Anu Vahtra (1982) is an artist working in the photo- and installation medium, and who focuses on exhibition format and specifics of exhibition space, initiated by architectural characters, and a historical and contextual background. Her installations play with the spectator’s memory and senses, grasping the whole space while altering it as the content and format of the work. Therefore Vahtra’s work is ephemeral in nature – it’s not possible to re-enact her exhibitions in the initial form. Vahtra’s work has been described as analytical archaeology.
One of Vahtra’s first works is “Dimensions Variable” (2009), in which she placed the depicted figure in-between a two and three dimensional space, so the space around the artwork became as important as the work itself. The same principle was used in photo-installation “17,9°” (2012). Exhibiting the work in a space with an ascending floor of 17,9 degrees in the Contemporary Arts Museum of Estonia, Vahtra focussed on the characteristics of the space. Practicing a contemporary trompe-l’oeil way of exhibiting, she structured and regulated the view of the spectator. Therefore the perspective of Vahtra’s work is not just aesthetical, but actually contributes to its meaning.
Vahtra also dealt with the physical properties of the aforementioned museum in the work “The Walls Stand, Speechless and Cold” (2015). In this photo installation she used a vacant space on the 2nd floor of the building, which evolved by removing the passage which united it with Kultuurikatel. The work already started from the ground with a scaffolding of stairs and ended with the framed photo in the back of the space, which was visually hindered by using photo wallpaper. On the photo was the new facade of the same museum building.
The technics used in the works “Homage to Gordon Matta-Clark” (2009) and postcard series “Rip-Off” (2010), Vahtra re-used in “Illusion, distorted perspective, lack of balance, another dimension I-III” (2014). In this work the artist deals with the history of the Tartu Art Museum exhibition building and its position in the society at that time. Vahtra cleared the temporary walls that were built in the buildings, making visible what had been invisible to visitors for years. She also installed on the street metal beams, that were used to support the building in the 1980s, and made a series of postcards in which she redesigned the facade of the building.
Vahtra studied photography in the Estonian Academy of Arts, Gerrit Rietveld Academy and in Bergen Academy of Art and Design. She has had residencies in ISCP, New York (2017), in Nordic-Baltic A-i-R, Tromsø (2017) and in Sørfinnset Skole / the nord land, Gildeskal (2010). She has had personal exhibitions at Performa biennaal (2017), Drdova Gallery (2017), Hobusepea and Draakon gallery (2016), Chimera-Project Gallery (2016), Kjubh Kunstverein (2016). She has participated in several International group exhibitions and interdisciplinary collaborations. Vahtra is one of the founders of the publishing house and book store Lugemik. She has been awarded with the Köler Prize grand prix (2015) and with the annual prize of the Cultural Endowment of Estonia (2017), Artproof scholarship at viennacontemporary art fair (2017). Anu Vahtra is one of the laureates for the artist’s salary 2016–2019. In 2020 Vahtra participated in a residency at WIELS Contemporary Art Center.