Estonia represented by Kristina Norman, Bita Razavi and Emily Rosaly Saal at the 59th Venice Biennale

08.07.2020

For the upcoming, 59th Venice Biennale Estonian pavilion exhibits a project by Kristina Norman and Bita Razavi titled “Orchidelirium: An Appetite for Abundance“ (curated by Corina L. Apostol), inspired by Emily Rosaly Saal ‘s (1871-1954) watercolours and paintings of tropical plants. In the exhibition the artists combine historic and new artworks to propose a multifaceted view on colonial history and its problematics.
 
The exposition of the Estonian pavilion in Venice opens in April 2022 and is hosted at the historic Dutch pavilion in the Biennale’s main exhibition grounds in Giardini.
 
This project started with a collection of some three hundred images of tropical flowers, fruits, and vegetables produced during the first decades of the 20th century by a forgotten artist from Estonia named Emily Rosaly Saal. Her works depict plants from different corners of the Dutch East Indies, then under the Dutch Empire, where she lived and travelled with her husband Andres Saal between 1899 and 1920.
Kristina Norman and Bita Razavi create new works based on Saal’s legacy, bringing in an unexpected perspective, various elements and a unique story that challenges the questions of colonialism, gender representations and botanical perspective towards both femininity and belonging. The project reflects eloquently the difficulties of entangled histories and the relationships between “perpetrators” and “victims”.
 
 
Artists and curator
 
Kristina Norman (1979) is a Tallinn based artist and documentary maker, explore the converging trajectories of national identity, politics of memory and public space. Norman’s most recent work is a poetical documentary performance entitled “Lighter Than Woman”, whose protagonists are women who overcome the Gravity of life in a metaphorical and literal sense. This is Norman’s second time to present her work at the Venice Biennale – in 2009 she represented Estonia with her solo project “After-War“.
See more from Kristina Norman’s website.
 
Bita Razavi (1983) is a Tehran-born artist, living and working between Helsinki and countryside in Estonia. Her work looks at everyday situations, which become the basis for making broader conclusions about the surrounding culture and society. In one of her latest projects, “Museum of Baltic Remont” (2019) Razavi built a commemorative scientific installation to showcase the invisible building materials that many people in Baltic region live amongst.
See more from Bita Razavi’s website.
 
Emily Rosaly Saal (1871 – 1954) was an artist born in Tartu. She received her art education in Saint Petersburg, the capital of the Russian Empire, and travelled with her husband Andres Saal in the territories called East Indies at the time. During that period she created hundreds of watercolours and paintings of tropical plants and fruits. Saal’s works were highly appreciated by the scientists of the the Royal Dutch Botanical Gardens. In 1926 they were exhibited in Los Angeles County Museum of History, Science and Art.
 
Corina L. Apostol (1984) is a curator at the Tallinn Art Hall and the co-curator and coordinator of the international project, “Beyond Matter – Cultural Heritage on the Verge of Virtual Reality”. Recently, she co-curated the Shelter Festival: “Cosmopolitics, Comradeship, and the Commons,” at the Space for Free Arts/ University of the Arts Helsinki (2019). She has co-edited “Making Another World Possible: 10 Creative Time Summits, 10 Global Issues, 100 Art Projects” (Routledge, 2019).
 
Selection process
 
The project was selected with an open call, where a record number of projects were submitted. Among them five projects were selected for the second round, which were then further developed during the following two months. The selection for the second round included projects by artists Edith Karlson and Merike Estna together with curator Victor Wang, Flo Kasearu with an international team, and a curatorial project by Alfredo Cramerotti with artists Paul Kuimet and Sarah Entwistle. The international jury noted the high artistic quality and exciting creative directions of participating artists.
 
The jury of the open call for Estonian exposition at the 59th Venice Biennale included Antonia Alampi, co-director of the art space SAVVY Contemporary in Berlin; Maria Arusoo, commissioner of Estonian pavilion; Hendrik Folkerts, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Art Institute of Chicago; Krist Gruijthuijsen, director of KW Institute of Contemporary Art in Berlin; Sirje Helme, representative of the CCA’s board; Jaanus Samma, artist who represented Estonia at the 2015 Venice Biennale; and Maria-Kristiina Soomre representative of Estonian Ministry of Culture.
 
In the winning project, the jury appreciated its intellectual multilayered approach, the team’s thorough research, and thematic focus of colonialism, women’s history, and identity. The exhibition provides an unexpected perspective on questions otherwise widely researched both within academic and art discourse, based on a unique story and utilising versatile artistic form that highlight complex relationships between East, West and South in the 20th century and how those ramifications manifest in the present-day.
 
“Orchidelirium. An Appetite for Abundance” takes us into a surprising and rigorously researched journey about a unique, yet also ordinary story,” notes Antonia Alampi, a member of the jury. “One that addresses the ways in which art and the desire for “beauty” are deeply entangled with colonial legacies, patriarchal structures and class divides that still leap into the present. One that highlights how distinct lines might be ultimately impossible to draw. Here, multiple gazes and complex implications will tie together local and global experiences bridging times and geographies.
 
Commissioner of Estonian pavilion Maria Arusoo comments: “It is a great pleasure to work on the 59th Venice Biennale Estonian exposition with such inspiring artists like Kristina Norman and Bita Razavi in a very interesting curatorial dialogue with Corina Apostol. Once again, we exhibit in Venice an internationally relatable project with a bold message, presented at the historic Dutch pavilion in Giardini in 2022.”
Estonia has participated in the biennale since 1997 with pavilions at various locations in the city of Venice. For the upcoming biennale, the Mondriaan Fund, which is the organizational team for the Dutch entry has invited the Estonians to exhibit as guests in their historical Rietveld pavilion building in the middle of Giardini. The Dutch themselves will move out of the pavilion this time and present their exhibition elsewhere in the city.
 
Estonian exposition at the Venice Biennale is commissioned by Estonian Centre for Contemporary Art and funded by Estonian Ministry of Culture.
 
Project team
 
Artists: Kristina Norman, Bita Razavi, Emily Rosaly Saal
Curator and author of texts: Corina L. Apostol
Architects: b210
Photographer and videographer: Erik Norkroos
Choreographer: Teresa Silva
Composer: Märt-Matis Lill
Additional information: 
Maria Arusoo

Commissioner of the Estonian pavilion at the Venice Biennale
E-mail: maria [at] cca.ee

Media contact:
Kaarin Kivirähk
Communications manager, CCA
E-mail: kaarin [at] cca.ee

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