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Looking Back on 2020
posted by Johanna Salmela on 16 December 2020

As the year draws to a close, it’s a good time to look back on the exceptional year that has been 2020. Bioart Society has continued to run and develop its transdisciplinary programme in collaboration with numerous artists and practitioners, organisations, and partners. Despite the global pandemic, we’re happy to have witnessed many exquisite events both live and online.

Art as We Don’t Know It

In March, we got together at SOLU Space to celebrate the launch of our new book Art as We Don’t Know It. Edited by Erich Berger, director of the Bioart Society, artist and researcher Kasperi Mäki-Reinikka, artist Kira O’Reilly, and researcher Helena Sederholm, the book provides a comprehensive overview of the field of bioart. It contains articles, peer-reviewed research, and interviews, and it introduces dozens of artists and their work.

In December 2020, the celebration continued: we were presented an Edvard Richter Recognition Award for the book by The Finnish Art Society. According to the Literary Board, “Art as We Don’t Know It is an important book on the state of lesser-known - but internationally recognized - bioart. - -  The showy book is a hybrid that brings together peer-reviewed articles and artists’ descriptions of bioart processes.”

Art as We Don’t Know It is published by Aalto ARTS Books and it was created in collaboration with Biofilia – Base for biological arts at Aalto University. The book is available for purchase at Aalto University Shop in hardcover and as a free downloadable pdf.

Exhibitions: from SOLU Space to Annantalo

Our first SOLU exhibition of the year, Time and River are Alike, offered a glimpse into our Ars Bioarctica residency mediated through video, audio and photo works by five artists: Leena and Oula A. Valkeapää, Tarja Tella, Silvia Ploner and Nicolas Perret, and Alice Smits. Johanna Rotko’s Living Images exhibition opened at SOLU Space in March, and after a covid-forced shutdown and summer holidays, it was re-opened in August.

In October, the Photosonic Landscapes in Color exhibition brought to SOLU Space new experimental works by artists Minna Långström and Leah Beeferman. During a related online panel, Långström and Beeferman discussed with film director and visual artist Mika Taanila, solar astronomer Sara Martin, and Tytti Rantanen, programme coordinator for AV-arkki, the poetic and pragmatic uses of scientific images. Both events were part of the three-year Biofriction Creative Europe project committed to supporting bioart and biohacking practices. 

In December, visual artist Maija Annikki Savolainen works at SOLU Space preparing her solo exhibition /d a t a c e n t r e, which will open to the public in January 2021. A sequence of reading circles in connection to the exhibition takes place from December 2020 –January 2021. The exhibition is curated in collaboration with curator Yvonne Billimore.

In addition to SOLU exhibitions, Bioart Society created a group exhibition in collaboration with Annantalo Arts Centre. Criss-Crossing Ecologies explores that which cannot be perceived by the human senses. It features works by six internationally acclaimed artists - Brandon Ballengée, Cecilia Jonsson, Julia Lohmann, Soichiro Mihara, Leena Saarinen, and Antti Tenetz - who explore their surroundings through the lenses of art, science, and design. The exhibition is on view at Annantalo main gallery space until January 31, 2021.

Artist talks and workshops  

Despite many pandemic-related restrictions and postponed events, we got to host three delightfully popular workshops at SOLU Space: a field recording workshop with musician and artist Alan Courtis, MaterialeX, a two-day deep-dive workshop about exploring how to make materials from local waste streams hosted by Littlepinkmaker, and a Yeastogram workshop with Johanna Rotko. The latter two were part of BioFacts, a programme that introduces fundamental techniques of working with biological arts and serves as a vehicle to discuss art and science, materials, techniques, safety and policy, biopolitics, ethics as well as artistic examples through hands-on work.

Our 2020 programme of artist talks kicked off in January with a dialogue between artist, designer and researcher Emilia Tikka and Mianna Meskus, a sociologist of science and technology. During the evening, Tikka talked about her recent stay at Tokyo Art & Science Research Residency in Japan. In March, Talking About "Living Things" brought together artist Bartaku, palaeontologist Björn Kröger, philosopher Marietta Radomska, and artist Mari Keski-Korsu to discuss how to represent life-material and bodies of living beings and at the same time avoiding the pitfalls of objectification. During two online panels titled Fragile Life and Celestial Matter(s), a group of eight artists working on matters related to space and politics, biology, the complexity of otherness, depression, and space travel - Antti Tenetz, Andy Gracie, Flis Holland, Adriana Knouf, Miha Tursic, Ewen Chardronnet, Ivan Henriques, Minna Långström, and Axel Straschnoy - discussed their point of view and the potential of art in space.

As a result of the pandemic and postponed activities, our European collaboration project Biofriction set up a series of online conversations titled Braiding Friction. Each partner called together a group of artists and scientists to work on questions concerning art, science and politics of the pandemic. The group invited by Bioart Society was titled Non/Living Queerings and it was formed by Marietta Radomska, Terike Haapoja, Margherita Pevere, Markus Schmidt, and Mayra Citlalli Rojo Gómez

New members, projects and residency news

During the past year, we’ve welcomed new Bioart Society members, staff members, as well as international collaboration projects. In the spring, our staff grew by 33% as artist Mari Keski-Korsu joined our team as a producer. At the same time, media and environmental artist Teemu Lehmusruusu became a chairperson of the Bioart Society board. 

Kilpisjärvi Biological Station, home to our Ars Bioarctica residency, was closed for most of the year, which meant putting the residency programme on hold. Still and all, four artists - Rosanne van Klaveren, Kati Rapia, Pia Sirén and Ilona Valkonen - had a chance to participate in the residency. 26 artists and practitioners were recently selected for Ars Bioarctica for 2021–2022 - we look forward to having them work at Kilpisjärvi. Visit the Ars Bioarctica blog for writings by our previous artists-in-residence.

This December, we launched the first edition of Bioart Society Member Catalogue, in which 53 of our members share their work. The catalogue is available for browsing in pdf format. In 2020, the number of Bioart Society members grew to 127 as artists Taru Happonen, Sara Ilveskorpi, Tuomas A. Laitinen, Sirja Moberg, and Raimo Saarinen became members of the Society. 

In terms of international collaborations, we continued to work with the Feral Labs and Biofriction Creative Europe programmes and started a new one: ART4MED. We also launched the State of the Art Network and began to work on the am i m/other programme, both of which are Nordic network projects. 

During the past year, our work has been generously supported by the Arts Promotion Centre Finland, City of Helsinki, Ministry of Education and Culture, Kone Foundation, Jenny and Antti Wihuri Foundation, A.P. Møller Foundation, Nordic Culture Point, Nordic Culture Fund, and the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.

Bioart Society wants to warmly thank all its members, supporters, collaborators, partners and audiences for a wonderful year. We look forward to seeing you in 2021 again!

Psst: Stay tuned and get some bioart to your inbox by subscribing to our monthly newsletter! You can also find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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(1) Art as We Don’t Know It book cover, photo by Johanna Salmela
(2) Art as We Don’t Know It book launch in March, photo by Mari Kaakkola
(3) Johanna Rotko: Living Images exhibition opening, photo by Mari Kaakkola
(4) An installation view from the Criss-Crossing Ecologies exhibition at Annantalo, photo by Mari Keski-Korsu
(5) MaterialeX workshop hosted by Littlepinkmaker, photo by Johanna Salmela
(6) Yeastogram workshop hosted by Johanna Rotko, photo by Johanna Rotko
(7) A screenshot from State of the Art Network’s kickoff meeting in October 2020
(8) Some of the pages of Bioart Society Member Catalogue, photo by Johanna Salmela, editing by Till Bovermann

Main image from the Criss-Crossing Ecologies exhibition by Mari Keski-Korsu