The aim of the exhibition series “Archives in Translation” is to highlight the events and phenomena beyond the Iron Curtain that, directly or indirectly, influenced Estonian art during the Soviet period, focusing on the process of “translating” and transforming the ideas of Western art that spread here through a limited range of channels.
Besides the short-lived wave of happenings that emerged in Estonian art during the period, this exhibition also introduces some of the phenomena that ran parallel to the local actions, their probable examples and more indirect analogues in Eastern European and Western art. Back then Michael Kirby’s book “Happenings” (1965) was passed from hand to hand among Estonian artists, young musicians brought new impulses and ideas from the music festival “Warsaw Autumn” and artists read articles about the happenings by Allan Kaprow and others in Polish and Czech magazines, and tried to organise something similar. Naturally, the result was different from Western action art, in its social context and resonance, but often in its subject matter too.
In the second half of the 1960s a whole new range of phenomena appeared in Estonian culture: in addition to happenings, Pop Art emerged, an intensive discussion over Existentialism arose at the same time and hippie ideology spread in its own way. When they merged and accumulated, many ideas – the concept of “free play” among them – no longer had a unitary source nor a unitary meaning. Many artists have admitted that even they didn’t take their happenings quite seriously, yet there was still a need for them – to create a certain realm of personal freedom, to let off steam, to touch the borders or to digest the information coming from the West. In spite of several differences between Estonian artists and the Western art that stands against objects and institutionalisation, they still shared a rather similar wish to find a new and more accurate definition for the role and possibilities of both themselves as artists and their work.
Parallel to artists’ actions, the concepts of “play” and “playing” were also intensively treated in Estonian theatre – more precisely, in the stagings within the so-called Tartu theatre innovation of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The important difference between artistic and theatrical plays mainly consisted of different emphases. In the first case, playing primarily meant a sharper perception of the surroundings, shifting the everyday life rhythm or environment, and playing with objects, whereas in the latter case it concentrated on people and ridding them of their masks. Nevertheless, both branches eventually sought a similar result: greater “authenticity”, spontaneity, and a stronger sense of reality and contact with the surrounding world.