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19.03.2010

Andreas Trossek (1-2/2010)

Andreas Trossek views Flo Kasearu and Tõnis Saadoja’s joint exhibition 21.05.09 and 14.06.09
 
21.05.09 and 14.06.09 is first and foremost a surprisingly harmonious concord of two different projects. In the gallery, the images are ‘in motion’, creating an atmosphere that resembles a cinema. The show is suggestive of storytelling; the accompanying pamphlet delivers narrative charges of text, which are described as the third component in this joint exhibition by the two artists – Flo Kasearu and TõnisSaadoja. Moreover, the press release seems to provide essential clues for making sense of it all: it makes apparent the intertwining of key concepts such as ‘devoid of people’, ‘Tallinn’, ‘white nights’, ‘white horses’ and ‘deportation’.
 
In the back hall of the gallery, expressively lined with draped curtains reminiscent of the dream sequence from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Kasearu presents her thirteen-minute video 21.05.09, featuring a white horse galloping along walls of house in central Tallinn at night. The galloping horse is a looping computer animation projected onto roadside objects filmed from a moving vehicle. The video unfolds like a thriller; the car with the projector is chased by another vehicle that films the activity. The soundtrack is loud enough that it can already be heard from the front hall of the gallery. The year before 21.05.2009 (the date on which the video material was recorded), the artist had completed a prototype experiment of the video for a school project, and on the following day she had read in the newspaper that real horses had escaped from the hippodrome and had been galloping around Tallinn during that same night.
 
In terms of its technical realization, Kasearu’s work recalls early German video art from the beginning of the 1970s, although the resemblance is probably entirely accidental – Kasearu had already expressed interest in the potential use of light projection in public urban space,[i] so the apparent quotation is unlikely to have been intentional. Nevertheless, the parallel between her work and the German precursor, separated by almost forty years, is almost mystical: the video Projection X (1972) by Imi Knoebel also involves the projection of a beam of light – in this case a flickering letter X – from a moving vehicle onto the walls of houses in slumbering Darmstadt. Like Knoebel, Kasearu’sartistic background is also mainly in painting.
 
Tõnis Saadoja’s background is also in painting and, according to the lapidary statement in the gallery press release by the gallery, “his name requires no further introduction for the Estonian art audience”. Nonetheless, it is at least modestly newsworthy that this is Saadoja’s first significant performance in photographic installation. In the dimly lit front hall of the gallery, Saadoja has showcased nine light-boxes, each displaying a photo of an empty Tallinn crossroad located along the route from Nõmme to Lasnamäe. The light-boxes flick on and off like the automated traffic lights at each of the crossroads. No vehicles or people are visible; it seems to be a ghost town. At the same time, the apparently neutral title of the work –14.06.09, which at first seems simply to document the date the photographs were taken, is in fact loaded with political associations in the Estonian historical memory. It refers to a national day of mourning and anniversary of one of the most painful collective traumas in the historical narrative of Estonia – the deportations.
 
Still, both works stand firmly with their feet on the ground and exist primarily in the here and now. There can be no real return to the shadowy dream world of wartime past; there is no galloping Pegasus. Neither Kasearu’s play with the cliché image of the galloping white horse nor Saadoja’s allusions to deportation obscure the fact that the viewr’s experience of this joint exhibition is also an experience of a photo and a video documentation of Tallinn during the summer, at night, deserted. In this way the exhibition may serve as a development of Saadoja’s 2008 apartment exhibition, where he displayed photorealist watercolours of Tallinn. Or perhaps it is a response to architect Paco Ulman’s photo exhibition In Tallinn from last year, which, in contrast, played with the idea of an overcrowded Tallinn?
 
Oddly, the two projects seem to complement each other across the two gallery spaces.[ii] Kasearu’s visually eye pleasing ‘horse video’ adds spice where Saadoja’s ‘crossroads installation’ might otherwise seem insipid; and while Kasearu’s work by itself may seem superficial – its seriousness lost to brainless eye-tickling, Saadoja’s work contributes a conceptualist undercurrent to the poeticism. Strangely, the blinking light-boxes achieve perhaps their most striking effect as a separate installation only in the evening light when the gallery is closed: the photographic streetlight-boxes twinkle in the dim light, seemingly in sync with the lights of the city outside.
 
This is the second time Saadoja and Kasearu have presented a show as a duo, and even the practical side of their joint exhibition – i.e, the budget – seems a considerable improvement in comparison with their previous show at the end of 2008 in Tallinn City Gallery. In that show, which was obviously intended to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, three painting tutors from the Estonian Academy of Arts (Kaido Ole, Lauri Sillak a.k.a. Laurentsius and Tõnis Saadoja) agreed to face one another in a painting ‘duel’ after receiving the invitation from their student Kasearu. The challenge consisted of painting a purposeless item she had rigged up in typical academic still-life style, such that the finished paintings would appear realistic and thus appeal to the audience. Of course, what may have seemed a provocative attack against the entire academic system and a vengeful patricide was, in actuality, an event featuring the unanimity of students and professors, thus providing a possible model for any future academic institute. Instead, the supposed enemy figured in the implied social portrait of the generalised public as art-hating citizens, and the presumably ignorant newspaper critic.[iii] Of course the latter may be accused of little more than daring to express, with honesty, his personal taste, in that he found that particular show uninteresting.
 
Andreas Trossek works as the editor-in-chief of the KUNST.EE magazine and as an art historian at the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Estonia.

1 See, for example: Riin Kübarsepp, Kunstitudengid tahavad tähtsate majade sisu päevavalgele tirida.– Eesti Päevaleht 6.09.2006.
2 It is interesting that the first exhibition of Saadoja’s works years ago was a similarly cooperative project. The joint exhibition with Maarit Murka in Vaal Gallery in 2003, featuring two different painting series, was based on a similar logic of contrasts: Murka painted Estonian boys, while Saadoja painted Estonian girls. Later the two artists have been developed their work in parallel, rather than together. Or is it really so? There is a pair of pictures from 2008 in Murka’s portfolio: Who the fu..k celebrates on 14th of June? And I Was, telling us about how she was a guest at an Estonian wedding on the day of mourning.
3 See, in particular, the so-called magazine project-special in KUNST.EE 2009, No. 1–2. 
 
25.02.–21.03.2010
Tallinn Art Hall Gallery
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