Iliyana Nedkova, Creative Director of Contemporary Art at Horesecross Arts | Threshold artspace: Perth’s museum of contemporary art visited Tallin and Tartu in Estonia in October 2017 with an ICOM UK – HWB Travel Grant. This is the report from Iliyana’s visit.
The original purpose of my visit was to establish an initial curatorial partnership between Threshold artspace, Perth and Tartu’s Kunstimuuseum while exploring the possibility of co-commissioning a new contemporary art project which will connect Perth to Tartu in Estonia and Pskov in Russia. Perth is Pskov’s twin city in Scotland and Tartu is Pskov’s twin city in Estonia. The intention is for this new contemporary art project to launch during the Hanseatic Days – a weekend of international cultural events in Pskov 2019 – and then tour to both Perth and Tartu.
Whilst there were no prior institutional links between Perth’s Threshold artspace and Tartu’s Kunstimuuseum, the project was inspired by my encounter at a recent conference of Rael Artel, Director of Tartu’s Kunstmuuseum until July 2017. The project was also encouraged by the Friends of Pskov Association, Perth. Following its 25 years of successful twinning projects between Perth and Pskov, the Association expressed interest in facilitating my curatorial research and the resulting artistic projects in Pskov to mark the Hanseatic Days 2019 and the related touring of these projects to Threshold artspace, Perth and Kunstimuuseum, Tartu in 2020/21.
During my initial visit to Tallinn and Tartu I came across a range of Estonian cultural professionals, including curators, critics, artists and writers. Every meeting and encounter contributed in is own way to shaping what the contemporary art project bridging the twin cities of Perth, Tartu and Pskov might look like.
My initial research trip to Tartu may be over but the incredible insight from all the fellow curators and artists I have met in Estonia will continue to shape our Perth Tartu Pskov project in the next couple of years. A poignant reminder of how important Russia has been and continues to be for this part of Europe was Tartu Kunstimuuseum own solo show Paint It Black II at the time of my visit – the latest of the ‘Russian’ exhibition projects by the Estonian artist Art Allmägi. Allmägi’s powerful show of large-scale sculpture and film projections was prompted by a recent legal amendment which assigns the cause of any Russian soldier’s death as classified information: http://tartmus.ee/en/exhibition/paint-black-ii/
Although the contemporary art scene in neighbouring Pskov is elusive, unknown and underexplored even to the Russian speaking members of the curatorial team at Tartu Kunstimuuseum, we realised that Julia Polujanenkova, Keeper of Contemporary Art Collections at Kunstimuuseum, is willing to undertake an informal curatorial research to Pskov on one of her next visits to her family in this part of Russia using her existing Russian visa.
We also identified the opportunity to add new commissions and acquisitions by Estonian and Russian artists to the Horsecross Arts collection of contemporary art. Presently, there is no Russian artist and the only Estonian artist represented in our museum collection at Threshold artspace is Mare Tralla. Tralla also features in the contemporary art collection at Tartu Kunstimuuseum with completely different set of her works. While there is scope to expand on this Estonian and Russian representation in our collection in the UK, we also agreed to address the lack of exposure of Scottish contemporary artists at Tartu Kunstimuuseum.
One of the benefits of Threshold artspace is that it is firmly rooted into the performing arts culture of the Horsecross Arts organisation which runs and programs not only contemporary visual arts in its two iconic building Perth Theatre and Concert Hall but drama, music, dance and cinema.
During my visit to Estonia, I sensed the potential to broaden my initial curatorial research which was to focus on contemporary visual arts projects led by Threshold artspace and Kunstimuuseum. My research led to identifying the best Estonian partners in contemporary dance (Renate Keerd and her dance company Kompanii Nii), contemporary theatre (Tartu Uus Teater) and contemporary choral music (Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir). The next step would be to continue the conversation with the Horsecross Arts Creative Team (including my colleagues, Creative Directors in Music, Dance, Theatre and Creative Learning) and together to conceive of an Estonian season across all our programming strands which could only enrich our Perth, Pskov and Tartu project.
My top tips for other museum professionals undertaking international visits are:
- bring an open mind if your visit marks the initial stages of your project
- leave any pre-conceived curatorial ideas behind
- expand on your research while visiting and pursue any new strands upon your return
- embrace the opportunities that may present themselves to you during your visit
- aim to arrange as many meetings with cultural professionals as you can fit in during your visit
- make sure that you build-in some flexibility in your plans so that you can accommodate any extra meetings and follow up on recommendations
- take time to explore the galleries, museums, exhibitions, the key sites and events while there
- continue the exploration by following those institutions and individuals by good old-fashioned email and on social media
While our shared curatorial vision for 2019/21 rests on us securing further financial support and public funding, we are committed to undertake an initial cultural exchange of touring exhibitions featuring artists’ films and videos from our respective museum collections from Perth to Tartu and back. We envisage that this initial cultural exchange won’t require any further resources as the touring exhibition could be ‘exchanged’ through free online transfer sites and the public screenings could be integrated in our ongoing exhibition programmes. This exchange of artists’ works from our collections will signal in public and to our audiences that we are committed to work on the Perth – Pskov – Tartu project long-term.
However, before we proceed with the exchange of the touring exhibitions, we have been advised to approach the local government in Tartu, in particular the Vice Mayor of Tartu, with a formal letter detailing how we are aiming to bridge the twin cities of Perth, Pskov and Tartu through contemporary art. The expectation is that the local government in Tartu will proudly support our project and perhaps expand on it through its administrative powers governing the twinning arrangement between Tartu and Pskov which has been in place since 2006. We will also enter into an official correspondence with the Provost of Perth who will be able to validate our ambitious project in the context of the twinning agreement between Perth and Pskov officially signed in 1992.
Another immediate step is to also meet with the Friends of Pskov Association in Perth and update all the members about the outcome of my initial curatorial visit to Tartu.
Before we finalise any further project details, ideally we would like to host a return Kunstimuuseum curatorial visit from Tartu to Threshold artspace and Scotland. We are in process of identifying the best funding to enable this return visit.
The visit has enabled us to achieve perhaps the most important initial step of ‘twinning’ Perth’s Threshold artspace with Tartu Kunstimuuseum while outlining the range of possibilities to co-curate an exciting contemporary art project bridging Perth, Pskov and Tartu.
The visit has confirmed once again how important it is to undertake an international curatorial research, meet fellow curators, explore exhibitions and find our common language (what an expected opportunity to dust-off my rusty Russian) while continuing to shape one’s ideas for an exciting new project.
“I am delighted that Iliyana Nedkova’s initial exploratory visit to Estonia has already opened a dialogue between Horsecross Arts and Tartu Kunstimuuseum. This initial curatorial visit has already strengthened the institutional capacity of our organisations to implement a new international partnership – the first of its kind with an Estonian partner for us at Horsecross Arts and as it turns out – the first with a Scottish partner for Tartu Kunstimuuseum. I am looking forward to us establishing the foundations of a long-term collaborative relationship not only between Perth and Tartu but also with Pskov – Perth and Tartu’s twin city in Russia. I will especially champion this ambitious international project in the context of the central role Horsecross Arts is playing in shaping the future of the cultural offer in Perth and Scotland.”
Gwilym Gibbons, Chief Executive Officer of Horsecross Arts