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"I have used the comparison of [---] perforated skin, which does not cover, hide or adorn but rather hints at the internal." – Reet Varblane answers Hedi Rosma's questions about Anu Põder, whose works have been included in "The Milk of Dreams", the main exhibition of the ongoing 59th International Venice Art Biennale. "Untold backstories: Anu Põder (1947–2013) and her posthumous rise to international fame" (KUNST.EE 3/2022)

 

Painters speak!

Maria Arusoo (3-4/2010)

Maria Arusoo offers an overview of a seminar organized in conjunction with the exhibition Painting in Process curated by Eha Komissarov
   
On 5 October a seminar organised in conjunction with the exhibition Painting in Process was heldin the education centre at Kumu. The aim was to bring painting into focus and suggest where it should go from its current position. Jaan Elken, Kaido Ole, Tõnis Saadoja, Toomas Tõnissoo and Olga Temnikova (who made a video presentation) discussed the present state of Estonian painting. The focus was set initially by questions posed by the curator Eha Komissarov, which concerned the painter’s role in society, art criticism and art education, as also possible media and theories that could become integral to the painter’s education. 
 
Jaan Elken gave the opening presentation, quoting a statement he had made ten years ago, and thus confirmed his belief in the sustainability of Estonian painting. In some ways Elken represented the painting fanatic, fighting for the power-position of painting and speaking passionately about the plastic arts. Elken illustrated his presentation with slides from this year’s exhibition of young British artists, Newspeak: British Art Now held in the Saatchi Gallery, as well as works from recent years by students of the Painting Department at Tartu University. Once again, Elken returned to the debate about the death of painting – a topical issue in Estonia for years – and argued that is merely rhetorical, a matter of the inner rhythm of the artworld, because painting has remained a constant presence in Western art and thus we can speak of its decline or revival of painting only in terms of local context. Elken admitted that while rumours concerning the death of painting as a medium have subsided, the battle over the definition of painting has begun: “In fact, 21st century painting is difficult to define – how are we to describe a zombie that is now more lively than than ever? Some part of painting may indeed deserve to die, but it is that painting which seems least like painting at all that most deserves to live.”
 
Regarding art criticism, Elken admitted that he sees the generation of art historians that matured during the high tide of the so-called Nosy Nineties as a negative influence on Estonian art life. They are only able to relate to art through texts and consider aesthetic qualities and technical aspects a taboo subject.Elken stressed that we must not engage only in verbalisation and programming; we also need practice and direct work-centred experience.It is the cognitive and expressive aspects of painting that make it a unique and autonomous practice that should not be supplemented by any other media or theories.   
Mihkel Kleis. Brutal Gardener (2009)
 
On the same topic, the next presenter Kaido Ole asked why we would pose a question about what should be added to painting when it is already integral to a whole and does not need to be subtracted from anything else– it forms part of the wider system. Ole pointed out two characteristics he sees as inherent in painting: first, painting primarily consists in pictures; and second – which is even more important – paintings are made by hand and the concept must be presented physically. Unlike Elken, Ole does not attach any mystery to the manual process of making art, but rather sees it as something inevitable and tragic. He the important thing is not for a painting to express the artist’s emotional flickers, but rather, to display human mistakes and clumsiness. Artists themselves should remain true to this and should not try to hide that painting is, first and foremost, something primitive and basically an individual’s ego trip.  
 
On the issue of art education, Ole outlined an ideal of the painter’s training that would refuse to pamper mediocrity and leave aside the overly ‘humane’ and democratic rules imposed by ministries and commissions that maintain a uniform standard. The idea of university lies in the exchange of thoughts, and responsibility should be shared as equally as possible between professors and students: “Students must take responsibility, as well as initiative, for their development as artists, instead of sitting in the comfort zone for three years ‘practising’. Ideally, professors should not be required to follow preferences that chain them to a certain field of expertise, and students should be able to compile their own curricula independently.
 
In Ole’s view the problem of local critique lies in the lack of communication. Critique does not address a work, but often simply hangs it on a theory. “Theories are meant to be tools that assist, and the problem with art criticism is that natural communication fails,” Ole said. “Art theory seems to be written for the sake of art theory itself, with an aim of increasing the theoretical volume. However, it does not address the artist, but remains an abstract wisdom instead.”
 
Tõnis Saadoja did not talk about art criticism, but provided a very interesting description of his personal relationship to painting, calling himself a member of the painters’ generation that does not deal with painting. Saadoja explained that the main reason behind his arrival in the plastic arts was his extreme interest in reality. However, he reached a critical moment when he realised that every single technique and medium defines its own reality separately from the others. To find common elements in them, we must begin to analyse and to think. Saadoja believes that one of the main problems in painting is that it is a very complex means of articulation and that it is very difficult to convey unambiguous thought constructions through it.  
 
In Saadoja’s opinion, the ‘cover concepts’ of contemporary art are ‘relational aesthetics’ – a term coined by Nicholas Bourriaud and a theory that operates according to the keywords of post-production. The latter is not directly associated with painting or figurative art, but with social relational art. Saadoja is fascinated by the fact that this is not some theory that is closely attached to a certain medium, but rather, something that brings the dialogue between different media to a new level. This also coincides with Saadoja’s artistic practice where he attaches importance to ‘creating reflection points’ by means of painting. In this situation painting consists in active experiencing; the concept can be taken apart into various strips and all unnecessary elements can be eliminated, piecing together a perfect, purified model which should, ideally, raise questions and personal reinterpretations among viewers.  
 
Concerning art education, Saadoja agreed with the idea of students’ responsibility that had been proposed earlier by Kaido Ole, admitting that university is an environment which supports people at a tender age, mirroring their signals and providing feedback. Saadoja confirmed that he does not regard the technical aspect in painting as inferior, but considers a general navigational ability to be most important. He also admitted that studying at a university does not make anyone a ‘finished artist’.
 
The speech given by Toomas Tõnissoo was more spiritual and observational in nature.Among other things, he observed that while the first presenter Jaan Elken could be described as a painter of personal feelings, the second speaker Kaido Ole represents the painting of thoughts. 
 
In her video presentation Olga Temnikova delved into the situation of painting in the art market, pointing out Estonian idiosyncrasy from a gallerist’s point of view, because in neither Western Europe nor in Russia is it ‘embarrassing to paint’.She also noted that whenever we hear talk of the death of a certain artistic medium we should ask for whom is this profitable and what are they intending to market instead.
 
Overall, it was interesting to hear about different positions on the medium of painting, as well as on art education, criticism and the future prospects of painting.
 
Maria Arusoo is an artist and curator living and working in London, where she defended her Master’s degree this year in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths College of Art.
 
14.05.– 10.10.2010
Kumu Art Museum
Painting in Process
 
Curator: Eha Komissarov.
Participating artists: Antonio Claudio Carvalho, Kaido Ole, Kristi Kongi, Marta Stratskas, Holger Loodus, Lauri Eltermaa, Merike Estna, Flo Kasearu, Jaan Toomik, Mart Vainre, Sven Parker, Tõnis Saadoja, Gints Gabrāns, Mall Paris, Carmen Landsberg, Katrin Piile, Jasper Zoova, Neeme Külm, Alice Kask. Eklektika: Art Security, Mihkel Ilus, Martiini, Barthol Lo Mejor, Frindo Kveiks, Mihkel Kleis, Marko Kompus, Novekta.Avi, Anon Porx, Erkki Luuk, Kiwa.
Designer: Urmas Muru.
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