Kati Kivinen, PhD, Chief Curator, Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma
Also published in Kati Kivinen & Rikke Lundgreen (eds.), Mika Vainio: 50 Hz. Museum of Contemporary Art. Publication 172 / 2020. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery / Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma. Transl. Silja Kudel
Mika Vainio (1963–2017) is known in his homeland primarily for his minimalistic electronic music and he achieved international acclaim as a pioneering avant-garde composer. What is less well known to many Finns is that, in addition to carving out a notable musical career, Vainio also distinguished himself as an accomplished sound artist within the domain of contemporary art. In the late 1990s, he began exhibiting spatial sound installations in many group exhibitions, mainly in continental Europe and North America.
Sound art rose to prominence in contemporary art in the late 1990s through exhibition projects foregrounding sound in its various forms and meanings. During this period, Vainio created a number of sound installations for exhibitions, both as solo projects and in collaboration with other musicians and artists, such as his fellow member of the band Pan Sonic, Ilpo Väisänen; the German artist and composer Carsten Nicolai; and the Italian-born artist Micol Assaëli. In addition to creating his own sound installations, Vainio collaborated actively with many artists and choreographers, composing soundscapes and music for their various works.
 The sound art boom took off in earnest around the turn of the millennium. Among the exhibitions then featuring sound and aurality in contemporary art were ‘Sonic Boom: The Art of Sound’ at London’s Hayward Gallery (2000) and ‘Volume: Bed of Sound’ (2000) at New York’s MoMA PS1. Vainio took part in both exhibitions together with Ilpo Väisänen. A few years later Vainio was invited to take part in ‘Frequencies [Hz]: Audio-visual space’ (2002) at Frankfurt’s Schirn Kunsthalle. Sound and music in contemporary art were also highlighted in ‘Sons & Lumieres: A History of Sound in the Art of the 20th Century’ at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2004. More recent exhibitions dedicated to sound art have included ZKM’s ‘Sound Art. Sound as a Medium of Art’ (2012), MoMA’s ‘Soundings: A Contemporary Score’ (2013) and Fundació Joan Miró’s ‘Sound Art?’ (2019). Among the earliest sound art events was ‘Soundings’, an exhibition curated by art historian Suzanne Delehanty at Neuberger Museum SUNY Purchase, as early as 1981.
 Mika Vainio composed music for video works by artists including Mika Taanila, Saara Ekström and Anu Pennanen. He also composed music for dance performances, for example for the Belgian choreographer Cindy Van Acker. For further details, see Mika Taanila. ‘Soundtracks from a Distance’, in Kati Kivinen & Rikke Lundgreen (eds.), Mika Vainio: 50 Hz. Museum of Contemporary Art. Publication 172 /2020. Helsinki: Finnish National Gallery /Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, 63–76.
Featured image: Installation view of Mika Vainio’s sound installation 2 x 540 kHz, 2009, at ‘50 Hz’, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki, 2020
Photo: Finnish National Gallery / Pirje Mykkänen
Read more — Download ‘Found Voices and Meaningful Silences: Situating Mika Vainio’s Sound Installations and their Spatial Practices’, by Kati Kivinen, as a PDF