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Airi Triisberg (3-4/2010)

Airi Triisberg analyzes Taavi Talve’s first solo exhibition
It is not easy to separate Taavi Talve’s solo work from her work as half of the artist duo Johnson and Johnson. Neither does it appear necessary to do so, since Talve’s first solo exhibition at Hobusepea Gallery has the same thematic focus, visual imagery and artistic methods as the work of the Johnsons. Of the nuances that characterise the creative work of the Johnsons and Talve (who also worked briefly under the pseudonym ‘Dikson T’), one should not neglect their strategy of repetition: a tendency to replay images and texts taken from various media. For example: one of the earliest collective works by the Johnsons – Boredom and Violence (2006), hijacked the layout of Õhtuleht, replacing the content of the newspaper with Hakim Bey’s essay criticising Capitalism, and one of their more recent works – See…everyone has their own theory about the things of the world (2010), featured the larger-than-life layout of the newspaper Äripäev and reproduced newspaper articles about the triumph of Capitalism in Estonia, which had originally been published at the peak of the economic boom.
In general it is possible to claim that the repetition strategy in both Talve’s work and that of Indrek Köster – the other half of the Johnsons – simultaneously functions as both a critical and a utopian device. On the one hand, it is similar to the working methods of crime scene investigators, recreating the scene of the crime in order to find the perpetrator responsible (for social problems, in this case). On the other hand, revisiting the past also serves an emancipatory purpose; it is as if suggestions and solutions for changing social relationships may be found there.
In Talve’s exhibition Bookmarks, the prime suspect turns out to be Margaret Thatcher. Her speech to the Conservative Party congress in 1975, now known as the Free Society Speech, has also been offered as evidence on previous occasions; for instance, in 2009 in the exhibition TDK at the Contemporary Museum of Art, Estonia, where Talve (a.k.a. Dikson T) had recorded it over several times, thus pointing to the ubiquity of the neo-liberal ideology (even if it sometimes only manifests as noise without any explicit argument). On the other hand, the sequel Margaret Thatcher’s School of English, displayed at Hobusepea Gallery, silently alluded to Thatcher’s most famous local counterpart, who has succeeded in monopolising one of the most powerful apparatuses of ideological reproduction – i.e. the school system. In the basement gallery space, teenage pupils practice Thatcher’s speech. They are seconded by an adjacent video showing the Estonian national Song Festival and also by an image of a human figure on the wall of the upper floor, standing on an overturned car and waving the Estonian flag, thus visualising the worldview characteristic of Mart Laar. According to such a view, only the nation is to be recognised as the collective subject of social change and it is presumed that bringing the national project into global society requires nothing more than the adoption of the neo-liberal paradigm, supporting Anglo-American expansionist military policy.  
In the current situation, in which a new world order based on neo-liberal principles has been shaken by economic crisis, Talve deals with the issue of how to win greater political autonomy while subjected to the dominant Capitalist ideology. Talve’s action may be described in ambivalent terms apt for Foucauldian analysis – spend/save. Abandoning speculation concerning the complete elimination of existing power relations, he seeks ways to break free from the hegemonic ideology of Capitalism that is served by politics – even if only at a micro-level. Here the linguistic recoding of save/spend which, among other things, is in accordance with the textual character of the exhibition as a whole, marks resistance to the ways in which Capitalist consumer logic individualises social subjects.  
The title work of the exhibition – the ten-minute video Bookmarks (2010), maps an impulse that is autonomous of consumer logic, reading with encyclopaedic rigour the seemingly endless list of initiatives found on the internet, where the word ‘save’ in the address field does not refer to the monetary meaning of the word, but draws attention to the political, social and ecological consequences of Capitalism. At the same time, the keywords equality, social justice and solidarity, which are largely common to these initiatives, also happen to be the fundamental values of Communist thought. However, unlike several Eastern-European artists who have applied strategies of repetition and reproduction in their work to pose questions about the relevance of Communism in the present day, Talve stops at the crossroads on his return visit to the revolutionary past. Indeed, Script to an Untitled Movie (2010)attempts to reactivate the memory of the Potere Operaio workers’ movement, but leaves open the question whether Operaism should be viewed as a failed utopia or an unfinished project that remains prone to conflict and may still be relevant in the contemporary Post-Fordist world.
Airi Triisberg is a freelance critic.
Hobusepea Gallery
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