Triin Tamm

“I am Snow White, old, fat and ugly!”

Priit Pärn, Tagurpidi, 1980

When starting a summary article about artist Triin Tamm that deals with her entire body of work, a critic that wants to preserve his neutrality is forced to wrestle with divided emotions. Trying to concentrate, he inevitably feels as if he had suddenly been pulled into the art of some kind of Backward Land – regardless of the frequent identity games in contemporary art, when writing surveys we are still dependent on ordinary authorial functions, and therefore, these games unavoidably confuse us. Besides, the writer may immediately develop doubts about whether, in the interests of the coherence of Triin Tamm’s art, one shouldn’t try to totally reveal her artist’s position by snooping on her assistants and the curators that have exhibited her art or perhaps one should rather assist in the obvious mystifications – since right from the start, one cannot exclude the possibility that Triin Tamm’s most important work is the artist Triin Tamm herself.

Some things – for example the fact that the artist started her career with a large retrospective exhibition in Grenoble1, the opening of which she supposedly could not attend due to her tight schedule, and the fact that one of her first important works, which was exhibited there, titled Archeology of Things to Come (2009 – ongoing) is a catalogue of possible future works of art that is being continually supplemented, alludes not only to upside-down identity games, but also the fact that the artist constructed herself from the beginning based on a relationship of self-fulfilling prophecies and hindsight, in a sphere of influence between her often comparatively immaterial, yet undoubtedly real works of art that are exhibited in various places and covered in her carefully composed CV.

Even when writing relatively impartially about Triin Tamm, one never knows whether, sooner or later, one does not end up as a coconspirator in some art conspiracy. But that’s the fun of it! For instance, to date, it has been very difficult to force her into the “national body of art”. In this sense, the exhibition of Köler Prize nominees is a good attempt to “domesticate” Triin Tamm. What I mean is that I know of no other Estonian artist who supposedly received her education in Poznan, Poland. Go and check it out… Furthermore, I don’t know of any Estonian art critics that have attended either of her two solo exhibitions abroad, that have provided the local cultural space with valuable reportage or at least rumors. As far as I know, no reviews by foreign critics of these fairly large exhibitions have appeared in Estonian. Wikipedia is also still silent on this subject. Therefore, writing about Triin Tamm is inevitably an adventure.

However, in this regard, the answer given by Kristina Norman in the TV interview during the Köler Prize screen tests was very thoughtful. Asked why Triin Tamm should win this prize, she answered, as far as I remember, that she likes the idea that Triin Tamm may be a figment of the imagination and the CAME team might keep the prize money and go to a tropical island to drink champagne cocktails.

But, be that as it may. A degree of daringness is Triin Tamm’s artist’s position and deeply imbedded in her work. As is the vampire-like feeding on the internal relations of the art field and a game with its verification mechanisms, cross-references between Fluxus and the classics of conceptualism that are constantly being opened, the relativization of the concept of the artist’s work, as well as a quiet and dry tongue-in-cheek humor and strategic invisibility. It was not for nothing that, at these same screen tests, Paul Kuimet stated that the other artists could learn from Triin Tamm that good art can also apparently be made effortlessly.

In the interests of clarity, it would be all the more important that the writer honestly inform the readers of his points of departure. Before starting work on this catalogue, I had only come in contact with two of Triin Tamm’s works, without realizing that the two were connected – Tamm’s untypical glam-like installation of coarse materials titled Distortion with the Guitar Input (2010) at the Welcome to the Machine exhibition curated by Marco Laimre at CAME and a typical Triin-Tamm-like pastiche of art classics replicated with the audio book Xerox Book (2010) at another exhibition at CAME, titled Next to Nothing and curated by Anders Härm.

I probably also saw her works at the CAME collection exhibition titled Collected Principles, but I honestly admit that, at that time, it seemed so much like a hermetic move that I have no memory of it. For the CAME collection, Tamm had made a “sculpture” (that has already been referred to in the footnotes of this article), which was comprised of plasticized catalogue covers displayed in a wooden box, which now, in retrospect, remind me of Robert Morris’s legendary Box with the Sound of its Own Making (1961). But surprise, surprise, I was also able to meet the supposed Triin Tamm giving an interview at the Köler Prize screen tests– although this was another Triin Tamm, the one who, according to the press release from Tamm’s solo exhibition Wasn’t There Yesterday at the Objectif Exhibitions, lives near Antwerp and works as a business consultant.

Luckily, we are in possession of some existing, well-contextualized specifics about the artist Triin Tamm. For instance, curator Chris Fitzpatrick, who saw curated Tamm’s work called Archeology of Things to Come intoat the Ride Slowly Across the Bridge exhibition within the framework of last year’s ART IST KUKU NU UT festival, wrote the following short biography summarizing Tamm’s body of work:

 “Triin Tamm (b. 1982, in Paide, Estonia; lives and works) produces books, objects, collections and confusion – by standing outside linear progression and not being subordinated to the restrictive rules of the art system. Tamm comments on her own works and exhibitions, thereby making her work process transparent. And she works a-temporally – by pre-producing documentation about potential works and afterward producing these same works and basing them on already existing documentation, by collecting future titles, etc. Tamm works to counteract the diminishing space of artistic freedom and to expand it somewhat.

Tamm graduated from the Poznan Art Academy in Poland (2005). A retrospective exhibition of Tamm’s work took place at the OUI Art Center in Grenoble (2009), which was accompanied by a voluminous catalogue. To date, her works have been exhibited at international solo and group exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC), Vilnius (2012); Objectif Exhibitions, Antwerp (2012); San Serriffe, Amsterdam (2012); kim? Center for Contemporary Arts, Riga (2012); Corner College, Zurich (2011); HIAP, Helsinki (2011) and CAME, Tallinn (2011 and 2010).”2

This career trajectory, which has been almost unnoticed by the Estonian art scene, started with the first international appearances – at least according to Triin Tamm’s CV – in 2001 when she was still a first-year art student (by the way, her catalogue pushes the date of her first completed works back even further to 1996 and 1998) and would definitely be the envy in every young artist. None of the other Köler Prize nominee can present such widespread exposure in quite imposing sites, if we exclude Kristina Norman, who has been active for longer than the others. But this “beauty contest” with the other artists isn’t what’s important. What is important is Tamm’s ability, which is proven thereby, to infiltrate the art scene with almost imperceptible actions (which, by the way, luckily tend to turn out to be more significant in retrospect than at first glance).


And this list is far from complete – the textile installation The Works of Art Shouldn’t at an exhibition titled The Way comes to mind, which, as a slight exception in the context of Tamm’s work, took place in a public space – the Riga Airport.  On the white space of large A0 advertising placards, the artist had excerpts from the airport’s restrictions on the display of art in the very same exhibition printed in a clear orange corporate typeface that easily catches the public’s eye. The excerpts included the following: “works of art must should not hide shell out information signs, monitors, security cameras, advertisements, etc.”; “works of art must should not include anything that is towedor contain of the leam”; “works of art must should not include references to burrowing anywhere, using force or connection interfaces.contain obvious delve, dint or rabbets”  Although at the elementary level these sentences in barely understandable English are a commentary on the absurd restrictions that plague the creation of art, considering the specifics of the audience at the airport – hurried tourists who may have no idea that they are seeing an art exhibition – it is a broader reference to our everyday consciousness that is infected with legalese.


But now, back to that which has already circulated in writing – that is, verified definitions about Triin Tamm and her art. Thus, for instance, at the Artishok Biennale, Oliver Laas wrote about Tamm as an open source artist3. What he apparently had in mind is the freedom and problem-free approach that she demonstrates as she borrows from Robert Fillou, the French Fluxus artist, for the specific work that is restricted by the commission. If in Fillou’s works, the category “artist” was added to restroom signs at the bottom of a bog; Tamm just replaced this with the word “critic”.  “Triin Tamm seems to have a definite style that includes works with texts and various art mediums, which are also minimalist in their approach materials and visuals”4,Šelda Puķīte writes in the same context. And Annika Toots adds, “Triin Tamm’s work is all-encompassing and insinuates itself everywhere, while also being introverted and strangely self-deprecating.”5Among other things, these definitions are important because the criticisms circulating around her name and artist’s position is also part of Triin Tamm’s art project. 


Triin Tamm does not limit her role to that of an artist, but also appears as the author of books and a collector. The invitation to the participants of The Carousel Collection, a slide collection that was founded on 11.11.2011 (a date that was apparently chosen for the beauty of the numerical combinations), and the who-knows-how which presentation of one version will take place within the framework of the Köler Prize’s nominees’ exhibition, defines Tamm, as the founder, director and curator of the collection all rolled into one. This is a work-collection to which those who have been invited to participate (mostly other artists or people closely related to institutions that display collectionsthe work) are asked to contribute one slide at their discretion to a collection that is being developed-supplemented each time it is exhibited. The separate images of the collected pictorial series undoubted comprise an arbitrary kaleidoscope that still reflects the collective mentality of the participants at some more general level. At the same time, in this scheme, the relatively pretentious status of the collector in the current art space is leveled. It should be mentioned that her new work also revolves around The Carousel Collection – an 8-mm film that “by juxtaposing incompatible places, things, relationships and ideas, is like a chameleon that sometimes embodies as a social chronicle and is sometimes a round-up of the future.” 6


Without being able to remotely write about all of Triin Tamm’s works, many of which are in the first stage of their existence – only one-liners or even half-liners, barely fulfilling the criteria of works of art – we nevertheless have an entire chapter of Tamm’s work that should be approached separately. Namely, Tamm has a special relationship with the book format – one can safely state that she is a book fetishist. The inner reasons for this apparent attachment remain hidden to us. However that makes the results all the more effective. We have already spoken about Tamm’s first artist’s book Retrospektiiv (Retrospective) (2009) and the conceptual operations that were carried out with it. On at least two occasions – at More or Less. A Few Pocket Universes (2011), an exhibition curated by Valentinas Klimašauskas at the Galleria Augustas in Suomenlinna, and at If It’s Part Broke, Half Fix It! (2011), an exhibition curated by Margit Säde Lehn at the Contemporary Arts Centre in Vilnius – the artist’s book performed the function of a material embodiment of a work of art. Thus, the exhibition visitors were able to take a copy from the tautologically titled The Stack of Books on exhibit, and thereby, in a Felix Gonzalez-Torres like process, gradually eliminate the work of art from the exhibition hall. The book itself is far from a one-liner – it is a catalogue with pictures and text excerpts from fantastic publications, which one can spend several interesting evenings browsing through and reading. The fact that books, and especially the catalogues and lists of books, are the key to Triin Tamm’s inner life is also demonstrated by Triin Tamm’s republication, with some changes, of the psychological personality test (original from 1953) comprised of a list of books by Swiss psychiatrist Moritz Tramer at the New York Artists’ Book Fair. If, for her, exhibitions are the starting point for staging the playful relationship between the artist and the view, then the endpoint is definitely books.

Hanno Soans