A former military island is conquered by art for the inaugural Helsinki Biennial

The art island hosts 44 site-specific installations

Off the coast of Helsinki, the former military island of Vallisaari is being put through fresh paces as it welcomes artists for the inaugural Helsinki Biennial this summer and 44 site-specific installations that engage with its diverse bio-climate.

Titled, The Same Sea, the biennale is curated by Pirkko Siitari and Taru Tappola and opens after a tumultuous year that has seen borders, galleries, and homes closed across Europe. The pandemic has produced a dynamic synergy with the biennial’s themes, with installations exploring our relationship with the environment, borders and the idea of empathy – all particularly topical as the world re-awaken.

Siitari and Tappola told us: ‘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.’

Some 41 international and Finnish artists have created artworks for the island, with pieces erected on its rugged shoreline, as well as former gunpowder cellars and old barracks.

Jaakko Niemelä, Quay 6, 2021 © Maija Toivanen Ham Helsinki Biennial 2021
Jaakko Niemelä, Quay 6, 2021 © Maija Toivanen Ham Helsinki Biennial 2021

‘The artworks frame the view of the city from here, becoming part of its horizon while also being detached from it,’ Siitari and Tappola. ‘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.’

There are 44 installations to discover on the island, with highlights including a colour-drenched shack by Katharina Grosse, a glowing cellar tunnel reimagined as a walkable digestive tract by Dafna Maimon and a scaffolded pavilion by Jaakko Niemelä. See more artworks in the gallery above.

Alicja Kwade, 'Pars Pro Toto', 2018 © Maija Toivanen, Ham Helsinki Biennial 2021
Alicja Kwade, ‘Pars Pro Toto’, 2018 © Maija Toivanen, Ham Helsinki Biennial 2021
Maaria Wirkkala, Not So Innocent, 2021 © Maija Toivanen Ham Helsinki Biennial 2021
Maaria Wirkkala, ‘Not So Innocent’, 2021 © Maija Toivanen Ham Helsinki Biennial 2021
Helsinki Biennial, Vallisaari. Photography: Matti Pyykkö
Helsinki Biennial, Vallisaari. Photography: Matti Pyykkö
Aleksanterin Patteri (building). Photography: Maija Toivanen and Helsinki Art Museum
Aleksanterin Patteri (building). Photography: Maija Toivanen and Helsinki Art Museum

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