Kumppani / Companion

Miina Pohjolainen, Kumppani / Company - fiktiinen opas Ateneumin kokoelmiin ja rakennukseen. UrbanApa X Ateneum 2020

a fictive guide to the collections and building of Ateneum

Kumppani / Companion is an alternative online exhibition guide to Ateneum’s collections and building by artist-curator Miina Pohjolainen as part of UrbanApa x Ateneum 2020 festival. English translation: Kasper Salonen

The guide is based on fictional writing excerpts, and approaches Ateneum as a collective web of historical events and layers that could be transformed into a living utopia in this very moment. Instead of reiterating the art historical canon and its hero myths, it showcases particular works from the museum’s collection through various narrators and highlights some of the building’s non-spaces; areas that are taken for granted or unacknowledged.

The guide embraces the physical and bodily experience of the concept of utopia, its historical sediments and the possibility to imagine and inhabit a different kind of future. What could a utopia mean if it were considered a process rather than an impossible goal?

Take a look at entire artwork as pdf

Or start the tour here:
Room 13
Room 15
Room 18
Room 6
Room 8
Room 9
Staircase between room 11 and 5
Room 33

Fossileja Ateneumin pääportaikossa

fossil, orthocene
225-495 millions of years
Estonian limestone


There used to be nothing here at all before. Well ok that’s not true, there was lots of stuff.

Tall, wind-tossed grass, mud with earthworms living inside. All kinds of microbes with homes in the ground. Roots. Small rodents. The horizon. Gray or dazzling light. Light from thousands of light years away, from a star that may no longer exist. Slush, ice, and snow. The clatter of wagons, the clop of hooves.

Someone told me that when this museum was built they thought this place was complete back country. People at the time were like, “what’s the point of building an art school in the middle of nowhere?” Then these stones were shipped in from Estonia and there are fossils in them from so long ago we can’t wrap our heads around it.

What if this place was still like it was before, when there was nothing here at all? If this national identity-boosting and canonizing utopia hadn’t come to pass? Whose utopia was this building anyway, and can this place even be a utopia anymore? How could this capitalization of art for the sake of recreation and tourism be turned into something else?

Sometimes I just wanna scream. Like, THINK ABOUT THAT EARTHWORM IN 1888, BURIED UNDER ALL THIS. But people rarely think about earthworms.

This whole house is killed earth under our feet.

Back to the beginning

Ateneum's wooden chair at exchibition hall 13


Room 13

Innumerable people have sat on this chair and it has carried all their weight through the years.

As a museum guard I often sit here, resting my tired feet and counting the minutes until the end of my shift or the start of my break. Sometimes someone would sit next to me and start talking to me about art, their memories and their life. It was nice, even though I was trying to make sure no one did anything out of line.

In a picture from the war, this room was decorated with birch trunks, Finnish flags, and the flag of Nazi Germany. The bigwigs drove in front of the building in their cars, climbed the majestic steps to this hall, held speeches at a podium in the corner, shook hands, and sat on these very same chairs. The propaganda posters on the walls witnessed every occurrence. Now no one wants to talk about or be reminded of this dirty historical time.


I sit on the chair and try to fill it with a different sort of reality. With every outward breath, the space is slowly filled with some other power, with a gentler being, that covers the walls, the roof, and the floor like a layer of dirt. But it isn’t dirt, it is rather a layer of hope. It floats onto the seat of the chair like a mote of dust and attaches itself to the next visitor; you

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Room 15: 

“What do you think about when you think about the future?”

“I dunno. I guess maybe your skin.”

‘Cause you’ve got those scars on your belly and deeper under the surface. Stitches in your womb. How your womb has been cobbled together, so something new could just about grow down there. So you have that hope, if you decide to have it someday.

And that’s exactly how the future is ravaged by the present. That’s how it stays stitched together.

The fabric can be sewn back together, but it leaves a mark. And there in the safety of that scar something new may be forming. Even if you always turn your back to avoid revealing your scars, they will not disappear.

It’s like these days and what we and the generations before us have done to this place will definitely leave a mark on the future.

But it can still make it, under the scar tissue.

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Room 18

In the morning, before the museum opens to the public and before the guards begin their shifts, I wipe the dust off this window sill. It has become a habit of mine to gently caress the window latch as if it were a lucky amulet, while looking out through the window into the canopied courtyard.

In place of the museum shop I see a wild field and a stand of young trees. They are reaching toward the light filtering down through the broken ceiling glass. With my gaze I follow the gentle waving of the meadow, the buzzing of the honey bees, and the slow rhythm of the blades of grass. I breathe in time with the wind, and I am filled with a profound lightness.

I draw a peace sign onto the surface of the window sill, chuckling at the innocent absurdity. The sign slowly dries and disappears, but I know it’s there. I push along my cleaning cart and decide to draw a new symbol tomorrow.

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ELGA SESEMAN: Self-portrait
oil on canvas

Room 6

Do you remember what it feels like when after a warlike rain the sun starts to dry your face and fills your eyelids with dazzling light?

When you have to close your eyes to the brightness, but even with eyes shut you see only destruction in yourself and your surroundings?

And you hope that the sunlight will take it all away.

That when after a long time, when you finally open your eyes, your heart won’t leap from your chest in a panic but drum out a steady beat as a sign of new times.

That through the cracks of the murdered earth, between the asphalt sidewalk and the building’s stone foundation, dandelions start to grow; their seeds fly with the wind, farther and farther. You don’t even need to blow on them, they fly away on their own.

Takaisin alkuun


Room  8

I applied to study here three times in the 1970s. I was never picked. When I come here decades later, I still feel the dry coal dust wafting from the drawing room in my sinuses.

I hold my grandchild’s hand, the soft and sticky touch protects my stomach from fluttering in apprehension. As if the painted walls were mocking me. You are not enough. For a fraction of a second there is no different between the present and that moment when I walked down the stairs and out of here, head bowed.

I breathe in, I squeeze the little sticky hand a little harder and I throw back my shoulders. Places such as this have tried to oversee art and guard the gates to canonized artisthood for centuries, but finally they produce nothing but a Chinese-made magnet that someone will buy for a few euros to stick to their fridge at home.

I demand something different.

I daydream about opening the fire extinguisher cabinet and watching how the white foam would start to spread across the walls as an extension of my physical movements.

I leave the scene will my back straight and a tiny hand still in mine, and I thank my lucky stars that I never ended up in this rat race called the art world.

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Adamson-Eric: Portrait of Siuts Barbarus
oil on canvas

Room 9

I searched online for information on a Mrs. Siuts Barbarus. The first results are for a Johannes Barbarus, born Johannes Vares, who was an Estonian doctor, socialist, and poet. Siuts Barbarus, actually known as Emilie, was Johannes’ wife. Her historical role as a wife binds her, even in the 2020s.

A few clicks later I first see Johannes Barbarus in his coffin, and then I find a picture of Emilie lying in hers, with a bouquet of flowers upon her stomach where her hands are crossed, eyes closed. What was the last thing those eyes saw? What kind of light filtered through those closing eyelids?

I stared too long at the burning light of summer and my computer screen, and now in the dimness of the museum my whole vision is teeming with dots of light that I can never catch.

Emilie and a doll in front of the landscape. Emilie’s hands in a strange position, with a small yellow bird in her right hand. The soft blackness of the dress enshrouds the body inside. What sort of world did Emilie dream of, draped in the black softness of her clothes?

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Staircase between rooms 11 and 5 

A solar eclipse attached to the wall. A small spectacle of what life would be like without light.

Even if the Sun were to be snuffed out right now, it wouldn’t get dark on Earth for another 8 minutes and 20 seconds. That is a period of grace we can imagine in our own bodies, and it is a moment we can choose to use differently. What would you do in that time?

I would probably look really closely at all the things I love, at the friends and strangers here now, and I would record the motion of their pupils; how they would look back at me with a small smile or even just with indifference. In the darkness I would carry their gazes with me and I would look into their eyes again, while the limits of my own body were becoming fuzzy.

Would the light fade out gradually, or would it be like shutting off the lights in a windowless room?

According to some estimates, the Sun will end its life in about 5 billion years, and even the most resilient microbes on our planet will only last about 2.8 billion years in the growing heat. It feels like a comfortingly long wait. Even if we completely mess everything up now, something would still abide here unbelievably far into the future.

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Room 33

Werner Holmberg
Robert Wilhelm Ekman
Aleksander Lauréus
Johan Tobias Sergel
Rembrandt von Rijn
Bertel Thorvaldsen
Peter Paul Rubens
Erwin von Steinbach
Benvenuto Cellini
Jules Hardouin-Mansart
Bernard Palissy
Karl Friedrich Schinkel
Nicodemus Tessin the Younger
Carl Ludvig Engel
Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander
Donato Bramante

This motley crew of artists has peered down into the street for more than a century. What might they see with those eyes of plaster, can they observe the passing of time? That the future is not theirs? They have built their buildings, painted their paintings, crafted their artifacts, and sculpted their sculptures. Now it’s our turn.

Whose head will be immortalized in plaster and whose head will decompose in the bosom of the earth in silence, sinking into oblivion?

A truly equal world neither needs nor tolerates figureheads cast in plaster, nor any forms of hero worship.

Look out for the pigeons, you elderly craniums! I won’t shed a single tear when your white gypsum skin begins to crack and peel.

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Press releases

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  An exhibition featuring work by the international master painter Ilya Repin (1844–1930) will be on display on the third floor of the Ateneum Art Museum from 19 March to 29 August 2021. Repin is Russia’s most famous painter and also loved by the…

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