Krista Mölder

Krista Mölder made her  debut in Estonian art life in the early 2000s and is best known to the public for her constantly developing, aesthetically refined and conceptually integral photography, focusing on space and its poetic, philosophical and phenomenological aspects. Herewith, Mölder’s latest works make a strong foray outside the boundaries of photography and visual art in general by introducing an interdisciplinary approach and the topic of symbiosis and synthesis of different art forms.

Krista Mölder studied photography at the Tartu Art College, the University of Westminster and the Estonian Academy of Arts. Before she became immersed in photography, she studied geography at the University of Tartu and worked in the field of cartography. Mölder’s cartographic work could be seen reflected – albeit indirectly – in her artistic method, which relies heavily on discrete mapping of phenomena as well as representation of her observations and ideas in a visually structured form. 

This was already expressed in her early series “Landmarks” (2007), the goal of which was to investigate subjective space and the possibilities of photography’s poetic “language”. The artist gathered everyday impressions and ideas – at first glance insignificant and highlighted them as landmarks. In this manner, she monumentalized prosaic yet valuable moments where some moment of sudden recognition occurs amid the bustle of everyday activity (where usually only “big” things get noticed). Mölder has captured small quiet moments where a certain detail or the interplay of emptiness and light creates a poetic situation, and surfaces and textures of different objects come together into a unified pattern, as if alluding at something bigger and more comprehensive.

This approach forms the conceptual and methodological core of Mölder’s work. With her preference for simple non-narrative and unstaged motifs, she seeks – as a counterweight to the stereotypical understanding of photography as mainly a means of documenting and fixing reality – to show that photography is something more than a medium for technical recording. For Mölder, a photograph is always an interpretation, an image influenced by a certain way of thinking. But even more than what is on the image, she is interested in the multilayered nature of the ideas and meanings that develop from it – photographs as a thought process. Thus, she seeks an active partner in that process: by adressing the viewer mainly by visual means, where the accompanying text is meaningful but not necessarily a necessary “reading level”. 

The author in some ways steps back from the communication between viewer and image, giving the viewer the privilege of taking part in creating meaning. The way with interacting with Mölder’s photographs requires immersion in their space as a whole world in its own right. It is enticing but also a demanding prospect. In this way, focusing on the question of “what is personal” at The Non-Places (2013) exhibition, the artist leaves the issue hanging in the air, allowing the viewers to try to apprehend it themselves. The significance of the participation was in some sense embodied by a stark shadow that inevitably is cast by each viewer, becoming a part of the work.

Viktor Shklovsky’s literary principle of estrangement, thus, operates doubly in Mölder’s works: by finding motifs she finds to have an unfamiliar feeling, she seeks to create the same feeling in the viewer, getting the viewer to think along with her. Finding motifs is associated with recognition, which, again, takes on a double meaning: they are accidentally discovered by the artist or sought by her based on some specific idea, in order to supplement the key images that have already been set in place. The latter become the images that create a structure and they also have potential to develop outside the image’s borders. Mölder’s photoseries are based on a dialogue of images where the outward similarity of structures emphasizes the overlap of the content of the conditions and ideas. The artist works in a fairly place-specific fashion – most of her ideas and projects were shaped with an eye to specific spaces where the exhibition titles also denote series of photographs.

Her exploration of place was already highlighted by the photograph “Landscape” at the exhibition “Pind/Lind” (Surface/Bird) (2009) – the composition repeated the location view, the wall of the ArtDepoo Gallery and floor pattern. Creating an image within an image, or more accurately, a space within a space effect, this piece was essentially Mölder’s first place-specific installation. A photograph entitled “Krista Mölder at the Gagosian” at the exhibition Non-Places (2013) stemmed from the same principle – it used the similarity between the architecture of the London gallery space with the Temnikova and Kasela Gallery environment and also touched on the problem of gallery that functioned also as an office, of “occupying” a certain area for exclusive use of one’s works. 

The project “Presence” (2012) in collaboration with Neeme Külm dealt with the potential of space as well. Alongside two-dimensional photos that Mölder took while present as the author in a self-aware manner, without making the situation exotic, expanding to three dimensions played an important role: an installation that creates a physical experience with three propellers as well as the now vacated antechamber of the Tallinn Art Hall Gallery. The simple but effective technique – leaving a space usually full of works empty, where the space was filled only with light glowing through the partition and the shadows of propeller blades – shifted the environmental experience the viewer was used to, creating a different type of spatial sensibility.

The issue of different sensibilities was already raised in an earlier series by Mölder “Boredom Is Not Far from Ecstasy” (2010). It makes us ask whether boredom makes us see things around us in a new perspective. Boredom as a somewhat eventless situation impels us to be acutely aware of our presence, to confront the world and ourselves face to face. The artist deals with boredom in a largely positive sense, associating it with idle time (intellectual) pleasures. 

The ostensible randomness of Mölder’s images is in fact something more than that: it maps the constant emergence of existence in small details where the poetics of the everyday rises to the level of an existential expression. The series produced by Mölder in 2011 while she was in residency in Japan interacts closely with local aesthetics and philosophies. She appears to be very much in her element. Mölder’s works have a kinship with the Eastern concept of emptiness, where a void is not non-existence but represents the promise or potential for fullness. The ideogram “ma” used as the point of departure for her Japan series can be interpreted as a silence filled with premonition, where emptiness is only the moment before existence comes into being. It’s as if the structures of several photographs make up an elegant graphic symbol – a hieroglyph that likewise has potential as an ideogram.

In recent years, collaborations with musicians have played a noteworthy role in Mölder’s activities. For instance, as part of the “ReVisioon” concert series, Tarmo Johannes’s solo concert became an audiovisual event called “Gardens” (2012).  Mölder’s photographs and photo projection created a special environment for music, playing with the repetition, light and ephemeral aspects in the spatial elements. Mölder’s latest project as of this writing is “Passaggio” (2015) in collaboration with the ensembles U:, Resonabilis and Neeme Külm. By pursuing the objective of performing works of music – to guide those present from outside inward, to get them to look inside themselves – Mölder and Külm generated a kind of visual shock to promote introspection in the intimate music. The spectacle, which used only space, light and a white surface, laid in the soundless descent of three screen-hatches. In her interdisciplinary projects, Mölder’s approach is to seek a broader perception and different way of thinking, where the use of new expressive means makes it possible to offer new ways of dealing with phenomena. She envisions synthesis of different arts above as a dialogue, not as an amalgamation, even though her ideal is harmony.

Krista Mölder is an artist cum investigator and it is noteworthy that the results of her inquiries are not the typical contemporary art quasi-scientific attempt to fit in with sociological or anthropological treatments. Evolving out of conceptual cohesiveness and dealing with simple and yet complicated themes on multiple levels, her art practices are a unique type of investigation, conducted in the language of art, and explores the possibilities of her media and visual means of expression. By developing the poetics of images and space, it catalyzes the visual form’s full power to speak to people on an aesthetic and philosophical level.

Elnara Taidre