Workshop by Alberto Duman: Talking Ghosts: A Collaborative Hoarding Novella for Helsinki

‘Finance is a means by which capital develops an imagination of the future’ (Max Haiven, The Financial Crisis is a Crisis of Imagination, 2012)

‘In the utter uncertainty of the present, the time of the global institution and its own planning (whether business or cultural seems not to matter anymore) is the one that asserts its ownership, it prefigures and articulates future urban landscapes visually and aurally and sets their goals to achieve them through marketing and management.’(Ross, K., ‘Communal Luxury: The political imaginary of the Paris Commune’, 2016)

Who are the ‘Talking Ghosts’? They are those strange characters populating the hoardings and CGI renderings of urban spaces of new housing/public space developments advertising their forthcoming arrival. In this collective writing workshop we will work in small groups – using Zoom breakout rooms – to give the gift of speech to some of these ‘ghost citizens’ populating the computer-generated images from a specific, privately funded real estate development project yet-to-exist in Helsinki (Garden Helsinki). A short presentation will introduce the task to the participants and the remaining time in the session will be used to produce the ‘script’ of the hoarding novella as interruption within the future imaginary of the city. By writing together the script of a ‘hoarding novella’ and inserting our custom speech bubbles into the CGI renderings of the Garden Helsinki future development, these characters yet-to-exist will become our ‘actors’ in the deliberations of a future shared public space, and the ventriloquist channels of our subjectivities. The images produced by the speculative financial imagination of the future city, will then encounter the speculative fictions of those inhabiting the present, as convened by this session.

In May 2012, Helsinki gathered global attention in the urban discourse on the use of cultural landmark buildings in city developments by turning down the might of the Guggenheim. Since 2016 the city of Helsinki has been debating the arrival of another very large-scale development. Helsinki Garden is a Finnish-led development, centred on a large sports arena, which also employs cultural offerings, shopping and residential real-estate assets and the seemingly inevitable win-win argument of large financial returns and ‘prestige’ for the city of Helsinki. In September 2019, the mayor of Helsinki, Jan Vapaavuori, defended the proposed arena before the council, saying that it was a big project worth 700 million to 800 million euros.‘The project will make the city more appealing and enjoyable. It will bring only good things to our city’. (Source:

Since 2015 I have run several iterations of this project in different settings in London (3 sites), Cambridge, Budapest, Riga and Bordeaux. Each collaborative hoarding novella has a different outcome depending on the level of direct or academic engagement into urban politics of development/regeneration and the positioning of its participants into these debates, and with variable degree of humour, boldness, poetic irreverence or existential embodiments.