JAANUS SAMMA PICKED FOR ESTONIAN PAVILION AT 56th VENICE BIENNALE
Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia
Estonian Ministry of Culture
5 May 2014
The project “NSFW: From the Abyss of History” by Estonian artist Jaanus Samma and Italian curator Eugenio Viola will represent Estonia at the 56th Venice Biennale. The exhibition consists of an aesthetically and dramaturgically integrated multimedia installation, which uses a personal story of a man from the Soviet-era Estonia and provides a new perspective on events during Estonians’ recent past. “NSFW: From the Abyss of History” raises questions about power, violence, persecution and an individual’s powerlessness in rigid political regimes that curtail human rights.
The winning project is a continuation of Jaanus Samma’s 2013 work “Chairman. The Opera,” which won the Köler Prize Jury award and People’s Choice that year. Samma has trained his lens on gay life in the Soviet era - when the community faced criminal sanctions - and the social conditions that influenced its behaviour, to remember and devote attention to problems yet to be solved. The central character in the exhibition is a successful kolkhoz (Soviet collective farm) chairman in the 1950s, who was sent to a prison camp for one and a half years for an homosexual relationship. The exhibition is an oneiric installation with theatrical elements, and relies on court transcripts and the fate of the chairman who – having lost not just his position in society but his family and job – became one of the legendary figures in the invisible gay community of Soviet Estonia. The acronym NSFW stands for “Not Suitable / Safe For Work”.
A total of 11 projects were entered to the competition for the 2015 Estonian Pavilion exhibition at Venice Biennale. The jury members included the commissioner for the Estonian Pavilion at Venice Biennale Maria Arusoo, Wales MOSTYN art centre director Alfredo Cramerotti, board members of CCA, Estonia Rael Artel, Sirje Helme, Andres Kurg and Kaido Ole, World Expo Milano 2015, Project Manager Andres Kask and Adviser on Visual Arts, Estonian Ministry of Culture Maria-Kristiina Soomre. Besides the high artistic calibre of the project, the jury also praised “the exceptionally intelligent, relevant, discrete and multi-faceted manner in which the theme is explored.”
Jaanus Samma (1982) studied graphic art at the Estonian Academy of Arts and is currently a PhD candidate in the Art and Design programme at EAA. He has taken part in many group exhibitions and appeared in solo exhibitions in Estonia and international venues since 2005. Samma's work can be viewed at http://www.jaanussamma.eu/.
Eugenio Viola (1975) is curator at large at Madre Museum in Naples. He has worked with, among many others, such world-renowned artists as Marina Abramović, Teresa Margolles and Tania Bruguera. He is well-versed in the Estonian art scene, having co-curated (with Reet Varblane) Orlan’s 2008 exhibition at the Tallinn Art Hall and (with Anders Härm) Mark Raidpere’s 2013 solo exhibition at the EKKM (Contemporary Art Museum Estonia). Viola was also a member of the Köler Prize’s international jury last year.
The Biennale di Venezia, held since 1895, is the oldest and largest international art forum in the world. Estonia has exhibited in Venice since 1997, making the 2015 pavilion the tenth one. The 56th International Biennale di Venezia is taking place from 9 May to 22 November 2015.
Estonia was represented at the 2013 Venice Biennale by Dénes Farkas’s exhibition “Dénes Farkas. Evident in Advance” at Palazzo Malipiero. During the six months, the Biennale was visited by 475,000 people, with 27,000 people visiting the Estonian pavilion, including 4,000 art professionals at the press events. The exhibition received, without exception, positive coverage in the major art journals such as Art Agenda, Kunstforum, Modern Painters, Gallerist NY and Arterritory, Estonian press and many art blogs. Following the appearance at the Biennale, the artist has received many cooperation offers from international galleries.
Estonia’s participation at the Biennale di Venezia is organized by the Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia and funded by Estonian Ministry of Culture.