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Do Not Do It, Do It!

Rebeka Põldsam (1/2016)

Rebeka Põldsam went to see "DOings & kNOTs" at the Tallinn Art Hall, curated by Margit Säde.

 

Tallinn Art Hall
25. XI 2015–10. I 2016
Artists: do it (HUO & ICI), LOOP, Konstanet, Anna Shkodenko, Liina Pääsuke, Rafaël Rozendaal, Esther Mathis, Nicole Bachmann, Roland Roos, Jürg Lehni & Alex Rich, George Steinmann, Dora García, Cesare Pietroiusti, Tellervo Kalleinen & Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen, Aaloe-Ader-Flo-Soosalu, Alex Cecchetti, Quim Pujol, Olof Olsson, Cia Rinne, Hanne Lippard, Audrey Cottin.
Curator: Margit Säde-Lehni.

 

What is the price of poverty? Where does self-censorship come from? What is more stable than the precarity of freelancers? What is the difference between cynicism and bitter humour, or what happens when both disappear? What to do when there is no money, but ideas want to come to life, even if only for their creator's own pleasure? Why is advice so rarely given and life functions according to instructions? The exhibition "DOings & kNOTs" curated by Margit Säde, or maybe it could even be called a manifesto, discussed all of these questions in one of the most prestigious exhibition spaces in Estonia, the Tallinn Art Hall.

"would you create
something amazing for us
we have no budget"
Rafaël Rozendaal, haiku 074

Hans Ulrich Obrist (HUO) is the most famous, successful, recognised and highly paid (by the Serpentine Gallery at around 13,000 euros per month), most travelled, mythical and busy curator of contemporary art in the world.1 All the superlatives associated with his name are basically the ideals and dreams of the creative industry based art world that everyone is striving for. "Do It!" is one of the many initiatives by Obrist – a project that made it possible to disseminate the works of artists at the very top of the art world all over the world quickly and cheaply. In 1997, works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and many other well-known artists were exhibited in Tallinn. Instructions on how to replicate the works were mailed or faxed to Anu Liivak (1953–2016), the director of Tallinn Art Hall at the time.

Twenty-three years after the first "Do It!" exhibition we now have the internet, cheap flights, shattered hopes about the progress of capitalism, an acute obsession with success and a depression epidemic caused by the loneliness of individualism, as Franco "Bifo" Berardi calls it.2 All jobs are professionalising (e.g at a funeral one of my relatives was commending how professional the gravedigger had been – the edges of the grave were really straight) and everyone is almost obliged to look like nothing could be better. Who does not have a clause in their employment contract that prohibits damaging the reputation of their employer? There are no clear lines between acceptable public criticism and unacceptable slander because employers are valued more than employees and they need to protect their reputation. In Estonia, artists mostly get their money from gamblers and consumers of alcohol and tobacco, or the people.

 

 

Rafaël Rozendaal
RR haiku 111
2015
seinamaaling, vinüül, 300×200 cm
Tallinna Kunstihoone näitusevaade
Foto autor Anu Vahtra
Kõik õigused kunstnikul

 

 

 

A call to disobedience

In many of the opening speeches at exhibitions it is mentioned that making the show was very difficult, took a lot of time and there was very little money. So oftentimes the installation teams, curators and artists attend exhibition openings with grey faces, dark circles under their eyes and are quiet due to a lack of sleep. During the first hours of exhibitions artists and curators nervously wonder if their works turned out well and if the audience likes them, although most viewers are still a bit confused and do not know what to think. The participants are plagued by an uneasy feeling about things that could have been done better, even if overall everything was good.

The show curated by Margit Säde began with an instruction: steal this book. What a wicked command against the Ten Commandments, the alpha and omega of all agreements. If in luck, the "thief" was seen or sometimes a random clapping group started applauding the achievement, but the "thief" was not held liable for their deed. In this individualist world, the time for giving advice is over, instead people are given instructions on how to behave in one situation or another. The instructions Säde had chosen for herself and others called for taking some time off, to not do anything, spend time doing nothing either by yourself or to chat with friends, to contribute to the community. So, drawings became birdsong, salt water began dripping from strings hung from the ceiling and forming sculptures, a carpet was interpreted musically, and printed holes formed empty words and began functioning as a common reference point, just as patriotic poetry against the Soviet regime used to. These empty words were filled exceptionally well by Olof Olsson's three-hour solo performance about how he got his heart broken and how his previous lover's other lovers had been the super rich Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, and that, the poor artist found even more frustrating than his unrequited love.3

 

The impossibility of failing

The exhibition was accompanied by a dense public programme, which, however, suffered many serious blows. The yoga classes were only attended by a few people; during the meditative sessions the heater broke, so instead of listening or following along people had to fight off the cold, and only a couple of people were interested in participating in the Complaints Choir project. This was a good example of the limited scope of community culture and the art institution's meagre resources for providing the necessary means for art making. The most exciting of those failures was the Complaints Choir project, carried out according to instructions from Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta.4 Although a song was created, aside from a couple of people, the choir failed to assemble and the complaints were more jokes about the weather than substantial complaints or political statements. Still, there were some intriguing lines in the song: "There is no money / nothing has a point / art is pointless" – and there probably lies the secret of self-censorship.

When we look at top politicians, it becomes clear that self-censorship combined with a low level of awareness is very common. Top politicians earn well, but to implement a minimum of programmes they still have limited means and they are not sure where they stand ideologically because most of their effort goes into keeping their jobs. The arts are structurally underfinanced and mocked by politicians with their models of creative industries. In the entire field there are no positions that pay a salary equal to that of an MP, most art institutions are underfinanced and artists do not get paid at all for participating in exhibitions or their pay ranges from 50 to 300 euros. The money flow is consistently weak – yet people still give their all, because artists want to make art, critics want to write, etc. But you cannot really say anything too emotional and risk making a fool of yourself because someone who has given their all might be offended, and you cannot admit that everything does not always turn out great, not even for successful people.

Here Pierre Bourdieu's pillars may be of help: the financial, social, symbolic and cultural capital that can be used to analyse the cultural economy.5 If an art worker only has ideas and skills (cultural capital), but no money (financial capital) and historically they also do not have a prominent place within the public sphere (symbolic capital) and no social network either (social capital) that would help them work successfully, the only logical thing to do is to reject the old models and create new ones. Out of depression and the exhaustion of not having money (what makes the context especially cynical, are the almost monthly corruption scandals in state-owned companies), the global art world seems to be experiencing a boom of community projects. Although in Estonia we cannot exactly talk about a boom yet. An increasing number of artists do not see the point in making expensive and extremely professional shows in big galleries and museums if they get paid significantly less than the installation teams, graphic designers, curators or insurance companies. Even commercially successful artists cannot afford to heat their studios for more than five years at a time.

Instead artists come together in affordable spaces, where the studio can also function as an exhibition space and instead of targeting a broad audience, they choose their own public, be it an online community of some kind, a geographical community or a part of the art community. In community projects making art becomes more personal and immediate, which keeps the scale approachable. In other words, by exhibiting for your own community, the feedback is mostly immediate. Feedback is extremely important to initiators, it helps them to go forward and develop. Exhibitions in traditional gallery spaces may not even get one review; although, purely out of inertia, the artist's symbolic capital is increased together with that of the exhibition space. When it comes to art, its financial value is mostly marginal compared to its cultural value.

Margit Säde brought Konstanet, a mainly online project space to the Tallinn Art Hall6 – essentially a six square metre cupboard with white walls – and instead of Nancy Nakamura's Shelf of Ideas, the artist Liina Pääsuke made a temporary studio out of another cupboard. Pääsuke's work, a conversation between the young artist and her mother, was published in the exhibition catalogue. One of the most well-known self-portraits in Estonian contemporary art is Mark Raidpere's conversation with his mother in the video "Shifting Focus" (2005), where the artist is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Ten years later Pääsuke continues where Raidpere left off. Pääsuke is not doubting her own capabilities, but the demand for constant production in order to keep up with the market and the realisation that not the best and most original people get the spotlight, but those most eager to please. This concluded the instructions in Tallinn and everything suddenly became an endurance performance and a sculpture that keeps asking itself: What is the point of all this? What could be done better? What is most important for me?

 

Rebeka Põldsam is an art theorist and critic, working at the Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia.

 

1 D. T. Max, The Art of Conversation. The Curator Who Talked His Way to the Top. – The New Yorker 8. XII 2014.

2 Franco "Bifo" Berardi, Public Lecture at Simon Fraser University 14. IX 2013. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcBryd29vP4).

3 Olof Olsson, Driving the Blues Away, 2012–… (http://www.olof.cc).

4 Instructions for Complaints Choir Worldwide: http://www.complaintschoir.org.

5 See: Pierre Bourdieu, Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1998.

6 See: http://konstanet.com.

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