The Hypnotist Collector: An Estonian/Spanish Art Exchange | STACEY KOOSEL & MARISA GÓMEZ
Estonia and Spain are separated by thousands of kilometers. As geographically opposite poles of heterogeneous Europe – North and South – they possess very different historical, cultural and artistic trajectories.
Until a little less than two decades ago, they belonged to different worlds with the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic hidden behind the Iron Curtain in the Eastern Bloc, and Spain aligned with the seemingly capitalist and democratic ideals of the Western Bloc of Europe. On an artistic level, a superficial glance at this world of the early 1980s, divided into blocs, would set Estonia in the framework of official socialist state commissioned art linked to the occupying Soviet regime, and Spain into a production framework linked to the logics of postmodernism as a dominant cultural paradigm. While there is some truth in this simplistic vision, it requires certain historical nuances with artistic freedom as the litmus test that reveals the everyday reality of different social conditions.
Orders by Ángela Cuadra, part of the works selected for “The Hypnotists Collector – Spanish Contemporary Art”.
Politic propaganda from World War II is updated by means of collages that turn their slogans into disjointed
texts that bring to light the fine line between democracy and dictatorship, between the logics of propaganda
or the present publicity campaigns and the imposition of behaviours and values.
On the one hand, Spanish art was, until the end of the 1970s, closely tied to the interests of Franco’s dictatorship and, even though since the 1950s it maintained an interest in enhancing the ‘vanguard’ with the aim of existing on the international art scene, the state still supported nationalistic and official art. It was for the most part, the artists in exile, who were far removed from the ideology of the regime that encouraged (particularly in the 1960s and 1970s) subversive art through international contacts and exchanges beyond the borders of the nation. During the 1980s, the newly emerged democracy experienced a spirit of unprecedented freedom, where the art world was able to dispose of their fears of facing social reality and instead join international artistic movements, reinventing the artistic boundaries that until then had been deeply entrenched Spain.
On the other hand, in the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, besides state commissioned art, there were many decades of ‘dissident’ artistic production which, in its own way, was working and reformulating the aesthetic and conceptual issues of the European and American avant-gardes of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The logics of postmodernism, happening and hyper-realism also had its place in the Estonian artistic scene before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Estonian art could be roughly divided into two separate groups since the 1940s: state commissioned official artworks and non-official artwork. This could be further divided into open socialist content versus hidden socialist content by use of socialist iconography such as flags, hammers, sickles and pentagrams, as well as the compulsory topics of workers and aesthetics of social realism. By the 1960s the Estonian art world felt more freedom from the pressures of state censorship and commissioning of official artworks, in the 1970s Estonian artists were reaching out to the international community. Although, even during the 1980s Estonian artists have been criticized as being detached from social reality, and inhabiting an ‘ivory tower’ or fantasy world that did not acknowledge the social and cultural climate – and instead worked with its own self-referencing, constructivist aesthetic. It was in the early 1990s, that Estonia also experienced a break-through sense of artistic freedom and openness – linked to the social and political reality – similar to the one that Spain had experienced only a decade before. But while the Spain of the 1980s ‘only’ had to readjust to a new political and cultural circumstance, Estonia had to reinvent itself as part of a process of decolonization or de-occupation and regaining independence, where nationalization and identity would play a key role in both politics and art.
Sweater by Jaanus Saama, selected for the exhibition “The Hypnotist Collector – Estonian Contemporary Art”.
Saama recontextualises graffiti onto knitwear as an unexpected form of independent propaganda, as opposed to the corporately
sponsored mainstream media. Graffiti itself being regarded as both vandalism and social commentary reverses back into
corporate rhetoric as a brand logo on clothing.
These processes of reconstruction of ex-soviet countries such as Estonia coincided with a profound economic, political and communicative reconfiguration on a global level. At the same time as in many countries in Europe and the world, Spain was colonized and Estonia immediately recolonized by new foreign capital, privatization of public organizations, the logics of consumption and the promise of a New Europe. The economic systems of the art world were also affected by these new parameters internationally, with the rise of extreme commodification and the establishment of biennials and international art fairs that emphasized geopolitical interests, and tensions between the local and the global.
The critical discourses on contemporary art, young in Spain and emerging in Estonia, had to cope with this situation and the artists – that now occupy this same reality – have had to learn how to cope with this system, caught in the artistic and cultural homogenization and the limitations of the overall market, but subverting its principles through community dialogue and personal narratives that refer to more universal concerns.
In this framework of divergent artistic trajectories of Estonia and Spain that eventually converge on the same global system – which outside of major international events, continues to stay isolated about the contexts of production and the national artistic scenes in each others national boundaries, facilitating a great mutual ignorance – there is something that, of course, these two countries have in common in the last two decades: a vibrant art scene.
A chance encounter between curators settled in the respective countries might have been enough to give account of this fact, and to consider how enriching it might be to bring together contemporary artistic production of Estonia and Spain, to publicize each one in the context of the other. That’s how the project The Hypnotist Collector emerged, an exhibition exchange that will take place the next months in Barcelona and Tallinn respectively.
Poses by Yolanda Domínguez, selected for “The Hypnotist Collector – Spanish Contemporary Art”.
Domínguez criticises the artificiality in the world of publicity and fashion, particularly from the
point of view of women and the way they are portrayed by the media. In Poses she invites women
to reproduce in daily sitations the artificial, and sometimes harmful, stances
that we ared to seen in magazines and fashion.
The Hypnostist Collector: Project, Concept and Artists
It’s a well established fact that since the decade of the 1990s, our globalized and hyper-connected world is increasingly immersed in the logics of consumption and capital, which are inevitably accompanied by communication strategies governed by visual excess, spectacle, repetition and, ultimately, a certain collective hypnosis.
The project The Hypnotist Collector departs from this phenomenon, which obviously has not gone unnoticed to the contemporary artists, as a common element from which to start exploring the respective scenes of contemporary art in Estonia and Spain.
Thus, The Hypnotist Collector is thought of as a series of exhibitions that explore persuasive communication as a topic, object of reflection and creative strategy for both Spanish and Estonian artists. Issues in media, advertising, propaganda, visual excess and aspects related to them, such as manipulation, control, consumerism and their consequences, are approached through diverse mediums, languages and perspectives that – despite being very different – share a critical and ironic vision, which discloses, reviews, reuses or undermines the mechanisms of persuasion that we are exposed to in our everyday life and that usually remain unnoticed.
Life File by Erki Kasemets, selected for “The Hypnotist Collector – Estonian Contemporary Art”.
Kasemets’ bricolage process with repetitive motifs of singular units of everyday objects,
unifies the psychedelic, hypnotic and idiosyncratic.
Following the philosophy of a cultural exchange, the exhibitions will take place in two different locations and times. The first exhibition, curated by Stacey Koosel, will take place in Barcelona this June, showcasing Estonian contemporary art. In the next months, six Spanish artists will participate in the second incarnation of The Hypnotist Collector in Tallin, in an exhibition curated by Marisa Gómez and Herman Bashiron.
The Hypnotist Collector in Tallinn will bring established Spanish artists such as video art pioneer Toni Serra (winner of the Nam June Paik Award in 2006) and audio-visual artist Daniel Canogar, who’s permanent sculptural installation fills the Atrium of the Houston Airport, and the European Commission in Brussels during the Spanish Presidency of the European Union in 2010. It will also bring, increasingly recognized young Spanish artists working internationally such as Ángela Cuadra, Daniel Silvo, Yolanda Domínguez and the Collective PSJM.
Other Geologies IV by Daniel Canogar, selected for “The Hypnotist Collector – Spanish Contemporary Art”.
Canogar’s work contributes a vision of excess, both of consumerism of goods and of contemporary visuality.
His large images, highly persuasive by themselves, are critical to the system of consumerism.
The Barcelona exhibition will feature the works of many Estonian contemporary and new media artists, such as Marge Monko, Eva Sepping, Katarina Meister, Kristina Norman and Erki Kasemets. The Estonian part of the exhibition will also feature Köler Prize Winning artist Jaanus Samma who will represent Estonia at the Venice Biennale in 2015 as well as an Estonian/Spanish collective consisting of Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet, who’s latest work was commissioned by Google and will be exhibited at the Barbican in London.
With this generous selection of artist and artworks, The Hypnotist Collector brings together the last two decades of contemporary Spanish and Estonian art, considering the glances of over a dozen artists, both emerging and established that – whether from aesthetic, political, activist, feminist, queer or reflective points of view – have approached the topic of persuasive communication as a contemporary problem and everyday reality.
Besides simply displaying contemporary art from Estonia in Barcelona and vice versa, this project goes further to fulfill the aims of a lasting cultural and artistic exchange. To do so, the exhibitions will be accompanied by a series of public talks with artists and curators and guided tours directed by the artists involved, which will try to engage other artistic scenes and to foster a real cultural exchange as well as sharing practical knowledge of these contexts both for the artists and the visitors.
After War by Kristina Norman, Kiasma Museum.
Norman is considered by some Estonia’s most controversial artist, for this work, presented at the
Venice Biennale 2009, regarding a powder keg topic – the removal of a Soviet era statue. Norman’s
work reflects the ideological struggles of a post-Soviet country, with identity paradoxes – between
the Soviet past and the public relations mediated present.
– Estonian Art Magazine, Issue 24, 1/2009. Available online
– HÄRM, Anders, Introduction: Estonian Dream. Festival of Contemporary Art
– JAMES, Sarah, Beyond a Theoretical Curtain, in Art Monthly 317, June 2008.
– KELOMEES, Raivo, Postmateriality in Art: Indetermanistic Art Practices and Non-Material Art. Tallinn, 2009.
– MARZO, Jorge L., Arte Moderno y Franquismo. Los orígenes de la Vanguardia y de la Política Artística en España. 2006. Avalible online
– RÜNK, Martin, Withdrawal of the subject in ironistic practice: changes in self-representative art (on the example of Estonian art). Tartu, 2006.
– VVAA, Arte Contemporáneo Español 2992 – 3013, Madrid: La Fábrica, 2013.
The Hypnotist Collector: Estonian Contemporary Art
JUNE 6TH – JUNE 28, 2014 at NauART, Barcelona
Special Events in Barcelona:
4.06.2014. 19.00h. Artist & Curator Talk
6.06.2014. 19.00h. Exhibition Opening Event
7.06.2014. 19.00h. Artist & Curator Guided Exhibition Tour