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A beginner´s guide to Estonian culture

Published December 3, 2004

DARKNESS IN TALLINN by Ilkka Jarvi-Laturi
“What do we do now that we’re free?”
”I don’t know, go to work as always.”
The scene shows two working men discussing the benefits of freedom in the first film made in Estonia after independence. The story´s premise is a heist to highjack Estonia’s gold reserves upon their return to the country after independence from the Soviet Union. Directed by a Finn in 1993, it has a healthy dose of Tarantino but manages to convey a very Baltic atmosphere, and the gangsters Russianness makes them particularly menacing at a time before this became a cliché.
The protagonist is a man named Toivo, an electrical engineer assigned to black out the city during the heist. He initially takes part because the money will buy a lot of baby food, but then suffers a crisis of conscience. Despite a disappointingly upbeat ending, the film still manages to capture the hopes and disappointments of post-Soviet Estonia. And the gimmick of shooting the first half in black and white and then switching to colour as the lights go on is simply stunning. Darkness in Tallinn is available at video rentals such as Aðalvideóleigan at Klapparstígur and Toppmyndir at Sólvallagata 27 and Aðalvideóleigan at Klapparstígur 37.

The Czar´s Madman by Jaan Kross
The writer Jan Kross was born in 1920, the same year that Estonia first achieved independence. During the Second World War, he was arrested first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets for being an Estonian patriot. Upon returning from the Gulag in 1954 he became a professional writer. His novels are usually historical and often deal with the struggle of Estonians against Baltic Germans, a metaphor for Estonia´s struggle against the Soviet Union. The Czar´s Madman is perhaps his best known work. Set in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, it is a sort of historical 1984, where the only sane person in society is classified as a madman for his opposition to an unjust regime. But the fact that the book describes a society that has existed (and in the form of the Soviet Union still existed at the time) makes the prospect even more chilling than in Orwell´s dystopia. The Czar´s Madman has been translated into English by Anselm Hollo, published by Pantheon, and into Icelandic by Hjörtur Pálsson, published by Hólar.

Saatus by Kirile Loo
What will become of the nestlings?
One became the sun above the earth
The other the star in the sky
The third the headland in the field
The fourth the name of the meacow
Thousands of years before Björk´s primal masterpiece Medúlla, the Balto-Finnic cultures sang about the origins of the earth in runic verse. The runic songs were written in the Balto-Finnic proto language, before it branched out into different languages such as Finnish, Estonian and Karelian. The songs were ever-changing and were to some extent overtaken by folk songs written by the national poets of the 19th Century. But the form still exists, and perhaps is not all that different from its original version in the first millennium BC. One of the foremost interpreters of the Kalevala meter is Kirile Loo. She grew up with her grandmother in a village with no electricity, and learnt to sing from her grandmother before moving on to the Tallinn School of Music. Saatus, her 1997 album features such instruments as the kannel, the oldest Estonian string instrument. According to tradition, God made the kannel and the Devil made the bagpipes. Most non-Scots would be inclined to agree. Lobby our local record store for this or order it online.



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Microphonic Body Machine

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Ekeberg Park, Oslo: The September sun reflects in yellow leaves. Angela Rawlings and her colleagues reach the centre of the posh sculpture-park: a forest of glass. The walls capture, care for, and feed back the voice of Angela and a partner in crime, Elfi Sverdrup, transforming a gentle acoustic test into what Angela herself calls “an unanticipated partnership.” And what a partner Angela makes; the 2001 recipient of the bpNichol Award for Distinction in Writing, an award winning poet, a much sought after arts educator; of creative writing, ballroom-, swing-, and salsa dancing—and a producer of festivals, magazines, magical soundworks, plus so

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Dancers In The Dark

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A funky bassline is bumping out of KEX Hostel as I walk up to its patio. As I pass the window, I hear the horns and lyrics of Janelle Monáe’s “Tightrope.” I picture her smooth moves in the song’s music video and I already feel like dancing. Once inside, I duck quickly through the door into Gym & Tonic, trying to let in as little light as possible in the process. No lights, no lycra, no lies: it is pitch black when the door closes. (I can’t actually confirm that there is no spandex, but I certainly can’t see any.)

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Breathing Life Into Arts Education

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With university becoming more expensive in many parts of the world, mainstream education tends to lean towards the former, feeding the idea that higher qualifications should serve first and foremost as a path to economic security rather than to an enlightened viewpoint. The “university experience” has come to mean both a kind of holiday camp for young adults to begin establishing themselves away from their family, and a programme of economically motivated and vocational-minded learning. Education, cast in such stark terms, can be seen as an investment to be weighed against future earning potential. Of course, not everyone sees it

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Pop Vomit

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On the wall of a dark room in Reykjavík’s Hafnarhusið art museum, a stream of brightly coloured icons is fizzing out of the ground. Triggered by the tiniest sound, they erupt onto the wall at every footstep or word, tumbling into a huge pile and bobbing around like Pop Art Cheerios. Some are familiar, some are less so–classic cartoon characters wobble around alongside unfamiliar product logos and Chinese lettering. “This idea originated in Singapore,” says Mojoko, a.k.a. Steve Lawler, who works with programmer Shang Liang on the project. “It was designed for a children’s exhibition at a museum. We were

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Banksy In Iceland?

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Banksy may have been to Iceland. A while ago. And he may have left a mark or two. This has not been verified, but whoever did the stencil accompanying this article would in any case surely acknowledge being under the distinguished anonymous British street-artist’s influence. We will leave it up to readers to figure out exactly where this is. The photo was taken by Claudia Regina, in 2012. Apparently, one Graham Lloyd also spotted the piece in 2012. Locals seem to have discovered the artwork more recently, as images shot this summer have started circulating on social media. Also in

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Urbanization On Paper: A European Narrative

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Spark Design Space has a clean minimalist facade, a welcome place to rest your eyes next to the garishly painted corrugated tin front of its neighbour Kiki. The large glass windows show the dozens of posters tiled on the back walls of the building, each in a different colour and arranged to make a gradient from purple to red to orange to green in more subtle counterpoint to Kiki’s unsubtle rainbow. The posters are Paolo Gianfrancesco’s print show `Urban Shape,’ up now until September 26. Each one is a map of a different European capital, derived from the open source

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