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FROM THE ARCHIVES: "In the capital, only a few steps from the sea, there is a small international art institution, which has, in its own way, become dear to all members of the local art scene during the ten years of its activity." – Marika Agu, Siim Preiman, "A "phantom platform" as an Art Institution for All" (KUNST.EE 2017/2)

 

"I don’t feel like listening to your shitty band"

Kaarin Kivirähk (3/2017)

Kaarin Kivirähk writes about Helena Keskküla's solo exhibition "Ballad of a Little Grain of Sand".

 

 

 

3.–30. VIII 2017
Avangard Gallery
Coordinator: Rebeka Põldsam.

 

When everything feels absurd

My train has gone, will there be another?
The road beneath my feet seems endless
Reaching you, I've run out of words

Nexus, "Hingetuna" (Breathlessly, 2003)

 

The national conservative political party EKRE (Conservative People's Party of Estonia) is the most popular party among Estonian men. Publicist Mihkel Kunnus, who considers a violence free family a utopia, is an accepted opinion leader. Theatre director Tiit Ojasoo, who exercised violence against a female employee, continues to be thoroughly respected and his theatre NO99 is considered an establishment that steps on all the toes of society. Last year lawyer Allar Jõks, who did not hold back from making sexist jokes during his campaign, was almost elected president, his success clearly proving that the political power of "real men" has not disappeared anywhere. All of the aforementioned are not even comparable to Donald Trump, the vulgar misogynist embodiment of universal idiocy recently elected president of the United States. What can we do in this situation? I believe that the most important thing is not to forget to work against this conveyor belt of mindlessness and nonsense, using our own voice and supporting other like-minded voices.

Helena Keskküla is an artist who simultaneously uses her voice as medium and subject. She works in the genre of music video and had her debut on stage at the NU Performance Festival at the Kanuti Gild last year. Taking the stage both literally and figuratively means expressing one's opinion in the most straightforward way, raising one's voice to be heard. The message of her stories is sharp, often referring to her annoyance with the expectations placed on her as an artist or as a woman. "I don't feel like listening to your shitty band," Keskküla sings in her video "Debüüt" (Debut, 2014), alluding to all the irritating artistic boys who consider themselves geniuses, constantly read Michel Houellebecq and never notice anything further than the narrow space surrounding them in their overt narcissism. She continues in a similar vein in the piece "Pseudoreaalsus" (Pseudoreality, 2016): "I don't have ambitions, I don't have pretensions, I don't have illusions. I don't care who you are. And I don't care where you come from."

The visual language of Keskküla's videos is unambitious and free from illusion in a good way. Being decidedly low-fi, it's possible the viewer will get the impression that the video was nothing more than a girl's entry in her video diary, recorded in her own bedroom, or a first amateur attempt to attract 100,000 followers on YouTube. Even the fact that the artist's videos and songs are in Estonian evokes a certain nostalgia for pop music from the 2000s. Particularly when set side by side with the English language and distinctly high-tech post-internet videos by some other young artists. The artist's light, Barbie-doll-esque singing voice also plays at the canons of credibility. In the piece "+1" (2016), which Keskküla composed using previous videos and presented at the NU Performance Festival, she playfully uses the symbols of girly-ness such as pink clothing, wigs and so-called "sexy" gestures to create a distorted mirror image of a young woman.

Pärnu entered Keskküla's artistic oeuvre last year with the solo exhibition "Pärnu upub, mina koos sellega" (Pärnu is Drowning, So am I, 2016) featured at Draakon Gallery. As you may be aware, EKRE's constituency in Pärnu is one of the most active, with many of its loyal voters living there. As the summer capital of Estonia, Pärnu is known as a place where the radio stations Power Hit Radio and Sky Plus play all day in shops and pizzerias and from the cars of beachgoers. While the former is simply a 24/7 dance music station, the latter is known for DJs that legitimise stupidity and sexism.

At the exhibition in Draakon Gallery we met a modern mermaid that Keskküla developed further with the solo exhibition "Liivatera ballaad" (Ballad of a Little Grain of Sand) that opened this August in Pärnu Avangard Gallery. "This is Little Grain of Sand. She has blonde hair and blue eyes. She lives in Pärnu bay and she is a mermaid," the narrator begins describing the sea-maiden. Water spirits and voices have always belonged together in mythology. The Siren, the corresponding sea-maiden in Greek mythology, lured sailors with its beautiful singing. In German, and from there also in Estonian folklore, the Nix lured with cries for help or playing the zither. Hans Christian Andersen made the Little Mermaid famous with a story about her giving up her voice. Helena Keskküla's Little Grain of Sand gives up her voice too, to go to Pärnu city and fulfil her greatest dream – to drive a car.

So the ballad is just like a symbolic story of a modern mermaid – or a woman who tries unsuccessfully to fulfil her dreams, make her voice and wishes heard, but bounces back against the expectations of society. I would like to write that this train of thought is as clichéd as it is possible to be, but unfortunately I cannot. A lot of time is spent at first-aid courses explaining how men and women always react differently in crisis situations – it is in their nature. Until now it has been explained in driving school that while men are good drivers by nature, women cannot really concentrate on what is happening on the road because their vision and attention are apparently fully occupied with their beautiful nails on the steering wheel.

In the video "Pseudoreaalsus" Keskküla sings: "I feel there is my reality and your reality and then the real reality where we meet. Do we meet? I don't believe we do – I don't believe we ever meet." What can you do when another genius comes to tell you about feminism, chauvinism, the insurmountable differences between women and men, the Estonian state and Russians, or how men are meant to fight and women are meant to take care of the heart and home? It seems like people do live in different realities in a way. Please, don't get me wrong – we don't take offence – but it's so irritating! Little Grain of Sand too lives quite alone in her dream world of matchbox cars; she does not really get involved with the problem of the decreasing mermaid population because of low birth rates.

At the end of the story Little Grain of Sand perishes as is proper for every mermaid. Her voice goes to monkfish Rando's chandelier made of the mermaid voices he has collected. It is never heard again. Little Grain of Sand is silent and smiling, particularly beautiful, does not even gasp any more.

Breathlessly, you finally noticed me
And no one can change that

 

Kaarin Kivirähk is an art critic, who works as the newsletter editor and project manager at the Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia.

 

 

Helena Keskküla

Exhibition view at Avangard Gallery
Courtesy of the artist

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