The Surprise Guest exhibition tests the boundaries of fine art and design – while challenging the usual summer fantasies

Surprise Guest, the Main Exhibition of the Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennale (16 June–1 September 2024), brings together a group of contemporary artists and design brands in the historic Granary at the heart of the old ironworks. The exhibition’s themes and architecture are informed by the spirit of the Finnish summer villa culture, now already a bygone era when city dwellers and their families would pack up their earthly belongings and move to the countryside to pursue days filled with leisure and work.

Surprise guests were a frequent sight over the summer months spent in the countryside—whether as invited visitors or unannounced guests appearing on one’s doorstep. The Surprise Guest exhibition takes the notions of home and domesticity as its starting point, exploring their status as a location for art and design, but also as a locus that defines identity and social relationships, hospitality and the forms of welcoming a stranger under our roof.

More than sheer spatial arrangements, the exhibition rooms are receptacles of intimacy; the villa’s rooms can also be considered dynamic interfaces that set the stage for fictional mise en scène situations where the artist–guests have left their imprints, disrupting the monotony of the hosts’ quotidian life. The oeuvres and interventions in the rooms might seem subtle and almost hovering at the brink of disappearance. At other moments, the works are not containable in their assigned space, spilling from one room to a neighbouring area. In this villa, there is no clutter and clamor, but instead, barely audible whispering and absent bodies exploring the fabric of the history of our dwellings.

“The mere notion of living somewhere entails multiple relationships with things that surround us—with other people, family, neighbours and lovers, but also with objects we choose to decorate and spend our lives with, such as furniture and household appliances, but also pets and plants. However, the forms of intimacy go beyond materiality and can take the shape of images, memories, and events, either constantly occupying our minds or, at other moments, silently gathering dust in the deepest corners of our rooms,” exhibition curator Sini Rinne-Kanto says. “Our private dwellings carry within themselves multiple notions worth exploring—affection and seduction, erasure and absence, which form the often overlooked or silenced narratives familiar from the backstage of our domestic lives.”

Sini Rinne-Kanto. Photo: Ieva Kabasinskaite.

The rooms designed by Exhibition Architect Lauri Johansson have the layered imprint of a design brand conceived in dialogue with contemporary artists and their oeuvres. While the surprise guests have all established practices abroad—most of whom have never been exhibited in Finland before—the invited design brands are local, representing the aesthetics, forms and materials of the Nordic design vocabulary. 

Entering the veranda, we are welcomed by Lapuan Kankurit and Parolan Rottinki, accompanied by the artist Laura Gozlan’s work. Moving forward to the lobby, we meet Vaarnii with Yeṣim Akdeniz. The kitchen is naturally hosted by Fiskars and Marc Camille Chaimowicz. The library is by Studio Kukkapuro and Michel Auder, and the living room is by Nikari, Secto, and Woodnotes with Leonor Antunes’ artwork. Everyone is invited to join the dinner table with Artek and Laëtitia Badaut Haussman. The bedroom is designed by Johanna Gullichsen and Villa ja Peite, with Keren Cytter and Kim Farkas as the surprise artists. The bathroom by Durat and BLESS can be expected to be a revelry of colours. 

The dialogue resulting from the encounters coalesces towards non-hierarchical relationships between fine art and design, decoration and functionality, while testing the boundaries of furniture, sculpture, installation, craft, moving image and sound. The Surprise Guest exhibition is not the usual heroic and soothing summer fiction fantasy; instead, it seeks to make a counter-story appear and bring forward enigmas of various kinds: odd gatherings and even murder mysteries. The limits between private and public disappear in this villa where doors do not exist, and the interface between the interiors and outside dissolves. The exhibition further queries binary notions such as personal and political, uncanny and mundane, and the acts of showing and concealing—while turning strangers into companions.  

Organized for the third time, Fiskars Village Art & Design Biennale presents a programme with two Main Exhibitions and a Parallel Programme, compiled and curated through an open call aimed at local creatives in the Raasepori region. The other exhibition is organized by the local Artists’ Cooperative Onoma, curated by art historian Marja Sakari, considering the theme Fragile. The theme leads us to think about the fragility of world politics and nature, as well as the fragility of life in general. The village community made up of artists and artisans based in Fiskars can be seen as a fragile structure, loosely formed around creative activity. At the same time, the community has proven to be amazingly resilient and strong. More information about the Fragile exhibition can be found here.

The biennial, organized for the third time at Fiskars Village, has already established its place in the cultural calendar of the summer. The summer 2024 biennial has a special reason to celebrate, as the main partner Fiskars Group, founded as an ironworks on the banks of the Fiskars River, celebrates its 375th year. Additional details and tickets can be found here.