Over Easter we spent some time in the suburb of Ruoholähti, in the south-western corner of Helsinki. The area was originally quite industrial, but has been in the process of redevelopment since the early 1990’s. As a result, it is an interesting place to explore – a combination big old industrial architecture and some new interesting buildings. In addition to the scale of some of the remaining factories, I was quite surprised by how much public art (particularly large sculptures) was on display in the area. So, on the first warm and sunny day of spring, I headed out on my bike to snap some photos in the area.
If you’ve travelled via the Ruoholähti Metro station then you’ve probably see Dennis Oppenheim‘s giant sculpture of two rings (“Engagement“). It’s an interesting piece for me because it is simply constructed from very common materials (the rings are just painted steel), and is embedded into the public walkway – in one word I guess it looks “cheap” (the litter around the area doesn’t help either) – but I guess its purpose is maybe more to be stimulating than to look like an expensive piece of art?
A little further south, opposite the Kaapeli exhibition space, is the bright and geometric High Tec Center (HTC). The HTC comprises five buildings, each names after the ships of famous explorers, and houses a variety of companies. It is a really striking set of buildings, with its bright colours and fire escapes that hang in mid-air. While not quite a sculpture in the strict sense, it is an interesting building to walk around if you are in the area.
Opposite the HTC compex, on the end of a breakwater is Kide. It is a row of nine crystal boxes representing the nine European Cities of Culture of 2000. Since 1985 the EU has been choosing cities in which to promote cultural events each year, particularly to highlight the diversity of Europe (according to Wikipedia). The year 2000 was special because 10 cities were chosen, including Helsinki, and this piece represented both the cities and the connection between them (apparently the cubes were originally “linked to each other with images and sounds transmitted by GSM technology“!).
Next to the bridge from Ruoholähti to Lauttasaari stands The Wave. This is one of a number of sculptures in the area which were commissioned by Alko (the Finnish state alcohol trading monopoly) during the time that its headquarters were located in Ruoholähti – interestingly, Alko’s former building (and part of the old adjacent factory) now houses the Helsinki Court – apparently if you are architecturally inclined it is the one benefit of being caught doing something illegal (you can find some history of the redevelopment detailed in this article in the Guardian).
Also on the Ruoholähti-Lauttassari route (and also paid for by Alko) is Rumba – according to the Helsinki Art Museum, “some have seen it as the Nike, the winged god of victory from Greek mythology while others have taken it as a depiction of the dynamics of movement”. To me it looks more like some sea-monster which has emerged from the bay and slowly rolling its way through downtown… but that’s just my interpretation! This massive piece was featured on a Finnish stamp back in 1993.
Along the shore and between the larger commercial and old industrial buildings in Ruoholähti, one finds stacked blocks of rock – these are the Too Heavy Guests by Maria Duncker. There are a few of these “guests” along the shoreline – they appear to be fairly mobile for such large pieces, as they’ve been moved to different parts of the city for different exhibits. These pieces are worth paying extra attention to, as the artist has added some fine details to them – for example, etchings of bugs.
Heading north from the Ruoholähti metro, you can spot Lepakko (“the bat”). This sculpture commemorates the Lepakkoluola (“the bat cave”) – an old paint factory (which had a bat-like logo; hence the name) that was converted to a shelter for the homeless, and eventually emptied in 1978. However, the next year it was “invaded” by young people and ELMU (the Live Music Association of Helsinki; according to Wikipedia). After negotiations with the city, the building was designated a space for “youth and culture” – and this sculpture hung in one of its halls until the building was demolished in 1999 to make place for an office block. The Lepakkoluola sounds like it was an interesting place – it had lots of live music and even allowed its patrons to enjoy a sauna while listening to bands. It was also were the first commercial Finnish radio station (Radio City) started and was based until 1999. A small plaque on the side of the bat’s glass case, sponsored by ELMU, reminders passers-by of the 20 years that the Lepakko was an important music venue and encourages all to “aina apatiaa vastaan” (always stand against apathy).The Crusell bridge in Ruoholahti, designed by Julle Oksanen
One other sculptural aspect of Ruoholähti is of course the Crusell bridge, which I think can only be appreciated from afar.
So that’s just a sampling of some of the interesting sculptures and buildings in the Ruoholähti area – if you are in the area then its also worth popping past the Kaapeli centre (the old Nokia cable factory) to see if there are any interesting exhibitions on. And if the weather is good, then having an ice cream next to the channel is a very nice way to spend some time too!