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"As Reskript suggests, EKKM is not only an art institution but also a community. A community that consists of the artists and curators who have exhibited at EKKM as well as the exhibition installers and also the cafe subletting the foyer and so on, as well as friends, friends of friends and even complete strangers." – Siim Preiman "Crisis of imagination" (KUNST.EE 3/2021)

 

Crisis of imagination

Siim Preiman (3/2021)

Siim Preiman took part in the guided tour of the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (EKKM) entitled "A Rescripted visit to EKKM’s Collections".

 


4.–16. V 2021
Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (EKKM)
Curators: production platform Reskript (Maarin Mürk and Henri Hütt)


Lately, I often think about the crisis of imagination. This is the only name I can give to boring and uninspired thinking, going with the flow, falling victim to habits.

The crisis of imagination lies in the inability to doubt ingrained habits, it is rife in all areas, it hides in the large and small details. How does a sandy beach become a district of apartment buildings with a concrete shoreline? A city garden become a parking lot? Why is it that there are large amounts of construction waste left over from every cultural event, the intended effects of which are immaterial? Why does a grassroots cultural institution receive an ultimatum from the local city government: the building must be renovated within two years, otherwise we will replace it with a business building? Answer: behind all this there exists a crisis of imagination.

I don't think any of us are immune to this virus that reduces imagination. As an art worker at a state funded institution, I know the force of routine and habits that inhibits creativity. Yes, structure and rules are less demanding on your health, give you the strength to run the art marathon and produce the illusion of order in this essentially absurd world.

But we must wrestle with routine! We have to flex the muscles of our imagination! Open our childish mouth and ask in a loud voice: why do we have to do it like this?

 

 

 

Photographer Mikk-Mait Kivi
Courtesy of Rescript and EKKM

 

 

 

In the spring of 2021, EKKM and Reskript collided, two art platforms, both of which test the imagination. EKKM has been organising exhibitions since 2007, while Reskript is a production platform founded by Maarin Mürk and Henri Hütt in the autumn of 2019, which offers new scenarios for openings, meetings, discussions and presentations which, in the words of Reskript, help cultural organisers "energise utterly boring situations". For example, their catalogue includes product categories such as scented book presentations, an artist talk in the dark, an opening with a disappearing speaker or a conversation using body language.

Of course, the cultural pauses caused by the coronavirus have inhibited events that could have been rescripted. And after a long break from culture and socialising, I myself have often felt the return to the old (boring?) formats to be pleasantly refreshing. As if it were a simulated return to "normalcy".

Back in 2019, when launching their platform, Reskript gave vouchers to several Estonian cultural institutions promising to conduct one event free of charge. EKKM redeemed its voucher, and this led to the first project of the museum's exhibition season of 2021 "A Rescripted Visit to EKKM's Collections".

Initially, Reskript planned to curate an exhibition based on EKKM's collection, but the project changed while inspecting the chaotic (not to mention random) and incompletely documented collection. The focus shifted to why does EKKM have a collection in the first place.

The project took the form of a guided tour for visitors with pre-registration, which led them on an upside down tour of the EKKM building: from the yard along the service stairs to the backstage of the museum and then through the exhibition halls back to the beginning. During the excursion, the tour guides presented the results of their in-depth inventory, proposed a new structure for the collection (with four sub-collections) and offered bold subjective recommendations concerning which objects to include in the collection, which to discard and what the EKKM collection could become in the future.

In the last space, they also listed possible fantasy sub-collections: a collection of unfinished works, a collection of projects that have received a negative answer three or more times from the Estonian Cultural Endowment and a collection of bad art (idea by Marco Laimre, founding member of EKKM). At the end of the guided tour, upon entering the café, the visitors received a certificate, according to which they were appointed new curators of the EKKM collection.

As Reskript suggests, EKKM is not only an art institution but also a community. A community that consists of the artists and curators who have exhibited at EKKM as well as the exhibition installers and also the cafe subletting the foyer and so on, as well as friends, friends of friends and even complete strangers. I dare say that the tour I went on was comprised solely of such members of the EKKM community! For me, the primary function of the tour was to provide an organised overview of the semi-fictional EKKM collection, which I was already aware of beforehand.

There were, of course, some great personal discoveries: Raul Keller's sound installation "Reflector" (2007–2011) which was hidden inside a rowan tree and Hanno Soans' and Yuri Kortšagin's video and painting installation "Anniversary with a Sea View" (2004). There were lovely moments in the video interviews with those connected to the building: Neeme Külm, a founding member of EKKM, sighs "Oh, I honestly don't know why EKKM needs a collection at all…" and Marco Laimre compares EKKM to a duck ("Well it's a duck! Nothing but a duck!"). But most of all I liked the collection curator certificate handed out at the end of the tour! Finally, this document somehow formalises my informal connection to the building.

Fortunately, things at EKKM are never what they seem. This tour was just the tip of the iceberg for that project, a tidy facade for the public. As the museum often performs necessary renovation work in the shadow of projects, it is also much more interesting to think about what the project to rescript EKKM's collections did than about what it looked like.

First, structural adjustment. The previous season was the final one for the former acting director of EKKM, Marten Esko. Reskript quickly discovered that only Esko knew what belonged to the collection and where it could be located. The works were reviewed one by one together with him and (the future) conservator Siim Hiis. The latter also compiled status reports for all of them. Whether it is a museum or an institution that simply pretends to be a museum, it is essential that the knowledge of its collection remains in the building. This spring, the sheds surrounding EKKM were demolished, which had previously housed the exhibition installation company Valge Kuup, the publishers and bookshop Lugemik, EKKM café as well as a large number of pieces in the museum's collection. An inventory of the collection was thus inevitable for several reasons.

Second, the reputational aspect. Currently, EKKM has a two-year agreement with the city of Tallinn, by the end of which the museum must have a definite plan and funding for the renovation of the building. I inevitably felt like I was on a private tour of the building when visiting the rescripted collection as secret rooms and stories opened up in front of me, in short, the soft underside of the museum. This was also emphasised by various talking heads in the video that openly interpreted the collection and the building. So, if you'd never been to EKKM before, it was a pretty good project through which to get to know the building. And apparently the other tours included people not from this so-called EKKM community…

And third, that very same workout for the imagination. Why is the collection necessary? What characterises the collection? How long will the collection exist? Since I become an art worker several years after EKKM was established, it is actually difficult for me to grasp that most of the artists donated their works to the museum collection for free. Would it be possible today for an art institution to collect works of art through conceptual barter (i.e. for free)? That said, every "talking head" repeated that the museum has a collection because museums have to have them. Okay, 15 years ago it seemed that they should. But now?

Of course, the rescripting of Mürk and Hütt was, after all, primarily conceptual tomfoolery and only after that a serious undertaking. The changes and collection principles they propose are suggestions that the museum can selectively take or leave. Over the years, working on their collection has been of the lowest priority for the EKKM team primarily due to limited resources.

However, some of the suggestions made by Reskript have already been implemented. For example, several pending purchase and sale transactions with artists have been completed. Some of them were completed at the ceremonial closing event of "A Rescripted Visit to EKKM's Collections"; for example, Marge Monko finally received the loaf of bread promised to her a long time ago. And Neeme Külm finally received a shirt! Works that are not currently in the collection and that have been deposited in the EKKM building for one reason or another will also be returned.

And also: I hope that EKKM will heed the proposal to include the building at Põhja Avenue 35 / Rumbi 3 in the collection of the museum as a work of art. Yes, it is difficult to destroy museums, but it is even more difficult legally to exclude objects that have been included in museum collections. Just you try to squash EKKM, the last keep of free imagination and free high culture by the sea in Tallinn, when EKKM will be a part of its own collection!

 

Siim Preiman is a contemporary art agent who works as a curator at Tallinn Art Hall and maintains the mobile art platform galerii galerii. His curatorial projects monitor the potential role of art in resisting global forces, focusing on the ethics of making art and the stories seldom told in society.

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