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Thinking About Life as an Art Project 0

Interview by Ieva Astahovska

Kaido Ole (1963) is one the most prominent of Estonia's painters. Since the early 1990's, he's had around 30 solo shows, many of them done in cooperation with Marko Mäetamm, with whom he created his internationally best-known work about the fictional artist, John Smith – in 2003, John Smith's project, “Kaido and Marko”, represented Estonia at the Venice Biennale. In Latvia, Kaido Ole's works have been exhibited in a solo show in 2008 at Riga Art Space (along with Tõnis Saadoja), and at the Cēsis Art Festival (2009). From January 27 through April 15, an ambitious solo show featuring Kaido Ole's works will be held at Estonia's contemporary art museum, KUMU.

Big Social Still Life. 2011

At the end of January, you will open your new personal exhibition, Handsome Hero and Plenty of Still Lifes, at Kumu art museum, in Tallinn. Will they be works that continue what you’ve been doing before, or will they be something completely new?

There will be totally new works, specially done for this show. But in some sense, you always continue what you’ve been doing before, even if you try to do something absolutely different. My previous two or three projects were more based on trying to make things as clear as possible, at least for myself. Maybe not, “what is the meaning of life”, but what is the most important thing for me at the moment, and how to say it in the most clear way. It is both the freedom and the tragedy of art that it is quite hard for it to send its message out here and now. Right now, I’m saying something using my tongue, but I have to find some form to make the same thing understandable through art. With my last projects, I was trying to make it as clear as possible, and then I was told that it is already gone too far, that everything is so clear that something important is already missing. The upcoming show will be something very different. I’m not trying to look on these things from too close of a position. For both me and the audience, there is a bit more of an opportunity to choose, to find some other angle to look at this. And as to the question, “what is this show about?”, there might be more opinions.

Still Life about Everlasting Harmony and Peace. 2011

But in general – in the new show there will be paintings, still lifes. With paintings, a very common and understandable reaction that people have, at least with the first glimpse, is: Oh, it’s a painting – nice; I can manage this. But this is even more so the case with still lifes: Yes, great, this is even more understandable – I like still lifes! There is nothing disturbing and nothing incomprehensible, just pure joy.

I associate still lifes with an interest in a form of art which, I'm guessing, is not your main interest. You mentioned that you try to tell something with your art. Could we say that your art is conceptual in the sense that it is telling us something – like a language? And what are your new still lifes telling us?

In the most general way, all art, including these still lifes, should give everyone a wider understanding of something. If someone is sure that he knows something about this and that, then, when adding on this new experience, he should see that the picture is more complicated than once thought; one must realize that he or she can’t any longer say – this is my final understanding of the world, of things, or of art. There is some sort of educational, or confusing, moment, when something new comes along; something you don’t know but have to come to understand, and then you can use it as experience. It sounds like in the 60's – when you always had to show something new – but I think it still is the only way to say something, to surprise the viewer or yourself, to get closer or deeper. If it is exactly the same, it is quite pointless. 

Still Life with Big Brushstroke and Stone. 2011

Is originality an issue for you?

I cannot ignore it, it comes back again. One has to be original or fresh, otherwise I can’t understand – am I doing the right thing or not? Otherwise, it just disappears into a former experience of mine. To put the spotlight on something, it should be really unique.

And my still lifes – these are combinations of different objects. These combinations are very materialistic, which fits very well into the context of our capitalistic world of today. Intelligent people usually don’t like things. They try to live without things and say: “We already have enough things. We can live with fewer things.” But if I’m a painter, I create objects. In that way, I am criminal, I’m doing the wrong thing. But I’m not using real things in these pictures – these are things before things. They are not abstract because they exist in the picture, and viewers can name what they are. But they cannot say that they have it at home or in the shop. These are common things from somewhere else.

Somehow, they are both abstract and not abstract at the same time. There is a three-dimensional illusion and everything is quite real. But this method gives one freedom to be more independent and more focused on something else – not so much on the materialistic part. They are different, sort of alternative still lifes, with which you can avoid reality and go into some new reality. It is closer to surrealism, but not totally. I hope they also give some illusion of freedom to the viewer, that the viewer sees something new, and that there is always the possibility that if you don’t like something, maybe you have to go get something better. But, perhaps you can create your own? If you think about it as a closed room with only one door through which to enter and exit, and then they see: There is another door! or even, you can make a door yourself, the wall is not so solid after all… That you can find an alternative way.

Holocaust. 2001

With this concept, are you thinking about new possibilities in art? Are you questioning different understandings of art as a field without borders? Or are you more interested in the context of reality? Your previous work contained some elements of sots-art, and an ironic attitude to reality.

I hope this ironical point of view will be present also in my new exhibition. I try to figure out – what is most important?  What is going on when I’m living my life? What is the difference between art and real life? The problem that drives me is the conflict between dreams (it can be anything on our mind – the concept of art or just dreams of how our life, or the world, should be) and reality. On the one hand, we are just dreaming and fantasising, and on the other, there is real life, where we try to turn these concepts and dreams into everyday reality. And they never match one hundred percent. So there is some conflict. When we take some art concept and turn it into reality, we cannot see all the details and practical stuff.

With this kind of a background, I think that painting is very educational, for myself as well. Because it is a very practical thing. I have to do it one hundred percent. I can’t order  someone else to do it, and then just generally say – yes, this is more or less what I wanted. Painting is something that I have in my head. And there is also my social life and whatever else. It falls in with painting, and I start to do it. Then the distance between my dream and reality is around 20 cm. And I see very clearly what happens – I see my weak hands, the brush, and the activity of doing it. Of course, I'd have to be either an idiot or have a very good sense of humour to really believe that these two things are the same. Then you start to like these mistakes. We don’t have the ability to see the big picture and all of the details at the same time; we can do either one or the other. But we jump around and try to do it anyway, so there is endless conflict and dissatisfaction in our trying and trying, but something is always still missing. >>