Finland in the Venice Biennale 2013: Out of a fallen tree, a garden of knowledge grows

Falling Trees, the most extensive Finnish exhibition yet, will be presented in Venice.

Finland is participating in the 55th Venice Biennale that opens on 1 June with an exceptionally large exhibition. Falling Trees, curated by the Gruppo 111 collective of Mika Elo, Marko Karo and Harri Laakso, combines the exhibitions of the Finnish artists Terike Haapoja and Antti Laitinen into a garden-like whole where the parts complement each other and which takes over both the Nordic Pavilion and the Finnish Alvar Aalto Pavilion.

The exhibition Falling Trees has gained not only its name, but also its conceptual starting point from an unexpected event in the Venice Biennale of 2011, when a large tree fell on the Aalto Pavilion, shattering it and cutting short the exhibition on display at the time.

Terike Haapoja (born in 1974) will transform the Nordic Pavilion designed by Sverre Fehn via comprehensive architectural gestures into a research laboratory, where technology and art find their place as tools for investigating the basic questions of life and art – memory, relationship with nature, and mortality. Antti Laitinen (born in 1975) will set up in the Aalto Pavilion something consisting of videos and photographs, installations, and performance, where uncompromising conceptual nature, absurd humour and regularity within play meet.

“In a sense, the exhibitions by Haapoja and Laitinen form a garden of knowledge; one where knowledge cannot be plucked directly from the tree, as in botanical gardens or zoos based on classification. In this garden, knowledge means shared, open and concrete participation and recognition of the active agency of nature and its different species,” the exhibition’s curators say.

“Both artists process different ways of knowing and challenge us to think about our human dimensions from a new perspective, even though they work in very different ways and with different results. Their works reveal the unpredictability in the foundation of our daily lives, while at the same time enriching the possibilities of our imagination.”


Haapoja looks for communality between species

The exhibition of Terike Haapoja, reminiscent of an x-ray machine, attempts to open views to the non-human and to show nature as a sovereign agent. The exhibition consists of two separate parts, one of which is the set of installations Closed Circuit – Open Duration (Suljettu joukko – avoin kesto), which takes advantage of technology and natural processes, and the other is the project Party of Others (Toisten puolue).

Community (2007/2013) is a multi-channel video installation that belongs to the first segment, and which can be considered as a key of sorts to the Haapoja exhibition. Reflected on round projection surfaces, we see a recently dead animal – a horse, a cat, a calf, a dog, a bird – recorded with an infrared camera. The images show the inevitable in the colours etched on the corpses of animals: colourful life fades into its deep blue background. We witness how islands of matter that were alive only a moment ago dissolve into a sea of entropy. What kind of a community is this? Are we its members? And how does it define its limits?

These are the questions echoed in many of Terike Haapoja’s works – often so that nature itself uses its right to speak to ask them. This may involve, for example, communication between trees or plants (Dialogue, 2008/2013), respiration of decomposing soil (Inhale/Exhale, 2008/2011) or human beings as a biotope for a multitude of organisms (Succession, 2008/2013).

These questions gain an unusually direct and political framework in the project Party of Others, which was based on a question that has long interested Haapoja: what would a society be like that was not based on the exclusion of those without rights? The project is based on a political intervention implemented in Finland in 2011, when Haapoja asked for answers to her questions from Finnish researchers and legal scholars. Based on the interviews, both the installation as a work and a political party programme were born. In Venice, the manifesto is implemented by interviewing local researchers and activists.

“I wanted to adapt the building into a sort of ‘pavilion of the species’ and to challenge the familiar human- and nation-state -centric approach, which is often found at the heart of the exhibitions at the Biennale. A human being should be examined as an ecosystem and a part of nature, not as an individual. We are not beings separate from the rest of the environment, and neither are we the only ones to communicate their needs and keep in contact with each other,” Haapoja says.

The work of Terike Haapoja is characterised by a comprehensive investigative attitude. In the background of her works are reflected a readiness to adapt technology in diverse ways and a desire to experiment with the artistic and political possibilities of different forms of co-operation.  Haapoja also works as a researcher. She writes and gives lectures actively about the effect of science, technology and environmental ethics on art and is also working on a thesis on the subject at the University of the Arts Helsinki.


Laitinen is an artist of extremes, with the strength of Sisyphus  

The exhibition in the Aalto Pavilion by Antti Laitinen, who lives and works in Somerniemi, Finland, is a dialogue between his new and earlier works. In the centre stage is the triptych Forest Square (2013) consisting of three photographs, which will be finished for the Biennale. The work is rooted – literally, in this case – into 100 square metres of forest: after Laitinen had felled the trees and torn out their roots from the ground, he removed the covering layer of soil from the area. After this, he started to sort the materials into their constituent parts and finally to assemble the material into a carefully composed area for photography.

Sorting the forest and the layer of peat in a factory hall took several months, and in the end, necessitated working nearly around the clock. During this time, life was also born in the hall: spiders and butterflies escaped after having woken from their winter torpor. The sorted forest looks like a colour composition and takes exactly one hundred square metres of space, just like the original patch of forest.

The process of photographing the composition proved challenging, and the final work of photography consists of over 60 photographs needed to show the smallest of details. The two other images in the triptych show the forest area before and after the clearing.

Many features characterising Antti Laitinen as an artist culminate in this work:  craftsmanship, concrete thinking, repetition, the coexistence of exhausting persistence, the transience of the blink of an eye and tragicomedy. Laitinen is generally considered to be an artist of extremes; after all, he has sailed from Finland to Estonia in a bark boat of his own making (Bark Boat 2010), built his own island (It’s My Island 2007), and spent several days in the forest without food or clothing (Bare Necessities, 2002). On the other hand, in the works of Laitinen the mirror inevitably turns towards the viewers, who find themselves questioning the rationality of both their everyday use of time and the society around them.

The fact that about 5,000 kg of birch logs split into firewood will be transported to the Biennale also says something about Laitinen’s working methods. The wood felled and chopped by Laitinen serves as material for the performance and installation planned for the front of the Aalto Pavilion. With the help of a hammer and nails, they will become a forest of their own.

“The birch wood will turn into Frankenstein birches. The working method is like when you’re putting a puzzle together and can’t find the right pieces, so you force them in place anyway. Fun and comedy are important in my work. There isn’t always much sense in making the work, but I do it anyway,” says Laitinen.


The 55th international Venice Biennale will be held on 1 June – 24 November 2013. Frame Visual Art Finland is responsible for the Finnish participation in the Venice Biennale.

Partners in the Falling Trees exhibition include the Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland, Aalto University, Ateneum Art Museum, Bukowskis, EMMA, Helsinki Art Museum, the Institute for Atmospheric Research and Earth System Science of the Helsinki University, the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Serra dei Giardini, Schenker, the Embassy of Finland in Rome.



Works at the Falling Trees exhibition

The 55th international Venice Biennale, 1 June – 24 November 2013, Giardini, Venice


Terike Haapoja, Nordic Pavilion

  • Suspend (2013, electronics, sound, trees)
  • Anatomy of Landscape (2011/2013, glass, electronics, plants, dirt)
  • Community (2007/2013, 5-channel video installation, projection surfaces, sound)
  • Succession (2008/2013, single channel video installation)
  • Dialogue (2008/2013, plants, acrylic, electronics, light, sound)
  • Inhale / Exhale (2008/2011, mixed media: glass, MDF, dirt, electronics, sound)
  • Party of Others


Antti Laitinen, Finnish Alvar Aalto Pavilio

  • Tree Reconstruction (2013, HD video, display)
  • Forest Square I (2013, C-print, diasec, size: width 105 cm X height 70 cm)
  • Forest Square II (2013, C-print, diasec, size: width 105 cm X height 70 cm)
  • Forest Square III (2013, C-print, diasec, size: width 180 cm X height 180 cm)
  • Tree Reconstruction (2013, installation/performance)
  • Untitled (Nails and Wood) (2013, 5 pieces of wood with nails, size: 20 X 20 X 9 cm)
  • Lake Deconstruction (2011, C-print, diasec, size: width 115 cm X height 80 cm)
  • It’s My Island (2007, 3-channel video projection)
  • It’s My Island VI (2007, C-print, diasec, size: width 115 cm X height 115 cm)


Additional programme:

  • Other Spaces (Toisissa tiloissa) performance art group: the performance Olives and Stones on 2–3 July at the courtyard of the Alvar Aalto Pavilion
  • The Counter Order of Things -seminar 24–25 October, Cà Foscari University of Venice