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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Short-Circuit to Idiocy

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Icelandic artist Snorri Ásmundsson recently distributed a video on YouTube, that has since been publicized through most Icelandic-speaking news media. In the video, Snorri sings the Israeli national hymn, Hatikvah, in Hebrew. It seems objectively safe to say that the artist sings it badly: the unimpressive singing seems to be a deliberate part of the piece. The music was arranged and produced by Futuregrapher, while Marteinn Þórsson handled cinematography and editing. All that work is professional enough to be uninteresting compared with the video’s content. Ingredients The video starts with a close-up of a woman wearing a hijab or a

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A Constant Chorus Of Little Fuck Yous

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It’s fairly safe to assume that C-O-N-T-I-N-U-A-T-I-O-N, Peter Liversidge’s exhibition at i8, will only be comprised of a portion of what the artist originally intended to showcase. This is due to the introduction of an unwilling collaborator, namely the postal service. In fact, according to the artist, he’s only had about 70% success rate on his postal pieces. Said postal pieces are a collection of objects Peter sends individually via post to their intended destination, and whilst a 70% success rate is quite miserable, it’s entirely likely that the Icelandic postal service will be even less enthusiastic about this collaboration.

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Blue Sky Thinking

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Deciding on a finale for a festival whose theme is ‘art as a living process’ must have been something of a challenge. What could be a fitting work that’s at once suitably celebratory and attention-grabbing, and yet ephemeral, temporary or open-ended?  Enter young Icelandic artist Ragnheiður Harpa Leifsdóttir, whose practise fortuitously engages with all of these aspects at once. Her 2012 installation “Together We Are Nobody,” a collaboration with fellow artist Ragnheiður Maísól at Kaffistofan, used confetti, paper crowns and childhood toys to evoke a feeling of shared experience, remembrance and celebration. An ambitious theatrical piece entitled “The Void: A

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A Bunch Of Great People Doing Great Stuff

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Guðrún Lilja Gunnlaugsdóttir In Your Hands: three-dimensional creation and technique The theme of this year’s Reykjavik Arts Festival is “Not Finished”, referring to the continual nature of the artistic process. That said, how do you know when a work is finished? Work is a continuous circle. You can always make improvements, add knowledge, or ask more questions. You might decide to end a project for some reason but that doesnít mean it is finished. Can you describe your project/exhibition/performance in seven words or less? Creative minds, visual process, uncertain outcome. (Or: A bunch of great people doing stuff). Are there

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Not Finished

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Nestled between two fancy restaurants on Lækjargata is an impressive white house that overlooks the town pond, with a castellated tower called “Gimli.” It´s oddly discreet for such a grand building, semi-obscured by trees, and marked only with a small silver plaque. But it´s not another upmarket eatery – its the warren of white-cube offices that house the Reykjavík Arts Festival Team. The festival director Hanna Styrmisdóttir arrives at just the same time as I do, smiling and offering a whistle-stop tour of the building’s rooms and hallways, many of which are adorned with photographs of performances that have taken

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Not For The Faint-Hearted

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While conformity isn’t what typically comes to mind when thinking of contemporary Icelandic designers, Akureyri’s Jónborg Sigurðardóttir took unconventional to another level, once again, with Flóðbylgja (`Tsunami’), her latest art installation that was displayed at Ketilhúsið from March 1 through April 6. Flóðbylgja is a reflection on over-consumption and our object-glorifying society. Intrigued by the exhibition’s promotional self-portrait (which she entitled `Jonna Crowned With Trash,’ for the sake of this interview), I got in touch with Jónborg and luckily she was passing through Reykjavík and could answer some of my questions. A Thoughtful Maverick “Everybody knows who I am in

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