Taillin is a coastal town in Estonia with a population of 413,782 people. The Republic of Estonia has been an independent state since 1918, shortly interrupted by a half a century long Soviet occupation after World War II. In 1991, Estonia’s independence was restored.
On June 11, 2018, I arrived in Tallinn where I met up with Rob Zeidler from the Cotton Factory, Hamilton, Ontario and Elin Kard, Vice-President and founding member of the Estonian Artists’ Association.
The Hamilton Arts Council, in partnership with The Cotton Factory and the Estonian Artists’ Association have come together to build an artist exchange and residency program.
An artist and curator in her own right, Elin Kard is the founding member of EKKM (Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia), teaches at the Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn and curates for EKL gallery; Horse Head Gallery & the Dragon Gallery, in Tallinn.
Our visit to Taillon was a step towards building relations between our respective organizations, and an effort to set the stage for the Canada/Estonia Artist Exchange taking place in October, 2018.
We were fortunate to have Kard as our tour guide for much of the day, she took us to visit the many galleries in the Old City. Kard is involved with the Tallinn Art Hall, where we attended the 18th Annual Exhibition of the Estonian Artists’ Association’s annual juried show “Jubilee Spring 2018”.
The exhibition was dedicated to Estonia’s centenary and the 75th anniversary of the Estonian Artists’ Association.
We could not have received a better introduction to the beauty of Tallinn. The day was filled with art, walks through the Old City, conversation, and stories about history, art and culture.
Jubilee Spring 2018 was sponsored by the Estonian Ministry of Culture, Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Tallinn Culture Department and Estonia 100, and featured the artworks of 107 contemporary Estonian artists. This provided us with an overview of many of the artists currently participating in the Estonian art scene.
Although it was the 18th spring show, it was the first time the Estonian Artists’ Association installed and presented works in the same manner as an art fair and featured the works of artists at varying career levels.
Kard explained that over the past 2-3 years there has been a trend with artists turning towards traditional drawing and graphic works. The resurgence of traditional techniques in drawing, painting and printmaking was evident in many of the works on view.
“There is a move toward manual skills, leaving a trace of one’s hand. Less artists are working with video, desiring a more direct connection with the media they are working with.” explained Kard.
This year’s exhibition marks the first time works displayed were listed for sale. This was done in an effort to encourage a new generation of art collectors.
“During the Soviet period, artists made art on a commissioned basis, galleries did not sell artist works. And subsequently, galleries did not pay the artists.”
In 2011, as Vice President of The Estonian Artists’ Union, Kard led the way in an unprecedented move to compensate artists who exhibit artworks. This decision was made in an effort to make artists fees self-explanatory as is the case in other areas of culture.
When asked about artists creating an income through the sale of limited edition prints, Kard explained this concept is currently unheard of in the Estonian art scene and considered unprofessional.
In Canada, artists prints are an affordable way for people to collect works of art. It also provides an artist with an additional source of revenue for their work.
Today the Association supports itself with the rental of artist live/work studios, commissioned art sales and memberships.
After viewing exhibitions in the Old Town galleries, we walked to EKKM. (EKKM is an abbreviation for Eesti Kaasaegne Kunsti Muuseum meaning Estonia Contemporary Art Museum.) The Gallery is situated in the former offices for the Tallinn Heating Plant.
It began as a squat in 2006 and has since become a not-for-profit, artist-run/do-it-yourself initiative.
The 17th Tallinn Print Triennial celebrated a half a century of traditional printmaking. The exhibition examined the concept, “triennial”; how it plays in cultural history and the theme of tradition in the broader sense. Non-traditionalism in the art process of Estonia and other Baltic countries was integrated.
There was so much to take in, and to process. The history of EKKM was as interesting to me as were all of the exhibitions presented in the gallery spaces and the architecture of the space.
Our day ended with an exhibition opening by Liisi Eelmaa - Õrnalt õhus / Gently in the Air, at Hobusepea Gallery. The event was sponsored by the Cultural Endowment of Estonia and Estonian Ministry of Culture.
It would be the first of many exhibition openings I would visit in the coming weeks.