12/6 – 21/8/2016
>>> Ii, Finland


Poetics of the material

Sámi culture is often seen and interpreted as being close to nature. In Sámi artistry, this closeness is most commonly apparent in the duodji tradition, in which delicate Sámi handicraft combines function and art.

Many contemporary Sámi artists—including younger generations—are familiar with duodji’s focus on understanding the possibilities of materials, but also view it as a means to communicate with global culture and raise global questions.

In 2016, we can observe both a romantic longing for nature and a desire to live in contact with natural resources and relate more closely to the natural environment. Even in southern Scandinavia, Sámi often retain a deep relationship with the land of their ancestors and feel strongly about the poetics of traditional Sámi life. This begs the question, ‘Are Sámi artists naturally closer to the language of environmental art because of Sámi traditions and values?’

Environmental art opens our eyes to new perspectives on our common world and to ways of reinventing and re-experiencing that world. It can offer a fresh experience of Ii as a place. Artists are chosen for the Ii biennale on the basis of the connection described, using their relation to traditional Sámi livelihoods as a reference point. The biennale asks, ‘Can we observe a link between environmental art and the traditional Sámi use of natural materials?’

The 2016 Ii Biennale aims to create new suggestions for how traditional livelihoods and Sámi identities can be understood in modern global economical and political surroundings.  We hope to explore and suggest new forms and channels of Sámi art.



Curated by Marja Helander and Maria Therese Stephansen.

Marja Helander (b. 1965) lives and works in Helsinki, Finland. After originally training as a painter at the Lahti Institute of Fine Arts from 1988 to 1992, Helander then pursued her interest in photography and graduated from the University of Art and Design in Helsinki in 1999. Since then she has presented works in solo and group exhibitions both in Finland and abroad. Helander’s work explores the question of identity with regards to her Sámi background, the Sámi being the indigenous people of Scandinavia. Recent work has focused on landscape in which dark, mysterious views are portrayed without people. These examine the modern union between nature and mankind as not harmonious, but dark.

Maria Therese Stephansen (b. 1981) lives and works in Hammerfest, Finnmark, Norway. She is working as a manager of the education service, exhibition curator and project manager for The Museum of Reconstruction in Hammerfest. She is also a freelance curator, writer and producer. She was project manager for HFT 2013 – Nasjonal kunstfestival, a national art festival focused on site-spesific art and is the leader of Hammerfest Kunstforening. Stephansen took her Master’s degree in Visual Culture, on the subject social art projects, at NTNU in Trondheim. Her subjects are the science of art, media and philosophy.  She has also studied curating at Høyskolen i Telemark. She has worked within a broad range of the cultural field, but has a special interest for dance, performance, political and activist art, social/community art-projects and the contemporary art in general, with a deeper interest for Sami art, and contemporary art from the Middle East.



Matti Aikio – How Sámi finished?
Matti Aikio’s sound installation tells about the present-day situation of the Sámi people in Finland. It turns upside down the Sámi storytelling tradition by presenting a story of the future.
It is hard to see historical changes as they unfold. It is only as time passes that changes become clear, and we realise the significance of certain events. We need some distance to see the turning points in history. In this piece, Aikio goes through the history of the Sámi people and uses nuances of absurdity when referring to the present situation as the non-Sámi in northern Finland suddenly want to become Sámi. His work has an intriguing ambivalence, combining poetic storytelling with cold, hard political facts. Even the trees in the park might be more willing than we to listen to Aikio’s story, flowing gently into the air from megaphones.

Matti Aikio (b. 1980) comes from Vuotso, a small reindeer-herding Sámi village in northern Finland. He earned a bachelor of arts from Tromsø Academy of Contemporary Art in 2012. Aikio is a visual artist who works with photography and video, as well as with sculptural installations, sound art and music. He has also been a DJ since 2009. Aikio is interested in the concept of nomadism as a philosophy, culture and lifestyle. Along with his artistic practice, he is involved in nomadic reindeer herding, which his family has practiced for centuries.


Tomas Colbengtson – Girl—where to?
Tomas Colbengtson’s pieces for this biennale are two silkscreen portraits of Sámi people printed on polycarbonate glass. The portraits are placed in nature, with a river as their backdrop. We can see the faces of two women, visualized through patterns taken from old carvings on reindeer antlers. The river passes behind their faces, symbolising the years that have passed and the culture that has vanished.

Colbengtson’s work in Ii is based on the colonial history and legacy and uses photographs of Sámi people from the Tärna area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In his works, history is the material—how we remember and act upon it, reflect on our past. Citing the loss of his language as the main reason he works with visual art, Colbengtson focuses on loss, memory and restitution.

Colbengtson (b. 1957) was born in Tärna, Sweden, and is of south Sámi descent. In his works, he often refers to Sámi culture, asking questions about cultural identity and existence. He explores images, colours and forms based on Sámi culture and the landscape of northern Scandinavia. Sámi culture is closely connected to nature, so light and landscape are important parts of his work. Colbengtson experiments with combinations of media and material and developed a new way of screen printing. He prints on Graal-glass, a type of overlay glass using images and colours. He also does screen printing on metal—aluminium, brass and silver—and uses etching and digital art techniques.


Aage Gaup – Forest Person
In the front of the park, a structure rises from the ground. The contours of a person can be seen in the forest, almost guarding the site. Aage Gaup’s piece is made from the trunks of pine trees, carved into a sculpture. From the material, he awakens vuovdeolmmo.

This piece pays homage to the people living in the rainforests of South America, a people who have grown up with awareness of their surroundings but have no voice in deciding the future of their lives. They know best how to care for the rainforest. Gaup’s piece raises global questions of capitalism and greed and supports indigenous cultures across the world.He applies knowledge of timber structures and joints used in Sámi tradition, while the work itself comments on a reality far from Sápmi.

Aage Gaup (b. 1943) is a Sámi sculptor and set designer who lives and works in Karasjok, Norway. He studied sculpting at the Trondheim Academy of Fine Arts (KIT) in 1972–1978. In his sculptures, Gaup works with materials, such as wood, concrete and metal. He has also worked in set design for film and theatre. Gaup is a founding member of the legendary Máze group. Established in 1978, this group of Sámi artists is famous for its works of art, as well as its political activism.


Carola Grahn – My Name is Nature
Carola Grahn’s contribution to the Ii biennale is a series consisting of three wood signs with hand-carved sentences positioned in relation to the landscape. The blunt sentences bring to mind human relations.

My name is Nature responds to the human desire to connect with nature and be absorbed by the sublime. This work addresses the idea of nature as a single subjective entity that can be conceived as a human possessing consciousness and emotions. Each symbol portrays nature as a quite moody and unwilling lover who feels somewhat used. As Grahn states, perhaps this lover called Nature is not as cheerful and eager to connect to humans as our fantasy might suggest. Her work takes up this theme and critiques civilisation as a whole. We can see it as a comment on modern society’s endless demand for resources. It also points to the discrepancies between our thoughts and actions regarding nature.

Grahn (b. 1982) is of south Sámi descent. She grew up in Jokkmokk and received a master of fine arts from the Royal Institute of Art in 2013. She lives and works in New York. Grahn works primarily with narration in text, photography, installation and sound. Intense emotions, such as contempt, desire and vindictiveness, are often the point of departure in her praxis. Grahn constructs and deconstructs humans’ relations with each other and with nature to understand our given roles and how they relate to individual self-image and influence society. Among other venues, her work has been exhibited at Art Edition 2014 at Hangaram Art Museum of the Seoul Arts Center, South Korea 2014, Passagen Konsthall, Linköping 2015, and SP, Tromsö 2015. She also published the novel Lo & Professorn in 2013.


Jenni Laiti ja Outi Pieski –Forewalkerst
Forewalkers is based on the Sámi philosophy of the agreeable life (soabala eallin): preserving, protecting and supporting diversity in both nature and humans. Jenni Laiti and Outi Pieski have made their own borderless fence from walking sticks. In Sápmi, walking sticks traditionally have been used to mark reindeer calves in the bare mountains. Thus, this artwork references praxis which decolonises Sámis’ land by defining its borders. This piece also pays homage to the Sámi ancestors, who wandered before the artists and are their forewalkers. Their legacy is alive in Sámi culture today.

Laiti’s and Pieski’s work represents the visible and invisible borders in Sápmi, a nation divided among four countries. In this time of a global refugee crisis, Laiti and Pieski ask who is allowed to go through borders. This piece also deals with the Sámi’s right to self-determination. Who has the right to determine the borders of Sámi land and govern inside those borders?.

Jenni Laiti (b. 1981) is a Sámi activist, artisan and artist who also works with the Sámi language. She was born in Inari and lives in Jokkmokk in northern Sweden with her family. She has a degree in Sámi handicrafts and studies Sámi culture at Umeå University. Laiti works at the interface of activism and art and sees art as a tool for activism. Her work is a mixture of cultural intervention, installations, and performative direct action, dealing with colonialism, decolonialism, climate justice, and the Sámi people’s rights to their own culture and land. Laiti is also a member of the ‘Suohpanterror’ collective, known for its controversial, provocative propaganda posters. She is an active member in the global climate movement and in the movement against mines in Sweden.

Outi Pieski (b. 1973) is a visual artist who lives in Utsjoki and Helsinki, Finland. She studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Helsinki and graduated in 2000. Pieski’s artworks include paintings, collages and installations. The theme of her works is often northern nature. In her art, Pieski does not see nature as the opposite of culture or as a separate dimension from the human world. Her organic, ornamental painting style makes canvases look as if they have been embroidered with colours. The tassels of Sámi shawls frame some of her paintings. Pieski thus connects her artworks to a specific cultural context. In installations, Pieski represents light and nature with structures made of yarn and branches. In previous works, she has combined bones, Sámi handicrafts and ornamental quilts. The end results are imaginary dwelling places. Her recent works emphasised the conception of nature in the Arctic area of Sápmi as a cultural environment, not as unspoiled wilderness.


Joar Nango – Pitch black
Joar Nango’s piece represents a different approach to the framework of an environmental-art biennale as it is process based and investigates the tradition of burning tar. At the biennale, traces and documentation of the process, conducted during the preparative workshop in June, can be seen. This work researches how a familiar material—birch—changes and is transformed in the Arctic landscape. The traditional Sámi way of doing tar is to make it from birch bark. Tar burning has a long tradition in the Ii and Oulu area. Nango is interested in creative simplicity and sustainable knowledge. By experimenting with and learning the process of making tar, he reconnected with old knowledge and transformed it into a conceptual work.

Nango (b. 1979) is a Sámi-Norwegian artist and architect. He graduated from Norwegian University of Science and Technology in 2007. Nango’s work inhabits the frontier of architecture, design and art, exploring issues of native identity through the contradictions in contemporary architecture and the built environment. He is especially interested in the concept of nomadism and in the creative simplicity and sustainable knowledge that exist within the informal building environments of the north. In 2010, he co-founded the architectural collective FFB, specialising in nomadic structures and subversive interventions in urban contexts. FFB was nominated by Norsk Form for the Young Architects of the Year award in 2012.



Ingunn Utsi – Homage II
Ingunn Utsi made her first ‘Gudni’ or ‘Tribute’ work in 1995 in the Ássebákti forest of Karasjok. His new ‘Gudni II’ or ‘Tribute II,’ which he finished for the biennale, resembles a poem whose lines link Ii and Karasjok. “Two pines stand in a forest far from each other, still connected.” Gudni II is like a family tree whose branches stretch through distance and over generations.

The surface of a tree is nude and smooth as the skin of a human being. The artist’s hands have shaped its form, replacing bark with lines and ornamental figures. From its naked trunk emerge stories in a universal language. Utsi has looked for the invisible behind the visible. The tree is her tribute to her ancestors and to the earth in which trees grow and which helps human beings to survive.

Utsi (b. 1948) lives and works in Finnmark, Norway. She studied at the Trondheim Academy of Fine Arts (KIT) and works as a sculptor, painter and drawer. In her sculptures, she combines various materials, such as wood, plastic, stone and metal. She describes her way of working with wood: “When I am working with three-dimensional wooden objects, I almost never make any sketches. I work directly with the material and let it talk to my mind, my eyes and hands. In many ways, I can ‘see’ the result by letting the material be my guide, but there are surprises or demands in the wood itself, and I have to take that into consideration. While shaping the material, it grows and becomes my piece of art.”