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Kunstner på gjesteopphold: Jaanus Samma

Tallinn based artist Jaanus Samma (b. 1982) is currently visiting Tromsø Kunstforening as part of the Nordic-Baltic A-i-R artist in residency program.

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Samma is known for his queer themes, such as his 2015 project “Not Suitable for Work. A Chairman’s Tale”, a research based project into gay history in Estonia during the Soviet era. This work was presented at the Estonian Pavilion in the Venice Biennale, 2015. Samma works in a variation of media such as video, knitted sweaters (Sweaters), making a fictional opera (Chairman. The Opera, 2013). For the latter Samma was awarded the Köler Prize, Estonia’s most prestigious art prize, in 2013. The invitation by TKF is part of the institution’s continuing interest in the Northern European art scenes and is a continuation of Tallinn based artist and publisher Anu Vahtra’s residency in Tromsø in January 2017.

The Nordic-Baltic A-i-R program is a collaboration with Troms County Council

How would you describe your artistic practice for a wider audience, e.g. is it studio based, how important is research for your practice?

I usually start every project by doing research and mostly it’s a study on the historical background and context of the topic I am working on. But I like to collaborate or consult with people from different fields, because this enriches the project and the research behind it. This also makes it more interesting for myself, because I learn so many new things. I often collaborate with different craftsmen, because I don’t choose the medium for my projects on what I am able to do myself, but what I think would be best for that particular work.


Your project Sweaters, can you tell us more about your working process and details of the work, for example why sweaters, were the sweaters hand knitted or machine knitted, and why?

Sweaters is an ongoing project of hand-knitted sweaters the patterns of which are based on graffiti, mostly random drawings and scribblings referencing sexuality or gender, found in urban space. I had been photographing them for a while and wanted to do something with wool, so these two interests combined lead me to this project. The sweaters play with the notions of public and private space. Anonymous and often obscene images obtain different connotations when actually worn as sweaters. It becomes a personal statement and helps ridicule derogative messages like “Kaspar is a fag”. This is the essence of queering – embracing labels cast on you by others and turning it into something positive. Wearing a dick on your back is definitely a political statement, even just of non-conformism.
The sweaters are handknitted and they are all done with natural materials. I decided to make them by hand, because I love the idea that someone will put a lot of energy into something that was written or drawn in just a few seconds, it kind of turns all it into absurdity.

From your point of view, what is the need for queer perspective in contemporary art?

I feel strongly that it is important to have different voices and diversity in the field of contemporary art. But in the end, it comes down to working with passion: everyone should deal with topics that they find interesting and relevant. And for me, at this moment, these topics are connected to the history, experience and expression of gay sexuality, masculinity, homosociality, etc. Sexuality and gender constructs are such huge parts of our experience as human beings, and it’s fascinating to explore this diversity and not shy away from it.

What are you working on while here in Tromsø?

I have been preparing my next exhibitions. Next year I’m having two solo shows and several group shows where I plan to show new works, so the timing for this residency is perfect.

What are your next solo exhibitions?

My next solo exhibition is titled „Messages” and it will open in January at the Aine Art Museum in Tornio, Finland, and afterwards, in September, I will open a solo show curated by Eugenio Viola at the Nomas Foundation in Rome.




BIO:
Jaanus Samma is a visual artist from Estonia. His body of work includes photos, installations and videos with topics that have been grounded in the study of urban space and the subjective experiences of it. Over the years his interests have moved towards gender studies investigating into the representation of male sexuality and ways of portraying this by artistic means. Samma practice combines fieldwork – interviews and archive research, but also more subjective and artistic output based on the findings.



About The Nordic-Baltic AiR program at Troms fylkeskultursenter
(Troms County Cultural Center)
Troms County Council has since 2010 run The Nordic-Baltic A-i-R program in collaboration with local partners. The program has since its start hosted 26 artists from Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The program aims to strengthen the network between Tromsø’s growing art scene and artists from the Nordic and the Baltic countries. A-i-R program is rooted in the collaboration with the local partners, which provides a good framework for the program. Tromsø kunstforening, RadArt (Tromsø Performing Arts Network), and the artist-run venues Kurant and Small Projects have been project partners since 2012. In the project period autumn 2015-winter 2017 we collaborated with Insomnia Festival for Electronic Music, Movement and New Ideas, that takes place in Tromsø in October every year in our program. Mondo Books is a new partner in the project period 2017-2018.

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Kunstner på gjesteopphold: Jaanus Samma

Tallinn based artist Jaanus Samma (b. 1982) is currently visiting Tromsø Kunstforening as part of the Nordic-Baltic A-i-R artist in residency program.

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