Urban Atlas Helsinki – paintings and prints by Tom Cardwell

The exhibition at Helsinki University Main Library presents works inspired by streetscapes in Helsinki, painted at the University of Helsinki during Cardwell’s Kone Foundation Fellowship in the Arts at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies in 2022–23.

Venue: Helsinki University Main Library lobby (Kaisa House, Fabianinkatu 30)

Dates: 28.04.23 – 31.05.23

Artist in conversation event: Wednesday 10 May at 17:00

Speakers: Tom Cardwell, Olli Herranen, Mari Myllylä (more information on the speakers below)


‘The city itself is the anonymous and multiple author of the images they collect and exhibit as artworks’  - Nicolas Bourriaud

This series of artworks document and respond to found ‘compositions’ from the streets of Helsinki. Multiple authors use fly-posters, stickers and graffiti to create these ad hoc tableaux. Spaces in the city become informal message boards, where various agendas are promoted, and discourses negotiated. Often, these take place on the housings for electrical junction boxes, municipal signs or building hoardings.

Such examples, often organised within small, regularly shaped areas, relate visually to the canvas painting formats that delineate compositions, and balance the dynamic, even chaotic, styles at play within formal edges.

An initial ‘posting’ (either a small graffito, a sticker or fly-poster) begins the use of a particular site which others then add to. The nature of the postings can be diverse, from the political or religious to the profane or absurd. Thus, these sites are examples of discourses created by multiple authors across various platforms within the urban space.

Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas (1927-1929) was an unfinished series of interconnected image maps that attempted to show how symbols and images from antiquity re-emerge in later contexts.

In a related way, the public space of the street proclaims through the haphazard juxtaposition of diverse images and texts the complex and shifting narratives of contemporary life. In both spheres, the role of the larger artwork as a vessel to collect and contain a multitude of individual images is paramount.

This series of paintings and prints invite deeper consideration of these apparent ephemera and connections with the enduring themes and motifs of art history.

Artist bio

Tom Cardwell is an artist and researcher based in London, UK. His PhD thesis (2017) employed painting practice and ethnography to examine the customised jackets made by heavy metal fans. His research interests include contemporary and historic painting, subcultural symbolism and expressions of personal narrative and identity in popular image traditions. Tom’s book Heavy Metal Armour (Intellect, 2022) brings together his battle jacket paintings and academic research to offer an interdisciplinary study of jacket making in metal subcultures. He is Senior Lecturer in Painting at Camberwell, University of the Arts London. In 2022–2023, Tom Cardwell works at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies at the University of Helsinki as Kone Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in the Arts.


Speaker Bios (Artist in conversation event on May 10 at 5:00 pm)

Olli Herranen is a social scientist (PhD, sociology) and a social theorist at the University of Helsinki, working on his research project ‘Effective Climate-Change Denialism in Finland and in Sweden’. Herranen is specialised in classical and critical social theory, and economic and environmental sociology. In addition, he is a lifelong enthusiast of underground art and culture.


Mari Myllylä (PhD, MSc, BA, BBA) works as a postdoc researcher at the Faculty of Information Technology of the University of Jyväskylä. She is involved in the ETAIROS project, funded by the Academy of Finland, Strategic Research Council, and in SEED Ecosystem -project, funded by the Business Finland. Myllylä did her PhD dissertation about the embodied mind and mental information contents in graffiti experience. Her current research focuses on climate change thinking. Before her academic career, she worked extensively in various design tasks.



Kaisa Kaakinen, kaisa.kaakinen[AT]helsinki.fi

Research Coordinator, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies