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Silence’s Sonata to Dirt

Erle Loonurm (4/2016)

Erle Loonurm visited Jass Kaselaan’s solo exhibition "Still Life".



12. X–31. X 2016
Hobusepea Gallery

With his solo exhibition "Still Life" Jass Kaselaan invites the viewer into the temporal space of human existence. In the social media era of "infinite lives" Kaselaan reminds us of the simple and complicated nature of the cycle of life, allows the poetry of the visual take the lead, while the beginning merges with the end and the end with the beginning. The artist bestows the invisible cycle of life with the status of an object.

When describing our time, in whatever discourse, whether in art or politics, words like fragmentation, fraction, lack of narrative and complete picture come up. Yet this artist wants to go against the current. The award-winning sculptor has said in the press release for his 2011 solo show "Light Is Our Strength" that we are all "in the same binding system of time" and that his works are "wholesome splinters of the real world". And that is how it is. "Still Life" is not inconsistent with Kaselaan's previous work, it fits with the logical and steady pattern: "Still Life" is not so much a witness to its time, but makes time as a whole work in the context of art and creativity. "Still Life" depicts time with people in it.

With "Still Life" the viewer does not have to construct their own truth out of blocs flung into a symbolic chaos. In Kaselaan's world, order has already been created – the artist is inspired by dirt. This time, unlike his previous exhibitions, Kaselaan's sculptures have no sonic background. "Still Life" is like an end-point, the final destination, where all the sounds of the world combined make up the most pure and superior sound – silence. He provides space for the mute voice of sculpture.

Entering the exhibition space the viewer is faced with a framed black and white photograph. In the midst of an era of selfies Kaselaan breathes new life into the dignified family portrait. It is a photographic image the artist found in an antique shop. A woman and a man – yin and yang. Just like there has been no place for randomness in Kaselaan's work, the path through the exhibition guides us downstairs, where the couple from the portrait take the form of the Holy Trinity. Three white tables, where sculptures have been placed with the precision of a photographic composition, all of which could tell their story, both together and apart. No matter where you direct your gaze, each piece of the puzzle, each section of composition gives information. The viewer descends the stairs to contemplate the logic and the details of the cycle of life up close, then comes up again to start a new cycle or return to this life. The artist contemplates life like a photograph – up close and then from afar. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust..."

"Still Life" plays with repetition and cycles: the three tables do not tell the same story as a single table; the multiplicity of sculptures allows for many more interpretative options than just one object would have. In "Still Life" people are part of the Christian world, where they are broken dissected and carefully placed in a time machine. As a sculptor, Kaselaan's work is characterised by play and interlinking various genres of art. This also applies to "Still Life", where a dialogue is provoked between sculpture and photography. The black and white photograph displays significant specs of colour that seem like rays of hope that never go out. The author invites the viewer to a small frame to get a sense of the big picture. A photograph as a whole life. A photograph as a definitively passed moment. A photograph as past, laughter from yesterday. A big story behind a small frame.

It is a play with proximity and distance. In this exhibition the imposing nature of Kaselaan's work is not felt through objects. On the contrary, human existence seems rather small when faced with the cosmos. Observation becomes experience, just like life is an experience. Orderly in its randomness; random in its orderliness. The artist looks at life in its entirety, he goes beyond earthly existence. So there are no borders? Or still? Life, death, rebirth, transmigration of souls, faith, memory, family – these are the anchoring points, but not physical boundaries.

There is freedom within things that are certain. Without borders freedom would become unstructured chaos. It must be said that in his last consecutive exhibitions Kaselaan responds to life in its totality. He sketches his vision of the curious nature of human existence and its path. The audience can take part in the static spectacle staged by the artist and is confronted with a carefully composed symphony of sculptures. Kaselaan sees the big picture, but does not neglect the details. The sculptures can be read like a book or seen as chess pieces, each with their own specific role in the playful strategic whole.

It is important for Jass Kaselaan that the viewer gets his vision. Like the sculptor said last year in an interview for Areen, the cultural supplement of the weekly newspaper Eesti Ekspress, he fears being misunderstood and in order to avoid that, he prefers to guide the viewer. This brings us back to the nature of art. Is it not the main idea of all artworks to let the viewers create their own free associations? To create and let create – an emotion, memory, smell, image. Even if the viewers do not have and will not get the "right answers", they could have the right to look for them on their own.

Although I guess Kaselaan's aspirations are in line with our time. We are increasingly moving towards "exhaustive explanations", easy answers. In a time of pluralism of opinions it seems like a minor crime not to have one, and in order to avoid that, a good way to defend yourself seems to be a critique that is simplistic or not so well grounded. And maybe this is what Kaselaan is trying to avoid – unfounded critique, being misunderstood due misjudgements. It must be said that "exhaustive explanations" are probably just a sign of our time. However, there is hope: one art exhibition can take the viewer further than a news story in the media ever could.


Erle Loonurm holds a Master's Degree in Theatre Studies from Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 and works in the news service at Estonian Public Broadcasting.




Jass Kaselaan

Installation view at Hobusepea Gallery
Courtesy of the artist

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