Art On An Island: Discover The Inaugural Helsinki Biennial

An art event set on the former military island of Vallisaari, the first edition of the Helsinki Biennial is rocking the art world, gathering more than 40 global artists’ work! The cultural and historical context of the island is the starting point for this amazing exhibition, as well as the natural environment. This art event transformed Vallisaari island again, using it as a canvas utilized by a set of global artists!

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The Baltic Sea island of Vallisaari rests within an archipelago just 15 minutes away by ferry from Helsinki. In the Sixteenth-century sailors arrived and drank from its lakes, 200 years later, its residents preferred alcohol, refined and dispensed from a rustic tavern. Under Russian control, this island converted into the central military base, built up with shelters and storehouses, which an independent Finland first developed into concrete and brick barracks during World War II. With The Inaugural Helsinki Biennial, the island gets a new life once again!

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Helsinki Satellite Reef, 2021 by Margaret & Christine Wertheim and the Institute For Figuring,
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 Vallisaari Lighthouse, 2021. Tadashi Kawamata

The art event opened to the public on June 12, exhibiting over the summer until September 26, 2021. Curated by Pirkko Siitari and Taru Tappola, head curators of Helsinki Art Museum (HAM), decided that the natural world surrounding, prompted the show’s theme, The Same Sea, as the sea and the landscapes evolving the island change every day!

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 Shutter Splinter, 2021 by Katharina Grosse
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Pars pro Toto, 2018 by Alicja Kwade

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The pandemic has provided a dynamic synergy with the biennial’s themes, featuring art installations exploring our relationship with the climate, borders, and the idea of empathy. About 75 percent of the 40 artists’ work is new commissions, and the artists placed about a third of it in the open air.

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Big Be-Hide, 2019 by Alicja Kwade

Tadashi Kawabata’s “Vallisaari lighthouse” offers a towering landmark composed of found scrap material sourced from the island, which can be seen from various viewpoints at sea. The artist Jaakko Niemelä approaches them with a hint: for his Quay 6, 2021, scaffolding rises the same height as the Baltic might if Greenland’s northern ice sheet melts, and it terminates at a wooden platform painted emergency red.

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Indigestibles, 2021 by Dafna Maimon

On the eastern side of the island, Alicja Kwade’s “big be-hide” is sited on a thin strip of land that connects Vallisaari island with the nearby Kuninkaansaari island. The sculpture comprises two stones, on each side of a mirror, highlighting the continual transformation of the natural world.

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The 20-minute ferry ride from Helsinki to Vallisaari island awakens the senses, preparing them for what awaits. Once on the island, its untamed landscapes and remarkable flora and fauna create a sense of isolation from urban life, allowing visitors to truly immerse themselves in the art and natural surroundings.

Being among the artworks is also a physical experience, where one’s body and movements interact with the immovable elements of the landscape and the scale of the vistas.

Taru Tappola and Pirkko Siitari 
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