To signal with flags

The IHME Contemporary Art Festival opens in Helsinki this week. The festival kicks off on Thursday with Miroslav Balka’s project Signals, which seeks to offer citizens a visual way to be heard.

IHME Project 2013

IHME Project 2013

IHME is an annual festival comprising IHME Project, IHME Days, IHME School, and IHME Publications, with IHME Project being the first to start, opening Thursday 4 April. This year, the IHME Project artist is Polish-born Miroslaw Balka (b. 1958).

Humanity as the core
Balka is an artist working with a variety of media, like sculpture, drawing, experimental video, and public works of art. At the core of Balka’s production are questions about the human condition and his work often deals with issues relating to human existence and its vulnerability, as well as memory and history in 20th-century totalitarian regimes. One example is the exhibition project Kein Warum [tr. No Why] at Galerie Nordenhake, in Berlin in 2008: the focus of the exhibition was physical suffering during the Second World War and anguish it brought humanity, and the shadow that death cast over Europe, conveyed through different sculptures. Through his concern for humanity, Balka deals with themes of destruction and salvation, as well as humanity’s capacity for transformation and change.

Several of Balka’s recent pieces have been spatial installations where the viewer’s body completes the work. Perhaps the most renowned is the large-scale installation How It Is, Balka´s contribution to the Tate Modern’s Unilever series, on show in the Turbine Hall October 2009 – April 2010.

In his IHME project, Balka uses four public areas in Helsinki where he investigates how one can communicate without speaking, by asking the public to communicate through a visual communications system instead of words. Balka has chosen the semaphore flag signalling system, used by seafarers in the 19th century, to be ‘his’ visual means of communication. In the past, important messages, requests for help, or emergency calls were conveyed using this flag signalling system. In Signals, semaphore will be used by Helsinki citizens as a way for them to be heard by the authorities and each other, on all sorts of issues important to their districts. The issues raised by the citizens will be open for discussion and all anyone interested is invited to attend.

Miroslaw Balka. Photo: Marek Szczepanski

Miroslaw Balka. Photo: Marek Szczepanski

A new way to communicate
The press release says that by deploying semaphore signals in a new way, Balka wants to serve the special needs of various communities. There also seems to be a desire to awaken discussions on how today’s society might survive in an energy crisis when our communication relies so wholly on electricity and new technologies.

The aim of Signals is to create opportunities to exchange opinions and reflect on society from another perspective. Moreover, it studies the social dimension of art, and the potential of a single piece of art to spark change.

Balka’s project is realized as four communications points in four Helsinki districts. Eight communities were chosen to participate through an open call. Each community will participate at all four points, one each day. At the first, Tölö Specialiseringsgymnasium [tr. specialized high school] and Pasila Community Centre will share questions. The second will see communication between Rööperifest and Roihuvuori District Associations, while at the third, Malmi District Association and Arabianranta-Toukola-Vanhakaupunki District Associations will be co-operating. And the fourth communications point, residents from Kivinokka Association and Herttoniemi District Associations will gather to participate. Each day will end in an event organized by the participating communities.

Projects in public space
The IHME Project is initiated by Pro Arte Foundation Finland, which invites an internationally recognized visual artist or group of artists to make a temporary work of art. Every IHME Project in the past has had a relational aspect to it, and this year’s project is no exception. Through work on the project, the artist gets to know the local community, the place, and the situation in which the IHME Project is takes place. In this way, it aims to give the local communities the chance to discover new ways of looking at their immediate environment, to touch on the public’s collective memory, and to prompt discussion of topical subjects.

How the project is carried out, what form it takes, and what locations it comprises are jointly determined by the artist and the Foundation.

The IHME Project with Miroslav Balka will take place April 4th – 7th. Following the IHME Project is IHME Days, from April 11th – 14th, huring which several events will take place, including performances, workshops, screenings, talks, and debates. See the programme at:

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