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Museum of Contemporary Emotions launched as virtual coping mechanism for pandemic

Deserted streets were filmed for the museum by brand management company hasan & partners

The Museum of Contemporary Emotions is an online museum combining science and art to document the monumental developments of a pandemic and record the feelings experienced by Finnish citizens over the course of 2020.

Part of the Finland Forward communications campaign co-ordinated by the Prime Minister’s Office, the museum seeks to help people reflect on the emotions evoked by COVID-19 and to recover from the crisis.

People’s emotions have been tracked by examining statistics, search engine trends, popular consumption patterns, surveys conducted by organisations, phenomena emerging on social media and online, news and human mobility, and behaviour at milestones during the state of emergency.

Six basic human emotions

The Museum of Contemporary Emotions offers visitors the opportunity read and hear about citizens’ experiences and share how they felt

The museum draws on the academically rigorous emotions theory of Paul Ekman, recognising the six basic human emotions of anger, surprise, disgust, happiness, fear and sadness.

“For recovery to begin, we must first face our feelings,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. “This is the justification for the Museum of Contemporary Emotions: a virtual collection and experiential account of pandemic period emotions in Finland.”

The museum encourages self-reflection, helping people to find a perspective for their own feelings and experiences within the broader context of pandemic phenomena.

Pandemic timeline traverses the milestones

Museum visitors traverse the pandemic through an interactive timeline

Museum visitors are introduced to a timeline that traverses the milestones of the emergency, beginning with a recording of scientists’ briefing on 29 January 2020, stating: “We have now found this new type of virus, COVID-19, in Finland as well.”  Other milestones such as the WHO declaration in March 2020 that COVID-19 was a pandemic bring home the enormity of the crisis.

Each milestone concerns one or more behaviours or phenomena for the visitor to consider. Following a declaration under the Emergency Powers Act, for example, some people in Finland succumbed to the recognised global phenomenon of insomnia. A pandemic baby boom also occurred that was exceptional in view of generally depressed birth rates in Finland.

There are recordings of people coping with working from home, children with home schooling and also people experiencing the outdoors anew. A fear of the future, cultural void and other negative aspects are portrayed as well as statistics on divorce and domestic violence.

A museum that seeks to strengthen the resilience of society

Museum visitors traverse the pandemic through an interactive timeline

According to Finland Forward project Head of Communications, Päivi Tampere, psychological resilience is one of the seven vital functions of society defined in Finland’s Security Strategy for Society.

She says experiences of being heard and seen are an important factor in maintaining psychological resilience and speaking and expressing emotions also play a supportive role. The museum provides an opportunity for this, and thereby seeks to reinforce the resilience of society.

“The Museum of Contemporary Emotions is designed to support citizens in recovering from the crisis while recording extraordinary times in an exceptional way. Understanding and recording emotions will also help our society anticipate similar events in the future,” said Tampere.

A partnership of science and art

Images for the museum were provided by 30 photographers who captured everyday life during the pandemic in Finland as part of the State of Emergency 2020 project.

As part of the Summer of the Arts project, a major initiative of the Finnish Cultural Foundation in 2021 implemented by the Kulta federation of Finnish culture and arts associations, six artists, who graduated during the pandemic, created unique artworks based in the six emotions.

Specialists and researchers support the information collected in the museum:

  • Psychotherapist Maaret Kallio analyses the role of emotions in recovery.
  • Psychotherapist-psychologist Suvi Laru discusses the emotional world of couples.
  • Grief researcher Mari Pulkkinen talks about the effects of mourning and the persistence of loss.
  • Sleep researcherMarkku Partinen provides insights into sleep, insomnia and the phenomenon of COVID-19 insomnia.
  • University of Helsinki researcher Niko Pyrhönen explains the mechanisms and emotions behind belief in conspiracy theories.
  • Student Dan Santamäki illustrates the feelings of students during a state of emergency.
  • Riikka Nurmi, a specialist in promoting mental health in early childhood education, talks about the wellbeing of children during a state of emergency.
  • Violence work specialist Tuulia Kovanen of the Federation of Mother and Child Homes and Shelters talks about the challenges faced by homes and families in a state of emergency.

The creative designer of the museum is the brand management company hasan & partners, with technical implementation by Into-Digital Ltd. Other partners have included researchers of phenomena and people, artists, organisations and specialist information industry businesses.

Aitomation, Google Finland Oy, Meltwater and Statistics Finland also helped to build the museum by assisting in such areas as retrieving and interpreting information. The musical soundscape of the museum was composed and produced by the internationally acclaimed composer Markku Mäkelä.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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