It feels very weird that it has only been ten years since Kiasma opened its doors for the first time.What was there before Kiasma?And what else happened in 1998?
The building of Kiasma, designed by the American architect Steven Holl, was started in Finland when the local currency was the Finnish markka and there were still phone booths in the streets. Mobile phones were a rare sight and sound; there were no iPods, no Facebook, we couldn't even Google. Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky was in the headlines, and Mika Häkkinen won his first world championship. Matti Ahtisaari was President of Finland. Feels like a long time ago, doesn't it?
The last years of the twentieth century were crammed with information technology innovations. The ever accelerating advances of e-mail, Internet applications and mobile technology had a huge impact on the way people use their time, not to mention their concept of time and the passage of time - what can be achieved in a day's work. We hurtled towards the new millennium and suddenly everyone seemed to be really busy. The tempo of our lives surreptitiously shifted into an entirely new pace.
Kiasma's first exhibition in the new millennium was the aptly named Alien Intelligence, which explored the relationship between art and computers. Through this and other exhibitions, Kiasma profiled itself as an interesting place to see media art. In an interview in Kiasma Magazine at the time, Erkki Huhtamo explored the need to understand the relationship between contemporary culture and technological development. According to him, what we need is media archaeology, to help us understand what is really new about computer culture and technology, and to help us understand technological development even better. This is still highly relevant today!
Kiasma Magazine was published in good time before the actual museum opened. The first issues exude the anticipation of the people making it, their passion and commitment to a huge project. Something completely new was emerging on the art scene, both in terms of the building and its contents.
Kiasma was marketed from the very beginning as a living room for the people of Helsinki, a museum that was easy to approach and cheap to visit, on par with the price of a pint of beer, though both the price of beer and entry have since changed...
The same spirit is also in evidence in issue 2 of Kiasma Magazine in an article about a study circle on contemporary art that was arranged for the builders of the Museum. The group got together five times in one of the site barracks during construction time. Some twenty builders and a museum educator pondered questions such as why contemporary art is the way it is, what makes art into art, and what it is all about: is it one big joke or might there be hidden insight into life in it?
The debate aroused by the whole Kiasma project also focused on these fundamental issues. In addition to enthusiasm, the impressive new Museum of Contemporary Art also gave rise to considerable resistance in some quarters. The plot of land was considered too small for the building, and the shape of the building was likened to a steel sausage or a hoover attachment. For some people, Kiasma was built too close to the equestrian statue of Marshal Mannerheim.
Even the fence around the Kiasma building site became a topic of debate. A competition was arranged to liven up the fence. Art students painted the fence hot pink - in accordance with the winning entry by Nanne Prauda - but the stretch of fence by the Mannerheim statue had to be left a neutral grey.
Once the building was finished, art students sawed up the fence into triangular pieces that would serve as tickets of admission to the museum when it opened. Over the years, many of these pink triangles have turned up at the entry.
In the first issues of Kiasma Magazine, the new logo of the time caught the eye: a sphere that moved around. The slogan was "find out". During Kiasma's ten years, there have been plenty of opportunities to find out about one thing or another, including globalisation, activism, avant-garde, rear-garde, ARS, URB, multiculturalism and hip hop, among other things.
Leafing through the back issues of Kiasma Magazine brings back visions of many exhibitions that were important for me, the tough Bruce Naumann, the fragrant and smelly Cildo Meireles, the transparent Nina Roos and the intense Kalervo Palsa. On the pages of the magazine, other works also beckon: Markus Copper's mystic whale, Santeri Tuori's video waterfall and Panu Puolakka's wall hanging that looks like the television test picture.
It is good to notice that all the talk in the early issues of Kiasma Magazine about the Museum of Contemporary Art as a living, changing and motivating force have not remained mere talk. And the programme has not been confined within the walls of the museum, but projects have reached out all over Helsinki. Not to mention the funny yet entirely serious Kiasma School on the Move, in which various subjects were taught at schools through contemporary art.
But what did we actually have before Kiasma? During its short, intense history, it has firmly established its place, both in the urban fabric and as a special meeting place for people. It would be hard to imagine Mannerheim square without Kiasma. The hotly debated sausage has become part of our everyday lives, something we cannot do without.