Thursday, 20 September 2012

Helsinki: Everyday discoveries

I am strolling across Kasarmitori square in Helsinki when I notice a red and white sign hanging from a lamp post. I don't think it's been there before, at least not for long. "My daughter is obsessed with Moomin, I'm not sure why. I think he is like all Finns, the strong and silent type!"
The little arrow suggests that I should check out the other side of the sign. What is this about? Could it be that there is a tagged route in Helsinki, similar to what there was in Turku last year, when Turku was European Capital of Culture and there was a great collection of 50 comics posted around town? Helsinki Tagged! I wonder if I've got time for a visit to Suvilahti today?
I meander through Esplanadi park and the busy shopping areas towards the central railway station. Another red and white thingy, like a piece of ribbon made into a chair. Which is now occupied by father and child. Happy Birthday Helsinki 200? Come on, the city was founded in 1550... However, Happy 200 Birthday Helsinki is instead celebrating the fact that it is Helsinki has been Finland's capital for 200 years - after the capital was moved from the original capital Turku to Helsinki.
I decide to make a detour to Suvilahti but this time I cheat and don't walk there. Instead, I take the underground to Kalasatama, the closest stop to the exhibition area. Suvilahti is only a short walk away and although I've never visited the area, it is easy to follow the signs towards the sea. There are tips painted also on the asphalt - like Ihana kahvila vain 1250 m (Lovely café only 1250 m). This is very promising.
I wonder what I am actually looking for, or forward to. Someone else has walked here before me, perhaps a bit doubtful? In Search of the Ridiculous...
The colourful flags point out the beginning of the Everyday Discoveries exhibition area. They are no ordinary flags but unique works of art. Another discovery.
While passing a dull grey lamp post, I detect another poetic sight. Broken Street Poetry. There must be a wild poet loose around town, leaving his or her lines in unexpected places. To be discovered.
Entering the Everyday Discoveries exhibition, part of the World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 program, takes me to a former power plant area which these days acts as a cultural venue. This exhibition has been titled a mini world expo of design, with participants from many different countries. Torino, Italy has contributed to the exhibition a tiny, egg shaped showroom, and a fiery red Fiat 500 in addition to other design products.
Kattilahalli exhibition halls house lots of everyday design from clothes to lamps and chairs. However, on most chairs there seems to be a sign: Do not sit. Also on this massive, yet light Turkish chair for two so I don't dare to try it. Imagination Playground makes a difference: children are already playing with the elastic blue pieces that can be joined together to form different shapes.
I return back to fresh air and step aside from the exhibition area. Round the corner, there is another discovery: a window on the rusted corrugated iron shack has been covered with black veneer and someone has made it into a simple work of art with white tape: it has become a window.
Back to more Everyday discoveries. There are many colourful containers scattered on the large exhibition area, and one of them is Helsinki Plant Tram, a project produced by British Council Finland. However, this tram is not on rails...Perhaps it was grounded here, being literally taken over by a large number of plants on its roof. A local environmental organization Dodo  has been involved in the project in addition to Wayward Plants from London.
One part of the project was to collect plants - in a way! The tram container, container tram, or tram stop - whatever to call this one! - is covered with sheets of paper which each include a plant that someone has donated to the project. Not a real plant, though, but a picture and a story of a plant. Laura has drawn redcurrant for which she can't find a place in her yard.
The project continues right behind my back. I start walking beside the rollercoaster-shaped garden (built to resemble the Linnanmäki amusement park rollercoaster in Helsinki) which is absolutely full of different kinds of plants. A fantastic idea!
I rub some leaves gently against my fingers and smell the fresh peppermint. Not just nice things to see but to smell as well. There is plenty to discover: onions, different flowers, herbs... I can't name them all. A project like this is a real treasure and it reminds me of Miracle Garden that made passers-by happy in Helsinki Railway Station from May onwards this summer.
The rollercoaster garden is surrounded by design-filled containers. One of them contains a café from which a wonderful smell of coffee is floating to mix with the scent of the plants. There are some chairs and tables amidst the meandering garden. It really makes a difference to have a garden on this grey asphalt.
Only few steps away, there is less green art but from 100% natural ingredients - Nordic design from Norway. There are two interesting wooden constructions that act as gateways: Pixel Pine Portal (made by Ida Nilson, Elisia Kathleen Brask, Annhild Kjørsvik)
and Allports Portal that you only really get when you walk slowly through it. Pixel Pine Portal was awarded the 1st prize at Bergen International Wood Festival in May 2012 and Allports Portal received 3rd prize.
Allports Portal (Vidar Laksfors, Are-Dag Eriksen, Frode Ljøkjell) reminds me a a huge wooden bird, with wings like wooden crates, and it starts to make a noise as soon as I take a first step on it - and the platform gives way, sliding to the ground. I take another step, advance further, and the "wings" move with me, strings pulling pieces of wood up and down. I feel compelled to step back, step forward, just to watch and listen to the sounds this giant bird portal makes. She likes to play.
Leaving the portals behind, I step inside another container. Here it is: the white walled Helsinki Tagged that lured me to come right here from another part of town! So there was a map to help finding all the tags scattered around Helsinki.
There are some Helsinki Tagged! signs on the corrugated iron walls, for example number 74/80 - or actually, it has to be a copy of one. According to the map, the original seems to be somewhere else. I live near this villa, it used to be so full of life, but now it is in really bad shape, it is so sad. My sister and I dream of turning it into a small concert hall some day. I wish I could have walked round Helsinki to discover all of these tags and their stories!
On the container opposite there are many ancient, red Viewmasters hanging from the ceiling, in ghost style. They are not just a piece of art in themselves but allow you to make a brief visit to the streets of Dublin. When viewing the images, I discover Dublin Tagged! project and a collection of short everyday stories and pictures from this great city. When I happen to find see pictures of places that I faintly remember from years ago, it feels simply wonderful to look at a place like that through a local person's memory related to that place.
After Dublin experience, I take a peek into a couple more design containers but I feel I've already made plenty of discoveries for today. My absolute favourites at Suvilahti are the rollercoaster garden, Helsinki / Dublin Tagged! and as the last item, perhaps the handmade flags of countries. Finnish flag looks much more fun like this...

The exhibition Everyday discoveries and Helsinki Tagged! project finished on Sep 16, 2012. Time for new discoveries. They are everywhere.


  1. Thanks for taking this walk through Helsinki and sharing it with us. I have been thinking about running the Helsinki Marathon in the future and with all there is to see from your accounts it will be my slowest marathon ever. I skied the Finlandia ski marathon years ago and it was so beautiful that I had a hard time remembering that I was in a race! I really look forward to your next walk.
    Gary Fruland
    Newark, Illinois U.S.A.

  2. Thanks Gary! Taking it slowly usually pays off.

    Finland is indeed full of discoveries :)