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Looking Forward: The New Helsinki Biennial

In exactly one year, Helsinki will open up Vallisaari, an archipelago located just off the shore of the Finnish capital as the home for its new Biennial. TLmag takes a look at the exciting things to come for this new event and offers a preview of it’s mesmerising location.

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Since 1991, the Finnish capital of Helsinki has abided by a percent law which states that one percent of all building costs are put into creating art for municipal public spaces, such as playgrounds and parks. Nowadays, with over fifty art projects for public spaces underway, Helsinki is building more housing and public services than ever before. What began as a city initiative, the new Helsinki Biennial is the result of this growing cultural appetite for contemporary art and (free) public spaces to enjoy them. 

Presented and produced by Helsinki Art Museum (HAM) as part of its programme, the Helsinki Biennial is directed by HAM’s director Maija Tanninen-Mattila, and its first edition will also be curated by HAM’s Head of Exhibitions Pirkko Siitari and Head of Public Art Taru Tappola. As the museum prepares for the Biennial, and it’s public and outdoors space, director Tanninen-Mattila says “For us, strengthening the focus of the museum’s mission on art in public spaces has opened up new possibilities to work with artists and reach new audiences, and we can’t wait for Helsinki Biennial to do the same.”

The Biennial will also offer visitors a unique location experience, as it will be situated on the picturesque archipelago of Vallisaari: an archipelago located on a short 15-minute boat ride from the mainland. “We initiated the biennial to open this archipelago up for everyone”, says Tanninen-Mattila, “Through the Helsinki Biennial we’re inviting locals and visitors alike to experience the nature of our city and enjoy art at the same time. As visitors to biennials know very well, looking at art while walking can also be a good way of moving and taking care of your health! The Helsinki Biennial is a good reason to get out of the house and move!”

The Biennial aims to echo Helsinki’s open, ambitious and cultural vision, as well as foster a sustainable approach to exhibition making. Free to the public, each edition will primarily comprise of new and site-specific commissions by leading international artists. As the Biennial is produced by HAM — which has a strong curatorial focus on exhibiting not only well-established international artists, but also artists born in or who have worked and lived in Finland —  the Helsinki Biennial will also focus on presenting a diverse selection of pioneering contemporary Finnish artists alongside their international peers. As for the aim of the Biennial, Tanninen-Mattila says “We hope that this unique, informal setting will be a fruitful source of inspiration, bringing international art to locals, and creating more visibility for the art produced in Finland today.

The curatorial concept for the Biennial will be announced this fall, in advance of the event that is scheduled to open on June 12 and close September 27, 2020. 

Cover Photo: Vallisaari Island skyline. Courtesy of Helsinki Biennial

Vallisaari Island. Photo: Maija Toivanen and Helsinki Art Museum.
Vallisaari Island skyline. Courtesy of Helsinki Biennial
Vallisaari Island. Photo: Maija Toivanen and Helsinki Art Museum.
Vallisaari Island skyline. Courtesy of Helsinki Biennial
Aleksanterin patteri (building). Photo: Helsinki Art Museum
Vallisaari Island skyline. Courtesy of Helsinki Biennial
Vallisaari Island. Photo: Helena Muhonen, City of Helsinki Media Bank
Vallisaari Island skyline. Courtesy of Helsinki Biennial
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