esmaspäev, märts 12, 2012

AB cubed presents: Rebeka Põldsam x Epp Kubu

Epp Kubu – An Ethical Artist
Translated by Kristiina Raud

Epp Kubu Let`s Go Boating and Drown! (source: website of Epp Kubu)

Epp Kubu is an exceptionally prolific young Estonian artist who is engaged in photography, video art, documentary film making, scenography, performance art, and graphic design. She could be compared to Laura Pählapuu and Liisi Eelmaa, who have participated in previous Artishok Biennales, but also to Flo Kasearu, a nominee for this year’s Köler Prize and a prolific artist working with different media. Such productivity brings results: Ene-Liis Semper (not anymore a young starting artist according to III AB rules) has achieved success working interdisciplinarily and transmedially in the international art world.

What Ethics?!

While 50 years ago an art school syllabus required portrait painting, then nowadays, young artists often have to make video portraits in the documentary genre. Naturally, the result in any medium largely depends on one’s technical competence; however, speaking of Epp Kubu, I would like to point out her well-thought-out artist statement and her ability to eloquently articulate her ideas in addition to using effective technical solutions. The reason why Kubu has not attracted more attention is probably the fact that we are used to paying attention to art that engages in controversy, while Kubu presents the underside of everyday life in a peaceful manner through tragicomical absurd, mostly avoiding dangerous and violent approaches. Here, I find that an important aspect of Epp Kubu’s work is a concrete ethical base.

While ethics as a philosophical term has quite an open meaning as philosophical concepts often do, this is not the case in the local public realm. Estonians contemplate ethics publicly once a year around the time of Independence Day but mostly the subject is avoided. This is not surprising when the country is run by the Reform Party whose political platform supports the idea ‘the strongest will survive (in business)’ or, in other words, a person’s worth is measured by the size of their income. Therefore, in the context of the public consciousness – how it is represented by mainstream media,– ethics has a very narrow range of problem-centred meaning, where only losers get preached while no one says anything to the corrupt political elite as neither high morals nor ethics are actual values in this society today.

The disappearance of ethics as a core value from public discourse has also resulted in the detachment of ‘young art’ from the topic. Morals and ethics are seen as mere rhetoric of hypocritical moralists and ignorant nationalists and are therefore of no interest to an average liberal young artist who considers him/herself to be a highbrow progressive mind. It tends to be forgotten that one of the mythical goals of art is to question and reformulate (moral) norms, not to withdraw from morals as such. In this sense, Epp Kubu is an old-fashioned artist. Her polemics are discreetly expressed without insulting anyone in particular. Instead, she quietly giggles at situations leaning from tragedy to comedy, guiding one to think about phenomena beyond the individual level, but also about common issues, e.g. memory gaps in the collective consciousness.

Female Subjectivity

Epp Kubu’s MA thesis, a video installation with three screens entitled Weeping and Moaning (2009, 12’), is a tongue-in-cheek piece about people’s biggest worries. In the first scene, the artist is in the library and has collected in front of her a pile of SL Õhtuleht issues (a daily newspaper similar to The Sun – R.P.). Finally, after reading them, she starts crying inconsolably. Õhtuleht is known for depicting black scenarios in hauntingly dark colours never caring about the dignity of the people involved. The morals of Õhtuleht are those of a strictly normalising ethical programme. The video Weeping and Moaning continues with a scene where the artist is wailing behind a wire fence where an impounded Jeep is parked: after the crisis many people lost their assets when they were no longer able to pay the banks. In the third scene, we merely see the building of Swedbank where the artist has started to cry (again), the bank staff deal with it by calling the ambulance. The last picture depicts the artist begging a man not to leave her and calling someone a slut. If everything starts to go so damn miserably – the papers write about the endless recession and corruption, the car is impounded, the bank accounts are frozen, your man leaves you for another woman, the country is full of unfinished buildings standing in the wastelands – then the artist offers a remedy by clearly articulating the situation and comes to the conclusion that just as the overly good is somewhat melancholic in its transience, extreme sadness might be in its own way amusing, as it is passing as well.

Epp Kubu’s photographic work in 2011 deal with the subjectivity of the artist and women in general. The series 10 Hours (2009), displayed at the Family exhibition, observes the mother-daughter relationship and alienation. Let’s Go Boating and Drown! (2011) is an autobiographical photo series about a young woman’s role in the fantasy world of elderly men. Both series have been executed with delicate critical sense. Kubu does not blame her mother who went to the USA in search for a better life/salary and left her children behind. Instead, Kubu simply visualises her relationship with her mother in the photo series, leaving judgement aside, and allows the viewer to independently contemplate family values and ways of alienation.

Let’s Go Boating and Drown! depicts Maria Aua performing the ideal of a blond child-woman on a pleasure boating trip at Haapsalu bay. The men are clearly having a good time: they are enchanted by the romantic atmosphere of summer, which is reminiscent of youth passed long ago. The young woman, however, appears emotionally quite cold, indifferent, and passive in all of the pictures. The men, nevertheless, are flattered purely by the company of a young lady, and although she has not joined them against her will, Kubu’s model has no interest in being a trophy or a time machine. She may as well offer one ride in the name of art but in reality she wants to be part of a relationship with more dynamic power structures. However, this is not a judgement on the relationships between men divorced at 50 and their young wives – Kubu’s work is more subjective and artistic than such polemics.

By now, Kubu has discussed social and personal problems, family, relationships, and the fading away of traditions, and she has also created a certain amount of absurd humorous works. I look forward to seeing what happens next. In the meantime may visit

Rebeka Põldsam is studying contemporary art theory at Goldsmiths, London. She has been a co-curator of the exhibition Untold Stories (2011) and she occasionally writes art criticism. Her research interests lie in queer theory, feminist art practices, and contemporary ethics. Her current biggest influences are Sara Ahmed, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Emmanuel Lévinas and Griselda Pollock.

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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