Dust may settle

Agnese Pundiņa


Jass Kaselaan “Still life” 
Hobusepea Gallery, Tallinn 
Through October 31, 2016 

Jass Kaselaan’s exhibition “Still life” was opened on 12 October at Hobusepea Gallery, Tallinn. The exhibition will be open until 31 October, which seems quite a short time for us to visit, see, rethink, revisit, and maybe develop an opinion about the artist’s solo exhibition. This revelation isn’t connected to the amount of works in the show (there are only two artworks exhibited in the two-storey gallery space), but because Jass Kaselaan’s work encourages thinking. In a way, it feels like we just need to let the dust settle in order to evaluate the experience of the exhibition.

Jass Kaselaan is regarded as one of the most acknowledged young Estonian sculptors. He finished Tartu Art College, later obtaining an MA degree in the Department of Installation and Sculpture at the Estonian Academy of Arts, and has also studied at Imatra Higher Art School and at Emil Holmer’s and Veronica Brovall’s studio in Berlin. In 2014 Jass Kaselaan was awarded with both the Köler Prize and the Kristjan Raud Award, which are both important art prizes in Estonia. (The Köler Prize is an art award that established in 2011 by the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia, with the goal of popularizing contemporary art and giving recognition to emerging Estonian artists; the Kristjan Raud Award was established in 1973, and now it is the oldest art award in Estonia).

Read in the Archive: Jass Kaselaan’s “The Square of Dolls” in Riga | Q&A with Estonian sculptor Jass Kaselaan

Everyone has their own different way of approaching subjects and artworks, but on this occasion, looking at Jass Kaselaan’s exhibition “Still life”, it took three different phases of acknowledging what one might experience: before the exhibition, at the exhibition, and after the exhibition. Each step took time and each phase needed a different approach to evaluate the subject, the artist's approach to the subject, and the execution of the artworks. 


Jass Kaselaan has had many exhibitions, but one thing that needs to be noted is that this exhibition, “Still life”, can’t be compared to his other exhibitions. To understand that, one might need to go through the first, the “before the exhibition”, phase. Those who are familiar with Jass Kaselaan’s art, or those who have spent time reading articles or interviews about his work before visiting his exhibition, might have preconceptions of what this exhibition might consist of. For example, one of the most common ways others describe his works are statements saying that Jass Kaselaan’s work is monumental sculpture without monuments, or that he combines different mediums like sound, sculpture, painting, photography, etc. in engaging with the gallery space. And yes, his previous works might be monumental in scale – for example, the work “Square of Dolls”, which can be seen in the KUMU Art Museum’s courtyard, or the exhibition “Lighthouse”, which was held at City Gallery, Tallinn in 2015. Both exhibitions mentioned are monumental, but it might be deceptive to expect the same thing from this exhibition. On one hand, it is quite interesting to read other people’s experiences or interviews with the artist, thereby building an image of things that might be expected. These ideas might not last long, though.

Jass Kaselaan. Still Life. Photo: Sirja-Liisa Eelma

Visiting the exhibition

In the press release for the exhibition “Still life”, Jass Kaselaan is cited as saying that for this exhibition, his inspiration was soil – its underestimated value, its connection to life and death, families and country, and how it “tells about the biological inevitability of being a human”. Not getting into too much of a formal description of the space, it must be noted that Hobusepea Gallery consists of two floors. When one enters the first (or ground) floor, the first thing we see is an old frame with a picture – not too big, but with light shining on it. Maybe it is a painting or a drawing (one can’t really tell, but it looks very much like a photo), and that’s all. No descriptions on the walls, no attribution of the work. Just one frame, depicting a man and a woman. They could be someone’s parents or grandparents, or maybe strangers. Intriguing might be the right word to describe the moment of entering and being in the exhibition, because we may suspect that there is something that will continue; there might be an explanation of what the connection is to the soil.  

Jass Kaselaan. Still Life. Photo: Sirja-Liisa Eelma

The second part of the exhibition is downstairs, where there are three identical tables with identical contents, resembling objects from an archaeological site. They seem like three different horse carriages or mechanical horses, or something between these two; a monumental horse on a table. It is difficult to tell if it is a mechanical horse or a real dead horse because, among the mechanical parts, most of the pieces on the table are bone-like. Therefore, the exhibition seems like a puzzle that one can put together – there are objects like pelvises, as well as things that look like hip bones. But are we meant to put it together? Should it make a certain and understandable form/figure/creature or structure? Or maybe it is all about the idea of exhibiting something no longer existent from soil? Everything does seem to be as if cast from soil, mechanically and identically cast – produced. All three tables have the same contents, put in the same order and in a perfect layout. There is nothing more and nothing less, as if it is meant to be perfect. And I just can’t stop the train of thought going from the idea of archaeology to history, from history to memory, from individual memory to collective memory. It all comes back to the last sentence of the exhibition’s press release: “Soil connects the living and the dead, families and country; it tells about the biological inevitability of being a human.”

After the exhibition

Throughout the press release, Jass Kaselaan lists all of the important things about soil, which, for the most part, aren’t noticeable and are probably underestimated. Recalling the exhibition, at which I probably stayed for 15 minutes, it takes hours to put together the art that I saw and the description of the exhibition. It does make one wonder about how often we notice the ground we are walking on, or acknowledge the microorganisms that live in the soil. Is it even possible to imagine that every step we take has a momentary imprint on the soil – perhaps even creating a memory? And also, the exhibition’s layout is something I can’t seem to forget. It feels as if the viewer is entering a personal memory, and is suddenly dropped into a collective memory space. Both are connected to each other, if one recalls Jass Kaselaan’s statement that “soil connects families and country”. It seems such a simple task to think or talk about it, to play around with historical facts or metaphysical ideas, but in actuality, it isn’t so simple. Because it isn’t something one can make general statements about. It makes me think about the world we live in. It seems so simple to talk about the soil, but in fact, it is actually very complicated when one takes into account the physical functions of the soil and the philosophical meaning of it. 

Jass Kaselaan. Still Life. Photo: Sirja-Liisa Eelma

Jass Kaselaan’s work might produce different interpretations, meaning that everyone who sees his work might have their own understanding of what the artworks mean, since the artist himself doesn’t make clear statements about what this specific work is associated with. At the same time, the works are self-sufficient. In some ways, the exhibition raises more questions and uncertainty. He doesn’t give a full statement of what is what, or the “right” way to think about his work. He simply gives a general direction, one which allows everyone to interpret the subject as they prefer.

One thing about this Jass Kaselaan exhibition and his previous work is that they aren’t the same; it doesn’t repeat. Every exhibition has its own development and approach to a certain subject. And also, concerning the subject, it is not the text that would necessitate that the viewer have a degree in philosophy or art history to try to understand what the artist meant. It is in the power of every viewer of the exhibition to understand what it is that he or she is seeing. Comprehension of the exhibition is not dependent on some overcomplicated text that explains what one is seeing; the press release also doesn’t explain anything – it just compliments the exhibition. 

And lastly, what do we understand by the words “still life”? Is it meant as a genre of art? Or does it actually refer to the life itself that we don’t see? We see the world as a certain narrative, never stopping and always developing. Still life as a photo, as a fragment taken out of history – a fragment that, if put into a different context, could very well change the history of the world or one’s assumptions of the world. Jass Kaselaan’s exhibition is like these fragments that have been taken out of history, and have then been presented as a still from a video about the past and present – with both combined in one exhibition visit. His work stirs up the dust; the question is, when the dust settles, will we look at the world differently?