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28 July, 2021

Helsinki Biennial invites visitors to the treasure island of art

The Helsinki Biennial contemporary art event takes over the old military island of Vallisaari for more than three months from Helsinki Day 12 June. As Helsinki’s prime art hotel, Hotel St. George collaborates with Helsinki Biennial.

Originally planned for 2020, the inaugural Helsinki Biennial was postponed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year the free contemporary art event brings more than 40 internationally acclaimed artists from Finland and beyond to the beautiful island of Vallisaari. 

New works of art in an extraordinary environment  

The majority of the art at Helsinki Biennial is temporary and seen for the first time, though the event also features some previously exhibited works that interact with the historic island environment. The theme of the Biennial, The Same Sea, refers to our closely connected and interdependent world.

Set in the vaulted chambers of an old gun emplacement, Maaria Wirkkala’s Not so Innocent contrasts the island’s violent history and the peaceful nature destination it is today. Margaret and Christine Wertheim’s international participatory project Crochet Coral Reef draws attention to the effects of the climate crisis on our oceans, yet gives hope of global collaboration. Tadashi Kawamata’s installation Vallisaari Lighthouse utilises reclaimed wood scraps from the island along with infrastructure from the heyday of the maritime fortress.

A natural partnership for the art hotel

Helsinki wants to further strengthen its image as an internationally interesting art destination. To help advance this cause, Hotel St. George collaborates with Helsinki Biennial. Helsinki Marketing’s Director, Partnerships and Development Jenny Taipale sees the hotel as a natural choice for the event.

”Helsinki Marketing has enjoyed fruitful collaboration with Hotel St. George and Kämp Collection Hotels for a long time. Hotel St. George’s relationship with art and focus on experiences made it the ideal accommodation partner when we started to build our international travel marketing concept.”

Taipale hopes that Helsinki Biennial continues to attract international visitors to the city in the future, though travel to the inaugural event will still be affected by the pandemic.

”Helsinki Biennial is a significant investment to the capital, and the international communications and marketing around it will bear fruit for years to come,” she says. 

”Helsinki Biennial is a significant investment to the capital, and the international communications and marketing around it will bear fruit for years to come.” - Jenny Taipale, Helsinki Marketing

Finnish and international art at the hotel

Upon entering the lobby of Hotel St. George, friends of the arts encounter Tianwu, a silk and bamboo dragon, which the internationally renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei created using traditional kite making techniques. A six-metre brass bird, Learning to Fly, commissioned from Finnish sculptor Pekka Jylhä, hangs over the glass-roofed Wintergarden bar. Filtering natural sunlight, it mirrors its environment just like the art at Helsinki Biennial. 

The fairytale-esque mural on silk by designer Klaus Haapaniemi decorates the walls of the Wintergarden. Haapaniemi, whose art is inspired by Finnish folklore, is known for his collaboration with iconic names, such as Iittala and the Finnish National Opera and Ballet. In total, a carefully curated collection of over 400 works of art adorns the hotel’s bedrooms and public spaces.

Sharing responsibility for the environment

Another connecting factor for Hotel St. George and Helsinki Biennial is sustainability. The hotel has been awarded the global Green Key eco-label for environmental responsibility, and it is part of the Sustainable Travel Finland programme. Sustainability is also a key principle for Helsinki Biennial, which aims for carbon neutrality.

”Our production is guided by the EcoCompass environment management system, which takes into account a variety of environmental factors. We’re currently developing tools that will hopefully enable us to create increasingly sustainable biennials and other art events in the future,” Helsinki Biennial’s Environmental Coordinator Kiira Kivisaari explains.

The event, which respects Vallisaari’s nature throughout, also encourages the audience to consider the status of the environment. “Art has a central role in promoting action in the era of the climate crisis,” says the Museum Director of HAM Helsinki Art Museum and the Director of Helsinki Biennial Maija Tanninen-Mattila, who is responsible for curating and producing the event. 

Helsinki Biennial 12 June to 26 September 2021

Ferries to Vallisaari depart from the Market Square, ticket prices and schedules at suomensaaristokuljetus.fi

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