reede, märts 13, 2009

Interview with Jonathan Blackwood, art history and -theory professor in Dundee Univeristy, who has visited Estonia and art life here over many years. In October 2008 he curated selected students from his university to make an exhibition called "Moskvitch in Havana" in upper gallery in Estonian Arts Academy and due to this occasion we talked about this project but also in more generally about art in Estonia. How artists form Dundee observed life here, how were they welcomed etc.? (in advance it can be said that its not easy to get in contact with Tallinn...or people here). We also wanted to know what are the phenomenons that interest Blackwood in Estonian modern and in contemporary art and a bit longer discussion happened over art collective Non Grata and possibilities such initiatives have over here.

Questions by Maarin Mürk, pictures from exhibition. As a bonus - press release for the exhibition (in Estonian).

Casey Campbell. Aia 10 Üheksa Viis

Academy people observing

Ross Brown. Mecca Bingo

Ross Brown. Evaporation

How did you came up with „Moskvitch in Havana“ exhibition project?
I have been coming to Tallinn for about 4 years now, and brought a number of student groups here. I wanted to get group of artists whom I had been teaching in Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art at the University of Dundee, a group of artists who had worked with things relating to dead or empty spaces in city. David Anderson and Ross Brown were particularly the artists who have been working in this way for 3-4 years. Tallinn is a city that is constantly remaking itself, it will never be finished as the saying goes. And what fascinates me here, is the way how in the very centre of Tallinn you have new liberal Friedman-like consumer paradise stuffed with people who really cant afford to be there, but who, for sake of appearance, have to be there. You have a big tourist playground, a very odd space where nobody really lives, or maybe just businessmen and ambassadors. The real Tallinn for me is the big ring that surrounds the centre – Mustamäe, Lasnamäe, Kristiine. Where you can get an idea how ordinary people live their lives and how those lives have changed.

Instead of boring portraits of tram drivers etc David, Ross and Casey Campbell document how spaces change. Studio Telliskivi, where the artists stayed during the preparation for the show, is a Soviet era factory, which is now empty, still some people are living there but it is basically a big empty space. Its the transition time – everybody knew what it was in past, and nobody knows what its going to be in future. So I think many places in Tallinn are in transition. However you only become aware of if you’re here for a longer period. You have to get to know the city to notice places like Telliskivi.

With the projects if artists come and try to blend in to some unknown environment it can often end up by just staying on very superficial level. How can you conquer the feeling that you always are just digging in the surface? How this project was able to blend in more?
Its a very good point. For social level you would have to be here 5-10 years, for you to feel at home, and not so awkward. Another level is that artists can look at things that local people are so familiar with that they don't even notice them anymore. Like for example David did a painting of big Selver mall in Tondi, it has great social value and he was able to capture it. So this ability to see things that locals don't look twice at, outsiders notice and can reproduce in art gallery, and invite locals to look again. Visitors start to look and ask where is it- then recognise it and are confronted with their reality.

How did you found the name „Moskvitch in Havana“ and how do you explain that?
That title came up when we were sitting in my flat one day and came up only with very boring titles like “Significant Others” etc. Really dull. I was looking from the Internet about the Soviet times and about Moskvitch the car, and came by accident to this picture of Moskvitch in Havana. And that was really odd. But it felt for as some kind of metaphor how we all felt as people who were not part of Tallinn, but somehow have come visible there. Its also the metaphor of change and function about industrial object (from Soviet period), which was once such a symbol, and is now only used by very oldf people, or young guys who race it to death. So there’s various aspects behind using that title.

Had the artists been here before and how did they felt in here? Were they satisfied how they got contact with Tallinn?
I think all found Tallinn very interesting place but frustrating as well. General feeling is that nobody was actually interested. Beyond a few people like yourself, Katrin, and Heie Treier folk didn't show any interest at all which was a bit sad. So I think this was a surprise. I think that if an Estonian artist came to Scotland, it would be easier socially, and there would be more engagement with the work. It was hard without discussion of the context. What could really be developed here, is a decent level of discussion. We had those talking with Heie that all the magazines are there, the outlets are there but for any other sectors of Estonian economy its really competitive and its all about winning. Is would be better if there would be more dialogue instead, I’m not sure that “winning” is really terribly appropriate to the cultural sector. We may never go with some ideas, bust just to discuss those possibilities is valuable in itself.

Estonia is still in a cowboy capitalism phase and this is affecting art world too. Do you found Estonian art world particularly competitive compared with your experiences? You mentioned discussion as one way how to grow out of this.
Well, its a hard one. Discussions ain't going to make money. It was difficult for Estonia when the old Soviet system collapsed, and it took 3-4 years until new system began to work. And if you think back on those times when everything was wide open it was really interesting point. And who knows maybe economic crises is another space to open up again.

We have lectures now here in von Krahl on topic what comes after capitalism. What do you think?
Its very hard to say. There are some anarchist views of self-governed communities, but they are mainly a fantasy. The difficulty with that is always how to be effective on anything other than a small scale. There may be parallel again with art world and business world. Here in Estonia the art world is really governed by 3-4 powerful institutions and people who work there – its a very small number. Beneath that there are people of your generation and my generation all are creating their responses – Non Grata response and Rael Artels response. Those how don't want to wait for 25 years to get some point where they can start deciding something, they are going to use that time to create own opportunities. Maybe in the small scales like that there is possibility of change.

The future could belong to micro revolutions and to community-based changes?
The old Soviet Left is dead and the ideas that they are associated with, are finished. So there`s little point in believing in ideas like that. But things that ain't possible within social democracy happen today here, like old people rummaging in the garbage – that wouldn't happen in the UK or in Sweden. Things have gone badly wrong if old people are left in a condition like that. So I suppose when you see things like that it is necessary to believe in community based change.

As I understand Estonian being quite rough place and unwelcoming for strangers can you tell a bit more about your connections with Estonia. How did you come here for the first place and what are you doing here right now?
I came here because of my research, which is national identity in visual culture. Initially it was based on visual culture in Scotland in Wales. But I decided not to become only Scottish-based in that sense. And I was interested in Eastern Europe and there quite a lot of literature about art in Poland, in Czech Republic or Yugoslavia and former East Germany. There was almost nothing available in English about art in the Baltic states.

When I first came here I was overwhelmed how helpful people were like Sirje Helme, Heie Treier, and Raul Meel. So I have feeling that after that I never leaved – I got more and more involved with Estonian art, and making research about Estonian art in interwar periods, about artists like Märt Laarman, a real utopian modernist. I find that interesting how this people existed and developed their ideas. That's my job.

But I also think art historians are pointless if they keep talking about art about 10 or 150 years ago, so I think as art historian you have to be also active in contemporary art field and quite by chance a classmate in my Estonian language class organized one of the earliest exhibitions in Polymer, that was summer 2006. And Polymer was a place that was back at this time wide open – it still had those old machinery's etc. So its a really odd place, but I found it very very interesting. And I kept coming back and writing articles.

This thing being involved with contemporary art it depends on the level you are involved in – you can just go and have nice exhibition and write about it in your blog and go back home but you could actually stay and have this dialogue we talked earlier about. And this is much more awarding then just being a consumer. And I also believe that you have to contribute to the place where did you get the ideas at first place. I have always been about contributing things back. That's why I work in a Scottish university and that's why I spend lot of time here. Because lot of people have helped me here and I want to give something back, otherwise all the effort and time they spent was wasted. It sounds pretty American, but you know what I mean.

How this dialogue is going here? As I understood its hard to make a connection with Estonia/art world here or to get an response?
It has been difficult. It would be very easy just to say that no one is interested and to go away. As I said earlier it takes 5-10 years to be accepted here, when Estonians feel comfortable to talking to you. It takes time. I had wonderful dialogue with Heie and Katrin (Kivimaa) and this is a good start I think. If you would move to London, it would also take 4-5 years. So I have invested lot of time here and lot of my professional career by coming here and I just have to wait and see.

Mart Kalm mentioned that you will also be hopefully part of research group in Art History department - can you tell me more about you future plans in Estonia?
This is a research project about visual culture in 20th century Estonia and there`s lots of people involved with this. All seem to have different perspective on discourse on nationalism and national identity. In the universities of the old “West” this has been done quite a lot but I think its a very exciting to be working here with that topic – the issue is still really topical here, and people discuss it all the time.

My contribution will be doing this research that I stared when working here with Estonian Institute scholarship, and it was about transformation of national identity in Estonia between the wars. But I would also like to deal more with competing national identities during Soviet times. There is fascinating exhibition in KUMU of the art of 60s – Leppo Mikko, Nikolai Kormashov etc. And I'm really getting interested in their work. The gap how things were during Soviet times and how they are now, is very interesting, because there is very strong classical nationalist myth or narrative that Estonia has overcame Soviet Union and everything has been great since. OK, now you can really travel abroad, but still lots of people can`t afford that; you can really do anything, if you can afford that. There is providing dreams to people, how life could be, but most people cant do it that way. So I think there is interesting ideological debate there as well.

So my aim as researcher is to bring Märt Laarman and Eesti Kunstnikkude Ryhm to the conclusion and also begin research about artists here in Tallinn in 60s-70s. And of course out of the library, to continue to closely to observe Estonian contemporary art world, I'm really interested in careers of Non Grata, Alice Kask and other younger Estonian artists.

I think your self position is quite interesting – you researching Estonian modernism and avant garde, but at the same time you emphases equally keeping track on contemporary art scene. So I wanted to ask a bit more about that what interests you in Estonian contemporary art?
Well, Non Grata is great interest to me. Although one has to be really careful not to get attached by the idealism of NG. But I think no one is doing more interesting thing in Estonia right now and they are the best example of social changes. They have chosen not to be part of already existing institutions, but have created their own institution, that really functions. NG projects an idealism that has not existed in old Western-Europe since early 70s. You can point to artists like Beuys ,and music like Kraftwerk and NG is that sense is also there. But at the same time – it sounds odd, because they are so active – they could do more. They could have more impact over Estonian art world.

Attitude towards NG in Estonian art world is that exactly as you pointed out they are kind of continuing counterculture idealism. But its taken as big minus here that they only remake art history basically.
I wouldn't say they try to remake the counterculture. I think art historically big new discoveries are over. Especially in the times of Internet, people are overloaded with images. In that sense NG doesn't have point to make big aesthetical shift, I'm sure they would succeed, but the problem is, no one would care. Where NG significance lies, is that they do things differently and do it in different points in Estonia. Also like Rael Artel`s gallery is doing. So I wouldn't look at NG as big aesthetical revolution, its not feasible anymore, but they are offering alternative how to do things and that's really important.

And as all the counterculture/subcultures before it has become part of the mainstream. What is really interesting to see is how NG continues to inspire younger people. It could go down the route where older members become insitutionalised and make money out of what they were doing twenty years ago, but that doesn’t seem very likely. So its interesting to see what happens to them. Heie suggested that it will never be a palace because their is too many people coming to join and its continually reinventing itself.

But you also mentioned that how to improve NG so to say, with this doing different model is to intrude more, make more interventions outside the aesthetical, outside art world? What do you mean being more active socially?
Being active in a community like Metelkova in Ljubljana, or Christiana in Denmark, the actual creation of an alternative, autonomous space. And I think it would be also possible in Estonia. One good thing you can say about ultra-Friedmanlike politics is that government doesn't care! So it would be possible for NG in future to buy couple of farm or a block of houses and declare it their territory, and no one would really bother. And they would get it here much easy then in most Eurpoean countries.

It would be of course typical to disappear in somewhere and start allover from scratch. Like the OHO anti-art group in Ljubljana who just gave up making art in 60s and went to live in a farm, whewre the process of farming was meant to become some kind of bizarre durational performance piece. Unfortunately it didn't work. Well the farm still exists, but only one of them is living there as far as I know, the rest went back to Ljubljana to make art.

So there are possibilities. I wish they were more systematical thinkers in that way. I would like to see this kind of things happening here,. Some kind of self-sustaining system of mutual aid. Materialist greed and unfettered capitalism means that the ‘social’ disappears from ‘society’. There is a quite known blogger, Justin Petrone and he wrote that in Helsinki there is us-feeling and in Tallinn its me-feeling. This should change.

For me it seems that the separating of the art group into its own territory is usually also dead of this group. You have come to end of some developments. So I really like this idea of Uue Maailma Selts who really stays in the middle of things and tries to make it better in this way.
I think you are right by saying that buying a farm and disappearing, nothing comes from there, and I wouldn't suggest it to NG in that sense. What is valuable is the way how they have created or have been major part creating kind of self-sustaining scene or group of younger people here who have been part of Academy NG or have been part of events. For me it really doesn't matter if the art group disappears, but influence that they have over those who will follow them. That was also the tragedy of Märt Laarman undoubtedly one of the most significant Estonian artists of the 20th century, but there has been no big exhibition about his work and he has been rather overlooked. His ides were interesting, but he left no legacy at all. Laarman`s legacy is in his book illustrations and woodcuts not in his paintings. And that for me is a tragedy. And to bring it our day, it would be a tragedy if nothing systematical would not came out of what NG has being doing last 10 years.

You also mentioned Alice Kask – which are other focal point or initiatives what you are interested in Estonian art?
Alice Kask`s painting I have enjoined very much and they remind me lots of Scottish or French painters. Who focus on figure and slight distortion of figure, depicting it from strange angle. The other exhibition I enjoined very much was Bushenwald`s, although I think it kind of went over my head, because I didn't recognise all the references. I thought it was hilarious and very funny, a his use of space was very inventive.

I think there is a problem in Tallinn, that there are many beautiful gallery spaces here, but not enough good art to fill them. Simply. And I think lot of professionals recognise that. And the question is – do you want your art world to expand and produce more low-quality exhibitions or you want buy up galleries who don't show interesting works and start all over again. Right now these galleries are available for all who want to use them and result is not so good.

And as a parallel there is Laimre gallery and this is really really interesting project. Someone who has large profile in art world is giving some of it away to younger. Its the opposite of NG, but it comes out from similar feeling. And its really important to sustain long-term visual culture what would not be depended on only 3-4 big institution, because it would fall to itself then.
I think future for Estonian art is very good but I think difficulty is young people just disappearing. As soon as they can leave Estonia they do. Paris, London and even NY. And some people say that the ones who ain't good enough to make it there those are the ones who stay. But that's unfair and luckily there are some young professionals who decide to build up their careers here although they could make it somewhere else too. There is a parallel with business sector – young IT specialists, bankers etc go abroad. Its a great pity.

Its the brain drain yes, whats happening. But I think it can be also this that there isn't jet enough alternatives to young ones who don't feel like working in Academy for example. They feel that they have no perspectives here. Also NG has quite fixed ideology and Laimre too. So you have some alternatives but you can choose only between 2-3 ideologies.
NG, Laimre and Rael Artel have built their own possibilities. In UK it takes lots of funds to set up gallery at all. Of course there is possibilities to have an exhibition in your own house or in nightclub. But those are very ephemeral strategies very difficult to build something long term. You could also show your work online, but its very hard to stand out there. So I think those places here are tremendously valuable.

I would like to see more people setting up their places. NG did that in Pärnu, but what about towns like Viljandi, Tartu where there is a history but there is lot more that could be done. Even smaller places like Rakvere, there is huge potential to things to grow. And I would like to see some things that happen here be pushed out to other places. It would be influential to intellectual life in those places.

What concerns me is that de-centralistion process is that what was happening some years ago is showing signs that its getting more Tallinn-based again. Litokeskus and NG moved to Tallinn, Rael closed her Pärnu, then her Tartu gallery etc.
Well, one can`t blame people for doing that, they have their own life too. But it is a pity that there isn’t someone who would be willing to take over. If Rael moves for her own very good reasons, where is the person who would cooperate with her to keep keep the old gallery going?

As I understand that potential you see in Estonia is to get more self-organized, to start more self-initiatives?
Yes, but here isn't really tradition of self-organisation gropus, it has always been based on some bigger institutions, for example Pallas case which I cant believe its still going, but it is! And all those dissident groups from Soviet times. 90s are totally history of individuals.

But shortly as I began coming here things like Polymer Culture Factory begin to happen and I would like this kind of things to develop further. But it takes cadre of people, who are willing to stay in Estonia and thats the difficulty. I would like this decentralisation to happen again. Maybe government could fund more these places what are exicting outside to Tallinn. Im very sad to hear that NG left Pärnu and Rael has moved on, too.

I think its also problem with all Estonian III sector, its hard to encourgage people to start small communities, and mainly because of trauma of Soviet collectivism, when it was pushed on people.
That’s a interesting comment, but the main thing would be how to work in collective but remain an individual. The Estonian art world is better then one in UK in sense that there is much more state support and this is the positive side of Soviet-coin. There is this stigma attached to collectivism but on the other side of the coin the government is at least partly willing to fund most cultural projects. Of course there could be lot more money made available, but this is not realistic in times of global financial crisis. Because there is very limited state funding available in the UK. Its not like here where people who have very little experience will get at least some money from Cultural Endowment. Back in Scotland you are incredibly lucky to get some money from the Arts Council. And private sponsors will support only safe art. Whats diffrent here too is the role of the very wealthy individual collector. You have here Jaan Manitski in Viinistu, and many other young collectors. And these are the people who keep the art increased during the economy crises when government is cutting back spending on arts. Many stories which were told by young artists in book „22+“ are very familiar – I dont have any money etc. Its always like that in capitalism – if you want lot of money, do the job you dont like, and if you do, what you like, you will have very little money to it and no guarantees. But yes, one should have to rethink ideas of working collectively, your position toward that, and see what possibilities can arise from it.

Näituse pressitekst:
Viis äsja Šotimaal Dundees Duncan of Jordanstone Kunstikooli lõpetanud kunstnikku eksponeerivad oma töid EKA ülemises galeriis 17. – 31. oktoobril. Kuraator Jon Blackwood.

Moskvitš Havannas“ ei ole brändi nimetus, vaid pigem metafoorne pealkiri. Kakskümmend aastat tagasi Nõukogude Eestis oli Moskvitš üldlevinud automark. Nüüd on selle tehas Moskvas varemetes ning toodang liigitub pigem tööstusliku prügi alla, mis vaikselt unustuse hõlma vajub. Vahetevahel kohtab mõnda Moskvitši mudelit veel teedel, roolis vanemad inimesed või siis teinekord plaasterdatuna narrivate võidusõiduautode-reklaamidega, roolis noored, kelle jaoks see auto pole mitte vajalik tarbeese, vaid ühekordselt kasutatav nädalalõpu-meelelahutus.

Pealkiri lähtubki sellest, et kõik näitusel osalevad kunstnikud on asetatud ühest spetsiifilisest kultuurikontekstist teise ning püüavad arutleda selle erisuse üle, keskendudes muutustele linnaruumis. Kunstnikud, kes näitusel osalevad, on erineval moel huvitatud linna „surnud“ tsoonidest ja mõjust, mida koha selline muutumine üksikisikule omab. Turistlik Tallinn on juba edukalt muundunud ning seal on ainukeseks märgiks nõukogude ajast mõned 70ndatest pärinevad mälestustahvlid ja T-särgid. Liikudes kaugemale vanalinnast, „tõelisesse Tallinnasse“, on näha palju rohkem vanu tehasehooneid ja tühje välju, mis alles ootavad kasutamist.

Hooned funktsioneerivad märkamatu taustana inimste igapäevaelule ja –rutiinile ning kunstnikel ongi huvi just selliste linnaruumi osade vastu, mida need, kes neid kasutavad, tegelikult kunagi ei märka. Samuti on tähelepanu all linnaruumi tühjad osad, tühermaad kui muutuste asukohad – alates nende ajaloolisest otstarbest kuni praeguse summutatud funktsioonini ning edasi tulevikku, kus nad esialgu asuvad vaid arhitektide ja linnaplaneerijate joonistel.

Palavikuline muutus linna ilmes alates Nõukogude Liidu kokkukukkumisest ja sellele järgnenud liikumisest väikesest, provinstlikust ja tööstuslikust „eeljaamast“ euroopalikuks pealinnaks on jätnud mitmed elanikud nö rongilt maha, pidama oma võitlust muutustega. Mõnes mõttes on need hooletusse jäetud tööstushooned nagu sümbol nendest, kelle mentaalne kaart Tallinnast koostati nõukogude ajal ja kes tunnevad end ikka veel kergelt ebamugavalt pidevalt muutuvas olevikus.

David Anderson. Untitled (video still)

David Anderson. Installatsioon (detail)

David Anderson. Vannitubasalong

Robin Thomson. Untitled

Casey Campbell. Study of a Man

2 kommentaari:

Anonüümne ütles ...

Hello dude!

It is my first time here. I just wanted to say hi!

margus ütles ...

äkki peaks selle postituse nime muutma/ümber seivima vms. See tõmbab miskipärast kogu aeg spämmi külge.