Marko Mäetamm, Loser's Paradise. 2007. Estonian Pavilion at the 52nd Venice biennale. Photo: Marko Mäetamm.

Marko Mäetamm represented Estonia at the 52nd Venice biennial, with a project titled Loser’s Paradise (10.06 – 21.11.2007), curated by Mika Hannula.

Curator Mika Hannula: “Marko Mäetamm has a confession to make. Or sorry, let me rephrase this: he has loads and loads of confessions to make. He wants to tell it all, just everything to us, and he wants us to listen to his worries and problems. Mäetamm is confused, he feels weak and almost completely inadequate when facing the demands and challenges of the contemporary world. He is afraid of failing, of losing his job, of not being able to pay his bank loan. He feels miserable without his wife and kids but feels equally unhappy when being with them. In other words, Mäetamm seems to be in a deep mess.

But hold on, are these confessions as works of art true? Does he really mean it? Sure, of course they are both-and. These litanies of failures of coping with modern life are obviously and painstakingly as true as they are blue, but at the same time, they are also something else. They are, not so surprisingly, made, re-shaped and coloured by a wide variety of white lies. You know, with all the shades between pure white to grey on grey as in dirty snow. In short, they are stories. And yes, they are fabulously well and vividly told and expressed stories with the means of contemporary art and visual culture.

The project Marko Mäetamm presents at the Estonian pavilion has the title of Loser’s Paradise. A title that again simultaneously tells it all while quickly camouflaging the actions and covering his traces. It is a project that can alternatively be filed under a) Collection of Modern Miseries, b) I Told You So, c) A Good Idea, and d) When is Supper, Honey? It is a project, which constantly and with amazing coherence plays with the double act of telling and showing it all and not telling and showing anything at all. The point being: this is a body of work that you can’t explain away or solve. It stays there to haunt you, to bug you with more and more questions about was it really like that, or was it again just another lie?

With the strategy of going head on, and seemingly without a helmet, against the mighty currents of our daily lives in so called western market orientated capitalist systems, Mäetamm is able to combine something personal with something very common and general. Even if most of us will never go and make public announcements how lost and lonely we feel, it is inevitable that we know more than well what Mäetamm is hinting at. We sense the pressure to compete, we live with and through the necessity to succeed. We face fear, we see pain – and we do all that is in our abilities and powers to deny it.

I don’t think Mäetamm is actually doing it for us – a kind of biblical character for taking the blame and facing the blows for others. For this, he is much too smart, and much too clever. He certainly has the magic touch of orchestrating and constructing an identity within a specific and particular site of a story. When taking on the role of the world’s most naïve artist, he must have sensed a kind of liberating relief. He lets us think that he pours it all out, without leaving any secrets, any dirty clothes in the closet. He claims that “I have a great feeling of helplessness, I don’t know what to do…”

And sure, there is no way of denying it. Mäetamm feels like a murderer. He dreams of houses that burst out with blood and terror. He does think he is worth nothing at all. But the irony, the deep-seated pleasure of the whole show of acting as naïvely as possible is the trick of turning it all around. Mäetamm addresses the miseries of a white man nearing the abyss of middle-age by therapeutically making a long, long list of them. He gets closer to all the things that he dislikes and fears in his daily life. He gets closer and closer, constantly increasing the amount of seemingly helpless whining and moaning.

At the end, he has crawled into a position where he is so small and so vulnerable that it is impossible not to feel pity for and anger at him. Here again, the double act of being simultaneously this and that, sugar and spice, hot and cold, smart and stupid, sensual and opportunistic generates a situation in which we also begin to feel helpless. We are confronted with such an amount of sentimental trash that we simply can’t take it anymore. We need to consider violence, we need to look for the chance to lurk behind this annoying artist and really give him the kick he deserves. We start to burn with the need to go and shout: stop complaining, stop crying, you, you, you ….

But no, we will not do it. We will walk through the rooms at the pavilion, and we will get more confused, more surprised, more annoyed and also more entertained. Slowly but surely, the more you spend time with his paintings, sculptures and videos, the more you will appreciate that this is all not that serious. It is a carnival. Admittedly, it is a very peculiar type of a carnival. A celebration of failure – but, please pay attention, not in order to fail more, or even to fail better, but as an act of private and public disgrace. It is about humiliation done of free will. A concert of the multiple ways of how one feels inadequate and plain dumb, a collection of deeds one cannot solve or come to terms with.

It is a carnival of the cleverest kind. A carnival that in a perverse way turns out to be a very accurate and effective way of criticizing the contemporary ideology of market-led one-size fits all consumer culture. By carefully bringing up all the ways Mäetamm cannot cope with the demands of the culture of all-encompassing consumerism, he not only articulates the ways he is completely useless to the system, but how he, step by step, distances himself from the semi-fascist orthodoxy that anything and everything in our daily life world must be products we sell, trade, buy, steal, confiscate, recycle and throw away.

In the end, for me, the Loser’s Paradise project of Mäetamm is full of hope. It shows us a way out of the current demagogy of no alternatives. There is always a choice, always a way out. Always something to hold on to, always something to be told to someone else that makes all of us feel a little bit less lost and lonely.”


Exhibition team
Artist: Marko Mäetamm
Curator: Mika Hannula
Commissioner: Johannes Saar (CCA)
Deputy commissioners: Elin Kard (CCA), Andris Brinkmanis

Exhibition was accompanied by a catalogue, designed by Indrek Sirkel, texts by Marko Mäetamm and Mika Hannula, edited by Andreas Trossek.

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