Wednesday, July 24, 2019


About the name

One Hundred Poplars was a collective artistic research project on borders and provinciality in Estonian/Latvian border town Valga/Valka, taking place during 2017 and 2018. Being part of the cultural program of Estonia's 100th anniversary it was supported by the Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia. The title paraphrases the official state campaign "Estonia's 100 Oaks" that called people to plant oak trees as "symbols of strength and perseverance". Poplar, on the other hand, is the opposite to the qualities of an oak. It is known for fast growth and fragility - something that relates with today's reality much better. The project identified itself with the issues that Estonia doesn't like to relate itself with - shrinking, peripheralization, provincialization, abandonment. Those issues (but also others) brought me to Valga/Valka.

About Valga/Valka

Valga/Valka is divided by border, but belongs to the Schengen zone and is therefore considered the town without borders. During the Russian Empire it used to be one town called Walk with the majority of Baltic Germans. When Estonia and Latvia became independent in 1918, the town was divided into Valga (in Estonia) and Valka (in Latvia). The towns have very similar coats of arms and if you put them together without changing anything, it will look like this: 
(coat of arms of Valgka, designed by Eva Labotkin)

That speaks quite a bit about hidden archetypes of borders and nation states.

What exactly brought me there?

In 2013 I visited German/Polish border town Frankfurt Oder/Slubice, where I found out about the project Slubfurt as well as Nowa Amerika, ran by Michael Kurzwelly. After making a short video about this place and interview with Michael I left with inspiration towards a quite similar context in my own country. 

Valgka instead of Valga/Valka

My initial interest was to try out the possibility of Valgka, as a united town with no borders. Since I didn't live there, I had only outsider's imaginations and concepts. I wanted to avoid fictionalization, therefore I needed experience of realities. In late 2016 I made my first steps by starting collaboration with Valga Museum. I helped them to develop gallery program - making annual open calls, conceptualizing the program and trying new ways of communication (departing from the concept Valgka).

In collaboration with Anna Laganovska I started translating information on exhibitions into Latvian (besides English and occasionally also Russian) and sharing everything in Latvian media - to my surprise it was never practiced before. My main goal in this project was to find out how would the idea of Valgka work in local cultural institutions and whether this idea could become a normality (instead of being an artistic idea of an outsider). 

I also kept a guest apartment for artists and others to come for research residency. That was all in 2017. In 2018 I started the core of this project - exhibitions in Valga Museum and Valga Cultural Centre, research residency of Michael Kurzwelly (Slubfurt in Valgka), establishing and running Brivibas galerija. 

Artists and exhibitions

The first exhibition was "The Place where Everything is Better", curated by Gundega Evelone. It brought together Latvian artists who focused in the way how Estonia has been displayed in Latvian media. It was a great input for the whole project and it also brought up some communication obstacles and awkward behavior of some local institutions. 

The program of 2018 started with "Walk" by Marit Mihklepp and Edgars Rubenis, an Estonian/Latvian artist duo. During the summer of 2017 they had stayed in residency in Valga/Valka and studied the physical borderline of the town. This exhibition was based on it. They pointed out that there is no "physical border", but only nature. The only references to the border came from local people (somebody said "border is not meant for walking") and some objects that were installed by the state - those were used as sound instruments by Rubenis, who is a musician. 

In April 2018 I opened my curatorial project "What do you see? What would you like to see?" with works of Eva Labotkin, Evi Pärn, Henn Soopalu, Hoi Yee Cheung, Jaana Kokko, Jennifer Jackson, Oskar Brohager Öhrling, Tamara Istanbouli and Uldis Muizarajs. This exhibition was basically the main platform for discussion in my project. It brought together some existing artworks of older generation artists from Valga/Valka and works by artists from elsewhere. There were also works by students of urban studies in Estonian Academy of Arts - they had workshops on future, shrinking and public space of Valga. 

Simultaneously I opened Brivibas galerija with its first exhibition "Weird Feeling" by Alexei Gordin. Since Valga/Valka never had a separate or independent art gallery with contemporary art, this exhibition was a challenge and a precedent. Conceptually, this exhibition was exactly into the point of my questions about the function and future of art in shrinking towns and regions. More broadly it spoke of lives of artists in countries where art markets don't exist. I started to do daily gallery job - guarding the exhibition every day. Since the space was pretty small, I got good conversation with every visitor. Also, I started to develop educational program, meant for school pupils. 

April was a very tense month. Besides these two exhibitions there was Michael Kurzwelly's massive installation in the Cultural Centre of Valga. Kurzwelly came directly from Slubfurt, carring the whole installation and artworks with him. His show was titled as "Reality is an Agreement", where he shared his work of nearly 20 years in German/Polish border region. He stayed in residency for 3 weeks, which was a very fruitful time. Besides workshops in Valgka, he gave lectures in Tallinn and Riga. His presence in Valgka was very important, as it unfolded the differences between those two contexts.

In July there was the exhibition "Dialectics of Outside and Inside" by Bita Razavi in Valga Museum. It dealt with questions of belonging. The exhibition was divided into two - one part was based on Razavi's infamous photo series "Pictures from our Future. Pictures from our Past", where she portrays herself as a local person (who she is) in everyday life situations in Estonia, being motivated by her experiences of xenophobia. Next to this is a set of photos of abandoned and decomposing houses in Estonia and Latvia. Very relevant in Valga/Valka as well. The other part of the exhibition was curated by her - she had invited people who are active as artists, although they don't belong to the art world or official art discourse.

In August there were two conclusive events: Rait Rosin's exhibition "Small Town as an Event" in Valga Museum, that was based on his PhD research on art life in small towns. He had interviewed people around Valga/Valka, regarding their interest in art events, as well as artists, who had experience in making exhibitions in small towns and peripheral places. A necessary job that I never did myself. 

And, finally, my conclusive curated project "A Mole, Larger in Size than Ever Seen Before" in Brivibas galerija. Participating artists were Anne-Liis Kogan, Gundega Evelone & Andris Landaus and Hanna Samoson. The title comes from Franz Kafka's short story "Village Schoolmaster", that was basically a story about provinciality. This exhibition reflected my initial interest in Valga/Valka, which was the border - as a significant identity source of the whole town, which is simultaneously non-existent, but paradoxically very much present as ideological factor in the work of local institutions, city government, etc. 

The exhibition was followed by Anne-Liis Kogan's performance "Don't Leave... Stay" in Valga Railway station. She had collaborated with composer Jaanus Karlson and choir singers. Kogan had worked with a local lifelong piano teacher Uldis Muizarajs, who had made a song about twin town and the border in the 1960s, when he was a young man. Later the song was modified and published on CD. Kogan, in collaboration with the composer and the choir, made an interpretation about this song. The process was also reflected in the video that was shown in the exhibition "A Mole, Larger in Size Than Ever Seen Before". 

Educational program, September 2018

About Brivibas galerija

Realizing that the work with local institutions is not very fruitful and gives me a pretty limited look at the town, I decided to establish my own gallery space that I ran from April to October of 2018. In some aspects it was part of the "100 poplars" project, but it was also a new, totally separate thing that had occurred organically from the local reality. 

There was one space in the whole town that had interested me from the beginning. It was located in Vabaduse (Estonian word for "freedom") street in Valga, in a former flower shop.  It also had a memory plate on its facade, saying that Hella Wuolijoki used to live in that house as a child. A very interesting historical figure, who is celebrated in Finland, but almost ignored in Estonia. She had even more interesting sister - Salme Dutt, who is almost unknown here. Making a gallery in the space where Wuolijoki's and Dutt's father used to keep a bookstore would be very intriguing - so i thought.

The gallery program was the following: 

April - "Weird feeling" by Alexei Gordin
June - nameless exhibition by Juka Käärmann and Hülle Haab
July - open studio of Hanna Samoson
August - "A Mole, Larger in Size Than Ever Seen Before"

The first exhibition of the gallery got very controversial feedback from the local people. They were disturbed because of a painting of Gordin that depicted sexual intercourse. Then I found out that the town is highly religious. There is a lot of sects and small churches. Among others I was visited by the local leader of Jehowah Witnesses - a very smart man, who mostly liked to talk about politics and we agreed on many issues, except that painting on the wall. 

In June i changed the setting of the gallery and brought in a tea table. Sitting there every day, guarding Juka Käärmann's and Hülle Haab's nameless exhibition, I invited people to sit down and drink some tea with me. It turned out that highly religious people started to systematically visit me and we were mostly talking about religious issues. Art, on the other hand, worked as some kind of trigger that makes people open up and start discussion. I realized that this town needs a social space that is not as closed and sterile as the museum and cultural centre. 

Finally I established a way how to organize audience, since the gallery wasn't visited that often. Although around 120 visits per month wasn't a bad number at all. But that was because of educational program. Pupils from local schools came with their teachers - it was part of their art lesson. Later I also paid the transport for pupils from another small town in the region. I think that art budgets should include more for educational program. In fact, in such locations, gallery art should be an educational and social thing, rather than a lifestyle issue of the bohemian bourgeoisie (that was almost non-existent in this town). 

Tea table at the exhibition by Juka Käärmann and Hülle Haab

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Exhibition "A mole, larger in size than ever seen before" in Brivibas galerija (22.08. - 16.09.) and performance "Don't leave...stay" by Anne-Liis Kogan in Valga Railway Station (23.08.)

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Exhibition by Rait Rosin
07. - 31.08. in Valga Museum, Estonia

Small towns are inhabited by significant people. We all are worth attention, even if it may seem too much. The exhibition takes a look at the situation of Valga and Võru, both small towns. From one hand the inhabitants of these towns will share their thoughts, regarding artists, who visit their town. From the other hand 10 selected artists will open the grounds of events organized by them. During the exhibition Rait Rosin and his assistants will perform travels around Valga and Valka, using a special rolling box. We will open the central square and explore more or less known places around the town. During these travels we will conduct interviews with local people. The exhibition is followed by different cultural events that take place in August. The exact events and times will be announced later. 

The interviews consist of overlaps and dissonance between the expectations of art audience and the ideas of artists. While artists explain their aims through the context or art, the audience conceptualizes its views on exhibitions and acknowledges the actual problems of the community. What happens in art exhibition will remain a secondary phenomena for them. These two positions that evaluate artistic work as cultural activity appear in social actions of peripheral art. The two towns that are located in one cultural space but in different geographical spots are different in their social and cultural milieu. 

Rait Rosin conceptualizes the issues that follow the discussions within a community. As he puts it, artists should mediate such issues as a sort of genealogy of realities. Such kind of artistic activities work as starting point for public discussions in small towns. The art-related expectations and their correspondence are discussed alongside with the artistic positions in the society. In small towns art has a specific role to play. Peripheral ideas are expressed through artistic choices to generalize on the basis of singular events. The notions of periphery and center signify the division of attention in society, where specific places obtain a general and typical character. This will determine whether a small town would cross the threshold of media attention or remain in the limits of local importance. Rait Rosin has previously conducted a similar research on Paldiski and Haapsalu. 

The exhibition is supported by the Center for Contemporary Arts Estonia and their Estonia 100 art program “Comers, Goers and Stayers – the histories of Estonian communities”, as well as by the Cultural Endowment of Estonia. 

The exhibition is open from 7th of August to 31st of August, 2018. 
Opening hours: Tuesday to Friday: 11-18, Saturdays: 10-15

More info about the artist:

Rait Rosin izstāde
07.08. - 31.08. Valgas Muzejā
Mazpilsētās mīt svarīgi cilvēki. Mēs visi esam uzmanības vērti, pat ja tās dažkārt šķiet par daudz. Izstādē aplūkots stāvoklis divās mazpilsētās – Valgā un Veru. No vienas puses, šo pilsētu iedzīvotāji dalīsies domās par māksliniekiem, kas viņu pilsētās viesojas. No otras puses, 10 izvēlēti mākslinieki organizēs atvērtus pasākumus. Izstādes laikā Rait Rosin un viņa asistenti ar īpašu ripojošu kasti pārvietosies pa Valgu un Valku, atverot centrālos laukumus un izpētot vairāk vai mazāk neiepazītas vietas pilsētas apkaimē. Šo ceļojumu laikā tiks intervēti vietējie iedzīvotāji. Izstādei Augustā sekos dažādi kultūras pasākumi, to norises laiki tiks izziņoti vēlāk.
Intervijas veido nesakritības un pārklājumi starp mākslas publikas ekspektācijām un mākslinieka idejām. Kamēr mākslinieki savus nolūkus izsaka ar kontekstu un mākslu, publika sakopo savus uzskatus par izstādēm un atspoguļo patiesās problēmas sabiedrībā. Tas, kas īsti notiek mākslas izstādē, tai paliks sekundārs. Šīs divas pozīcijas, kas izvērtē radošo darbu kā kulturālu aktivitāti, parādās perifēras mākslas sociālajā iedarbībā. Sociālā un kultūras vide ir atšķirīga abās pilsētās, kas atrodas vienā kultūras telpā, bet dažādās ģeogrāfiskās vietās.
Rait Rosin konceptualizē no sarunas ar iedzīvotājiem izrietošos problēmjautājumus. Kā saka viņš pats, māksliniekiem vajadzētu būt par vidutāju un skaidrot šādus jautājumus kā realitāšu ģenealoģiju. Šādas radošās aktivitātes darbojas kā sākumpunkts sabiedriskai diskusijai mazpilsētās. Ar mākslu saistītās ekspektācijas un to atbilstība ir apspriestas līdztekus radošajām pozīcijām sabiedrībā. Mazpilsētās mākslai ir īpaša loma. Perifēras idejas izpaustas caur radošām izvēlēm, lai uz sevišķu notikumu pamata veiktu vispārinājumus. Dalījums perifērijā un centrā norāda uz dalītu uzmanību sabiedrībā, kur konkrētas vietas gūst vispārēju un tipisku raksturu. Tas nosaka, vai mazpilsēta iekļūs mediju redzeslokā vai paliks vietējas nozīmes ierobežota. Rait Rosin līdzīgu pētījumu iepriekš veicis Paldiski un Haapsalu.
Izstādi atbalsta Igaunijas Laikmetīgās Mākslas centrs un tā simtgades svētku mākslas programma “Atnācēji, aizgājēji un palicēji – Igaunijas kopienu vēstures”, kā arī Igaunijas Kultūrkapitāls. 
Izstāde atvērta no 7. līdz 31. augustam.
Darba laiks: no otrdienas līdz piektdienai 11.00-18.00, sestdienās 10.00-15.00
Vairāk informācijas par mākslinieku:

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Monday, April 30, 2018