September 2007 - September 2008

Project team: Maria Kristiina Soomre, Kädi Talvoja, Andres Kurg, Eha Komissarov

“Archives in Translation” is an experimental research project of the Kumu Art Museum made up of four exhibitions held from autumn 2007 to autumn 2008 and a catalogue of the exhibitions to be published in September 2008. The purpose of the project is to examine the artistic and political translations that passed through the Iron Curtain. The main objects of interest in “Archives in Translation” are not excellent close-to-the-original translations and loans in the form of certain concepts or works of art, but rather echoes (the parallels and “translation mistakes” emanating from similar values, meanings or imagery), the information lost in translation, which therefore obtained new contents.


1. Biennal of Venice as political translator, 13 September - 11 November 2007
Curator: Maria-Kristiina Soomre
Designer: Anton Koovit

The first exhibition from the series focuses on the cultural festival dedicated to cultural dissent in Eastern Europe that took place in Venice in November-December 1977. Naturally such an event – thirty days of fireworks, including exhibitions, discussions, seminars, concerts and film screenings – could not escape scandal, and not only on the East-West axis. The goal of the exhibition at the Kumu Art Museum is to reopen the discussion about dissent and the various interpretations of East Europe's cultural heritage in today's context.

2. Virtual Documenta, 22 November 2007 - 24 February 2008

Curator: Eha Komissarov

In 1955, in Kassel, Germany, the first series of exhibitions under the title documenta was opened, and by today, this event is known as the leading forum of contemporary art in the world, taking place in every five years. In the years 1955–2007, twelve documentas have been organised and all of them have earned a place in the history of art as the exhibitions that have influenced the development of contemporary Western art to the greatest extent.
Soviet Estonia was naturally left aside from this central international forum of avant-garde art, and nowhere in the vast territory of the Soviet Union can we find information on the documentas having taken place.

Estonia's cooperation with documenta has only just begun. We took part in a satellite project called documenta 12 magazines, which offered a selection of contemporary art magazines, including, in the framework of documenta 12 events.

Within the series Archives in Translation, Kumu generates a virtual archive introducing the activities of documenta and the participating artists. The volume of documenta discourse forces us to make choices. Virtual documenta in Kumu is based on the overviews of the exhibitions, on printed material, video and audio recordings, and interviews dealing with the issues of modern art. Our archive would be the starting point for events introducing avant-garde art, and the exhibition pays particular attention to documenta 5, which has become a legend that influences contemporary art to this day.

3. Workshop of “Free Art” in Moscow, 1957. 7 March - 25 May 2008

Curator: Kädi Talvoja
Designer: Laura Kõiv

The 6th World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow in 1957 was one of the first massive worldwide events in the Soviet Union in the post-Stalin era. It was visited by more than 34000 young people from 130 countries.

Besides official cultural programs, numerous sporadic meetings and events took place. In art history, one of these has been recorded: a demonstration of action painting by Harry Colman, Jackson Pollock’s devoted follower. A young artist from Tartu, Lola Liivat-Makarova, as well as several artists from Moscow, including Oskar Rabin, Vladimir Namuhhin, Lidia Masterkova etc, are said to have been “converted” to abstractionism after that event.

The main aim of the exhibition is to research the background of that historical “slip” through archive materials, documentations and recollections.

4. Concept of Play, 4 July - 28 September 2008 

Curator: Anu Allas
Designer: Raul Kalvo

The exhibition “Concept of Play” mainly concentrates on the period from the late 1960s until the early 1970s, which saw both the culmination of different revolutionary ideas that had matured among Western students in the previous decade, and a sense of liberation in the Eastern Block countries. However, political events immediately caused repercussions, a turning point in hopes and attitudes.

Besides the short-lived wave of happenings that emerged in Estonian art during the period, this exhibition also introduces some of the phenomena that ran parallel to the local actions, their probable examples and more indirect analogues in Eastern European and Western art. Back then Michael Kirby’s book “Happenings” (1965) was passed from hand to hand among Estonian artists, young musicians brought new impulses and ideas from the music festival “Warsaw Autumn” and artists read articles about the happenings by Allan Kaprow and others in Polish and Czech magazines, and tried to organise something similar. Naturally, the result was different from Western action art, in its social context and resonance, but often in its subject matter too.

In the second half of the 1960s a whole new range of phenomena appeared in Estonian culture: in addition to happenings, Pop Art emerged, an intensive discussion over Existentialism arose at the same time and hippie ideology spread in its own way. When they merged and accumulated, many ideas – the concept of “free play” among them – no longer had a unitary source nor a unitary meaning. Many artists have admitted that even they didn’t take their happenings quite seriously, yet there was still a need for them – to create a certain realm of personal freedom, to let off steam, to touch the borders or to digest the information coming from the West. In spite of several differences between Estonian artists and the Western art that stands against objects and institutionalisation, they still shared a rather similar wish to find a new and more accurate definition for the role and possibilities of both themselves as artists and their work.

Parallel to artists’ actions, the concepts of “play” and “playing” were also intensively treated in Estonian theatre – more precisely, in the stagings within the so-called Tartu theatre innovation of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The important difference between artistic and theatrical plays mainly consisted of different emphases. In the first case, playing primarily meant a sharper perception of the surroundings, shifting the everyday life rhythm or environment, and playing with objects, whereas in the latter case it concentrated on people and ridding them of their masks. Nevertheless, both branches eventually sought a similar result: greater “authenticity”, spontaneity, and a stronger sense of reality and contact with the surrounding world.