I went back home to see my family in Finland in the end of June, and spent a few days with my sister in Turku, which is currently European Capital of Culture 2011. This is what I saw and did.

Due to Turku being Cultural City of Europe there are plenty of cultural things to see and do. Although, even when the city has less than 180 000 people, it has tons of museums and galleries and vibrant artist community already anyway. Turku 2011 is just bringing it all to the attention of tourists.

Flux Aura which is part of Turku 2011 has brought Finnish and international environmental art by the banks of River Aura. It features 12 different artworks situated in the river, in nearby parks, on and under the bridges, in buses and paving stones. I saw four pieces of work whilst just wondering around: The Sea Frills (under a bridge and made out of thousands of reflectors), Balancing (flock of large elders in the river), Flowerdrops (made out of recycled plastic) and Motive Ships (soft sculptures hanging from the trees by the riverside reminiscent of votive ships in old churches). I was a bit disappointed to miss Candy Chang’s Career Path which invited passersby to reflect their life journey by filling in blanks in sentences on the pavement.

Riverbanks are a hub of activity during the summer months. There are people drinking (it’s illegal to drink in public in Finland but the police doesn’t mind just as long as you can behave yourself), having naps, having picnics and even dancing…

The main venue of Turku 2011 is Logomo -a brand new, so new infect that it’s still under construction (it won’t be fully completed until 2014), cultural centre near city centre (and literally two minute walk away though a foresty path from my sister’s house). The building used to be owned by Finnish Railway and sort of reminded me of Tramway in Glasgow (although Logomo is absolutely massive). Logomo has 4 different exhibitions at the moment all lasting until the end of the year: Alice in Wonderland, Tom of Finland, Fire! Fire!, and Only a Game. There are also 2 pieces on loan from Kiasma.

Alice in Wonderland was supposed to have ‘a loose narrative with a wide range of international artists using lens-based maid, who lead us to consider what is present’. We thought it was a little bit too loose and disjointed. I really enjoyed works by Hanna Haaslahti (Real-Time Family picked up most recent photo uploads from Flicrk, and Space of Two Categories had a small child dancing in your shadow – when you moved the little girl moved too), Jan Mancuska, Tuomo Rainio (I ended up looking at his artist book for a while), Nelli Palomaki, Alain Paiement, and Trish Morrissey. I wish I had had more time to appreciate Christian Marclay‘s Looking for Love.

Tom of Finland exhibition was supposed to be a retrospective of Touko Laaksonen‘s lifetime work. It wasn’t. We were really disappointed by the curation and lack range of work on show. We would have wanted to read more stories behind the works, where they were published and so on. Now we just got a tiny room with walls covered with pictures of naked/seminaked men, and a documentary running in the corner of the room.

Fire! Fire! was also a disappointment. We were expecting a comprehensive exhibition about fire that happened in Turku in 1827, instead we got rooms filled with bits and bobs connected very loosely with fire (from barbecues to old fire engines). In the entrance hall there was also a football exhibition by UEFA and I ended up seeing some famous footballers’ tops and playing videogames. Even considering that Logomo was a disappointment made even more bitter by the cost: it cost 18 euros to see all the exhibitions.

Museums and exhibitions are rarely free in Finland. I could have also gone to see David Shrigley animations in Turku Art Museum, but the cost of 8 euros stopped me. I found myself thinking why should I pay 8 euros when I can see his work for free back in Scotland. I also found myself thinking that my attitude is probably wrong and it is good to support art museums, centres and galleries.

Another thing I missed was Art Saunas : four saunas designed by different artists and constructed in different areas of Turku. What I made sure was that I didn’t miss any of the ordinary Finnish woodburning saunas though: I took plenty of advantage of them.

When my sister was showing me around the city, she also took me to the Turku Main Library. It’s a beautiful, welcoming building which combines the old building and new multimillion euro extension which has state of the art borrowing systems, cozy reading corners, computers, wifi, art exhibitions… It made me really jealous and a bit bitter to think what the libraries are in UK and what they will become in the near future. You could see loads of people just hanging about, reading, chatting to each other, kids browsing books whilst sitting on beanbags…

I just couldn’t resist taking a photo of the PIzza place where you can now get Beckham Special due to certain famous footballer ordering pizzas from there whilst he was in Finland having an operation.

What’s a creative scene without places where you can go and meet your friends? Hmmn, not sure other than not much fun, but Turku has plenty of pubs and bars to choose from too. You have your trendy bars in the city centre, and more clinical family restaurants. But nothing beats having a drink on board one of the boats (they don’t move anywhere other than side to side making you tiny bit queasy if you’ve had one too many). We spent quite a while one evening having a couple of drinks and just people watching, and as it doesn’t get dark until around midnight, time seems to fly really fast. You also have your old man’s pubs which haven’t changed their interior or clients for over 30 years, your artier places where all the famous actors and other creatives went 20 years ago, and your a bit rough pubs where the arty, but not so famous folk go these days, and old school buildings which have been converted to pubs with massive beer gardens… So many excellent pubs, so little time, and definitely so little money as drinks aren’t cheap in Finland.

Every time I’m in Finland I need to visit a shop called Televisio. They store bags, jewellery, and clothes from Finnish designers and labels such as Globe HopeIVANAHelsinki and Dead Birds & Lion Heart. And again, I couldn’t resist buying myself a couple of bags and jewellery. Turku has also several other design and vintage shops, and independent record and book shops. The streets have character due to shops being so varied. Of course you see the chain stores too, but it is so much more fun to spot the more unique shops with their more individual products.

You can still also see remnants of recent Eurocultured event.

On my last day in Finland I visited the big Medieval Market – an annual festival in Turku. It was boiling hot, full of people, and had so much to see. A group of actors dressed in medieval clothes were wondering amongst all the people, staying in character. It made you feel like you were in the middle of some sort of absurd play. Also all the vendors had to be selling more traditional wares. I really enjoyed it (minus the soap makers’ stall with hooves and fat on show and the roasted pig) and spent hours just walking about.

I finished my day by going see a puppet show ‘John Eleanor’ about an English medieval crossdresser. I absolutely loved it. It mixed fact and fiction (mostly fact, pointing out the bits that might have not happened), and it was amazing to see such a talented puppeteer at work: I can’t quite look at hands ion the same way ever again. It had been roasting at the attic where the play was shown, and after I left at 10pm (and it was still warm enough not to even wear a cardigan) I went to get some ice-cream and watched some people playing music in one of the parks. It was a lovely way to finish my holiday.


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