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Temnikova & Kasela

Noblessner, Kai Art Center building – Peetri 12, 10415, Tallinn, Estonia, +372 6405770, TuesdaySunday 128 pm, or by appointment. Instagram, Facebook. Gallery's

Gallery Artists > Kaarel Kurismaa

Kaarel Kurismaa

Kaarel Kurismaa (born 13 May 1939, Estonia) is the first and most important sound art and sound installation artist in Estonia whose work also expands to the field of painting, animation, public space monumental art, stage installations. In Estonian art history, Kurismaa’s significance lies mostly in the pioneering work with kinetic art and with keeping its traditions alive. Kurismaa stands as one of Estonian sound art scene’s central icons. His idiosyncratic work serves as a foundation for Estonian sound and kinetic art.

Kurismaa was born in Pärnu, but his family soon moved to the capital, Tallinn, where his parents opened a bakery. He was creatively very active from early on, taking part of school orchestra and spending time drawing absurdist comics.

When Kurismaa was not accepted to the music school in 1957 in Tallinn, he decided to enroll in the Tartu Art School. In 1965, Kurismaa started to work as an artist-decorator for the Tallinn Department Store while also commencing studies in monumental painting at the State Art Institute. Work at the Tallinn Department Store (opened in 1960, brand name Tallinna Kaubamaja) offered a variety of ways to experiment with readymade materials and forms, as well as oppurtunity to exhibit his works in the department store’s exhibitions. His first kinetic object stems from the year 1966 and is also the first kinetic object in Estonian art history. It has not survived, but was comprised of fireplace grid and several kitchen utensils.

His oeuvre combines sound, music, sculpture, painting, literature, drama, monumental art and design in various ways. Kurismaa preferred materials like plastic and wood, he liked to reuse furniture details or shapes and boards from construction factories – the very limited outlet of the Soviet time consumer possibilities made all artists very creative in finding the right materials for their artworks, so in the case of Kurismaa. He mostly worked with round, streamlined and exuberant forms – there is hardly any angular geometry apparent in Kurismaa’s works. There is no doubt that popart has strongly influenced Kurismaa’s works in the 70s.

Kaarel Kurismaa and his objects also play a role in the history of Estonian new music as in the 1970s he collaborated with the cult progressive rock group Mess. Kurismaa has admitted that Finnish television allowed the locals to get an inkling of what was happening in the rest of the world and what else was being done on stage besides playing music. He has recalled a show by Electric Light Orchestra and performances by the jazz rock band Mahavishnu Orchestra – both these groups were established in the early 1970s. Kurismaa was responsible for the stage setting, which consisted of various objects, a light show and photo slides, which enhanced the impact of Mess’s music at concerts and turned their performances nearly ritualistic. Art critics have always looked at Kurismaa’s objects in exhibition context and described them with certain clichés, Mess’s music, however, created a completely different cognitive atmosphere around Kurismaa’s objects.

When the wave of avant-garde died down in the late 1970s, Kurismaa’s priorities also changed. At the beginning of the new decade, he focused on animated children films, then came commissions for a number of objects for public spaces, such as the Tallinn central post office and the sculpture for the High-voltage Networks of Region North. He was able to realise close to 10 kinetic and/or sound objects for public spaces during the 80s, though all of them have been demolished or lost. This decade was also very fruitful in terms of his painting.

The 1990s saw a new awakening and a significant turn in Kurismaa’s creative life. Once again, he focused on sound, even more so than he had in the 1970s. The aesthetic paradigm of his sound objects also altered; the creation of site-specific sound sculptures and installations. He left aside small objects furtively snuffling in the corners and their soul landscapes, and started to actively interfere with the space with both visual and acoustic means.

Text by Ragne Soosalu