Eleonore de Montesquiou (1979) is an Estonian-French artist, whose films focus on the relationship between people’s life stories and their official history, as well as on personal and national identity. Her works take a documentative approach, expressed through film, drawing and text. Montesquiou is a socially sensitive artist, using empiric research methods like interview, observation and archival materials.
One of Montesquiou’s first exhibitions, “My home is my castle” (Tallinn Art Hall Gallery, 2002) focused on telling stories about home. The artist interviewed people of various ages living in Tallinn, asking them to talk about the history and current usage of their language in their mother tongue, and later presented these stories in a video, and in a booklet.
The project “Atom cities” (2005), consisting of a two-volume book and films, documents the “invisible” part of Estonia: the forgotten Sillamäe and Paldiski, cities that had a strategic economic and military significance during the Soviet period. Montesquiou has documented how holidays that originated from the Soviet era are celebrated in the 21st century – compared to the more common method of using objects and archival photographs, hers is a remarkably refreshing approach. She shows the cities, which during the Cold War enjoyed many privileges, in a new light; offering her audience a look into the fears of the inhabitants of these former closed cities and taboos in Estonian society. Montesquiou also highlights the political aspect of nationality in this context without favouring one or the other ideology. One such example would be two videos recorded on September 1st, one in an Estonian school, the other in a Russian school: one shows a quiet and restrained environment, and the other an emotional, open and visually colourful atmosphere.
The border city Narva has a special place in Montesquiou’s work – it has featured in several of her video works. For example, in “Fabrika” (2009, Art Museum of Estonia) shows Kreenholm as a phenomenon – in its totality and inevitable decline. In collaboration with students from the Estonian Academy of Arts, a three language newspaper the Narva Gazette (2018), was published to give an overview of the historic development of the city and provide observations and illustrations about Narva as it is today in the form of a diary: its streets and people, paragraphs of interviews that were previously published in Montesquiou’s book “Na Grane / Narva – Ivangorod” (2009). Life in the border city is also discussed in the video work “Travellers” (2007) that tells the story of commuters who travel between Frankfurt on the Oder and Słubice. The short film “Women of Cerbère” (2014) centres on a city bordering France and Spain, where the first women’s strike took place. Because of the different width of rails in the two countries, trains could not cross the border, so the women working as baggage carriers had to carry goods from one train to another. Montesquiou’s other videos also tell stories about women, for example “A woman” (2009, Art Museum of Estonia) that highlights the thoughts of a 51 year old woman from Ida-Virumaa: we hear about the difficulties she has faced and the disorganised relationship between the newly independent Estonia and its inhabitants. The life of the seemingly simple person is highly impacted by different ideologies. Somewhat similar is the video “Olga & Olga“ (2017) that shows two friends with the same name discussing their problems, men, and politics.
In recent years, Montesquiou has worked with a number of refugees applying for asylum in Estonia. For example, in the documentary “Fire” (2017) we meet people who are being detained in the Vao accommodation centre. Silven, Solo and Sacko are West African men, who have suffered in conflicts and are now looking for a stable environment. Through Montesquiou’s camera lens we see the years-long legislative limbo asylum seekers often find themselves in. It is an exceptional look into the life of the detainees, now living in Rae. Her films point to the blind spots in Estonian legislation that creates migrants without documents, rights, or any kind of possibility to legalise their stay in Estonia. “Hope is no home” (2019), featuring posters, postcards and films, tells refugees’ stories and their journey to Estonia, their life while here, and on release from detention centres. Montesquiou’s emotional works are so far the best examples of documentation of the ordeals asylum seekers have gone through in Estonia.
Montesquiou is also an activist outside the art world. Around 2010 she established a foundation to help the parents of children from the Kopli district in Tallinn cover kindergarten or summer camp fees. She is also active in the social project Neue Nachbarschaft in Berlin. As part of the project, refugees can participate in language lessons in their café and in other activities like women’s workshops or rock climbing.
Eleonore de Montesquiou was born in Paris and is based in Berlin and Tallinn. Her films have been screened in numerous festivals, like Berlinale (2011), Transmediale (2013), Les Rencontres Internationales – HKW (2016, 2017, 2018). She has exhibited in Europe and Russia. Montesquiou’s book “Na Grane / Narva – Ivangorod” (2009) won the prize for the most beautiful Estonian book in 2010. Her videos belong to the collection of the Art Museum of Estonia.