est eng


Laimre is a Tube*

Indrek Grigor (4/2012)

Indrek Grigor reports that a fresh study proves professor Marco Laimre to be a hollow cylindrical body.


"Yet, what happens when a tube becomes a megaphone?"
Eha Komissarov (in a peer review of the following article)



Marco Laimre emerged in the Estonian art scene during the 1990s as a remarkably uncompromising and critical artist. In the past years, he has shifted his focus from making objects to institutional and pedagogical practices – he is a professor in the Department of Photography at the Estonian Academy of Arts and also one of the initiators if the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia. The following article tries to critically map Laimre's creative process utilizing methods used by Laimre himself.

Anders Härm has referred to Laimre's thought process as associative.2 One can only agree with this statement3 as Laimre himself does, albeit conceding, "Yeah, there really was something there, but it was quite formal."4 Unfortunately, as it was, even while starting this article, the author of this piece did not strive to describe Laimre's thought process by any means other than formal, which could be seen as a serious problem because this analysis has come into being as a pedagogical tool for a course in the Department of Photography at the Estonian Academy of Arts. Professor Laimre, however, aims to produce artists who "would go beyond formal attitudes" and "have a straightforward connection to what is going on".5 Nonetheless, the fact that a course of this kind was incorporated into the curriculum, and considering who was chosen as the lecturer, could lead to the suspicion that the aim was to introduce the students to the method of formal analysis. Be that as it may, through a series of auto-critical seminars, the lecturer aimed to show how formalism is dependent on the very same symbolic structure it is analysing. The thought patterns of the head of the department, Marco Laimre, were subjected to study mostly by chance and the students' initiative. In this particular context, it is a fascinating object of inquiry, as Laimre is not interested in the forms in which the symbolic structure manifests itself, but rather in manipulating the symbolic structure itself.


The question

The basis of a structural analysis is the questioning of a question. In other words: what is the question the text that is being analysed is trying to answer? In an interview given to Kaire Nurk, Laimre reveals that his focus is on the question "what does it do?"6. Or, in this case: what does Laimre do? To take it even further: "THE QUESTION IS NOT HOW TO DESCRIBE THE WORLD BUT HOW TO CHANGE IT [from here on: capital letters by K. N.]."7 Consequently, the following analysis is centred around the question of how Laimre changes the world and what he tries to change it into.


Tactics and strategy

As tactics for different critical practices, Laimre mentions doubt.8 Particular "methods are always chosen according to the object"9.

For Laimre, his strategic goal is something that is always doing something. When it comes to contemporary art, it is not important "that the things EXIST" but "WHAT THEY DO. Indeed, there is no thing in itself. It is constantly being determined by a vector: what does it do?"10 Here is what Laimre has to say about the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia:

When I am talking about critique in the sense of what I am currently doing, it is critique par excellence, and its manifestations or outcomes are also evident somewhere else. Together with my colleagues, I am trying to form a new type of gallery in Tallinn and present it as a critique of the existing institutions... It could also be seen as a conceptual project of mine that I am developing, that I am involved in and find relevant, instead of doing a dopey – or maybe even a little funny – installation somewhere.11

Similarly, the Department of Photography at the Estonian Academy of Arts could also be seen as one of Laimre's projects, as its critical stance lies in its strategic aim to distinguish itself from most other (art)schools in the world by equipping its students with the ability to create a direct and profound connection with society.12 That said, Laimre's immediate goal is "TO PRODUCE ARTISTS".13

In conclusion: in art, Laimre, as a creative persona, is focused on the question: what does it do? A positive answer, or the strategic goal of his projects, is to change the world and that can be realised through the tactical process of doubting. It is noteworthy that the goal is unattainable, or rather that the real goal is to continuously keep reaching for the goal, to perpetuate the process of trying to change the world.

In the film "Wall Street: Monet Never Sleeps" (2010) by Oliver Stone, a young rookie Jake Moore asks an old Wall Street shark Bretton James:

"What's your number? /…/
The amount of money you would need just to walk away from it and live?"

And Bretton James answers: "More."

So, it could be said that Marco Laimre's strategic goal is: More



When it comes to models with a fixed goal and value system, the goal can be positioned in the future (e.g. modernism) or in the past (e.g. classicism); the temporal dimension of More is in the present. Furthermore, while these past- or future-oriented paradigms are spatially fixed (e.g. Greece or the Soviet Union), the paradigm oriented towards the continuous recreation of the present is boundlessly widening its spatial grasp. Thus, one could say that Laimre's chronotope is flat space without defined coordinates where a constant denial of fixed spatial elements is taking place. "For me, labyrinth poses the question of how to surpass it. How to destroy the construction of the labyrinth and how to deterritorialize it?"14

Laimre discusses the labyrinth in more depth in an article called "Desert is the ultimate labyrinth" in the magazine Vikerkaar, where he gives an example based on Jorge Luis Borges's story "Abenjacan el Bojari, Dead in his Labyrinth"15.

The story is about the first king (in the Babylonian islands!) who builds a notorious labyrinth. It is notorious because raising confusion and performing miracles is deemed appropriate for a god but not for a human. The king uses his labyrinth to ridicule his guest, another (Arabian) king. Nevertheless, the visitor manages to escape the labyrinth in the course of a single day. After having freed himself, he returns to the Babylonian islands with a large army, imprisons the king and leaves him in the desert to die, saying the Almighty One has decided he must see his labyrinth where there are no stairs to climb, no doors to break through, no tiresome corridors to wander along, no walls to obstruct the path. And the first king dies of hunger and thirst.



"Doubt is something that does not arise just like that, it is a result of particular traumas."16 As Laimre reveals in his lecture "Pealisülesanne" (Superassignment) on a program called "Ööülikool" (Night University) aired on the radio station Klassikaraadio, the first trauma is the resurrection. Laimre describes the situation preceding the resurrection as one where "the self is full of emptiness"17 and where holistic and achronic integrity is cast over the self and the world. Amélie Nothomb addresses this issue at more depth in her book "The Character of Rain":

IN THE BEGINNING was nothing, and this nothing had neither form nor substance – it was nothing other than what it was. And God knew it was good. God would not have created something other than nothing for anything in the world, for it did more than merely please, it fulfilled....

God was absolute satisfaction – wanting nothing, expecting nothing, perceiving nothing, rejecting nothing, interested in nothing. So complete was life at this stage that it wasn't life. God didn't live, simply existed.

God's sole preoccupations were ingestion, digestion, and, as a direct result, excretion. These vegetative activities took place without God's even being aware of them. Nourishment, always the same, wasn't exciting enough to take much note of. God simply opened all the appropriate orifices for it to pass inn, and through and out.
That is why at this stage of its development we shall call God "the Tube".18

Why would God wake up, in other words, what causes the trauma? Laimre answers the question with honesty in his radio lecture: "I do not know".19 Amélie Nothomb reflects on that question:

There are, of course, physical accidents and mental accidents. People dismiss the latter out of hand as far as evolution goes.

A mental accident can also befall the brain from within. These are the most mysterious and serious of all. For no apparent reason, a particular circumlocution of the grey matter gives birth to the grain of a horrific thought – a truly terrifying thought – and in a flash well-being has disappeared. The virus goes to work. It cannot be stopped.
The infection forces the creature out of its torpor. /.../20


The Self

According to Laimre, the consequence of the trauma of awakening is the birth of identity. "The concept of identity as such is always created through resistance, through depression of some sort."21

It is remarkable that the trauma itself is not a negative experience, the trauma is pleasure, desire. To quote one of the main characters, Gordon Gekko, of Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" (1985): "Greed is good."

God was afraid and tempted at the same time. It made a grimace of disgust yet salivated with desire. In a leap of faith God took this new thing with its teeth, and was going to bite down hard except doing so turned out not to be necessary, for the strange white substance melted on the tongue, and instantly took command of the mouth – and a miracle is born.

Sweetness rose to God's head and tore at its brain, forcing out a voice it had never before heard:

It is I! I'm alive! I'm talking! I'm not an "it". I'm a "me"! You no longer have to say "it" when you talk about yourself. You have to say "me". And I am your best friend. I'm the one who gives you pleasure. /.../

Hooray for me! I'm as powerful as the sweetness that I can taste and which I invented. Without me, this chocolate would be nothing. But when you put it in my mouth it becomes pleasure. It needs me.22

"The self" as an extremely important position stands out in Laimre's work as well as in the reception23 of it and also in his statements.24 Heie Treier explains the cultural background of the cult of the self: "On the other hand, the cult of the self is characteristic of the yuppie-generation of the 1980s that became known as the generation of self-absorbed young professionals (in our context the mentality of the white collars in the 1990s).25


The self and the world

For Laimre, the world is a contingent socio-political reality; and his aim is to change this world, in other words, desire: More. To that end, he uses a strategic and/or methodological manoeuvre that can be designated with an overall label – doubting. The basis of doubting, or the instigator of doubt is a trauma that creates a schism between the self and the world, it also provides a necessary autonomous position and creates the initial desire.26

Here, questions like "what is the world?" and "what is the basis of Laimre's independence from the world that allows for his critical stance?" also need to be addressed. Using experimental semiotics that Laimre himself has used to describe his creative principles or methods, Anders Härm defines the world in Laimre's work as a language-based semiosphere: "So, the whole world is a sign system that can be investigated and experimented with. It makes no difference whatsoever whether we are dealing with social, political, pictorial, textual, meta-linguistic or even punctuation signs."27 The objects of Laimre's manipulations are not the signs themselves but the symbolic relationships between them because the aim of it is not to describe the world but to change it and in order to do so, the base that the world stands on, the symbolic structure of language, needs to be manipulated. Describing Laimre's methods for achieving that goal; in other words, performing the act of criticism, Härm says the following: "At first glance, applying experimental semiotics means associating random imagery and combining them within one work where they start playing a game guided by their own logic."28 Or:

The meaning of its screams was as follows:

You move your lips and words come out. I move my lips and all that comes out is noise. This injustice is unbearable. I will yell and scream until noise turns into language!"29

What, then, will verify Laimre's critical position? First of all: is this question adequate and why? In her article "Money-pulation", Heie Treier analyses the relationships between economy and the field of art within the Marxist model of a base and superstructure. In the course of her inquiry, she raises the issue of the "floating" values in the world of finance as the most important problem after the disappearance of the gold standard. This is also reflected in the art world and makes Treier wonder: "Is everyone (artists, critics, public) making up their own values and abiding by them?"30 In the context of Laimre's views, that is exactly the case, it could even been seen as his principal position. Still, there are two important aspects that need attention: the bases for Laimre's world are not the economic but the symbolic relationships, and therefore, he is not manipulating the superstructure but the base, and secondly, he does recognize that his position as a critic is subjective. According to Härm, Laimre represents "a redefined autonomy that does not exclude a critical position but at the same time, very clearly acknowledges the institutional limitations, ideology and the conditions of production in art."31 So, Laimre opposes the traditional view of autonomy that considered art to be autonomous, independent from the discourse of power and thus without any critical potential.

Heie Treier has claimed that Marco Laimre has "taken his own subjective experience as the subject of his art and seems to be making generalizations about all other subjective experiences."32 "The social and personal entwine in a rather peculiar way"33, says Härm as he takes the discussion further: "How could one principle that constitutes the experience of being a human belong to one person? /.../ In order to encompass that in his operating system, he must establish some boundaries for the term: and they are clear: me, Laimre."34 That means, however, that Laimre is his own labyrinth, his own stairs, doors, corridors and walls that he is constantly demolishing and rebuilding. While doing that, his goal is to keep remodelling the primary modelling system and not only to describe but also alter the order in the symbolic structures.

Indrek Grigor is an art critic, works as a gallerist at the Tartu Art House and edits his own segment of the radio programme "Kunstiministeerium" (The Ministry of Art) on Klassikaraadio called "Tartu möliseb" (Tartu blabbers).

* The better part of the reception concerning Marco Laimre tackles the issue of what or who Laimre is and how does he do that. Not a labyrinth, not a nice person, has a subjective and sceptical stance towards himself etc. This piece is also trying to follow in the said tradition. So, the title does not take its formal peculiarities from the provocative traditions of the media, as one would think, but from the tradition of Laimre's reception.

2 Anders Härm, Laimre ja "mina". – Vikerkaar 2004, No 6, pp 52–57.

3 Indrek Grigor, Effektiiv provokatsioon või akommunikatsioon.– Sirp 9. XI 2007.

4 Kaire Nurk, Laimre ei ole Labürint. Marco Laimret intervjueerib Kaire Nurk. – 2007, No 1, p 38.

5 Ibid., p 40.

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid., p 42.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid., p 44.

10 Ibid., p 40.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Ibid., p 46.

15 Jorge Luis Borges, Fiktsioonid. Aleph. Tallinn: Varrak, 2002, pp 235–244.

16 Marco Laimre, Kõrb on keerulisim labürint. – Vikerkaar 2004, No 9, pp 59–60.

17 Marco Laimre, Pealisülesanne. – Raadio Ööülikool, 19. III 2005.

18 Amélie Nothomb, The Character of Rain, translated by Timothy Bent. New York: St Martin's Press, 2002, p 1.

19 Marco Laimre, Pealisülesanne, 19. III 2005.

20 Amélie Nothomb, The Character of Rain, p 14.

21 Marco Laimre, Ööülikool, 19. III 2005.

22 Amélie Nothomb, The Character of Rain, pp 23–24.

23 Examples of texts about Laimre's self-centred work and supporting reviews: Heie Treier, Marko Laimre skeptiline subjektiivsus. – Vikerkaar 1996, No 10, pp 58–60; Anders Härm, Laimre ja "mina". – Vikerkaar 2004, No 6, pp. 52–57.

24 Marco Laimre, Pealisülesanne, 19. III 2005.

25 Heie Treier, Marko Laimre skeptiline subjektiivsus, p 59.

26 To conceptualize Laimre's creative foundations, Johannes Saar uses the ideas of the developmental psychology of Thomas Wood Winnicott: "Winnicott claims that the blanket that separates infant from mother also works as an aggressor and destroys the initial oceanic unity. Violently, it separates self from non-self and that very violence is always remembered as fundamental categories for discussion. The problem is that as the outlines of the subject are drafted for the first time, using the blanket, it also leads to the acknowledgement of other objects outside the blanket. As this act of isolating from the surroundings is fatally violent (no one asks to be cocooned in the blanket but it happens to everyone), in the subconscious, the objects that are radically separated from a person, and also their emerging, is always linked to a kind of a primordial traumatic experience. I believe myself not being wrong when I say that this traumatic core-experience is at the centre of Laimre's art. And this trauma should not be reduced to the pathology of a complicated childhood but be seen as an existential inevitability that concerns us all. (Johannes Saar, Marko Laimre imikupõlv. – Sirp 23. IV 2004.)

27 Anders Härm, Laimre ja "mina", p 54.

28 Ibid., p 56.

29 Amélie Nothomb, The Character of Rain, 19. Eero Epner thinks one of the groundworks for describing Laimre's work might be a children's book by Robert Vaidlo "Lood Kukeleegua linnast" (Tales from the City of Cock-a-doodle-doo) (Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1965.): "If we tried to place Laimre's art here, then perhaps it would most resemble the monster Bul-Mul, and the Dullings. The former could not speak properly and instead babbled ‘bul-bul-bul-mul'. True, in Laimre's case we obviously cannot talk about the inability, but rather the unwillingness to speak, a demonstrative act of behavioural defiance, constant Zorro-like resistance to the repressive linguistic mechanisms. /…/ The Dullings, on the other hand, were the ones fighting a never-ending guerrilla conflict against the signs that were meant to ensure regularity of behaviour. The sign "No swimming here" suddenly becomes "Swimming here", "Deep" is replaced with "Cosy". And the exclamation of the drawn boy Pinn is famous: "Look! That is no flower, but the first word is simply scribbled over with purple, so that it looks like a flower!"
That was Pinn's first encounter with experimental semiotics." (Eero Epner, Marco Laimre. – Estonian Artists 3. Ed. Johannes Saar, Andreas Trossek. Tallinn: Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia, 2007, p 57.)

30 Heie Treier, Money-pulatsioon. – KUNST.EE 2010, No 3–4, p 5.

31 Anders Härm, Laimre ja "mina", p 57.

32 Heie Treier, Marko Laimre skeptiline subjektiivsus, p 59.

33 Anders Härm, Laimre ja "mina", p 52.

34 Ibid., pp 53–54.

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