E s t o n i a

Free from the Past

by Mari Sobolev

The decade since the Wall came down has not passed without leaving its traces in Eastern Europe - including Estonia. A new generation of artists has grown up during these years for whom the knowledge from the times of Iron Curtain are childhood recollections. Along with the newly acquired natio- nal freedom in the beginning of 1990's, photography became popular medium in Estonian art. We can differentiate two tendencies: socially concerned conceptualism, which uses and deconstructs photography as documentation; and mannerist photography rooted in the fashion industry sub-culture of sexual minorities and the club scene. Both directions have by now developed into definite syntaxes in contemporary Estonian art and their ideas realized in a more professional manner. Both the trend-photographers and the conceptualists have lately added deeper psychological dimensions to their works. Image and concept are still held in focus, but artists suddenly seem to have remembered that there is always a human being made out of flesh and bones behind them, a human being with personal drives, fears and pleasures.

In Estonia you can currently find a broad variety of high-quality art that uses photography. Artists of different backgrounds and ages use photography as a means of expression. The selection for the exhibition "Together Again?" was made uniquely from among young artists who still lack international exhibition experience and who don't have considerable experiences with the totalitarian regime of Soviet society. We might say that the selection represents "pure" Estonian art, uninfluenced by the mentalities here traditionally associated with the West or the East, touched only by a flow of random and distant information.

Almost the only common denominator in the art of Mark Raidpere and Taave Tuutma is the use of self-portrait images. Otherwise, they can be considered as representatives of two opposing tendencies in Estonian art. Mark Raidpere's approach to his art is extremely personal. In his works, the "touch" of the author can almost be considered physical; all the photos have been born out of deeply personal bodily experience. Although Raidpere earns his living as a fashion photographer, his works made for this exhibition lack skin- deep glamour. Even the irony you can find in them refers only to himself. If the photos by Raidpere have been composed according to the rules of classical nude photography, the relation of the artist towards his subject makes the outcome displaced. Rude black and white pictures with some defects from processing convey an impact of naturality. The series titled "Io" came out of personal experience with autoagressive violence, resulting in scars burned on his hands, which we can also see exposed on the photos. The artist felt that his earlier Self, a glamorous flirting with shifting gender identities, had exhausted its potential. In "Io" he gave up the escapist flirt and focused on the unconventional processes of identity formation. The impression that after "Io" he had to be taken seriously as an artist gained validity due to his next exhibition "Portraits", where he mixed a gallery of schizophrenic mutants out of himself and persons close to him.

The art of Taave Tuutma has nothing to do with his inner self. He works in the manner of a computer, devouring the nightmares of the whole world as information and printing out cold schemes that lack any kind of spirituality. He uses photography as documentary proof that the persons and the things he deals with to come to his conclusions really do exist. None of the photos has been made by him. Often the launching point is a certain provocation; one of his exhibitions, dealing with young artists' opinions of art critics, is a good example. The target group was the critics, who were lured into the game; the exhibition received a record number of press reviews. This exhibition project questions the informative function of cultural values turned into signs for media. The mass-psychotic desire for sights has robbed the original meaning of cult objects and turned them into simulations of simulations. A young person who has become tired of the archeology of meanings prefers authentic experience, for which you don't have to travel to any metropolis. Thus, an additional common layer in the art of Raidpere and Tuutma is revealed. It is an attitude we can also notice in the case of other young Estonian artists born in the 1970's. For all of them, the cultural layers of postmodern quotations and meanings that used to enrich the field of information have currently turned into noise. The only apparent way out is to pretend that there is no history. In this way the time when the Wall came down could be considered the end of the world, and for the generation after there is no other road than to start afresh. The only argument that matters is real-life experience in the present moment.

Mari Sobolev
Translated by Hanno Soans

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