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Helsinki Biennial 2020 announces its first artists

The main theme of Helsinki Biennial 2020 is interdependence: every action and thing has an impact on something else and supports the whole. Helsinki Biennial, which will be held on Vallisaari Island, will present around 35 international artists or groups of artists from both Finland and around the world. “The location of Helsinki Biennial is unique and we are delighted that some 80% of the works are completely new,” Pirkko Siitari and Taru Tappola, the head curators, say.

The first artists to be announced are Paweł Althamer, Katharina Grosse, Gustafsson&Haapoja, Hanna Tuulikki, IC-98, Marja Kanervo, Tadashi Kawamata, Alicja Kwade, Laura Könönen, Tuomas A. Laitinen, Jaakko Niemelä, Mario Rizzi and Maaria Wirkkala. The BIOS Research Unit has also been invited to take part. Helsinki Biennial 2020 will take place on Vallisaari Island from 12 June to 27 September 2020. The artists have been invited to come to Vallisaari and create new site-specific and temporary artworks or to exhibit existing artworks that will engage in a dialogue with the island.

The curators of Helsinki Biennial 2020 have given the event the subtitle: The Same Sea.

“The ecological crisis means we are now on the cusp of enormous changes and this is defining our common future everywhere. The biennial’s subtitle, The Same Sea, refers to this situation, which concerns everyone but affects different places in different ways. Like the sea, it is a complex, inconstant entirety that bypasses all boundaries and appears different depending on the perspective,” the curators say.

Vallisaari inspires artists

Vallisaari is the actual and conceptual starting point for the curation of Helsinki Biennial and has provided direction and inspiration for the work of the artists. The curators have explored the island with the artists, discussing it as an artistic context and seeking suitable locations for the artworks.

“Vallisaari has an exceptional atmosphere. It’s like a zone touched by some unknown force. Yet, there is something there that reveals part of our collective memory, a part which we no longer have words to describe. The combination of its built environment and closed history and its untamed wildlife and environment on a small scale makes it a special place for an artist,” says Maaria Wirkkala.

The artworks will be located outside along the cobbled path and inside historical buildings, gunpowder cellars and empty residential buildings. This will highlight unknown and abandoned places and give them new meanings.

In addition to its geopolitical location, cultural history and nature, Vallisaari presents the artists with broader topical site-specific questions. These include time and change, the relationship between people and other species, and the micro and macro worlds that are beyond everyday observation. A few of the artists are working on subjects that originate from the daily life of Vallisaari’s former inhabitants and the island’s military history. According to the curators, some of the artworks deal not only with the local and global consequences of human activity but also with alternative visions of the future.

Sustainability and responsibility lie at the heart of Helsinki Biennial

In accordance with the Helsinki City Strategy, the biennial emphasises sustainability and responsibility, and these values are being respected as much as possible in the implementation of the event.

“Making and presenting art on Vallisaari requires complex cooperation to take the delicate environment into account,” Siitari and Tappola say. “The idea and site of each artwork have been evaluated from the point of view of nature conservation and preservation of historical buildings.”

The delicate environment sets a strict framework for the art event, and HAM will collaborate with Metsähallitus, which manages Vallisaari, to safeguard it. An environmental programme will also be created for the biennial on the basis of the EcoCompass environmental management system.

“In September 2019, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC published its second report, which proves the accelerating speed of climate change and the severity of its consequences. We believe that art has an important role in these circumstances. It has the unique ability to broaden our way of thinking, our understanding and our imagination,“ the curators say.

Helsinki boldly invests in art

Helsinki Biennial will make Helsinki even more attractive to residents and tourists from the perspective of art and culture by presenting works by leading international artists from Finland and around the world.

“Helsinki’s bold and uncompromising investments in art also have a broader impact on the development of our home city, including the well-being of residents and the attractiveness of Helsinki as a tourist destination. Helsinki Biennial will further raise Helsinki’s status as an interesting city of culture and art,” says Mari Männistö, Cultural Director of the City of Helsinki.

Helsinki Biennial is also a part of the City of Helsinki’s maritime strategy, which is turning the city’s archipelago into an attractive destination by making maritime services more accessible to all. The art event is a new reason to explore the city’s archipelago. In collaboration with Metsähallitus, Helsinki Biennial will transform Vallisaari into a treasure island of art – a truly unique attraction.


Helsinki Biennial is an international contemporary art event that takes place every two years. HAM Helsinki Art Museum is responsible for its production and curation, and the head curators are Pirkko Siitari, Head of Exhibitions at HAM and Taru Tappola, HAM’s Head of Public Art. Helsinki Biennial is part of the Helsinki City Strategy and will be held for the first time on Vallisaari Island from 12 June to 27 September, 2020. The main partners of Helsinki Biennial 2020 are Metsähallitus and the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation. The Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation and the Swedish Cultural Foundation in Finland are also supporting the biennial.

All artists, artworks and the Helsinki Biennial programme will be announced in spring 2020.

In the summer of 2020, the Academy of Fine Arts will organise an art event on Kuninkaansaari Island, located next to Vallisaari, at the same time as Helsinki Biennial.