esmaspäev, juuni 25, 2012

AB cubed presents: Elnara Taidre x Tanel Rander

Beyond grand and small (landscape) narratives — the mythogeography of Tanel Rander
Translated by Hendrik Koger

A work from Tanel Rander’s exhibition Decolonize This. 2012 (Courtesy of the artist)

Tanel Rander is probably best known for his constantly multiplying pseudonyms which he uses to mark the different spheres and directions of his practices and build an integrated system from these at times conflicting fragments. One can find his record in the art chronicles under the following pseudonyms and collective author names: chaneldior, chaned:or, chaneldyor, Chanel Rantie, C:, Anon Porx and many others. Nevertheless, it would be better to present him here under his citizen name, which sort of draws together different projects and related identities, even more so, because at his most recent personal exhibition (Decolonize This, 2012, Y-Gallery) he went under that name.

The current text examines Tanel Rander’s projects related to the field of visual arts, leaving aside his work in music and literature, through the concept of landscape narrative and mythology. He treats mythogeography as both a personal art method and an ideological practice, which connects the individual and collective mythopoeia as well as their criticism. Instead of deep-examining and -analysing Rander’s projects I would rather try to bring out their general substantial characteristics — all the more so because the artist himself defines his art practices through extreme existentialism among other things.

The aspiration to capture the existential was also apparent in Rander’s Master’s thesis Geneesia (2010; see and which gave the main points of landscape-related base narratives and — using text and visual arts — to put into words and stage the quintessential aspect of landscape. By offering a fictitious model connecting geo-, cosmo- and anthropography and treating the individual as an island and the island as a scene, Geneesia was an attempt at creating a narrative for both the micro- and macrocosm at the same time.

The exhibition Geneesia (Genesia, 2010, EAST Gallery)

However, Rander consistently focuses rather on real landscapes, not fictitious ones — although his approach to real landscapes may often resemble fiction. Rander’s projects bring into effect the mythology of place, the legends and mythopoetic potential directly related to a place, as well as the personal myth-making “activated” by it. His personal “landscape obsessions” include Tartu and Southern Estonia, but more widely also the territory south from Estonia along the imaginary meridian. Of course, one could read into it the mythological opposition of North and South: for example, in the works of Nikolai Gogol the cold and formal Saint Petersburg is contrasted with the warm and folksy Ukraine — a similar logic is apparent in the sometimes downright mythological opposing of Tallinn and Tartu in present-day Estonia. Still, it seems that these associations are more complex in Rander’s case — he chooses to search for alternative (and equal) partners in dialogue in the East-European post-communistic space to counterbalance the quite understandable Nordic orientation of Estonia.

The conceptual excursions, expeditions (see and other events — including the event series Tammeöö (Oak Night) — related to the topic of Tartu have been taking place for several years by now. What is important here is the effect of participation, search for the genius loci, transcending the ordinary and creating a certain dreamlike atmosphere in familiar (urban) areas, which creates a shift in the limited perception of everyday reality. Tammeöö is a project in collaboration with Erkki Luuk, with whom Rander has developed a peculiar creative synergy similar to collective authorship. While Luuk is often the author of texts and non-existent words, then Rander is a vessel for visualising and physically realising these images, bringing them to the level of the environment and performances.

Performance-installation Tammeöö (Oak Night, 2009, Tartu Culture Factory)

While creating new words helps to overcome the limitations of language, then creating new characters and worlds is a way to expand reality: noteworthy examples of this are the exhibitions Kesktalvine hnott (Midwinter Hlog) and Uriaadi lõpp (The End of Uriaat), which stage bleak artistic worlds at times with very minimalistic methods.

The exhibition Kesktalvine hnott (Midwinter Hlog, 2010, Tallinn City Gallery)

The exhibition Uriaadi lõpp (The End of Uriaat, 2010, Y-Gallery)

Artistic mythology for Rander is the means for entering a special reality and activating it as something possible in everyday reality, not remaining obscure. For this purpose he becomes a part of his own artistic mythology (or on the contrary, he makes the artistic mythology an organic part of his own life?). The dwarf costume that Rander often is wearing is in its own way an idiosyncratic narrative. In many myths dwarves are placed between the mythic time and time of historic epochs. Dwarves are strongly related to the elements they are exposed to (mountains, forest) — they are the masters of the elements. Dwarves often have the characteristics of the so-called chtonic functions — they are mostly associated with the earth and the subterranean, or underworld — caves and mines. While German folk tradition presents the dwarves as evil and dangerous, then in English folklore they are kind, can give good advice and teach humans the secrets of metalworking.

The Dwarf — Tanel Rander’s idiosyncratic narrative

Rander’s dwarf is in a way the medium between the historic (everyday) and mythic (magic) reality. By becoming the embodiment of the “master of the landscape” he is also a guide who shares the landscape experience with the viewers and offers the means to enter it as if by a secret door — the framework of the artistic mythology, which sets the context at the frontier between the usual and the unusual worlds. Storytelling has the potential of a magical act — in the traditional context the listeners of a mythological story also witness it as a true event. This expresses the power of a mythological story to bring the listeners into the mythological time-space. Rander tells his “stories” in a maximalistic way. By adding the elements of photography, video, painting, performance, music, installation art, “found” objects and landscapes to the text in the mix, he not only creates a special environment but a separate time-space.

In his works Rander touches upon grand, existential topics — among others the collective unconscious, dream symbols and other phenomena often related to mystical processes, the existence or non-existence of which is impossible to prove. One could say that his approach is the search for a third way between the modernist objective declaring of the truth and the subjective playfulness of postmodernism. Rander’s small narratives often maintain a dialogue with grand metanarratives, but the author avoids aggressively imposing them as absolute truth and rather shares them with the viewers as a possibility or a half-personal fantasy that they can still accept in earnest. The total and suggestive nature of his constructions will surely leave no-one feeling indifferent and can make people see the world in a different way, at least for a moment. This method might be described via the so-called principle of the defamiliarization, which makes it possible to break out of the pragmatic routine of everyday life by roping in a strange or irrational aspect. It is not incidental that Rander’s works have references to Joseph Beuys, who criticised the absolute rationality of the West by seeking to balance it with the irrationality of the East. In doing so, Rander is critical of Beuys’s exploitation of the East at that, preferring to bring out the immanent irrationality of a situation and/or place instead of exoticising it — which does not exclude the transcendent aspect.

Seeking the borderline state of the irrational, which may include hypnotic storytelling, musical background or a lengthy ritual procedure — performance — it is as if Rander is staging an illusion that precedes reality and which at the same time has the potential to become true reality. Although not the reality of the everyday, but the Other reality that is based on metaphysical logic and is rejected by our neo-positivistic way of thinking. At the same time we do not notice the metaphysical convictions — such as national myths and myth of the state — that seem logical and infallible in our everyday conception of the world. In turn, Rander deconstructs these convictions by drawing on the symbolic potential of landscapes and demonstrating the ideological construction of these symbols.

The exhibition Decolonize This (2012, Y-Gallery)

Rander’s newer works focus on the deconstruction of theories and practices in terms of postcolonialism. He sees the postcolonial theories as means to articulate and contextualise the mythology of geographic phenomenons. His previous gestures like the expedition into the landscape that has became marginal in the context of Estonia, and its phenomenological analysis (The expedition Käkimäe Kägu (Cuckoo of Käkimäe) in Alatskivi, 2009 dedicated to Juhan Liiv; see have evolved into projects of explicit political study (see Decolonize This (2012), Rander’s most recent exhibition, is the author’s attempt at analysing landscape myths and offer alternative solutions by making them work for his advantage. Thus the works of Tanel Rander place themselves interestingly between de- and remythologising, somewhere beyond grand and small (landscape) narratives.

See also:

Elnara Taidre is an art historian and critic who works in the Art Museum of Estonia and makes a research on artistic mythologies in the Doctoral Programme of the Estonian Academy of Arts.

AB cubed is a preparatory essay series for the III Artishok Biennale where X young Baltic and Scandinavian writers have chosen for their gesture of courtesy X young Estonian artists who have caught their eye with a witty personal exhibition or an absorbing work of art in a group show in recent years. Artishok tests experimetal editorial practice and self-inititative readiness in the art field with the series, giving writers the opportunity to take the initiative - but also the responsibility - and do one chosen artist a favour. The writers do not receive honorary for their work whereas the suggested artists automatically get an invitation for participation in Artishok Biennale in the autumn. Read more...

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