Finland opens a virtual museum of the emotions of the pandemic

For healing to begin, we need first to understand our emotions. We need to go back in time and find words for what we have experienced. The Museum of Contemporary Emotions, commissioned by the strategic communications team of the Finnish Prime Minister’s Office, has been designed to support people in Finland reflect on their emotions and experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic period. This is part of Finland’s efforts to strengthen its citizens’ psychological resilience.



The launch of the Museum of Contemporary Emotions (MOCE) on 7 October is topical, as Finland is currently in the process of dismantling the Covid-19 restrictions, and society is on the path toward moving on from the current wave of the pandemic.

The virtual and experiental exhibition takes us through 28 events, starting in March 2020, when the WHO declared Covid-19 to be a global pandemic. On entering the museum, the visitor first experiences the historic press conference on 29 January 2020 at which the director of health and safety at the Finnish Institute for health and welfare Mika Salminen confirmed that the first cases of Covid-19 had been diagnosed in Finland.

What happens next followed a similar pattern to the rest of the world: the state of emergency and the declaration of the Finnish Pandemic Act, and restrictions and social distancing that affected most aspects of everyday life.

Some of the behaviours that followed these events were universal, such as insomnia or hoarding of toilet paper and other items. Others were characteristic of Finland, such as when Finns moved their remote work to their beloved summer cabins or the nationally exceptional baby boom – much welcomed in a country where birth rates have been dropping in recent years.

The museum identifies the emotions behind each behaviour, leaning on Paul Ekman’s “The Big Six” theory, widely accepted in the academic world. Ekman identifies six universal primary emotions that seem to occur in all cultures: sadness, happiness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.

To capture the real emotions of people in Finland, the project studied statistics, and researched trends, changes in work lives and consumer behaviour, mobility reports, and the social media and online phenomenon.

Importantly, the museum encourages self-reflection and offers interactive elements such as easy access questionnaires about pandemic emotions, as well as an opportunity to write a letter to one’s future self. Through these elements, the visitor can go back in time and reflect on their own feelings, and perhaps discover that they were not alone – that many felt the same way.

But why is the State of Finland doing this? The Head of Communications of the strategic communications team at the Finnish Prime Minister’s Office Päivi Tampere explains:

“Experiences of being heard and being seen are important factors in maintaining psychological resilience. MOCE offers an opportunity for this and thus seeks to strengthen the resilience of Finnish society.”

Psychological resilience is defined as one of the seven vital functions of a society, as stated in Finland’s Security Strategy for Society. The strategy is part of the highly reputed Finnish model of comprehensive security, in which vital societal functions are handled together by the authorities, businesses, NGOs and citizens.

“The Museum of Contemporary Emotions is designed to support citizens in recovering from the crisis and at the same time record an exceptional time in an exceptional way. Understanding and recording emotions will also help anticipate similar events in our society,” Tampere believes.

The museum is a multidisciplinary cooperation of science and art, with partners from research organisations, NGOs, creative industry and other companies. Behind the museum’s creative design is the creative agency hasan & partners, and Into Digital is responsible for its technical development.

To support the information gathered in the museum, experts and researchers from different fields decipher the emotions behind the statistics and phenomena. As an example of the areas explored, psychotherapist and author Maaret Kallio discusses the importance of emotions in recovery. Researcher Mari Pulkkinen discusses the effects of mourning and the persistence of loss and researcher Niko Pyrhönen explains the mechanisms and emotions behind the belief in conspiracy theories.

Moreover, the emotions in the museum are manifested in colour, music and art. The museum displays the work of six young pandemic era art graduates, who participated in the Summer of the Arts project and created an artwork for each emotion. It includes images of 30 professional and amateur photographers from the State of Emergency 2020 project, which captured everyday life during the Pandemic.

While exploring the museum, powerful music composed by the internationally awarded Finnish composer Markku Mäkelä for each emotion makes the experience all the more intense – it is recommended to visit the museum with a headset on.

Welcome to the museum!