There were many things going on in the culture center while I stayed there outside of people working and creating art in their studios. Things such as
Global container exhibition, Dubstep event, Chillout jam space in the roof garden, AV event, Rock concert put on by the bikie gang next door, Anarchist convention, Sauna parties, dinners and bbqs.
Doing a visual arts residency there exposed me to several things
What Estonia is like
– Many people speak very good english as there is a community of Russian-Estonian’s who don’t speak Estonian but just Russian and English. This means that sometimes the only way Estonians and Russian-Estonians can communicate is through English. Quite different to the other Baltic states as many people don’t speak very good English.
– Has quite a lot of foreigners who work in the arts living there. The co-founders of a similar arts centre Ptarmigan are English and American, and several of the long term residents of Polymer are American also
– Quite a lot of the other short term residents staying at Polymer were Australian and American. The Estonians support this as in communist times they were not allowed to travel abroad and saw this as very restrictive. They want to have an international presence in the culture centre.
– The sense of community is very strong. Although the place is no longer communist I do not believe it operates under a truly capitalist structure. It is a version of quite socialist capitalism where people are concerned about the welfare of others. Also some of the key services like public transport though under a capitalist system now people are expected to pay for many people don’t and it’s not really enforced as a history of the communist era. Coming from London where the cost of transport is exorbitant this seemed quite noticeable to me
– Estonia has only had its independent since the 90’s and is still in the process of opening up to the west. It seems to be quite modern and more sophisticated than the other Baltic states, Latvia and Lithuania. It is also a lot closer in proximity to Finland and the Scandinavian places.
– The Estonian people are very gentle overall and not quickly tempered or angry. Coping with the climate and surviving in harsh conditions seems to take the largest concern over petty disputes between people.
– Spending time in Estonia it’s hard to believe that it has such high rates of HIV, prostitution and Tuberculosis per capita. I didn’t see any of this however I think I was somewhat protected from this by being a westerner and staying in the culture factory. I saw some of the inland towns Tartu, which is a university town where everything seemed fine. However didn’t spend time in some of the other smaller towns or the Russian-Estonian districts where these problems are meant to be the largest.
– The young Russian-Estonians that I met seemed very cool, wore excellent alternative fashion, and seemed sophisticated. Again I’m not sure if these were just the ones I was meeting though the culture centre or not but it was very hard to believe that these were the young people were the HIV was circulating the most. They seemed open to alternative ideas, fashion, culture and could match any underground culture in Australia with style and knowledge. Someone mentioned that perhaps because they were born in a displaced culturally and marginalised it meant that they were open to seeing a different way of living?
– The fashion in Estonia has to be some of the best I’ve seen in Europe so far. They don’t subscribe to being a poor version of European mainstream tread but have developed their own.
– The Estonians are very pagan and defiantly not hugely Christian or religious. Apparently Estonia was one of the last places that Christianity went and the people there did not subscribe to it very much.
– Live performance art is very strong and though they might not have the same access to resources that we do in the west contemporary art still gets made and is rich with culture.
Reflections on my practice whilst being in Estonia
– Don’t be a perfectionist. It is better to carry on and complete a project rather than getting caught up in details as by finishing a project you will learn so much in the process
– Make art not craft. Using digital tools and a lot of software can make my work appear glossy and aesthetic, but the difference between contemporary art and design rests in the ideas and concepts being explored. Don’t compromise concepts for aesthetic decisions or the work will become just another well executed piece of craft
– I believe a successful project is comprised of three things; the concept, the creative output, and being able to communicate about it. Its pretty important to be able to talk about the ideas you have been working on as well as write about them. I don’t think its just about coming up with a good concept and making a piece of work, at least its not for me