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Woollen shawl, digital print on fabric

Precarious State of Mind 0

Tallinn-based artist and designer Sandra Kosorotova speaks about her new solo show

“Precarious State of Mind”*
Hop Gallery, Tallinn
Through May 30, 2017

What does post-Fordism feel like? How is precarity sensed? Can it materialize as an embodied sensation? Will it be codified as a medical disorder? The exhibition by Sandra Kosorotova at the Hop applied arts gallery explores mental health as a set of socio-political and ideological issues, rather than personal and biological problems. The show features new digitally printed textiles, produced during the artist’s graduate placement at the Centre for Advanced Textiles at the Glasgow School of Arts.

Chewed Up and Spit Out. Digital print on silk

Sandra’s artistic practice focuses on the relationship between socio-political powers and the human body. Last summer she graduated from the Estonian Academy of Arts with an MA in Fashion Design and was awarded the Best Applied Artist Prize for the academy graduates. She received her BA in Graphic Design from the same institution. Between 2013 and 2015, Sandra Kosorotova and Gustav Kalm ran the New Russian Culture in Estonia (UVKE) NGO, aiming to bring together the Estonian and Russian-speaking communities through cultural events. Sandra has taken part in group shows in Estonia and abroad; this is her third solo exhibition in Tallinn.

The sound design for the exhibition was created by Artyom Astrov, who produces experimental rap music as Benzokai and writes theatre soundtracks. He is also the co-founder of the Serious Serious record label.

Well Enough to Work / Too Depressed to Protest. Bed sheet, digital print on linen

The exhibition press-release says that the show ‘explores mental health as a set of socio-political and ideological issues, rather than personal and biological problems.’ What exactly do you mean by that?

Contrary to the traditional explanation by modern psychiatry, it might not be a mental disorder that causes social and economic disadvantage, but vice versa things like economic inequality, social and racial discrimination, precarious working conditions and the neoliberal ideology might be at the root of the epidemic of depression and anxiety.

What is the purpose of your exhibition: changing something about it or simply outlining the problem?

The most important purpose of any of my exhibitions is better understanding of life and oneself, but the message others will get is also very important to me. At the art school, I studied design not art – so I was trained to find a problem and solve it. I cannot solve a certain problem with my work, but I can bring it to the spotlight. With this show, I wanted to draw the public attention to the notion of mental illness, its causes and treatments. Traditional psychiatry claims that the main causes for depression are brain chemistry imbalance, genetics, unfortunate life experiences and wrong thinking patterns and thus depression can be treated with medication and psychotherapy. However, if we look at the most recent Estonian Health Interview Study (2006), depression was most common among women, non-ethnic Estonians and members of lower-income groups. So can you fight discrimination with a pill and can psychotherapy promote social equality?

Woolen shawl, digital print on fabric

Do you think you can change anything with an art show? Wouldn’t it make more sense to engage in real activism, for instance, in the form of a demonstration?

It is notable that in the past a public demonstration could indeed bring about a real change. For instance, in 1888, a protest of workers in Chicago resulted in the legal establishment of the 8-hour working day. The precarious working conditions in which many people find themselves now are also exploitative, but the so-called precariat class is unable to get themselves organized and do anything about it. This can partly be attributed to the prevailing ideology of the individual responsibility for one’s wellbeing: “Does work make you stressed? Eat healthy and meditate!”. In addition to that, constant pressure to self-promote and self-brand and non-material labour, like emotional labour and cognitive labour, may often leave us mentally exhausted and as a result depressed too depressed to protest. Also, precariat encompasses very different people (temporary workers, small business owners, artists and so on) who have little contact with one another and at the same time are in constant competition – not the best conditions for self-organization and demonstrations. Besides do public demonstrations really work nowadays?

SELF. Case for a hot water bottle, digital print on fabric

The technique you used for the show was digital textile printing. What was important for you in the process and the result?

Digital textile printing is the technique I have been using for many years. I came to it as a means of bringing my graphic designs from the computer screen to the real world, making them tactile. I was preparing the show while on an internship at this studio, printing textiles for other people in order to be able to produce my fabrics ‘for free’. The process involved using heavy machinery and manual monotonous labour: a precarious work in a Fordist working environment.

The Hop gallery of applied arts on Hobusepea Street in Tallinn

What is the role of the sound installation in the show?

The musical composition by Artyom Astrov makes the experience more emotional and poetic, speaking to senses other than vision and mind.

*The exhibition is part of the 7th Tallinn Applied Art Triennial satellite programme. The exhibition was supported by the Cultural Endowment of Estonia

Photo: Aadam Kaarma. Property of the artist