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Discreet "Damage" – Political is Personal!

Hanno Soans (4/2013)

Hanno Soans writes about Mark Raidpere's solo exhibition "Damage".


3. VIII–8. IX 2013
Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (EKKM)
Curators: Anders Härm, Eugenio Viola


"Daft Punk is playing in my house, in my house…"
LCD Soundsystem (2005)


Every time I start to think about the artist Mark Raidpere and his work, I come to a particular point of hesitation. It is not the fact that once upon a time we were classmates that makes me hesitate and doubt his persona. It is not even the stories of our lives paradoxically intertwined for what now makes about 30 years (leaving enough space for recollections) – it is the discreetness of his work, which lends us all a feeling that once he has stepped out into the arena, he will disappear for good, disappear for a long time…


Personal is Political!

Let me start with a story, a personal recollection. One of the experiments I would hereby describe as an introduction to this article is connected to an exhibition we once initiated together with curators Eha Komissarov, Maria-Kristiina Soomre and Anders Kreuger for the newly built headquarters of the Art Museum of Estonia – Kumu Art Museum. There was obviously a lot of pressure from the local art world upon the project in general – the opening of the new premises for the museum was definitely a national endeavour, a sort of fulfilling of the late 19th century dreams of a small ethnic community.


Back in the USSR, wherever you are…

In this context – in order to cut down and replay public assumptions, we decided to launch an EU project to help discover the artistic, cultural and literary roots of small Fenno-Ugric Nations scattered across deepest Russia. The chief curator of the project, Anders Kreuger, thus manned a small anthropological survey team consisting of literary critic and publicist Juku-Kalle Raid (now an MP in the Riigikogu), artist Mark Raidpere and me to travel to Udmurtia and surrounding Fenno-Ugric territories. A prize winning video work by the artist – "Vekovka" (2007) – was secretly created on a train from Tallinn to Moscow or somewhere. We, the others present, hardly noticed the process as the Artist walked around with his miniature video camera. As a result of our survey of cities like Iževsk and the villages in the countryside, the project – presenting unheard voices from small cultures at Kumu Art Museum – turned out a success, facilitated by the collaboration of all parties involved.


"The damage done…"

Why am I telling you this particular story from the distant past, at this particular moment when the Artist has just recently exhibited at the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (EKKM) with a solo exhibition called "Damage", and his most recent catalogue raisonné has just been published in conjunction with the show curated by Eugenio Viola from Napoli and Anders Härm from Tallinn? To tell you the truth, I am not quite sure. Yet. There might be juicier stories to be told from our shared past. But that is not relevant here. This article is not about "rocking the boat" or about "Pandora's box". Neither is it about pink-floydian "delicate sound of thunder" or "True Faith", a common favourite of ours from 1987, or stealing the show. It is about the personal style of an Artist that has outgrown his own shoes. One of Raidpere's strongest traits as an artist is empathy. This gives him the ability to work with various contexts, to adapt to the specifics of different personae around him and – last but not least – to bring out the best in the pieces exhibited. I guess, while never having said this, he has always been interested in translating as a practice and as a metaphor. His mother tongue is Empathy!


Exhibition view at EKKM
Courtesy of the artist


And now comes the work of art, related...

As already demonstrated in the aforementioned exhibition catalogue for "Damage", the Artist has always been interested in literature. We could see the cult book from the Soviet era, "Giovanni's Room", is on the table in one of the photographs from the Napoli series exhibited at the show. This is the second novel by American writer, James Baldwin, originally published in English in 1956, but recently (in 2013) surprisingly reprinted in Estonian. It focuses on the lives of two American men as they incline towards homosexuality, and the author's liasons with men, mostly a barman named Giovanni he met in a gay bar in Paris. Who is this Giovanni-boy? What does he have in common with the author of the photograph, delicately exhibited there with second-degree sunburn? Is it a piece of body art involuntarily recalling the chrestomatic work of Dennis Oppenheim? And why the fascination with the "antique" book? Cannot really tell, to be honest. As always in Raidpere's work, there is enough mental space left for the viewer to discover him or herself instead of the ever-fleeting artist...


To end, once again I could exercise my privilege of having known Mark for quite a long time – to the obvious horror of his secondary school Estonian literature teacher, he once composed a whole essay using only the interrogative form – only questions. He was, by the way, publicly praised, of course, but left standing there alone in front of the class, in his meticulously white trademark shirt. After all we were already in more liberal times; the perestroika-clock was ticking. As time has passed, I have come to the conclusion that in the details I might have recalled it somewhat incorrectly, but that is not what matters here either. What struck me that day was his paradoxical loneliness. The loneliness of an Author... I am not sure that any of the interpretations of his work so far in Estonian have ever focused on his take on the notoriously famous French polemicist, curator and art critic Nicolas Bourriaud, but it feels as if they had grown up together... And what is here to add in terms of relational aesthetics? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Besides perhaps, that it might be our key to understanding his success in the French, and hereby, Italian context.


Hanno Soans is an art historian, curator and critic, lives and works in Tallinn.

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