Ideas and reality: Rodrigo Lebrun about his residency in Tartu so far

 — Rodrigo’s final exhibition ‘Tuleviki Ajavorm’ (Future Tense) will take place on 28th of October at 19.00 at the Trükimuuseum. Be sure to check it out! —

10432111_10152529212142068_1824237444410398395_nI remember when I got the email saying I’d been selected to do the residency, I think that was back in May. At that time I was working towards my graduation show at the Royal College of Art in London, so as one might expect I had way too many things going on in my head and my original proposal was an extension of the work I was developing for my final show. You can check it out what I’m talking about here: www.theendoftheendofhistory.co.uk.

With graduation now behind me, I realised that I wanted to do something that would allow me to understand Estonia better than what my previous knowledge of the country allowed me to – that’s close to nothing, it still is, but trust me, it was a lot closer to total void.
So I set off to do some Internet research, consisting of jumping from one link to another, until I had the illusion I knew what I was talking about. The one thing that jumped up was the idea of Estonian nationalism, its role during all the historical occupations and what it means now that the country is ‘free’.
While still in London I did some research on the subject. I read Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and also tried to find Estonian researchers who were dealing with the subject. During one of these searches I came across Pille Petersoo’s Reconsidering otherness: constructing Estonian identity which is a very insightful essay not only on Estonian nationalism, but on nationalism as a whole. I totally recommend it if you are interested in the subject.

The penny trully dropped in mid September, this is when all the theoretical stuff that I read has to be translated in some way. I saw the Singing Revolution documentary and besides trying to filter some of the more overtly sentimental elements in the film, I realised how important singing has been to Estonians not only as a social glue but also as a device in through which they promote and preserve their culture. So whatever this idea was, it had to do something with singing – The eureka moment is when things start to get complicated.

In Tartu letters on screen and on paper become real people, real buildings, with stories and opinions of their own, some more informed than others but still relevant. This is when I realised that things can be a bit more complex than theory. The discussions I’ve had so far have been incredible, some through the social circle revolving around the Trükimuuseum some out of my own research. In one of those chats I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Eva-Clarita Pettai of University of Tartu who, besides being incredibly friendly, had a wealth of knowledge on the subject I could only dream of.

On top of that, there was the city itself, the space, colours and smells. I’ve been pretty fortunate with the weather so far and I’ve been trying to be out and about as much as possible. Sometimes with places in mind, sometimes intentionally trying to get lost (which is an impossibility in Tartu). In the meantime, I try to capture the places as I go. The pictures I’m snapping can be found on my Instagram account. I’m keeping a blog too, Tartu Diaries. The name is an allusion to Walter Salles’s film Motorcycle Diaries. I reckon I chose that name because I was expecting the trip to have some sort of transformative effect on me, like in the film – and I was right. Anyway, it’s on the blog where I try to keep track of everything I’m doing here, there’s theoretical research, there are pictures and there are examples of my process.

 

Talking about process, you are now sort of wondering what my project is about. Well, it had to do something with singing, it had to do something with nationalism and it had to do something with popular culture, most importantly with digital culture and how these systems inform each other. So I decided to create a Karaoke piece: “The Singing Digital Revolution Karaoke Experience” That’s the idea, but not the reality.

test05Another important thing about the residency, my first solo one, was to understand how residencies work in the first place. My first realisation is that too much planning tends to backfire. Sometimes one needs to allow oneself to experiment, to use the tools available and allow things that don’t make much sense to materialise. Right now I’m mostly designing the screens for the karaoke based on the conversations I had so far. I started using After effects and some 3d modelling, but most recently I’ve focused my efforts on programmed animation. For that I use Processing. It’s a very simple and versatile programming language for artists and designers. I’m far from being a native programmer, but I have quite a lot of fun doing it.

A study in Processing. It's Nyancat!

A study in Processing. It’s Nyancat!

Another thing; collaborations. I wanted the karaoke to have a more updated version of the song Mu isamaa on minu arm, which people mistakenly take for Estonia’s national anthem. I wanted to collaborate with a local musician. I still do, but it didn’t happen. C’est la vie. In fact, the more I think about the idea, the more I like it, the more I think it has legs to become something really interesting and engaging. Having said that, I also believe it needs time to mature, in the same way so does my understanding of the subject.

It’s hard for me not to mention the incredible people I’ve met so far who have been supportive, insightful and, most importantly, incredibly friendly. One is Australian artist Clare Jackson who was doing the previous residency when I arrived. She’s become a good friend who I hope technology will help me to keep. Another name is Neil Malone, also artist, also Australian. My conversations with Neil have ranged from our experiences in the world of the arts, our shared passion for cinema (though he knows a lot more about it than I do) and my uncontrollable sweet tooth. Again, another friend I hope to keep. Nele Behaeghel, who’s the residency’s organiser, manager…I don’t know how to describe her, because she does a lot of stuff to make sure we have a good time while in Tartu. Finally, Lemmit Kaplinski who’s responsible for the residency program to exist in the first place. I could list many other names, but I think the post is getting a bit too long.

I guess, I’ll be happy if I manage to do the things I’m already doing the in 2 weeks left here in Tartu.

– Rodrigo Lebrun

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