KRIITIKA - Johannes Saar
When Flo Kasearu commenced her painting studies in 2004, painting was already on its way out. Not that much space was left for the palette at the academy of arts, painting had faded from modern art discourse long before that and the traditional way of painting was falling by the wayside. Flo's studies in painting concluded in 2008 with a collaborative project, moulding the problem into an exhibition. Three painting teachers, Kaido Ole, Lauri Sillak and Tõnis Saadoja, found themselves part of her project “T”, where they were asked to paint an image of a small object arranged by the student and dramatically spotlight from the side. The painting had to be on canvas and as realistic as possible, in the spirit of good painting traditions. The pedagogy of the classroom had been turned on its head – school work became a public exhibition, the student was giving her teachers assignments and the centre of the whole project – a meaningless model made of corrugated cardboard – shifted the usual context and power relations.
Flo never became a painter. In 2006/07 she spent a year in Rebecca Horn's studio at the Berlin University of the Arts, studying video and performance art. Her aptitude for this had already manifested itself earlier – in 2005 during the exhibition “Living Sculptures” at the Tallinn Art Hall (curator Anders Härm) we find her standing on a pedestal in national dress holding a sign “I am dead”. By referring to the state of stalemate within the sculpture department at the academy of arts, she also, kind of accidentally, was addressing national identity and its frozen state as an ethnographic parade. When the performance was re-enacted in front of the Estonian Embassy in Berlin in 2006/07, the field of meaning was broader and more political – “an Estonian” on a pedestal in front of a foreign mission was no doubt more than a simple comment on studies at the academy. Flo's focus of interest turned to boundaries – mocking the daily practices and repressive imagery politics of ideologies. She herself would soon retreat from the picture, and the paraphrases of art pedagogy were replaced by social problems such as unemployment, public freedom and national self-image.
The video performance “Multi Travels” (2007) made during the Berlin period casts a stone at the latter as the previously described “Estonian” went into production again. We see a girl in an Estonian folk costume on the Berlin streets, subways and cafés, actively promoting Estonia, distributing general educational information on a small hardworking region – ideology at work! In the spirit of tactical media, the artist borrows from the culture of business the language and strategies of aggressive product promotion, not failing to include a twist, turning the whole “product launch” into theatrical buffoonery at the end. On the other hand, the YouTube montage “Estonian Dream” from 2011 introduces how the nationalist ideology of ethnic roots works through sentimentalism and nostalgia. The cityscape action “Freedom Poster” from 2008 also uses the guise of tactical media – mass media communication code – yet instead of providing information, it sets out to absorb it. A large amount of graffiti about freedom found a home on these empty freedom posters, appearing out of the shadows of the night. Surprisingly enough, the project turned into an opinion survey, a message board for the views of those with limited access to mass media.
Flo's projects are placed time wise against a specific social background. “Multi Travels” mocks the national branding campaign “Welcome to Estonia” from the first half of the last decade, trying to wrap up the entire country as an appetizing tourism product. “Freedom posters” comments on the later public debate about the contradictory ideological meaning of the national Independence Monument for Tallinn and Estonia’s sudden shift towards a police state. Flo adds a certain guerrilla aspect to the official public discourse – she hijacks the discourse and rhetoric of those in power. No wonder her “initiative from below” caused estrangement among the representatives of authority and even an attempt to launch misdemeanour proceedings.
It is noted at the end of the 00s that the Estonian middle class had become increasingly poor and proletarianized. On 5 May 2011, Flo set up a mass action, which among other things manifests the social and cultural autism that comes with it, the bourgeoisie's shrivelling consumption of culture. Between exhibitions at the Tallinn Art Hall, the event Artificial Queue took place, which, as publicly announced, was about giving hundred kroon notes to the first hundred people to attend. People formed a long queue at the door of the art hall even before the event opened. The lack of such queues was often mentioned in commercial media pages, conveniently enough in comparison with mainstream entertainment. This lack was in this way resolved with a tiny amount of public wealth redistributed from the art world to the one of consumerism. The occasional comments from the first hundred lucky ones also revealed that a 100-kroon threshold existed separating people from concerts, theatre, art exhibitions and cafés – a consumer pattern characteristic of the middle class.
The year 2010 also sees the completion of Flo's more dramatic vision of this topic – the mockumentary puppet film “Best before is over”. Paper puppets with images of the faces of well-known Estonian actors act out the lives of the casualties of the economic downturn: burned out businessman, unemployed single mum, homeless tramp etc. The common denominator in all these characters is life in dire straits. Flo once again hijacks a rhetoric that is not hers. With the help of screenwriter, Andrus Kivirähk, she amasses a colossal collection of popular banalities, clichés and common sense, which at the end of the decade were part of the common knowledge in Estonia describing the economic downturn and the people caught up in it. Even the gallery of characters in the puppet film is accorded with a certain stereotypical stamp – how much schadenfreude was provoked in thepopular fantasyby, for example, the phrase “the burned out businessman”. The main character of the film, Mrs shop keeper, cannot escape this joy as she manipulates the people with the cruelty of a slave driver. The unabashed and intentional no-budget style of the film adds an extra level to the visuals. The artist also chooses a side and places herself among the feeble ones. She too struggles to make ends meet, uses paper doubles instead of actors and is contented with the grey tonality of black and white. Any way you look at it, a dystopic image of life in post-boom Estonia and the squashed people in it. Welcome to Estonia indeed.