In November 2010 Heli Mäenpää, Creative Director of leading Finnish photography agency Viewmasters in Helsinki received a very to the point email from long-time partner Nokia: “Do you have any ideas for Helsinki World Design Capital?”. “We have one. But it´s a good one” Heli replied. Last week, I attended the opening of new gallery Laboratory – Art Space For Now in Helsinki. Not surprisingly, it turned out Viewmasters’ idea was very good.

Photography by Martin Parr

First out is British documentary photographer Martin Parr with the exhibition Think of Finland (10 Feb–8 Apr 2012), presenting previously unpublished work from the internationally renowned photographer. In August 2011 Parr went on a journey from Helsinki in the south to Oulu in the north, capturing the Finnish way of life. The photographs are intimate and tender, yet with an ironic twist, showing glimpses of the Finnish society and everyday life. Or as Martin Parr puts it: “The Finns are a delightfully quirky people, so I wanted to show this and also the tension between tradition and modernity.”

From photo exhibition by Martin Parr

But Laboratory is more than a gallery. When I meet up with Heli and Exhibition Manager Suvi Saloniemi for morning coffee they reveal the bigger idea.

Martin Parr at the Laboratory gallery

Today artists as well as companies are looking for collaborations and joint efforts beyond the traditional forms of sponsorship. Laboratory´s ambition is to bring top notch photography and companies together in new ways. The team  –  owners Heli and Anneli Maatraiva, together with Exhibition Manager Suvi is head over heels planning meet-ups, dinners, workshops and more, everything tailor-made to fit the collaboration. The theme and concept of each exhibition will always reflect the brand values of the partner. “But  we are very conscious of the integrity of the artists”, Heli points out.

Laboratory´s main partner is Nokia, and for the Parr exhibition, photographer Rami Hanafi directed a making of film on the journey across Finland shot with Nokia N8. Take a look:

During the Restaurant Day, just before the opening, you could not only pop by and see how the Martin Parr exhibition was installed but also have a traditional Pulla (Finnish for bun) Burger made by chefs Richard McCormick & Friends. ”We wanted to create something very Finnish, something fresh, something slightly odd for the Restaurant Day, Richard says.  After considering numerous of possible Finnish ingredients and food heritage we decided go for the beloved pulla. Our pulla is not that traditional. There is a kick on it. It’s Pulla Burger.”

Pullaburger at the opening

Pullaburger at laboratory opening

The opening of the Laboratory gallery

The brand nerd in me is enthusiastic, – what a simple yet strong way to enhance brand engagement,  this is shared media going live! “We want to break the traditional conventions of an art gallery”, Heli sums up. During its first two weeks, Laboratory has certainly delivered on their ambition to do so.

Laboratory. Erottajankatu 9 B (courtyard), 00130 Helsinki. Open Tue-Sun 11 am–6 pm. www.laboratory.fi
Martin Parr: Think of Finland 10 Feb–8 Apr 2012.

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