Event Essay: Creating Moominland

Southbank Centre producer Paul Denton talks to Event's Yasmin Arrigo about the journey towards bringing the Moomins to London and the future of immersive exhibitions.

Moominland at the Southbank Centre (c. Vic Frankowski)
Moominland at the Southbank Centre (c. Vic Frankowski)

As part of our Nordic Matters festival, we worked with eight countries looking for artists, performers and anything of deep cultural significance to the region. When we looked at Finland, we realised how important culturally and historically the Moomins are.

The three themes of our Nordic Matters festival are play, sustainability and gender equality and the Moomins really apply to all three. Tove Jansson was so powerful as a female artist, the Moomins have a playful tone and sustainability is so prevalent – look at Moominland and it really focuses on it, from how they use all the natural products through to their insistence of not stepping on the same piece of moss twice and really caring for their environment.

It fitted perfectly with these themes so we wanted to explore this and we were put in touch with Sophia Jansson, creative director of Moomin Characters, who wanted to explore the possibility of a UK exhibition. The first conversation was last May and I went to Tampere Art Museum to see what was available and what would fit and then I started storyboarding.

Personally, I came to the Moomins fairly new and wanted to centre it around Tove and her own life as an artist. We wanted to include her personal relationships with her parents, with friends, with women and really represent these and choose the narrative. We had to be conscious that we needed to appeal to those that don’t know anything about the Moomins, and others that may have a favourite. We really wanted to be evocative rather than too literal.

Additionally, there is no written text so we have needed to train hosts and make sure they are well versed in anecdotes and answers for the uber fans that this type of exhibition will draw. The hosts are all part of Southbank’s team, they are not trained actors, so they’ve had to be well versed in the archive so that they feel confident.

Immersive experiences can be challenging in terms of the numbers that get to experience it at any given time but we hope to welcome 25k across the spring. I think this type of exhibition is the future of what we are creating at Southbank. This uses real work and archive to showcase in a really unusual way. It is very visceral and emotive and we are keen to keep experimenting.

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