First published in Kultuurileht, 25 October 1996
When something ends up in a museum, it becomes institutionalised and is turned into an object for art history to deal with. This is what has occurred in the case of Rühm T: the sign of their having become a part of art history is the fact that the final art history examination of the Academy of Art contains a question about Rühm T.
O for Obituary
Whether it is good or bad is not a question worth asking. It could be regarded as the obituary of the movement, but that would not be a tragedy. The members of the group do not need the spirit of collectivity -it would become an impediment. Membership of Rühm T has largely become decoration, a brilliant, if heavy jewel in the setting of their biography which needs to be reduced now that they are experiencing the first pangs of independence. Anyway, Rühm T is a movement the names of whose members will be mentioned in Estonian art history.
Q for a Quote from the official history
In 1986 the dynamic Rühm T came into being. Its members defined themselves in relation to rock music, and aimed at an audience from among the younger generation. They distanced themselves from the greats of Estonian art, “who reflected their own time, which said very little to a younger generation”. In their first manifesto, the artists proclaim their identity with the technocratic world and civilisation, declaring: there is no gift for creation, simply the will to create… We look to the East, West, North and South and into our selves… We are both cool and feverish…
At first, performances belonged, with paintings and installations, to parallel fields of art, forming a whole. They became dominant in the 80s and early 90s. Later, the integral trio of Rühm T – Raoul Kurvitz, Urmas Muru and Peeter Pere nonetheless profiled themselves as separate “stage” artists. From Vappu Vaber’s point of view, Rühm T has been complex, manneristically paradoxical and pretentious. He has described the more conspicuous Raoul Kurvitz as the demiurge who rages, despite openly yearning for something sacred and untouchable.
M for Movement
Movements spring from the desire to make a rapid breakthrough. As a rule, the group in contemporary art has tended to be a microcosm aimed at securing a place safe from the pressure of a hostile society. In Soviet Estonia this used to have a somewhat different significance. Artists behaved like their equivalents in the West, aping them to a certain extent and beginning to act like those “in the wide art world outside”. This was the chief principle in the 1960s (e.g. the ANK, Soup and Visarid movements) and later, although these were not the only impulses guiding the movement.
For a group in the West, what was important was making your name known and achieving success in the eyes of potential buyers, galleries and museums. In this respect, the commercial importance of the Estonian movements was not particularly large. Here, what counted more was the whiff of dissidence. From the point of view of the establishment, and the art organisations linked to it, their significance was largely a negative one. For the members of the movement, the psychological support gained by belonging was of particular significance.
When considering membership of a movement, the effect of belonging to the same generation should not be underrated, nor the common intellectual current or the desire to develop and be influenced by the others. Nor should we forget the effects of working together as a group: specific characters and talents were actively sought out, which led to the creation of group awareness, an understanding of the role the movement should play in the world of art.
Rühm T made its breakthrough at a time when communism was being replaced by a developing type of capitalism, and this made its career an interesting one. The group went through a number of important stages from being an underground movement to being a circle of young semi-celebrities. They represented, as was said apologetically, contemporary ideas on art. They succeeded in gaining sovereign status in local art life and even, to a certain extent, enjoyed international fame both as a movement and as individual artists.
P for Performance
Their activities are inextricably linked with the rise of performance art during the late 1980s. This wave, in which Rühm T played a central part, was linked with the major social changes taking place as Estonia regained its independence. One could say that this gained them appreciation from the general public; but even without the collapse of the Soviet Union, their activities would still have survived. They would simply have found other outlets.
The highpoint of Estonian performance art came between the years 1991 and 1993. In early 1991, Rühm T’s A Guide to Intronomadism was staged at the Tallinn Art Hall. On 15th February the programmatic text Nomadistical Rituals… appeared in the weekly Eesti Ekspress in which the author, Hasso Krull, terms their activities the undertakings of desperadoes, the marriage of the Flying Dutchman. Heie Treir characterises these performances as full of brutality, with the title “Assault Troops Conquer the Art Hall!” and goes on to describe them as a Vitalistic attempt to make ideal intellectual processes immediately visible to the public and draw their attention to their energy and the bionic field surrounding the artists. Ants Juske regards Rühm T as “brutal dandies” in their work, and “expressive decadents” as a group.
In the course of the 17 days during which the exhibition lasted, 20 performances were given, and their initiators were mostly Raoul Kurvitz, Peeter Pere and Urmas Muru. The ideas for three of the performances originated with Maria Avdjushko, Tarvo Hanno Varres and Hasso Krull. The music and sound effects were the creation of Ariel Lagle.
I for Imagology
Rühm T has, more than any other movement in Estonia, worked on its own image. This has been done without relying on positive noises coming from art historians or theoreticians. Furthermore, the movement has attempted to engage ideologues from its own ranks, such as Hasso Krull, but most notably Raoul Kurvitz and Urmas Muru have also put pen to paper. Besides having managed to write everything themselves, the trio have demonstrated marked arrogance towards the reviews written about them. “No gratitude whatsoever! Not for being mentioned in reviews, nor for longer critical articles!” – Such are the reactions of the people who earn their daily bread by writing.
T for Toompea
Considering everything that has been written about them, and the fact that they have been promoted quite energetically, this review of the exhibition at the Estonian Art Museum is perhaps unnecessary. It could be claimed, nonchalantly, that everything is OK since it has now all been institutionalised, that there is nothing more to be said.
One could allow oneself to point out the relatively non-academic air of the exhibition. For instance, no ten-year-old paintings or rusty installations have been brought together here: the demand was only for fresh, new things. We see no “legendary” works which can be seen ad nauseam in the local art press, and of which endless author’s copies have been made which are immediately sold out.
We can see that Raoul Kurvitz, Ene-Liis Semper, Hasso Krull and others’ manifestation of their present-day existence is in no way despairing. Kurvitz’s use of concrete action, Semper’s work refer to Bill Viola, and Hasso Krull’s hypertext, which was intended for the Internet, but is still only a diskette, are attempts at constantly raising their voices and not behaving like fossils.
Nine video screens stacked together offer visitors the chance of retrospection. Here we can see videos which really are videos. There we see videos which are not really videos but records of performance. But this can also be seen as a provocative juxtaposition of images whose background and hinterland one need not investigate in any great detail. This installation has become one of the “objects” of the exhibition itself.
S for Summary
The time is not yet ripe for summaries.