Thursday, 15 December 2011

Turku: shades and shapes

Without snow, Turku is no city of light at this time of the year. Just like the rest of the country... However, the city doesn't give up. When darkness falls, you will see buildings illuminated, as well as fairy lights and Christmas trees that make their statement against the winter weariness.

Turku Cathedral - the oldest part of which dates to 13th century - stands tall. So tall, that it makes the big Xmas tree in front of its stone steps look almost tiny.

Right next to the medieval cathedral there is a lightweight construction that shines through the darkness like a huge lantern.

The Honeycomb (in Finnish: Hunajakenno) is one of the two Cots of Darkness, designed by Reino Koivula as part of the 876 Shades of Darkness project in which works of art that have been lighting up the darkness during Turku's year as European Capital of Culture. The construction is temporary and it is on display only until the end of 2011. On the opposite shore of river Aurajoki you can get a glimpse of the other cot Kokka, or Bow, that resembles half a boat sunken on the ground. It is possible to enter the cots as well but only in the late afternoon.

I walk to the other side of the river, or as the locals in their own dialect say, tois puol jokke, a saying which has its origins in the time when Turku's old city centre was right here, next to the ancient cathedral. Those days, by crossing the Aurajoki river you stepped out of the city centre.
Strolling down Läntinen Rantakatu street next to the river, I catch a glimpse of strange lights from the city library's back yard. Behind Miina Äkkijyrkkä's huge metal cow there are moving images reflected on the wall above. 
Dark Creatures, animations by local artists, are dancing on the wall. What a great open air movie theatre, be it a silent one! This work of art is also part of the 876 Shades of Darkness project.
The next day I climb back on the top of the Turku Art Museum on the top of the hill, past the Xmas tree that is decorated with tens or hundreds of reflectors and handmade decorations which have survived the hard-blowing wind.

Alright, which door to use to enter the impressive stone building? The left door handle, straight and somewhat dull without its knit graffiti serving as a woollen overcoat is warm to the touch.

However, this door is locked...

Let's try the other door on the right. Be brave! It won't bite! Careful, just take a strong hold of the bronze (and not too gentle looking) panther, grab the fierce creature by the tummy and pull the door open!

What a door handle. Welcome to Turku Art Museum...

The museum is well worth a visit in itself, but also to see the Swedish artist Carl Larsson's excellent exhibition Dreams of Harmony that shows where the ideal of an artistic Swedish home originates. What a couple Carl and his wife Karin made; without her Carl Larsson would not be best known for the beautiful watercolours that romanticize their home and lifestyle. The second floor now displays Crème de la crème, masterpieces from the museum's own collection, as well as contemporary art.
When I descend from the museum back towards the market place and the river, there is a little surprise on the right, in front of the jugend style stone building: a statue of Lenin. There aren't too many such statues in Finland on display... This one was a gift from the city of Leningrad some decades back and has managed to stay there as a reminder of, well, something. Let's look at something prettier. For example at the lovely double doors only few more steps down. A pity the door is locked so I can't see the stained glass from the inside.
Outdoors, you can spot smaller artworks on the corner buildings of the city center: Kortteligalleria project has brought the ancient names of the city blocks here also as imagery. The map beneath the artwork depicts the area where these beauties can be found - all within a short walking distance, surrounding the market place. Next to the market place you can see for example Pyöriäinen (Dolphin) (above; Jenni Tuominen) and Mehiläispesä (Beehive).
On Brahenkatu street I meet a lonely shoe. Poor thing, not nailed to the ground but still getting nowhere... Come to think of it, I'm not going anywhere, just walking about. But at least I'm moving.

Checking out the street corners and the artworks, I meet a Falcon and Sirius (left). No idea where the architect Carl Ludvig Engel got the ideas for the names, but it's nice to think that there's more names to the area than just the street names.

Great that urban artist Meiju Niskala and the team of artists came up with this, to add a bit of history with a modern twist on the streets!

At Lönnrotinpuisto park, next to Aurajoki river, the cot Kokka (by Simo Helenius) is not illuminated during the daytime, and its door is closed as well because it is not two o'clock yet. This should be seen a bit later, when it is again dark. Otherwise, I wouldn't mind seeing the sun for a change.
I cross the river to enter the old city centre and Vanha Suurtori, the Old Market Square, and its Xmas market. This is where the Declaration of Christmas Peace is pronounced at 12 o'clock noon on Xmas Eve, from the balcony of Brinkkala House above. Since Christmas Peace isn't there just yet, the area is now reserved for Xmas shopping, with local producers presenting their goodies, especially handicrafts. Even Santa Claus has joined the band playing Xmas carols for the slowly moving crowd.
I enter the yard behind the old buildings and stop for a snack. Joulupuuro, Xmas pudding (made of rice, cooked slowly) is irresistible, and I am not the only one indulging in it. Definitely cinnamon on top, yes please! This will keep me walking... And for dessert a local sausage with Xmas spices from another stall... Just like last year. This is becoming a tradition.
I come here for culture walks. Thanks Turku 2011, a great culture year!

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