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Games with a utopian/dystopian constructor

Elnara Taidre (1/2021)

Elnara Taidre visited Kadri Toom's solo exhibition "Packaged Cities".




8. I–13. II 2021
Rüki Gallery




One of the most commonly cited positive side effects of the coronavirus crisis is an increased interest in domestic tourism. For the Estonian art scene, that means more visitors for exhibition spaces outside Tallinn and Tartu – which would be necessary and common sense also during "normal times" but does not work out that way as often as it should. Exhibitions in Viljandi are also worth visiting: in addition to the Kondas Centre, Rüki Gallery is also open to the public. The exhibition space led by art collector Laur Kivistik and gallerist Triinu Jürmann opened in May 2019: its aim is to show high quality Estonian contemporary art in Viljandi, broaden the horizons of the local audience and attract art lovers from elsewhere in the world as well.*

The historic space now adjusted to function as Rüki Gallery's exhibition hall fulfils its purpose quite well, offering a compact yet spacious environment. The space is well-suited for exhibiting new artworks, as in the case of Kadri Toom's solo exhibition "Packaged Cities", inspired by the artist's interest in new real estate developments as a visual-anthropological phenomenon. The artist renders three-dimensional objects as two-dimensional prints, which she then once again makes into three-dimensional installations in the gallery space – but the work is not set up to imitate real life but as a conditional space, summarising the phenomenon as a peculiar formula. However, Toom leaves the viewer the opportunity to explore the new objects in the city by either only considering their visual appearance and engaging in enjoyable observation, or contemplating their not so pleasant content hidden behind impressive facades.

Still, Toom's critique is mild-mannered, as if playing along with the real estate developer's game of seduction: her bright-coloured and potentially decorative works can be viewed as still lifes or abstractions, distanced from the issue. By juxtaposing orderly construction elements and amorphous piles of rocks on the site of an unfinished construction, Toom evokes archetypal oppositions like order and chaos. The precisely drawn and photographic surfaces, colourful geometric shapes and free picturesque motifs de-escalate tension and create a distinct mood. The details, floorplans and cross-sectional views feel ornamental, but through this beautiful game of structure, fine deconstruction is also happening.

Toom looks at new developments as a particular kind of constructor, where the former Modernist utopia – to significantly increase the speed and quality of construction by using modular elements – displays its dystopian side, the decline of construction quality and alienation caused by standardised buildings. The playful fragmented reflections resembling architecture photographs in Toom's work also evoke Silver Vahtre's and Ignar Fjuk's series of prints from the late 1970s and 1980s, interpreting, among other things, the peculiar environment created by the mass construction of Lasnamäe at the time.

In addition to alienation and strangeness, Toom also looks at the commercialisation of construction, the infamous commodification, dreaded by Soviet culture. The titles of her attractive works do inject a dose of irony: sounding deliberately chic – "Nordic Villa" (2020) or "Luxury Vintage" (2020) – they emphasise the marketing strategy of new real estate developments. The recurring motif of houseplants in Toom's works has also proved to be an effective marketing tool, subconsciously associated with future cosiness. I have to admit, emphasising the potential of a yet-to-be-completed building works: there are numerous examples of new developments, where flats are booked or sold out before they are completed. The elements in Toom's installations – artificial plants, polyurethane – seem convincing and respectable from afar, up close, however, their lightness and cheapness become evident. This is also where the contradictions of new developments are located, which to an outside observer offers a lot of food for thought.

 

 

 

Exhibition view in Rüki Gallery
Photographer Kristjan Kivistik
Courtesy of the artist

 

 

 

Kadri Toom's exhibition made me think how combination as a method of art has from time to time emerged in the work of several strong Estonian printmakers at the same time. For example, in the 1970s Tõnis Vint, Raul Meel and Leonhard Lapin employed sets of certain visual elements and images in their print series and combined them in various ways. The principle was to create a new narrative each time by placing elements of this limited selection of images into new combinations. In other words, by minimising visual means meaning was enhanced – which is one of the principles of "classic" conceptualism. Regardless of the similarity of the method, each artist has maintained originality in their work, both in terms of the visual and the meaning.

A similar process can be observed in the case of two interesting and currently active Estonian printmakers. Both Kadri Toom and Ann Pajuväli work with fully formed modular elements that are not exhausted when used in new combinations and still carry the artist's original expression and message. It is worth pointing out that both artists work with installation and expand their print compositions into three-dimensional space. While Pajuväli's set of numerous graphic elements is quite well defined, Toom uses significantly more variables. The modular elements of her architecture themed works – fragments of buildings and drawings of those buildings, motifs of windows and brick walls, stairs and houseplants – are not repeated in identical patterns but are intertwined with unique motifs instead. Executed as prints – cyanotype and/or silk screen prints – each composition also includes a monotype layer and are therefore also unique.

 

* Rüki Gallery's exhibition programme is put together in collaboration with a panel of advisors, including Paul Kuimet, Hanna-Liis Kont and Kadi-Ell Tähiste. So far, the focus has been on solo exhibitions and collaboration with artists. For example, the gallery has shown works by Alice Kask, Edith Karlson, Kiwa, Tõnis Saadoja, Salto Architects and Jaan Toomik, and is also planning exhibitions by Jenny Grönholm, Kristi Kongi, Marge Monko, Tiit Pääsuke and Mark Raidpere. By involving local artists and the community, the gallery has showcased art by Priit Pangsepp and Albert Gulk as well as exhibitions that involve students of the Viljandi Art School.


Elnara Taidre is an art historian, critic and curator. She works as Head of the Graphic Art Collection at the Art Museum of Estonia.

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