Marco Laimre (1968; Marko Laimre before 2004) is an artist whose work includes photography, installation, sculpture, painting, performance sound art, intervention, curation and text. Laimre’s work is not stylistically coherent, nor does he have a signature style; his artistic output is concept not media based. In his art, Laimre looks at common everyday phenomena, approaching them from the perspective of the humanities.
Marco Laimre studied painting in the early 1990s at the Estonian Academy of Art and entered the art scene as an anarchist, an uncompromising and critical artist. His early work has been categorised as part of the aggressive self-assertion practices of the generation that began its artistic path in the 1990s, expressed in the post-socialist context as institutional critique and New Left rhetoric in art. For example, in 1994 Laimre opened a marble memorial plaque at the lobby of the Estonian Academy of Arts stating: “The department of cave painting was founded here on 23.X.1994”. Many of his early works focus on the local political and cultural context and analyse the self-mythologisation and the discourse of freedom in the newly independent republic (“Shared territories”, 1995; “§ 45”, 1998, etc.). For example, his “Red arrow” (1996) is an interactive installation made of a quern-stone and speakers. When the quern-stone is turned in the direction the arrow indicates, a distorted version of the Estonian national anthem starts playing at the speed of which the stone is turned. The work was created for the Annual Exhibition of the Soros Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia titled “Estonia as a sign” as an ironic comment on national self-mythologising.
Laimre’s early work clearly presents pieces that centre on “me” (“Me and art”, 1994; “Me and the constitution”, 1996; “Me and optimism”, 1996; “Me and theatre”, 1996, etc.) that defined the artist’s relationship to the world and explored structures of power and the symbolic order. His work often blends autobiographical and social elements in a polemical way, which results in the praise of individuality (“My world maps I–III”, 1997–2001) or presenting a common phenomenon as something personal (“Manifest Labjekti kohta”, 2000). The work “Sugarfree” (1996) is based on the artist’s personal experience in a psychiatric clinic and draws attention to isolation as a mechanism of institutional violence. Performances “Bonj-njonj-nonj-non-now” (1999) and “L’ile mysterieuse” (2000) refer to artists’ fate and role in society in a bodily and masochist manner, pointing to the continuous need to disregard norms and cross boundaries, and the following consequence of being designated a “madman” in society.
In Laimre’s work, a strategy critically targeting the textual and pictorial regime of representation is prioritised. He is fascinated by the constricting and ideological nature of photography. Laimre views language as a political, repressive and constricting phenomenon that’s inevitable and insurmountable at the same time. For example, in the small-format photo series “Grandmother Lily” (1997) the artist uses a 1930s photograph of a woman, who might or might not be Laimre’s grandmother. The photographs are covered with tracing paper and each image is accompanied by a text, giving the woman a romantic role: political activist, opera singer, child killer, red revolutionary, mad poet. The work points to our changing relationship to the depicted woman with each of the new roles, and shows how easy it is to guide the viewer’s perception, and how the object changes when a certain textual or image regime is established.
In the second half of the 2000s Laimre described his creative principles as relying on the concepts of experimental semiotics. This meant grounding his work in the understanding that the whole world is a system of signs that can be interpreted, experimentally manipulated and used for deception. This approach was based on combining seemingly random images in a cognitive way, possibly referring to a comprehensive meaning, or the lack there of, or deception. One of the most significant achievements of that period was his participation in the 49th Venice Biennale together with Ene-Liis Semper (2001). The exhibition connected Laimre’s and Semper’s similar practices of approaching social conflicts in a critical manner. Another notable example of experimental semiotics in Laimre’s work is the scandalous 2004 exhibition “Questions and Answers” at the Rotermann Salt Storage, which, among other things, took an institutional critique approach towards the president of the Estonian Artists’ Association (“No Sound”). The same year, after Estonia joined the European Union, Laimre began creating art under the artistic alias of Marco Laimre.
The second half of the 2000s in Laimre’s practice is mostly dedicated to educational and institutional activities: in 2005 he took the position of the head of the Photography Department at the Estonian Academy of Arts (2005–2017), in 2006 he was one of the founding members of the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (EKKM) (2006–2016). Laimre’s contribution to photography education and the early years of EKKM was political and anarchist. The parallel projects were explicitly collective and conceptual with the aim of creating change through continuous tactical questioning. In 2009 Laime once again participated at the Venice Biennale – he curated Kristina Norman’s exhibition “After-War”.
In 2010 Laimre continued his personal art projects with the exhibition “Sedasi! Kütkestuste kultuur” (Sedasi! The culture of attraction) at EKKM as its opening act. The exhibition looked at work, relationships with women and EKKM. Since 2015 Laimre has been searching for touching points between amateur sports and art. The solo show “Nurr” (2015) at Hobusepea Gallery was the first in the series focusing on motor sports from the perspective of the rider’s experience of the landscape. This was followed by “Motor” in 2017 at Tallinn Art Hall (curated by Indrek Köster and Taavi Talve), focusing on the culture of garage hobbies, repairing and inventing. In 2019 Laimre staged a durational performance at Hobusepea Gallery highlighting the relationship between the player and the game, and the different reality of the video game and the physical reality (“A.S.T.A. blind playthrough” and “A.S.T.A. 1.0 / Black Flag Shadow”, Tartu Art House). In 2018 Marco Laimre began his PhD studies at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Estonian Academy of Arts, where his research is titled “Dystopian Digital Games and Contemporary Art. How to use Analytical Digital Gaming in Contemporary Art”, thesis advisor: PhD Jaak Tomberg).
Marco Laimre studied painting at the Estonian Academy of Arts (BA, 1996). Among other recognitions he received the Annual Award of Estonian Cultural Endowment in 1995, the UNDP Contemporary Art Award in 1996, the Päevaleht Art Prize in 1997, the Hansapank Art Prize in 2001 and the Future Art Prize of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Estonian Academy of Arts in 2017. Laimre has participated at the Venice Biennale twice: in 2001 as an artist and in 2009 as a curator. From 2005 to 2017 he was the head of the Department of Photography at the Estonian Academy of Arts. In 2006 he was one of the founding members of the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia (EKKM). His works belong to the collections of Art Museum of Estonia, Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia and Interactive Video Game Museum LVLup!