CRITICISM - Anu Aaremäe, Personal shots for mankind. – Estonian Art 2005, no 1

The Venice Biennial has been compared, among other things, with the Olympic Games or Eurovision. Not bad, but unlike the Olympics and the song contest, the Biennial is a niche product.
Toomik, Kurvitz, Semper, Laimre... and all other compatriots who have been to Venice can calmly continue walking in the streets, undisguised. No hordes of autograph-seekers or crazed fans to harass them.

The Biennial does not cause passions to flare, and whoever, or if indeed anyone, goes there at all, is of not the slightest interest to the wide masses. Within the narrower circle of artists, however, this question evokes fervent and contradictory emotions every two years.

After long-lasting debates, the honourable committee chose Mark Raidpere to represent the Republic of Estonia at this year's Olympic Games of the Art People. Mark immediately declared that he would not go to Venice as a sportsman.

In the context of the Venice Biennial, Raidpere is probably a marginal phenomenon, just like the unsporty, hairy Estonian representatives who turned up at the slick English-language Eurovision song contest last year and sang in the Seto language.

By means of visual expression, Mark is not delivering a lecture about the beautiful nature in Estonia and lovely people who have a dreadful Soviet background.

He is not delivering a lecture at all. He talks. With his black-and-white photographs, he occasionally whispers in your ear, occasionally screams hysterically. And then lets silence do the talking. I would compare Mark to a sensitive dramatic actor rather than to a convincing lecturer or a salesman.

The photographer without an academic art education turns to the wide masses of people and talks about himself, himself and himself again. About his mother and father too, for a change... although while talking about his parents he is still talking about himself. For him, the background is a sufficiently important component of the picture. Mark regards his predecessors as the background (background textile, if you will).

"I wonder what sort of work I would be making had I not been born in a working-class family in the boring district of Lasnamäe [a pre-fab concrete dormitory], but in a museum-city like Venice?" This was his first thought upon his return from taking a look at the exclusive exhibition space. Too good a question, probably…

Mark Raidpere Raidpere's works are brutally honest and personal. For many, they could well be acts of exhibitionism that are too personal. Why should anyone want the whole world to see and hear his own disgusting kitchen-tableintimate tales? Is this a true introvert's ego-trip?

Mark claims that for him this is a form of communication and relating. And that for him a topic is really exhausted only when he has hung it on the gallery wall for everyone to see. Only then has he finally verbalised his idea or his tension. And put a full stop to it. Art therapy then, and not just exhibitionism.

Mark says that it is often more comfortable to sort out unpleasant matters through the familiar and safe camera lens. The camera creates a certain distance between people. Frames the whole situation, and the personal is no longer quite so horribly personal.
At first sight this kind of logic seems especially weird. A moment later, however, I remember how Tuuli Roosma [TV programme host in Estonia - Ed] got women to talk about absolutely everything in the confessional of television.
Here's some advice to the world outside art: just fix a camera in your kitchen corner, and all communication problems in the family will be miraculously solved.

People of the 21st century open up in front of the camera, but not when facing their nearest and dearest. Mark's works are especially forceful because of their brutal nakedness, honesty and personal quality. His nakedness, however, does not necessarily mean a lack of clothing.

It is an infinitely more reMarkable achievement to stand naked in front of the audience, fully buttoned up. Mark manages to reveal the inner world of his schizophrenic father by means of the video camera that they both know well. It was none other than Mark's father, an amateur photographer, under whose supervision little Mark took his first pictures. Father has now put on his Sunday best for the festive occasion. Clad in suit and tie, he patiently faces his son's camera. Father is a talking head - labile, emotional, getting stuck in his own words. He tries to open up, explain his meandering thoughts to the camera, which is no mean task for him.

Here the son comes to his father's rescue... Mark is the fish-eyed simultaneous translator down in the left corner who translates everything into perfect English, leaving out the excessive wells and you sees, precisely as a decent TV interpreter should do. A personal interpreter to a politician with a dubious world outlook would interpret everything quite differently.

The result is a fairly brutal revealing act, uncovering the contents without fully opening the package. This is a grippingly bewildering manipulation.

He strips both himself and his father naked, but leaves the mother delicately covered throughout all his acts of manipulation. Both in the direct and indirect sense, or as Hanno Soans, curator of the project, tells the author with slight irony: "It seems that the Mother figure is continuously untouched by the family's anxieties." Mother's image is introduced only in order to be able to unlock himself.

Mark Raidpere Looking at the entire Venice set, it seems to me that Mark in a long-sleeved jumper, facing his mother opposite the kitchen table, is much more naked than the Mark who demonstrated his hairy belly and ribs to the public at the Estonian Artists' Association's annual exhibition. That video was titled Mark Raidpere 2005.

This is the second part of his self-nude series Io (1998) showing his cigarette-burnt body, which made him an artist - and a famous artist at the same time. The past painful act of masochism has today become a ha-ha-haa, I'm a cool guy, isn't that jolly, or what? parody. It's the only jolly story Mark has, against which his other frustrating works leave an even more frustrating impact. Parodies are obviously understandable only to those who have seen the original. Anyway, the pair of Ios are suitable study material to illustrate the previous art therapy story.

Should we want to find parallels in the Estonian art landscape, the first to come to mind is Ene-Liis Semper. She, too, usually has herself as her object. However, Ene-Liis of art is primarily a visual image who has nothing in common with the living Ene-Liis, except for appearance, whereas Mark is Mark is Mark.

The others usually talk about other people, occasionally about significant details. To say nothing of those who tend to speak out on global problems.

With hindsight it seems almost prophetic that in 1998 the maverick fashion photographer and model Mark Raidpere gave his very first gallery exhibition an Italian title (Io - 'I' in Italian). Was he really crazy enough already back then to guess that this is something he would one day have to take to the Venice Biennial? Not likely, but not impossible either.

This is just the question that Karl-Martin [Sinijärv, host of ETV culture programme OP! - Ed], equipped with a camera lens, could put to him - maybe he will indeed unburden himself to the all-seeing camera. Sitting before a mere cup of coffee, Mark would skilfully avoid answering such a personal question.

Anu Aaremäe, stylist and lifestyle theoretician, Mark's friend and ally since 1995.