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Turku's Year as European Capital of Culture Takes Flight

Turku kicked off its year as European Capital of Culture 2011 with a spectacular fire and light show on the shores of the River Aura on Saturday evening.

Turun kulttuuripääkaupunkivuoden avajaisnäytös.
Image: YLE / Petri Vilen

The churches of Turku rang their bells for 15 minutes at midday on Saturday, sounding off the year of culture. The festivities continued with sound artist Simo Alitalo’s River Aura Symphony along the Aura, which included sounds from 13 churches and ships.

Despite temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius, Saturday’s grand evening opening at the former Wärtsilä shipyard drew a crowd of 50,000 people. The opening ceremony was the biggest single event of Turku’s cultural year—as well as being one of the biggest performances ever staged in Finland.

With communication as its central theme, the fire and light performance drew on Turku’s long history, bridging ancient fire signals with modern telecommunications. The performance included nearly 2,000 local participants, and was produced by the English group Walk the Plank, famous for its pyrotechnic shows.

The biggest fire show ever seen in Finland was followed by a more traditional fireworks display, where over 600 kilograms of fireworks were blown to smithereens in 5,000 explosions over the icy shores of the Aura.

Logomo: Hub of the Culture Capital

The Logomo exhibition and event centre, which has been built in an old State Railways workshop, is a central venue for Capital of Culture events. Following the opening ceremony’s fire displays, the celebrations continued here with the LogoMotion Turku 2011 party featuring famous Finnish artists such as Hector and Michael Monroe as well as British soul-funk luminaries The Brand New Heavies.

Logomo will host 50 performances as well as six exhibitions over the coming year. Fire! Fire!, the main exhibition which opened on Sunday, takes visitors into the world of flames through the great fire of 1827, which destroyed much of old Turku. Other exhibitions include Only A Game? about football, which was opened by legendary French footballer Michel Platini, and a retrospective of illustrations by the gay icon Tom of Finland, who was from the nearby town of Kaarina.

Helsinki's Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art is also participating with exhibitions of Eija-Liisa Ahtiala’s and Isaac Julien’s large-scale video installations

The Capital of Culture events will not be confined to Turku, as nearby Härkämäki, Naantali, Laitila and Salo are also set to host different events and exhibitions.

This year Europe has two Capitals of Culture: Turku and the Estonian capital Tallinn.

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