As a person who is active in the visual arts and documentary filmmaking, I am investigating my immediate surroundings and also intervening in them. I’m from a country where the past strongly affects the present. The aftermath of World War II, or The Great Patriotic War as it is known in Russia, is interpreted in two different ways in Estonia: the Estonian majority and the Russian minority form two separate ‘memory collectives’, and I position myself between the two due to my mixed background.
After-War is a case study of the conflict surrounding the Bronze Soldier monument in Tallinn. The statue from 1947 that marked the grave of Red Army soldiers became a constant source of conflict in re-independent Estonia. For most Estonians it is a symbol of Soviet occupation and repression, mass deportations, etc. For many Russians it symbolizes victory over Nazism, and ultimately became a positive signifier of their Russian identity in Estonia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The conflict that had been simmering beneath the surface of Estonian society suddenly erupted in late April 2007. Amidst growing tensions, the Estonian government relocated the Bronze Soldier from its quite prominent location in the centre of Tallinn to a military cemetery 2.5 km away. It could be, the intention of this act was to make the local Russian community, whose many members are deprived of the opportunity to affect their lives politically, and who almost constitute a separate culture (with the statue of the mourning soldier at its centre), invisible for Estonians. This symbolic act of marginalization carried out by those in power was followed by two nights of rioting in the streets of Tallinn. According to the media, it all ended as a successful police operation, and the government won the media war at the international level as well. The Russian population in Estonia was said to have shown its ‘real face’ – that is, the defenders of the monument turned out to be mere criminals and nothing more.
Two years after these events – on 9 May 2009, the day when many Russian people traditionally celebrate Victory Day, thus making their cultural identity visible – I brought a full-size golden replica of the sculpture to its former location, which still remains a sacred place, although the government claims it is now profane. With this act I visualized my argument that although the upstaged problems surrounding the Bronze Soldier and the drama of its relocation are now neatly tucked away and removed from the public space, they nevertheless continue to exist and they should be dealt with.
If ‘after-party’ is something that follows the ‘official event’, then After-War is an art research project, a participatory experiment and an intervention through which I am trying to create a possibility for more tolerant approaches to history between official historical writings. By not choosing a historical ‘truth’ from either of the confrontational ‘memory collectives’, I am asking uncomfortable questions regarding democracy, tolerance, xenophobia and fear.
After-War is a comprehensive installation environment where the same symbol (i.e. the Bronze Soldier) is represented in five different keys and contexts. Although it seems that the case of the Bronze Soldier orbits around a single monument, for me it rather serves as a pretext for decoding existing cultural practises and casting doubt on the rhetoric of (historical) winners and losers.
Estonian Pavilion 53rd International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia
After-War Kristina Norman
June 7- November 22, 2009 Palazzo Malipiero, San Marco 3079, Venezia
Kristina Norman's project After-War will represent Estonia at the 53rd International Art Exhibition, La Biennale di Venezia. The exposition at the Estonian Pavilion is curated by Marco Laimre and commissioned by the Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia.
Kristina Norman belongs to the generation that entered the art scene in the '00s. She deals with political, provocative, documentary and research-based art. Norman's work is highly context-centred and has grown from her immediate surroundings. After-War is a comprehensive installation environment comprised of videos, photographs and objects in five separate spaces.
The installation is based on a specific event and the issues surrounding it that must be regarded as the most traumatic event in Estonian society since the restoration of independence in 1991, and one which aroused the most public discussion.
In April 2007, the Estonian government removed a monument commonly referred to as the "Bronze Soldier" from a prominent place in the centre of Tallinn, where it had stood since 1947. The memorial, officially called "The Monument to the Liberators of Tallinn", was dedicated to the Red Army soldiers who fell during what in Russia is known as The Great Patriotic War (WWII), but for most Estonians this memorial was a symbol of Soviet occupation. The monument was removed from its original site and relocated 2.5 km away at the military cemetery. The original location was then planted with low shrubs and flowers as if there had never been a monument there. This "psycho-geographical" manoeuvre carried out by the Estonian government provoked protest by the Russian-speaking community and was followed by two nights of rioting on the streets of Tallinn. Using the concept of a memory community, Kristina Norman describes and analyses past events and proposes subsequent cultural practice. The title of the work After-War is a reference to the idea that the war is over, but the conflict still continues.
Kristina Norman (1979, works and lives in Tallinn): Kristina Norman has studied at the Estonian Academy of Arts and worked as an art teacher. She is currently working on a feature-length documentary film about the makers of the monument to the Estonian War of Independence. Since 2006, she has participated in international exhibitions and festivals: in 2006 she represented Estonia at the Modern Art Oxford in Arrivals - Art from the New Europe with her documentary film The Pribalts; in 2007 she took part in the Biennale of Young Artists, Tallinn with an experimental documentary film, Monolith; in 2008 she was included in the 5th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art with a pseudo documentary film titled The Field of Genius.
Marco Laimre (1968, works and lives in Tallinn): Since 1994 Marco Laimre has worked as an artist and curator. Since 2005, he has worked at the Estonian Academy of Arts as professor of photography, and since 2006, has been a member of the board of the Estonian Museum of Contemporary Art.
Organizers: Curator: Marco Laimre Commissioner: Johannes Saar, head of the Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia Deputy Commissioner: Elin Kard, Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia Exhibition team: Art Allmägi, Andres Amos, Andris Brinkmanis, Edith Karlson, Jass Kaselaan, Raul Keller, Meelis Muhu, Jaak Soans, Taivo Timmusk, Reimo Võsa-Tangsoo
Publication: The exhibition is accompanied by a substantial catalogue with texts illustrated by the artist. In this publication, the After-War project and the conflict surrounding the monument are discussed by Alexander Astrov, philosopher and lecturer in International Relations and European Studies at the CEU; Airi Triisberg, cultural theorist; Andres Kurg, architectural theorist; Marco Laimre and Kristina Norman.