Estonia’s “Banksy”, Edward von Lõngus, was given the 2018 Culture Award of the country’s ministry of foreign affairs for his pan-European digital street art project, “(R)estart Reality”.
The “(R)estart Reality” tour, which took place as part of Estonia’s presidency of the European Union and the cultural programme for the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the republic, saw life-sized painted figures appear on walls in cities throughout Europe who told their stories via digital devices. The tour took in 11 capitals: Brussels, Rome, Berlin, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Paris, London, Vilnius, Rīga, Vienna and Budapest.
The anonymous artist was represented by Andra Orn at the ceremony hosted by the ministry of foreign affairs in Tallinn on 9 January. In a written statement, von Lõngus referred to Bernt Notke’s “Danse Macabre”, a medieval painting at Tallinn’s St Nicholas Church. The artist noted that, in addition to acting out the adventures of Estonians from 100 years ago in Europe, a second motive emerged through the project: a contemporary danse macabre.
“The reason why the European project was called ‘(R)estart Reality’ was that our reality desperately needs to restart. My work is driven by the hope of pressing ‘restart’ on as many minds as possible in order to create a new and better world,” the artist added in a statement.
Still on the walls in Berlin
According to Merit Kopli, the Estonian cultural attaché in Berlin, the street art is held in high regard in the German capital. “It was great to see how impressed the local street art community was with von Lõngus and that they invited him to do his thing in some of the most prime spots in the city. The fact that most of von Lõngus’ works are still on the walls says everything. Anything that’s even slightly less impressive gets graffitied over pretty much immediately,” she said.
“Some of his pieces are on display in the garden at the Estonian embassy here in Berlin, and just recently I overheard four young guys, who were admiring them, say that Estonia is a great country – a tiny little dot on the map but doing and making things with a twist that really stick in your head,” Kopli added.
Handing over the award to Orn, the Estonian foreign minister, Sven Mikser, emphasised the important role that cultural diplomacy plays in representing Estonia. “Edward von Lõngus’s street art, which bridges Estonia’s history and its image as an e-nation and seeks to make sense of the country today, is a perfect example of the special nature of our cultural diplomacy and its wealth of ideas,” he said. “There’s no doubt that von Lõngus’s work has helped put Estonia on the map for a much broader audience – one that you perhaps don’t encounter all that often in concert halls and theatres.”
The Culture Award was first awarded in January 2010. The recipients have included composer Arvo Pärt, the rock band Ewert and The Two Dragons, poet Kristiina Ehin and the team behind the Estonian-Georgian movie, “Tangerines” (“Mandariinid”).
Edward von Lõngus has been compared to Banksy because of the style of his works that often include political and social commentary, use of stencils and unknown identity.