Finnish national participation in the 55th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia has gained attention in both international and Nordic media. The Biennial opened to the public on June 1st in Venice, Italy. Artists Terike Haapoja and Antti Laitinen’s exhibitions curated by Mika Elo, Marko Karo and Harri Laakso (Gruppo 111) under the name Falling Trees at the Nordic Pavilion and the Finnish Alvar Aalto Pavilion sparked attention not only for their ecological and nature themes, but also the extensiveness of the exhibitions: this was the very first time that Finland hosted both pavilions at the same time at the Biennial.
Who needs national pavilions?
A vast number of media published their first reviews of this year’s Biennial already on the preview week. Of the national pavilions for example Great Britain, Ireland, Belgium, France and Russia and the French and German pavilions, that the two host countries had switched with one another, gained attention in the press. One of this year’s Biennial stars was Chinese artist and activist Ai Wei Wei, who was invited to take part in the German exhibition. British Tino Sehgal was awarded as the best artist on July 1st in the Biennial awards ceremony. First time taking part in the Venice Biennial, Angola’s exhibition was awarded as the best national participation.
As usual, a lot of journalists critically pondered over the concept of and the need for national pavilions in today’s global and internationally linked field of the contemporary arts. The art world mega event managed to raise also critical voices: who needs big biennials and at what kind of a public they are aimed?
Expressen: Eco-trendy, but not clichéd
British news journal The Independent (May 29th) considered Terike Haapoja’s show as one of this year’s Biennial’s most interesting highlights. Zoe Pilger described Haapoja’s “post-apocalyptic moonscape and a zen garden” like installation as “eerie and poetic”. International media such as The Guardian, Die Welt, Libération, Kurier also reported on the Venice Biennial and took the two Finnish artists into account in their reviews. For instance, Sydney Morning Herald and Bloomberg considered the Finnish exhibition as a part of a surprising “tree-theme” that seemed very current in this year’s Biennial: in addition to the Finnish participation, also Australia, Belgium, Kosovo and Latvia featured trees as a theme or material in their exhibitions. International art papers such as Artforum, Kunstkritikk, ArtFCity and ArtReview also brought up Terike Haapoja and Antti Laitinen’s exhibitions in their pre-Biennial features.
The Finnish participation gained positive reviews and attention also in Nordic and especially Swedish press. Swedish Expressen featured an article by Nils Forsberg (Inga blågula kanaler, May 30th) where he described Terike Haapoja’s exhibition as part of the contemporary art world’s own current ecological mini-trend, although being free from cliché.
Historical exhibition interested the Finnish media
In Finnish press Falling Trees exhibition gained a lot of attention due to being the first national participation in Venice occupying both the Nordic pavilion and the Finnish Alvar Aalto Pavilion at the same time. Kaisa Viljanen wrote in her article published in Helsingin Sanomat (Pohjoismainen paviljonki sai uuden elämän Venetsiassa, May 29th) that Haapoja and Laitinen’s work seemed to fit well with each other, creating a great gateway to their art in a good, compact form. Viljanen suspects the Biennial to boost both of their artistic careers.
Turun Sanomat (June 9th) wrote that art experts were considering the Falling Trees exhibition as a strong coming out for both of the artists. Finland’s leading news agency STT published their pre-Biennial story already in April and it circulated well in regional newspapers and leading daily newspapers such as Aamulehti (April 24th).
In addition to good coverage in the press, Antti Laitinen and Terike Haapoja and members of the organizing team have been featured in news and magazine programs on YLE, FST FEM and MTV3. In addition to the artists themselves, also Frame Visual Art Finland’s director Raija Koli was interviewed on the Falling Trees exhibition and provided a view point from the organizing institution behind the national participation.
”The Finnish Pavilion is another highlight. Artist Terike Haapoja has transformed the gallery into a cross between a post-apocalyptic moonscape and a zen garden. Pools of still water are interspersed with trees fitted with censors. Visitors are invited to talk to the trees, which respond by breathing harder. Their strange scientific petals open. The experience is eerie and poetic.”
The Independent (29.5.)
“– On again, and here is the Sisyphean Finnish artist who puts shattered trees back together, root and branch, producing supernaturally animated glades.”
The Guardian (2.6.)
”Although a part of Laitinen and Haapoja’s works presented in Venice are familiar pieces for the Finnish viewer, they do look different here. Unlike in most biennial exhibitions, they managed to give a good concept of artists’ work in a compact form. – I suspect that Venice will produce more work in the contemporary art field for both of them in the future.”
Helsingin Sanomat (29.5.) (in Finnish)
“This time the ecological trend that had been earlier been suspected to occur in this year’s Biennale, is represented only by Terike Haapoja’s installation, mixing science with nature romanticism, without being cliché or scaring us with carbon dioxide emissions. People are queueing outside.”
Expressen (30.5.) (in Swedish)