There’s a new biennial on its way. Coming next summer and running from 12 June through 27 September 2020, the Helsinki Biennial will bring some 35 Finnish and international artists and collectives to the city’s archipelago island of Vallisaari, a former military base just a 15-minute ferry ride from the city centre.

Vallisaari Island skyline, courtesy Helsinki Biennial.jpg
The inaugural edition of Helsinki Biennial runs from 12 June – 27 September 2020; Image © Helsinki Biennial

Called "The Same Sea," the inaugural edition of the contemporary art event will be free to the public, emphasising sustainable values and the concept of “the biosphere as one interconnected entity,” per a press release. 

Vallisaari Island. Photo Helena Muhonen and City of Helsinki Media Bank.jpg
The inaugural edition of Helsinki Biennial runs from 12 June – 27 September 2020; Image © Helena Muhonen and City of Helsinki Media Bank

“The seas, continents and islands are intertwined ecosystems that form actual and symbolic networks,” curators Pirkko Siitari and Taru Tappola said in a statement. “We often talk about the seas, but in reality there is only one sea, a continuous layer of saltwater that surrounds the continents…. The biota and physical conditions of the sea, such as temperature, currents and surface level, all have an impact on our shared future, all over the world.”

Aleksanterin patteri (building). Photo by Maija Toivanen and Helsinki Art Museum.jpg
The inaugural edition of Helsinki Biennial runs from 12 June – 27 September 2020; Image © Maija Toivanen and Helsinki Art Museum

Abandoned by its inhabitants in 1996 and only reopened to the public a few years ago, the vast majority of the island is now a nature conservation area, home to 1000 species of butterflies and six species of bats, not to mention a riotous explosion of flora and fauna that’s flourished in the absence of humanity. The wild island served as inspiration for the biennial’s artists and curators: 80% of the work on display will be new commissions and site-specific pieces, whether they’re located inside historic buildings or along cobble paths. 

“We went on expeditions to the island with the artists, to discuss it as a context for art and to seek suitable locations for the artworks,” said Siitari and Tappola. “Each artwork has a reason for being where it is.”

Helsinki Biennial, Vallisaari. Photo Matti Pyykkö
The inaugural edition of Helsinki Biennial runs from 12 June – 27 September 2020; Image © Matti Pyykkö

In keeping with the Helsinki City Strategy, which aims to reduce emissions by 60% by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, the biennial will encourage responsible behaviour. Plus, for those who’d like to minimise their footprint and avoid the pollution inherent in commercial air travel, there will be a virtual reality experience so you can see the art – no offsets required.

“In September 2019, at the time of writing this, the IPCC published its second report, which addresses the increasing rate of climate change and the severity of the consequences,” the curators said. “We believe that art has an important role in this situation. It has the unique ability to broaden our way of thinking, our understanding and imagination. It can create channels for discourse, radical empathy and ecological ethics, and at the core of all these is the understanding of interdependence.” 

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