CRITICISM - Mike Amundsen. The Sense of There - ERR News 3.1.2012

Visual artist Paul Kuimet’s installation “Viewfinders” at Tallinn Kunstihoone Gallery addresses understandings of place through photographs and film.

Are you there when you are there, or are you somewhere else? In the past, perhaps, or in a spot that seems “settled’, in a liminal world always in a state of becoming, or in a place than can never be a place at all?

“Viewfinders” is Kuimet’s second solo exhibition and continues themes explored in his first “In Vicinity”, which is now a book of the same name. Urban environment and the formation of an identity of place is a thread linking the two. The centerpiece of the current exhibition is “Kairo Street” a photographic installation of eight pictures set in light boxes that depict homes in the Toukola district of Helsinki. “The works, “In Vicinity”, “Kairo Street”and “Viewfinder”are all, in a way tied together,” Kuimet says, “If “In Vicinity”looked at newly built suburbs near Tallinn, then “Kairo Street”looks at an already settled identity and place, so it's sort of an epilogue to “In Vicinity”.”

Kuimet feels the “Kairo Street” series should give the viewer a sense of being "present" which it does. The effect of luminosity the light box installation lends to the photos is super-real; the pictures engage the gaze and are quite exquisite.

“The work is very much about looking,” he says, “I was thinking how, by using 'objective' tools, the type of photography used for this work, I try to present a 'subjective' experience of this street. I hope the wet asphalt and the car that is leaving the frame in the middle of one exposure further intensify the feeling of presence. But I think that typological framing also is a kind of a comment on identity, the little differences and so on. The fact that the images are all set in the frame the same way places emphasis on the 'set' identity.” 

Kuimet created a film for this exhibition which bears the singular version of its title, “Viewfinder”, and is also the name of a Raymond Carver short story that acts as a voice-over for the film. It works as a unique conversation between art-forms, and presents a spectral world where time and space are hard to identify. A Super 8 film, “Viewfinder” creates ambiguities for the audience. It could be a home-movie from southern California circa 1970, but Kuimet is actually lending identity to place which in fact has none.

“The film “Viewfinder”was shot at Musterhauspark in Haid, Austria. It's sales district of catalogue houses,” Kuimet explains. “Nobody lives there, so no memories and identity exist there. The idea of my work was to project this visual quality and an identity on this specific place. And I think, in a way it works. Not many people realize that it was shot last year. The visual quality of the film is deceiving to the actual landscape.”

Working with urban landscape to arrive at a subjective and aesthetic sense of place is at the heart of what Kuimet does. “Viewfinder” oozes memory, nostalgia and a lost world.

“I used Super 8 film precisely because of its quality of 'oldness', or even better 'melancholy',” Kuimet says, “When seeing a film, we always know that what we see has happened in the past, but the characteristic of Super 8 really intensifies this feeling. Even major Hollywood films use this technique to recall a memory, or present something that is most certainly in the past, it's been lost, so it's melancholic. In the eyes of a melancholic, the world turns into a picture.”

In “Viewfinder” the voice-over of the Carver story provides a narrative structure on which Kuimet loosely based his film. The synergy between Carver’s story and the film’s imagery intensifies the themes Kuimet is exploring and helps to define this placeless place.

“When I was an artist-in-residency in Linz, Austria, I bought Carver's “Beginners”,” says Kuimet. “I absolutely fell in love with all the stories. At a certain point I realized that I could use the Super 8 film in the sales district and use a voiceover of the text to further give that place an identity. So I made a loose storyboard and shot the footage, based on Carver's story. The story itself fits in for various reasons that are not overly explicit, but I hope still readable in the film.” 

The third part of the “Viewfinders” installation is the stereoscopic landscape photograph.Kohatu 59° 9' – 24° 30'. The artist is having a bit of fun with words, as the most precisely designated place, down to its latitude and longitude is called Kohatu, which though the name of a place, can be translated from Estonian as “placeless”. The blurred quality of stereoscopic photography adds to the quality of uncertainty.

Paul Kuimet’s “Viewfinders” runs through this weekend at the Tallinn Kunstihoone Gallery, Vabaduse väljak 6 from 12.00 to 18.00.