Saturday, 23 April 2011

Essay on the Contemporary Art Seminar

I just liked my essay so much, and since it's in English anyway, I'll post it here...

And on the heels of the topic, very very suitable song =)

Sergei Bai - Kui raske Eestis olla by bigproblem11

Contemporary Art Seminar
Kristina Norman „The Pribalts“

As an introduction to my essay I would like to explain the choice of the topic. It was proposed to choose an exhibition as an example of contemporary art which had the most intense influence on oneself. In my case it would be one documentary video („The Pribalts“) made by Kristina Norman. We were shown the video on the one of the lectures and since I am as a part of pribaltic community familiar with a problem reflected there, I decided to speculate about it in the essay.

Firstly, it should be mentioned that „The Pribalts“ is not a provocation or a hint of riot on the part of Russian-speaking Estonians. It rather reminds me of soviet tradition of „kitchen talks“, one of which we can witness in the video. It seems that viewer is given a nominal right to participate in the conversation or at least to peek – just like Estonian non-citizens are given right to watch how the parlamentary elections go, not taking real participation in that but only having their own thoughts and opinions during the elections.

The next aspect is the artist herself. Since we have had a conversation with Kristina Norman, I may say that at the moment I am armed with more information that I could have found in the Internet. Despite the artistic part, which is undoubtedly important, I am more interested in her „human“ background, namely origin, nationality, personal attitude towards the conflict she brings up so emphatically.
It is not her only piece on the topic of the inner conflicts of the homeland. A famous „After-War“ project, a film about the makers of the monument to the Estonian War of Independence („A Monument To Please Everyone“) – all are tightly connected with the Estonian policy and its affection on people’s lives.

On Kristina’s words, she was affected on the first place by integration policy because of her mixed background. Personally, I understand that it was not only direct influence like a language implementation, but also social partition on Estonians and Russians. Kristina relates herself to non-Russian and non-Estonian category, which I prefer unite under the lable of Russian Estonians, since this part of our society has distinct Russian origins and were born on the land of Estonia. I don’t think that citizenship brings in any clarity, inasmuch as both Russian or Estonian Russian-speaking citizens are not considered as Russians in Russia (birthplace matters) and Estonians in Estonia (both name and mother tongue matter).
Thus it might be said that the documentary video „The Pribalts“ is just a part of an average Russian Estonian’s life. Kristina has used the camera on the level of a person’s face thus giving her viewers the opportunity to imagine themselves on (her) place keeping the conversation about the Pribalts’ lives, to participate in a must-do list every I believe Russian Estonian has.

To visit friends/relatives in Russia

This is basically how the video starts: Kristina is going to visit her classmate in Moscow. She is gathering the information, school memories, impressions; and filming them for unclear purpose of documentary video. With her coming to Russia she encounters, firstly, the „hospitality“ of Moscow metro and „fidelity“ of master-builders and engineers; secondly, bunch of emigrants from former republics of the USSR; thirdly, mentioned earlier relative.

The very first Kristina’s adventure in Moscow was a clear accident, unpleasant but well-ended. A concrete pile that broke through a subway car, where Kristina was on her way to the theater her classmate work in, left no physical victims but an exclusive reportage on Kristina’s camera. The fragments of the Russian news, combining with the witnesses’ impressions and Kristina classmates’ comments, made quite an illustrative talk about Russian mentality and problems of a big city. As a silent participant, I took a confirmation about armless Russian workers and lazy bureaucrats, to whom it’s easier to allow the building process without proper verifications.

Later, talking with people Kristina was together in the subway car, it came up that most of them were comers from former soviet republics. And there was a connection between them which allowed them to talk about Russian-Estonian relationship. It was very important to know more or less Russian opinion about Estonia and it sadly corresponded with general disaffection. This means that the information is still filtrated and the conflict supported by both governments reminds of children rivalry: you punched me, I punch you back – n the media it is rather: „They told we were occupants, so we name them Nazis“.

To discuss the language issue

What surely does every Russian Estonian is discussing the necessity of Estonian language. It is quite an inappropriate question: why do I need Estonian language? We live in a country which language we are obligatory to speak. As Kristina’s classmate Sergei Schedrin said: if you have a brain, you should learn the language, but why should I? He (and many others) claims it unfair that some people in one country are more equal that others and therefore have a right to choose which additional language they want to learn (since nowadays Russian is optional). Russian-speakers in their turn have less variants because last 20 years Estonian is compulsory.

I doubt that the Estonian government will ever impose the second official language. It is clear that they want to preserve Estonian culture and language since there is dangerously small amount of Estonian-speakers with a tendency to reducing. Thereof I won’t agree with the statement that everyone should choose voluntarily if they learn Estonian. Out of respect for our country, we should speak Estonian. However it would be fair and less-conflictive to make Russian a compulsory language at schools, not as language of 25% of Russian-speaking population but as one of the most spread languages in the world on a par with English and German. It all depends on how exactly you advertise your language (whether it is Estonian or Russian) for people to want to speak it, which I think will be impossible unless the Estonian government stops being so arrogant and proud of itself for downgrading the Russian minority (socially).

Birthplace VS Homeland: to decide which is more important

The question of Home appears in every person’s life. If an Estonian can easily name Estonia the homeland, Russian Estonian wonders about the specificity, I guess. The episode with Kristina’s extended relative nudges about the influence of a birthplace and dedication to it in memories (as the woman strictly claimed she was Estonian), but still home is there where one’s heart is. Her heart belonged to Moscow.
From the episode of the conversation with Kristina’s other classmates, it came clear that many of them are starting to consider Estonia their home which occurs to them only with time. In my opinion, the fact that Sergei Schedrin wants to return to Estonia means that he chooses the closest variant of the home and family he has at the moment. When he starts his own family, it will be more fractional and therefore sincere choice. That awaits me as well.

How difficult is to live in Estonia

This rhetorical question is not least discussed on the kitchen between all the habitants of Estonia despite the language, time, religion etcetera. Sergei Bai’s ironic song „Kui raske Eestis olla“, in my opinion, perfectly matches the video „The Pribalts“, though it was written a year later. I couldn’t say that Kristina was ironical in her video, no, she was quite serious and interested in finding the answer on the question why two nations of one country still conflict. However, it is foolish to try to resolve this pure and simple global disagreement. Thereof I would have put the song to the background and kept this habitual „kitchen talk“ as a part of our mentality.


All this was an endless talk of the contradiction between Estonian and Russian Estonians, each of whom saw the problem from their own perspective, not ready yet to cooperate.
What concerns the video itself, I would like to share my point of looking at the piece of art. In general, the author turns to be an abstract figure for me: when I see a painting I don’t think immediately about its creator. I think firstly of the image I’ve got, the impression I experience, I try to find a reason to explain my own „like-don’t-like“ scale. The creator doesn’t exist at that moment, it’s only the work that matters. Same thing happens with film directors: their indirect relation to the „first-hand“ picture on the screen doesn’t hit the eye and therefore escapes from my superficial attention.

Kristina Norman in her „The Pribalts“ is a rightfull creator for me because I can witness th process of creation of the video. I am aware of her participation and thereof accept herself, her motives and means of sharing her thoughts as one more source of affection on me.

In conclusion, I find this video a marvelous documentary example of Russian Estonians’ lives since it involves all aspects of problematical existence of cultural minorities. This is also a very good piece of Estonian video art and therefore of relational aesthetics since it supplied numerous „official“ and extra-curricular conversations considering national identity, political incapacity and ethnical mutual understanding.


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