Liina Siib (1963) works mainly in photography, video and installation. The most prominent and recurring themes in Siib’s work include social spaces, marginalised groups and overlooked experiences. Siib has said that she aims not to document but to deconstruct the everyday life of her contemporaries, guided by a feminine approach and experiences from her childhood. In her work Siib looks into how history gets written and the role of memory in shaping various groups in society, often using interviews, observation or archival materials as her method of working.
The first half of the 1990s in Siib’s practice was characterised by experiments with means of printmaking, collage and found objects, however, in the second half of the decade she mainly focused on photography. In the 1990s Siib’s photography often highlighted socially sensitive themes. One of her most notable works from that period is “Desidentifikatsioon” (Disidentification, 1996), exhibited at the show “Estonia as a Sign” in 1996. The work consists of a double-sided photo board with the detail of Saint Victor’s decapitated head from an altarpiece in St Nicholas church in Tallinn painted by Hermen Rode in 1481 on one side and a police photo from 1996 of a human head found near Pirita River on the other. This work drew attention to the different readings of a similar scenario and used the comparison to provoke the viewer to examine how they read visual images – why is it that in one case we look at an act of violence from a religious and art historical perspective, but in the other in horror and disgust.
Siib often focuses on social groups that have fallen behind in the new neoliberal and West-oriented system. For example, in the photo installation “Külalislahkus” (Hospitality, 1997) we see a house inhabited by homeless people and objects found there and “Hooaja palitu” (Coat of the Season) brings attention to people living in poor conditions. In the five-part video series “Kompromiss välistatud” (Compromise Excluded, 2003) Siib asks what compromises are made by people who say compromises are out of question. She is also visualising the monophonic history-writing in 20th century Estonia. To exemplify that the artist asked Russian-speaking and seemingly not very well-off people to repeat in a choir in the Baltic Station: “I am dead!”, thus creating a narrative of “yesterday’s heroes”. The installation “Huldufólk / Varjatud rahvas” (Huldufólk / Hidden People, 2020) focuses on the activity at the back of a 24/7 shop in Reykjavík. Her photo series, evoking capitalist realism, and video shows the activities of various groups of people and their role in commercial transactions and logistics.
While making the project “Süütuse presumptsioon” (Presumed Innocence, 1997) Siib became interested in conventional gender roles and their visual representation. The works centred on two groups: women prisoners and children. The photo series “Scratch Drive” (1997) showed 7 to 10 year old girls practicing their make-up skills, learning about culturally constructed “femininity” through mimicking.
Siib continued exploring childhood and identity construction in the works “Pastoraal” (Pastoral, 1998), “Shift” (2000) and “Laste album” (Children’s Album, 2000). Showing children and teenagers as sensuous beings, Siib questioned their innocence and stereotypes based on asexuality. Siib depicts children in a playful world without adults and their expectations about children’s innocence. Even so, the world of adults is present through imitation, as children play adults’ games.
Siib’s photo series “(nimi muudetud)“ ((name changed), 2000) is one of the few works in Estonian art addressing incest and the sexual abuse of children. The staged photos were inspired by the first scandalous exposé in local media and were supposedly based on stories of numerous girls and families. The work highlighted a significant problem in Estonian society – the silencing of stories about the sexual abuse of children in the media.
At 24th Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts Siib presented the project “Movie Posters” (2001, 2004), consisting of film posters, in which the artist had combined cinematic photos and text. Siib wanted to look into differences in the advertising of various film genres and signs and technical approaches used in creating these “contemporary icons”. The photo series “Viigileht” (The Fig Leaf, 2003–2005) and “Dexiosis” (2005) focused on two symbols prominent in Western culture, the fig leaf and handshake. Siib explored their historical roots and accentuated their changed meaning.
In 2011 Siib represented Estonia at the 54th Venice Biennale with the project “A Woman Takes Little Space”. The project was inspired by discussions at the time in Estonia regarding equality for working women, more specifically regarding the pay gap, often justified by the sentiment that women get paid less, because they take up less space and don’t need as much money. The exhibition consisted of photo and video installations and its setting resembled a flat. Siib’s project drew attention to women’s relationship to their personal and work space, also taking into account ethnic relationships in post-soviet Estonia.
Siib kept exploring the topic of women’s work in her following projects. In 2016 and 2017 the artist spent long periods in Finland and interviewed Estonian women working there. In the video “Linnasümfoonia e-moll” (Urban Symphony in E-minor, 2018) women tell stories about themselves and their family in their new home country, about their arrival, adaptation, and also their inability to do so. Among them is the video work “Tule ja mine” (Come and Go, 2019), looking at the other side of this kind of living by portraying Võru, a small town in Estonia, experiencing depopulation, as people are looking for better jobs elsewhere. Siib’s research looks at the emigration pattern of over 30 000 people that has had a significant impact on whole generations in the last 30 years.
Liina Siib graduated from the Department of Graphic Art (BA, 1989) and Department of Photography (MA, 2003) at the Estonian Academy of Arts, studied at the University of Westminster, London as an exchange student and has been a resident at The Lower East Side Printshop in New York and the Ansel Adams Center in San Francisco. Since 2015 Siib has held a professorship at the Department of Graphic Art at the Estonian Academy of Arts. In 2003 she received the Kristjan Raud Award and in 2006 the Annual Award of the Estonian Cultural Endowment. Siib’s works belong to the collections of the Art Museum of Estonia, Tartu Art Museum, Nürnbergi Neues Museum für Kunst und Design, and Moderna Museet in Stockholm.