Flo Kasearu (1985) is an artist whose work brings together performative practices with video, painting, drawing, sculpture and installation, and explores themes like domestic violence, small businesses, unemployment, gender, identity, freedom, patriotism, nationalism and the oppositions of public and private space. In her art, Kasearu reacts to social and political processes with a fine sense of humour. She often uses biographical material as the basis for her works.
In one of her first performances, “Estonian Sculpture” (2005), Kasearu stood on a podium in a gallery, dressed in Estonian national dress, with a sign hanging from her neck “I am dead”, as a marker of her fears regarding her identity and the fate of her country. In the video “Mulgi Travels” (2007), a woman in Estonian national dress introduces Estonia in Berlin. The main character in the video acts like a self-appointed diplomat, with the duty of introducing her home country to the people she meets in the street. Acting like a sales agent, her actions evoke Estonia as a company operating according to the logic of the market. In the video “Estonian dream” (2011), Kasearu looks at the idea of patriotism and discusses being home sick, and being a hostage in your own home. The protagonist of the video is a great example of in-betweenness: she wants to be here and elsewhere, home and away from home.
In 2013 Flo Kasearu founded a house museum, a site specific and continuously developing thematic exposition of the artist’s work in her own home. The house museum is an artwork and a conceptual project, encompassing the Pebre Street house in its entirety, from basement to attic, and also her garden. For example, as part of the Gwangju Biennale, Kasearu invited a professional gardener to create a traditional Korean style garden in her backyard. “Korean garden” (2016) is the most extensive installation in the museum, and one of the few of its kind in Europe. Since Kasearu mostly works at home, her art addressed current everyday themes. For example, she has created several site-specific works in the museum, looking at issues of building ownership – “Nightmares of the house owner” and “Ars Longa Vita Brevis” (both 2013).
Kasearu’s work also features a playful approach to spatial studies. For example, she conducted guided tours in her home and house museum, designed to shift people’s perception of private and public spaces. A similar approach is evident in the work titled “Party next door” (2014) and the participatory performance “Members only” at the Performa Biennial (2017). Kasearu notably addressed the notion of space in her 2019 work “Spatial Relations”, exhibited at show “A Room of One’s Own. Feminist’s Questions to Architecture” (curated by Ingrid Ruudi, at the Museum of Estonian Architecture). The artwork consisted of a walk-through room with several doors and a laminated floor, advertised as a rental property: “A room to let, for a woman. Walk-through, five doors, 25.5 sqm, Rotermann Quarter”. The work quickly became more than just an art piece and the advertisement was widely shared on social media, prompting a discussion about whom, and in which conditions, has the right to a private space.
Kasearu knows well how to quickly react to social concerns, using apt visual imagery. In the video installation “Uprising” (2015), she staged a magical scene of roof repair works – people in black folding the metal roof sheet into airplanes. The drone video was inspired by the relationship between Russia and the West, and the tense atmosphere that exists in Estonia. In 2020, Kasearu accepted a creative challenge at a time when the field of culture was still in shock, caused by the first wave of Covid-19. The exhibition “State of Emergency”, realised within a couple of months for Kumu Art Museum (curated by Kati Ilves), focused on the museum as an ecosystem. Changes in that system have an impact on a lot of people, including invigilators. The video installation portrayed Kumu’s invigilators in different settings, away from their daily routine. The exhibition pointed to themes that the emergency situation had highlighted: work and free time in the absence of work, the juxtaposition of interior spaces and nature, isolation, separation, surveillance, etc.
Kasearu has also addressed the issue of financial hardship and social inequality, and looked at related political rhetoric. At the height of the economic crisis she created the project “Artificial Queue” (together with Andra Aaloe, Aet Ader, and Grete Soosalu) that could be seen as a performance or a social sculpture or experiment. On 5 April 2010, a long queue formed in front of Tallinn Art Hall, after the artists announced that the first 100 people will receive 100 Estonian kroons. A queue in front of the exhibition hall was an unusual sight, often interpreted as political critique of the mayor of Tallinn at the time, Edgar Savisaar. In 2020 Kasearu had an exhibition at Tartu Art Museum titled “Endangered Species”, where she exhibited, among other things, items from her mother’s shop that had been closed down. Referring to a changing working culture, the artist gave the items new uses: the sausage counter became a fountain (“Re-training”, 2020) and the washing area set up according to European standards embodied a foreign prop (“Introduced in Translation”). Through installations, videos and drawings, the exhibition spoke of the difficulties that small business owners experience when closing their long-time business.
When the artist’s mother Margo Orupõld opened a women’s support centre in Pärnu, Kasearu was inspired to focus on violence in intimate relationships. Through the creative activities Kasearu organised at the centre, she had multiple close encounters with women escaping violence. At the 2016 Artishok Biennale, Kasearu invited several women to read from their court files as part of the performance “Illustrating the Request for Privacy”. The black and white video documentation of the performance shows a text full of bureaucratic jargon, highlighting the distance between official documents and personal traumatic experiences. At the beginning of 2021 Kasearu opened her solo exhibition “Cut Out of Life” (curated by Cathrin Mayer) at Tallinn Art Hall, which concluded her long-time work on violence in intimate relationships. The exhibition focused on the everyday life of women suffering from domestic violence, and their desire to become independent, the transitional stage in their life that begins with coming to a shelter or a support group, and life after leaving their violent partner. Together with the writer Jan Kaus, Kasearu also published a book exploring the same topic titled “Vangerdused” (Castlings, 2020).
Flo Kasearu studied painting (BA, 2008) and fine art (MA, 2013) at the Estonian Academy of Arts. As an exchange student, she studied at Rebecca Horn’s multimedia studio at the Berlin University of the Arts, where she began working with video and performance. In 2013 she opened her own house museum in Tallinn. Kasearu has participated in the Gwangju Biennial in South Korea (2016, curated by Maria Lind) and Performa Festival in New York (2017). Kasearu has received the Estonian State Cultural Award (2021), the Violence Prevention Award (2018), the Independent Performing Arts Award (2016), the Grand Prix of Köler Prize (2012) and the Young Artist Award (2008). In additions to private collections, her works belong to the collections of the Art Museum of Estonia, Tartu Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, European Central Bank, and the Flo Kasearu’s House Museum. Kasearu was one of the recipients of the national artists’ salary between 2016 and 2019.