Threat, Is, Safety

Safety / June 2021

For me the most interesting artwork in Vallisaari was a work by Timo Viialainen, a work that is not a part of the Helsinki Biennial. Actually, the work no longer officially exists, it had to be dismantled to make room for the biennial.

Timo’s work consists of three words: Threat, Is, Safety. Timo carved these words into three stones on the bridge connecting Vallisaari and Kuninkaansaari. The rocks were arranged in a line reaching out to the sea. The audience had to use binoculars to properly see the last word, Safety.

The work comments on the many warning signs that can be found all around the Vallisaari island. The island is mostly a protected nature reserve, and it is also a former military training ground. For these reasons one should not enter the forest but observe it from a safe distance, from the wide roads that circulate the island. This is an unusual experience – in most of other nature trails in Helsinki (Nuuksio, Uutela, Vartiosaari, etc) one is actually walking inside the forest, smelling the aromas and feeling the rocks, roots and soil under one’s feet. The current heat wave amplifies the difference between these two experiences – in Vallisaari walking is exhausting, since one can rarely find cover from the sunshine. The wide empty tracks carved into the forest make Vallisaari a great place for taking photos for social media – for looking at nature instead of experiencing nature.

With his work Timo also wants to point out that an agenda to eliminate all threats is a futile one. A completely safe state is an artificial, isolated condition that cannot be sustained. For one to be safe in a long run one has to be ‘out there’ – involved, engaged, exposed, vulnerable. Threat, Is, Safety. Safety, Is, Threat.

It turns out that the piece Helsinki Biennial set up on the same bridge is another artwork involving large stones: Big Be-Hide by Alicja Kwade. It is a piece featuring an optical mirror trick which Kwade excels in and contains a stone found from the sea next to the bridge. This work resonates better with the site in comparison to Kwade’s other work Pars pro Toto, which is located on the other side of the island. The work features about a dozen massive stone spheres which have been transported to Helsinki from ‘various continent of our Earth’. Transporting extremely heavy objects over large distances seems to be in conflict with the biennial’s ecological ethos, a point that art journalists seem to be unwilling or unable to bring up. It is also peculiar that no further information about the stone spheres is provided to the audience. We don’t know what kind of stones they are, or their specific origins, and thus the esoteric and geopolitical dimensions of the work are amputated. A stone is there just to be gazed at, a stone is not allowed to carry a story of its own. The fantasies that the work can evoke are contained, constrained, obtuse.

The great investments that were required to set up Kwade’s works stand in contrast to the very little resources involved in Timo’s work, and its gentle impact. It would have been impossible for Timo to ‘remove’ the work completely – transporting the heavy stones would have been difficult and expensive, and where should they have been transported? The stones were already in Vallisaari, after all.

Timo’s work is just a small trace, a dent, a little distortion that brings an artwork into existence. And the work is still there, even in its dismantled form. With a little exploration one can find Is and Safety. The third word, Threat, is the most well hidden one. The stone has been turned upside down, so for the moment Threat is underneath, hiding from everyone’s gaze.

(see the FB post for some comments)

Safety / June 2021
Is / June 2021
Threat / 2020,
Safety / 2020,
Safety seen through binoculars / 2020,
Threat by Timo Viialainen on the bridge between Vallisaari and Kuninkaansaari. Photo by Jussi Kivi.
Big Be-Hide by Alicja Kwade
Pars pro Toto by Alicja Kwade, photo by Maija Toivanen (

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *