Aysha Tengiz, Jack Sachs and Takashi Nakamura illustrate Helsinki – without ever seeing it
“The less they knew about it, the better”: A curious new campaign for the City of Helsinki sees Veli Studio and Miltton commission three artists with zero knowledge of the city.
- Liz Gorny
- 15 September 2022
How do you convert people from being curious about a place to actually visiting? The first idea to pop into your head might be to teach audiences more about it, perhaps as a campaign through the eyes of locals. The less likely idea might be to commission creatives who have never visited that place to illustrate local guides. However, a new campaign from Veli Studio and Miltton shows us just how wrong we’d be to assume otherwise, taking exactly this approach to show Helsinki in a whole new light.
The campaign, Helsinki Curious, calls on three artists who have never stepped foot in Finland’s capital – Aysha Tengiz from London, Takashi Nakamura in Tokyo and Jack Sachs, based in Berlin. Each artist has illustrated Helsinki using solely their imagination and stories they were told about the city.
On the concept behind the campaign, Mikko Hakkarainen, creative director at Miltton, explains: “In recent years, Helsinki has consistently featured on global lists for most liveable cities and best work-life balance.” In fact, in the Helsinki Curiosity Index 2022, audiences surveyed seemed increasingly curious about visiting the city – “92 per cent of Berliners are interested in visiting Helsinki,” Mikko offers as an example. Yet, the Helsinki Curious site states: “Very few people around the world have ever visited Helsinki.” Rather than focusing on the lack of real-world visits, the creative agencies behind the work embraced the concept of curiosity. "The city aimed to tell its story through people who have never visited it for themselves,” Mikko confirms.
The three illustrators on the project had to not only illustrate Helsinki but capture its essence – and all visual references were out of bounds. “During the process they weren’t even allowed to Google Helsinki or carry out any social media research, but slowly through stories from prior Helsinki visitors, they started to unravel the secret sauce of the city,” Joni Stanley, creative director at Veli Studio, recalls. Harnessing these stories and grappling playfully with their own preconceptions of the place, the artistic process of these artists was captured in three mini documentary episodes – all available to watch on the Helsinki Curious site here. In September 2022, the final artworks were unveiled at an art exhibition as part of Helsinki Design Week and as billboards on the streets of Tokyo, Berlin, London and Helsinki.
For the artists involved, at first the concept seemed surreal: “I felt that it was a very wild proposal and wondered if it was some kind of joke,” Takashi Nakamura states on the Helsinki Curious site. Despite an admittedly unusual creative process, Joni states: “It was almost spooky how all three nailed a different aspect or a little detail from the city.”
The final campaign sees Takashi Nakamura present a calming vision of Helsinki, where nature is integrated closely into the everyday. Elsewhere, Aysha Tengiz merges winter and summer to capture Helsinki’s many atmospheres, while Jack Sachs imagines a dancer in futuristic gear – inspired by the city’s thrifting scene.
Reflecting back on the project, Aysha Tengiz says: “I basically went from having next to zero knowledge about the city, to having a strong understanding of it without even seeing a single picture. It was strange, because after creating the artwork I had given myself the picture that I longed to see.”
Takashi Nakamura: Helsinki Curious (Copyright © Takashi Nakamura for Helsinki Partners)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating from the University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, Indie magazine and design studio Evermade.