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Every Landscape Is a Condition of the Spirit

Piret Karro (1/2016)

Piret Karro visits Laura Põld's solo exhibition "Hundreds of Illusions Charted as Land".



14. I–20. III 2016
Tartu Art Museum
Curator: Peeter Talvistu.

 


When entering Laura Põld's solo show from the bookshop at Tartu Art Museum (Tartmus), the first room is dominated by the multifarious forms of a mock castle made of old furniture, and visitors can peek inside here and there to see their own reflection or a pastel-coloured little ceramic worm, gleaming and frothing. The steps of winter boots produce a hollow echo on the wooden floor built there especially for the exhibition in order to guide the visitors through the entire installation or new painting, as it is described in the exhibition catalogue – that occupies the entire first level of the museum.

The ground floor of Tartmus with its four exhibition rooms has been transformed into an environment that I can only describe as a space shared by nature and art. Tree trunks erected between the floor and ceiling are surrounded by ceramic objects created by the artist using her original technique, folded curtains and canvases covered with patterns in various hues of beige, grey, green and orange familiar to those who know her style. The journey starting from the bookshop takes viewers down a boardwalk, somewhat similar to those built over wetlands, to the end of the space and the path, leaving them surrounded by white salt and faced with a video screen showing landscape views. The journey is accompanied by a sound composition by Juhan Vihterpal consisting of distant sounds and voices that evoke in the visitor a vague idea of a parallel reality.

Laura Põld floats somewhere in between the familiar and the strange, nature and culture, a position that is perhaps most interestingly conveyed by another, earlier exhibition of hers, "Das Ende der Landschaft, das Ende der Stadt" (Prigglitz, Lower Austria, 2013), or rather the title itself – the end of landscape, the end of the city. Põld is a double agent in both worlds – an artist in nature and a force of nature in the art gallery. Her works are an example of the fact that there is no real contrast here – culture is simply nature at a higher level of complexity.

Liisa Kaljula offers a diagnosis of Põld in the catalogue essay: she is "a nomadic agent of global contemporary art". Her art is made on a project basis in temporary studios rented here or there. Põld is constantly on the move – from Vienna to Estonia, from Estonia to Japan, paintings, sculptures and large-scale formats, either unpacked, somewhere in a post office or on a train, awaiting arrival at another destination. Rael Artel adds, "Today she is in Ujula Street in Tartu preparing her museum exhibition, but tomorrow she may already be in Berlin, Tokyo, central Estonia or back in Vienna. She wanders somewhere in the periphery of landscape painting and the daily life of being a contemporary artist and converts this experience into a total installation in the exhibition hall." "Every landscape is a condition of the spirit," wrote the Swiss philosopher and poet Henri-Frédéric Amiel in his diary in 1852, as Peeter Talvistu points out in the exhibition catalogue, adding with Fernando Pessoa that "every condition of the spirit is a landscape".1 Without attempting to guess at Põld's presumed condition of spirit at any given moment in time, one gets the impression that the constant moving around, her work as a nomadic agent, is also reflected in her exhibition – the movement of the visitors is guided both horizontally, when walking along the boardwalk, and vertically, when reading the stories about the rain in Japan and hearing the fragments of the sound of someone speaking somewhere else.

 

 

Laura Põld

Installation view at Tartu Art Museum
Photo by Anu Vahtra
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Therefore, Põld can be described as an artist of Non-Tartu, as it were; it is, after all, significant that she made her way from the woods of Prigglitz to the museum in the leaning house on the bank of Emajõgi River. Non-Tartu embraces periphery as its centre and starts sending signals from a jungle of twigs and scrubs to a city.2 Põld builds installations in the snow and takes the forest indoors. And with all this "Hundreds of Illusions Charted as Land" is still a rather refined display of materials. The purported lines separating nature and culture as well as Estonia and Japan are blurred when there is someone who transcends this conceptual or spatial barrier with her nomadic existence and arrives bearing her previous location as a gift, which she carries with her in her spirit.

The large-scale work at the centre of the first room, which I described at the beginning of this article, is reminiscent of a solo show by another Non-Tartu artist – "Argipoeesia" (Everyday poetry) by Eva Mustonen at the Tartu Art Hall in 2014. With its form/formlessness and ambiguity, the installation "Ma ei lähe siit kuhugi" (I'm Not Going Anywhere, 2014) from that show, made out of a bedside table and furniture legs, could be part of the furniture for the mock castle. The bedside table installation by Mustonen "seems to suggest: look here, you local, furniture legs, pop them on your feet, because you're stuck in the Tartu river mud. You can't even fix the legs to a table, let alone stand on your own two feet," as I described it in an unpublished text.3 The question of going or not going is always in the air in Tartu.

Põld's show is dotted with passages from her diary from last year when she was working at the AIRY guest studio in the city of Kōfu in Japan. Fruity cigarette smoke, Japanese pop music, ground elders and elm trees, rain, waiting at the bus station. These mental images are the clearest reference to what the artist experienced before creating this exhibition. On the whole, the artist does not really make it easy for the viewer to interpret the exhibition. For example, Peeter Talvistu suggests in the exhibition catalogue that the artist wanted to transform the gallery into a place where she and the viewers could begin their interpretative efforts from equal positions. But is there in fact anything to interpret here? "It is a collection of places, spatial experiences, colours, materials and spots of light on my studio wall," says the artist in a press release on the exhibition.

I stop at the far end of the board walk amidst the salt in the last room of the exhibition and watch the video, now and again anxiously looking over my shoulder as the sounds created by Vihterpal seem all too real. I get a yearning for the forest or the sea – a strong desire to lie down in a forest as light green, soft needles slowly fall from larch trees. Or to be in the middle of the sea, with the waves carrying forceful surges from the distant open sea to me. This desire is not satisfied by the exhibition. "Hundreds of Illusions Charted as Land" sounds promising, but the illusions do not in fact number even a hundred. You get just one diffuse illusion and even that is set on a river bank rather than in the middle of the sea.

 

Piret Karro is a semiotician, artist and art critic.

 

 

1 See: Laura Põld and Hundreds of Illusions Charted as Land. Comp. Peeter Talvistu. Tartu: Tartmus 2016, p 12, 122, 186.

2 See: Mitte-Tartu. Compiled by Sven Vabar. Tartu: Topofon 2012.

3 Piret Karro, Argipoeesia ja olmeromantika. Meeletu.blogspot.com 31. V 2014.

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