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Helsinki Festival

This year will be my last as Artistic Director of Helsinki Festival, the largest arts festival in the Nordics held annually in late August. This year's festival opens on the Night of the Arts 15.8.2024 with AI Helsinki an open-air exhibition of synthethic photography by Kevin Abosch and BASSO a piece by Lauri Porra for 125 basses on the steps of senate square.

"Pekka" from AI Helsinki by Kevin Abosch

The festival program will feature shows at our Huvila festival tent by Cat Power, Hermanos Gutiérrez, Brandee Younger, Loney Dear, Giant Robot among others, as well as a Vikingur Ólafsson with The Cleveland Orchestra, Iveta Apkalna playing Glass and Bach, and Victor Wooten with the Helsinki Philharmonic.

Open source art gifts during Covid times

The Helsinki Festival team presented Art Gifts in August 2020 when covid prevented us from staging a full festival. We gave residents of the city of Helsinki the opportunity to order a free art gift to a loved one, a short solo performance delivered safely outside the recipient's home.

Gifts were ordered and artist schedules handled using a simple web app that we developed together with Counterpoint. We paid the artists a daily festival fee and the person who ordered the gift was simply obligated to be present, to welcome the artist and take them to the performance spot. The entire system was decentralized in this way.

As a kind of meta-gift, we open sourced the art gifts web app code and concept for all cultural institutions and festivals around the world to freely use. Since their introduction in Helsinki, art gifts have “toured” the world successfully, in Reykjavik, Bergen, Cork, Göteborg among other cities with thousands of art gifts delivered and hundreds of local artists employed during difficult times. The whole production process takes only two weeks from decision to performance including two days of a competent web developer’s time to localise the app.

You can find out more, read about the design principles of the system and download the code via

Past festivals and commissions

HUSH by Kaija Saariaho. Verneri Pohjola, Susanna Mälkki, Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra.

The 2023 festival program featured a premier of Kaija Saariaho's last piece HUSH (video), two special takes on Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, by Pina Bausch with Ecole des Sables and Aurora Orchestra playing from memory. The music of Arvo Pärt featured in two concerts by The Tallis Scholars and O/Modernt Orchestra.

Some highlights from the 2022 festival including Taylor Mac's 24 Decade History of Popular Music and Tree of Codes by Wayne McGregor, Olafur Eliasson and Jamie xx, in the clip below and on this thread.

Two Phone Calls: Navalnyi and Trump - world premiere (2022)

On December 14, 2020, Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalnyi, recently recovered from a near-fatal poisoning, calls an FSB agent early in the morning. Navalnyi masquerades as another agent and gains detailed confirmation of his poisoning. On January 2, 2021, US President Donald Trump calls the Secretary of State of Georgia and pressures him to find 11,780 votes so that Trump can still win the presidential election.

Two Phone Calls: Navalnyi and Trump - world premiere at Helsinki Festival 2022

Two Phone Calls presents these two calls on stage, showing the reality of deception and power in our world today. The performance (by two female actors) displays the interplay of tragedy and truth, comedy of incompetence and corruption….and it’s all in the protagonists’ own words.

The spoken text of Two Phone Calls is based solely on the contents of the two calls. Despite this, the performance is not a documentary. It presents a larger picture of the time we live in, highlighting in a raw and naked way the methods by which a person can be seduced, manipulated and pressured by power. And how one can resist, unwavering. Two different phone calls: at stake in both, the truth and the future.

Brian Eno - 77 Million Paintings and other audivisual works (2021) featuring The Ship, Totnes and Thursday afternoon at the Helsinki Music center.

Brian Eno at Helsinki Festival 2021

Mika Vainio - 50 Hz at Kiasma (2020). As a collaboration between Helsinki Festival and Kiasma, Mika Vainio - 50 Hz presented the first comprehensive review of Mika Vainio’s sound art.

Mika Vainio - 50 Hz Helsinki Festival and Kiasma. Work: 2 x 540 kHz, 2009. Photo: Finnish National Galler, Pirje Mykkänen. 
Mika Vainio - 50 Hz Helsinki Festival and Kiasma. Work: 3 x Wall Clocks, 2001. Photo: Finnish National Gallery, Pirje Mykkänen. 

Jon Hopkins - Enter Helsinki (2019)

We comissioned Jon Hopkins to create a generative sound installation for the duration of the festival at Helsinki Railway Station together with lighting design by Ville Hyvönen. The installation was experienced by over two million Helsinkians. Jon later released this work as Singing Bowl (Ascension).

Festival visual identity - RYJ by Kevin Abosch

RYJ by Kevin Abosch. Photo: Ville Hyvönen.

RYJ by Kevin Abosch: 100 artworks conceived and created by artist Kevin Abosch that form the basis of the Helsinki Festival visual identity and hang in physical form as gates to our key festival venues.

Working with data derived from thousands of traditional Finnish wall-hangings called ryijy, and using machine-learning algorithms (artificial intelligence) to "train on" the data, the artist worked in a back and forth "feedback loop" with computer to present an emotional distillation of this culturally rich craft with an eye towards the future.