Making oneself heard in the world

With the approaching 1990s when state borders were slowly opening up, intensive cultural exchange with foreign countries started on various levels. Initially the graphic artists sold best, because with the devaluation of the Soviet rouble, graphic sheets acquired the value of currency. This, unfortunately, proved fatal to the reputation of this particular art form. Even the International Tallinn Print Triennial lost its former glory, although the graphic artist-photographer Eve Kask (1958) has tried to revive the tradition.

What proved an amazing hit on an intellectual level was the international Saaremaa biennial known as the undertaking of the young generation (Fabrique d’Histoire) in 1995 and in 1997 (Invasion). Both evoked lively reactions in Estonia and in various significant magazines abroad. The curators Peeter Linnap and Eve Kiiler (then Linnap) focused on the topic of history and memory, which indeed became one of the main subjects of international art of the 1990s. This is only logical — after the collapse of the Berlin wall, the entire Eastern Europe faced the problem of how to get over the selective loss of memory of Soviet history writing. Saaremaa biennial provided various young artists, such as Mare Tralla, Marko Laimre, Mari Laanemets, Killu Sukmit, Andrus Kõresaar, and others with their first experience of international performance. Most of them later became prominent figures in Estonian art.

The biennial’s line is currently continued by a group of authors MultKultuurimaja (MultiCulturehouse) who analyse history and carry out archaeological excavations in collective memory by means of film and performance art. The descendant of the Saaremaa biennial is reputedly also the international performance festival ‘KanaNahk’ (2000, 2001, 2002) in Rakvere attended by such first-grade stars as Steina Vasulka, Marie-Jo Lafonatine, Oleg Kulik, etc.

Estonia’s participation in the Venice biennial, the oldest and most prestigious one in the world (started in 1895), has almost become a question of honour. Estonia first participated in 1997 only to make a bitter discovery that the biennial’s format (the construction refers to the 19th century colonial world order) was not ready to welcome newcomers. Other small countries faced problems as well, including Latvia and Lithuania in 1999. Participants for Venice are selected on state level and up to 2002 have included the following artists: Siim-Tanel Annus, Raoul Kurvitz, Jaan Toomik (in 1997); Ando Keskküla, Jüri Ojaver, Peeter Pere (in 1999); Marko Limre, Ene-Liis Semper (2001).

The biennial of the new generation, ‘Manifesta’, which was started in 1996, carries the principles of the uniting Europe where there are no political divisions between the countries. The exhibition, too, travels to a new city every two years, emphasising the equality and democracy of European countries. The participants are selected by three international curators who try to present an objective choice of what is currently considered good and internationally valued art. ‘Manifesta’ mostly prefers younger artists whose curriculum proves their professional status, but who have not yet reached the ‘higher’ international circles. Up to now, Estonian art there has been represented by Jaan Toomik (Rotterdam, 1996), Inessa Josing (Luxembourg, 1998), Ene-Liis Semper (Ljubljana, 2000). For all Estonian artists, ‘Manifesta’ has meant invitations to other topmost international exhibitions.

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