CRITICISM - Marko Laimre’s questions to Ene-Liis Semper. – Estonian Art 2001, nr 1

1. In several of your works, you seem to employ a kind of upside-down mechanics, which brings out the poisonous stuffing of the 'cake of honey' of existence, a certain anxiety-ridden independence - freedom to feel horror and pain. For example, you use an overturned staircase (Staircase), lick the room before visitors arrive (Licked Room), or present yourself as a flowerpot, planting a flower in your mouth (Oasis), etc. Are these documentations of staged crimes, or are they instead instructive means of punishment?

What matters for me is the presence of Reality, or its straightforward recognition. A kind of quintessence of situations, that may seem to be different, lull you in their diversity, while in fact staying the same throughout the ages. Pure original Reality (as I now call it) stands in front of your eyes unchanged, and you traverse it hundreds of times without noticing it. The moment when it suddenly swims into focus, is astonishing. I think I've tried to capture such moments... do you understand what I'm saying?

2. In your video Nameless you hint that in a future Garden of Eden you will be sick of perpetual happiness, and will flee society in order to become a plant, or rather a blade of grass. Why do you choose the anonymity of hay instead of the social round dance, and do the consequences of the beyond influence your sentiments here, and can these two realities - the present and the planned - be associated at all?

In my video Nameless II, I actually choose the 'hay anonymity' after social experience, which is, after all, only logical... What is maybe most self-ironic here is the fact that I think the emergence of such vital reflexes quite possible in 'life after life', i.e. when, according to an Estonian proverb, only the grave can cure a hunchback, then in my opinion even the grave cannot do the trick. So when you ask whether the consequences of the fictitious beyond have an impact on my feelings here, then paradoxically, being afraid to get smothered by such repetitive reflexivity, I try to free myself from it already in my current life. This self-ironic Nameless II is, in that sense, like a leap into freedom.

3. I know that you keep an eye on the reaction to both your work and yourself. Trying to avoid lapses (you know what I mean) - can you name an occasion when a specific interpretation has significantly changed your own perception of your work? Is it at all possible to put it into words?

No reception can alter my own attitude towards my work. If you claim that I'm closely following what others say, then I as an idealist am still irritated by someone else's 'wrong' relation to something. One's own attitude, however, would be hard to change even at a distance, after years. The moment I decide to undertake a work, I'm also extremely conscious of my own motivation and all its different layers. The accepted promise cannot be later retrieved.

4. Anders Härm talks about the fundamental error of 'being here'. Hanno Soans, on the other hand, says that Ene-Liis Semper is now 'all ready'. What do you think of these descriptions, and can this sort of comparison, pulled out of context, bear any results?

'The fundamental error of being here' sounds better to my ears than 'being ready', but it's a matter of taste. I probably understand both comments quite differently from what the commentators themselves actually meant. Remarks like that are really not very helpful. If 'being ready' means the diminishing number of shocking topics in my works in recent years, then I have to admit that my head is always brimming with various ideas, and being a mother to all of them, I cannot prefer one of my children to another. I'm equally fond of all of them. The restless audiences should try to be more patient. The more disgusting guys will certainly have their say sooner or later.

5. In several of your works, you have stressed the surprising decision of viewers that extends outside the play with language, and called the examples conditional, claiming real life was nothing like that. I have in mind here Mutant a la carte and FF/REW. Is it indeed nothing like that, or are real roles still possible? In your notorious eel-salting video, for instance, you do present real documentation. Is the border of the mentioned realities running along the possibilities of performance and video and the technology of photography?

In the eel video, Endspiel, the real documentation reaches exactly as far as is necessary for the video, i.e. the moment I saw the picture of a dead fish emerging in the minds of the audience, I stopped the camera and took the eel quickly back to the sea, where it is, in all probability, swimming around happily to this day. For most artists this no doubt seems childish, but I truly don't see any difference between torturing oneself and a fish - both have to be conducted with utmost care so that the stars will survive. It is extremely painful to watch a fish writhing on salt, but hopefully a few spectators will be similarly touched seeing me legless (Mutant a la carte), or swinging on a rope (FF/REW). I already mentioned the need for the presence of Reality in my first reply; the constant gradual stretching of one's perception may turn out to be rather energy-consuming. It might sound contradictory, but the moment you've caught the right thing, you can bag the camera and prepare yourself a luxurious dinner. Because you need the same self intact for your next undertakings.

6. Where do your ideas come from? Could you briefly describe a situation or a moment or darkness, the black box from which they emerge?

Well, have a look at my replies - they all express different attitudes. In general terms it could be said that ideas come from between all the attitudes. I basically do things that I'd like to see in an exhibition myself... The real truth probably cannot be captured anyway, it might not be darkness or a black box, but I just think I'd lose any fascination with myself if I one day found out where exactly my ideas come from.

7. Would you describe the difference between Estonia and abroad, concerning the receptions of your work. Is there a perceptible difference at all?

To me, a difference in the level of perception has more to do with people and their experience, or lack of it. Extreme naivete or superficiality can be encountered both here and elsewhere. On different levels.

8. In your video To a New Home you float above the landscape, together with a rat. A process involving a strong allusion to dreams where the only dear object from the past is the rat. You seem to have a very private relationship with animals: an eel, puppies, fish in the aquarium, a rat, you have a cat - specific creatures. What are they for you?

They are creatures, live creatures. They live at the same moment in time with me, and are made of similar material. Companions. It's a matter of trust, really.