Passion. Compassion. Love. Understanding of patience.
An interview with the õhuLoss group on the occasion of their exhibition at Galeria Reverso.
by Cristina Filipe
The strongest aspect of the õhuLoss project is the synergy created between the individuals within the group: Kadri Mälk, Piret Hirv, Eve Margus-Villems, Villu Plink, Kristiina Laurits, Tanel Veenre and initially also Katrin Sipelgas. The most important is the Love that moves them to create the “Castelo no Ar” (Castle in the Air).
“You think we are escapists?” asked Tanel Veenre. Out of norma they definitely are. It is not common to build up such a “vulnerable” home in sixteen years.
õhuLoss recently (re) visited Lisbon to open an exhibition at Galeria Reverso. PIN took the opportunity to invite Kadri Mälk, õhuLoss mentor, to talk about the jewellery from Estonia and to present the monograph of the group published by Arnoldsche Art Publishers (AAP) – a profound reflection on the work of this Estonian group of artists. At the same time Tanel Veenre talked about his recent publication “Handful” (also published by AAP), a diary of his works developed from 2009 to 2015.
Through this meeting with the artists and the exhibition at Galeria Reverso, Portugal got a step closer to the essence of Estonia. “Border City” in Tallinn and Lisbon in 2011, “Just Must” in Tallinn in 2008, “Fata Morgana” and “Closer” in Lisbon in 2005, “Nocturnus” at Muhu Island in 2001, and the first õhuLoss show in Lisbon at Galeria Uno in 2001 are some of the happenings and projects that have established and consolidated this long-distance relationship between Portuguese and Estonian soulmates, alongside the exchange of teachers and the student programme between the Art Academy in Tallinn, Ar.Co in Lisbon and ESAD in Oporto.
The õhuLoss show at Reverso builds up a narrative based on the Estonian landscape. A photograph of a cold and grey winter fog is used as a backdrop for one piece of jewellery by each of the participating artists. The pieces appear to levitate on the picture, searching to be part of the Estonian forest. In fact the works truly belong to the deep earth. They refer to archaeological finds and fight to identify that Estonian essence. In an era of globalization, õhuLoss is probably the most contemporary project rooted in its own land. The identity is so strong that you sometimes struggle to understand to whom each piece of work belongs. They are undoubtedly individual artists but the common chemistry between them sometimes masks their distinct personalities. You need patience, time to learn about each soul. After a while, each persona becomes clear, each individual approach recognisable. However, the first moment of looking is almost like a foggy day, when you look and see only the beauty of the white wave of dew. Indeed, the photograph displayed emphasises this idea as the snow we see unifies the landscape.
The plywood panels on the walls used to display some of the pieces again create a sense of unity and an impression of loose and ephemeral gestures. Somehow it stimulates the idea that the pieces belong to the body. Like a departure --- they are ready to fly away.
The work is on display at Galeria Reverso until 15 May.
To capture and reflect the spirit of õhuloss, Cristina Filipe [PIN] talked to Kadri Mälk (KM), Piret Hirv , Tanel Veenre and Villu Plink at Calouste Gulbenkian gardens during their last afternoon in Lisbon after the opening at Reverso.
Cristina Filipe [CF]. Karl Bollmann has written at õhuLoss last book “Castle in the Air follows the rules of its builder”. Are you builders of a certain ideal world? What are your rules considering this process of construction?
Kadri Mälk [KM]. The main rule might be that there are no rules.
Tanel Veenre [TV]. I think respect for each other is probably the base and the rest comes from the sharing of minds. So I make different decisions than I may have done separately. So it is a kind of trial of empathy.
KM. So it might be an holistic approach that brings us together, so everybody has his own, her own feeling for a moment, but the strong aspect that brings us together is …. it’s kind of holistic character. A shared mindset. I mean the work we are making in the imaginary space…
Piret Hirv [PH]. And it’s not building a castle… an ideal building, but every time or each time it’s building it again or building it in a certain space, making… building the space where we are at the moment.
Villu Plink [VP]. The moment is for me quite important. Every time we start again from the beginning and we are quite open towards what’s going to happen this time.
TV. We are using very similar vocabulary each time so it is a kind of taking distance from ourselves. We don`t have to explain too much, there is so much in common already.
CF. In your first book you wrote “what luck to have two homes”. To build up a new space, ideal and imaginary called “õhuLoss” was your main purpose?
TV. It’s home for a certain kind of ideas. Everyone brings their own ideas to host them in the Castle in the Air.
CF. In the Era of floppy discs you made a catalogue in its shape. The readymade plastic floppy disc box was the cover but the inside was a very delicate piece of silk and paper carefully printed. This was already a statement? That means you decide to make it clear that even on the border of the XXI century you prove that “your jewellery pieces and objects tell us a legendary past”, as Monica Gaspar once wrote about your work?
PH. When we think about the floppy case now…
KM. We’ve incorporated it in a kind of double meaning…
CF. It was probably a bit ironical… and very meaningful, do you agree? I was quite intrigued by this concept at that time. [showing the book]
It was for me a really interesting option and it says a lot about your work and attitude.
The crafty aspect and the care and investment along the process of making it is a decision? Decision and determination?
KM. Not anymore, it was at the beginning a conscious decision. Now it is already in our blood.
PH. I would like to go deep, profound. I would like to go into it.
CF. In your third book you translate you presentation into fifteen languages. How important was it for you to be listened to and seen from such a wide spectrum of cultures and people?
KM. It was kind of an ambivalent decision to put the languages all together as the visual language does not need translation.
PH. People are not that much different.
CF. It was a “marketing” strategy?
KM. Not at all. It was more kind of … ambivalence.
CF. More poetic… somehow demonstrates your care and interest per language and give it the right importance?
KM. As well.
TV. I am intrigued by the controversy you have created here. Do you think we are escapists? Because I think lot of people think we are escapist … so there is a controversy between showing and doing a lot of books and exhibitions. You can see it as branding in a way, definitely, there are lots of conscious decisions, because communication is a kind of base for why to make and for whom to make.
PH. But we would like to reach some people that don’t speak our language. Maybe it’s a small amount of people, maybe is only a few who recognize that, but we would like to reach them.
TV. It is rare and seldom anyway compared to most wide spread phenomena’s in society. It’s also part of self-reflection always… it’s getting to know through others and ourselves. It is just a very basic, basic thing…
PH. I would like to meet someone who is very distant… It is like you meet someone at the bus stop.
CF. We can also see it as respect and not being arrogant and just speaking only our own language…
KM. The book is more or less symbolic in its execution. So the languages are a kind of symbols of understanding or even more – not understanding each other… The public, the readers are always wiser than the makers, storytellers … in a way… The same for the pieces, the pieces are always wiser than the makers.
CF. “There is only one reason for their co-existence – common chemistry”. Can you comment on that?
KM. When we got together sixteen years ago it was a kind of a silent manifestation at that time. And I should admit that it is almost the same even now... but the meaning, the energy now might be projected on a different background, in an altered context.
We were quite young and innocent but we were not wrong. Which is admirable. We were completely unaware of what we were telling but it worked out. So God has been with us!
CF. It was you who realized this common energy because you supervised somehow these students. Or did you all feel a common communion between yourselves.
KM. The people were from different levels. Piret and Eve they had already graduated and Villu and Tanel they were still students. And I had my third year professorship only, so everybody was quite at the beginning of their road.
And the activities have never been regular so it’s just what life brings along.
TV. It is very organic in this sense that it is not programmed. I think if you ask about the chemistry I would also say that it is very human and organic in the sense that everything is changing and growing every moment with us, with our surroundings, with our perceptions of it. I see it as really complex, being part of this process of changes but carrying certain values.
KM. But something remains.
PH. It’s more about friendship or about standing inside that.
CF. Considering this synergy between all of you… this friendship… motivation…
KM. It is more than friendship … it is love.
CF. Love of course… I think from the viewer’s side the group has a strong identity itself emphasized by the way you consider every presentation you do. There is a strong unity and it needs time to understand each individual presence. Do you agree?
TV. That´s what you could say. You are right.
PH. Yes, it’s actually interesting to hear.
CF. Every time you have to build an exhibition is the selection of each other work individual or do you decide as a group?
VP. First individual…
KM. The final decision is made all together but the main phase is strongly individual…
PH. When you start building, then we build together. Materials you choose yourself.
TV. We prepare the bricks separately in our own kilns and then we bring them together to build something...
PH. Everyone has different materials or finds different materials but when we start building then we…
VP. Depends on the size of the room and if you carry all the stuff with you…
TV. It’s trust based. The thing is also that we know how each of us is working and it is a really organic way of working. We know that it’s not going to be a huge explosion of something that you wouldn’t expect … so it is a kind of trust, being expected in a good way.
KM. But still when you bring all the pieces together there is always something unexpected. Some, some, some unexpected…
KM. Always! And that makes the tension…
CF. Going back to the beginning of the discussion: when you make up an exhibition is an attempt to construct a “castle in the air”?
PH. We don’t think about it.
KM. It’s not conscious. The more, more we exhibit the less and less words we need.
CF. Places like the Lighthouse or the Cemetery are just advantages of certain opportunities that emerge or are there places that you search for?
KM. Blind search…
They are existential places of course.
TV. Is quite conscious, the selection. The selection of the places is most often a clear statement of itself.
KM. I mean the selection of the Lighthouse…
The choice is kind of subconscious blind serendipity.
TV. But going to significant places, like a cemetery or lighthouse, is a very conscious decision. I mean we don´t do exhibitions in … shopping malls or anything too banal, there should be space to fill with airy thoughts.
PH. But you just don´t talk about this, you do not use words.
CF. At the exhibition at the cemetery I was very impressed by the performance you did when you got together with the bells. Could you talk about this happening?
KM. Most of our decisions are spontaneous but it all fits very well and this one fits together with the cemetery. And Tanel has a collection of bells from his family of musicians, so it was an excellent coincidence.
CF. Saale Kareda wrote “the jewellery of the artists of “Castel in the Air” brings the viewer together with fragility, vulnerability, awe, dignity, strength and the magic of being human” – is that the purpose of jewellery?
KM. She is very much right.
PH. Jewellery can be very different.
TV. It’s kind of a very spiritual perception of things in general, but it is a kind of concept among hundreds of concepts. For sure there would be tons of artists who wouldn’t see it that way but it just fits very well with our perception. So I think that it is also the reason why we ask her to keep this reflection because we felt that it is kind of accurate...
KM. Strange that she is quite far from us. She is not a close friend of ours but she has such a sharp eye.
TV. Saale Kareda is from a music background. She never writes about art.
PH. This is an example of a direct understanding…
TV. And you meet this kind of people now and then… There are really magic recognitions which can happen in Munich, in Lisbon, in Tallinn … You always try to find your people, that´s somehow the essence of life in general. To try to collect your people around you and build up your own universe.
KM. For instance Marie José [Oliveira] – she makes such smart observations…
CF. An aspect that intrigues me is that in your books there never appears the word contemporary. It is very common in nowadays when you see jewellery books you always see the designation contemporary jewellery to distinguish artistic jewellery from the general jewellery field.
KM. There is no need for that. It is evident. When you see what is evident, there is no need to emphasize.
PH. And also maybe because in some part of the world artists would like to step out of the past or step out of the heritage, the tradition. And we don’t have this. You are now here and you are in the past and there is no difference, it’s not important. We use materials that are maybe old-fashioned, but we don´t say that we are contemporary because of this and that. There is no limit between different eras or different times. There is only one time.
TV. I think in a way this contemporary has became a trap - contemporary art, contemporary music, contemporary dance, contemporary jewellery… We use this term for communication to get people to understand the language we are speaking, but it creates illusion that with learning some words you can already create something contemporary. But most often I feel that it ends up as a simulation … I could learn some nice phrases in Portuguese and fool you for a while, but this doesn’t create deeper understanding between us.
PH. It also draws a line between past and present. Actually we take from the past, we go back there and there is no border…
KM. We do have a holistic approach.
PH. It really bothers… that separation.
VP. I haven’t thought about that… I don´t think about these things.
KM. Notions like postmodernism, contemporary – they have drowned in the waters…
CF. At the actual jewellery panorama in Estonia, you have the jewellery “from the Art Academy” and you also have other sorts of jewellery such as more commercial jewellery? How do you call it? Also jewellery, you do not need to distinguish?
KM. The jewellery industry in Estonia is very tiny compared to some other cultures… It does exist but is not significant. Mostly everything is imported from abroad.
CF. The jewellery you create has a strong presence and a strong impact in the jewellery field in Estonian?
KM. I hope so.
TV. There is also no fashion system like in France or in Great Britain where it is so huge that contemporary jewellery is hidden behind it. In Estonia we still have lots of free air to fill.
PH. That´s also why we don´t have to distinguish contemporary jewellery.
CF. Most of you became teachers after being all students at the same art academy. The academy has definitely a very strong influence on your work. Kadri was a teacher of the whole group and you express the idea of the classical school with the master and the disciples… An aspect that in many art schools, in our days, has been lost... Can you share a bit of your own impressions and experience of being students and teachers at Art Academy in Tallinn? And could you also comment on these following questions: Is it possible to teach art? What is the better strategy? What do you believe to be the right teaching?
KM. You can’t teach art. But - you can seduce the spirits, the strengths that the students have in themselves and bring out something peculiar from everybody that not everybody else has an eye to notice … You should bring out and seduce out, and then they start to believe in themselves… and then it starts to grow… You should create conditions where the spirit is brought into the daylight.
PH. We can talk about basic things, we can talk about fire, water, everyone knows and we can share our experiences with students and then I can tell them in what I do believe in and then everything goes naturally.
VP. For me studying is some kind of looking. You are looking something but what we are looking at -- is it what you see?
TV. I just say that empathy is really the base; curiosity is probably linked with that.
CF. to KM. In your memory during your learning process what was really the key?
KM. Integrity. Just have integrity and then all the rest will follow. A kind of artistic fulfillment that we might notice, it comes only later, but first you have to have integrity. You should have feeling, sensitivity to create that integrity. Some people call it intellectual mentality, that’s alright as well, but a sense of sensitivity, more or less clear or clouded vision should be up there in you mind.
TV. I think Kadri’s teaching methods are based on values, so it is really building up a universe of values that will give you understanding of good and bad, real and fake.
PH. But these values they are not an usual system of values, but the very basic maybe, or the hidden, or the unexpected.
TV. It is very abstract in a sense.
TV. It is a bigger scale thing.
KM. When you can visit us in the school -- everybody can – you will perceive the metaphysical feeling there, sense of chaos. Creative chaos. For me it’s essential.
PH. I am just thinking that maybe building up the “castle in the air”, is building up this system of values. And it doesn’t have to be one building, it’s different each time or it’s changing in time.
TV. We share very similar values and building the castle could make them visible. I think it’s a very clear statement behind it, and it’s really fighting for our ideals. In a way you can see quite an aggressive stand for some kind of values and you want to make them visible and you believe that they are important and you want to spread them in a way…. I could see it even as a silent and sensitive aggression.
KM. Not so much aggressive, more idealistic… let´s say.
PH. But strong…
TV. I would not be afraid of strong terms.
KM. No, no, no… aggression is not my mother tongue.
TV. Being so dominant with so strong ideas it is very aggressive.
PH. Aggression is higher.
CF. You feel like you have or you are on a mission?
KM. On an unconscious level – yes.
At my age I do agree that it has been a remarkable mission.
Life has modeled us a lot.
For twenty years Tanel was a shy person, hardly talking,... but now...?! But in his essence he is the same.
TV. That’s true, and strangely it`s really the same with Kadri - remembering her first welcoming speech at school when she was so silent and humble you could barely hear her … If you act as an artist you stand for something you are always on a mission, and this probably helps to build up your voice as well. I can see the artist as a missionary.
KM. You hardly escape...
CF. In your case there is only a strong need to use language, words, to translate, almost a determination.
PH. Mission is something that is spread...
CF. What do you learn from teaching that you place into your own work? Is there any advantage from this experience?
VP. Of course there is a kind of reflection and ... of course I try to communicate with students the ideas but at the same time I am trying to catch his or her idea and this is part of my experience so to understand, to give it or to see it, where to move.
CF. Kadri, would you have worked more in creative field if you had taught less?
KM. That´s true. I am the “La Loba” in this profession so I shouldn’t say much more about it. You always have to trust your intuition. The students, they don´t know themselves. But they don’t know yet! Me too. When I was a student. I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth. At school - you have to be a kind of psychologist at the same time. They are not conscious of themselves yet... But it comes if you are patient. Patience and passion, both should be present.
CF. I realised that normally you do not mention the dates of your pieces. Is it not a relevant matter?
KM. This century and last century!
PH. The same with the use of the name contemporary or not contemporary!
CF. But if you think into a perspective of art history you need it.
PH. I don´t care about the history. [laughs]
TV. As an art historian if you are going to do research and then you start to see threads between personal life and the work, things will become more significant in both scales ... Everything you say about your work can become very dominant because people are so used to thinking in words. But other side of the coin is that this is the way to build up communicative bridges between maker and viewer.
CF. So it is something you have discussed – is this a group decision that dates are not mentioned?
KM. It just happens.
There are brilliant art historians and collectors like the ones from the States – Helen Drutt, Susan Cummins, Ursula Neuman... – they want the dates! Karl Bollmann – he is very much in dates as well! Most of the professional collectors.
I’ve asked collectors as I was curious why the dates of the pieces are so important? And they reply: the earlier pieces are interesting as in these pieces the first signs of the real essence of the artists’ blood is already silently apparent. It’s a cognitive observation, I suppose. I do agree of course but I didn´t know that! It was new for me!
I was very embarrassed when they bought also pieces from my youth -- they want to purchase these pieces because it is like a silent development wing recognizable out there...
PH. It’s about secret information.
I think it is more relevant in the artists cases which work has very clearly periods like Ruudt Peters that spends two years working in a certain subject and then goes to the next one... and then their is this very organic period... but the piece that you see now it could also have been done five years ago… so it is just a very different way.
KM. Sometimes there are certain questions in your life that you have to give a response to, like in my case, and there is a field of research and there are other pieces...
PH. The more basic the subjects are, the less visible the time.
CF. You are very much out of the norm....
KM. Out of norm! Cristina – Thank You!
CF. It is your second exhibition in Lisbon as a group? The first was at Galeria Uno in 2001, and now at Galeria Reverso, where Kadri has also made a solo one in 2005. What is your impression about your exhibitions experiences here?
KM. Portugal is so authentic. The authentic character of Portuguese art is something really valuable.
I would like to talk about the phenomena of Galeria Reverso because Paula already told us the ups and downs of the jewellery scene… and probably it has been very hard, not so many galleries have survived… So Reverso is a landmark for Portuguese contemporary jewellery. Really brave!
CF. Where are the limits of jewellery?
PH. No limits.
CF. It is a decision of the artist to call it jewellery or not?
PH. It is about desire. I would like to have that piece, if it is wearable or not doesn´t matter.
TV. It`s again another agreement we share to call certain kinds of objects we see during Schmuck as `contemporary jewellery` … for some outsider it might just look like a piece of random trash or sculpture - and I think it`s important to be aware of that, to see ourselves from a distance.
But after all I really like the title of Onno Boekhoudt`s book “Why Not Jewellery?”, really - why not call it that way?
CF. The question refers only to the creative world and if the process of making jewellery has some boundaries or not. For instance your group conserves the materials that are normally, traditionally related to jewellery.
KM. It is about building a castle out of very basic ingredients. Out of your own blood.
CF. I would like to ask you the same question that you have asked to all of your close friends and artists in your last book “what does Castle in the Air mean for you?”.
I would like also to comment on the translation of “õhuLoss” into Portuguese.
Considering the name in all the other languages in my perception “Palácio Encantado”, the Portuguese translation you have adopted, it is not the precise one. “Castelo no Ar” would be the most adequate considering the meaning you search for. In English, for instance, you had changed it, first it was “Spatial Palace” and now it is “Castle in the Air”. Why?
TV. To translate it was a big struggle. Because in Estonian it is a very beautiful word.
In English it is much clumsier. In Estonian we just put words together as we like :) So it is more AirCastle than Castle in the Air.
PH. It has different meanings. It also has a meaning of something that doesn´t exist... and you believe in.
CF. Each part of the word means castle?
VP. Somehow in every exhibition we try to answer this question. I don´t have the moment... a sentence to say that Castle in the Air is now like ...
KM. Passion. Compassion. Love. Understanding of patience.
Photos: Ana Margarida Carvalho, Cristina Filipe, Alexandra Inocêncio, Kaisa Masso, Eduardo Sousa Ribeiro, Villu Plink and the artists.
17 Abril a 15 de Maio 2015
Rua da Esperança,, 59-61
Exposição Õhuloss aqui.
Programa Comemorações PIN 10 Anos - Apresentação e Venda dos Livros da editora Arnoldsche Art Publischers : Õhuloss / Castel in the Air. Jewellery from Estonia e Käeulatuses / Handful Jewellery Diary 2009–2015 aqui.
Publicações: Õhuloss / Castle in the Air aqui.
Publicações: Käeulatuses / Handful aqui.