The awarded Mad House Helsinki brings performance art to the spotlight

Anni Leino, translation Fleur Jeremiah, 20.9.2021

Mad House wants to tear down theatrical expression and to establish a permanent stage for performance and live art in Helsinki. The article was originally published in the last edition of the Finnish Dance in Focus magazine.

Hands and people in different positions

Katariina Numminen & working group: Käsi (Hand) features in the fall 2021 programme of Mad House

The Mad House team consists of a big bunch of artists and art producers whose organisational culture is said to be genuinely collective. Their aim is to tear down and reshape theatrical form and experience, and to create a permanent production house and venue in Helsinki for international performance art.

Last year, Mad House was awarded with the state art prize for performing arts, and this year it received a significant grant from a private Finnish foundation.

The story of Mad House starts in October 2014 when a group of pioneers of Finnish live art and performance (Annika Tudeer, Juha Valkeapӓӓ, Satu Herrala, Martina Marti, Eva Neklyaeva, Heidi Backström, Mirva Pulkkinen and Pietu Pietiӓinen) organized a month-long festival of performance art in Helsinki. The aim of the experiment, called Mad House, was to demonstrate the high standard of Finnish performance art and the need for it to have a stage of its own.

In just over five to six years, Mad House has established itself as a venue for performance art. In autumn 2019 it moved to Teurastamo – the former district of slaughterhouses known for urban culture, events and restaurants. Next year they will have to move house again to a new venue.

The main emphasis of Mad House’s programme in the current season lies on works by artists who are working in Finland at the present time. It includes creators and works entailing performance and live art, spoken word, stand-up and performance concerts. The programme was curated by Heidi Backström and Annika Tudeer.

Mad House also organises a festival called Bad House. The spring 2021 edition featured international guest performances, curated by Elina Pirinen, Sonja Jokiniemi and Mikko Niemistö. The guests included Jessy Razafimandinmby, Quim Bigas, Aitana Cordero and Jakob Öhrman.

A woman standing on a snowhill in between blockhouses

In October, Mad House hosts the Helsinki Performance Art Symposium. © Antti Ahonen

Mad House wants to remain receptive to programme submissions throughout the year.

“Our aim is to stay open to impulses and not to force artists to keep their ideas to themselves. Our relationship to contemporary dance is strong but we don’t curate any works actually calling themselves contemporary dance,” according to Heidi Backström, a member of the curating team.

“And what constitutes performance art? That’s something we aim to answer with a programme that’s as varied and as diverse as possible.”