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Site-specificity makes an art event feel larger than its actual size

Helsinki Biennial wants to be much more than an art event organised every other year. This is why BIOS Research Unit was invited to join the biennial planning team. A multidisciplinary team of experts on environmental themes drew up guidelines on what constitutes the value of an art event today and how it can be implemented in accordance with sustainable development.

The most radical question that arises is, of course, whether it will be at all possible to continue organising such events. Paavo Järvensivu from BIOS Research Unit speaks out, because that is what people expect and want from him. Helsinki Biennial requested the multidisciplinary group to provide the organising team a consultation in which the art event is addressed from a socio-ecological viewpoint. This commission was not an ordinary one for BIOS that is comprised of philosophers and researchers of literary studies, economics and natural sciences.

“It was great to see that we could take a genuinely comprehensive look on an issue – in this case, Helsinki Biennial – and that questions concerning climate change, for example, are really taken seriously. We rarely get the chance to raise the topic of post-fossility, for example,” Järvensivu comments.

More information about post-fossility will follow, but, first, let us get back to the initial question. If an art event is addressed, besides ecology, from a cultural viewpoint, one of its major themes will be which things Helsinki Biennial helps us to interpret in our time.

“The biennial could become a catalyst for a cultural process focusing on ecological questions,” Järvensivu analyses.

The socio-ecological value of an art event is further expanded by its site-specificity, which means that it could not take place just anywhere. Next summer, Helsinki Biennial gets its meaning in the context of Vallisaari Island and the Helsinki archipelago.

“If the audience and artists are highly committed, this can raise the bar of the contents of the artistic work. If the event is specific to Vallisaari, the artworks exhibited there must also be closely connected to the site. However, site-specificity does not mean that the artworks must always comment Vallisaari specifically.”

Järvensivu believes that having a site-specific event can have a surprisingly major significance to the audience, and this can also prove to be a major appeal factor for the biennial.

“Visiting the biennial can mean less consumption in other respects, and it can also become a highlight for locals. Instead of flying out to a destination somewhere else, you realise that this is a great place to be and you can gain new perspective without having to travel too far.”

What on earth does post-fossility mean?

Fossil fuels and their widespread use have made an abundant, easy life possible for us. You do not necessarily have to be aware of anything, such like the origin of food or how to get to the island and what are the consequences of it. But what if there is a turning point after which we will use less energy and everything will not be available at all times? This is what BIOS Research Unit refers to by post-fossility.

For an art event, life in the post-fossil age would mean that large, global audiences would no longer be transported on single trips for a short time and disposable major works would become history. Similarly, no more easy and familiar “McCustomer Experiences” would exist.

In brief, this would mean a new way of life and experiences in a new time.

“It can be a painful process, but at best it can also offer you an opportunity to be curious and have new awakening experiences. What will our life be like with other species?”

If we start talking about post-fossility during the coffee hour at work or in political debates, it is likely to cause arguments, snorting and misunderstandings. It is, however, possible to explore the topic more freely and openly through art.

“It would be great if the biennial or its artworks could take us to another kind of a dimension, far away from the present-day fossil experience. What will bring us joy then and how will we spend time with each other? We could try and experience how to live in another way and, at the same time, the manifestations of another kind of existence would be increased,” Järvensivu explains.

Art presents a powerful force and an opportunity for imagining and picturing another type of a reality that is ecologically and socially more sustainable. This is an opportunity that Helsinki Biennial will seize next summer.

Learn more about BIOS Research Unit and its thoughts on what ecological reconstruction stands for:

Bios artist introduction

Written by: Heidi Kalmari