Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Helsinki Noir

While that title makes you wonder why we haven't seen as much Finnish-style bloody murder on our television screens as from the rest of the Nordic countries - come on Finland, you can do this in your sleep! - you might like to visit this unusual exhibition at the Amos Anderson Art Museum if you're in Helsinki sometime in 2016.

This is the cover of the little book you're given when you enter the exhibition. From the back cover:
Sumuisen ja kostean marraskuun lopulla löytyy Kaivopuiston rannasta hyisen meren syleilystä nuoren naisen ruumis...
In the final days of a damp, misty November, the body of a young woman is found in the icy embrace of the waters off Kaivopuisto Park... 
The book is slim and anyway divided between Finnish, Swedish and English texts, and is easy enough to follow while you progress at normal speed through the exhibition. It's a decent read, nicely written by Susanna Luojus.

There are a couple of spookily atmospheric 'installations' at the beginning and end, but for most of it you walk past works of art from the museum's collection, mainly paintings, which reflect the background and events of the story. I must admit, before I went in, I somehow thought that the idea was to look for clues in the paintings, murder mystery-style. But no, it really is an art exhibition, and the paintings are there to be appreciated all together as they show you something of mid-20th Century Helsinki. It's surprisingly effective. When you've only seen the first few, it doesn't seem to amount to much and to not have much to do with the story, but the atmosphere gradually builds up. You read more of the story in each exhibition room, and thanks to the paintings become more immersed in the world of old Helsinki.

I won't 'spoil' the ending of the story, but in a way that isn't too important. For me, there was a sort of surprise at the end, in finding out that it was all inspired by a number of actual cases like this one from the 1940s and 50s, one in particular. It certainly has some impact, when amongst the newspaper clippings etc. you see the face of a certain actual love rat and hear about the lives he ruined. But what about the exhibition, and the fictional tale it told?

I think it's a clever use of many otherwise mundane works the Museum has from decades ago. The Amos Anderson Museum was Helsinki's first proper gallery, founded by the industrialist of that name. Its focus has always been on contemporary art, but of course, they now possess a large number of works which are no longer modern at all. For me it was a telling portrait of the Helsinki that once was. And maybe a chilling insight into a dark side of the Finnish personality! When I reached the end of the exhibition, there were two of the guides standing there. I looked at them and said, 'I'm quite depressed now!' One of them smiled and replied, 'Good!'