The days are getting shorter in Tallinn. Halloween has just happened and it’s well past sunset at 6pm as a cluster of people huddle in the cold out the front of the Explorer office complex near the Estonian city’s passenger port. There’s an LED screen spanning the breadth and length of the glowing building’s four outer walls; advertising space featuring a few static brands and a libidinous palette of purple and white hues shining through bundles of surrounding strip lights. If you squint, you can make out the moving mirage of a mouldy plum, throbbing like a human heart then melting down the façade and fading into black, on a loop. We’re looking at Brit Pavelson and Sissela Jensen’s ‘Soft Grotesque’ and it’s the first stop of the A-tishoo, A-tishoo, We All Fall Down opening night. It’s a group exhibition presented by the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCAE) at EKKM with a couple of off-site interventions, and it’s expected to run from November 1 to December 15.
Collectively curated by Maria Arusoo, Marika Agu, Sten Ojavee and Kaarin Kivirähk, the show’s Estonian title of ‘Tiira-taara, tuia-taia, pimesikk tuli meie majja’ doesn’t directly translate to the 19th century English nursery rhyme excerpt apparently referring to the Plague, but its eerie sense of doom does. It’s a feeling that permeates the whole of EKKM, whether it’s in Hana Samoson’s impossibly steep slide that cuts through the building’s three floors, or Johanna Maria Parv’s ghostly clothing pieces, hanging suspended and skewered by a steel pole. Ivana Bašić’s baby-pink blocks of alabaster stone are being slowly chipped away with the force of electronmagnetic actuators attached to ceiling-to-floor metal rigging in one room. A segment of Samoson’s miserable and sharply slanting slide meets the monstrous beauty of Pakui Hardware’s ‘The Return of Sweetness’ installation in another. Two blown glass organs hover above organic urchin spines on a synthetic silicon substance resembling skin still wet with matter.
The front room of EKKM’s squat-come-independent art space is packed for opening night, the bar offering complimentary shots of 68 percent proof moonshine, courtesy of the Üle Prahi collective. For anyone familiar with the post-Soviet bloc, bootlegged spirits are a part of its history, with scarcity, prohibition and political oppression making the production of homemade alcohol its own sly symbol of DIY defiance. Past the courtyard and out the back, the same group is serving salad, sandwiches and soup from benches and a small trash can. These dumpster-dived foods come accompanied by a zine with instructions on how to do it yourself on the CCAE Instagram. It’s a gesture to parasitising the existing social order of consumerism and waste, a hack that feels ultimately futile in its opposition to a capitalist system that is overwhelmingly, unavoidably self-destructive.
The magnitude of its impact is no more clearly conveyed than with Emilija Škarnulytė’s blinding wall-length video projection, ‘Sirenomelia’. Here, images of melting ice caps and human-made technologies are juxtaposed with visions of a lone mermaid navigating artificial canal systems and vast expanses of water. The references to the fatal arrogance of human ingenuity and progress continues in the pitch black corner of Jussi Kivi’s glowing ‘Abandoned Tunnel Between Two Cities’. It’s a small-scale model of an imagined underwater excavation that never was, informed by the artist’s own experiences of touring the depths of subterranean networks—mines, bunkers, sewage systems—recreated here for people to peer into.
The most spectacular memento mori comes in Anu Juurak’s bluntly titled ‘How does it feel like to die?’ The tentacular arms of her insectile kinetic sculpture dance in elegant formation over a gurney-like apparatus, dimly illuminated by surgical lights in the gloom of the sloping, top-floor coal shaft of EKKM. The space is a conspicuous remnant of the decommissioned Tallinn power plant the building once supported, now standing in opposition to the nearby Kultuurikatel ‘Creative Hub’ with its pronounced mission to “connect culture with the private sector”.
In saying that, it’s eerily, depressingly appropriate that EKKM should be abruptly halting all public activities (A-tishoo, A-tishoo, We All Fall Down included) on November 30. After becoming an integral part of the Tallinn art community in its 13 years of operation, the space announced they’d had their lease agreement terminated by Creative Hub for allegedly ambiguous reasons. As a building on the waterfront at the centre of the city’s urban regeneration project, one can only speculate. And yet, in looking out of the the second floor window—the click and tap of Ivana Bašić’s gradually eroding rocks echoing behind—you can see Brit Pavelson and Sissela Jensen’s rotting plum more clearly in the distance. It swells and contracts, resists and succumbs before dissolving into the dark night ahead.**