Beings With brings contemporary art to the Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennale
Jenni Nurmenniemi, curator of Beings With, will introduce an ecological and feminist dimension to the Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennale, a new addition to Finland’s line-up of summer events. We invited her to Frame’s office to tell us more about the themes and content of the exhibition.
The Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennale is a new event debuting in Fiskars Village this summer. It will feature three exhibitions by three curators showcasing contemporary art, design and crafts at various venues. The initiative for the project came from Luovi Productions, the design office behind the largest design event in the Nordics, Helsinki Design Week. The event was co-created with the Fiskars-based Onoma cooperative.
“From our very first conversation with Luovi, this project felt very close to my heart. I was interested in working with a completely new concept. In those first conversations the Fiskars Biennale was envisaged as modest, intimate event, but in less than a year, we’ve built three exhibitions with close to 100 artists,” says Nurmenniemi.
Nurmenniemi has experience curating large exhibitions in biennial contexts, the latest being the group exhibition Fictional Frictions at Gwangju Biennale in South Korea last year. She was also curator with the HIAP – Helsinki International Artist Programme until last year.
“During my time at HIAP, I was lucky to work with artists for a longer period of time than is possible with a normal exhibition project, where the curator travels around the world to visit studios at a much faster pace. I had the luxury of mostly staying in one place and have artists come to me. I was introduced to most of the artists taking part in Beings with during my time at HIAP, and I’ve been following most of them for years. It’s exciting to bring them together – this was the right time and opportunity for me,” enthuses Nurmenniemi.
Works in a dialogue with surroundings
The exhibition showcases in total 32 works by 20 artists. The works have their own distinctive characteristics and themes, but they are united in a dialogue upon a shared stage. Contemporary art will be exhibited in the newly renovated Threshing House, the Old Granary, and outdoors along the river.
“Most works will stay put for the summer, but there are also temporary or process-like encounters. The visitor’s experience varies depending on when they visit. The very starting point for me was that this exhibition and every work engages in a dialogue with its surroundings and becomes part of it. When we were planning the venues, you could see how drastically the weather changes each venue and the way you sense it. A common thread in curating Beings with is co-existing and living together in synergy, and the beauty and horror of the collision of differences,” explains Nurmenniemi.
Founded on the Fiskars River in 1649, the small foundry community of Fiskars Village is the birthplace of Finnish industry. Fiskars Village has been home to a thriving artistic community for decades and is an important location on the Finnish crafts scene. The scenery is characterised by beautiful old buildings, lush greenery, and the river that once powered the old ironworks established in 1649.
“It’s interesting to see how the different artworks discuss and resonate with each other, the village, and the river running through it. I am interested in layering processes and dismantling barriers with the art exhibitions I curate. I guess the core idea of Beings with is gently breaking down binary categories and labels. The exhibition doesn’t only consist of static artworks but also workshops and activities that might not be considered art in the traditional sense. The layers are created by the changing seasons, surrounding events, and the dialogue between different artworks.”
Layering and creating dialogue is visible in the content of the exhibition, too. The exhibited works represent a wide array of different styles and techniques, and they engage not only the eyes but the other senses. Nurmenniemi elaborates: “Engaging different senses is another undercurrent in Beings with. The exhibition space feels different when the weather changes. The visitor’s experience also varies depending on events and changes in nature. Also many of the artworks are most than just visual. For example, Dambi Kim will stage tea ceremonies that round out the site-specific works. The idea behind the tea ceremonies is to filter out external stimuli, slow down the pace, and truly focus on smell, feel, textures and taste.”
Nurmenniemi continues: “Some works also offer an auditory experience. Johannes Heldén has created a sound installation depicting the travel diary of a person who has landed on an exoplanet (a planet outside the Solar System). This installation will be situated by the river, merging the outer space sounds with the natural surrounding – again adding layers to the experience and merging together two seemingly different landscapes.”
Inspiration from unfamiliar spaces and literature
Though Beings with is curated for a small village, it grows into something larger by travelling through different worlds, collecting similarities, and presenting an upside-down perspective on the familiar world. Nurmenniemi often draws inspiration from unfamiliar spaces or literature. Her interest in science fiction and outer space was sparked by the exhibiting artists.
“Many of the artists use imagination and fictive creation as a means to explore possibilities. I’ve been reading a lot of science fiction, especially in the past five years, and my favourite writers present some interesting ideas about what the future could hold. Fiction can reveal something about the real world, and imagining the future can reveal a lot about our current reality. I also find inspiration in the underwater world, which actually has a lot in common with outer space – it’s a whole different reality than the world we know on land. Our familiar planet can be source of great wonder if you have a look at it from a new perspective.”
Nurmenniemi has worked with ecological and social concerns for many years, and they remain an enduring source of inspiration in her curating career. Within the arena of feminist discourse, there has been heated debate about differences, separations, and the possibility of co-existence between beings from seemingly other worlds. Rather than being separate in Nurmenniemi’s work, feminist and ecological issues are intertwined themes.
“The way I see it, the same dualistic logic, as with gender segregation, is used in differentiating humans from nature. These problematic binary opposites are constructed and contingent. I think art exhibitions provide possibilities for approaching complex issues that transgress rigid disciplinary boundaries. Ideally, they also leave room for the visitors to experience their own sensations and to form their own opinions,” she ponders.
“In response to contemporary polarization – the emphasis on differences and separation we are seeing today – I’d like to foster negotiations on how to build a common ground onto ‘nothing’. To me, a great art exhibition combines different modes of experience and knowledge, evolving artistic practices and theories that may foster paradigm change and ecological reconstruction. And yet every good artwork operates also on its own logic(s). I hope Being with encourages the visitor to pause for a while to explore their own sensations and views arising from the exhibition experience,” she concludes.
- Independent curator based in Helsinki.
- Education: Master of Arts, Curating, Managing, and Mediating Art (CuMMA), Aalto University of Art and Design, 2013; Master of Social Sciences, Sociology, (Journalism, Gender Studies), University of Tampere, 2010.
- Seven years as an in-house curator for HIAP – Helsinki International Artist Programme until 2019.
- Known for her expertise and strong emphasis on ecological thinking in art curating.
- Held for the first time from 19.5.–15.9.2019 in Fiskars, Raasepori, Finland.
- Organised by Luovi Productions in collaboration with the ONOMA Cooperative of Artisans, Designers and Artists in Fiskars.
- Features three main exhibitions in Fiskars Village and a satellite programme of events, workshops and smaller exhibitions around the region.
- Main exhibitions curated by Jenni Nurmenniemi, Jasper Morrison and Anniina Koivu.
- Beings with, the contemporary art exhibition curated by Jenni Nurmenniemi, features works from Lene Baadsvig Ørmen, Leah Beeferman, Marjolijn Dijkman, Ramina Habibollah, Johannes Heldén, Alma Heikkilä, Dambi Kim, Jaana Laakkonen, Tuomas A. Laitinen, Richard Ibghy & Marilou Lemmens, Candice Lin, Elina Minn, nabbteeri, Laura Põld, Aki Sasamoto, Raimo Saarinen, Tove Storch and Louise Waite.
Interview: Karoliina Virkkunen. Images: Kerttu Penttilä / Luovi Productions.
Header image: Raimo Saarinen: Skenaario / Scenario.