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Peeter Allik Is Not a Wiener

Das Kollektive Unbewusste aus Reval (3/2012)

An analysis of Peeter Allik’s solo exhibition "Hiilgavsuur toiduklubi" (Great Fabulous Food Club) by the art critics’ collective Das Kollektive Unbewusste aus Reval (KUR).


9.–21.VII 2012

Draakon Gallery

Considering that the following discussion is about an exhibition predominantly exploring the topic of meat, then the title of this exhaustively scientific analysis, "Peeter Allik is not a wiener", is entirely appropriate. However, before proceeding with the discussion, the assertion needs to be further nuanced, and in no small measure. More particularly, in what sense is Peeter Allik not a wiener? To answer this question we should begin by defining who Peeter Allik is and what a wiener is?

Peeter Allik (b. 1966 in Põltsamaa) is a man who became (and continues to work as) a prolific printmaker and painter in the 1990s. In art criticism his surreal work steeped in black humour is mostly associated with the general wave of neo-pop that dominated the art community in Estonia at the beginning of the decade when the country regained its independence. Wiener is a German word, that denotes someone who lives in Vienna, and also a type of German sausage, and as such, has found its way into many European languages, including Estonian ('viiner'). On the world map, Vienna is also well known as the home of psychoanalysis, hence in this case we are interested in the relationship between Sigmund Freud and Peeter Allik. Since Freud died more than a quarter of a century before Allik was born, then this relationship can only be one-sided – retrospective and cultural. Basically, a reader’s relationship. Thus, it is sufficient to propose the premise that Peeter Allik is not a wiener (i.e. an inhabitant of Vienna) because he lives in Estonia, for the last few years mostly in the city of Tartu. Neither is he a above mentioned German sausage, because there have been no cases in human history when a sausage has possessed artistic or aesthetic preferences, or managed to independently produce, for example, linocuts, which for years have been Peeter Allik’s preferred technique and his uniquely distinctive trademark. Few people today are capable of producing linocuts of such quality as Peeter Allik. As evidence of this claim a quote from the exhibition visitor’s book says, "Peeter rules!"

Peeter Allik
The Birth of Venus
2012, linocut on fabric, 126 x 203,5 cm
Image courtesy of the artist, Draakoni Gallery


Despite the highly cultured notes set out above, we nevertheless have to indiscreetly assert that, in preparing for this latest exhibition, Peeter Allik has boldly touched, not just food itself, but upon the whole topic of food in general. And not from the point of view of a vegetarian, but that of an apologetic meat-eater, or as the artist says in the press release, his (alleged) position as a world improver, "People are so bad because they don’t eat enough meat". The exhibition endeavours to compensate for this (alleged) shortfall and so the gallery visitor is presented with large images of fatty sausages and juicy chunks of meat. Yet our incisive critical eye does not fail to notice a certain irony with which the artist entertains the viewer. It is difficult to believe that a mere sausage, frankfurter or chunk of pork neck could save the entire world. Conversely, it sounds like a bad joke – what would happen to those people who boycott meat for religious, health or some other reason? But this is where the artist’s genius lies, that he presents this paradox to the public, making it completely visible. It transpires that meat alone will not suffice to achieve world-wide happiness. The artist exposes the issue of meat right down to its bones.

Art history of course is acquainted with the theme of food for centuries. We could make reference to the genre of still life, to vanitas motifs, to Rirkrit Tiravanija and so on. A few years ago an international group exhibition entitled "Bad Joke" took place at the Tallinn Art Hall, which according to the curator, Johannes Saar, among other things, dealt with certain "inappropriate models of behaviour that […] form our attitude to the talking frankfurter". Food (and its accompanying story) as such, is not a new issue in the wider contemporary art discourse in Estonia; furthermore, an artist who deals with the issue of food, in fact, addresses by default the fundamental values of European civilisation. This is actually a straightforward dichotomy between the body and the spirit that we face. Should we enslave the body or the spirit? In truth, health, and also spiritual health, is dependant on our lifestyle – including, on what we eat. And what we eat can, in turn, be indirectly measured by body mass index. The president of Estonia, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, has provided us with the necessary instructions on how to measure body mass index, "Body mass index is calculated in the following way – everyone can do it – measure your weight in kilograms, then measure your height in metres and then divide the number of kilograms by the number of metres squared. If your index is over 25, then you should do something about it. If it is over 30 then you must do something about it, and if your index is over 35, please see your doctor immediately."

This group of critics followed the instructions and the results were no cause to rejoice – our body mass index directed us not to the doctor, but straight to the morgue. But even so, we find ourselves alive and that our words carry weight. At this point it we should mention that some of the works in Allik’s show were made using a "steam roller" method, for example "Veenuse sünd" (The Birth of Venus) (2012, linocut on fabric). Printmakers usually hire a steam roller when they need to transfer a linocut onto fabric measuring as much as 126 x 203.5 cm, and since Allik does not have this kind of money, he used his body weight to press the black and white image from the plate onto the fabric. What can you say, it’s a completely different weight category – pure hand and legwork in this current age of digital print, which encourages physical flabbiness and laxness. The mystical mythology of the "artist’s touch", familiar from biographies of art genius, now extends from the fingers to the toes. An artist who is as powerful as a steam roller – doesn’t that sound mighty?

Das Kollektiive Unbewusste au Reval (KUR) is a group of art critics with Baltic German roots; they produces texts for Baltic art journals, which, as a rule, are never published.

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