Translated by Merli Kirsimäe, proofread by Philip Matesic
INTRODUCTION OR THE DEATH OF EFFORT
One of Triin Tamm’s first works was a clumsy lump of Blu-Tack with the words The Death of Effort (2008) stamped on it. Blu-Tack is material often used for fixing things onto walls. Its reincarnation as a work of art indicates that the artist is interested in space, where besides clumsiness (a lump of Blu-Tack moulded in hand) there is also room to play around with perfection (the stamped words), associations (the achievement to put up your works and also the failure of that effort) and incoherency (well, but really, how is it all connected after all?).
Triin Tamm (b. 1982) entered the food chain of the art world backwards, starting her career with a retrospective at OUI - Centre for Contemporary Arts, Grenoble in 2009. For the retrospective the artist brought out all the works specially made for the exhibition as well as proposals for future works, which in a way were realised in the publication that accompanied the exhibition, or rather, in its deconstructed catalogue. This, at the same time, gave the artist 192 pages in addition to the gallery space, and a chance to gather together even the most curious of her works – abracadabra performances, very-difficult-to-understand objects and sculptures, typographic exercises and unexpected pieces of advice on subjects such as “How to Mix Grey”, etc. Margus Tamm (!) writes here on the Artishok blog about Triin Tamm’s work: “the hectic photo material about “the artist’s life and work” that lacks clear connections, does not give the usual smart overlook, but does it in a different way, offering fragments of the author’s psychogeography”.1
Also while preparing the Retrospective, Tamm did not try to hide any steps or activities that she needed to take to set up the exhibition in the space, on the contrary – she wrote them on the walls as reminders to the viewers. The list included practical guidelines, some rather obvious in setting up an exhibition, such as “repaint the walls, wash the floor, bring works Tuesday afternoon”, but also a bit more playful reminders like “don’t wake up too late, fold table stabilizers, don’t wake up too early, don’t forget anything, if necessary make more works” and “send more clichés from Estonia”.2
COLLECTED WORKS OR CONTAINERS AND GENERATORS
The Retrospective catalogue represents the very important line of generators, containers in Tamm’s work. Leafing through the book, one gets tempted to take it as a nonstandard ordering catalogue, where the artist supplies the audience with all sorts of peculiar art and widespread truths about how it could be categorized. Still, the work remains immaterial enough, as do its torn covers, which in turn were converted into a conceptual donation Collected Work (2011), made especially for the EKKM (Museum of Contemporary Art of Estonia) and the exhibition Museum files I: Collected Principles. This retrospective of Retrospective covers, arranged festively in a glass case, was made out of the torn covers of 400 published books in a shrink wrapping. Marcel Broodthaers’s first work Pense-Bête (1964) comes to mind - a glass case exhibiting 44 unsold copies of his same-titled poetry book, which had all been partly cast in plaster.
In the exhibition Next to Nothing (2010) in the CAME, Tamm has taken an interest in interpreting conceptual art without knowing its exact context. Seth Siegelaub’s group exhibition in the form of a conceptual photocopy book The Xerox Book (1968) offered 7 artists a fixed number of standard A4 pages and a photocopier to work with. By standardising the conditions of work process, the curator wished to bring out the differences in each artist’s project and also as a way to better understand their work. Tamm’s idea of reenacting The Xerox Book as an audio book already seems like an absurd undertaking, but what will be left of the original work if it is “read” from scratch, like the radio newsreader Tõnu Karjatse does it? Martin Rünk finds that “by describing these visually minimal projects, he adjusts his interpretation by every page and thus nicely communicates the analysis process of a person, who has an empathic rather than a professional approach to art.”3
In the case of A Stack of Books as well as A Book of Stacks (2011) this is exactly what the artist claims it to be – stacks of books compiled of the copies of a book that gathers together different books about unusual, invented and secret languages. Robert Morris’ The Box with A Sound of its Own Making (1961) comes to mind.
Retrospective was not the last time for Tamm to do things in the wrong order. The admirable object Last Step First (2009) is much more multilayered than it might at first seem. That tiny functional model of a sauna that does not only baffle you with its beautiful interior but also its miniature working stove, made after the Grenoble artists had built a life-size working copy of the Estonian Academy of Arts’ Tamse sauna, in Muhu Island, for the OUI Art Centre.
The Carousel Collection (2011- ongoing) is a travelling exhibition, which, by drawing attention to artists’ permanent cooperation, assembles and exhibits 35mm slides donated by different cultural workers. It reminds me of Robert Filliou and George Brecht’s idea Eternal Network (1968) - a model of cooperation where there are no boundaries between the artist and the audience, because both operate in the name of a common creation. Arranging together incompatible places, things, relationships and ideas, the Carousel Collection becomes a chameleon that is a at one time a travel guide from the past, at other - illustrations of a lecture - created by multitude, but presented as a whole.4
Triin Tamm’s Archeology of Things to Come (2009 - ongoing)5 is a database of collected sayings, titles, or out-of-context thoughts that have been given the chance to materialize as titles of exhibitions or works of art. The idea promotes reusing and creating new contexts around the titles of exhibitions or artworks that are already in use, but also the opportunity to start anew. Tamm’s database of titles can be viewed both as a collection of inspiring chaotic notes as well as a never-ending story. Oblique Strategies (1975)6 by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt comes to mind. Similarly to Eno, Tamm also adds titles according to need, as if playing a kind of intellectual Solitaire in which there is no single or successful solution. It also reminds me of Raymond Queneau’s 100 000 000 000 000 poems and a line from there: “Dear reader, smile, before your lips go numb”. All of Triin Tamm’s own works and exhibitions have gotten their titles from her database – sometimes selecting more randomly and other times more carefully. For example, her recently opened solo exhibition in the never before used Antwerp Objectif Exhibitions’ basement floor was given a title that figured both in the curator’s and the artist’s preferences.
COULDN’T, WASN’T, DIDN’T OR A BIRD IN THE HAND IS WORTH TWO IN THE BUSH
Objectif Exhibitions’ curator Chris Fitzpatrick writes in the exhibition’s press release that “Wasn’t There Yesterday (2012) is a fitting title, since she wasn’t there yesterday either”. He claims that “because of scheduling conflicts Tamm couldn’t go to Antwerp herself, but regretting her absence and having a common Estonian name, Tamm arranged for another Triin Tamm (living near Antwerp) to attend the opening in her place”. Fitzpatrick also mentions that “the title is not only a practicality, but also an issue of mediation and the impossibility of professional demands”.7
Tamm tries to do just as much as is needed, sometimes even less. For example, how to draw attention to an exhibition that never took place? The workbook Incomplet Material (Rollo Press, 2010) has been published for the exhibition German, French, Spanish & Many Others… that did not happen from 27/03 - 10/04/2010 at Corner College, Zürich. The workbook contains calligraphic exercises by the students of Kopli Art School in Tallinn, on the question “What would we like to study at school?” The youngsters mostly want to study art, design and architecture. However, more often than not, the question “why?” crops up and their dreams come across rather as a collection of philosophical haikus than a possible reality. Among many others, one sincere wish stands out: “At school we should learn frying dumplings and eating them, when the stomach sufficiently empty is, like at this moment.”
Unofficially and serendipitously, the artist also expresses her views on art education at the Estonian Academy of Arts’ (the EAA) 2010 graduate exhibition at the Telliskivi complex in Tallinn. The fact is that Tamm never studied at the EAA. Nevertheless she managed to hijack a small corner among the many architects’ booths where she exhibited her graduation work Models & Constructs, aka. 2 Cool 4 School, which consisted of a T-shirt with the words “Never Again” printed on it and instructional slides on composition found in the former building of the EAA. I am reminded of the book “Models & Constructs: margin notes to a design culture” (Hyphen Press, 1990) by designer, poet and teacher Norman Potter, which, in addition to the author’s comments on thinking and making, contains also his poems. Here it would be fitting to quote in the footnotes a few lines from his performance script In:quest of Icarus.8
There is nothing fixed for Triin Tamm, her unfixed schedule gives the opportunity for potential work but also for doing nothing. For Tamm, creating art has nothing to do with deadlines, nervousness, psychological tensions or collapsing from exhaustion. Therefore, her work Naked Life ( 2009) is a series of calendar pages left blank. Tamm is intrigued by distinguishing work from non-work, the substitute and side activities. Mladen Stilinović and his work Artist at Work (1978) comes to mind. But for Tamm, such idleness does not necessarily mean not creating art, but a hypothesis that nothing needs to be produced, if the conditions are not agreeable. Which in turn reminds me of Lawrence Wiener’s Declaration of Intent (1968).9 But be aware, Tamm’s often reproducible art works do exist, often in abundance.
THE LANDSCAPES OF THE INDETERMINABLE SURROGATE ARTIST
Margus Tamm writes, “with Retrospective it is very important that Triin Tamm is the album’s artist, designer and also the publisher and by undertaking the whole production process herself, she can avoid the disruption between Retrospective’s content and format”.10 It is indeed true that Tamm (Triin that is, although, who knows, maybe Margus as well) has adapted most of the roles available in the art world. Besides her involvement in different art projects, manoeuvres and minimal interventions, her practice also includes project management, publishing and with the recent Carousel Collection she has also taken on the roles of curator and collector. As Tamm can’t be everywhere at once, she is rarely alone in her work. Mirroring norms and standards, she borrows something from everyone, including herself.
So what exactly is the case with the uncertainty that Triin Tamm generates? In logics or mathematics, uncertainty is an answer to a question for which the exact answer cannot be found. Curator Stéphane Sauzedde points out, in the introduction to Retrospective, that “although Triin Tamm was born in the end of 20th century and is from Eastern Europe, she does not seem to have any primary residence, neither to belong to any scene.”11 The uncertainty associated with Tamm is what makes her practice, in the context of creative industries, so appealing. This ambiguity has a presence and at times is self-reflective, contemplative, reticent, gestural, collaborative, multi-layered – or something in between – she chooses not to say. This reminds me of an interview with the American writer David Foster Wallace where he responds to the idea of whether his work is rather “Realism” or “Metafiction”, by claiming it’s not really one or other, or both, but rather “if anything, it’s meta-the-difference-between-the-two.”12
Margit Säde Lehni is a freelance curator.
AB cubed is a preparatory essay series for the III Artishok Biennale where X young Baltic and Scandinavian writers have chosen for their gesture of courtesy X young Estonian artists who have caught their eye with a witty personal exhibition or an absorbing work of art in a group show in recent years. Artishok tests experimetal editorial practice and self-inititative readiness in the art field with the series, giving writers the opportunity to take the initiative - but also the responsibility - and do one chosen artist a favour. The writers do not receive honorary for their work whereas the suggested artists automatically get an invitation for participation in Artishok Biennale in the autumn. Read more...
2 cliché – a plate of relief printing
3 http://www.sirp.ee/index.php option=com_content&view=article&id=11035:koik-on-nii-nagu-enne-aga-miski-pole-enam-endine-&catid=6:kunst&Itemid=10&issue=3307
4 Chris Fitzpatrick, in conversation with, 2012
My boy, I think it’s time you learnt to fly.
Another lesson: how to survive, to live, and
be like me, a wise old bird. My secret? - work;
to learn the labyrinthine code; then play, my
son, to break it. And no short cuts in learning.
You see those feathers by your feet? - yes them
that you-know-who has dined on. Come on -
So what, you say. A mixed up kid? - too bad.
- developed late, and that.
And did I learn?
9 1. The artist may construct the piece. 2. The piece may be fabricated. 3. The piece need not be built.