I was never much of a Moomins fan as a kid. To me, they seemed tinged with melancholy. Those marshmallowy trolls were always getting lost in dark, entangled forests or trudging through rainstorms. But they were a true reflection of their creator, Tove Jansson, a Finnish artist who had absolute love and reverence for the natural world, even at its most unruly. Along with her partner, Tuulikki Pietilä, she spent her summers on a remote island, Klovharun, in the Finnish archipelago, living in a simple cottage with no electricity, creating art side-by-side.
A new exhibition about Jansson attempts to draw parallels between this island life in Klovharun and the landscape of the Walthamstow Wetlands. It may seem like a reach, but somehow, it makes sense. A tiny exhibit of photographs of Jansson, taken by her brother, are mounted to the red brick walls of the Wetland’s Victorian engine house, along with some great video footage of Jansson walking through Klovharun mid-storm as her face is repeatedly smacked by the wind and rain. Like that ever-quotable Moomin wisdom, the exhibition pared down, simple, there’s nothing inessential here.
It spills out into a family-friendly art trail of Moomin-character cut outs dotted through the Wetlands, but the best part is the one you can’t see: an audio download of Jansson’s lyrical essay, ‘The Island’, read by her niece and set to music by Scottish composer Erland Cooper.
When you look out at the bird-swarmed islands on the Wetlands’ reservoir, her words feel weirdly meditative. ‘Sometimes the dream of the island can be a passive symbol for what is one step beyond reach,’ she says. She is talking about Klovharun, but it could just as easily be those curious little islets of E17.