Gone are the days of strolling past dry museum exhibits in neutral gallery spaces. Immersive experiences are becoming ever more popular, transporting the visitor into a different world and letting them experience all the sights, smells and textures that come with it. As part of the Nordic Matters season at Southbank Centre, Adventures in Moominland creates a magical space of total escapism, delving into the world of the moomins and exploring the legacy of their creator Tove Jansson.
The Moomins are oddly shaped, eccentric characters dreamt up by Swedish speaking Finnish artist Tove Jansson. The colourful drawings of the round, friendly characters fill the pages of children’s story books, but the moomin stories undoubtedly have a lasting appeal for adults too, creating a positive, humorous refuge from life’s struggles that values tolerance and kindness above all. Adventures in Moominland opens the pages of the Moomin books and transplants us straight into their world, mimicking the movements of Moomintroll, Moominmama, Moominpapa and a host of other charming characters.
With an expressive narration by Sandi Toksvig and a rousing musical score by Aki Rissanen, Adventures in Moominland leads us through many different locations from within and outside the books. Recreating scenes from stories such as Comet in Moominland and The Moomins and The Great Flood, each room presents a new enchanting theatrical set. Visitors crouch on wooden stools inside Snuffkin’s tent, take cover from a comet in a tiny cave, picnic on a reclusive Finnish archipelago and wander through the snow under the full moon in Nordic forests. Despite some light suggestions of danger, the experience always takes the visitor back to a comfortable, safe space, ensuring a happy ending for all and a reassuring experience for younger visitors.
Photo credit: Moomin Characters
Along the way we learn more about Jansson’s biography and see some of her original drawings, integrated into the exhibition in a variety of creative ways, stowed away to be discovered in treasure chests and picnic boxes. The exhibition seamlessly combines this fictional escapism with the fascinating elements of Jansson’s biography and her artistic mind. We watch a projected film inside the tent that describes how Tove’s original moomin characters started out as stereotypical monsters under your childhood bed, which she eventually softened into the loveable characters we know today. In a way, rather than simply reliving the moomin stories, the exhibition makes us feel as if we are taken straight into Tove’s imagination.
Photo credit: Moomin Characters
The exhibition also explores how Tove’s moomin stories were influenced by events in her life. We learn that these were not just light, fluffy stories that served as easy, enjoyable fodder for children, but that they referenced a number of political and social events in Tove’s lifetime. Comet in Moominland presents the Moomin family in peril at the impending possibility of a comet hitting Moominvalley, undoubtedly inspired by the Hiroshima bombings the year before.
There is also a drawing on display of Thingumy and Bob, characters that were inspired by the love affair between Tove and Vivica Bandler. Admirably, the exhibition honestly and sensitively covers Jansson’s same sex relationships and the way in which these were affected by homosexuality being illegal in Finland at the time. It is impressive and necessary to see an exhibition mainly aimed at children normalise sexuality in this way, and it perfectly reflects the Moomin’s central moral message of tolerance for everyone.
Photo credits: Moomin Characters
Primarily, Adventures in Moominland is a celebration of creativity and the imagination. It’s a magical experience for children and adults alike, taking you straight back into the stories of childhood and creating lasting, fond memories. The level of detail and care that has gone into creating the sets and the narrative creates an undeniably magical experience, fluently interweaving Tove’s own story into that of the moomins, with a selection of truly precious and beautiful artefacts. Written in the aftermath of the Second World War, The Moomin series was in many ways a response to some of the darkest times the world has ever seen. It seems all the more powerful to tell their stories at the end of a year filled with social and political difficulties. Although it serves as true, effective escapism into Tove’s imagination, it also leaves us with an important message that art can truly make sense of these difficult times, and that love, respect and tolerance without boundaries is the most important thing of all.
Adventures in Moominland runs 16 December – 23 April 2017 at Southbank Centre. Tickets are between £13.50 and £16.50 find out more here.