Visual Literacy in Helsinki’s Guggenheim project

The Guggenheim-Helsinki feasibility report and the way that Helsingin Sanomat (which this blog prefers to call The Usual and some just call Pravda) and a few other cronies have been hyping it up in the last few days has also yielded a good amount of laughs.

But presumably the Head of the Helsinki Art Museum, Janne Gallen-Kallela-Siren (JGKS), did not mean to have us all bursting at the sides when he gave yesterday’s interview to Channel 4 TV.

The interviewer asked him how he imagined the future museum. He had not, he said, thought about that.

Instead he had thought about 500 years of Gutenberg’s galaxy [sic].

The spoofs are coming thick and fast. On facebook … [but also commentary on the mainstream debate: “impossible to be critical of the G. without being written off as a pessimist … it’s promoted with the same sickly over-happy hype as innovation and the Aalto University” “is this a sick joke?”]

Many thanks to Creative Block for this visually articulate and verbally supported reaction to JGKS’s baffling show. For this weekend reality was indeed transformed, as his post notes. Apart from Creative Block’s fabulous illustration of the story, he provides a transcript.

”sitä olen ajatellut, että meillä on nyt takanamme noin 500 vuotta ns. Gutenbergin galaksia, galaksia, jossa painettu sana, kirjoitettu sana on ollut hegemoninen vallan väline. Ja me nyt tällä hetkellä seisomme visuaalisen vuosisadan kynnyksellä. Ja tämä vanha, Gutenbergin galaksi horjuu meidän ikään kuin takanamme ja jalkojemme alla … [Nyt] tarvitaan huipputoimijoita, -laitoksia, -instituutioita, -museoita, -taiteilijoita, jotka ikään kuin voivat ottaa tämän keskiön tällaisessa uudenlaisessa maailmassa, jonka me tiedämme olevan jo ympärillä, mutta jota me emme aina välttämättä osaa ikään kuin artikuloida todellisuutena.  … täytyy muistaa, että taktiikalla voitetaan taistelu, strategialla voitetaan sota. Ja strategian taustalla täytyy olla jokin päämäärä. Nyt meillä on ollut taktiikka. Meillä on strategia. Mutta meillä on ihan konkreettinen päämäärä, että jos kaikki menee kohdalleen, Suomeen, Helsinkiin nousee vuosina 2017-2018 museo, joka nousee toivottavasti maailman globaalien museoiden joukkoon.”

Basically, it’s something like that after these 500 years of the hegemony of the printed word, we’re now at the threshold of a new world. This requires new top talent, institutions, museums, artists and so on who can take centre stage in this new situation. He goes on to talk about strategy and tactics and that maybe by 2018, if all goes well, Helsinki will have a museum that will hopefully join the ranks of the globe’s finest.

Reproductions of JGKS’s own visual skills, as demonstrated last week when the report findings were presented, are also attracting a fair amount of comment.

Inspired by this story, I googled for that earlier silly picture. And found it. (Scroll down on this page for those snowball-throwing representatives of new talent.)

But I also found yet another spoof image of that attractive piece of Helsinki close to the water.

Finland’s state broadcaster, YLE, reports that there is something fishy about the way the whole feasibility study was drawn up.

JHJ asks: Should there not be transparency about who sits on what board representing whose interests, and should transparency not reach beyond Helsinki’s deputy mayor Tuula Haatainen reassuring the public that “it’s OK, we knew about it”?

Ripping off YLE’s image, we can safely conclude that in the fight between the Guggenheim and Gutenberg, all tactics are allowed and thus far there appear to be no winners.



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4 responses to “Visual Literacy in Helsinki’s Guggenheim project

  1. “Gutenberg Galaxy” is a reference to Marshall McLuhan (1962). JGKS’s appropriating of it, of course, is a load of nonsense. If anything, McLuhan’s writings support the idea of IRRELEVANCE of physical structures and places in our visual media-saturated culture.

  2. JeesHelsinki

    Thanks Julius.
    Alas, it seems big (bad) buildings in prominently visible places remain as exciting to megalomaniacs as ever – I wish they could make do with the renderings and other mock-ups and leave the rest of us to inhabit liveable physical structures and places!

  3. A hearty yes, to the idea of forever confining the wow-ists to their own virtual world of Zaha Hadid renderings. A few hundred pairs of VR glasses is all that is needed to rid the society of this vermin.

  4. JeesHelsinki

    Yup, up – then, for example, no librarian would need ever again to bump their head on the Peckham Library’s spectacularly but thoughtlessly misplaced concrete! Though personally I hope that wouldn’t mean that cherishable if challenging new buildings in suitable places like, oh, Ronchamp or the Eden Project wouldn’t still get built.

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