Adventures of Harriharri, UrbanApa X Ateneum Festival, Ateneum Museum, Helsinki, Finland (video game performance)
Performance: August 22, 2020
Adventures of Harriharri
This video game performance chronicles the life and times of Harriharri living in Helsinki. Harriharri is a newcomer to Finland who arrives with high hopes of being warmly welcomed into the culture and making new friends. Despite his sincere efforts, he faces continuous obstacles in pursuit of integrating into Finnish society. In order to conquer the most challenging levels of the game, Harriharri must battle bureaucracies and systemic forces of social exclusion. Join Harriharri on this hip hop fantasy adventure!
Project Background and Vision:
Shortly after moving to East Helsinki I witnessed an anti-Muslim demonstration in my neigbourhood, which is populated predominantly by immigrants. This disturbing experience altered the trajectory of my work as an artist. I began to focus my work on themes surrounding race, marginalization, and contemporary multiculturalism in Helsinki.
Recently, this trajectory inspired me to create Adventures of Harriharri, a video game performed in hip hop, which premiered at Ateneum Museum as part of the UrbanApa X Ateneum Arts Festival in 2020. Through the form of a third-person action RPG, this game tells the story of Harriharri—whose persona is semi-autobiographical—and the obstacles he faces in pursuit of fitting into Finnish society.
The performance took place in Ateneum’s theatre where the digital game was projected on a screen and resembled a YouTube LetsPlay with a picture-in-picture video capture of myself playing the game live. From behind the stage, I played the game and narrated Harriharri’s story of trying to fit into Finnish society through live-freestyle rap. In doing so I sought to push the medium of games/ gameplay into the realm of theatre and performance by creating a PC game purely for the purpose of live performance and by utilizing the LetsPlay format as a theatrical medium. The game brings together game design technologies and hip hop methodologies to produce a virtual environment composed of remixed digital materials, 3-D assets and beats. Its conceptual framework also stays true to the traditions of hip hop through serving as a vehicle for subverting the norms of mainstream culture and by challenging social marginalization.
My initial intention for creating this game was to see myself represented in a society which has little representation of people of colour. I wanted to explore serious themes such as racial alienation, diversity, and inclusion, but with a lighthearted and playful approach to make them more accessible and less intimidating. Through experiencing the game live, the audience is able to immerse themselves in the character’s journey and the lived-experience of a newcomer to Finland. While the game attempts to reflect difficult social realities it has also made a significant impact on my own life in Finland. For example, I feel as though this project has helped me overcome some of the barriers I faced developing my art practice in Finland. In the game, Harriharri struggles to earn enough money to make a living as an artist. This reflects my years of rejected grant applications attempts in Finland. Interestingly, immediately after the performance I received funding from AVEK- The Promotion Centre for Audiovisual Culture in Finland – when I proposed conceptualizing ‘Adventures of Harriharri’ as a playable PC game. After the initial performance, many people have thanked me for expressing the voice of the outsider. I have also been approached by a consultant from the field of diversity and inclusion to see if I could share this game performance at their events. Thus, the game has served as a means to engineer my own sense of belonging in Finland and to make my way into realms of society that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible. My Finnish alter-ego and video game avatar ‘Harriharri’ has now begun to evolve into an advocate for cultural diversity in Finland.
The video documentation of this performance is currently being exhibited at Vantaa Art Museum Artsi in Finland as part of their exhibition “Reciprocities,” in which “artists shine a critical light on society’s structures and on the values that define them.”
Vantaa Art Museum Artsi has also commissioned the creation of “Adventures of Harriharri – Episode II,” which was meant to be performed as part of the “Reciprocities” exhibition on April 24th 2021; however, due to public gathering restrictions it has been postponed until September 25th, 2021. My plans for the next episode involve exploring wider forms of multi-player audience involvement while going deeper into revealing the rise of extreme-right wing politics and xenophobia in contemporary Finland.