PRESS RELEASE - PRESSITEADE - Kumu Art Museum’s press release, November 2007

Exhibition: Mark Raidpere’s 5 Works

Time: November 17 - February 5 2007

Place: Kumu Art Museum, The Gallery (5th floor)

For Mark Raidpere's achievements in 2005 – successfully representing Estonia at the Venice biennial with his exhibition Isolator, and taking part in exhibitions abroad – Raidpere received the annual art award of the Hansabank Group. As customary on these occasions, besides the financial award the artist also has the chance to organise a properly funded exhibition in all three Baltic states.

The display at the Noass Gallery in Riga took place in early summer this year, now Kumu, and the last venue for the constantly changing set will be the Centre of Contemporary Art in Vilnius. A fascinating indication of the invigorating effect of the process on the artist is the fact that the Estonian viewers in Kumu can see two videos filmed in Riga, during the preparation of the exhibition. This shows that the Hansabank art award does not merely enliven the Baltic art scene, but acts as a significant production mechanism and motivator to the awarded artist.

Raidpere appeared on the art horizon in the mid-1990s as an ambitious lifestyle and fashion photographer. The emotional tone of his pictures corresponded to the mannerist trend prevalent in Estonian photography at the time, where the euphoric pictorial language promised an infinite convertibility of identities in glamorous role plays. Raidpere’s first decisive step in art, the 1997 personal exhibition Io is characterised by an author’s position as opposed to fashion photography. This is an autobiographical photographic series, where the artist in dialogue with the camera, re-performs the dynamics of the personal spiritual crisis that has reached the border state. The strength of Io (in Italian I) is the extreme privacy and openness in the pictures – catharsis of psychical tensions magnified in these oppositions. This could only be possible thanks to a strict work method.

Producing an artwork is still a very private process for Raidpere. He never uses assistants and often allows the photographic materials to mature for quite some time before giving them their final form. The mentioned photographic series has acquired the status of a classic of the 1990s, and belongs in the collection of the Art Museum of Estonia. To perfectionist Raidpere, the tensions of success have therefore never been altogether alien, he has managed to convert them into a motivation engine to keep him on the ball. Despite his international success as an artist in recent years, Raidpere continues working as a photographer at various Estonian women’s and interior decoration magazines, because as he says himself, "this version leaves enough air and space between active work periods in both fields for gathering my thoughts".

Influenced by his film studies at the Tallinn Pedagogical University (now Tallinn University), Raidpere has mainly focused on video since 2001. Perhaps it is the change of media that helps him create a distance with his daily work. As video is orientated towards process, it enables the artist to record the intimate dialogue moments with his nearest and dearest cautiously set up for the camera.

Raidpere’s first video Father – portrait of a lonely old man in the atmosphere of a bachelor’s flat in a Tallinn high-rise apartment block – is a prelude to a whole series of portraits of his closest family, summed up by the Venice biennial exhibition Isolator. The video Voiceover (2005) is primarily a self-portrait with father, whereas Shifting Focus (2005), the only work of the series displayed at this exhibition, is self-portrait with mother.

In these works, the artist is acutely conscious of the camera’s social functions in orchestrating confessional scenes – parallels emerge with reality-TV format, which he in several of his videos rubs up the wrong way. Photographing someone, on the other hand, could mean a pretext or a warm-up exercise to record a new video. The camera – after all these works, it could be jokingly regarded as the Raidpere family pet who unites all participants – at the same time acts as a mask, protecting the author from the psychical overload of excessively personal material. On the other hand, the presence of the camera always entails expectation and readiness for something irreversibly significant to occur.

Talking about the set displayed in Kumu, the material should be divided into two, considering both the viewing regime and the author’s intention. The first room of the exhibition screens the 40-minute documentary 5 Guards, born out of interviews with Arsenals in Riga and the elderly women guarding exhibition rooms in the Latvian art museum. Sociological interest in people with different destinies, but similar social position, reminds us of his earlier hit video with prisoners, 10 Men (2003). Naturally there is no clear social stigmatism to provide the tension, and on the level of self-evidence, the author is primarily interested in the characters’ relations with their profession and art that constantly surround them, especially contemporary video art that he himself is involved with.

The rather confined environment of the other exhibition hall presents a whole consisting of four parts that unites various ways of looking. The mood is probably set by the dominating Shifting Focus – a confessional dialogue between mother and son, where the latter seems to be forcing himself to say something essential to his mother. In the black-and-white main part of the video with rough realisation to emphasise the documental side – in oblong format which adds an estrangement effect to the original material – dominates the son’s dramatic effort at self-revelation and mother’s, as well as the viewer’s, prolonged expectation that something we are waiting for would finally be uttered. All this is framed by a more mundane, colour episode in normal format about setting up the camera, lighting and the ‘performers’.

The quite complicated internal structure provides the work as a whole with qualities of a performance and a truly unique moment. The viewers’ attention of course constantly travels backwards and forwards between these two seeming oppositions. This is seconded by a video clip, a fragment of the material found in the family archive during the preparation of the exhibition. The episode depicts ‘happy childhood’, recorded by the artist’s father in 1976 with an 8-mm camera. We see the same characters as in the video Shifting Focus, in almost spookily similar oppositions.

The other axis of the installation space is made up of the video filmed in a Riga gay bar about a dancing boy (Andrey/Andris, 2006), who inevitably seems like the artist’s alter ego, and Summer 2006 (2001), with a Polaroid view of the windows in a house in Lasnamäe. Here we are again – the Raidperes, internal dramas of a split family, their lives, memories and homes at close-up, and the artist’s vague feeling of guilt. Mark Raidpere has staged or us a brief, fragmentary tale of identity and self-perception. There is just enough of the confessional here to ignite in the viewer a fabulist, make him share in something very intimate.

"Humanity and honesty with which the artist examines relations between single individuals and society, was decisive also in choosing Mark Raidpere as laureate of the Hansabank annual award," writes Maria-Kristiina Soomre in the booklet for the current exhibition.