Monument for the Masses (2007)

This 2-year project (2005-2006) takes a controversial monument in Tallinn, Estonia, as starting point. It consists of a proposal for a counter-monument, a campaign to gain support for the proposal, a website, an exhibition and a series of articles published in art magazines. The website http://trialerror.org was developed out from a need to channel some of the discussions and research made in relation to the project.

Full Description

Being in Tallinn as a foreigner during three months in 2005 it was impossible not to receive knowledge about "Kalevipoeg", the protagonist of the Estonian national epic. The epic was written by F. R. Kreutzwald in a romantic, nationalistic tradition in mid 1800s. In late 1990s artist Tauno Kangro proposed a monument in the sea depicting "Kalevipoeg" - as a Tallinn counterpart to the Statue of Liberty. He has gained support among politicians and found businessmen willing to sponsor his 21-meter bronze sculpture (one of which has acted as the model for the statue), but he met strong opposition among a larger part of the cultural elite. The project has caused a fierce debate, grand statements and much confusion. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it the wrong location, a faulty representation, an occupation of public space by private capital, a marvellous gift, the perfect symbol of the city of Tallinn or just a huge stupid mistake?

In the online project ”Monument for the Masses” we use the Kalevipoeg monument as a starting point to investigate monuments as a phenomenon and the rituals surrounding art in public spaces. At the website you find articles about how national heroes are constructed; French identity-soup; nation branding; the privatisation of public space; ruin value; the protests among the Taino people against a monument to Columbus in Puerto Rico and much more.

Online it is also possible to contribute to the Park for Un/Wanted Public Expressions. This virtual sculpture park has been inspired by the Szobor Park in Hungary and can be seen as a growing archive of values by which we judge art, architecture and other expressions in different public spaces. Visit the park here: http://trialerror.org/Park/un-wanted.html

Below follows an excerpt from the article “Some Day They’re Gonna Name A Street After Me” by Holmstedt and Hagström, published in Estonian Art no 2:2006. The full article is available online at: http://trialerror.org/writing/EA_no2_2007.html

Miwon Kwon refers in her article “Public Art as Publicity” [1] to an alternative way to look at art in the public sphere. Instead of genres, she suggests that we should consider art as different forms of publicity - that is, as different forms of communicative practices. One first comes to think of marketing and media attention, but more importantly in this context it refers to what in German is called “Öffentlichkeit”; how issues of concern are communicated, made available and handled in society. Kwon describes four modes of communicative practices: authoritarian, paternalistic, commercial and democratic. Estonians have a long and visible experience of the authoritarian model from Soviet times. Swedes are well acquainted with the paternalistic attitude of “trust us, we know what is best for you”. The commercial mode of communication offers an alternative to state control through the freedom of choice on a free market, but another kind of power structure instead reveals itself based on profitability and access to different media. The general public also tends to be defined as consumers rather than citizens. A democratic practice though, opposes both state control and commercialism and aims to maximize individual participation. In reality all these different modes of communication are more or less mixed, but the perspective offered nevertheless helps us to think about art and its functions in new ways. Art seen as a communicative practice rather than an object also highlights the fact that the means of distribution you choose is part of the message you send.

A huge statue will be erected in the bay of Tallinn and a competition has been announced in order to find the most suitable design. The competition, on the subject of the Estonian National Epic, is initiated by politicians and will be judged by politicians. This could be described as an example of a paternalistic and commercial attitude, disguised as a democratic mode of communication. Open competitions, as this one, are a clever way to make artists work for free according to your own agenda. Those who do not respond the correct way are disqualified. So what are the options here? To abide by the written (and unwritten) rules of monument making, to make visible the game-rules at work, to boycott the whole thing or to infiltrate? How do you choose your fights and where should they be fought? In our own project “Monument for the Masses” we propose a monument for the city of Tallinn. We ask ourselves if it is possible to think in terms of a democratic mode of communication dealing with power manifestations such as monuments. Are monuments about art, politics, tourism, national identity, collective memory or a group of individuals who for different reasons want to “write history”? And, last but not least, what is our common responsibility to write alternative histories?

[1] “Public Art as Publicity” published in: Simon Sheikh (Ed.), In the Place of the Public Sphere? On the establishment of publics and counter-publics, Berlin: b_books 2005. The article is also available at www.republicart.net.

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Artist Statement

Can public art be democratic? Should monuments exist forever? Who is the sender and who is the receiver in this very special kind of mass communication? Monuments in general tend to stir up strong emotions and debates. This monument in particular points to the need of getting real when dealing with complex questions related to national identity, representaion and the use of public space – its democratic, symbolic and commercial aspects. To get real we sometimes need to make mistakes. We decided to get real. We listened to the arguments in the heated debate, and then presented a proposal for how to positively transform the controversial monument into a ”Monument for the Masses”.

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