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The Creative Motors of Boredom

Elnara Taidre (2/2018)

Elnara Taidre writes about the group show "Aesthetics of boredom".



13. IV–13. V 2018
Tartu Art House
Artists: Sirja-Liisa Eelma, Flo Kasearu, Peeter Mudist, Krista Mölder, Ede Raadik, Imat Suumann, Jevgeni Zolotko, Jaan Toomik.
Curator: Peeter Talvistu, co-conceived by Jaak Tomberg.


I would like to begin this review by complimenting Tartu Art House on its exhibition programme of recent years. Characterised by self-awareness, it has aimed at coherence and diversity, seeking dialogue between simultaneous exhibitions and alongside classic exhibitions, encouraging shows that address topical issues. With its timeliness, Peeter Talvistu's curatorial exhibition, co-conceived with literary theorist Jaak Tomberg and devoted to the phenomenon of boredom, which has been the centre of attention in many areas over the past few decades,1 could just as well fit the bill for some prestigious gallery in an art metropolis. Trend-sensitive in a good way, the project sought to promote and enhance in the local context a rather recent discourse. One of its outputs was an exhibition with an intriguing line-up and delightfully minimalist design, the other, an interdisciplinary conference, part of a series of events known as 'archive conferences'.

According to online coverage and documentary material, the conference looked at boredom in the very different senses of the word and from the perspectives of various disciplines. Unfortunately, I did not manage to attend the conference myself, and will therefore stick to the exhibition, which I did see. The exhibition focused on selected aspects rather than a multitude of approaches. While curator Peeter Talvistu had preferred to keep boredom an open concept, emphasising the multitude of forms it may take, the focus was on the positive features of boredom. According to Talvistu, the absence of any specific activity or, alternatively, the performance of a routine or repetitive activity creates the opportunity to face oneself. Whether this feels tedious or gives one a sense of freedom, encouraging the generation of new ideas, depends on the person. So, boredom need not always have negative connotations, as our common understanding suggests, but can also be seen as a kind of luxury, an enjoyable inactivity. The exhibition struck me as a sort of protest against the 'fear of boredom', highlighting the need for quiet leisure and the skill of productive idleness, which are threatening to disappear with the onslaught of communication technology in our society.

Boredom takes different forms, including a fundamental one that occurs in a state of calm; it is in fact necessary, as it would be impossible for an organism to function either physically or mentally in constant excitement or anxiety. It has been said that animals do not feel bored when in a state of complete calm and instead experience it as natural; boredom only irritates humans and is therefore unique to us. It is also said that young children are never bored in their constant exploration of the world – they only learn how to be bored from adults, as a kind of a loss of innocence, just as they subsequently learn to overcome it. There is also an altogether different phase, a deeper boredom whereby a person loses interest in things that would normally interest them. Melancholy, petulance, existential angst and depression are familiar categories from different eras, which have also been used as concepts through which to discuss art – with an emphasis on suffering and moments of creative crisis.

As the works in "Aesthetics of boredom" show, however, boredom may also drive creativity. Factors such as routine, repetition, monotony, mundanity or triviality, which are featured in the exhibition, may indeed be considered the basic conditions of boredom. They are, however, also capable of causing constructive boredom, something like a cleansing state of mind, or meditative emptiness, that precedes the generation of new ideas, either in the artist or the audience. In this way "The Emptying Field of Meaning" (Tühjenev tähendusväli, 2014), a series of compositions of geometric structures by Sirja-Liisa Eelma, aims to make room for a pause – first for the painter and then the audience – in the modern world, which is characterised by an overload of visual information. These minimalist albeit time-consuming works – repetitive, monochrome compositions – really do have a calming effect, freeing the senses of visual noise and making perceptions more vivid when one returns to daily life.

Also monochromatic are Peeter Mudist's and Imat Suumann's paintings of quiet moments that grow into existential landscapes of sorts. There is something special to be found in the everyday, even in the completely random, which says something important about the world and ourselves. The philosophical treatment of accidentally captured everyday moments and views is the method used by Krista Mölder in her series of photographs titled "Boredom is not Far from Ecstasy" (Igavus, mis pole naudingust kaugel, 2010). This is a sort of manual for learning to value the flow of the routine: we begin to see more of what is special precisely after having freed ourselves from constantly expecting it. Ede Raadik, on the other hand, makes a decisive break with routine, analysing, and even overplaying, the menial tasks of a warehouse worker in a way that is witty and visually sophisticated. She proposes an analytically demanding formula for stacking bottle cases on pallets, which is simultaneously instrumental and poetic, carrying on the best traditions of conceptual art based on combinatorics.

One way of causing boredom is to present something incomprehensible. Along those lines, Flo Kasearu, in her video "House Music" (2015), combines the visual component of a statically shot video of everyday street activity with a voice-over of unrelated stories and textual fragments, which cause the mind to drift. In contrast, the other video in the exhibition, "Untitled Action" (2013) by Jaan Toomik, with the action partly obscured from the camera, was short enough to strike one as bewildering, rather than tedious. Jevgeni Zolotko's installation "Miserere" (2018), on the other hand, was charming precisely by virtue of being cryptic, of not forcing a specific narrative on the viewer but instead offering material with enough aesthetic and symbolic potential to stimulate personal interpretations in the viewer, and in this way being an ideal example of "boring" art.

 

1 For a general discussion of boredom, see e.g. Lars F. H. Svendsen, A Philosophy of Boredom. London: Reaktion Books, 2005; first published in Norwegian in 1999. On the phenomenon of boredom in art, see e.g.: Boredom. Ed. Tom McDonough. London: Whitechapel Gallery, 2017.

 

Elnara Taidre is an art historian and curator. She works as the curator of the Graphic Arts Collection at the Art Museum of Estonia.

 

Exhibition view at Tartu Art House
Photo by Indrek Grigor

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