I rush through the bustling train station in Tallinn to the edge of the picturesque old town to meet the artist Paul Kuimet at his ascetic studio that he has shared with his wife, Laura Toots, since January 2014. We take the stairs to the 2nd floor, open the windows – in comes a warm breeze and the sound of birds – and sit down by a large table to start our conversation. The talk centres around the medium specificity of film and photography, all the while returning to new works that Kuimet has just finished installing in Tallinn and Tartu.
It’s a busy week for you with the opening of two group exhibitions each premiering a new work: a video installation at the Estonian Museum of Contemporary Art and a light box installation at the Tartu Art Museum. Can you say a little bit about these projects?
First, I have to say that the video work is a film work. It is a medium reflective piece that is projected from a 16 mm film. By medium reflective I mean that the technology that produces the image is as important as the image that is being produced. The film will be shown in a group exhibition “Black House. Notes on Architecture” that is curated by Anders Härm at the Estonian Museum of Contemporary Art. The other new work, a light box installation, is designed to be the last piece that visitors encounter in the group show “Archeological Festival_ a 2nd hand history and improbable obsessions” curated by Maria Arusoo at the Tartu Art Museum.
What about the subject matter of the works?
As a matter of fact both of these works are depictions of sculptures. The 16 mm film features a modernist sculpture, a Möbius strip of sorts, by Edgar Viies made in 1968. I had this experience of looking at the sculpture in a very dark space and I saw that it was moving slightly, rotating in the air. This ghost-like experience stayed with me and I started thinking about how it could be translated into a medium that would further intensify the idea of endless rotation. This led me to 16 mm film projection, which is in fact a material that is constantly in motion. I mean even if you project stop frames the film is still moving. Also, I think that the work of Edgar Viies represents an idea of technological progress of the 1960’s. A lot of design and art objects from this Cold War period seem somehow aware of the possibility that they might one day become objects in a world devastated by nuclear war. The film is sort of a depiction of this dystopian dimension as well. The other new work is a photographic installation consisting of two light boxes in a darkened space that is divided by a partition wall. Depicted on the light boxes is a sculpture by a Belgian sculptor whose name I can’t remember right now. Anyhow, it is a kind of non-descript sculpture that you see everywhere but don’t pay much attention to. The viewers are invited to step into the installation and lose themselves in the pictorial space. My aim was to make it so that eventually the eye comes back to the surface of the picture, that there is sort of a disruption when you realize that you are in fact looking at a two-dimensional image.
Until now you’ve predominantly used architecture and urban environments as your subject matter. Is the current interest in sculpture somehow connected to your previous series called “Notes on Space” where you documented monumental paintings in Estonian public space?
Yes, in a way. I did see the sculpture of Edgar Viies in KUMU, the Art Museum of Estonia, on one of the nights that I was installing my exhibition with the “Notes on Space” project, but this was a pure coincidence. I mean these ideas came to me at different times. It is not that it was a conscious choice to start making works that deal with other people’s art. I will change this, make other works.
Both your works and exhibition installations come across as highly controlled. Does chance, intuition and gut-feeling ever enter the picture?
I don’t know. Well yes, when it comes to this new piece that I’m showing in Tartu Art Museum someone said to me, maybe it was my wife, that there should be a slightly sloped floor so – and now I’m ruining the experience for you – when you approach the second image you feel a physical resistance.
Isn’t it also telling of the control that you exercise over the exhibition space and the experience of the viewer?
True. With my light box installations I try to create a kind of space that has a level of theatricality and presence to it. It feels like there is a crisis going on with the photographic art and lens-based media in general as a lot of it gets experienced through computer screens and publications. So you start wondering why do I need to go to a gallery to look at this. That is why my work aims to justify itself in the space it is presented in and hopefully convey a sense that this can only be happening here and now, in this space while looking at these images. At the same time I hope that the act of looking is a subjective experience.
When you photograph do you go out with an image in your mind, to execute a shot that has been planned in advance?
Lately I’ve been carrying around a small digital camera and when I’ve seen something that is fascinating I’ve shot couple of images. Afterwards I return to the site again and again. If it looks like it could be a subject matter for a work I shoot it many times.
In general, do you think there is a place for un-staged, spontaneous photography in art?
Yes, of course. I have rarely very precise ideas of what I want to do. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. Sometimes, when you start doing something, in the process you find things that will in the end become the work, things that you at first maybe didn’t notice.
What kind of a role does research play in your creative process?
It depends. For example – now it is easy for me to talk about the new work – with the 16 mm film that is depicting the sculpture of Edgar Viies I researched the oeuvre of the artist and the context it was situated in. There was also quite a lot of research into my “In Vicinity” project that deals with suburban developments on the outskirts of Tallinn. On the other hand, the subject matter of the work premiering in Tartu Art Museum is very poetic and personal, not much to say about that.
Can we talk a bit about collaboration? In the past you’ve worked closely with artists such as Tõnis Saadoja and Mikko Rikala.
Well, I like bouncing ideas off other people. Also now, with the film work, I collaborated with a cinematographer, who was very good at contributing ideas, not just technical solutions. And for the light box installation I worked with Vesa Humalisto, an architect who helped create the exhibition architecture in Tartu Art Museum. It brings me great joy when people are invested in making my work as good as it can be. With Tõnis Saadoja it was the same thing. He also designed my show in KUMU, which I liked a lot. Also, I think that the exhibition I did with Mikko Rikala about photography as a medium was a good experiment in the sense that it made me realize it wasn’t exactly the direction I wanted to continue in. I mean it is good to have a critical approach towards the medium that one is using, and choose it very precisely, but then again the subject matter of the works needs to come from outside.
You are currently finishing an MA program in the department of photography at the Estonian Academy of Arts. Can you tell us about your thesis and final project?
The 16 mm film about the sculpture of Edgar Viies will be my final project when graduating in August. I could have done it now in June but the grade they give you is 75% based on the artistic work. And in order to show my work I had to get a 16 mm projector, order a custom made screen and all these things. Now the jury can see the work at the exhibition. The theoretical part is done as well. It is about medium specificity and about looping as such, how it is used in an art context. Rodney Graham for example has this work called “Vexation Island” which is an edited loop, a film that starts and ends in the same place, but it is not one continuous shot. Then I wrote about “L’Eclisse” by Michelangelo Antonioni. My work connects to certain frames in the film such as the scenes where you can see objects replacing human beings and the modern environment eclipsing human relationships. I also wrote about Michel Houellebecq and this book called ”The Map and the Territory”, so a bunch of things.
Are you going to miss the academic environment after graduating?
I guess the whole point of going to an art school is to find people who you share similar interests with, people that you can meet up with and have critical conversations about your work. I would like to think that I have people around me now that I can talk to so I no longer need the academic environment for this.
The conversation between Paul Kuimet and Mirja Majevski took place in Tallinn, EST on June 19, 2014.
Text: Mirja Majevski
Photo: Paul Kuimet, Anu Vahtra
|Born:||1984 in Tallinn, EST|
|Education:||BA 2011 and MA 2014, Estonian Academy of Arts in Tallinn, EST|
|Info:||Group exhibitions “Black House. Notes on Architecture” at the Estonian Museum of Contemporary Art and “Archeological Festival _ a 2nd hand history and improbable obsessions” at the Tartu Art Museum. Kuimet’s works are also included in “Shifting Identities” at MACRO Testaccio in Rome.|