Roi Vaara

Ars Fennica 2005

orn 1953 in Moss, Norway, lives in Helsinki

Roi Vaara has criticised the artworld for being centred on museums and galleries, and has turned himself into an artwork that moves fluently among people, perplexing them and prompting them to ask questions.

We first came to recognise Vaara as a man painted white all over, his action being existence, walking around in a neat suit with a briefcase in his hand. The white man embodied many different dimensions and references, but the most fascinating of them was the sculpture tradition. In the exhibition context the white marble or plaster sculpture is a normal image of a human being, but outside museum precisely the same interpretation becomes abnormal.

Subsequently Vaara has taken the idea of a living sculpture into the museum and also developed a glass-case-doll version of it. Occasionally, putting on masks has been totally unnecessary: Vaara has simply stood on the spot – like the sculptures in a museum – and observed people’s reactions. The result has been surprising in itself. No provocation at all is required in order to be labelled a deviant. Simply calmly being there is enough.

When Vaara’s performances do not involve movement, time in them naturally takes on greater importance. Performances turn into endurance tests, humour is mingled with fakir-like suffering: a body shivering with cold is a living musical instrument, which rattles panes of glass, limbs glued high up on a display window create a decorative structure, like a modern sculpture.

Vaara’s imagination is inexhaustible and his courage extraordinary. In one of his performances he stands on barren ice, studying a signpost: Art or Life? He has apparently been able to go in both directions at once.

Pirjo Hämäläinen

Roi Vaara was born in 1953 in Moss, Norway.
He studied at the University of Industrial Arts, Helsinki, 1972-75, and did art research at Jyväskylä University 1976-77.
He moved to Stockholm in 1977 for three years.
First exhibition – drawings and paintings – 1978.
In 1980, he joined the Ö-group: installations and actions.
Since 1982, conceptual, absurd and humorous performances.
Roi Vaara was one of the founders and for many years a member of the board of the intermedia art association Muu in Helsinki.
Roi Vaara is the internationally best known performance artist in Scandinavia. His work emphasises an aesthetic discourse between the artwork and its specific place or situation, rejecting the objectification of art destined for a vacuum.
So far, Vaara has carried out about 300 unique performances. His work has been presented at some 200 international exhibitions/festivals in more than 30 countries. He has exhibited throughout Europe, as well as in Canada, Mexico, the USA, South Korea, Thailand, China, Cuba and Japan.
Vaara worked for Künstlerhaus Bethanien’s International Atelierprogramm in Berlin 1997-1998.

International performance art festivals

NIPAF, Japan 1995, 1999
Rencontre Internationale d’Art Performance de Quebec, Canada 1994, 2000 and 2002
X’Teresa – Arte Alternativo, Mexico City 1995
Performance Art in NRW, Germany 1997
Performance Index, Basel, Switzerland 1999
Polysonneries, Lyon, France 1999
For Eyes and Ears, Odense, Denmark 1999
Full Nelson, Los Angeles, USA 2002
7a*11d, Toronto, Canada 2002
Live Biennal of Performance Art, Vancouver, Canada
MAD, Encuentro de Arte Experimental, Madrid 2003

Occasional performance programmes

Performance, Relikte und Sedimente, Offenes Kulturhaus, Linz, Austria 1993
Aree intermediale e sinestetiche, Rome 2000, 2001
SPAN2, London 2000
Acciones en Ruta, Mexico City 2003

Other performances

Havana Biennial 2003
Manifesta, San Sebastian, Spain 2004
Venice Biennial, Italy 2001: Vaara’s performance at the opening was also broadcast on BBC World News.

Works also exhibited in

Museo National Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid
El Museo del Barrio, New York
Le Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal, Canada
National Museum of Contemporary Art, Bucharest
Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki
Kyoto Art Center, Japan
Trevi Flash Art Museum, Rome
KunstWerke, Berlin
Institut Valencia d’Art Modern, Spain
Kunstmuseum Luzern, Switzerland

Festival organizer and curator

Poikkeustila (state of emergency) – the first national performance art festival, Helsinki 1999, with a total of 60 performers on stage.
Vaara received a state award from the Arts Council of Finland in 2000, which he used in the following year to organize the EXIT international festival for unusual live art in Helsinki, with about 300 artists from 32 countries putting on some 200 performances. The festival was the world’s largest in its genre.
Performance Art from Finland, Lublin, Poland 1997
Streetlevel, S’Hertogenbosch, Holland 2002
Vaara was the initiator and one of the founders of IAPAO (International Association for Performance Art Organizers) in Essen in 2003 (

Visiting lecturer/teacher

Academy of Fine Arts, Maastricht, Holland
Brooklyn College of New York City University, New York
Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Mexico City
Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki
Theatre Academy, Helsinki
University of Art and Design, Helsinki
Hochschule der Künste, Berlin
Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Philadelphia, USA.

Black Market International

Since 1988, Roi Vaara has been part of Black Market International, an international, collaborative, occasional coming together of performance artists, whose work uses performance art as a simultaneous form of communication. BMI has performed throughout Europe, in the USA and in Thailand, for instance, at the Kassel Documenta (1987 and 1993) and at the EXPO 2000 World Exhibition in Hanover, at Resource Kunst (1990) in Budapest and EDGE 90 in Glasgow and Newcastle, and at Franklin Furnace’s Asylum in New York (1991).
1998-99, Black Market Network Meetings in Linz, Dublin and Frankfurt were important events for artists, students and researchers on the genre.


Vaara’s art has been featured in books including:
RoseLee Goldberg: Performance, Live Art Since the 60s, Thames and Hudson, England
R. Martel: Art Action 1958-1998, Intervention, Canada
Klassen: Performance Art Netzwerk, Benteli Verlag, Switzerland
E. Jappe: Performance, Ritual Prozess – Handsbuch der Aktionskunst in Europa, Prestel Verlag, München-New York).


The Guardian, Helsingin Sanomat, Framework, Nordic Art Review, Kunstforum, Esse Arts+Opinions, Circa, BE Magazine, Art in America, Taide, Art World, Magazyn Stzuki,, ARCO, Frame News, Hybrid, Live Art Magazine, Paletten, and Inter-Art Actuel.


Roi Vaara is a major European and international artist working in both performance and art happenings. Possessing an uncanny ability to elicit debate, Roi Vaara’s art touches the exposed nerve endings of a society with conspicuous dysfunctions and asks such elemental questions as: Are these works profound? Do they merit thoughtful consideration or can they be dismissed with a fast and easy response? Are the works really personal? What do they mean? At first glance, Vaara’s art appears to be well packaged events. But his rhetoric has an underhanded virtuosity, capable of producing unexpected effects with a bit of black humor tossed in discreetly to prevent the final ensemble. There is no one who deserves this award more at this time than Roi Vaara. Gent, Belgium

Peter Doroshenko
Gent, Belgium


2005 – ROI VAARA

The articles have been written by Sylvie Ferré (FR) and Peter Doroshenko.

128 pages
Richly illustrated
Size: 210 x 270 mm
Languages: Finnish and English, also Swedish
Editor: Kirsti Karvonen
Graphic design: Patrik Söderlund
ISBN 952-98749-3-3
Price: 29 euro

Order a copy!

Amos Anderson Art Museum, Helsinki 7.10.-6.11.2005
Jyväskylä Art Museum 25.11.2005-29.1.2006.