Visual Art Exhibition   .   Freedom?  .   Special Projects

Mark Nash
on Kristina Norman
"After War," 2009

Kristina Norman’s Documentation of artist’s action on 9 May 2009 on the previous location of the Bronze Soldier monument in the Centre of Tallinn, is a simple video documentation of an action she performed in which she made a replica statue of a Soviet War Memorial, in gold-painted papier-maché rather than bronze. The statue had been removed from the Centre of Tallinn and relocated in a cemetery on the outskirts of the city as part of the programme of de-Russification that has preoccupied all the Baltic States in recent years. This was a provocative gesture given the violence that had erupted in Tallinn in 2007, when members of the Russian-speaking community rioted in response to the relocation of the original statue. This video is part of a larger installation ‘After-War’, which was shown in the Estonian pavilion in Venice this year. This elaborate installation documented the history of this former Soviet Republic and the ongoing tensions between nationalist and Russian-speaking Estonians. What is important about the work, and in particular the element in our exhibition, is that, unusually for work from the Baltic States, it refuses the dominant post-independence narratives of Estonian and Baltic victimhood and Russian aggression. Instead it implicitly exposes the need for reconciliation between the two communities.

As I write, Russian and European leaders have gathered in Gdansk to mark the 70th anniversary of the beginning of World War II – the Nazi invasion of Poland. Both the sacrifices of the Soviet Army as well as those of its civilians (over 20 million dead) are tied up in the ambivalent reactions to this statue: For some a symbol of heroic sacrifice, for others of imperial domination. By recasting the statue as a nobler figure (gold rather than bronze) but in such a fashion that it was easily transportable (both by the artist herself and subsequently by the police), the work rehearses the conflict of previous years, but at the same time disarms it through the work of mimicry, parody and (hopefully) understanding. As Alexander Astrov remarks, in his contribution to Norman’s Venice catalogue, the work ‘reminds us of Walter Benjamin’s famous call to respond to the aestheticisation of politics with the politicization of art.’[1]

M. N.

[1] Alexander Astrov ‘The work of politics in the age of technological reproducibility’ in Kristina Norman After War Catalogue of the Estonian exhibition at the 53rd International Art Exhibition - La Biennale de Venezia, Estonia: Centre for Contemporary Arts 2009 p 66.

Mark Nash (b. 1947, lives and works in London) is a professor, curator, and writer who is currently Head of the Department of Curating Contemporary Art at the Royal College of Art (London). His primary interests lie in film theory and film culture. As well as numerous essays, Nash has published books such as Screen Theory Culture (2007) and Frantz Fanon (2000 with Isaac Julien). His curatorial work includes co-curator of Documenta 11 (2002) and film curator of the Berlin Biennial (2004). His exhibition with Isaac Julien, Reimagining October, was shown at Calvert22 in London in 2009.

Venues Credits