Curated by Timothy Persons
With Nanna Hänninen, Wilma Hurskainen, Sandra Kantanen, Ola Kolehmainen, Anni
Leppälä, Niko Luoma, Jaana Maijala, Susanna Majuri, Jyrki Parantainen, Riitta
Päiväläinen, and Nelli Palomäki
curated by Timothy Persons
Showing an exciting and fascinating selection of very diverse works from various artists of the
“Helsinki School”, the Christophe Guye Galerie is pleased to introduce one of the most exciting
contemporary art and photography movements. With this in-depth group exhibition showing 21
works of eleven artists, both established and emerging members alike, the “Helsinki School” can
be viewed for the first time in Switzerland. The concept of the “Helsinki School” can not defined
specifically by discipline, nationality or style, but rather, it represents an approach, a way of
thinking that has evolved out of a process of teaching at the Aalto Unive rs ity School of Art and
Desi gn. Its members are, rather than photographers, considered conceptual artists who chose to
express their artistic vision through the use of the photography- or film camera, or light sensitive
materials. Additionally influential is the extraordinary Finnish light and the specific conditions of
almost complete darkness or endless days that result in distinctive interpersonal attributes and
social conduct. The show gives an insight into the most recent works of these selected artists,
presenting both the school as a strong entity and the power of unanimity, and the artists’
distinctly original and individual styles.
Numerous internationally acknowledged artists, who were once graduates of or taught at the Aalto
University School of Art and Design (formerly the University of Art and Design Helsinki), have over years drawn
together to form the group of artists celebrated as the “Helsinki School”. With the upcoming show
Helsinki School the Christophe Guye Galerie is proud to present, for the first time in Switzerland, the
powerful, individual work of eleven of its members. More than a group of artists from a specific locality,
this “group” represents an approach that has grown out of a teaching process at Aalto University, where the
emphasis focuses on critique, cooperation and exchange of ideas, and where theory meets reality. The
concept of the “Helsinki School” is not defined specifically by discipline, nationality or style, but rather, it
represents an approach, a way of thinking that has evolved out of a process of this teaching. Including
both photography and video artists, photography, the cornerstone on which the “Helsinki School” was
built, remains the quintessential tool each of these artists employ creating his or her own photographic
process and using the medium as a conceptual means.
The “Helsinki School” is the unique phenomenon in the field of contemporary photography. Now
internationally recognized, this movement began in the mid 1990’s as a teaching project by the Director
Professional Studies Timothy Persons, who has played a fundamental role for the establishing of both this
school of thought, as well as the formation of this artistic group. Collectively exhibited and considered,
the “Helsinki School” plays a pivotal role in determining a forward-thinking vision of where photography
fits into the world today. The artists, as a group, demonstrate a spirit of association while nonetheless, and
perhaps due to, lay emphasis on the uniqueness of each individual.
No one style or genre defines the “Helsinki School”, nor can it easily be categorised by theme or material.
Yet what these artists share is an intense and precise aesthetic awareness; an “approach taken to making
photographic art that is uniquely its own and uniquely Finnish in intent, design and execution”.1 They
work with thoroughly planned concepts and whole thematic series: artists of the school are encouraged to produce series of photographs, to think about an overriding concept and realising it, and to learn both the
history of, and the practice of, conceptual art.
Formally the works shown range from abstract to figurative, and the content from conceptual to narrative;
portraits and landscapes are illustrated, themes addressed can autobiographical stories, the study of the
individual, metamorphosis, nature or the man-made. Whether minimalist compositions, theatrically staged
interiors or painterly nature studies, it is the professionalism from the initial idea to finished art work and a
refined sense of aesthetics that unifies their works.
Photography has developed into one of Finland’s most successful cultural exports, and the “Helsinki
School” one of the most famous Finnish art movements ever. The international reputation of the school’s
artists has continued to rise with major exhibitions worldwide including the current show Touching Dreams
at the National Museum of Photography in Copenhagen. The “Helsinki School” currently presents works from
over forty different artists who have been studying or teaching at Aalto University, eleven of whom will be
presented in the show Helsinki School.
Helsinki School shows a dialogue between recent works of selected artists from various generations, and
both established and emerging alike. While some of the members of the “Helsinki School” included in the
exhibition have already gone on to receive international acclaim – Ola Kolehmainen, Jyrki Parantainen
Nanna Hänninen, whose works are in the Fotomuseum Winterthur’s collection, Sandra Kantanen, Niko
Luoma, and Riitta Päiväläinen among them – Helsinki School also introduces some new and exciting names,
such as Jaana Maijala, or Anni Leppälä and Susanna Majuri – who both attended Fotomuseum’s Plattform
2009 – and Wilma Hurskainen and Nelli Palomäki – who both took part in Plattform 2010, the latter of
which was awarded.
Leppälä for instance visualises photography’s desire to capture moments and retaining these for eternity
with her images of a sensitive, mysterious dream world inhabited by female characters. Humorous but no
less intriguing are the works of Hurskainen, who explores concepts of identity and memory through visual
representations of personal memories accompanied by text. A curiosity for people is what inspires the
dark, profoundly simple portraits by Palomäki, while Paratainen’s exploration of man’s physical and
psychological vulnerability result in cinematical set ups of moments where future, presence and past
collide. Majuri on the other hand creates an underwater world of fictive reality; her images like illustrated
novels whisper stories of mystical fear and love. Similarly Päiväläinen and Kantanen look to nature as their
“setting”; Päiväläinen theatrically stages, creating haunting and vivid installations of figureless bodies,
while Katanen seems to be using a paintbrush rather than a camera. Contrastingly, works by
Kolhemainen, Hänninen or Luoma visually present us shapes and forms; a play of colours, lines and
minimalist geometry that let us see, wonder and be astonished about the infinite possibilities a single
camera can present us with.
The choice of these eleven artists and their works, though technically and visually so diverse, together
present a very fantastical, almost surreal visual language; a fascinating forward thinking approach to the
medium photography. Helsinki School gives an insight into the artists’ distinctly original and individual style,
while never losing sight of the school’s strong entity and the power of unanimity.
The Aalto University School of Art and Design is an international school, which gives education and pursues
research in the fields of design, motion picture, new media, audiovisual communication, art education and
arts. Originally founded as the School of Arts and Crafts in 1871, it has evolved into a dynamic university of
its areas of competence. It is the largest university of design in the Nordic countries and one of the most
highly respected institutes in its field in the whole world.
Timothy Persons is the Director of Professional Studies Program and a Senior lecturer at the Aalto University
School of Art and Design in Helsinki, Finland. Along with his position at the Aalto University School of Art and
Design he is also Gallery TAIK’s (Berlin) curator, artistic leader of VIPS (Video Photography Stockholm), in
Kulturhuset, Sweden, and senior advisor to the Borås Art Museum, Sweden. Furthermore Persons is a
member of selection committee of Paris Photo, Senior Curatorial Adviser at KIASMA (2008-2010), Museum
of Contemporary Art Helsinki, Finland, for the Kulturhuset in Stockholm, as well as the Danish National Museum
of Photography in Copenhagen, and has been an adviser to the board of the Claremont Museum of Art,
California, as well as juror of the Swiss Photo Award.
For further press inquiries, please contact Christophe Guye at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Georgina
Casparis at email@example.com, or at +41 44 252 01 11.