From a festival to a contemporary art commissioning agency

Nature tour on IHME Festival 2018, photo: Veikko Somerpuro.

Towards an Ecologically Sustainable Art Institution


As the tenth IHME Contemporary Art Festival in 2018 approached, we thought about which direction IHME should go: should we continue as a festival, or should we change direction? The main protagonist of the IHME Commission 2018  was an endangered beetle that thrives only in the park in Myyrmäki, the Hylocares cruentatus. The fate of the beetle, which lost its habitat as a result of human activity, raised the question: is it enough to present art that deals with the issues of the fate of our planet, or should we also critically examine our own activities as an art institution?

As a result of many things, we ended up renewing the entire organization (mission, vision, values, experts and operating models) with the aim of continuing to support the transformative power of art, but also to slow down global warming and nature loss. We decided to learn and share what we learned about what kind of CO2 emissions are caused by the operation of an art institution, how they can be influenced and how our culture should be renewed to be more ecologically sustainable.

During 2019, IHME, known as a contemporary art festival, changed its operations and continued under the name contemporary art commissioning agency IHME Helsinki. High-quality contemporary art and new IHME Helsinki works commissioned from international artists remain the core of the activity. Art, science and climate work were chosen as the new focus of the activity.

2022: Amar Kanwar

The IHME Helsinki Commission 2022 Learning from Doubt by artist, film maker Amar Kanwar was an online, ten-week educational course based on and emerging from Kanwar´s art installation and exhibition The Sovereign Forest. Lessons learned from experiments on ecological sustainability with a unique rice seed bank in the village of Narisho in Odisha, India and the experiences gained during the making and exhibiting of The Sovereign Forest were integrated into the course.

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Katie Paterson. Kuva: Veikko Somerpuro.

2021: Katie Paterson

IHME Helsinki Commission 2021, Katie Paterson’s To Burn, Forest, Fire consisted of the scent of the first-ever forest on earth and the scent of the last forest of the age of climate crisis, made into incense and then burned across a variety of sites around the city of Helsinki in 1-30 September and 1 October, 2021.

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Jana Winderen: Listening Through The Dead Zones soutustadionilla Töölössä kesällä 2021, kuva: Veikko Somerpuro.

2020: Jana Winderen

IHME Helsinki 2020 commission Listening Through the Dead Zones was a site-specific sound installation by the Norwegian artist Jana Winderen, in collaboration with Tony Myatt. On the shore of the Baltic Sea, at the Rowing Stadium in Helsinki, the audience was be able to listen to different species of mammals, including humans, and to various species of fish and crustacea inhabiting the Ocean.

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The journey of IHME

We did the IHME contemporary art festival in 2009-2018. During this time, we produced the works of ten internationally acclaimed contemporary artists in the public spaces of Helsinki and the capital region. The festival events opened the themes of the annual work with the help of multidisciplinary experts and artists. You can view recordings of festival events on IHME’s YouTube channel. 

Below we present these unique works produced for the festival context. You can get to know the works and the discussions held at the festival event in the publications produced from them. Happy reading or reminiscing moments!

2019: IHME 10 years

Art in Public x 10 – IHME 2009-2018

In 2019 IHME celebrated its 10-year birthday by publishing a book that collects together the ten annual IHME commissions, and features conversations with the artists: Miroslaw Balka, Yael Bartana, Christian Boltanski, Jeremy Deller, Antony Gormley, Henrik Håkansson, Susan Philipsz, Katerina Seda, Superflex, Theaster Gates & The Black Monks of Mississippi.

The book was edited by Paula Toppila and the text was by Claire Doherty. It was designed by Ilona Ilottu / Dog Design Oy.

Available from publisher’s (Hatje Cantz) web store.

Hatje Cantz

2018: Henrik Håkansson

IHME Contemporary Art Festival 2018

The artist Henrik Håkansson’s IHME Project THE BEETLE focusses on an endangered species of Coleoptera named halavasepikkä (Hylochares cruentatus). Håkansson’s long film and the enlarged still images from it on advertising boards erected in Myyrmäki which is the living environment of the beetle put the spotlight on this rare insect species, prompting discussion about human impacts on natural diversity. THE BEETLE film could be watched at Yle Areena until May 25, 2019.

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2017: Theaster Gates & The Black Monks of Mississippi

IHME Contemporary Art Festival 2017

Theaster Gates brought his group, The Black Monks of Mississippi, to Helsinki to enact a body of work titled The Black Charismatic. The work consisted of: a film shown at the Finnkino Tennispalatsi cinema; a live concert at the Rock Church; a video installation shown in the Finnish Salvation Army Temple; and the release of a three-LP recording. The work material recorded in October 2016 was recorded in Otaniemi Chapel in Espoo, the Andreas Church in Helsinki, Myllysali hall on Suomenlinna, and the National Museum of Finland.

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2016: Kateřina Šedá

IHME Contemporary Art Festival 2016

Kateřina Šedá’s IHME Project, Tram Busker’s Tour brought buskers from the world’s metropolises onto Helsinki’s all ten tram lines on 16-19 March, 2016. During the four days of its existence the project consisted out of more than 300 hours of live music and reached altogether almost 24 000 tram travelers. An everyday journey turned into a shared experience. At the heart of the wide-ranging festival programme, as well as the IHME School, were the following: the IHME Project, art and communities, connections between art and education, and the question of what artists do when they create art.

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2015: Jeremy Deller

IHME Contemporary Art Festival 2015

Jeremy Deller designed the IHME Project entitled Do Touch. In this work, the public on their everyday rounds was momentarily faced with their shared past, when museum objects left their glass cases and made their way into the hands of city residents in seven public spaces. People had a chance to inspect selected objects from the collections of Helsinki’s historical museums for a week in March 2015. The Do Touch staff members gave visitors further information on the objects and the time period they were used. IHME and Jeremy Deller also staged 24 Hour Rockshow, a rock-documentary marathon on 28-29 March in Helsinki.

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2014: Yael Bartana

IHME Contemporary Art Festival 2014

The IHME Project 2014 was Yael Bartana’s True Finn. In her film Bartana looks at Finnishness and the national identity. An open call was used to select eight people representing different backgrounds, the aim being to create a utopian moment in Finland. They all spent a week living together in a house by a lake in the middle of the Finnish winter, and the life there was filmed. The film, which combines reality-TV, staged scenes, plus film-archive material, had its world premiere at Bio Rex cinema in Helsinki on 31 March 2014. The film has subsequently been viewable globally on the Yle Areena on-demand service until the end of 2014. The theme of the IHME Days was the national identity.

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2013: Miroslaw Balka

IHME Contemporary Art Festival 2013

The IHME Project artist 2013 Miroslaw Balka wanted to give the time and space in his artwork to the residents of Helsinki, and to their most important questions. Eight communities participated in Signals, and it was carried out in the form of four Communication Points, in events with the communities’ questions at their core. Each event started with the questions signaled in the urban space using semaphore-flag signals, after which an open discussion of the topics began. Residents, politicians and experts participated equally in the discussions. The theme of the IHME Days held at the Old Student House in Helsinki was the potential influence of art on society.

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2012: Christian Boltanski

IHME Contemporary Art Festival 2012

The IHME Contemporary Art Festival in 2012 gave the public a chance to experience French artist Christian Boltanski’s The Heart Archive. Each installation of The Heart Archive takes the form of a space where recordings are made of human heartbeats. The Heart Archive expanded the scope of the IHME Contemporary Art Festival to four cities: Helsinki, Joensuu, Rovaniemi and Vaasa. The IHME Days in Helsinki took up the themes of collecting and the archive.

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2011: Superflex

IHME Contemporary Art Festival 2011

The Danish Superflex group’s installation created for the IHME Contemporary Art Festival 2011 was a film and sculpture titled Modern Times Forever (Stora Enso Building, Helsinki). The film was shown in Helsinki Market Square on a 40m² LED screen, so that one could see the original building simultaneously with the building in the film. In the film the building changed all the time. The film lasted over ten days and the film could be watched 24 hours a day. The themes of the IHME Days derived from the IHME Project and were the time, the city and the future.

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2010: Susan Philipsz

IHME Contemporary Art Festival 2010

The IHME Project 2010 was the sound installation When Day Closes designed by artist Susan Philipsz for the Helsinki Central Railway Station. In the work the artist performs unaccompanied The Song of My Heart (Sydämeni laulu) composed by Jean Sibelius to a poem by Aleksis Kivi. The IHME Project was exhibited in the Central Hall for a full month. The song accompanied people from one place and state of mind to another as they passed through the railway station. The themes of the IHME Days, in the spirit of the IHME Project by Susan Philipsz, were sound as art work and art in public space.

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2009: Antony Gormley

IHME Contemporary Art Festival 2009

British sculptor Antony Gormley was the artist to conceive the first IHME Project in 2009. Gormley created the work Clay and the Collective Body in the Kaisaniemi sports field in Helsinki, bringing together clay and Helsinki locals. The Project featured a huge clay cube that was both a challenge and a shared bodily experience. Gormley’s work brought together Mass, Space and Energy, and encouraged to ask questions about who makes art, how art can be made and who it can be made for. The work took place in four-hour sessions, with about 2,000 participants.

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2008: IHME 0 Film Programme

The first production of Pro Arte Foundation Finland was the IHME 0 programme of artists’ films and videos. IHME 0 took over Helsinki’s Bio Rex cinema on 29.3.2008. This offering of films and videos highlighted the main focuses of the Foundation’s work: public space, community and internationalism. In the first section of the programme were shown the videoworks by the Albanian Anri Sala and The Battle of Orgreave, made by the British Jeremy Deller in collaboration with the film director Mike Figgis. The second section comprised of the joint work by Lauri Astala and Elina & Hanna Brotherus and films by the Lithuanian Deimantas Narkevičius. The last showing got started off by Francis Alÿs, who works in Mexico, and ended with the American Matthew Barney’s film Drawing Restraint 9.

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What’s happening at IHME now?

Read more about this year’s commission.

IHME Helsinki Commission 2023