What can we learn from the earth?

Curators' note
Jaakko Pernu: ET (AIB2014) Photo: Jussi Tuokkola

” We invited artists to send proposals to study, interact, and collaborate with the community and nature in the international socially engaged Art Ii Biennial 2020, which takes place in June in the municipality of Ii in Finland. The Biennial addresses themes of ecology, zero waste and carbon neutral art production as well as dialogue and empathy with nature. Artists were encouraged to formulate experimental ideas for making art with a low ecological footprint and a great local impact that can contribute toward broadening and developing the ambitious climate aims of Ii. 

The theme of the Biennial is Knowledge of the EarthThe earth is where we come from and where we end up. It provides an opportunity to dig into essential questions that are left unspoken or considered taboo. The theme has new meanings in the context of the coronavirus where existing human knowledge has not been enough to prevent the fatal consequences.  

We received 127 proposals from environmental artists, dancers, media artists, community artists and art-science collectives from all over the world. During the evaluation process, the World Health Organization declared the corona virus outbreak as a pandemicTogether with the producers of the event, we decided to focus the Biennial on Finnish and local art productions. We were challenged to think how artworks could be commissioned in this situation. We considered how public art, such as video projections and outdoor installations, could offer hope and meaningful experiences, even if social distancing was still demanded.  

Several essential factors played a role in the selection: relevance to the theme; the quality of the preliminary research; a site-specific approach; plans for dialogue with the local community; diversity of the art media; and a carbon-neutral production process. The unprecedented global pandemic could not help but have an influence on the selection process. How would it change an event where interaction with the human community was supposed to drive the creation of interdisciplinary processes? We pondered how artists could respond and adapt to the challenges. 

While a crucial part of the event was to facilitate interaction between local communities and artists, we needed to rethink how we could enable fruitful dialogue between all participants. Would artists interact with locals online or through letters and postboxes, as one artist proposed? Online discussions and video conferences would hardly match the bodily presence of an artist in a socially engaged art project. We put dialogue with nature at the core of the Biennial, and pondered how art can foster our connectedness with nature and empathy toward nature, soil and peat. 

The selection process took place in a time of urgency – it seemed urgent to shift toward the earth and not toward the global or the national (Latour 2018). The selected artists offer a variety of interpretations of the Knowledge of the Earth as a theme by artistic means, bring us down to earth, and together create a new embodied knowledge. The artists will be announced in a few weeks, and a number of international artists will expand the Biennial into August in collaboration with the Climate Arena in Ii.

-Maria Huhmarniemi & Ekaterina Sharova, the curators of the Art Ii Biennial 2020 

The planning of the Art Ii Biennial continues and the artist selection will be published in April. We are actively following the instructions of Finnish authorities concerning the COVID-19 situation. 

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