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Estonian artists address challenges of the digital era.

TALLINN -- The Estonian Centre of Architecture hosted in Estonian capital Tallinn a conference about art in the era of digital capitalism and challenges it faces. The gathering tackled a range of hot issues that art is facing today like the role it should undertake with digital technologies gaining momentum. The discussions were moderated by the non-profit Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia (CCA), which was founded with the support of the Hungro-American philanthropist George Soros in 1992.

Eleven panelists, including activists, students, academics, artists, and members of institution, debated the significance of art in the digital era with almost hundred people in attendance.

"My message is to allow us to reflect and discuss publicly without being afraid of failure or criticism. When things are discussed in a public forum it creates much more solidarity" Maria Arusoo, CCA director, told The Baltic Times. "The art market has always been part of the art field ... It's the roots of the same tree ... It has quite a big power, which means that it has also depoliticised and customised the political art for the market. What we want to question is whether art can function in the market economy?"

French curator Gregory Castera stated that the issue of art depends on the point of view one adopts. "It is as if referring to the example of the elephant and the blind men--a group of blind people touch an elephant to learn what it looks like, and each one feels a different part of the animal," he said.

Two Estonian artists, Sandra Jogeva and Katja Novitskova, came to share their own experiences.

Novitskova, whose artistic work focuses on the structures of socioeconomics and infrastructural realities of today's world, creates masterpieces the underlying theme of which is the digital economy. Her work takes her to YouTube and minors in Kazakhstan, who build the computers and cables for the Internet.

"I translate the social issues in my work in a more poetic way than a politician does. I'm not a journalist, I'm not an activist, I'm making poetic statements about the world today" she told The Baltic Times. "I haven't lived in Estonia for a long time; as my endeavours took me to western Europe, Netherlands, and Germany I'm part of the so-called 'brain drain emigration.' Now I'm trying to come back," she confessed.

She says Estonia has quite a good system of culture, but most of the art institutions are in a very precarious state.

"You can apply for production, but you can't apply for salaries quite often," Arusoo summarised.

The other Estonian artist, Jogeva, who is also a documentary film director, performed a breathtaking and sophisticated one-man-show during the conference. She presented a "business plan" to become a rich artist. It involved pictures of her in a dominatrix costume and collecting gossip. Some people in the audience would burst into laughter upon seeing it.

Jogeva says that "lack of money" is a problem but commercialism of art is definitely not the problem.

"Art has become quite marginal in Estonia. This is the challenge most Estonian artists have to face. There are not radio programmers about art, most newspapers don't have any art editors," she pointed out.

Maria-Kristiina Soomre, adviser of visual arts in the Estonian Ministry of culture, could not hold back her emotion.

"Estonia is a small country with tough budget issues," she explained to The Baltic Times. "Although the Ministry spends a lot on culture, it's not enough."

Ilga Temnikova, a gallerist, noted that Estonian galleries enjoy relatively "low rents and low fees," which means less pressure for gallery owners to generate margins.

"There is also European funding which covers almost 50 to 70 per cent of the costs of our art fair presentations," she explained. "It keeps us going. Otherwise we wouldn't be able to show Estonian art internationally."

The conference shed some light upon challenges looming ahead, such as the interdependence between the art market and global economy. Cognizant of that, the Estonian Contemporary Art Development Center (ECADC), a non profit umbrella organisation, strives "to build the bridge between

the local art scene and the global field," Kadri Laas, a project manager of the ECADC, asserted.

The panellists also emphasised the importance of giving an incentive to the public to visit museums and exhibitions; as the Marxist Italian professor Franco Berardi put it: "What can we do when nothing can be done?"

Ironically, the paradoxical-sounding question could perhaps sum up all the topics permeating the conference. As well as the unuttered conclusion: digital technologies have jeopardised art globally and therefore the issue requires more cohesiveness between nations. The Cosmopolitan Tallinn Art Conference has given that a good start.
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Title Annotation:BALTICS
Author:Laperrousaz, Geoffrey
Publication:The Baltic Times (Riga, Latvia)
Geographic Code:4EXES
Date:May 19, 2016
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