Meeting with «Agents of Perception»

Sergej Timofejev


An international exhibition that brings together winners of the German ars viva prize and artists from the Baltic region is on view in Tallinn through 7 August 2022

Opened a few years ago in the seafront area formerly housing shipyard workshops and warehouses of the Tallinn harbour but now transformed into the small and quite elite district of Noblessner, the Kai art centre aims to offer an agenda of maximum topicality for Estonia, constantly aligning it with global trends and international art initiatives. Thus, the current ‘Agents of Perception’ exhibition is the result of collaboration with the ars viva prize awarded in Germany to young artists under 35 years of age. Yet the show in Tallinn presents more than just works by three winners of the prize ‒ Lewis Hammond, Tamina Amadyar and Mooni Perry, three artists of very different backgrounds and approach to choosing their art media. They are shown side by side with pieces by three young artists from Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia ‒ Laura Põld, Anastasia Sosunova and Jānis Dzirnieks, who were chosen by the curator of the ‘Agents of Perception’ exhibition Maria Helen Känd. We met up with her at the Kai art centre and asked for an im promptu tour of the show, to which she kindly agreed.

Works of Tamina Amadyar. Photo: Kai

Is there anything that links these artists together? Is it the fact that they belong to the same generation ‒ or perhaps something else?

‘Generation’ is definitely one of the keywords here: all of these artists are around thirty. They are all young talents. Three of them were selected by the ars viva prize annually awarded in Germany to three artists under 35. They are Lewis Hammond, Tamina Amadyar and Mooni Perry. My job as a curator was picking three participating artists from our region. And so I spent some time visiting the studios of various Finnish, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian artists and ultimately chose Anastasia Sosunova from Lithuania, Jānis Dzirnieks from Latvia and Laura Põld from Estonia. Since they are all completely different in their approach, a vast range of media is represented at the show, from installation to sculpture, to painting and video, which genuinely makes the exhibition a diverse mix of artistic positions and media. I decided to make perception the one uniting element for the whole of the show. All of the works draw us in; they speak for themselves. My initial idea for the project was including artists who work with certain attributes like signs, vivid colours, archetypes, stories, landscapes ‒ things we perceive and take in as viewers without being aware of the details of the concept behind the particular work of art.

Hence the title of the exhibition, ‘Agents of Perception’. I view these artists as agents who actually communicate important information, knowledge and emotions and also suggest a certain point of reflection both on existential matters and issues of the present moment, of our era, that are relevant to the public right now.

Work of Lewis Hammond (fragment). Photo:

For instance, Lewis Hammond refers to timeless feelings, emotions that transfer us to the human unconscious, like anxiety, fear, tension. These extremely powerful emotions materialize in his work in the very dark palette, the earthy tones of his paintings. He says that his adolescence, growing up as a Black teenager in Britain, has influenced his art significantly. And it is obvious that this anxiety that he experienced first in the United Kingdom and later in Berlin, where he relocated during the climax of the global economic crisis, really informs his art. He often takes pictures of his friends or film screenshots and then modifies them to create the creepy, almost gothic feel that permeates his work.

Work of Jānis Dzirnieks. Photo:

Jānis Dzirnieks. Young Mom Makes $22185 Monthly in Her Spare Time Working at Home, Is It Legal. 2020. Photo: Jānis Dzirnieks. Courtesy of the artist

Meanwhile, Jānis Dzirnieks from Latvia is more interested in digital communication and our ways of encountering and dealing with various slogans, offers and images from the Internet. He distorts them, as it were, capturing them in his works that I refer to as ‘digital pictures’. These are digital images from the web, covered in epoxy resin, which creates a relief effect and reflects light. At that, various small yet grotesquely recognisable details evoke in you a feeling that you are viewing something deformed, unfamiliar and not very pleasant to behold. As a person, Jānis typically holds a considerably critical opinion on the information that circulates on the Internet. That is his position.

Tamina Amadyar. drive in. 2021. Photo: Roman März. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Guido W. Baudach

But let’s move on… Tamina Amadyar is an artist who was born in Afghanistan but grew up in Germany. You could say she is a traditional minimalist. But again, these enormous canvases with their semi-transparent mysterious layers of colour truly does have an effect on the viewer. The artist was inspired by specific locations and landscapes. The reference point for her is the country where the roots of her family are, and so these warm, pleasant, light colours may seem familiar and remind of vast desert expanses. California, where the artist also spent some time, is another reference point. In her huge paintings, light-filled colours and spaces merge into one.

Works of Laura Põld. Photo:

Laura Põld is also interested in landscapes but her approach is different. Her installation on view at the show explores the so-called Phosphorate War, a campaign that took place in Estonia in the latter half of the 1980s, toward the final years of the Soviet era. At the time, a group of ecologists started to come forward opposing the official plans to bring in new workforce from other Soviet republics, also to destroy a large area of swamps and other wildlife territories to open new phosphorite mines. That is why the movement was given the name of Phosphorite War: because people actually took to streets to make their objections known. The activists eventually became part of the movement for Estonian independence. So Laura was inspired by these landscapes she saw in the post-industrial regions of Estonia where active mines used to be located and where some evidence of those years still remains. On the other hand, as I said, the show deals with feeling and sensation ‒ including perception of actual images. Therefore, I believe that it is not necessary for every visitor to read the texts and have detailed knowledge of the context. The viewers may form their own attitude toward these works which can also be perceived as some kind of dreamscapes or magic and enchanted places. You could say that it is an open field of meanings, which is why the works are scattered all over the exhibition space.

Mooni Perry. Binlang Xishi I-III. Video. Photo:

By far one of the most complex and intellectually demanding of the works featured in the show, the project by Mooni Perry is simultaneously also very poetic and extremely interesting. Born in South Korea, the artist works in Berlin. In her three-part video, transmitted on three channels, she explores the role and place of women in South Korean society. She does that using a very specific product that is popular exclusively in Asian countries, namely ‒ the betel nut. It is lightly stimulating, and it stains your teeth red when you eat it. And something very similar to sex industry has been built around this natural product; betel nuts are usually sold by scantily dressed and heavily made-up girls. So this occupation does not have a very good reputation in this society; it is considered to be something sordid, dirty, not appropriate for a decent woman. In her video work, the artist researches the connection between the idea of sex industry, not just in Korea but also everywhere in the world. And she explores the concept of cleanliness: how the women who work in this sphere are perceived by some people as unclean while the actual betel nut is still a very popular product, and everybody uses it. It is a very nuanced and interesting but also very well-made film with multiple layers of meaning.

Anastasia Sosunova. Excerpt of the video work "When all this is over, let’s meet up!". 2021

And now we move on to Anastasia Sosunova, whose works I adore. She is very interested in community building, exploring the ways in which we function within a society, how people are interconnected and form groups, what the context is, what invisible stereotypes and concepts are still being used by people. In her video she uses footage filmed on her camera, mixing it with various materials from popular culture and films. She researches the emergence of various closed communities that have become extremely popular not just in Lithuania but also in Estonia and anywhere else where the nouveau riche wish to isolate from the rest of the society. And so the question that the installation poses is ‒ does this kind of approach really serve its purpose? Does it really help us become more human and more understanding? Because, as the video demonstrates, people who reside in these places tend to become increasingly isolated through all kinds of special control, increasingly preoccupied with hygiene and isolating.

Work of Lewis Hammond. Photo:

Each of these artists originally hails from a different country. In your opinion, does the country of one’s origin really play a significant role, or perhaps some kind of global issues have more weight these days?

I think that, speaking of our exhibition, it is more about people living in our times generally. Of course, there are individual works that are dedicated to a specific cultural context. And yet ‒ if you did not know it beforehand, you would not be able to name the exact country of origin of each of the artists. And I truly believe that the most surprising and exciting thing about the exhibition for me is how well these very different artistic approaches fit together and how well the traditional media work side by side with video art and the site-specific installations. All of the artists represented here are my age. They are genuinely very committed, and they contributed to the installation and preparation process of the exhibition. And that is why I think it is really obvious that this is all very important for them. They care both about their individual pieces and the general outcome.