Terike Haapoja (b. 1974) and Antti Laitinen (b. 1975) have been selected to represent Finland at the 55th Venice Biennale, in both the Nordic Pavilion and the Aalto Pavilion. The curatorial concept has been created by a team consisting of artist-curators and researchers – Mika Elo, Marko Karo and Harri Laakso – from Aalto University in Helsinki.
The curatorial concept, dubbed Falling Trees, takes as its starting point an incident that occurred at the previous Venice Biennale in 2011, in which a tree fell on the roof of the Finnish Pavilion. The unexpected event damaged the Aalto building, built in 1956, and the exhibition by Vesa-Pekka Rannikko had to close before the end of the biennial. As a result, the team had to consider the crucial question of the relationship between art and nature. Both of the artists selected embrace the challenge of working with large-scale natural and ecological phenomena in their artistic practice, translating them into works that can be experienced on a more human-scale.
Haapoja’s practice is characterized by interdisciplinarity, including collaborations with scientists and professionals from other art fields. Activating the multiple senses of spectators plays a crucial role in her work, which is marked by existential questions about what it means to be in this world as a mortal, emotional and social creature, and political questions about how we might conduct our lives among other species in a more sustainable way. Haapoja is currently working on The Kingdom, a project testing the possibilities of 3D technology while investigating the perceptual realities of other species, as well as the limits of our imagination. «I find our relationship with the non-human world a fundamental, and fundamentally political question, perhaps the most important question of our times. Our economy is based on natural resources, our well-being on the vitality of other species, our politics on sharing the goods that non-humans provide us», Haapoja explains to Kunstkritikk.
Antti Laitinen is often pushing the boundaries of his physical endurance in order to engage with nature and thus question stereotypes like the natural romantic way of experiencing nature, national identity and masculinity. In the work It’s My Island (2007), Laitinen built his own island in the Baltic Sea by dragging two hundred sandbags into the water over a period of three months using nothing but a spade, sand and sacks. Recently he sailed in the Baltic Sea in a self-made boat made of bark. And yet, Laitinen is not just a tragicomic humorist playing around with cultural meanings; his work attests to the presence and attitude of an artist who is aware of the tradition of experimental performance art, and skilled in representing his often extreme experiences in nature in different media.
The curatorial team for the biennial was selected from an open call of forty submissions. Organizing an open call was a refreshing move by the board of FRAME. The detailed curatorial concept is not yet public, but the selected artist-curators are all researchers by profession. Therefore, both the curatorial concept, as well as its translation into exhibitions by Haapoja and Laitinen, is hard to forecast, but promises to be something new.