EEstonian Pavilion at 56th Venice Biennale
Not Suitable For Work. A Chairman’s Tale
Curator: Eugenio Viola
San Samuele Square
San Marco 3199, 2nd floor
NSFW. A Chairman’s Tale is a fragmented fictive opera, which follows a Soviet Estonian collective farm chairman, on trial for acts of homosexuality in the 1960s. The exhibition will bring together archive materials from the Soviet Estonia and the elegant aesthetics of opera.
Since 2007, Jaanus Samma has focused his artistic research on collecting the hidden histories of gay lives in Soviet Estonia. Not Suitable for Work. A Chairman’s Tale is based on rumours and the criminal file of war hero and family man kolkhoz chairman Juhan Ojaste (1921–90). Due to his involvement in homosexual acts, Ojaste was expelled from the Communist Party and later sentenced to one and a half years in a labor camp. Following the loss of his social status as well as his dignity, family and job, Ojaste moved towns, where, as an ex-convict, he was offered only low-status jobs. In 1990, just a year before Estonia regained independence and homosexuality was decriminalised, Ojaste was murdered, allegedly by a Russian marine and male prostitute. The baroque-opera-like plot of a simple man, NSFW. A Chairman’s Tale aims to connect the social debate on LGBTI rights, with the broader issue of the violation of fundamental human rights, as common in the past as in present.
The exhibition is accompanied by a two volume publication designed by Brit Pavelson and co-published by Sternberg Press and CCA, Estonia. The catalogue consists of contributions by commissioner Maria Arusoo, curator Eugenio Viola, writer Maarja Kangro, artist and activist Slava Mogutin, scholar Kevin Moss, Rebeka Põldsam and historian Riikka Taavetti, a compilation of the Chairman’s criminal file, and excerpts from personal accounts of the Chairman edited by Martin Rünk and Jaanus Samma.
Jaanus Samma (b. 1982, Tallinn) lives and works in Tallinn, Estonia. Since 2011, he has been studying towards a PhD at the Estonian Academy of Arts, Tallinn. In 2013, he won Estonia’s most prestigious contemporary art award, the Köler Prize grand-prix, as well as the audience award. Recent exhibitions include Hair Sucks! Sweater Shop (Tallinn Art Hall Gallery, 2014), Feeling Queezy?! (EKKM, Tallinn, 2014), Is This The Museum We Wanted? (Tartu Art Museum, 2014) and After-Life of Gardens (Kumu Art Museum, 2013).
Eugenio Viola, PhD (b. 1975, Naples) is an art critic and Curator at Large at MADRE – Contemporary Art Museum of Donnaregina, Naples. He is a scholar of theories and practices related to performance and body art. On this subject he has edited monographs devoted to Hermann Nitsch (Ed. Morra, Naples, 2013), Marina Abramović (Ed. 24 Ore Cultura, Milan, 2012), and Orlan (Ed. Charta, Milan, 2007). Viola has curated a number of catalogues and exhibitions internationally, including Karol Radziszewski—The Prince and Queens. The Body as an Archive (Center of Contemporary Art, Torun, 2014); Francis Alys—Reel-Unreel the Afghan Projects (Madre Museum, Naples, 2014); Mark Raidpere—The Damage (EKKM, Tallinn, 2013); Marina Abramović—The Abramović Method (PAC | Padiglione di Arte Contemporanea, Milan, 2012).
Image: Jaanus Samma. Courtesy Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia