Finnish Pavilion Without Walls at Performa Biennial 2023

The Performa Biennial’s Pavilion Without Walls series continues Performa’s mission to showcase vibrant performances from around the world, bringing together experimental performance, dance, and sound-based artists from Finland for the 10th edition of the Performa Biennial.

The Finnish Pavilion Without Walls is organized by Performa in collaboration with the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York, Frame Contemporary Art Finland, the Consulate General of Finland in New York, and HIAP – Helsinki International Artist Programme, and generously supported by the Ministry of Education and Culture, Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation, and Saastamoinen Foundation.

Together, they commission and present new works from contemporary artists based in Finland, many of whom will make their U.S. debut with Performa, including the New York premieres of Teo Ala-Ruona, Anna Maria Häkkinen, and Niko Hallikainen; Jenna Sutela in partnership with Swiss Institute; an event at the Performa Hub with chef Antto Melasniemi and artist Rirkrit Tiravanija; two-part sound series titled Sonic Tonic Assembly curated by PUBLICS, co-produced by Performa, PUBLICS and Palo art Productions featuring AGF, Bhavisha Panchia, Chris Williams x Lester St. Louis, DeForrest Brown Jr. (aka Speaker Music), Tony Cokes, Lamin Fofana, Islaja, KMRU, Lau Nau, and Cucina Povera at Pioneer Works; and artist Pilvi Takala as the Performa Hub’s Artist-in-Residence.

Beginning in 2013, Performa’s Pavilion Without Walls was conceived to reflect the social, geographical, and political landscapes of various countries within the Biennial’s program and present the work of emerging and established artists in New York. As a long-term strategy to build relationships and solid networks around the world, the Pavilion program is motivated by a strong belief that the arts foster tolerance and a deeper understanding among world cultures. Over a two-year period of extensive research and engagement, Performa collaborates with the Pavilions’ cultural partners including curators, historians, artists, and educators to create a program that showcases vibrant artistic practices. Previous Pavilions include Australia, Estonia, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Sweden, and Taiwan.

Teo Ala-Ruona is a multi-disciplinary artist, performer, and writer whose work investigates the construction of gender through digital technology and ecology. In the New York premiere of Enter Exude, Ala-Ruona takes audiences on an ominous joyride, where the once-idyllic landscape is put at risk by the energy industry. The ever-changing nature of the body is symbolized through the sleekness of a sports car, as Ala-Ruona explores techno-trans-masculinity as well as familial bonds in the age of fossil-fuel capitalism.

Helsinki-based choreographer and artist Anna Maria Häkkinen is known for incorporating elements of physical movement, body contact sports, and sculptural composition in her work. For her New York debut, Häkkinen begins with the question: “How to bring back dance?” Using dance principles such as duration, repetition, and precision, Häkkinen interweaves her teachings in Helsinki with New York’s experimental dance communities, paying homage to figures such as Judson Dance Theater founding member Lucinda Childs. Inspired by electronic dance music, the performance will feature musician Keliel (aka Eliel Tammiharju), dramaturg Emil Santtu Uuttu, and a young generation of New York-based dance artists, forming new constellations of movement in space.

For his New York City debut, Helsinki-based performance poet and novelist Niko Hallikainen – whose text-based, durational performances explore themes of class, sexuality, mysticism, and mourning – reflects upon desire and loss through the narrative of a romance. A site-specific work incorporating New York’s queer artistic histories, Lavender Deal is a two-part narrative about a pandemic-era relationship over Zoom with a long-distance lover. Hallikainen contextualizes his affair and longing through the art and writing of David Wojnarowicz, William S. Burroughs, and John Wieners in an intergenerational “séance” inspired by poet John Giorno’s Buddhist ceremonies.

At Swiss Institute (SI), Jenna Sutela will create a live performance responding to her current installation, Vermi-Sibyl, 2023. Taking Marjory­­––a trash heap and oracle figure from the Muppet universe––as a point of departure, Vermi-Sibyl gathers compostable materials by SI’s staff which are then processed by approximately one thousand worms. The vermicompost in turn powers an AI-generated sound installation on SI’s rooftop that transmits oracular messages to the East Village. Sutela’s performance builds upon the installation by collaborating with a choir of voice actors and a saxophonist who will read out Vermi-Sibyl’s divinations and play a musical score. Through this embodied materialization of the formerly AI-generated content, Sutela’s performance addresses post-humanist amalgamations of organic and non-organic life.

Presented by Performa and Publics – a curatorial and commissioning agency with a dedicated research library and event space in Helsinki – with Palo Art Productions at Pioneer Works, Sonic Tonic Assembly is a listening program of innovative sound artists using location-specific field recording as their starting point to create aural worlds at the intersection of sonic poetry, abstracted music, and experimental black and global feminist technologies. For the Performa Biennial, Sonic Tonic Assembly is curated by PUBLICS and consists of two “episodes” over the course of a single day, both of which use sound as a means for analyzing the ecological and social landscapes of Finland in a time of rapid change. Episode one, entitled “Sonic Wilderness,” features AGF, Islaja, Lau Nau, and Cucina Povera; and episode two, “Sounding a Black Grammar,” features KMRU, Tony Cokes, and Deforrest Brown, Jr. (aka Speaker Music) with Chris Williams x Lester St. Louis, Lamin Fofana, and Bhavisha Panchia.

Pilvi Takala will be this year’s Artist-in-Residence at the Performa Hub, beginning research for a future commission at the next Performa Biennial. Takala is a renowned contemporary artist based in Berlin and Helsinki working in video, installation, and performance, who explores and challenges cultural conventions, behavior patterns and power dynamics through intervention. She often identifies distinctive communities or environments in which to immerse herself to gain deeper insight into values, beliefs, rituals, and nuances of individual groups. Through keen observation and an empathetic approach, the intricate details of her experiences become material for her process-based exploration into unspoken rules and expectations that govern daily life and decisions. Takala will present video and research material, not only reflecting on her previous projects, but also her experiences during the residency.

For tickets and updates, keep an eye on Performa Biennial’s website!

Founded in 2004 by art historian and curator RoseLee Goldberg, Performa has expanded the possibilities for visual artists working in performance, providing essential curatorial and production support, and, with its dedicated biennial, providing a worldwide platform for performance of the 21st century. Performa Commissions have entirely changed the possibilities of the form and its educational programs have shown its rich history as an integral part of artistic practice, reaching back through the centuries to the Renaissance. This visionary organization has entirely transformed every art institution’s approach to visual art performance, now a staple in art museums and galleries throughout the world. Since 2005, Performa has produced nine biennials, reaching an international audience of over 250,000 people and featuring more than 1,000 artists at 300-plus venues and locations across New York City.