Orient Express From Eastern Helsinki (and Eastern Europe) with LOVE

JUXTAPOSING IN TALLINN

  • Pic from last year's Köler Prize 'gala'
    Pic from last year's Köler Prize 'gala'

May 6 I took the ferry to Tallinn with a group of ViCCA teachers and students. As it takes just approximately 2 hours to get there from Helsinki, most Finns have visited Tallinn countless times, but we were an international group, so many of us crossed the Gulf of Finland for the first time.

 

Traveling from a country with 5,5 million inhabitants to another one with 1,3 might have felt bizarre for those of us who come from big countries like Indonesia (250 million) or Iran (77 million), especially as the lifestyle is quite the same in these cities and the languages resemble each other.

 

There are some ‘aesthetic’ and ‘artistic’ differences, though. Tallinn is stunningly beautiful, following the fact that the enchanting old town, which used to be one of the centers of the Hanseatic League, is well preserved. Following its post-communist past, it still seems to be both harder and easier to do things in Tallinn than in Helsinki. Based upon what I have heard it is harder following the smaller budgets and the weaker infrastructure, but it definitely seems to be easier following the fact that Estonia has been reconstructed during the last 25 years. There has and maybe still is more space for experimentation.

 

Our main object was to visit EKKM (Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia). It is a harbor building, which was first squatted, then filled with art. The museum is an underground project, which slowly became a real institution. Anders Härm, one of the original members of EKKM, who I will keep visiting our program if he just has time for it, gave us a great introduction about the story of the site, a narrative about idealism and the fact that by working hard you can establish anything if you are in the right place at the right time. The ‘museum’ / museum was founded by Anders, Elin Kard, Neeme Külm and Marco Laimre in 2006. Today Marten Esko, who we had a great chat with, and Johannes Säre, are key persons in the practice of running this hybrid space.

 

In 2011 EKKM established the Köler Prize for contemporary art (ironically rhyming with Turner) and we were able to see the exhibition of this year’s nominees. Last year when I was in the jury for the prize I fell in love with Edith Karlsons grotesque work – later on I realized also how special Ivar Veermäe's project of photographing google’s data centers was – and this year I totally fell for Art Almägi’s paranoid installations with surveillance cameras and satellites. It seems that one of the nominees always has to work with surveillance issues somehow…

 

I have had a hard time understanding how putting up all this museumesque art activity from a scratch has been possible. One reason could be that Tallinn’s institutional context has been looser. There has also been a long tradition of outsider artistry in the city, following the history of the communist regime. Still, a place like the EKKM is possible only due to creative individuals.

 

Anyway, the gala party was at least last year more like an underground event than a ‘real’ gala. EKKM is both underground and a flourishing institution. It even has a cafeteria – which was first of course an illegal bar – and a great bookshop, Lugemik.

 

Although Helsinki is quite a clean-cut art city it has its history of underground and lowbrow galleries (Cheap Thrills, ROR Gallery, Kallio Kunsthalle, Third Space), but nothing compares to EKKM. It has taken the dynamics of institution and anti-institution to a wholly new level.

 

In Tallinn you can still hang out on abandoned rails colonialized by grass and drink beer in a way which has become impossible in Helsinki. We felt like being in paradise – but I will not post any pics on it as we looked like an alcoholic street gang. Sometimes it is better to advertise happiness with only words. The Kalamaja neighborhood has been flourishing now for a couple of years and it is a lifestyle hipster version of the EKKM, still a bit rough, although just a bit.

 

I have never lived in Estonia but I have been here so much that I counted one day that we are already talking about two months. Most of this time I have been in Tallinn. I visited the city already in 1989, when I was 17 years old. Tallinn, then a part of Soviet Union, was silent and had no neon lights, and a man in a long grey jacket – straight from an American spy film that I thought was only propaganda – walked 100 meters behind us coughing. Now the city flourishes more than ever. It has overcome its past so well that it could be even time for the museum authorities to commission one artist to walk in its streets in a grey jacket coughing, ‘surveilling’ tourists.

 

Anyways, I am back in Tallinn in two weeks. And I am very happy about it.

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Käyttäjän HeikkiMkinen1 kuva
Heikki Mäkinen

Go for it! Tallin is the place to be.