Cuartor Anna Virtanen and exhibition's manager Siim Preiman discuss potential venues

The key to a foreign city – kmS 2016, Rakvere 0

Q&A with Anna Virtanen, curator for Kilometre of Sculpture (kmS) 2016

Eva-Erle Lilleaed

In summer 2016, Kilometre of Sculpture (kmS) will return to the northern Estonian town of Rakvere to present its third annual exhibition. The focus of this year's international outdoor exhibition will be on Finland, and organisers are pleased to announce their international guest curator, Anna Virtanen*, from Helsinki. Eva-Erle Lilleaed* caught up with Anna over the festive period, and here is what she had to say about this year’s project.

What did you think at first about the idea of curating an outdoor exhibition like Kilometre of Sculpture?

The idea to curate an exhibition in a context new to me is always exciting – in the case of an outdoor exhibition even more so, since the unfamiliar context will be present in a completely different way compared to working inside the white cube. At the same time, this concept of working site-specifically in an unfamiliar city space comes with a set of new problematics: how to comment on or react to something that you don’t know? To tackle this question and be aware of it throughout the process, I incorporated it in my theme for the exhibition.

Tell me a bit about your previous work with the public space. Considering the fact that you have a small regional town of Estonia in your hands, which you visited for the first time last year, how much can you engage your former work experience?

My most important work experience in relation to working in a city space would be my working on two different projects organised by the IHME Contemporary Art Festival in Helsinki. These provided me with a practical understanding of what it means to install artworks in places daily used by the people inhabiting the city. However, when it comes to working in a new context, in a city and a country not familiar to me, I feel like there are completely different questions to consider. In Rakvere, it’s a lot harder for me to read the signals present in the city space or see the stories, histories, habits or feelings related to each location.

What do you think of Rakvere as a contemporary sculpture exhibition venue?

On my first (and so far only) visit to Rakvere, what attracted me were the historical layers visible in the city. There’s a lot of material there, a lot to react to.

KmS consists of a curated section and an open call. How are you planning to present this dual concept?

I’m using the open call merely as a tool to find artists and artworks that I otherwise would have no knowledge of. In the final exhibition, the division won’t be visible in any way, since it’s not really interesting or relevant once the selection process is over.

Public space is more open and accessible to a potential audience than an indoor venue. The kmS exhibition will be seen by a wider range of the public than just the contemporary art audience. How does that influence your curatorial perspective?

This setting will include, if not new audiences, at least different ways and different circumstances in which to look at artworks. The artworks will be encountered also by accident, on your everyday route. This is something to consider in installing the artworks and choosing the locations, while not so much in choosing the artworks.

When talking about sculpture in the public space, we often speak about monuments. Is there a link between sculptures and monuments in the centre of your interest?

The reason I chose monuments as the core element of the theme is not due to any personal interest in monuments as such. It was more about tackling the question of how to read an unfamiliar context. Here, I’m looking at monuments as manifestations of the invisible: of the prevailing ideologies, agendas or values. They are clear signals, made easy to read, all the way to the point of serving as propaganda.

The set of artists participating will be international. Considering that the focus of this year’s exhibition is Finland, what will be the ratio between Estonian and international participating artists?

This will depend a lot on the applications we’ll receive through the open call. In terms of the artists I’ve invited to take part outside of the open call, I’m concentrating on Finnish artists since this is a scene I know well, as well as on Estonian artists since I’m using this as an opportunity to get to know the scene there. In addition to this, a few artists based elsewhere have also been invited.

What kinds of artists are you interested in collaborating with? Are you searching for a specific formal, political or social agenda?

I don’t have an emphasis on any specific medium or type of artistic practice. My way of working is more about including artworks with different kinds of approaches to and connections with the loose theme I've initially formed – some connections will be more concrete and visible, some looser and seemingly a bit more distant. With this kind of a setting, I try to put together an exhibition in which the artworks and their contents will have enough space of their own, but where the whole of the exhibition will, hopefully, work as a platform for thought processes initiated by all of the artworks and the theme, context and framework of the exhibition, in collaboration with the visitor.

Read in the Archive:
Kilometre of Sculpture 2015 (Võru)
Kilometre of Sculpture 2014 (Rakvere)

*Anna Virtanen is a freelance curator based in Helsinki who, among other projects, has worked with Frame at the Finnish pavilion for Venice, and the IHME project in Helsinki.

*Eva-Erle Lilleaed is currently doing an MA in art theory at the Estonian Academy of Arts and is on the editorial team that produces the experimental journal “Uus Materjal” (New Material).