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8 minutes of reading

Andreas Trossek (4/2020)

Andreas Trossek visited the energy-themed exhibition "Tiger in Space".

12. X–1. XI 2020.
Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (EKKM)
Artists: Julian Charrière, Iggy Malmborg, Eduardo Navarro, Jaakko Pallasvuo, Jeremy Shaw, Karl Sjölund, Martta Tuomaala, Ana Vaz, Kristina Õllek
Curators: Marten Esko, Vanina Saracino, Lea Vene

Nothing can move through the empty space of the universe faster than light. However, photons released from the surface of the Sun do not reach the Earth instantly, but in about 8 minutes and 20 seconds on average. In other words, if something goes wrong at the heart of this giant "heating system", you might have time to make a few quick phone calls and finish your cup of coffee. But that would be it.

The fear that the sun will not rise above the horizon in the morning for whatever reason is one of the most primitive. Perhaps even the most primitive. No matter how bad things are for a creature shivering in the dark, they can always count on the night coming to an end. Solar radiation improves metabolism and circulation, it increases one's capacity for exercise and performance, and strengthens one's immunity. Eating both plants and animals and burning trees, as well as fossil fuels, essentially releases energy that once came from the sun.

On a larger scale, of course, it is clear that humanity is headed for *****. In about a billion years, as the oceans evaporate under the rays of the sun, life on Earth will become quite impossible. When a star runs out of hydrogen in its nucleus, it begins to swell into a red giant, sweeping everything out of its way in a blaze of hellfire. Everything is just star dust in the end. The sun is provider of all life, and eventually, it will take it all away. In the meantime, it's just a game of shadows.

Fortunately, one billion or a thousand million years is an imperceptibly long period of time. The inconceivable temporal distance, almost a transcendental thought, is a purely theoretical and thus safe concept from the point of view of the individual. "By that time, we'll all be long dead anyway," you calculate in your head and calm down. Thus, the horror subsides and is translated into indifference; after a little fright, we can move nicely forward with our lives, the "future" is restored.

At the same time, it is strange to think about how little human nature has actually changed over the past millennia. At a certain level of generalisation, the clever theories and complex calculation models of today's natural and exact scientists are not very different from the (quasi)religious worldviews of ancient civilisations: people are still surrounded by an overwhelmingly hostile empty space, distances are incomprehensible, fear is real and success is unlikely. It still seems that we exist here either by the grace of something definitively more powerful than us (the mass of the Sun makes up 99.8 per cent of the entire Solar System) or by some kind of perverse random statistical probability. And that this party will have to end at some point.

Learning to make fire obviously acted as a catalyst for humans to think in the categories of time and space. How big will the fire be tonight and how long into the night will it have to burn? These are questions that should be more or less answered before you start collecting fuel. Energy is not created nor does it disappear just like that, it simply transforms from one state to another. Everything in life actually comes down to heat. Essentially, to fuel. And everything has to be paid for in the end, sooner or later.


The introductory work at the exhibition is Eduardo Navarro's 8-minute slide projection "Eight Minutes" (2020). Sun-worshipers seem at first to be the main characters in this tale, but the poetic text slides lead the more patient viewer to think that the story may be told from the point of view of the photons that have reached Earth. Julian Charrière's photographs, which apply the aesthetics of tourist advertisements, are of Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, which the United States emptied of people after World War II to test the explosive power of their nuclear bombs (yes, the same place that lends its name to the bikini).

Ana Vaz's 16mm short film "Atomic Garden" (2018) seems visually like an epileptic's nightmare (the genre is defined as "stroboscopic cinematography" by one website) but essentially deals with the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in 2011. The only previous accident in the same category so far was the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Kristina Õllek's "Powered By" (2020) offers an alternative to nuclear energy in the form of a toxic green (model) power plant-like installation, which refers to trends in renewable energy. As this sci-fi framework uses, among other things, energy drink cans as building blocks, it raises scepticism as well as hope as to whether this is in fact a "green turn" (or maybe it's some kind of "greenwashing" instead?). In any case, discussions on any issue pertaining to energy and energetics are complex and no one has simple solutions.

In the catalogue for the exhibition the artist, in connection with the installation, discusses in an interesting way blue-green algae or cyanobacteria, which are among the oldest and probably the first organisms on Earth that began to release oxygen during photosynthesis. Thus in some sense, oxygen-breathing humans owe them, among others, the possibility of life. In addition, they could theoretically be used to make tiny, self-decomposing "biological solar panels" because these bacteria can also use low-intensity light for photosynthesis. However, water containing blue-green algae should not be used for cooking or drinking, as their toxins do not decompose even when boiled. Thus, one and the same ancient organism can be both beneficial and harmful to humans, simultaneously giving and taking energy.



Jeremy Shaw
HD video installation, 31' 24''
Installation view at EKKM
Photographer Paul Kuimet
Courtesy of the artist and König Galerie



The other works on display are also interesting, but the main work of the exhibition is perhaps the most demanding of them, Jeremy Shaw's half-hour pseudo-documentary science fiction film "Liminals" (2017). Here, the artist has woven a confusing yet intriguing narrative that intertwines new age self-help practices with headbanging and the aesthetics of black-and-white film footage from the 1960s and 1970s with the digital virtual aesthetics of the early 21st century. Without betraying the content of the film – after all, not all art lovers may have visited the 2017 Venice Biennale, where it premiered – one might say that the human race is headed for ***** in this story and the members of an underground sect hope to reach a paraspace, the space between the physical and virtual worlds, by upgrading their DNA and dancing themselves into a trance-like state, to save humanity from extinction. At some point, the "authentic" visuals of a 16 mm film camera are replaced by computer-generated image comprised of pixels – it is possible that becoming shadows is indeed the only prospect for this species.

Andreas Trossek is an art historian and works as the editor-in-chief of KUNST.EE.

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