The Culture Capital of Europe 2011 is Tallinn in Estonia and the biggest art exhibition during this year has been “Gateways: Art and Networked Culture” at KUMU Art Museum. For the occasion the German curator Sabine Himmelsbach has collected some of the most interesting New Media Art artists from Europe asEva e Franco Mattes, Aram Bartholl, Thomson & Craighead, Sašo Sedlaček, Julius Popp, Christina Kubisch, Les Liens Invisibles to mention some of the 27 participators.
It shouldn’t really be a surprise that a big exhibition about network culture happens in Tallinn since Estonia is one of the few countries in the world where access to internet is a human right. About 90% of the population has access to internet and last year 90% of the citizen used internet to make there taxes on-line.
Tallinn is also ranked as one of the most accessible cities in the world, with a lot of free WiFi-spots. The fact that Tallinn’s cityscape is full of invisible information, are conditions that many of the artists has taken advantage and inspiration of in the exhibition.
In the museum entrance Thomson & Craighead has created the Tallinn Wall. A wall with posters made from status updates from Twitter and Facebook accounts with connection to Tallinn. And in Christina Kubisch Electrical Walk Tallinn the visitor can take a stroll in the city and listen to invisible sounds from electric magnetic devices as ATM, electrical cabinets, buses etc.
The visualization of hidden information is one of the major theme in the exhibition and the most beautiful example of this is Julius Popps work Bit.Fall. From different news portals the most frequent headlines are collected. Mounted in the roof is a water-printer which prints these words with help of water drops, as old bitmap fonts. During some seconds you could read the word falling down from the roof, before the gravity rips the word apart and it’s scattered on the floor. The water is recycled and used again to create new words in and endless loop, in the same ways these news portals constantly are feeding us with new news. It’s easy to be stuck in front of Pops word-falls, since it’s both beautiful and meditative.
Another theme in the exhibition is the reuse of information and mash-up. There is no lack of information in today’s society. If you want to make your own newspaper or TV-channel on the Internet you don’t have to write and produce your own material, instead you can select and assemble information from different sources. Marc Lee‘s TV-BOT 2.0 – World News As Soon As It Happens! is an example of a netbased TV-channel which collect news from different sources and mash-up them into a new channel. In Real-Time Family, Hanna Haaslahti uses a similar technique to create a photo album for an average virtual family based on pictures uploaded by users on flickr.com. The pictures are a snapshot and a real-time document of what average people are doing.
One of the exhibitions most memorable works are Boredomeresearch’s Real Snail Mail. By entering the web page http://www.realsnailmail.net, you can send a mail to a friend, but you never know when it arrives. First the mail lands in a 1×5 meter artificial garden build in the exhibition hall where the messengers are living, i.e snails with a chip attached to their shells. When a snail passes over a disc with the text ”collect” the mail is loaded on the snails chip, and when its later, much later, passes a disc with the text “send” the mail is finally sent to the receiver.
We are used that a mail is sent at an instant around the world, but Real Snail Mail remains us of a time when messages was delivered by real messengers. So when you got the opportunity to send a message with a physic messenger its feels both exclusive and personally, even though the messenger is a snail. And no, the mail which I sent in the beginning of July has still not arrived.
One of the Estonian artists in the exhibition Gateways is Ivar Veermäe (b. 1982). Veermäe lives and works in Tallinn and Berlin. In his art he uses to investigate the relationships between different groups in public spaces often with help of new technique. We asked Veermäe about his work Don´t be evil which is a collaboration with an other Estonian artist Karel Koplimets.
Mathias Jansson: I Don’ t be evil, in which you have used Googles tools My Maps to erase all commercial ads and signs in the cityscape of Tallinn?
Ivar Veermäe: I Don’t be evil is an unofficial slogan of Google Inc., proposed by one of its lead engineers Paul Buchheit. It is a part of Google’s corporate policy, which has the leitmotif that it should be possible to make (lots of) money without doing (much) evil. We are using their slogan and also technology My Maps to investigate if the rules of Google´s policy of “freedom of information” could be bent. The main idea is an attempt to reconquer urban space as public platform for exchange and participation. I think that in the era of “ubiquitious computing” when boundaries between private and public are completely blurred, public space could be redefined as an accessible space. But the discussion about private and public distracts the attention and issues related to ownership and usability of information is often ignored. Also city-space of Tallinn (and other cities) is very controlled and organized, by default urban spaces are something that could be consumed but you could not to add something of our own. In our experiment we try to point out the possibilities to create some own rules inside the environment. Important in this work is also the aspect, that the all the advertisements are erased we refer with this to the hidden advertising mechanisms in internet (i. e. used by Google).
Mathias Jansson: Estonia has by tradition a rather conservative art scene, so how is the situation for New Media Art?
Ivar Veermäe: In general, Estonia as a small country, has a relative small art scene and some of the artists are working with New Media. But I think, that soon we could witness a second wave of (New) Media Art. In the 90-ies there was boom in video art and in net.art in some extent also in Estonia. Now almost everyone, also artist are using internet on daily basis and I think that they are starting to realize its potentials and threats. Another tendency I see in Estonia is a beginning of a centralization process in internet rune by state and also private companies. Various state activities are concluded in e-state program, which makes on one hand things easier to handle (e-finance, e-elections etc.) but on the other hand it gives a huge data-bank to state. In private sector one big media company is now trying to push the Apple-model (you must pay for everything in internet) to be web-media standard in Estonia.
Mathias Jansson: Where and in which context is it possible to see New Media Art in Estonia today?
Ivar Veermäe: In Estonia the New Media projects are often connected to other disciplines, like dance, theatre, music, performance. For exhibitions there is no gallery showing only New Media art, because there are too few artist working only in this field. But good places to see contemporary art in Tallinn are EKKM Museum, City Gallery of Tallinn, Hobusepea Gallery, Art Hall of Tallinn and KUMU, occasionally there are also exhibitions dealing with New Media. Also in the Culture Factory Polymer are sometimes New Media-based projects. And theatres like Von Krahl, no99 and contemporary dance oriented Kanuti Gildi Saal are often using in their plays quite interesting technical solutions.
An other person with good insight in the Estonian contemporary art scene is Anders Härm, curator at Tallinn Art Hall and one of the founder of EKKM (Contemporary Museum of Art, Estonia). We asked Härm about the history of EKKM and what the Estonian art scene need to prosper in the future.
Mathias Jansson: Can you tell me why EKKM was founded and for what purpose?
Anders Härm: EKKM was founded in 2007 for several reasons. There was a need for a contemporary art museum; there was lack of space for contemporary art that we wanted to exhibit. We wanted to create a place, first and foremost, an institution. It started out perhaps as a prank but it very soon became something more serious. The aims are ambitious. EKKM can be perceived as a certain counter-public institution that includes many traits inherent to normative public institutions, but its goal is to conceive of another kind of institutionalism. The EKKM is a kind of self-instituting method, the task of which should be to function, in the context of the normal public, as a “perverse” non-conventional concept of the public. A separate task is to create a strange concept of a museum as such. On the one hand to occupy the position of the missing museum of contemporary art, and on the other, to constantly ask what a museum of contemporary art should or could really be like. What is it that makes a museum a museum and what kind of museum is actually possible?
Mathias Jansson: PWhat about the alternatively art scene in Tallinn?
Anders Härm: I think its very interesting, lively and active scene. Interesting artists and some very good undertakings in addition to EKKM project space MÄRZ, for example. The lack of money doesn’t reflect adequately the potential of the art scene but the bad conditions of public financing and the complete lack of commercial gallery system are the things that characterise the field, that is for sure.
To ask the question of alternatively you have to ask “to be alternative to what?” There has to be something you must be able to call “the norm”. But in Estonia nothing is very normative, even Kumu is operated on a very weird basis for a huge representational national gallery; there are no granted finances for exhibitions for example. Kunsthalle Tallinn where I have worked for ten years suffers from the same problems. The understanding of a fee-based public art scene is very new, the old soviet structures that have remained try to control the system and to run it on their own terms, the lack of money and understanding is seen everywhere. What we want is in many ways the normality, to pay our staff fair wages and our artists a fee, and this is very alternative in the Estonian context.
For two years we have now been supported by the Culture Capital project and that has really helped us to achieve many goals. If we manage to keep the level of professionalism and the anarchistic vitality onwards, we would be very happy. But if we will not get further support from the cultural ministry or the city for our general activities and we are stuck again with only “anarchistic vitality”, then it will not work. Hopefully we have become unavoidable part of the art scene by the end of this year and we can continue our further project of self-instituting.
Mathias Jansson: And what about the situation for New Media Art?
Anders Härm: The EKKM have in our collection a very nice new media piece Polyphonic Passport Photo, by Reimo Võsa Tangsoo, Shawn Pinchbeck and Sulo Kallas, that translates your passport photo into sound and colours. And EKKM nominated Timo Toots, whose Memopol vol 2 is a huge hit at the Gateways for EKKMs art award Köler Prize this year. He didn’t win the main price, but I think we have quite a number of interesting new media artists. New Media art is in relative periphery everywhere, Estonia is no different. The main problem of the new media artists everywhere is that they are too concerned about the media and too little what to do with it. But good art always stands out.
Mathias Jansson: So what would it take to make Estonia a successfully art scene in Europe?
Anders Härm: To overcome the provincialism that is located very strongly in every minds. To open itself up to the world and stop this overprotecting inwards directed cultural politics and nationalist protectionism, conservatory attitudes in relation to culture. And we need more money, of course