On 28 November, a new magazine/art project Uus Materjal (New Material) was launched at the Contemporary Art Museum Estonia. As is evident from its name, the magazine/art project explores themes linked to concepts like new materialism and the return of material, which have gained prominence in the art world over the past years. However, Uus Materjal goes beyond art theory and features a variety of other fields like design, music and even engineering and does this in a quite unexpected way. Rather than sticking to the traditional magazine format, Uus Materjal has brought together a diverse collection of media and materials, all packaged in handmade 6 kg concrete boxes. To find out more about this unusual and fascinating publication, Arterritory interviewed the editor-in-chief, Evelyn Raudsepp and three co-editors, Marten Esko, Epp Õlekõrs and Madli Ehasalu of Uus Materjal (the editors team also includes Eva-Erle Lilleaed, Brigita Reinert, Helen Ikla).
The launch of Uus Materjal. Photo: Kristina Õllek
Keiu Krikmann (KK): I think we should start by introducing Uus Materjal. Could you please talk a little about the publication and the process of compiling and making it; from what I’ve understood, it’s been quite a long journey.
Marten Esko (ME): We started thinking about it last winter – we came up with the idea together at our first Christmas party and a magazine felt like the right format for it. (The editors of Uus Materjal are all studying Art History (MA) at the Estonian Academy of Arts – KK)
KK: So, in a way you just felt that you work well together and you wanted to collaborate on something?
Evelyn Raudsepp (ER): All of us found the idea exciting and we felt a publication like this could be of interest to a wider audience as well. There was a shared understanding that it should be an alternative to ‘official’ cultural publications. Also, experimentation with form was really important, we never wanted it to be too glossed over. We also didn’t want to create a publication where the editors would just dissolve the writers’ texts, an experimental quality was really something we wanted to hold on to.
KK: And did you start off with the idea of exploring the issue of new material right away?
ER: I wouldn’t say that, it was more about creating a platform. The magazine format was the most important thing, it had to be thrilling for us and not turn into a tedious obligation for anyone. And from there we started brainstorming ideas for a theme. At one point Marten suggested the topic of new material and as we started looking into it, we realised it was really really broad, at the same time though, it suited our goal of experimenting with text and the format of a magazine in general. Which was great, because we never wanted to do this only for a small circle of ‘art people’. And yes, I am aware, it sounds like such a cliché.
KK: I think your intentions came through very well in that regard.
ER: When we started looking into various fields, like design for example, and talking to professionals working in those fields to find connections to the theme of new material, they almost immediately clicked with it, they understood what we meant by saying ‘material is back’ – the idea was easy for people to grasp, it is in the air somehow. So, we set a goal for ourselves, to show people that the idea about the return of material is very present in many different fields.
EÕ: We discussed it with interior designers, film makers, philosophers and others, and everyone had something to contribute to the discussion.
ME: And in July we had a little residency in Viljandi where we tried to give shape to the idea.
ME: It has been great to see it all come to life and finally take a physical form.
KK: Your background is quite diverse – how much does the topic of material concern you in your daily work? Because at least Marten’s text seemed to be directly connected to his work at the Contemporary Art Museum Estonia.
(Evelyn Raudsepp - background is in theatre studies; has researched technological theatre in Estonia; Madli Ehasalu - a practicing culture manager with roots in semiotic studies; Marten Esko - working mainly in contemporary art theory with the construction and management of exhibitions.; Epp Õlekõrs - working as a freelance graphic designer, one of the coordinators at Konstanet Exhibition Space. – KK)
EÕ: As a graphic designer, it’s nothing new to me, but I really enjoyed that other people noticed the importance of material in the final result as well.
ME: It is kind of like discovering a conspiracy, you start seeing it everywhere.
ER: I work with technological theatre and it certainly is connected to material, but I still started noticing and appreciating material more.
Concrete boxes. Photo by Kristina Õllek
EÕ: Oh, and by the way, as we were putting the different parts of the magazine inside the concrete boxes for the launch, we discovered we could actually do that just by touching, we didn’t have to look to see if everything was there, touching it was enough.
KK: To me the experience of touching was maybe even the most memorable part of the project, it had a huge impact on how I perceived the whole thing. Maybe because I work mainly with text I sometimes forget about the materiality of things, but even the smell of different types of paper really amazed me – and don’t think I didn’t smell each and every one of them. But it’s definitely something you don’t realise until you start working through what’s in the box and it really leaves a strong impression.
EÕ: I enjoyed the fact that we were so close to the production of the concrete boxes too – we made them by hand. So everyone learned a new skill.
KK: How long did it take you to make these boxes?
ME: About a month and a half. But the whole thing is handmade, the photos are cut by hand too.
Madli Ehasalu (MEh): We had to think about our audience all the time, we wanted to make something beautiful for them and, for example, had to think about how people could take the 6 kg box home etc.
KK: It is a handmade object, it’s more like an art object or a collector’s item, so why do you call it a magazine?
EÕ: It was a way to experiment with an ephemeral format, books and almanacs sound so serious.
ER: Our initial idea was to make a magazine, we had no idea it would become a collector’s item. We just wanted to do something current and relatable.
KK: Evelyn, you previously mentioned your desire to create a different kind of cultural publication. Do you feel there are not enough publications you and your peers would want to write for?
ER: Well, it isn’t about creating another ‘channel’ among cultural publications, but more about addressing the overall format of cultural media – although we didn’t necessarily articulate that…
ME: At the moment there isn’t much room for experimentation in Estonian cultural media…
EÕ: That’s just what we wanted to do – to mix it up a bit. So, for example, one of the chapters of the magazine is actually an exhibition, it’s a spatial chapter, then we also had the event and so on.
ME: It was liberating…
ER: Or maybe even a little punk or naïve. We didn’t want to be strict or follow traditional rules, also when it comes to editing.
KK: Was it easy to find contributors?
ME: You could say so, yes. People related to the topic, which is also evident when you read the ‘commentary section’, in which we asked professionals from different fields to give their take on the return of the material – everyone was happy to write something.
KK: Another thing I really appreciate about Uus Materjal is that you went beyond art theory and brought in other fields as well.
ME: Just like Niekolaas Lekkerkerk wrote in his text, new materialism as a philosophical idea is not as complex as most theories and therefore it is easily accessible.
ER: It is more relatable on a human level too. It also represents a desire to detach from language, a wish to create a contact and communicate on a more universal level.
ME: It’s a continuation of the pictorial turn of the 1990s, shifting away from text. Now a physical level is added and what becomes important is the existence of an object in the space.
ER: And that’s exactly what’s happening in art – installation becomes significant and works take up more and more space.
KK: I totally agree, it’s not hard to relate to it on a very quotidian, everyday level outside theories of art.
ER: And this so beautiful! The concrete experts we worked with were really excited about this and now they can use the box in their work too, as an example when explaining something to their clients.
KK: Another thing I really enjoyed about Uus Materjal was its fragmented nature – it doesn’t have the ambition to be an encyclopaedic account, it rather provides you with leads for you to go on and discover it further. It does offer fascinating ideas, but without framing them too much.
ME: In hindsight, even its form is a bit like speculative realism – like curatorial speculation, how to approach your reality through fragments.
ER: The field of meaning is not created within, but outside the box. There are no direct answers, you only start getting it after you’ve had time to think about it. The form is as important as the contents, it’s the harmony between them that lets it speak.
Magazine art project was supported by a spatial chapter - an exhibition, where 9 Estonian artists contributed for the birth of new material by their own works of art. Photo by Kristina Õllek
MEh: Coming back to form – even though the contents of the concrete brick are significant, it is still a brick.
ME: And we also wanted to avoid creating a specific identity – it would just get boring over time. I think this also relates to the issue of post identity – people do not work in the same position or live at the same place for decades anymore, identities change and that’s what I’d like to see happen to this magazine as well, we wouldn’t want the identity of the magazine to become unsurprising. Although it could be easier for the designer, if they’ve got a specific format to work with…
KK: Actually, Epp, since you were the graphic designer on this project, I did want to ask you about how you made your choices, especially considering that the design did play a huge part in the outcome.
EÕ: I actually worked with a whole team of designers – all the editors of Uus Materjal contributed to decisions of design, we did this as a team. I mean, sure, there were times when the texts came in late and that meant there was less time to think about design, but I don’t think that really mattered much.
MEh: At some point Epp gave me some papers I had to fold and I realised if I didn’t do a good job, her work would suffer because of that too!
EÕ: I was a little hesitant because we often went with obvious solutions that just seemed to work well. For example, Marten’s text discusses the afterlife or works of art, so we thought it would be fun to have a canvas-like paper as the cover of the essay, print it on recycled paper and use the colour green. Also, the cover of Niekolaas Lekkerkerk’s essay (on posthumanism – K.K) is made of a kind of paper that feels like human skin when you touch it and we printed it in red. So, yes, at times the choices were quite obvious and even naïve maybe. It’s great if people get these little design jokes, but even if they don’t they can still enjoy the materials.
ME: I think people are not used to looking for these types of cues when it comes to more traditional publications. But we had the chance to include them and so, maybe it’s even good that we went with more obvious choices.
EÕ: Also, when it comes to typography, as we had little space and lots of text and we needed a condensed font, we just used a font by Google – so we also made things up on the go, we really didn’t have much time to over think it.
ME: And Epp, as the designer, was with us all along, it wasn’t just a commission to her.
EÕ: I think it was great we didn’t start out with conceiving an identity for Uus Materjal, we just went for it. I really enjoyed working with different materials – and we had such great partners to work with.
For example, the Tallinn University of Applied Sciences was brilliant for producing the concrete boxes, paper distributor Antalis was just as excited as we were to pick out different and sometimes very specific papers and ViaCon provided us the geosynthetic material to make the bags for carrying the 6kg magazine home.
Uus Materjal. Photo by Alvin Järving
ER: We included a brief introduction to each material we used, so that the readers would also know what it is they are touching and seeing. Our partners were also glad to add their comments – so we have there instructions for making a concrete box, information about the paper on each kind of paper, a description of the process of making a 3D screw etc.
EÕ: We wanted the design to indicate that the materials used for the magazine also function as samples of different materials.
KK: Based on the fact that you sold out all the copies in 2 days and considering how many people attended the launch, I assume Uus Materjal has been received well?
EÕ: Each time I talk to someone about this, they get really enthusiastic and light up even. The whole project became something so much more than we ever anticipated.
ER: Oh yes, you can see how excited people are.
MEh: And it’s great – being a fan of Mihkel Kleis and Kris Lemsalu, I definitely appreciated working with people like them.
ME: I guess we still have to wait for feedback, especially when it comes to the content, but until then, I think this a great publication to be judged by its cover.
The first edition of Uus Materjal is only available offline and in Estonian, but keep an eye out for the for the following numbers: www.facebook.com/uusmaterjal
Uus Materjal. Photo: Kristina Õllek
NEW MATERIAL, ART PROJECT/MAGAZINE
TABLE OF CONTENTS
– Concrete box (215 × 156 × 145 mm, ca 6kg)
– Geotextile totebag (BS20w, ViaCon)
– A signed fragment of Merike Estna’s work I am here for four months, KUMU (2014)
– Arhitekt Must: 3D printed screw
– Eik Hermann: drawings of matter and form
– Henri Hütt, Evelyn Raudsepp: A filtered view on material in performative arts
– Anu Vahtra: Untitled (Shadows of Others) (2013) from the catalogue of the exhibition Romeo ja Julia
– Kristina Õllek: photographs from Still Marble (2014), exhibited at Rundum’s showcase at the Manifesta 10 parallel programme
– A compilation of sound design for various exhibitions in Estonia
– Maria Juur: Sounds at the exhibition
– Cristina Garrido: #JWIITMTESDSA?, video (2014)
– Laivi: The Color of, video (2014)
– A definition of new materialism from a dictionary
– Comments of new materialism: Jaak Kikas, Jaak Tomberg, Mihkel Ilus, Piibe Piirma, Henri Hütt, Liisa Kaljula and Kalev Rajangu
– Interview with the concrete expert Kalev Ramjalg
– Priit Valge: instructions for making a concrete box
– Niekolaas Johannes Lekkerkerk: Posthumanist exhibitionism
– Kati Ilves: On the material and installation based nature of contemporary art exhibitions
– Kati Ilves: The neomaterialist practices of Katja Novitskova and Merike Estna