est eng 2024/1 international special pages! See: Nils Ohlsen "Konrad Mägi and Die Brücke at the Baltic Sea – just a coincidence or a phenomenon?"


Will to defend / will to experiment: Four billboards outside the city centre

Andreas Trossek (1/2024)

Andreas Trossek considers the much-discussed billboard project "Moment" (Hetk) by artists Estookin Andreen and Rebeca Parbus.



Just before Estonia's Independence Day and the second anniversary of the Russian Federation's full-scale war against Ukraine, four large billboards appeared in Tallinn. Imaginary scenes of the devastation of war were depicted on paid advertising spaces in the dormitory suburbs of Õismäe, Mustamäe and Lasnamäe.

Major media outlets published comprehensive online photo reports from the four sites, showing the striking "before and after" contrast between the actual existing buildings and the evidently computer-generated apocalyptic photomontages on the billboards. The reports explicitly stated that this was an exhibition in urban space, titled "Moment", created by artists Estookin Andreen and Rebeca Parbus.

The campaign was inevitably projected against the backdrop of the daily news flow, where, unfortunately, we have become accustomed to media reports of the devastation in Ukraine, leading to a phenomenon often described as "war fatigue". "What do we fear? What are we grateful for? [---] The past few years have shown us all how fragile the boundary between existence and non-existence, persistence and disappearance is," says the project's website

However, within hours, a storm, even a tornado, of diverse opinions swept across the media, online forums and social networks. As expected, the municipal authorities condemned the project, claiming it disturbed residents' peace of mind. Equally predictable were the reactions of politicians who publicly expressed their opinions on the matter, both at the municipal and state levels.

Nevertheless, "Moment" quickly gained so much attention – or notoriety – that the Institute of Social Research and the research firm Norstat conducted a survey on the project's fifth day. Does anyone recall when, if ever, professional sociologists in Estonia last investigated what society might think of an art exhibition?

And what did they find? It turned out that among supporters of the current coalition parties – the Reform Party, Social Democrats, and Estonia 200 – there was an above-average proportion of respondents who considered the billboards justified. Conversely, the billboards found the least acceptance among supporters of the Centre Party, the opposition party currently in power in Tallinn that has traditionally represented the interests of Russian-speaking voters.

Keeping in mind that in the 2018 Russian presidential elections, 94 per cent of the Russian citizens residing in Estonia who participated voted for Vladimir Putin's continuation, we can, of course, interpret the Tallinn billboard campaign in the context of his inevitable re-election in 2024. On the other hand, pessimistic voices have already predicted that four billboards in Tallinn's dormitory suburbs are unlikely to sway the outcome of the Russian election.

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