Fire & Rescue Museum

– an installation in the Finnish Pavilion in Venice 2009

Another version of the work was shown in Kiasma – Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki in 2010.




CIVIL DEFENCE FIREFIGHTING CORPS, A series of 24 instructional placards (cover page)



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Installation view, Finnish pavillon, Venice Biennale 2009


The installation was based on two collections:

 1) Sillamäe Underground Bunker Exhibition

The collection consists of Soviet educational poster art on the theme of civil defence and firefighting designed to illustrate procedures in case of an attack with weapons of mass destruction. The material was discovered in an abandoned underground fallout shelter in Sillamäe, eastern Estonia.

The bunker had in Soviet times housed a civil defence education exhibition for citizens, firefighters and civil defence crews. The education material dealt with different aspects of civil defence, such as first aid, fire suppression, preparing for chemical warfare and nuclear strikes. The main emphasis was on activities prior to and after a nuclear attack.

The town of Sillamäe was part of a Soviet military industrial complex. It was the location of a secret uranium enrichment plant and chemical factories. The workforce was imported from Russia, and Sillamäe was closed to outsiders up to the end of the Soviet Era. The bunker was abandoned when the Soviet Union collapsed. Although the material was upon discovery exposed to the forces of nature and vandalism, part of it  was  in 2008 rescued for future generations by the joint expedition of Romantic Geographic Society and The School of Esoteric Geography. The expedition members were J. Kivi, O. Kochta-Kalleinen and M. Leppänen. Originally the bunker was found by Finnish urban explorers Nila, Mortus and Wormwood about one year earlier. Later the entire bunker has been demolished.

The result is a significant collection of Soviet poster art comprising about 130  works. Thematically the collection remains extremely topical; preparing for a nuclear attack and nuclear fallout, as well as the hypothetical principles of any subsequent measures, are practically identical all over our planet.



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Sillamäe bunker, Estonia 2008

2) Fire Museum

My childhood home was next to a fire station in Helsinki, and much of my childhood was spent in the station. Firemen were my male role models and the fire station the  geographical center of my imaginary world. The starting point of the museum collection is concerning some items from that period: toys and childhood drawings such as the one I made at the age of five, a pencil rendering of a big warehouse fire in Helsinki in 1964, and also the self-portrait as fireman at the age of seven. Another category worthy of mention are the staged photos taken by my father in the mid-1960s where I pose in the yard of the fire station with toy fire trucks and a helmet on my head, and also the snapshot of a few small fire engines in an operative situation on the floor. Some of the toy engines in the collection are the same as in the photos.

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In June 1971, I went on a visit to Warren, Ohio. I was 11 at the time. My grandmother’s American-Finnish cousin Reino “Ray” Niemi lived there. He was the Assistant Fire Chief. Every third day, Reino was on duty at the station on a 24-hour shift, and so was I. I slept in the firemen’s dormitory and when an alarm went off, my place was with Reino in the command car. Although no dramatic fires occurred, that month at the fire station remains in my mind clearer than any other month in my life.

I was given a simple Kodak Instamatic camera, which I used to take photos of the firemen and fire engines. The collection includes also a few photos sent by Reino to his relatives in Finland, such as the one where he and Bruce LaBaugh, Chief of the Warren Fire Department, are greeting President Richard Nixon, and a picture from the 1960s in which Reino shakes hands with John F. Kennedy. Most of the other black-and-white photos are taken either by Reino or the fireman serving as Fire Investigation Photographer.

Some of the objects were received over the years as Christmas presents from Reino and his wife Esther. There is also Reino’s smoke mask from the 1950s, Fire Service Training textbook, and a black fire helmet I got already at the end of the 1960s. Other items include a white fire chief’s helmet, donated by Reino to the collection. He received the helmet as a gift from the neighbouring fire department when he retired after forty years of service.

In the late 80’s I started collecting all kinds of objects related to firefighting and gathered them into a spare walk-in closet and called it “Fire museum”. Later the museum ended up in my studio where I kept it half hidden behind  shelves and curtains. During mid 2000 the collection had grown too large and I began to doubt the idea of collecting. I closed “The museum” and packed down the items.

Even though the museum presentation was composed like an narrative artwork and I showed it to friends, I did not consider it  a work of art. For me it was a just an therapeutic & escapist childhood passion, but when the Sillamäe  bunker gallery was found things changed. The merging of the apocalyptic soviet poster collection with the earlier firefighting material led to the inevitable transformation of the new compilation into a politically conscious work of art.











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Burning warehouse’s  in Jätkäsaari, Helsinki, summer 1964 Drawing made at age 5 on the basis of news footage  seen on neighbor’s black and white TV.


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In the yard of Käpylä Fire Station around the mid – 1960s. At that time my father was seriously interested in photography, a hobby he later gave up. The picture is staged up and double exposure has occurred accidentally.  Photo by Matti Kivi


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Self portrait as a fireman,  age 7.


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asst. chief Ray Niemi









Warren 1971











W.F.D. pumper 2













Nixon, Reino “Ray” Niemi and Chief LaBaugh




Installation views, Venice 2009



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Helsinki fire department ambulance blanket



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CHEMICAL WARFARE Contaminated Hands, educational wax model of skin symptoms by mustard gas




Warren, Ohio 1971


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Burnt car, Warren, Ohio 1971



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Reino shakes hands with John F. Kennedy in Warren Downtown




Warren firemen, from top left: Firefighter Bob Patchen “The Red Spider”, Firefighter Larry Preston, fire chief Bruce LaBaugh, Captain Bell and asst’ chief Ray Niemi in the background



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Chief of Champion TWP. Fire Dept at their  pumping drills on sunday












These photos were taken by a firefighter who worked as the photographer of the fire department. He and Ray ordered me to pose in different positions – which I didn’t like too much. I felt that I looked like a stupid babyface in those photos and as a smart teenager I later censored them by scratching or with orange paint.



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Used hoses are collected after testing of pumps, fireman Futchko on left, me on the right



Sillamäe Bunker gallery




NUCLEAR STRIKE DISASTER ZONE The disaster zone is the area of damaged and destroyed buildings and structures caused by a nuclear explosion, in which large-scale destruction of people, livestock and vegetation has occurred.




Alternative civil defence alarm broadcasting methods




WORK OF THE CIVIL DEFENCE FIRE FIGHTING CORPS TO ISOLATE AREA FIRES Isolating a spreading fire to a wide traffic way – Safeguarding evacuation from fire areas




SHOCKWAVES AS A FIRE HAZARD The shock wave of a nuclear explosion is a powerfully compressed area of air that expands very quickly in every direction from the point of impact. As it expands, it destroys buildings and other structures, breaks containers with flammable liquids and gases, knocks over gas, propane, and oil burners, electric heaters and open hearths, and causes short circuits in electric lines connected to a live current, which lead in turn to fires.     Initial fires and fires ignite when shock wave overpressure exceeds 0.1 kPa/ m2.



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Personal protective equipment




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Gas mask instructions for kids





FIRE FIGHTING CORPS PROTOCOL DURING MARCH Preparing personnel and equipment to drive through contaminated terrain





CLEANING PROTOCOL OF THE FIRE FIGHTING CORPS PERSONNEL Cleaning the skin 1-2 hours after exposure guarantees the preservation of total work ability. This cleaning can be partial or total. Partial cleaning removes radioactive materials from the surface of clothing and exposed body parts. For total cleaning, personnel take hot water DDA or DDP-type disinfection showers. PARTIAL CLEANING BEFORE REMOVING FIELD GEAR IN SUMMER, SKIN IS WIPED DOWN WITH A DAMP CLOTH IN WINTER, SKIN IS CLEANED WITH SNOW TOTAL CLEANING SHOWER AREA










CHEMICAL WEAPONS The armies of capitalist states include in their arsenal several chemical weapons, primarily poisonous substances that can damage humans and animals and contaminate the air and the environment and everything in it.



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