Estonian art

Art on the fly: artists display their works at Tallinn Airport

Travellers can get away from the regular airport buzz at Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport and enjoy artworks in a quiet gallery.

Tucked up on the second floor of Lennart Meri Tallinn Airport is a small area known as the Gallery. An elevator ride takes visitors to the small, cosy and quiet space where one can escape the movement of people below. It’s also an area where local artists exhibit their work on a rotating basis.

The Gallery, which is free to visit, has been open since November 2014. According to Martin Grünberg, the Gallery’s contact person, “everyone can apply” to get their works displayed. The only stipulation when it comes to the actual art is that there is “no racial abuse, no religious, no explicit nudity or otherwise offensive works”.

While most of the artists who have displayed their work, such as Alisa Jakobi; Toomas Altnurme; Tõnu Kirves; Piret Rohusaar; Uku Põllumaa; Andrus Raag; Tiiu Esnar; Rein Mägar, are from Estonia, not everyone is. For example, Jose Corominas comes from Spain and Anatoly Stakhov is Ukrainian.

Searching for the deeper meaning

The current artist being showcased is Liis Koger. Koger, who was born in Pärnu and graduated from Tartu University with a visual arts degree in painting, now lives in Tallinn. She has been creating abstract art since 2013 upon graduating. Her works have been shown in exhibitions in Italy, the UK, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Moldova and Estonia.

While some might say abstract art is just a mess of nonsensical splatters and splotches, for Koger each canvas is an “individual, a spiritual practice”. One gets a sense that her paintings search for “the deeper meaning of it all” in a “how does it affect you?” way. It is not about what is there, what is seen. It is about searching for something deeper and that parallels the allure of travel, as well.

We often travel to enrich our lives. It’s not just about where we go and see – it is the deeper, lasting impact made by the people and places we’ve experienced. Art has the same effect. Once our travels are completed we want “the memory to last, the dream to never go away”.

As the number of passengers passing through Tallinn Airport grows, its art space becomes more appreciated – it is a way to spend some time away from the buzz below. The artwork also adds to the ambiance. The next time while at the airport, take some time to visit the Gallery. Relax and enjoy the artwork on display.


Cover: An exhibition at the Gallery, Tallinn Airport.

Estonia is to introduce its culture, arts and science to Europe

In the second half of 2017, Estonia takes the helm of the presidency of the Council of the European Union for six months and in 2018, it will celebrate its 100th anniversary. For that period of time, the country will arrange a series of events throughout Europe to show what Estonia is about and to give local talents a venue to introduce themselves to the rest of the continent.

Initially, the Estonian centenary and the country’s EU presidency were supposed to both take place in 2018. Estonia celebrates its 100th year of independence on 24 February 2018, and the presidency was supposed to take place in the first half of the same year. Since the United Kingdom, however, decided to leave the EU, Estonia’s presidency got bumped up by half a year, it was decided to start with the international programme earlier than initially planned.

According to Jorma Sarv, the head of the international programme for the country’s EU presidency and centenary, the purpose of the events is to demonstrate Estonia as a tourism destination that has something to offer for everyone, but also give a chance to Estonian talents who deserve to be introduced outside the country.

“First and foremost, we wish to support those who already have international experience and who can, with our support, realise something bigger or different from the ordinary,” Sarv told Estonian World. “Also, lots of our events are related to culture, but also the education and science sectors.”

A programme for everyone

“In the grand scheme of things, we want to engage all activities that are directed at the public of foreign countries,” Sarv pointed out. “For example, the Estonian communities abroad are also very welcome to come together under this scheme.”

The programme is, in general, meant for anyone and everyone. “For example, if we take the culture sphere, when an Estonian artist performs to a foreign audience, then our goal is to offer the highest quality experience possible,” Sarv explained. “The fact that they’re from Estonia is important, but that doesn’t guarantee anything – what matters is the quality. So our interest is – and not only in the culture area – that an Estonian talent can reach the right audience and fulfil themselves there.”

So, which events in the programme are the most important? “I personally think that in their own way, all initiatives directed at foreign audiences are important,” Sarv asserted. “If we take the global sphere, then on 15 September 2018 a grand global clean-up event is to take place with hundreds of countries participating and trying to clean our communal environment. Estonia as the leader in the Let’s Do It! movement has an important role there.”

Help ideas to see the light of day

On the other hand, there are many smaller events in the programme that, according to Sarv, are also important. “Alongside many culture projects, there will be a weekend of scientific theatres in Amsterdam, arranged by the AHHAA science centre, or a virtual reality conference that is to take place in Helsinki.”

At the end of the day, the programme’s purpose is to help ideas that are sometimes impossible to realise to actually see the light of day. “A good example of this is the cooperation of many Estonian and international organisations to help make the first international tour of Paavo Järvi and the Estonian Festival Orchestra happen,” Sarv explained. “Without us, this would be considerably more difficult. And we’re hoping that the orchestra will take off from there and carry on with international concerts even after our programme ends.”

Aiming for a global reach in 2018

Considering Estonia also has a significant political programme for the six-month period of presidency, would the events programme also overlap with politics? Not necessarily, Sarv said. “The digital sphere is definitely a common denominator for quite a few aspects related to Estonia, and some aspects might overlap, but our focus is on a wider audience who don’t necessarily know much about Estonian political programme.”

When the year 2017 mostly concentrates on Europe, then in the year after that, Estonia will try and reach farther destinations. “At the end of January, the Estonian Museum of Art and the National Gallery in Washington, DC, will arrange an exhibit of Michel Sittow’s artwork; the ERSO orchestra and the Estonian National Men’s Choir go on a tour in China; Toronto will host a week dedicated to the Estonian music; etc. I hope there will be more such activities in farther destinations,” Sarv declared.

Three of the most curious events taking place in the second half of 2017:

Restart Reality: Digital Street Art – All over Europe, unique and distinctively Estonian characters from about a hundred years ago are brought to new life by Edward von Lõngus and augmented reality technologies, exploring life & people around them.

All Around Europe: Kaustinen festival – The Estonian band, Trad.Attack!, is celebrating the grandest event in Estonian history with a concert tour “All Around Europe”, performing in every EU member state – including Finland at the Kaustinen festival.

A virtual reality conference in Helsinki – The aim of the conference is to connect different VR developers, investors, incubators, accelerators and enthusiasts from Estonia and other Nordic countries.


Cover: Trad.Attack (Photo by Renee Altrov.)

A search for the lost works of Estonian artist Konrad Mägi

Enn Kunila, the owner of one of the finest art collections in Estonia, has initiated an extensive search campaign to find works by expressionist painter Konrad Mägi.

Collaborating with the Estonian Television’s “Eyewitness” programme, Kunila is hoping to find works by Mägi (1878-1925) that are unknown to this day.

Mägi painted 400 paintings over the course of his lifetime, but the locations of only about two hundred paintings are currently known. Even assuming that half of the missing paintings were destroyed in wars and cataclysms, it is estimated that there may be about 100 paintings, the locations of which are hitherto unknown.

His paintings could have been left abroad at the time of his painting trips in different places in Europe. It is also known that paintings by Mägi were taken along when people left Estonia during World War II. “In order to search for such paintings, I appeal for assistance to the Estonian community and the congregations of churches associated with Estonians to conduct a corresponding extensive information campaign,” Kunila told Estonian World.

One of the most important painters in the Estonian art history

Mägi is considered one of the most important painters in the Estonian art history. Although his creative career lasted only 20 years, he had a significant impact on the art scene of his time and on subsequent developments. Primarily known for his landscape paintings, he was one of the most colour-sensitive Estonian painters of the first decades of the 20th century. Mägi’s works on motifs of the Saaremaa island were also the first modern Estonian nature paintings.

Born in Rõngu Parish, southern Estonia, Mägi received his elementary art education from the drawing courses of the German Artisans’ Society of Tartu. He continued his art education as an unattached student in St Petersburg, studying under Amandus Adamson, a renowned Estonian sculptor and painter. In 1906, he spent the summer in Åland, Finland, together with his friendly circle of painters and writers. It was there that the 27-year-old Mägi started painting more seriously for the first time.

As was customary for artists of the time, Mägi also went to Paris, studying there at a free academy in 1907. After subsequent trips to Normandy (France) and Norway, he returned to Estonia in 1913 and founded the Pallas Art School in Tartu, which turned into the training ground for dozens of future artists. Mägi travelled to Europe once again in the early 1920ies, but his premature death in 1925 sadly ended his intensive, productive and varied career as an artist.

Every art collection is an inseparable element of the national culture

For Kunila, the search for Mägi’s works is part of a larger – and it is probably fair to say, lifetime – mission, as he has actively collected and popularised the art of Estonian classical painting through various enterprises for the last 20 years. His art collection is now so extensive that it is comparable to the permanent exhibitions of Estonian art museums concentrating on the same era.

“My interest in art began in my childhood when I visited art exhibitions for the first time with my mother. I remember from that time to the present the emotion I felt when I saw the paintings so rich in colour of Estonia’s most famous painter Konrad Mägi. My interest in art grew and evolved over the years, regardless of the fact that I work as a businessman and I have no specialised education in art,” Kunila said.

Kunila considers his duty to collect the works of the most important Estonian painters. “I believe that in a small country like Estonia, every bigger art collection is also an inseparable element of the national culture. Hence, every art collector not only has the right, but also the duty to disclose their collection, to both art scholars and the researchers, but first and foremost to the wider public.”

To uphold these principles, Kunila has organised exhibitions, published catalogues and books and supported the publication of monographs. “I really like the idea of art as Estonia’s calling card. We can be proud as Estonians that we have had such great painters as Konrad Mägi, Nikolai Triik, Johann Köler, Ants Laikmaa, Ado Vabbe, Elmar Kits and many others. The works of these artists could enrich the walls of every art museum in the world,” he said.

Two exhibitions in Italy

This year, Kunila is involved with two exhibitions in Italy. First off, an exhibition of works from the golden age of Estonian painting (1910-1940) is being held until 21 May 2017 at the Museo Novecento in Florence, where ten paintings by Konrad Mägi are also on display, in a separate hall.

A solo exhibition of Mägi’s works – where about 50 paintings will be put on display – will be opened on 9 October 2017 at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna Museum in Rome. Kunila is also publishing a biography of Mägi, in time for the Rome exhibition.

“Therefore I am very grateful for any information that may supplement the heritage of Konrad Mägi. If a painting by Mägi is in your possession, or if you know the location of a painting by Mägi that has thus far been concealed from the public, you are kindly asked to contact me,” Kunila said.


Cover: Konrad Mägi – Landscape with Pink Fields, 1915-1916. Pictures courtesy of Enn Kunila’s Art Collection.

Marko Mäetamm: The future world will be led by creative superheroes

An artist is often less universal than a creative businessman, says Marko Mäetamm, an Estonian multimedia artist, who works within the mediums of video, drawing, and the internet.*

Mäetamm studied graphic art at the Estonian Academy of Arts and also studied practicing print technologies at the Swedish Royal Art High School. He has had solo and group art exhibitions throughout the world and has published two books, one under the pen name/moniker “John Smith” – a fictional conceptual persona occasionally used by Mäetamm as an alter-ego in his artistic projects – often, in collaboration with fellow Estonian artist Kaido Ole.

Veronika Valk interviewed Mäetamm at PointB Roof Terrace in Williamsburg, USA.

What does creativity mean to you? It is such a worn out word.

I believe it is ability. And that you are born with it. You cannot get it out of nowhere, you cannot learn it. I have met people in whom I have not detected the slightest ounce of creativity and who do not understand the process, how it works, how you can create something that did not exist before. The ability to collect ideas from the world around you and spawn something out of it.

For me, creativity is accompanied by curiosity, a heightened desire to exhibit yourself. Creativity entails a field that could be defined as communication with others. I do not believe in the kind of creativity where you keep creating and only for yourself – that is something different. It is rather more like you create and you want it to spring to life. And it springs to life thanks to a special kind of observation, sensitivity – perhaps there is no creativity anymore and it is more likely a sum of all the things listed above. A process comes into being and that process is creativity.


If you look at creativity directly, you will not see it. However, if you look away, you will notice it. For instance, if you look at the keyword curiosity, you will begin to see creativity. Or you think ‘playfulness‘ and from the sidelines, from the periphery, you will sense that it is creativity. It is a tiny island that is born in the middle of it all out of the sum of various traits of the person. A grey murky soup, a puddle. Don’t know why it is there but if you possess certain traits, it leads to greater creativity.

In terms of your living environment, can you name some specific traits where this soup of yours is brought to a boil?

My creativity starts flowing well in an overpopulated crowded environment. I need to be by myself, but I like it very much when there is a powerful information background, be it audio or visual or something else. I need that noise, but I am not staring at it, I am not consuming it. I feel it with my skin somehow. And then things get moving inside me. I start getting strange thoughts, stories, visuals, ideas that may not be precisely linked to my surroundings of that moment.


Environment excites me, it is my acupuncture, makes me tingle inside. Things don’t move around inside me this way in some quiet place, in a forest, in the nature. Actually I do not understand people who go somewhere in the country, a farm, and start creating there. I need to struggle with a nervous environment, in a positive sense. When you are pushing and shoving in a crowd, you walk around and hear the noise of the traffic, the rumble all around you, everything starts working.

At the same time you have said about your experience of being in India that it was horrible. Yet you were also in a noisy environment there?

Yes, I was, but it was horrible in terms of everyday living conditions. I had difficulties with adjusting and had a culture shock, but I was working very productively there. I really liked working there, but the everyday conditions were so radically different, put me under such pressure, made my life so difficult that it was horrible. Although paradoxically, it had a great effect on my creativity!


Perfect living conditions are not essential in terms of creativity; for me, it is important that I am sort of pressed between something, within a dense body that at the same time allows me to be alone in there, so that I am not constantly with someone. Being by myself, going to crowded places – urban environment is good for me.

The creative process you described, which includes being on one’s own – is the creative process therefore individual? There has been talk about such a thing as collective intelligence.

Of course it is collective – there are so many ideas that emerge in parallel. I think there is a certain field full of signals. I don’t even want to know where these signals come from in that field, but people with slightly more sensitive antennae pick them up. You pick up the right one. An enormously concentrated environment is a good thing because it is so dense. Quite literally – everything is up in the air. And if you have the talent to catch those things from there, then yes, I believe that there is a collective field, an information bar.

Are there any other cities where you would like to explore, see, feel that information bar? A place where you haven’t been yet, or have already been to but would like to visit again?

I have a very warm relationship with London, I have been there many times and would go back in a heartbeat, any time. I feel very open and productive there. Although it is a significantly calmer environment. At the moment I feel that this more nervous New York suits me even better. Before I came here, I thought that the best place for an artist to function is indeed London. At the moment, though, I can admit that New York is even better. Although in London I would also feel that I am swimming in the right pool.


My ideas often first appear verbally rather than as a visual image – they appear like a sentence, someone said. Therefore, it is important that I am able to communicate in the local language. Although Paris is great and nice, even though somewhat more languid, I do not speak the language, which means I spend more time on my own there, I am not connected to the surrounding field. Making contact with the language is important. That only leaves English-speaking environments where I can understand what people are mumbling. I have never been to Tokyo…

Most of your works are in private collections, you mostly exhibit them in galleries – how would your works work in public urban spaces?

A difficult question, my files usually fail to open on that issue. I have made one public space work, in Cardiff, Wales. The assignment was to interact with the city space. That was difficult. I accepted the challenge and was even satisfied with the result; however, I must admit that this chapter was closed again.


I cannot activate myself as an artist in urban space, I am more of a gallery artist and I can perfectly imagine my ideas being expressed in a book. The space must be internal, with a limited environment, where I am interacting with a closed space. I am not able to fathom urban space to the extent that I can add something to it. I consume it like an environment that is a maze, but I do not walk around going ‘WOW! I could make something here’. For some reason, the thought never occurs to me.

Will the future world be ruled by creative superheroes?

For quite a while already, the business world has been ruled by people whose creativity levels are above average and who are curious about creating as a phenomenon. They are doing better. Those with less creativity are doing worse. You can go a certain way with little creativity, but then you hit a limit and yes, those superheroes are the people who keep going further.


Whereas a businessman has the skills necessary for working in the financial world, the trouble with artists is that they usually only have that creativity. An artist is often less universal than a creative businessman. The artist is usually handed one talent, his or her creativity handed as a large chunk, a segment, leaving all other fields as mere gores on the sides, making it difficult to operate in the society.

Family is often in the centre of your works – how do you see the family of the creative superhero of the future?

As a creative person, you are never a harmonious family member. In one way or another, you are always isolated in there. Otherwise you would lack the ability to observe from the outside, you would simply live a certain role, a model; there would be nothing to think about. On the other hand, having a constant perspective into family life while not being in the middle of it, being absent, you can see – for me, the existence of family as a model in the society is both the source and solution to problems.


My works are linked to a way of life that is family life, but the family of the creative superhero of the future could be more liberal. The orthodox family that I look at from a critical angle as a fossilised typical model of father-mother-two-children (in ideal conditions, the two children are from different genders for perfect balance) – that model becomes more and more questionable.

In the information age, the interaction of families is completely different – you can only communicate via texts, you can only exist on the computer screen. It can be virtual, but it exists nevertheless. And in that case you can have several families at once. The new channels that we have employed to exchange information have dramatically changed the existing model.

In that case, does the information and influence of school become increasingly stronger? What would the school of the future look like?

Based on the experiences of Estonia, education is the most inert and slowest field. Which is a reversed situation – it should be the most dynamic, the fastest-changing, most creative, because it has to constantly start people up. In Estonian society, education is rather pushing, pushing in any direction it wants, which may not be the direction life and other developments are taking. You constantly have to argue with it, rock it.

School and education must be able to adapt to changes as quickly as the society is generating them. Technologies and modes of thinking have changed so quickly that schools as institutions look very slow in comparison. In order to make education flexible and personal, it is interesting to think that it used to be personal once. In terms of the field of arts, people used to learn with great gurus and masters.

Today, the concept is reversed – outlet-based teaching methods are not guru-based but learner-based. This paradox has led to a deadlock that must to be broken. On one hand, the individual approach is emphasised, on the other hand, it can be taught in a really small group, via a personal approach, one-on-one. At the same time, it is impossible to approach your students individually when you have a large group on your hands. This situation inevitably leads to devaluation and the teacher must impose one vision on ten, a hundred people, who all expect to be taught in slightly differing ways, or need slightly different methods to attain that special something that they seek in schools.


The teacher is forced to choose one rake, with more or less fine teeth, but still just the one rake. This is what happens as long as schools have to get by with a small number of teachers and a great number of students. This is where finance and economics come into play – basic knowledge only allows the teachers to use a very wide rake.

People need a more individual way of learning. There are many examples of autodidacts who grow independently, with the help of materials they have studied via computer, and who may not need schooling as such simply for acquiring basic knowledge and skills. Right now, there is a chess genius around, a sixteen-year-old Norwegian who allegedly became so good because he learnt chess and constantly practiced by playing against computers not people. He found his way and went along it, even further. If you can recognise at some point which person needs which input, it is a different concept all together – only for you and only this.

The school of the future must probably develop in the same way. It is technologically possible today, after all – one person can do everything, from start to finish. Or to connect via media/digital channels to other individuals, and in that case, be able to create something that only factories used to be able to create. It is an interesting time of individualisation – there are lots of people and the population of the Earth is growing en masse, at the same time, people are becoming more individual. It will be a while before education is able to digest that paradox. There is a struggle for new ideals, but unfortunately in old conditions, ‘in the way it used to be done’.


Cover: Marko Mäetamm. Images courtesy of Marko Mäetamm. * The original version of this interview was published on 20 November 2012. The article was amended in October 2016.

Two Estonian artists showcase their work in New York

Two Estonian artists, Diina Tamm and Valev Laube, will be presenting their work at a performance art show “Reflection Spectrum” in New York City.

An interactive performance art project will be taking place at Anita’s Way, a permanent public plaza that accommodates artists and audiences in the centre of New York. In the course of two days and four performances, the visitors of the outdoor performance venue right by Times Square will have the opportunity to be a part of a visual art and dance shows.

“Reflection Spectrum” is an interactive performance that fuses together dance with graphic visuals in a unique and interactive space. Four unique interpretations to the same artistic thought are conceptualised by New York-based choreographers – Estonian Diina Tamm in collaboration with Amanda Carlson, Vivake Khamsingsavath and Brinda Guha.

Choreography for the show is performed by a large international cast and accompanying visuals and video installation are made by an Estonia-born, New York-based, visual artist Valev Laube.

“Each choreographer presents its own unique take on the duality of identities hidden inside of us. The concept focuses on a humbling process of self-reflections, which we all struggle with on a regular basis: the person we are and the person we project,” Laube told Estonian World.

Anita’s Way helps the audience engage with the artwork in a reflective manner. “Organisers aim to create a personal, yet inspiring space for the audience to be able to reflect and engage with the artistically presented spectrum of personal stories. Which is the real you – the one people see or the one on the inside and how are we affected by visible reflections? How much of it are we aware of?” Laube added.

Diina Tamm, a dancer and choreographer born in Estonia, is a co-producer of the show. Originally from Tallinn, Tamm currently lives and works in New York. Her credits include dancing and co-choreographing the Columbus Day parade on ABC, Italian musical “Seven Worlds”, as well as music videos by artist Misterwives and Icona Pop. As a choreographer, she has presented her work at various shows and festivals in the United States and Estonia. Tamm is also a dancer and choreographer for the M.O.V.E. non-profit organisation that raises funds and awareness for a variety of social issues.

Diina Tamm

“Kaleidoscope Girl”, the act of the show that is choreographed by Tamm, focuses on people’s tendency to judge themselves based on what they assume other people think of them. “The vision of ourselves often becomes blurred if we try to see ourselves through the eyes of people around us,” Tamm said. The performance also includes some interaction with the audience and powerful video installations by Laube. The cast includes dancers from the United States, Australia, Japan, Sweden, France and Germany.

Laube’s most notable artist works have been exhibited in the United States and Canada. His most recent works include a music video for the Estonian-Finnish indie-pop band, Popidiot, and numerous promotional designs for companies, like Kenneth Cole, Steve Madden, WilsonArt and many others.

Prior to “Reflection Spectrum”, the two Estonian artists have worked on numerous projects of which the most recent performance took place this year at the Estonian Cultural Days in New York.


“Reflection Spectrum” takes place in collaboration with Chashama, a non-profit arts organisation, from 26 to 27 July in New York, at Anita’s Way, 137 West 42nd Street (the through-block connecting 42nd and 43rd streets, between Broadway and 6th Ave). Performances take place at 4:30pm and 6pm. All shows are free and open to the public. Cover: poster image of the show.

Mirjam Siim’s London debut: an international Estonian artist on the rise

Estonian contemporary artist Mirjam Siim’s solo exhibition, River of Life, opens in London on 18 July. It is her debut exhibition in Britain and follows her receiving first place in the Ashurst Prize for emerging artists. In her series of paintings and drawings, Siim alludes to the topographic river as a metaphor for both the physical and emotional life cycle. Challenging the Faustian notion of a linear existence, Siim’s art suggests life instead is perpetually circulating both in periods of violent flux and serene placidity.

Against this thematic backdrop, Siim has fashioned works that explore humanity’s symbiotic relationship with nature and with fellow individuals throughout moments of our love, laughter, triumph and struggle. She also portrays humanity’s propensity to toxify these relationships and exploit the vulnerabilities of our shared experiences.

River of Life has its genesis in Siim’s desire to create a series of works inspired by Island, the final novel of Aldous Huxley. In the book, Huxley explores the possibilities of an individualistic yet collectively intertwined utopia as a distinctive contrast from his earlier dystopian novel Brave New World. It is this spirit of enlightened optimism Huxley pursues in Island that is reflected in Siim’s art.

Mirjam Siim (Agnieszka Żywczyńska)

Like Huxley, who traded the terraces of Bloomsbury for the mysterious Hollywood Hills, the Estonian-born Siim has gone from the northeastern corner of Europe to its inverse geographical extreme, the sun-kissed sands of western Portugal. Siim’s travels have informed and inspired her work leading her to understand “home” as a relative concept, one which like her river of life is in perpetual flow, often ending in the place from whence it derived.

Art has been a central part of Siim’s life since childhood. Estonian World interviewed the artist ahead of her London exhibition.

Can you recall your first artistic experience?

The one that first comes to mind happened when I was six years old and had to do a drawing test to get into the local primary school, which was art-oriented. We had to draw a still-life of a toy car and a few more things that were placed on a chair, covered with linen. The teacher kept telling me I was drawing the whole thing too small, so I started over at least five times. In the end I was very disappointed in myself, but I managed to get in and thanks to that, eventually fixed my sense of composition also.

Who were some of your early artistic influences?

Probably my sister, who is five years older than me and was always very creative. Since we were small, she was very talented when it came to building doll houses or making cards for different occasions. Later on we both adapted to more serious occupations in the creative world.


Another artist, who has inspired me since I was around 15, is Gustav Klimt, whose work my art teacher at the time recommended to see, to look for inspiration for my middle-school’s graduation work.

What elements of Estonian culture have impacted and influenced your style and subject matter?

I think there has been more influence from Estonian culture hidden away in my work than I realise, as it is a natural part of me and my mentality. But what I can bring out consciously is probably the love and communion with nature, as it has been in Estonia throughout history. Also present in my work is the tranquillity and rationality that I believe is common among Estonians. Although I have to admit that during the period I lived in Estonia, my works were rather gloomy compared to my current works and topics, probably due to the long winters with minimum daylight and their effect on my mood.

Were your artistic talents encouraged in your childhood?

alice1Had to check that with my mother – in her words I drew a lot in the kindergarten and now and again my works were displayed in the corridor and she always felt very proud. At home I was busy playing other games and running around with the kids in the neighbourhood, but I do remember always preparing cards or small drawings for my friends and family for any kind of occasion.

I think I got motivated to continue with art more seriously when I was around 12-13, after winning a few art competitions and hearing the encouraging words from my first art teacher, I quit my sports-training and went to an evening art-school instead.

What led you to make Porto your home?

I fell in love with Porto after my first short visit here. I was determined to come back through the Erasmus programme during my third year of university. After staying here for one semester I decided to stay another and during that time I had already made a good friend, who later on became my boyfriend and with whom we adopted two cats. And now I am stuck here. But honestly, Porto is a wonderful place to live in and I have never felt as comfortable anywhere else. Also, compared with many other places I have lived, the personality of the people here is surprisingly similar to Estonians. So basically I have found my own kind, but on the other side of Europe, with more sun and cheaper wine!

How does the landscape and culture of Portugal impact your work via-a-vis that of Estonia?

The Portuguese people and culture have had a massive impact on my work since I arrived here. Even though I consider the personality of Portuguese and Estonian people similar in a lot of ways, there are so many differences in terms of culture, habits, interaction between people etc. I have been observing it since I arrived here and new subjects for painting just keep popping out!

Portugal - Mirjam Siim

To me it seems the Portuguese are quite simple (in a very good way!) and value the right things in life and truly enjoy living (even though they also enjoy complaining… but then again, who doesn’t?), and all of that has brought me to re-think many things I considered right before and has added perspectives that I never thought of before.

When did you first read Huxley’s Island and what was your initial reaction?

Mirjam SiimCoincidentally I read it while I was living on a small island myself – the Isle of White to be precise. Although the island I was living on was nothing like the one Huxley described in his book and maybe because of the contrast of two worlds, it left me with even deeper impression.

The book wasn’t an easy read, but since the beginning it fascinated me a lot and I was determined to do a series of illustrations about it. I only got to it years later, after finishing my university and with more time on my hands to read it again, analyse it and draw the images that appeared in my mind during the process. I think it is a book that everyone should read once in a life to understand how the world should really function.

What are your impressions of London’s contemporary art scene?

My contact with London’s art scene has been quite brief – during the times I lived there for short periods I was mainly working and only had time to visit the bigger galleries like Tate Modern, National Portrait Gallery etc. I am aware that there is a lot more than that in London and from my short experience in the other galleries I visited during my stay there I wouldn’t say that it is too different than the art scene in Tallinn or Porto – there is something for every taste and it is always changing.

What are your plans for the future?

Now more motivated than ever, I will keep concentrating on my art and the objective is to get better with doing it and also managing it.

Mirjam Siim III

I would like to continue participating in different projects, involving street art, product design, graphic design, collaborations with other artists and anything else that I can use my creativeness for. Ideally in a way that I can also make a (more stable) living with it at the same time.

Mirjam Siim’s River of Life opens at the gallery space of Ashurst, LLC in the City of London. Visit the website to make an appointment.


Cover: Mirjam Siim – ‘River’

Kilometre of Sculpture in Rakvere – determined believers in art

Joosep Mihkelson talks to the organisers of Kilometre of Sculpture (kmS) – an Estonian art event that is determined to continue even as arts funding across the Baltic Sea region is cut at every corner.

After spending the last few months moving between the occident and antipodes both physically and virtually, and watching the developments in the lead-up to the third kmS outdoor exhibition from a distance, it was an interesting experience to be able to sit down with Siim Preiman and Michael Haagensen of the organising team to discuss their upcoming show in the Estonian town of Rakvere.

Michael, you’ve been with kmS from the beginning and are the leader of the event, how would you describe it?

MH: Well, basically it is like a lot of outdoor sculpture exhibitions you see around the world, in terms of its model. We take a limited area of urban public space and invite an international curator to present an exhibition in that space. The basic idea is that we want to put artworks in a space that belongs to everyone, in order to encourage people that might not venture into a gallery, to come and see what contemporary art is all about.

Considering there are such events in different places around the world, what is special or different about kmS?

MH: I guess the obvious difference with kmS is that due to the fact that it only started in 2014, it hasn’t had the kind of history that the others have had. I mean, if you look at similar events in Europe or the UK or US, then many started already in the 70s or 80s, and back then, sculpture and contemporary art was still working its way out of modernism and through postmodernism. This meant that as events in the public space pitched at a broad audience, there were still rather a lot of media-based and object-based artworks to see, and this in a way, made it easier to reach the general public. The works were really “out there” physically, and interacting with them, even superficially, was pretty easy. And although staging an outdoor event like this now in northern Europe is attractive for a lot of artists – they really seem to warm to the challenge of working in the public space – it is different in the sense that some of the works are visually rather discrete.

Sergei Karev (RU) – Border (Voru)

Last year in Võru we had a really nice exhibition, but if you didn’t know it was there, and if you didn’t have our map, you could walk through the town centre and not see the works, although they were there.

Was that a problem for you?

SP: Actually, I am not sure I fully agree, I wouldn’t say it was all that discrete. I mean, I can remember after the opening, walking back to where we were staying through the city late at night, and sensing the buzz even in that small country town sort of way. And, if you recall, we had the installation by Johnson&Johnson, which was a car parked randomly in the city, and this voice – the voice of Lydia Koidula – reading the national epic, Kalevipoeg, emerging from the car. This stopped people, they wanted to know what was going on. I had a number of discussions with people about that work, and there were other works too that sparked discussion with members of the public, like Ats Parve’s Camera Obscura.

MH: Of course, Siim is right, but compared with the famous sculpture events staged in Germany starting in the 70s and which are still going on…

SP: Yeah, of course, these were completely different.

Siim, what is it that drew you to kmS? What do you think it can contribute to the arts scene here?

SP: Well, to be completely honest, I was originally attracted to kmS because of its somewhat peripheral position in the local art scene. That is, of course, changing year by year as the project establishes itself more and more, but when I originally joined the team in 2014, I was really excited to be part of a project that in essence even deliberately positions itself on the outskirts of the cultural field. On the one hand, kmS will almost definitely never take place in Tallinn or Tartu, so it automatically isn’t part of the same geographical area where most arts events take place in Estonia; and on the other, it adapts a model that hasn’t really been established here. Of course there have been attempts to start recurring outdoor contemporary art events but none have really survived.

kmS in 2014 II

kmS is, in that sense, standing on somewhat shaky ground – it has a lot to prove because no event has pulled off surviving in regional Estonia before. I think doing just that – year by year pulling off a great international exhibition that pops up in unexpected places and welcomes all visitors– is the single most important contribution to the local arts scene.

Tell me what we can expect this year?

SP: Well, our curator this year is Anna Virtanen from Helsinki, and we invited her partly because Finland is like our focal country for 2016. Anna has invited a really interesting selection of artists with about half of them being from Finland, a Norwegian, a Briton, and an Irishman – and then the rest are local Estonians.

Kristina Norman - After War

What I like about this year’s exhibition is that the artists have responded to Anna’s curatorial concept in quite different ways. Some are quite physical and have a clear and obvious presence in the city, some with a sense of humour, while others more serious. And then there are also a few works that are a bit less obvious, maybe they fit what Michael was referring to as being somewhat discrete. But the works are rather interactive as well, so it is up to the visitor to explore them more or less, and the more they do the more they will likely get from the experience.

Carl Giffney

It is not like an exhibition in a gallery, where you can go to the gallery on a Sunday, walk around and see the show and that’s it. Since these works have been installed in many different places across the cityscape, they really need to be experienced in a kind of serial fashion over a period of time. If you want to make a day trip to Rakvere, there’ll be plenty to see and to experience. But even better would be to come for three days and take your time. In that sense the locals have a real advantage as they can elucidate a couple of artworks each day – and that way kind of live with the exhibition and the artists’ works as these take a meaning of their own in the city.

Corinna Helenelund

The kmS 2016 will commence in Rakvere from 2 July and will run until 24 July. The main exhibition is mostly scattered around the town, but the satellite program, called kmX, will take place inside – in various buildings, shops and structures around the town.

As the team is bringing many artists and helping them ‘install their works in Rakvere – an expensive operation to pull off – they appeal for all the financial support they can get. People can consider donating to kmS via the Estonian crowdfunding website, Hooandja.


Cover: Kristi Kongi (Estonia) – painting installation “Androgynic Mind Machines”.

Global Estonians: Meriliis Rinne – the artist who paints all her paintings as if they were her last

Meriliis Rinne, also known as Meru, is a London-based Estonian artist, whose motto in life is that nothing is more powerful than talented people doing what they love. In her opinion, talent can express in different ways and it is important that we are confident in ourselves and don’t let others to tell what is a right way of living for us.

Rinne, who is originally from Estonia, has been living in London for more than four years. She has gained recognition with her enlightening works, having exhibited them in Tallinn, Copenhagen, Oslo and London. Her journey hasn’t always been easy, but she has now reached an episode in her life where she is happy and is doing what she loves – making a living by creating art. When you meet Rinne, an open-minded and energetic individual, she oozes positivity that inspires others. Even her artist name carries the meaning of good energy behind it.

Meru IBut it hasn’t been as straight-forward journey, as one doesn’t just become an artist overnight. Rinne has always been somehow connected with art, but she had never thought that to be an artist is going to be her true profession and a way of making living. “Life always threw many other ideas and opportunities to my path, but somehow everything that happened to me, helped me understand what my real passion is,” she says. Curiously, it was while studying law when she gained a sociological knowledge and courage to discover “the real me”, and understood her identity. That was a point where she knew she wanted to be an artist and started working towards fulfilling her dreams.

Rinne first came to London for a few months in 2011, to see if her ideas and cognition of colours have an impact on people elsewhere, other than Estonia. Just like anyone would be before embarking on a major new journey, she was afraid of failure, but in spite of that decided to give it a try. “I loved this city in all of its versatility and hugeness,” Rinne remembers. In 2012, she chose to settle in London and to accept the challenge and try her luck in the metropolis.

Meru XIX

Now, she has a beautiful and cosy studio, called “The Atelier”, in North London, which she found thanks to a business space owner, who saw her potential during a difficult time when she was feeling ready to give up her dreams. “I felt that my artistic flame had burnt out,” Rinne recalls the period prior to discovering a place which would be perfect for her studio.

Rinne remembers that when she was sitting in her own art studio for the first time, she was like a changed person – just overwhelmed with happy emotions. “The studio made me finally feel right in my place and realise that I should never give up painting. You should never stop doing those things for what you have a passion for!”

Meru 1

Artistically speaking, Rinne has never had a mentor to support her – or to question her – which means her professional journey has been long and difficult. “There has been a lot of self-discovery, but thanks to this, I feel a strong and independent woman now,” she states.

She describes her art as colourful and playful, having a deeper meaning with hidden secrets and stories within them. Rinne says her paintings must always in some way find the possibility of communicating with that individual who lays eyes on her works. Rinne also emphasises that every painting she paints, it is painted as if it were to be her last. “My last artwork should always be a good and positive painting, which would leave everlasting impression by channelling memories, depths and textures – as we don’t know what will come tomorrow,” she says.


Rinne also enjoys collaborations with fellow designers, as she is involved with various projects, activities and art forms. “I love to use my paintings in many different mediums, because quite frankly, due to technology it’s possible.” Her studio is used mainly as a showroom, but sometimes there have been gallery exhibition evenings, yoga classes, art classes and in the future there may even be a very intimate supper club.

Among other initiatives, she is also trying to recycle, to re-use and at the same time keep her studio as waste-free as possible. Recently, Rinne started to do video tutorials in which she teaches how to make artworks with things one doesn’t need anymore. She has also been involved in charitable activities – in April, she had a solo exhibition, called “Karma”, in Tallinn and a percentage of her sold artworks went to the Tartu University Hospital Children’s Foundation, to support children with hearing problems. Meru, a long-time supporter of the foundation, says that she is a big believer in giving back to the community. “My art needs others, so I help others,” adding that it’s an amazing to feel that art can be beneficial in many ways.

Meru XXI

Talking about London, Rinne says the city has shaped her and has taught her to be a person she has become now. “As an artist, I absolutely love to be in London, but I would definitely not rule out living in some other big city someday.” She says that discovering herself is an ongoing process and that there is still a long journey ahead. “There is so much to learn and to experience and I am not yet close to my dreams. I need to travel so much further.”

Painting Modern Mona Lisa - Meru

Speaking to Rinne, one certainly gets and impression that she has a lot of energy and courage to conduct anything that comes to her mind and there will definitely more to be heard from her in the near future. “As the saying goes, in the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins – not through strength but by perseverance. Even though we are little nuts in a large system, we can make a lot of change as individuals,” Rinne persists.


Pictures courtesy of Meriliis Rinne.

“Ongoing/going on”: Estonian glass artists to showcase their works in St Petersburg

This summer, the visitors of the Museum of Glass Art on Yelagin Island in St Petersburg have the chance to see what is going on in the Estonian glass art scene.

The pieces will show where and how Estonian glass artists have developed and what is the direction the young glass artists have taken at present.

Artists Aleksandra Pavlenkova, Andra Jõgis, Caspar Sild, Kateriin Rikken, Kristiina Oppi, Külli Nidermann, Maarja Mäemets, Maria Tamm and Mikk Jäger will show their works, some of which were created under the guidance of Eeva Käsper, Eve Koha, Kristiina Uslar, Mare Saare and Tiina Sarapu. The curator if the exhibition is Maria Tamm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Estonia, being a small country with only a few art schools and the Estonian Academy of Arts offering higher glass education, is an interesting scene to observe. All our glass artists come from the same background, and the founders of the glass art department were teachers of our teachers. However, it is rather intriguing to see, how the contemporary world, and people’s personal backgrounds, affects their art,” Tamm said.

The exhibition will display a large variety of glass-making – there are over 50 sculptural and 2D works displayed at the museum. The works feature use of different techniques, as well as glass combined with other materials such as wood, metal and concrete. “Most of the works are impelled by personal dilemmas and struggles, while some have been inspired by the artists’ surroundings. Nevertheless, in one way or another, all of them describe the current situation of the present time and the world that we live in,” Tamm added.

According to her, an important turning-point for the Estonian glass art was “the studio glass movement” that reached Estonia in the beginning of the 90s. Nowadays, it is most relevant for the artist not only to design, but also to be the maker. “The fading of the big and important glass factory “Tarbeklaas” (a Soviet-era, but a progressive Tallinn-based factory) has made way for small studios and more intimate glassmaking. This means that every object made, is one of a kind, and unique.”


Tamm said that finding different ways to work with their beloved material had granted Estonian glass artists with important recognition both at home and abroad. “’Ongoing/going on’ shows that Estonian glass art is lively and multi-layered. We continue to appreciate the heritage, but not by continuing in the same old footsteps. New ways of glass making has inspired the participating artists to open up, develop themselves and move toward experimenting, with both the material and their own abilities.”

Estonian artist Aapo Pukk recognised by the American Portrait Society

Estonian portrait artist Aapo Pukk has won the second Honour Award for his self-portrait at the competition of the Portrait Society of America (PSOA), held from 14-17 April in Washington, DC.

Pukk’s self-portrait was selected to be among the ten best works from 2,439 submissions from all over the world. In addition, his portfolio of work was declared the Best Portfolio Winner.

Accepting the award, the artist said winning prizes required “more than honing one’s techniques and the detailed depiction of the inner world of the sitter; you must also bring something completely new to the image, something that would push the boundaries of portraiture and broaden the possibilities of this honoured art genre”, according to a statement.

“When I saw the works that made it to the top fifty, I was awed by their perfect compositions and substantial approaches. I suddenly realised what a varied insight portraiture can offer into the essence of an era and what amazing possibilities for recording the human thought it offers. I am extremely proud that my self-portrait was selected among the absolute best of the world’s portrait artists,” Pukk said.

The portraits went through two rounds of judging at the competition and the jury included Raymond Everett Kinstler, who has painted seven US presidents; Mary White, a watercolorist who has won the PSOA gold medal; as well as Dawn Whitelaw; Rhoda Sherbell; Judith Carducci; Edward Jonas; Michael Shane Neal; and Robert Liberace.

Pukk painted the award-winning self-portrait in February this year and it was completed in two days.

“I decided to paint myself as the artist I aspire to be. The starting point was to forget everything I knew about painting and doing portraits, so that my subconscious would paint freely for me, without any control and hesitation. I allowed the composition to take shape in the course of the work. I began with warm primary colours, one by one, and then continued with clear cold primary colours. I stayed with one colour until I had exhausted its possibilities. This is how my colour composition took shape.”

Pukk has won many awards at the PSOA’s competitions, most notably the Honor Award in 2001, Exceptional Merit in 2008 and the first prize in the category of self-portraits at the members-only competition in 2013.

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