A Concept Around a Fallen Tree

A fallen tree in the Giardini park in 2011 became the starting point for the curatorial concept of the Finnish and Nordic Pavilions at the 55th Venice Biennale.

The Finnish Pavilion in Giardini, Venice, designed by Alvar Aalto in 1956. Photo: Vesa-Pekka Rannikko

A tree falls in a storm in the Giardini park in the summer of 2011. Out of all possible buildings it hits the Finnish Aalto pavilion, which as a result is closed down due to damages for the rest of the biennale. This tragicomic event is the starting point for the concept Falling Trees, consisting of two solo exhibitions at the Nordic Pavilion and the now renovated Aalto pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2013.

For Finland’s turn in the Nordic Pavilion in 2013, FRAME (Finnish Fund for Art Exchange) announced an open call for a concept in the summer of 2012. From the 40 submissions, Falling Trees was chosen for its down to earth yet complex and theoretically challenging approach. The artists Terike Haapoja (b. 1974) and Antti Laitinen (b. 1975) have been invited to create two distinct solo exhibitions that share nature’s interventions as a starting point. Terike Haapoja is known for large-scale, often interactive installations where she utilises technology. She has a background in performing arts and is currently working on her doctoral thesis at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki. Antti Laitinen is known for his performances where he attempts to build an island, live in the forest or sail a bark boat across the Baltic Sea.

The curators behind the concept are Mika Elo, Marko Karo and Harri Laakso. All three work as researchers at the Aalto University School of Art and Design, engage with artistic practice and have curated several exhibitions. For the Venice Biennale, the team wanted to create a concept that would provide a starting point but take a step back from curatorial narratives by working in an open process with the artists. The Nordic pavilion will house a laboratory by Haapoja where science, technilogy and art merge, while the smaller Aalto pavilion and surrounding park will show works by Laitinen, including a new performance. The two exhibitions will communicate with each other but also work as as separate entities. With the work in progress, any further details are not yet available.

The Nordic Pavillion in Giardini, Venice, designed by Sverre Fehn 1958-1962. Photo: Albin Dahlström / Moderna Museet

Nature as a starting point in the representation of Finland is not exactly surprising. Still, it would be too easy to dismiss as stereotypical. For the challenging concept revolving around nature as the Other, Haapoja and Laitinen are, in fact, excellently suited artists. Both approach nature respectfully as an unpredictable, potentially destructive presence rather than objectifyable material. In the latest issue of Finnish art magazine Taide (5/2012) Terike Haapoja sheds light on the political aspects of this perspective and argues for the necessity to engage with new, radical approaches to nature. This tendency was seen with dOCUMENTA (13) where for instance Pierre Huyghe’s work in the Karlsaue park constituted a universe of its own, with plants taking over parts of the installation in an incontrollable manner.

Haapoja’s installation in Sverre Fehn’s pavilion will inevitably position itself in dialogue with the representation of nature that Andreas Eriksson’s works presented in 2011, as well as the eco-feminist theme of dOCUMENTA (13) that curator Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev sought to emphasise. Antti Laitinen, in turn, will present a view diametrically opposed to the colonising of nature, marked by his characteristic sense of humour. Most likely the two exhibitions and a publication will provide a subtle commentary with considerable depth, provided that the short time frame does not put a strain on the content.

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