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CAME is not afraid of ‘getting ready’

Hanno Soans (3-4/2010)

Hanno Soans gives an overview of this season’s exhibitions at the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (CAME) on Põhja puiestee in Tallinn

This season at the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia included a solo exhibition by Marco Laimre, who has taken a long time to become an active artist again. Exhibitions also included a show by Eemil Karila – a Finnish artist who studied at the Estonian Academy of Arts and now resides in Berlin, an international curatorial project Next to Nothing by Anders Härm and a student exhibition titled Welcome to the Machine! curated by Marco Laimre. I would like to focus here primarily on the first three projects that defined CAME as an institution which is now considerably more ambitious and not afraid of ‘getting ready’.
Marco Laimre’s solo exhibition And So! Culture of Attraction was based on paraphrasing Hasso Krull’s legendary text collection Culture of Interruption (1996), one of the most important theoretical works on the local scene defining the cultural environment of the Nineties. In his installation practices Laimre – as always, of course – is oriented toward defining the present moment. As manifested by one of the ‘hits’ of the show – the installation Club Estland (2010), this is a small country that has formed a confident self-image following the erection of the Monument to the War of Independence, embracing proto-fascist sign language at the representational level. In the installation, a glitterball serves as a tiny model of the ‘Estonian universe’ in which Laimre combines the Cross of Freedom with a Swastika, unambiguously revealing the political sub-consciousness of the attractive representational regimes. Characteristically for this artist, the rest of the exhibition consisted of more scattered and allusive material interlaced with various references and critical remarks, where several individual works smoothly merged to form a hyper-textual whole. Undoubtedly, one artwork that stood out from others was Splits Work (2010) – a young girl performing splits in different, attractively presented places of subcultural significance (the former police department, the Linda Monument, the Monument to the War of Independence, a dilapidated wooden house on the Kopli Lines). The manifestation of physical presence, a certain acrobatic ‘I was here’ or choreographic graffiti, aligns these places with different levels of poverty and representability into a single, deceptively seductive series of images. Marco Laimre’s work is centred around CAME as an institution and building. In one of his videos he has sworn solidarity with the museum by tattooing its logo on his shoulder and building a site-specific sculpture à la Gordon Matta Clark from 480 bricks of a dismantled brick wall.

Although in the conceptual text accompanying the exhibition Contemporary Art Museum of Eemil Karila himself admitted the indirect and inevitable autobiographical nature of all artistic practices, arising from one’s individual identity as an artist, his works do not engage in autobiography in its classical sense. Rather, he deals with the staging of social symptoms through either the figure of himself or some fictitious stage character who may be Santa Claus or the fictitious Tom of Lapland, standing in the spotlight as a true embodiment of stupidity, wearing cowboy boots, with a knee-length beard and holding a pig in his hands.Karila sees an artist as a sort of trickster, a carnival figure trespassing in a public space saturated with ideological oppositions, “tongue in cheek, fox-tail under his arm, and a slight shiver in his soul”.Identifying himself as a symptom, the artist eagerly masks himself with the colourful costumes of different ideologies, and grins at us, as if to say: it is only you yourself I impersonate.While the central work of the exhibition, Between You and Me (2010) characterised by lyrical visual language and featuring a melancholic monologue in German, addressed the artist’s doubts regarding his relationship to museum institutions, the two-channel video installation The Future Denies Us (2010) depicted the Karila in an environment that resembled an internet chat room.Reluctantly, but enchantingly, he ‘chats’ with a bearded 80-year-old old man who later turns out to be a visitor from the future – Karila himself many decades from now. With friendly joviality the old man challenges the entire present-day identity of the artist and his self-establishment in art.Karila was a perfect fit for CAME, which interprets its ‘becoming a museum’ as a process – precisely because several of his works suggest questions concerning his relationships with art institutions.

Next to Nothing
Next to Nothing curated by Anders Härm was an international exhibition project that tested the industrial environment of CAME with ultra-minimalist works usually pampered by white-cube aesthetics. The keywords for several of these works were ‘semantic units’ and ‘blankness’. As Neeme Külm, one of the participating artists, said in an interview to Eesti Päevaleht newspaper, in this CAME exhibition the artists defeated the building’s industrial atmosphere. Still, bearing in mind the final exhibition of the season – Welcome to the Machine!, we might say that the battle with the building environment continues and remains one of the constant intrigues for regular visitors. I recall an untitled black-and-white work by the young German artist Joanna Reich as one of the symptomatic works of that rather large exhibition: covering a wall with black paint, the artist merges with the background, becomes camouflaged and disappears in her subject and material. The dissolving of the artist’s subjectivity, its virtual non-existence, was a common trait of several minimalist works in the display, for example Poop and Cocaine (2010) by Fred Kotkas, and one of my personal favourites, Anvil (2007) by Neeme Külm, made from lipstick. While British art-star Martin Creed presented the basic forms of life’s activity and physicality with his technically perfect videos about puking and fucking, which appeared almost sterile, seemingly detached and ripped from their specific contexts, the Latvian art-star Ēriks Božis applied minimal figurativeness to obtain maximal metaphorical generalisation of contemporary life in his Shopping and Living (2009), a one-field sculpture from cardboard boxes that filled an entire room. A similar strategy, albeit on a picture surface and in comic art, is applied by Tarmo Salin whose Lack of Space (2009), a personal series with an Existentialist undertone that is nevertheless free of any expressiveness, offers alternative interpretations to the exhibition motto. We can compile a separate chapter at the exhibition about systematic explorers of the void by following the activities of the semionauts of the Tartu School: Kiwa, Thetloff and Piibemann. The entire scene is characterised by the accentuated strictness and neutrality of post-conceptual practices, mixed with imaginary mistakes of the machine-brain and all kinds of shifts. The primary concepts to be applied here are: the dry humour of textual operations characteristic of Kiwa; manipulations with communication breakdowns and partial deletion of maps and operation diagrams characteristic of Thetloff; noise as a distinct value, and following the internal logic of texts up to the formation of meta-meanings and gaps. Taavi Piibemannfs synthetic works, Pixel Mort (2010) and Hermeneutician No. 002 (2010), born from pure image manipulation, created an entirely novel effect – perhaps the strangest on show: miniature digital modifications under enormous magnification become weird abstract icons.
The curatorial project Welcome to the Machine! could be interpreted as a metaphorical call to participate experimentally in a certain system. The majority of the authors involved seem to have approached this in narrow sense, through forced images of the computer world or crazed information networks, as we can see in the video Consumer Profiles (2010) by Mattias Malk and paintings by August Sai. To me, the two outstanding works were the guitar ready-made Mega Distortion with Guitar Input by Triin Tamm and the photo series of playful meta-machines by Sigrid Viir. Mixing a student exhibition with solo displays and international curatorial projects in the proportion 1:4, as was done this year, seems to me to be an almost ideal solution in the general programmatic sense, inspiring beginners as well as experienced artists.
In conclusion, one might say that this season has been a conscious prelude to the hoped-for comprehensive renovations that would have made it possible to use the building throughout the year and would also have signalled a move towards white-cube aesthetics. Unfortunately, the renovations will not take place due to a lack of funds.
Hanno Soans is a freelance critic, artist and curator.
Facts corner:
Contemporary Museum of Art, Estonia / Eesti Kaasaegse Kunsti Muuseum
Address: Põhja pst 35, Tallinn.
Team: Marco Laimre, Neeme Külm, Elin Kard, Anders Härm.
Additional information about the CAME events can be found on
and on the CAME Facebook page.
Contemporary Museum of Art, Estonia (CAME) ended its 2010 exhibition season on 1.10.2010. Throughout the entire exhibition season (14.05–1.10.2010) 2,269 art lovers visited the museum. Welcome to the Machine! curated by Marco Laimre proved to be the most popular exhibition, hosting 723 visitors. This was followed by Next to Nothing curated by Anders Härm (640 visitors) and Marco Laimre’s solo exhibition And So! Culture of Attraction (520 visitors). The exhibition Contemporary Art Museum of Eemil was viewed by 386 people. After brief renovations the CAME Club was opened in November, having already operated during the previous autumn/winter. The opening event of the CAME Club was held on 30.09.2010, when Tõnis Kahu and Anders Härm celebrated the 35th birthday of the cult band Throbbing Gristle with thematic presentations and videos.
And So! Culture of Attraction
Marco Laimre
CAME – Contemporary Art Museum of Eemil / EKKM – Eemil Karila Kunsti Muuseum
Eemil Karila
Next to Nothing
Curator: Anders Härm.
Artists: Ēriks Božis, Martin Creed, Dénes Farkas, Kiwa, Fred Kotkas, Neeme Külm, Kaido Ole, Taavi Piibemann, Johanna Reich, Tõnis Saadoja, Tarmo Salin, Hanno Soans, Triin Tamm, Toomas Thetloff, Laura Toots.
Welcome to the Machine!
Curator: Marco Laimre.
Artists: Paul Kuimet, Sigrid Viir, Maido Juss, Jarmo Nagel, Anna Tuvike, Alver Linnamägi, Tõnu Tunnel, Reginleif Trubetsky, Johannes Säre, Triin Tamm, Mattias Malk, August Sai.
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