Contemporary technologies and art

In addition to the Saaremaa biennial, another prominent international event was started in 1995 — ‘Interstanding’ or Understanding Interactivity. The programme of this undertaking was radically different. The exhibition-conference taking place every second year (1995, 97, 99, 2001, …) in Tallinn casts a critical eye into the technological future and invites the best international theoreticians to participate. ‘Interstanding’ was initiated by artist Ando Keskküla together with art historian Sirje Helme. They have co-operated with Eric Kluitenberg from Holland and since 2001 with Estonian artist Mare Tralla who studied (and currently lives) in London.

‘Interstanding’ is organised by the Center for Contemporary Art, an institution that developed out of the former Soros Center. The latter belonged in the chain of many stretching all over post-socialist Eastern Europe. It could be said, with a little exaggeration, that video, electronic and digital art spread in post-socialist countries largely thanks to philanthropist Georg Soros’s financing policy, to the ‘initiative from above’. There thus suddenly appeared, in the midst of all that poverty, a supremely technical, so-called Soros art, completely cut off from society. The wider public did not much like it, because such art lacked local traditions and audiences.

At the same time, the ‘initiative from above’ met with ‘initiative from beyond’ — younger artists saw computers and video cameras as exciting art media. Equipped with those, they could start as tabula rasa. The early video art occasionally exhibited a quite naïve faith in progress and a lack of theoretical analysis, but the situation gradually cleared. It can be seen in 2002 that the most remarkable international success has been achieved namely by Estonian video, photography and digital artists.

Jaan Toomik (1961) shot to fame with his meditative video ‘Road to Sao Paulo’ at the 1994 Sao Paulo biennial. This was followed by invitations to several significant exhibitions. So far, his most acclaimed video is the frequently exhibited ‘Father and Son’ (1998), which only Kai Kaljo’s video ‘Loser’ can compete with. Ene-Liis Semper demonstrates an altogether different approach. Her videos can be interpreted by psychoanalytical methods, the most famous of her works being ‘FF/Rew’.

Considering the number of internet searches, the most internationally well-known Estonian web artist of the late 1990s was allegedly Nelli Rohtvee — a person without a physical body, a mystification, whose piercing glance demystified many an understanding of international success, CV-magic and the opulence abroad. Rohtvee actually consisted of the artist family of Raivo Kelomees (1960) and Tiia Johannson (1967).

The turn of the millennia witnesses the emergence of a new generation of video and web artists, although they are still in the process of seeking their true face and identity. But let us come back to the claim of the missing joy and joyfulness in Estonian art. On the initiative of Piret Räni and Eve Kiiler, a song and drama society ‘Sheer Joy’ was born in 2001–2002 that analyses joy as a cultural phenomenon on the basis of videos and installations. The society reveals the social and generic function of joy (‘a smile is a woman’s job’), and parodies the infantile consumer mentality. The people involved seem to enjoy themselves tremendously, discovering yet another social agreement that is not ‘a natural law made in heaven’, but a simple convention made to serve someone’s interests.

Read also: overviews in magazine 'Estonian Art'

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