Folktales and symbolism in Merike Estna's expanded painting

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Folktales and symbolism in Merike Estna's expanded painting
Merike Estna, The emptiness of the empty eyes, Ghost of the future filled with memories of past. Installation view with performative presence, 2019 Photo: Keiu Maasik © image courtesy of Merike Estna studio.

MALMO.- Merike Estna’s installations bring together painting, sculpture and performance, with the viewer often becoming a natural part of the work. The oeuvre of this idiosyncratic artist is being presented in Scandinavia for the first time, in a solo exhibition where abstract imagery meets seemingly simple motifs taken from folktales and mythology.

Merike Estna has discussed and tested the limits of painting as both idea and action over a long period of time. With her expressive style, the Estonian artist unites an abstract visual language that seems to be taken from our digital age with motifs from myths and folk tales. The paintings expand beyond frames and canvases and take over both the exhibition space and the human body. At times the works function as props or objects and take on the semblance of furniture or wearable items of clothing. Through social and performative elements, the viewers are invited to a mutual, sometimes subtle, participation.

Merike Estna also introduces handicraft techniques, such as ceramics, into her installations. And parallel to the historical references, ideas related to topical environmental discussions and feminist perspectives can be traced in her work. Through the artist’s choice of subject matter, creative process and material the viewer’s understanding and interpretation is lead in several directions that encompass philosophical, political and personal dimensions, often with the help of open, poetical titles.

The exhibition Ghost of the future, filled with memories of past combines works from recent years with newly produced artworks and is presented in two exhibition spaces at Moderna Museet Malmö. The first room is dominated by the installation Tree trunks, serpents and other animals (2017–18) which consists of a number of paintings placed horizontally on sawn-off tree trunks that function as tables and benches, and becomes a social gathering place. In the New Gallery, among others, the monumental floor installation An egg, a larva, a nymph (2018) is presented, which consists of a large number of hand-painted, glazed tiles. The same room also features four new paintings carrying the unifying title Ocean of endangered times (all 2019), where the ancient jellyfish appears in an intense colour flow, adding a layer of dream-like and at the same time menacing destruction to the scenery.

In Merike Estna’s work, painting becomes a living, fluid substance with unforeseen possibilities, and where the spiritual meets the material. Her work seems to be as much about the specific medium itself as the attitude and freedom that permeates both the process and the social structures that come out of it.

Merike Estna (b. 1980) lives in Tallinn where she is associate professor at the Estonian Academy of Arts. The exhibition at Moderna Museet Malmö is the artist’s first solo exhibition in Scandinavia. It combines artworks from recent years with works created specifically for this context.

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