capital – since 1812 – and the life experiences of its inhabitants have been plentifully featured in Finnish fiction.
In his doctoral dissertation, Lieven Ameel has concentrated on a period of Finnish literary history. His Moved by the City: Experiences of Helsinki in Finnish Prose Fiction 1889–1941 (2013, Department of Finnish, Finno-Ugrian and Scandinavian Studies, University of Helsinki) examines more than sixty novels, collections of short stories and individual short stories portraying the city: how do the characters experience this urban public space? (Popular – crime fiction, for example – and children’s literature are excluded.) More…
20 June 2013 | In the news
The city of Helsinki will have a new Central Library in the near future: an architectural competition for a new building was completed in June. The winner, chosen out of 554 entries, foreign and Finnish, is entitled Käännös (‘Turn’ – or ‘Translation’), entered by the Finnish ALA Architects Ltd (architects Juho Grönholm, Antti Nousjoki, Janne Teräsvirta, Samuli Woolston). The entry was also one of the favourites with the public in an earlier stage of the competition.
The jury’s decision was unanimous: in their opinion, Käännös is ‘impressive’ and ‘casually generous’; it fits into the urban structure as an feasible, usable and ecological construction. The site could not be more central: close to the citys’ railway station, it faces the House of Parliament, next to the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma and the new Music Centre (opened 2011): literary art and literature will join the other art forms.