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Bubbles, Paintings and Kraftwerk

Liisa Kaljula (2/2017)

Liisa Kaljula writes about Mart Vainre's solo exhibition "Bubbles".



5. V–4. VI 2017
Tallinn City Gallery

Mart Vainre is one of those conceptual painters of the younger generation who works rather slowly and exhibits rather rarely. But – respect! Because being slow, thorough and not so productive is like punk, alternative culture and swimming against the tide in today's acceleration society. As a painter, Vainre has always been more likely to be characterised by the intellectual challenges he has made for himself, rather than the enjoyment of the cultivation of colour and form. It is possible that that kind of rational attitude to one's field of interest comes from the combination of a bachelor's degree in painting from the Estonian Academy of Arts and a master's degree in new media. But perhaps it is rather that Vainre would prefer to keep his paintings from becoming hermetically sealed within his studio where today's world could not affect them. There is always some modern device standing between Vainre and classical painting, whether it be a camera, a smartphone or a computer.

In his solo exhibition "Bubbles" at Tallinn City Gallery, Vainre showed his latest paintings from 2016 and 2017. The exhibition got its name from the internet activist Eli Pariser's term "filter bubbles", with which he characterises a personalised flow of information which is inherent in today's internet, and from this we lose contact with what is different and so become closed into a comfortable bubble of information, suitable for one's view of the world. It could be that Vainre considers today's art to be one of those bubbles and is hence self-ironic. But quite certainly he has derived his method from this virtual withdrawal into oneself, which has also been called an echo chamber or hallway of mirrors. Vainre's paintings usually come from a small brush stroke, which he then scans, edits digitally and once again puts onto a canvas.

The large-scale painting "The Self-Acknowledged Brush Stroke" (2016) could be seen in an earlier phase in the group exhibition "Big Painting" at the Evald Okas Museum last year. I like this work as a joke at the expense of painting because it is a witty oxymoron: a brush stroke could never be acknowledged because a brush covered in paint just does not work like that in the hands of a human being, and in that impossibility of final control lies the core of painting. At the bottom of the painting, Vainre has added a small thick brush stroke, and in the upper part of the painting he has painted it in detail by magnifying it many hundreds of times. If I had to categorise that painting stylistically, it seems like a conceptual painting where the hyperrealist methods of the digital age have been hyperbolised. That particularly nice exaggeration has also always been characteristic of Vainre's painting humour.

In the series "Bubbles" (2016), Vainre has acted like a sampling DJ, who uses existing music to create something new. While the artist's digital hyperrealism is calculated in "The Self-Acknowledged Brush Stroke", then in the four-part series "Bubbles" he seems to have given himself fully to the experience that comes from painting. Rapidly sampling his own brush strokes, Vainre becomes a technical Narcissus who goes into a trance from the digital editing of his own brush strokes and then dances to it like no one is watching. As a painter and an amateur cyclist, Vainre seems to view the combining of human and machine into one as something idyllic. He has even said in the newspaper Eesti Ekspress that it is a fantastically liberating feeling: "Riding a bike is like the technical utopian vision of Kraftwerk, where human and machine are indistinctly integrated and working towards a common goal."

True, compared to Vainre's earlier work, the solo exhibition "Bubbles" is somewhat more technical, although even in his earlier period one conceptual idea was the basis of it all and had to bring the whole to life. Viewing oneself from afar has intrigued the artist before; for example, in the solo exhibition "Constructor" at the Art Hall Gallery in 2012, or in the installation "To See Oneself Looking" (2014) exhibited as part of the group exhibition "Can't Go On, Must Go On" at Tallinn Art Hall in 2014. While the former was an artificial eye mechanically-serially observing the artist's studio work process from a high cupboard, in the latter, the artist created a miniature model of his exhibition area in the Art Hall, including a miniature painting, lamps, radiators and even electrical outlets. An attitude of exploration in regard to painting and a certain exalted but luckily conceptualised self-centredness are combined in Vainre's work. Humour always frees Vainre's work from being too serious.

With many other painters in Estonia who are his age, like Merike Estna, Mihkel Ilus, Kristi Kongi, Mihkel Maripuu, Laura Põld and Anna Shkodenko, Vainre firmly acknowledges giving painting a new chance as well as the younger generation's interest in this old "craftsman's" medium, allowing the survival of painting against all odds in the technical 21st century. Amidst the local wave of feminism, Vainre might be somewhat in the shadow of the female painters of his age, but the quality of execution and conceptual thoroughness of his recent groups of paintings has been remarkable.


Liisa Kaljula is an art historian, critic and curator, she is the head of the painting collection at Kumu Art Museum.



Mart Vainre "The Self-Acknowledged Brush Stroke"

Mart Vainre
The Self-Acknowledged Brush Stroke
oil on canvas, 250 x 170 cm
Courtesy of the artist

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