April 18, 2024

Highlights from the Finnish Art Walk

When the first Helsinki Biennial Game launched in 2021, it was a nice local affair as the world emerges from the Covid 19 pandemic. So this year’s biennial, which lasts until the fall, is the first to attract the world’s art lovers. And it’s free, in part to promote Helsinki’s art scene at home and abroad. Although Helsinki has a long history of design and architecture, contemporary Finnish art is less well known. The biennial program aims to rectify this and has done so by transforming Finland’s capital into a vibrant center of creativity. From stunning sculptures to thought-provoking installations and engaging performances, this new biennial program features established and emerging artists in a spectacular display of artistic excellence.

Nature meets Art

The main exhibition of the Helsinki Biennial takes place on the beautiful Vallisaari Island, 20 minute ferry ride from Helsinki. The landscape of the island is gorgeous and the biennial art trail is delightful in such an environment. One of 328 islands that form part of the city’s archipelago, it is a former Russian military base and some of the military buildings are still part of it. In 1808, Russia captured Finland and built a fortress on the island to protect its new territory. Finland was an autonomous duchy of the Russian Empire until 1917, when it declared independence.

The island location provides a unique immersive environment for experiencing art, which provides an interesting contrast to traditional gallery spaces. The other Biennial center is inside, at HAM (Helsinki Museum of Art).

This second edition, New Directions may emerge, curated by Polish-born Joasia Krysa (formerly artistic director at Kunsthal Aarhus, Denmark) and produced by HAM. Around 50% of the work is new commissions and site-specific works from 29 international artists and collectives. Although there are serious themes, including environmental damage, political conflict and the impact of technology, the artworks are engaging without being overly didactic. The title of the biennial comes from a quote by the anthropologist Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, who suggests that we should learn from other people, animals, plants, to “enjoy” the environment in order to find new ways of living in and understanding the world.

Highlights of the exhibition

Of the 15 works of art on Vallisaari Island, some are inside the historic Russian gunpowder cellars, others are outdoors.

In one gunpowder cellar, a Spanish artist Fat Extraction Mills How many rivers up there! It is a collection of water pottery: pitchers, jugs, canteens, basins that are no longer used. Taking its name from Octavio Paz’s 1958 poem, “El cantaro roto” (The broken jug), the exhibition questions the myth of progress and is still relevant today when water, a basic human right, is traded on Wall Street.

In another cellar, a Finnish artist Jenna Sutela on Brain Ponda water-filled bronze bowl shaped like the artist’s head inside, invites visitors to rub it to “make it sing”.

I Fog Sanctuary, Artists based in Helsinki Sasha Huber and Petri Saarikko create a mysterious mist above the surface of a pond dug by the Russians for drinking water. The idyllic location hides the dangers that may lie below: weapons lying in the pond.

Sami is an artist Matti Aikio He looks at indigenous issues in his film Tired. Reindeer, the frozen landscape of Lapland and the atmospheric music reflect the conflicts regarding the use of natural resources, nature conservation and energy production. He makes the astute observation that “we seem to be blind to the fact that there are not enough minerals for even one generation of electric cars on a global scale. Modern society is destroying ecosystems on native lands for economic gain and fossil-free energy.”

Outdoors in the trees and on walls, an Argentinian artist Adrian Villar Rojas site-specific sculptural work is known End of Imagination. Fifteen bird’s nests of mixed media, like statues, are scattered across the island, prompting a treasure hunt scenario.

Shows a wooden hut British artist Suzanne Treister‘ series Technoshamanic Systems: New Cosmological Models for Survival, 185 watercolor paintings that suggest alternative views of survival on earth and the inhabitation of the cosmos.

an artist from Finland Tuula Närhinen on colorful work The Plastic Horizon (2019–23), highlight the tragedy of oceans filled with plastic waste. Coming from beachcombing trips, an installation of discarded straws, bottle tops, toys etc is arranged by color, running the length of the stone building.

In Helsinki’s HAM Art Museum, works by Diana Policarpo, Bit Razavi, Tabitha Rezaire, Tuula Närhinen and INTERPRET They have taken over the large arched halls and gallery space. Of particular note is Diana Policarpo’s massive, rock installation and Tuula Närhinen has collected artefacts from the banks of the River Thames in London.

Other Helsinki Art and Design centers to visit

The IS Amos Rex A museum was built for the 1940 Olympic Games, of course it didn’t happen because of the Second World War. Known as “the Glass Palace,” the striking Modernist building opened as a contemporary art gallery in 2018 and is now the most visited art museum in Finland. The current show (0n until 20 August), Generation 2023 creators aged 15-23 were invited to participate in the exhibition’s open call. From 1,004 work proposals the jury selected 50 artists to participate in the exhibition. There is a wide range of work in progress, from collecting receipts to daily observations of a scrap collector, from knitted diaries to monster costumes and photography.

Striking modern architecture including sleek lines, expansive windows and walkways Museum of Contemporary Art Chiasma, provides an attractive background for the artworks. The permanent collection includes Finnish and international artists such as Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Elina Brotherus, Marlene Dumas, Mona Hatoum, Jaume Plensa and Ai Weiwei. The current show is temporary Heavy Trip, a major retrospective of Tom of Finland, whose drawings of happy gay men were enjoying their revolutionary sexuality when homosexuality was a crime.

The big Ateneum Art Museum, with Finland’s oldest and largest art collection, has been renovated with a spectacular exhibition of nineteenth-century Finnish painter Albert Edelfelt. The Ateneum’s permanent collection includes more than 30,000 national treasures from Finnish artists such as Helene Schjerfbeck and Ellen Thesleff, as well as international masterpieces from Paul Cézanne and Vincent van Gogh.

The IS Design Museum, one of the oldest design museums in the world, in a stunning neo-gothic red brick building, houses thousands of amazing objects and exhibits across different design disciplines, from iconic pieces of furniture by Alvar Aalto to the Marimekko dress worn by Jackie Kennedy to cutting edge modern designs. The current show In the Bordelands Kustaa Saksi features incredible textiles created with an unusual jacquard weaving technique. A number of large works specially commissioned for the exhibition are on display, each telling a story.

The Helsinki Biennial will be held until 17 September 2023 on Vallisaari Island and until 23 October at HAM. Free admission. Opening hours: Vallicia Island Closed Monday, Tue–Sun 11–18:00. HAM Closed Monday, Tuesday 10–17.30, Wed–Sun 11.30–19:00. Ferry tickets to Vallisaari Island 19.89 euros are returned.

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