Liisa Roberts's film "What's the Time in Vyborg", 2001-04, features the distinctive library in Vyborg, Russia, designed by the great Finnish architect, Alvar Aalto. The New York presentation of this film took place in another of Aalto's creations, the Kaufmann Conference Rooms at the Institute for International Education.
Since 2000, the Finnish-American artist Liisa Roberts has undertaken an ambitious artistic project in the Russian city of Vyborg. Unfolding in a wide spectrum of disciplines, from architecture to education, the project has engaged the complex history and identity of the city, which was founded under Swedish rule and has alternated between Finnish and Russian control. The project takes as its starting point the municipal library, designed by Aalto in the late 1920's, while the city was still a part of Finnish territory and known as Viipuri. The library today in many ways reflects the tension between the city's Finnish and Russian backgrounds. Roberts became involved in the effort to restore the building and encouraged recognition of the library's original physical design, as well as changes made by a Soviet renovation in the 1960s. Noting that Aalto's design principles are based on humanism and close attention to surroundings, Roberts argued for the incorporation of the Soviets' modifications in order to acknowledge that the city's contemporary Russian context should be an integral part of the building's restoration.
In 2001, the library's auditorium served as the setting for the creative writing workshop What's the Time in Vyborg? led by Roberts together with St. Petersburg-based psychologist Olga Maslova and Lithuanian translator Edgaras Platelis. The workshop was open to all teenagers living in the city, with the goal of preparing a script based on their narratives of Vyborg. Participants were encouraged to confront and express their personal relationship to the city, its architecture and its history, and to prepare presentations of their perceptions in various real time forms. These included a series of television reports on Vyborg's local television, a project for a cinema in the library developed with The Finnish Committee for the Restoration of the Library, and a series of performance-based excursions of the city for former Finnish residents. The project has since continued to develop in the form of an exhibition, extending the historical and architectural archive of Vyborg to incorporate contemporary perspectives.