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Kristi Kongi: "I do enjoy long contemplation and pondering over things."

Andreas Trossek (1/2014)

Andreas Trossek interviews the winner of the 2014 Sadolin Art Prize, painter Kristi Kongi.


Congratulations on winning the Sadolin Art Prize. I am sure the prize money will be put to good use in your new projects, but which ones specifically? What will the biggest challenges of the year be?

There are quite a few big challenges this year. For example, a group exhibition "Painting in Open Space" at Kumu Art Museum that will open at the end of June. In October, I will participate in a group exhibition at Tallinn Art Hall, for which I am producing a large installation of paintings.

My solo exhibition towards the end of the year is a very important challenge. The exhibition is called "I Remember it So Nicely" and it will be a sequel to the projects "Transformator" and "Turbulence as a Method". I have thought about and played with the idea of a solo exhibition for several years now, and am quite excited to be in this process – to see what will spring to life in that room.

Which of your completed projects do you consider the most important and why? For example, one of my own favourites is your 2010 solo show "Transformator" at Draakon gallery. I remember thinking, "Wow, we finally have a new generation of artists in Estonia who can, using the pop art "genome", elaborate a perfectly stylish neo-pop, untouched by (Post-)Soviet complexes; the kind of neo-pop that does not particularly deal with consumer demand and/or a critique of consumerism."

"Transformator" is perhaps the one I also consider the most important of my recent projects. Actually, I am still surprised how I came upon such a simple and effective idea. [Laughs.] A table covered with objects, and a painting based on it and so on. It was a thoroughly calculated and most enjoyable process. And this concept still attracts me.

What can you tell us about your 2011 MA project "Turbulence as a Method", which you did at the Fine Arts department of the Estonian Academy of Arts? What aspects did you focus on?

When building an installation, I have usually tried to capture it in a few paintings as well. The end product – in addition to the photographs, the video, the project documentation and a small maquette (so that if needed, I can recreate the whole environment) – also included a pair of paintings depicting some of the objects. But the project itself consisted mostly of the process and the concept, not just these paintings.

"Turbulence as a Method" was a study of a method. The study of my own method and the observation of the process. My aim was to create works of art based on the specifics of a certain space. So, first of all I rented an apartment, because creating the space where the process could take place was the most essential part of the project. I started by decorating the apartment, I painted the walls and did some small pictures. I furnished the place with all kinds of useful things. I invited guests and asked them to bring along colourful items as gifts. I even drew up a list of items based on colours.

The process of designing the apartment had to last as long as possible. At one point, I had to capture some of the situations in time, so I painted the pictures, which served as "translations" of the room where the process took place. But these were just a few depictions of what happened in the apartment. Everything had to become part of the documentation, which I could use later.

The final result of the process was two works. One was the apartment itself. The other was a life-size replica of the apartment that I built in the exhibition hall. It was into this plywood room that I placed the visual bits and pieces (as it were) from the apartment.

One of the things I perhaps feel a bit sorry about is that I didn't make the apartment more widely known during the process. But on the other hand, who got it, got it. So, it wasn't just a plywood maquette and two paintings... [Laughs.]


Kristi Kongi_Transformator

Kristi Kongi
Exhibition view at Draakon gallery
Photo by Stanislav Stepashko
Courtesy of the artist


In contemporary art it often happens that the artist's daily life and the art seem to be inseparably intertwined. Similarly, it seems that your paintings are just "framed details" of a more general space that you keep adding to each day. Is this an inaccurate perception?

I don't think this perception is wrong. In recent years, I have begun all my new projects by first constructing an environment or a space around myself. Yet at the same time, I consider myself a "process" artist, so it is rather natural that everything I create and do is part of the process. Only the documentation of the final part of the process ends up in the exhibition hall.

Could you tell me what the deal is with you and colour, and your study of colour? It is not the typical critical, social or conceptual approach that young artists usually use to draw attention to themselves in the local art scene.

Colour is the main expressive medium in painting. And since I am a painter through and through, then everything you can do with colours and can associate with colours is of interest to me. Yet at the same time, I am not in the least interested in an Impressionist painting on the wall, but rather in a broader view. Colour for me is not just the colour on the canvas or palette; cloth, plexiglass, a piece of tape, building materials, etc. All that can be colour too.

From the very beginning, I have used bright colours – in fact, ever since the time I truly discovered painting for myself. The colours of the Dutch Renaissance, for example, had a huge effect on me when I was in high school.

Colour helps to capture the essence of a certain thing or moment. Actually, our life contains a huge amount of different colours. For me, colours are highly emotional and poetic. A colour is a catalyst for me. And I have always felt that vivid colours can give powerful results. Colour enables me to turn up the volume up, as it were.

I really enjoy the alternation of light and colours. I can ponder this for ages. I can just sit in the studio and watch the movement of light. Or in the forest. Light on snow, bright sunshine on snow that creates extremely sharp colour-moments. Grey rain and so on. Natural phenomena create natural and yet weird and intense colour effects.

The history of art is full of artists who have dealt in depth with the theory of colours, like Vassily Kandinsky. Which figures or inspiring examples from history would you like to point out?

You mentioned Kandinsky, and he is indeed the one whose work and theories I have studied and read about the most. I am interested in his poetic approach to colour theory. Kandinsky was able to phrase very true and physical descriptions of colours and his writings convey a clear presence.

One of the more recent theoreticians I have studied is Harald Arnkil, who describes the generation and transformation of colour and light in space, generated both in natural and artificial ways.

How often do you travel and which contemporary artists' works make you feel a "short circuit" with them, in a positive sense?

I do travel every now and then. I love to charge myself elsewhere. These charging trips usually take me to big cities, but not necessarily. In any case, I have always tried to adjust my trips so that I can also visit some interesting art shows. Of my contemporaries, I am interested in Katharina Grosse and Pieter Vermeersch, for example.

Who do you consider your creative dialogue partners in Estonia? When visiting your 2012 solo exhibition "I Wish I Were a Bird" at Hobusepea gallery, I had the feeling that you could easily do a joint exhibition with Aili Vint.

Yes, Aili Vint's 1960s paintings, when she was into depicting colours, are very good.

Yet in 2013 at Tallinn Art Hall gallery, you participated in a project called "Androgynous Mind Machines" with Raoul Kurvits with whom you don't seem to have (at least at first glance) much in common. Did you do this for marketing reasons, since Kurvitz is a big star in Estonia? Your installation rather reminded me of Olafur Eliasson.

Yes, this installation was based on the fact that light changes during the day. In fact, colour is nothing but light. Nothing more had to be added.

As for marketing, I cannot imagine how this installation could be sold, as it cannot be recreated exactly in the same way in any other environment.

Raoul Kurvitz and I are indeed opposites in the creative sense. However, when talking to each other, we found a lot of common points, which in the end caused us to hold a joint exhibition.

Would it be correct to say that you are doing something in Estonia that is similar to what Merike Estna has done as she travelled between Tallinn and London?

Yes, I feel more and more that she is a good dialogue partner. Some of our thoughts may coincide, but at the same time I have a feeling that she is dealing with a different world.

How often do you feel that to be an artist in Estonia is more of a life style choice than a profession?

I try to work every day so that I could go back to my studio the next day, this has been my main goal all along. And I think that if you work like that and if you really desire it, you can have a career as an artist. Although, I will probably never be able to forego teaching art "on the side" at least once a week, to be able to pay my bills. [Laughs.]

How do you imagine your professional future, let's say, in ten years? Selling yourself endlessly at international art fairs, or rather cooperating in depth with some favourite curator?

I think that in the professional sense, in ten years I will be working the same way as I do now – with projects. But I would love to have an in-depth collaboration with a curator. It could help me evolve a lot, since I do enjoy long contemplation and pondering over things.

I believe that endless self-selling at international fairs would not allow me to sleep and be in peace, let alone to create new art continuously. Although, I cannot rule this out, because at this point in my life, I don't have any experience in participating at art fairs.


Andreas Trossek is the editor-in-chief of KUNST.EE.


Kristi Kongi (born in 1985) is a painter who lives and works in Tallinn. She studied painting at Tartu Art College and the Estonian Academy of Arts. In 2011, she received the Young Artist Prize given to the best MA graduates of the Estonian Academy of Arts. She was awarded the 2014 Sadolin Art Prize on 19 December 2013, a nice sum of 5,000 euros.

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