It’s not refrigerator art

  • 2011-05-04
  • By Laurence Boyce

TALLINN - “Eksperimenta” is an exhibition that aims to bring “… art education out from school walls and presents contemporary art made by 14-19-year-old youngsters.” The very words used to describe may ring alarm bells with discerning art lovers. After all, art coming out of school deserves to be pinned to the fridge door, not given a whole exhibition. Doesn’t it? It’s certainly easy to scoff at the ideas behind the event and very tempting to see it as an exercise patronizingly patting youngsters on the head and going “There, well done. You can do art. Aren’t you clever?” But those attending the exhibition – which takes place at the Tallinn Song Festival Grounds and Maarjamae Palace until June 14 will find an exciting and diverse range of works from young artists from across the world that display fierce creativity and a talent that belies their tender years.

The artists, who are grouped together by country, were given the theme of ‘space’ and the wide and varied way in which the theme has been interpreted is both intriguing and insightful. For example, the Finnish word for ‘space’ can also be translated as ‘state.’ Thus one of the exhibits in the Finnish section is entitled ‘State of Grenouilles’ which presents the history of a fictional country, with displays of its national dress, discussions about important moments in its past and even examples of its currency. On one level, it’s a simple and charming idea to invent stories about a country, much like millions of youngsters have done and will continue to do. But on another level, it brings into question notions of reality and fiction and the believability/gullibility of an audience. It’s easy to miss the brief description that explains the fictitious nature of the project and one wonders how many people will leave “Eksperimenta” believing that they might visit Grenouilles for their holidays.

Certainly the disconnect between reality and fiction and the ever fluid nature of identity is a popular preoccupation through many of the exhibits. In some ways this is represented through the sheer number of different disciplines on offer: from traditional painting to sculpture to video installation almost all artistic practices are represented. It shows a generation, which is not only incredibly media savvy, but also one dealing with the constant bombardment of images from the media. Indeed, the use of various forms of media seems almost an effort to control the never ending stream of messages telling people how they must behave. An exhibit in the Latvian section included the statement: “If you are for individuality, sign here,” the paradox being that – if you signed – you were already part of a group.

The Latvian exhibit was particularly strong with some outstanding work, including the beautiful “Passers By” by Gints Zilbalodis. Its simple idea – one person walks in the opposite direction of others – creates a complex and emotional notion of loneliness and isolation despite being surrounded by others. Both the Lithuania and Estonia exhibits also seemed to be exploring space both in terms of the individual and of the state, showing how, particularly in smaller countries, individual identity is often hugely driven by national identity.

Other highlights of the exhibition included 56, an installation in the Irish section which removed the walls from a room. Reminiscent of Tracey Emin’s “My Bed” (in which the English displayed a bed that she had slept in for days, complete with discarded underwear and bodily secretions) it showed how many private acts are conducted whilst only a few meters away from others, with often only a few millimeters of wood becoming an impenetrable barrier between the personal and the public. Also powerful was a Slovenian exhibit dedicated to teen suicide, a huge problem in the country.  Juxtaposing a suicide note with an exam paper it once again shows that simplicity can often be extremely affecting.

It also proved that art from youngsters can be vital, emotional and – above all – sophisticated. Those who have notions of nothing but childish naivety should be prepared to let them go. Likewise, those who are often unsure about the contemporary art world would also be advised to explore the exhibition, with the sheer range on offer affording people the opportunity to discover something new (especially considering that the exhibits at the Tallinn Song Festival grounds are free).
A timely reminder that just because people are young, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have anything to say.

For information on “Eksperimenta” go to