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A reverie in gloomy weather

Eva-Erle Lilleaed (4/2020)

Eva-Erle Lilleaed attended the group exhibition "Let Me Dream Once More", curated by Kristi Kongi.


18. IX 2020–10. I 2021
Narva Museum Art Gallery
Artists: Merike Estna, Kristi Kongi, Kaarel Kurismaa, Holger Loodus, Anna Škodenko
Curator: Kristi Kongi

The group exhibition "Let Me Dream Once More" curated by Kristi Kongi is open at the Narva Museum Art Gallery. Based on the title of the exhibition, the reader/viewer can intuitively assume that its poeticism also extends to the exhibition hall – which would be correct.

Kristi Kongi makes strategic use of space in her work, and the exhibited paintings do not seem to end at the edge of the canvas but climb out of it, playing with light and site-specificity. At first glance, many of the works exhibited at the Narva Gallery do seem as if they've strayed into the expanded space of curator Kongi's own paintings. The walls of the exhibition hall are of different colours, and Kongi's signature style is the first thing that attracts attention and reminds you of itself again and again when moving between the works.



Kristi Kongi
Imaginary Creatures at Dusk
installation (oil, canvas)
Narva Museum Art Gallery exhibition view
Photographer Stanislav Stepashko
Courtesy of the artist




When visiting the exhibition several times, the thought inevitably arises that the title of the exhibition may not be a mere rhetorical request but a curator's appeal to the artists or even to their art. It is not the visitors that come to dream but the curator herself. Kongi's personal relationship with the exhibited works emerges – be it an earlier relationship or one that arose during the formation of the exhibition.

The viewer already experiences the artist-turned-curator's touch when standing on the doorstep of the gallery space, first being greeted by Kongi's own works. Her inherent poeticism and brilliant use of the polychrome simultaneously may or may not become difficult or dominant, but it certainly offers the visitor a specific emotional strategy or filter for viewing the works. This filter mainly justifies itself when exhibiting in a small gallery space with a handful of artists, where the result can be considered an intimate contemplation.

In contemporary art, it is clear that painting as a medium is limited – a problem that artists often resolve by using installation. Merike Estna's work "Spring" (2020) combines painting, glass, beeswax and metal fencing in one work, while at the same time offering a visual treat for audiences with different tastes. The plasticity of the half-burnt wax candles gives the work a sculptural quality, the canvases an abstract picturesqueness, and the metal fencing along with the shards of glass cast in front of it can be read like an installation.

Together, these details suggest a process – something has been left unfinished and something else is already finished. The installation is like an image that the visitor does not just have to watch but can step through instead. At the same time, the artist has created a convincing spatial installation with the rhythmic repetition of materials (metal fencing on the floor and the wall in front of the window, and wax on the walls and on the fencing), the parts of which are in dialogue with one another.

Dialogue can also be seen on the opposite wall of the room between Estna's paintings and the ceramic forms on the floor under the paintings, which are connected by repeating patterns. Although ceramics as an applied art have been combined for decades with paintings that have traditionally been considered superior, this combination is still extremely attractive, if rather modest in the context of this exhibition. Time-consuming ceramic techniques can establish themselves in a truly powerful way, filling the space in a wide-ranging manner (remember, for example, Estna's solo exhibition "Dawn of the Swarm" in London, 2018), and the painting series being overshadowed by the installation as a result.

Anna Škodenko also participates in the exhibition with several different works. The installations "To Mother" (2010) and "Postcard Painting" (2019) create a dynamic narrative. The viewer (moving clockwise in the exhibition) first experiences an installation with a video, where Škodenko places new copies of her mother's favourite painting in her mother's room. The installation, with its armchair and screen, forces the viewer to turn their back on the rest of the exhibition space, creating a private and intimate corner. Some works further along, the work first displayed on the screen of the installation makes another appearance as an unexpected comeback.

The viewer is now in the same position relative to the painting as the artist and her mother Elmira in the video – directly facing the work. Now the viewer experiences a "work inside a work". The latter is somehow familiar – although the viewer may not have seen the painting before, it is a reunion. The space where the meeting takes place has also changed. It is not closed and separated from everything else in the exhibition hall; on the contrary, it is open and inviting, as if there were a small square in front of the painting where you could stop for a moment. The closed space and the passive visitor watching the dialogue between the artist and her mother have become an inversely active viewer who can enter into direct dialogue with the work.

Of her newer works, Škodenko has exhibited the installation "Double-Edged Sword" (2020), which stands out boldly and clearly with its laconic use of colour and architectonics. The work is an armchair for two people covered with a lining and shimmery leatherette. The seats of the armchair, resembling a loop, are facing each other but offset from one another. Those seated in the chair would be facing each other but would never achieve direct eye contact. Both seats are full of moss green handprints, which also "ripple" along the floor and try to "climb up" the nearby post. In some clinical affectation, these prints are a warning sign, and it is clear that the visitor is not expected to sit here. In this way, the distance between the work and the viewer is maintained, as is the distance between the seats on two parallel lines.

Similar to Škodenko's armchair for two, Kaarel Kurismaa's works also stand out in the exhibition. The works of the artist, who is definitely inscribed in the history of Estonian art as a cultivator of sound art and kinetic art, are exhibited on a small pedestal, the cool pastel of which has gently but firmly established itself at the back of the room. The rhythmic ticking and rippling seem like a witty and consistent spectacle of its own. At the same time, the cold, geometric and mechanical objects have not lost their Kurismaa-esque childish playfulness because each work comes across as a design object on the one hand, and a character parodying something or someone, on the other.

Holger Loodus's "Walking the Dog" (2015) entices the viewer with its ostensible interactivity. From the painting depicting a legless pug, different coloured wires run to a control panel, the screen of which displays a slightly flickering image of the dog. It quickly becomes clear that the viewer has no power to influence the impulses with the help of the control panel, the system is controlled by something else. Interestingly, Loodus also describes the work as a metaphor for self-control. "I am connected to the dog via a leash. The dog runs, I jog behind. The world runs, I jog behind," the artist explains in the publication accompanying the exhibition.

The dog symbolises a world the artist must always keep under control so that it does not grow out of hand. Visually, like an installation depicting some sci-fi alternative reality, it presents the idea of a Hegelian dialectic, where all things are driven by contradiction. There is no movement without contradiction, it is the essence of everything. This is how the dynamics of the dog running in front and Loodus jogging after it also work. The dog wants to lead, the artist wants to stay behind – by holding on to the leash, Loodus slows the dog while the dog simultaneously speeds up his movement. It would be easier to loosen the strap so that each could move at their own pace, but that will instantly lead to "some kind of trouble". Keeping the dog under control is consequently the driving force. Both sides of the "conflict" seem to be at odds, but it also allows for their dynamics.

All in all, the exhibition "Let Me Dream Once More" offers the visitor both meanings and a bit of emotional abundance, as well as many works of art from the last few years that can be playfully interpreted without interruption. What else could the soul dream of?


Eva-Erle Lilleaed is an art historian, working as a studio curator at the Kumu Art Museum.

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