Writing


 

 Film Still, Robin Thomson

Film Still, Robin Thomson

 

 

Not all of us are yet in Tallinn though, with the other exhibitors working away in Scotland and Germany. News reaches us from the former DDR of some demonic experiments with a second hand Super-8 camera, in Robin Thomson’s studio. He writes:

In my studio-head right now there is a strange mixture of feelings, images and nostalgias prompted by recent things: perpetual escalators, city perspectives from late night roof-top car parks, early morning ‘Flohmarkts’ (i.e. a Turkish man selling a diapositive projector for only ten cents), late-night ‘Sperrmühl’ hunting, the ware-house Bauhaus-become library (actual Titanic house of reproducible objects) where I do my research. Super 8 equipment given to me by a Herr Volmeister that was probably locked up in his cellar for more than thirty years, that inspired a nostalgia for the Mechanical Age of film–– being able to see the wheels turning the reelsrunning the images; slowing it down manually, speeding it up–– but soon faded or rather flopped as I realized the shortcomings of the ancient rubber drive-belts. I developed a special relationship with a young oak tree, inspired partly by a visit to and subsequent photos of the ‘Stadtgarten’, a small paradise of domesticated flora I spotted housed and spotlighted in a corner of the mega-ware-house, and also in part by baking potatoes for the public. A story in the local paper that reviled the defunct bicycles and street signs sunk in the city-river. Digitally transferred footage of an unknown voyage to Italy in 1976, with Fleetwood Mac playing soothingly in the background, from which I put together a surrealist-like film of architectural acrobatics; many storied buildings concertinaing from baroque windows and towers descending from their steeples. Whether its transitory verbs, automobiles, escalators, temperamental projectors or garden shed tools, its nothing short of a Ballardian-Macluhan melange of prophesizing urbanality. 

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So, then days to go until opening night, and things are beginning to come together in the studio.

Two of the exhibiting artists have been working for the past while in a studio at Telliskivi. Given the subject matter of the exhibition, the location couldn’t really be more ideal. The top end of Telliskivi is a crossroads, with railway sidings and tram lines dividing the tourist crowds of the Old Town from the pleasant wooden houses, and industrial archaeology, of the Kalamaja district.

From Our Studio Window

From Our Studio Window

The studio is part of a huge former Soviet factory and living space. Formerly each floor of these large-ish tower blocks was filled with light engineering and food processing enterprises, as well as flats for the workers who staffed them. Now, in a rather desolate state, the floors in the more serviceable buildings still serve as flats or small businesses; in two of the more crumbling blocks, the cold, drafty spaces form perfect studios for an ever changing cast of aspirant hard rockers, drum classes, and artists. The only permanent residents seem to be a large family of fierce and human-wary black-and-white cats.

 

Telliskivi Studios

Telliskivi Studios

 

Despite some not very good versions of Born to Run etc. being frequently audible from neighbouring spaces, the studio itself is pretty good for making art; well lit throughout the day and north-west facing. Most of the Soviet debris has been cleared away ( a huge windowless room upstairs is stacked high with cheap 1980s office furniture, broken brown carpet tiles and old sofas). 

In this space two of the artists who are exhibiting have been pulling together work for the show; the others will be bringing their stuff with them, shortly, for installation week next week.

Casey Campbell working on her painting "Aia 10 Uheksa Viis"

Casey Campbell working on her painting

 

David Anderson and his pinball machine

David Anderson and his pinball machine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Disused Bridge over main courtyard, Telliskivi

Disused Bridge over main courtyard, Telliskivi

A Moskvitch in, er, Tartu

A Moskvitch in, er, Tartu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the next week we will be looking at all five artists in a little more detail.

Well, it’s not a bad question, as there seems little or no connection between five young Scottish artists exhibiting in the capital of Estonia, and an old Soviet car in the capital of Cuba.

Exhibition titles, and, increasingly, gallery names, often appear to be either meaningless or designed simply to confuse the visitor. Take, for example, the series of exhibitions called Novi Fragmenti in Zagreb, Croatia, or  the artists’ collective Limousine Bull in Aberdeen, Scotland. These names have their own significance to those who came up with it. But, to anyone not privy to the decision-making process, they are meaningless- a brand name rather than a descriptor.

“A Moskvitch in Havana” is not a brand name, but more a metaphorical title attempting to provoke curiosity. Twenty years ago, in Soviet Estonia, the Moskvitch car was pretty ubiquitous. Now, the factory that made it lies in ruins in Moscow and its products are little more than industrial junk, slowly fading into history. Occasionally one will still be seen on the road, driven by an elderly person, or plastered with mock racing-car adverts, and raced by younger drivers for whom the car is not a necessity, but a disposable weekend pleasure. Why Havana? Because the Cuban capital is one of the last places on earth where a version of the Soviet system still exercises political power. It is bizarre enough that the ideology of “Marxism-Leninism”, with its roots in late nineteenth century and early twentieth century European idealism, should be transposed onto a Caribbean island; that some of the material products of that ideology should still be in use there is even more of an unexpected juxtaposition. The exhibition title, therefore, arises from the feeling that all these artists have in being transplanted from one specific cultural background to another, attempting, through a focus on urban transformation, to negotiate that difference, and to communicate within it.

It is also no co-incidence that the artists taking part in the show are interested, in different ways, in “dead” city zones and the effect that the transformation from one mode of living to another has on the individual. Tourist Tallinn has already been “transformed” into a mediaevel fun palace, with the only sign of the recent Soviet past to be found in some 1970s memorial plaques and on T-shirts. Moving beyond the Old Town into “Real Tallinn”, and there are far more indicators in terms of decaying industrial buildings and empty “brownfield” land awaiting a new use.

One such space, an old toy factory on Madara tn., has already been transformed into a set of studios and exhibition spaces, at the centre of which is the Non Grata Kunstikonteiner; just around the city centre many more such spaces await re-branding or demolition.

As when Tallinn “modernised” and was electrified in the 1920s, during the early years of the first Estonian republic, the frantic pace of change in the city since the collpase of the USSR, from provincial, small industrial outpost, to European capital city, has left many behind and struggling to process the magnitude of the changes, in the last ten years. In some senses these disused industrial buildings function as a symbol of those whose mental map of Tallinn was drawn in the Soviet past, and who feel slightly ill at ease in the ever changing present.

Buildings also function as an unnoticed backdrop to people’s mundane, everyday routines. These artists all have an interest in city spaces that are not really noticed by the people that use them. They also have an interest in empty urban space: wastelands at a point of transformation, from a historical use in a fast receding past, to a future function defined only in an architect’s drawing and seen by city planners. 

This exhibition, in painting, three dimensional art, photography, and graffiti, has those moments of transformation at its core. In the next few entries, the participating artists will be introduced in more detail as we count down to the opening night.