across a sea / internal voyage / ghosts of Tallinn

None of the usual reasons directly applied in the case of a trip such as last week’s Saturday trip to Tallinn in Estonia. There was no compelling goal, no exhibition opening, no special lecture at some research institute, no direct need to go there – at least in the usual sense.

Yet I booked tickets for a day trip from Helsinki. The week-end had some intense work to be done, in connection to the main reason of my visit to Finland (being the opponent of a doctoral thesis) and several other projects (mathematical and now also philosophical) together with colleagues and friends there – but the need for a kind of freedom to be attained through boat travel on that day – plus the chance to actually work in a nice café in (then unknown to me) Tallinn ended up triggering that day trip.

PC162217
harbor station, 7 am – about to board the Tallink

(The boat on the way over was quite cheesy – Estonian-owned; glimmering casino-like features, people half-asleep, unedible food and dysfunctional common areas – I had expected the Silja/Tallink boats somewhat different. I managed to secure a spot and work a bit, though.)

PC162219
9:30 am – December in Tallinn

Arrival mid-morning, with mist rising over the Baltic. Heart pounding. The emotion of boat travel overtakes me.

PC162224
Entering the Old City

Slowly waking up – Saturday morning of a wintry day in the Old part of Tallinn. Not expecting too much…

PC162230
A store with lots of old Soviet time medals and paraphernalia – attended by an older Estonian woman who must have seen a quite different Tallinn

I always wonder for how long can they continue selling this sort of “Soviet vintage” in places like Tallinn. How many military (or sports or…) medals? How much interest can this still arise in people?

PC162233

PC162236
By a music store

The porches and side-streets do seem to have a different character. Here, a music store that was closed in the morning hours. Later I had the chance to stop there. I was not disappointed.

PC162238
Tallinna Raekoda

Technically, the Town Hall. It could well have been one of the churches of Tallinn.

I still hadn’t found a “place” to sit that didn’t look too touristy – the only two places that had attracted my attention till then were the Soviet mishmash store and the music store that was closed.

But close to this tower I did find a fantastic cafe where local hipsters (not tourists) seem to hang out.

I continued my morning of work in that café.

 

 

 

PC162243
Eel Soup. One of the best meals I have had anywhere!

A gem of a restaurant – found by recommendation of Boban. They were nice, seemed to experiment with local ingredients. Here, a creamy smoked eel soup with leeks and various kinds of onions. I also had elk with wild berries.

PC162273

Part of the Estonia Museum houses the collection of Adamson-Eric. His work was vaguely reminiscent of Xul Solar’s in Buenos Aires. He was banned from his position at the Art Academy of the Soviet Socialist Republic of Estonia by the Soviet authorities, accused of being “a formalist”. This sort of accusation apparently was extremely serious. He seemed to take refuge in an extremely playful internal world – with sculptures, ceramics, paintings, weavings – an extremely rich and varied output that seems to do homage to older traditions of Estonia but mixed it with early twentieth century modernist influences.

PC162250
A small detail of Adamson-Eric’s work

I slowly started – after the seriously good espresso in the café, the very good meal, the Adamson-Eric exhibition – to sip the pace of that part of Tallinn. Full of corners that seem to hold voices of some distant past (Teutonic Knights? Swedish Riddar? Peter the First’s armies? Local Estonian defendants? German merchants?) the ghosts of a marvelous city started to appear. Was it the misty atmosphere? Was it the echo of swords in the Toompea castle – of Germanic, Slavic tongues invading? Was there a real Finno-Ugric resistance?

PC162280
mist
PC162287
ghostly
PC162281
ghostly Tallinn – by the upper part near the Castle
PC162284
as expected – but lonely, snow-dusted, and very eerie

Rising to the tower was crucial for me to see a bit of the city from above. Not extremely high but still a nice ascent… to the mists.

PC162293
in the back, barely visible, the Soviet era town

PC162298

 

And then walking back to the entrance of the Old City, the music store was open. In a third floor, following arrows, the space felt oddly non-commercial, out of somewhere. Not sure where from.

PC162322
Inside the Music store – a must-see place (the collection of music, on the other side, is quite nice). The atmosphere of the store feels more like a person’s apartment.

In low window sills of course Nativity scenes – some of them quite original. Dozens of them, all different.

PC162310
a random window

The KuMu Museum (Museum of Art of Estonia), located somewhat faraway from the Old City, in a very beautiful park (I read later the park was commissioned by tsar Peter the Great – a whole area of the city called Kadriorg), is a serious contemporary art museum. Their main exhibition was on Die Brücke, on German Expressionism – and its connections to Estonian art. They also have interesting collections of twentieth-century Estonian art – I took a long series of that. One of the parts of the exhibition that called my attention was Response to Soviet politics. There is a kind of formalism that seems to have been an intellectual response to the obligation of subjects, to the imposition of collectivism.

PC162403

 

In other European countries the (re-)construction of a national identity after Independence (from Russia in the case of Finland, from the Soviet Union in the case of Estonia, others from the Austro-Hungarian Empire) seems to have been deeply interlinked with painting or music (or some other artistic manifestation). My visit to Tallinn was too short to really capture how this happened. I am sure composers such as Arvo Pärt must have been part of that consciousness – but I am not sure in the case of painting.

 

Kentridge – apuntes, encuentros.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • Kentridge y los encuentros. Por alguna razón exposiciones como la de Kentridge en la Luis Ángel Arango la semana pasada requieren multiplicidad para ser vistas bien. Hay tanto material, tanto cambio, tanta información cruzada que uno puede realmente ir mucho más hondo, mucho más lejos al encontrarse con gente y ver detalles que uno solo puede fácilmente pasar por alto.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Agua azul que lo inunda todo. Zaniar dice que es depresión por pérdida. También podría ser locura inundándolo todo. Brutal. Hay que ver la película – las fotos no logran capturar la sensación del azul dibujado que va llenándolo todo.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Sombras chinescas, la cafetera que se vuelve un personaje muy femenino, las tijeras otro personaje. Animado todo.
  • Pájaros y gatos. El vuelo. El dibujo borrado, fotografiado, reborrado, recubierto. Recubrimientos sobre recubrimientos, como en una construcción topológico-algebraica iterada – levantamientos, productos cuña, suspensiones.
  • De manera directa, geometrías deformadas y sus representaciones posibles, una de las cuales es de nuevo euclídea – a través del faneroscopio. El círculo rojo descuadernado, que se recompone en un círculo perfecto desde más lejos. La infaltable “selfie” en el espejo deformante. Los lentes que permiten ver en tres dimensiones al acercar los ojos.
  • Negro y azul y a veces rojo. Como un tablero matemático con marcadores limitados.
  • Kentridge compara a Johannesburgo con París en uno de sus títulos. La Johannesburgo que pinta se ve terrible, industrial, horrible… y adquiere una belleza extraña en sus animaciones.
  • Otro punto incapturable mediante fotos: la sensación perenne con Kentridge de estar hablando de Suráfrica. El tema del apartheid es abordado de maneras fuertes y dolorosas en sus animaciones, pero las fotos lo capturan muy poco – hay que ir a verlas.
  • Aparecieron de repente amigos (Mónica y Felipe, con sus dos hijos) en plena sala de Méliès. Con ellos siempre terminamos hablando de espacios, de materiales, de educación, de lugares, de espacios, de materiales, de educación… Ver a Kentridge con ellos es hacer énfasis en lo lúdico de Méliès, en las posibilidades inmensas de esas animaciones. Como tienen dos hijos y van con ellos a la exposición el momento es particularmente especial, tal vez por la fuerza de evocación de esas animaciones.
  • (Re-)aparece la escalera del sueño, esta vez en una de las animaciones, con Kentridge ahí subiendo. Lo leo como un guiño a la obra de Alejandro.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Aparece Antanas al final de nuestra visita. Lo saludamos un poco tímidamente. Se muestra amabilísimo, pregunta por familiares, y luego nos cuenta por qué le gusta tanto la obra de Kentridge, por qué lo inspira tanto. Vamos dejando la timidez, y se revela su agudísima malicia, la mente rapidísima del filósofo/artista que ha inspirado a tanta gente en tantos lugares, el personaje que hace conexiones y sorprende. Es el cierre de nuestra visita a Kentridge un domingo muy bogotano.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

from Garden of Eden, reconsidered?

Being portrayed (collectively) by Don Kurka in a painting called Garden of Eden, reconsidered? is a strong experience. Especially when the portrait if front of yours is none less than… Jung’s. Kurka has made many things in his long artistic life – explorations of psychological conditions, of stark contrasts (put Ai Wei Wei next to Beckett in the same painting, for instance!), of darkness and humor (dark and witty and scatological and baudy and clever). This time, he put five of us in the same painting, with a fictional (really?) recreation of the story of the garden of Eden, many questions asked of the five characters (one of them himself), and especially of the Eve and the Adam of the garden.

patrickcandoalmeidablog:

“Twombly’s scribbles are as functionless as Cervantes’ withered limb—and that’s the point. In a world that puts the highest value on easy meaning and quantifiable results, this artist creates meaningless scrawls. They are truly a “quixotic gesture”—”utterly impractical” and “imaginary,” as my dictionary defines the meaning of “quixotic.” Twombly’s art is the ghost of Cervantes’ useless arm.”

Assessing Cy Twombly by Lee Siegel 

Varus 1976, Anselm Kiefer.

I would like to see Sophie Fiennes’s Over your cities grass will grow, her movie on Anselm Kiefer.

Somehow the movie itself seems to sip in the general mood of contemplation of destruction that pervades Kiefer’s works. According to The New York Review of Books, The camera merely takes in, accompanied by astringent music by György Ligeti and Jörg Widmann, the world of ruination that Kiefer has been creating in various buildings, set in fields and forests, in Barjac, in southern France, where he has lived since 1992.

Kiefer’s work was brought to my attention by a lecture Fernando Zalamea gave in Bogotá, before 2007. We then saw with MC an enormous collection of Kiefer’s works (installations, mostly) in Berlin and over the years have had the chance to reencounter several times his work.

I must say that I find his paintings more abstract, less immediate, more challenging than his installations. The installations, in their materiality, seem to “give away” abstraction, seem to give away the game. The paintings, strewn across huge canvasses, with crevices and chunks of paint, with their almost monochromatic hue, work almost like a magnet to me. I am attracted to them, have a hard time leaving them, want to plunge in them.

(via bluelephant: [un post maravilloso sobre pintura, matemática, Rusia y el aprendizaje]

Cálculo Mental, N. P. Bogdanov-Belsky, 1895
(Vía Dark Roasted Blend)

Tras colgar esta pintura le escribí un correo al respecto a Sasha Borovik, en Manchester. Supuse que a Sasha le interesaría la pintura por ser rusa y porque desde hace tiempo está muy interesado en el aprendizaje infantil de las matemáticas. A continuación incluyo apartes de los dos correos que me ha escrito en respuesta.

Primero:

Dear Javier,

many thanks! I believe the picture was in the reading book for elementary school that I used as a child.

I also remember that, as a boy aged 10 or 11, I had skills — and loved — to solve arithmetic calculation exercises with multidigit numbers by cheating, using quick estimates based on the assumption that the answer and intermediate results were integers. We were supposed to do calculations on paper, however. I simply wrote an answer. My teacher was a very kind woman and tolerated my laziness.

Just imagine my pleasure when I had a look at the picture and said for myself: “the answer should be 2”.

Sweet memories!

Segundo:

The teacher in the painting (1895) is S. A. Rachinsky, a retired professor of biology and rich philanthropist who taught in his own school (notice a bow tie and elegant dress that. surprisingly, does not look out of place). The painter is Nikolay Petrovich Bogdanov-Belsky, a former pupil from his school (Rachinsky also funded Bogdanov-Belsky’s further professional study in art).

The sentimentality of Bogdanov-Belsky’s paintings frequently borders on kitsch, but I am prepared to forgive him that flaw. See more his paintings at http://bibliotekar.ru/kBogdanov/0.htm (and page from there).

)

Cy Twombly – Untitled VII from Bacchus Series – 2005

(part of what makes this series (Bacchus) so moving, so brutal, is the sheer size of it: you have to imagine being in a big (industrial big) room in Tate Modern, surrounded by several paintings in the series – the physicality of Twombly’s paintings then takes you by the throat … the artist Elyn Zimmerman was quoted by her husband Kirk Varnedoe as saying of a(nother) painting of Twombly “it’s so large and complex that it has its own weather”)