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Tallinn Art Hall reopens with 'Mihkel Ilus and Paul Kuimet: Endless Story'
Exhibition view. On the foreground: Mihkel Ilus. Don’t Climb! Oversized easel, breaks made with pneumatic press, wooden painting stretcher frames. 2020. Photo by Paul Kuimet. Courtesy of Tallinn Art Hall.

TALLINN .- The exhibition “Endless Story” takes place in the common area of the expanded fields of painting and photography. In recent years, Mihkel Ilus has primarily focused on dissecting and questioning the art of painting. In Paul Kuimet’s work, architecture plays an important role as the object of documentation as well as architectonic structures erected in the exhibition space.

On a superficial level, the two artists may not have much in common at first glance. However, their work is united by their dedication to the material and their creative intensity, which is most clearly expressed in their fanaticism for their chosen media and techniques. The fields of painting and photography both endow their practitioners with numerous guidelines for the correct ways of behaviour and choice of material. For the painter, let the canvas be linen and the paint be oil. Analogue photographs are not retouched in Photoshop, but by skilful manipulation of light in the darkroom. And so, we mainly see traditional materials used in the art of painting in Ilus’ works: oil paint, linen canvas and untreated wood. Kuimet, from his side, consistently applies traditional forms of photography: slides, film and analogue enlargements.

In our age of irreversible globalisation, with many fields converging, blending and conforming, talking about the separate fields of painting or photography may seem conservative. The field of visual art is also increasingly blurred rather than clearly categorised, with artists combining methods from a wide range of different traditions. Everyone is at the same time a master and an apprentice, and technical skills in the handling of material are just as valuable as ignorant enthusiasm. Ilus and Kuimet’s visual purism may seem exceptional in this context. In reality, they both also use technologies that were not available to their predecessors. Ilus delegates most of his folds and cuts to machines, while Kuimet’s work process frequently involves a digital phase.

In this exhibition, Ilus and Kuimet look at the invisible systems that drive our world, the former addressing local systems, the latter global ones, which despite the passing of time, remain or are reborn in an almost unchanged form. However, the exhibition is significant in terms of their independent artistic methods, as they both operate in territories new to them. Paul Kuimet has for many years captured modernist architecture, including glass buildings in International Style that are found in nearly every city in the world. In this exhibition, he demonstrates how London’s Crystal Palace, built in the 1850s, became an archetype of the official architecture of global capitalism through mimicry and distortion. After many years of the playful deconstruction of painting, Mihkel Ilus has reached a point where he can use his developed visual language to tell stories outside the world of painting. He displays life-sized men-easels in various situations, referring to the political and work culture in Estonia: dreams before independence and important moments in reality after regaining independence, as well as autobiographical circumstances.

In Ben Lerner’s novel “10:04” an unusually strong cyclone is approaching New York. Residents have been evacuated from lower districts. The rest are instructed to prepare for power outages and to gather water, food and other supplies. Collecting supplies in the supermarket, the first-person narrator of the book describes how his awareness of the approaching storm and his image of a possible future affects the way he experiences the present. Items on store shelves begin to glow, and he very clearly starts to understand the systems behind them.

It is a long series of events that have brought us to our present globalised world, and it is difficult to determine where it all started. Ilus and Kuimet’s exhibition covers a very short period in this endless story, perhaps the last 170 years. Their works aim to shed light on past events, bringing forward the flickering contours of the present and opening doors to new conceptions of the future.

Mihkel Ilus (1987) is a visual artist, who works in the expanded field of painting. He often tackles large-scale installations, approaching them with the logic of a painter. He studied painting at the University of Tartu and the Estonian Academy of Arts, and a substantial part of his practice involves combining contemporary exhibition practice with performance art. Recent exhibitions include – “How else could I put it” (Kuidas saaksingi teisiti) (curator Siim Preiman) Hordaland Kunstsenter in Bergen (2018), “Caprices: Pre-amp” (Kapriisid: Eelvõim) (with Henri Hütt) at the Design and Architecture Gallery (2017), “Stick it in your wall” (Pista see omale seina) at Hobusepea Gallery (2017) and “Dead End” (Tupik) (with Marten Esko) at the Art Hall Gallery (2016).

Paul Kuimet (1984) is an artist who combines photography and 16mm film to make installations. His work is characterised by typically technical ways of seeing that are mediated through technology. Kuimet studied photography and video art at the Estonian Academy of Arts, the University of Arts and Design (TaiK) in Helsinki, the Baltic Film and Media School in Tallinn and the University of East London. Recent exhibitions include – “Five Volumes“ (curator Nico Anklam) Narva Art Residency (2018), “Perpendicular” (Perpendikulaarne) Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (2016) and “Late afternoon” (Hiline pärastlõuna) Tallinn City Gallery (2016).

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