Mandy Espezel / / Impressions of Tartu

A fragment of Mandy’s exhibition

Lace curtains creating backdrops for window-sill cats sunning themselves alongside flowering succulents.

Women with powerfully lived faces selling cut flowers; the smartly dressed carrying these brightly coloured bouquets to present to someone loved, or thought of, or cared for, or celebrated.

This is the 22nd day that I have been home in Canada since leaving my residency in Tartu, and I spent the day hiking, thinking about what I remembered most; what manifested in myself and my work.

I was in Tartu from the start of April to the end of June, which was an active and seasonably lovely time. My approach to the residency was to spend a significant amount of time walking the city. I explored as much as I could on foot, trying to notice details that I could carry with me back to my studio: house’s painted half way, the colour of the river at sunset (never the same), the sound of the birds at noon\at dusk\at dawn. The smell of wood fires. The way the wooden houses start to lean and bend with time… vs the crumbling apart soviet-era construction blocks… bend or break.

A fragile fragment of Mandy’s exhibition

The greatly eclectic mix of old and new and halfway made buildings around the city were interesting to think about. When I wasn’t walking, I would ride my bicycle to areas too far to walk and see all the construction sites… sleek modern buildings and new neighborhoods. But I’d also just ride as far as I could go and discover new communities, and get lost, and then find new ways home, never really being too worried about truly getting lost because the city seems to always direct you back to where you need to go.

I tried to notice how people interacted with each other in different settings and how they walked around… who would look me the eye and who avoided contact completely. I think mostly I wanted to find a way to understand the psychological texture of Tartu as an entity, which of course is an impossible task, as it is impossible to summarize three months here. But what I noticed was that I started to be able to slow down and sit by the river and listen to the birds and try to be present there. And to notice the blue of the sky. The lyrical quality of spoken Estonian (so difficult for my own mouth to form, but met with such patience). And all the benches, all around the city, being utilized constantly.

How lovely to be in a place where you are encouraged to be out with one another in public space. The liveliness of the centre was especially enjoyable; to walk through crowds and festivals and outdoor concerts just stubbled upon.

I spent a lot of time in the public library. They have a very kind staff who helped me sort myself out (a free library card, no small thing where I come from), and they have an impressive English-language collection if that’s your thing, and a really nice selection of Estonian literature translated into English (essential if you are keen).

Mandy at the opening of her exhibition “A Few Haptic Possibilities”

But I think my favorite memories were the times spent getting to know the people from the Trükimuuseum and the other artists in residence that overlapped with my time. Hiking and going to movies and having dinner and pints and dancing. And all the support and help and kindness shown without second thought. This, again, is no small thing.

Outside my studio window I overlooked a kind of car/mechanic lot. There was a young teenage boy who rode his dirt-bike there everyday around noon. He had very limited space to do this, so he rode around in a tight circle, over and over. At first I thought how bored he must have been with this. To follow the same track, see the same things. But then, I started to think about how he kept choosing to do just that. Maybe he wasn’t bored at all. Maybe he loved that dirt bike more than anything else and getting to ride it made him feel happy and excited and maybe it was the best part of his day.

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