Helsinki Satellite Reef

June 12 – September 26, 2021
Helsinki Biennial 2021: The Same Sea
Crochet coral reef installed at Oodi Library in Helsinki

Helsinki Satellite Reef installed at the Oodi Library in downtown Helsinki.

Photo © Maija Toivanen/HAM/Helsinki Biennial

For the inaugural Helsinki Biennial, 3000 Finns participated in crocheting a mind-blowing mass of corals gathered together to form the whimsical topography of the Helsinki Satellite Reef. This giant witty sculpture, playfully populated with “lump” mounds, is the latest addition to the worldwide archipelago of crocheted Satellite Reefs and is on display in Helsinki’s Oodi Library for the Biennial’s duration from June through September 2021.

Helsinki Biennial 2021: The Same Sea, gathers together 40 artists and artist collectives whose work reflects on the interconnectedness of humans, the environment, and all living things. As their contribution to the show, Crochet Coral Reef creators Christine Wertheim and Margaret Wertheim worked with the people of Finland to conceive the Helsinki Satellite Reef plus a suite of towering all-plastic Coral Forest sculptures as part of the main exhibition on Vallisaari Island.

These dual installations constitute a dyptich of citizen-artist expression enabled by the unique flexible structure of the Crochet Coral Reef project, which invites communities of all types to collectively imagine and craft their own woolen reefs.

See here for the names of all 3000+ Helsinki Satellite Reef contributors. These names are present in the exhibition itself, printed onto a transparent mylar scroll as a physical homage to their labors in keeping with the commitment of the Crochet Reef project to honor all participants on gallery signage as official co-artists.

Name tags from Helsinki Satellite Reef

Selection of name tags sent in with crochet pieces by the Helsinki “coral reefers.”

Photo © Institute For Figuring

People from far-flung regions of Finland participated in the project; from all walks of life, including artists, teachers, school children, seniors, and a renowned Finnish designer. A group of friends straddling the border with Sweden collaborated on a mini coral collection; seniors in elder-care homes united around weekly crochet workshops; and 800 school children crocheted literally miles of chain stitches.

The ensuing mountain of corals was curated into the wonder of the Helsinki Satellite Reef by “Team Finland,” a quartet of talented local ladies: Lotta Kjellberg, Elina AhlstedtNoora El Harouny, and Tuija Maija Piironen. 

Women constructing crochet coral reefs

Panoramic image of “Team Finland” curating the Helsinki Satellite Reef: Lotta Kjellberg, Elina AhlstedtNoora El Harouny, and Tuija Maija Piironen.

Photo courtesy Helsinki Art Museum

Each satellite reef comes into being as an expression of local institutional circumstances, chosen outreach strategies, and the idiosyncratic imaginations of its situated curators. A special feature of the Helsinki reef was the curators decision for how to deal with several miles of chain stitches generated by 800 novice-crochet school-kids. A decision was taken to use these chains as a form of “yarn” and to crochet this into a series of rough-and-ready coral mounds fondly named “lumps.” Crude in execution but bursting with energy, the “lumps” add a meta-level of crafting prowess – crochet upon crochet – a recursive strategy of intense time commitment.

Topographically, the Helsinki Satellite Reef is also distinguished by Team Finland’s decision to curate around a series of tall columnar mounds up to more than a meter high. Multiple layers of crochet were piled onto these mounds, a fluffy curvaceous excess of soft-bodied enchantment.

Helsinki Satellite Reef at Oodi Library in Finland

Helsinki Satellite Reef at the Oodi Library.

Photo © Maija Toivanen/HAM/Helsinki Biennial
Woman holding a mound of crochet corals
Photos © Institute For Figuring
closeup of crochet corals

Lead curator Lotta Kjellberg with a crochet coral “lump,” and a sunny group of fingerling corals from the Helsinki Satellite Reef.

Hands holding a mound of crochet corals

Colorful mound from Helsinki Satellite Reef.

Photo © Institute For Figuring

Team Finland.

Photo © Institute For Figuring
Neon sign spelling out Helsinki, in downtown Helsinki
Photo © Institute For Figuring

No Moomins were hurt in the making of this show, though we suspect they might be playing in the corals when the humans have left the building.

Architectual image of the Oodi Library in Helsinki
Photos © Institute For Figuring
Architecural image of helical staircase at Oodi Library in Helsinki

Oodi Library with double helix staircase.