CATALOGUE - Johannes Saar, A certain breathing space (translated text from documentary film ´ERKI KASEMETS´, Ruhm+0, 2002). – culturbase.net 15.05.2003 [http://www.culturebase.net/artist.php?232]
Erki Kasemets was born in Tallinn, Estonia in 1969 where he continues to live and work as an artist. His art education was initially in stage design at the Tallinn Academy of Arts (1990-93). His postgraduate studies continued at the Academy with a period in the Department of Time and Space at Helsinki Academy of Fine Arts in 1995. Kasemets works across a range of art processes and media: performance, installation, painting, scenography. His work has been shown in many solo exhibitions in Estonia and in group shows in Japan, Czech Republic, Germany and Ireland.
Erki Kasemets is an innovative Estonian artist based in Tallinn who works in a range of media. His graduate studies were in stage design at the Tallinn Academy of Arts (1990-93) and techniques of scenography and performance continue to influence his work. His postgraduate studies continued at the Tallinn Academy of Arts (1993-96) with a period in the Department of Time and Space at Helsinki Academy of Fine Arts in 1995.
Kasemets explores a broad spectrum of process, expression and content. In some cases, a long working process has underpinned works based on personal memory. These works have taken several years to complete and involve gathering details and objects into completed installations.
An exhibition ´Episodic Memory´ (Art Hall, Tartu, 2000) was formed of daily reports written during the year on thousands of pieces of cardboard of the same size fixed into long strips that floated in the gallery. The installation ´;LIFE-FILE´(Town Gallery, Tallinn, 1999) was composed of more than 5,000 milk cartons painted over 15 years. The object ´Button Jacket´has the number of buttons sewn onto a jacket corresponding to the number of days lived by its owner.
Erki Kasemets has been engaged in projects and performances that have a wider social impact and involve many people. Through the same desire to offer people direct contact, he has also produced interactive exhibitions. Most of these events have been created as part of a wider project ´Test-Field Theatre´
Kasemets explains: ´It is a conception based on taking different everyday environments which people usually don´t pay much attention to, and displaying them in a different light through the action going on inside them.´ He created an interactive performance ´SpArt´´; (1997) which combines sport and art as an unusual sports event; ´Fashion Safari´(1998) presented unexpected costumes and characters from train station platforms; ´Ginkgo´(2001) was a poll to determine the fate of a rare tree that grows in the centre of Tallinn and stands in the way of a new building.
Kasemets has had many solo exhibitions in Estonia and numerous performances since 1996. His work has been selected for group exhibitions outside the country, including ´Artists Collective Exhibition´; in Dublin in 2000, ´Arts Novi´ in Wiesmar, Germany in 1998 and the Prague Quadrennial in 1995. He was a founding member of the artists´ group Vedelik. Since 1998 he has been a teacher in Academia Nongrata in Parnu.
Erki Kasemets was shortlisted for the Visiting Arts/Spike Island International Fellowship 2002 on the nomination of Jaan Elken, President of the Estonia Artists´Association.
Kaarel Kurismaa taught Erki Kasemets at the Academy of Art and, above all, this means that one cannot ever really make any sense of his art. His speciality is listed as stage design on his university diploma, yet he has done very little work for stage plays. His Masters diploma indicates art as his field of specialisation, yet very few consider his work art. It is interesting that an educational institution of the establishment encourages the undertakings of someone whose later work doesn´t bring fame and honour to the institution but rather causes general confusion and mistrust.
The exhibitions of Kasemets do not leave much behind. We cannot speak of lasting values nor of forever preserved museum pieces. His work is composed of the residue of civilisation and after his works have been on display, they more often than not return to the garbage dump. This is one reason why his works are referred to as trash art. The Estonian Museum of Art preserves a couple of tin can assemblies by Kasemets among its so-called ´sailikud´ with great difficulty because they tend to fall apart and roll away.
The aim of the work of Kasemets is not the creation of values but rather the creation of a certain breathing space at a time when everyone is loudly talking about lasting values and their accumulation. The entire official history of art consists of great heroic sagas in which heroic artists bring fire, a broader view of the world and a clearer vision to mankind.
He belongs to a parallel art history that ever since the beginning of the 20th century does nothing but undermine the sacred devotion expected of us when communicating with the muses. The sobering heritage of Marcel Duchamp, the dadaist uprising of the 1920s, to some extent the surrealism of the 1930s and certainly the absurd manner of thinking of Fluxus in the 1960s is the channel that the thoughts of Kasemets also fit into. It would certainly prove fruitful to seek associations with Italian artist Piero Manzoni who tried to knock art off its pedestal all his life and elevate the viewer to the pedestal in the place of art.
This is the whole point. The importance of his art is manifested primarily in the context in which it is made. His art is not an object of consumption, but one can participate in it. It is certain that most of the visitors of his exhibitions say: ´Humph, even I can do something like that!´ Nevertheless, very few people actually do so. Only a handful of people do something like this all their lives. Kasemets says that the content of his life is the documentation of his life.
Polishman Roman Opalka comes to mind. He has painted tiny numbers on canvas for 30 years, all the while recording on tape how he speaks those same numbers out loud. During those 30 year his hand has started to tremble and his voice has become gravelly. When this kind of progression is placed in one room at one time and when you hear someone speaking as a young man and an old man simultaneously, and you see how a person´s hand gradually moves towards the grave, it is such an overwhelming existential experience that you will never again want to go to the movies or watch TV again.
I believe that Kasemets will be primed to astonish us in a similar fashion a few decades down the road. His life is becoming an existential work of art.