EKKM – The Museum of Becomings
When, in the fall-winter of 2006, Marco Laimre and Neeme Külm started to clean the trash out of the former Tallinn Heating office building at the top of the loading dock of the old boiler house at Põhja pst. 35, the idea of the Culture Cauldron was already in the air and Kumu had already opened. The first exhibition in the squatted spaces took place in May of 2007 (Work Nourishes, curator Elin Kard). The first exhibition under the aegis of the Estonian Museum of Contemporary Art (EKKM) took place in June of the same year. (Dream Economy, curator Marco Laimre)
A total of 12 exhibitions have taken place during four years, as well as one visiting exhibition at the Pärnu City Gallery and another at the Tartu Art House, along with several auxiliary events. (For more details, see http://ekkm-came.blogspot.com ) Since the museum can operate only during the summer months (it is somewhat paradoxical that there is no heat in a building that used to belong to Tallinn Heating), this is currently setting time limits on the exhibitions and other activities. To date, EKKM has reached a short term contract with Tallinn City Government a legally stopped being a squat. EKKM had In 2010 and will have in 2011 regular exhibition program from May to October, consisting of four exhibitions. The management board of the EKKM includes Marco Laimre, Neeme Külm, Elin Kard and Anders Härm.
The primary motivation for the development of the Estonian Museum of Contemporary Art was the closing of the Art Museum of Estonia’s exhibition hall for contemporary art in the Rotermann Salt Storage, and the opening of the Kumu in 2006; whereby contemporary art was consigned to the hermetic altitudes of the top floor – between heaven and earth – in the already confused mixture of national gallery and modern art museum. In the direct sense, an exhibition space hovering at such a height lost touch with the earth and reality. Therefore, the EKKM got its start as a protest against the inability of Estonia’s cultural policy to create two separate institutions for contemporary art and the national heritage – the paths of which cross ever less frequently. Since no one seemed to covet it, the Estonian Museum of Contemporary Art trademark was available and we just grabbed it.
Simon Sheikh writes that, in the art world, where the fetish for alternative space reigns, the structural composition of these alternative spaces very often does not differ from the institutions that they should be the alternatives to. Exactly the same rituals and routine rules are employed as in all other institutions. However, the EKKM conversely does not contrast itself with anything, but rather positions itself in an institutional gap, where no one has deigned to go, and identifies itself without any problem with the dominant structure. The EKKM occupies the position that the incomplete and underdeveloped governmental infrastructure for contemporary art has left empty and fills it with impertinent self-confidence without getting a cent of support for its activities. The EKKM employs the symbolic capital that has been lying about, and fills it with alternative content.
Maybe it is easiest to interpret the activities of the EKKM’s activities in the context of counter-publics. According to Michael Warner, many counter-public traits are similar to those of normative and dominant publics – existence with an imaginary addressee, as a specific discourse and/or place, and including circulation and reflexivity – which are always somewhat relational as well as oppositional. Self-organization is the distinctive feature of any kind of public formation – it is constructed and positions itself as public through specific means of reference, although not every self-organization is counter-public in nature. A counter-public is rather a conscious reflection of modality and the institutions of the normative public in order to address oneself to other subjects and other kinds of visions (in the given case, in the field of contemporary art).
EKKM – a perverse concept of a museum
Therefore, the EKKM can be perceived as a certain counter-public institution that includes many traits inherent to normative public institutions, but its goal is to conceive of another kind of institutionalism. The EKKM is a kind of self-instituting method, the task of which should be to function, in the context of the normal public, as a “perverse” non-conventional concept of the public. A separate task is to create a strange concept of a museum as such. On the one hand to occupy the position of the missing museum of contemporary art, and on the other, to constantly ask what a museum of contemporary art should or could really be like. What is it that makes a museum a museum and what kind of museum is actually possible?
To do all this, we had to first investigate what the concept “museum” actually means. What could define a museum better than the definition provided by the ICOM or the International Council of Museums? Apparently nothing. The ICOM defines a museum as follows: “a museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and of its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits, for purposes of study, education and enjoyment, the tangible and intangible evidence of people and their environment.”
We like parts of this definition very much, and other parts not at all; we wanted to reinterpret parts of it and to turn parts of it upside down. We like the non-profit feature very much, because we have no money and it does not seem that we will get very much. Although we could get some. The story with permanency is not good, since there is nothing as precarious as a squatted museum. However, if the city decides to give the building to the Culture Cauldron, and the latter deigns to conclude a lease with EKKM, the question of permanence could be resolved, at least in regard to some temporal permanence. We like to serve society, but probably not in the way that the society thinks that we should serve it. If society develops in the direction that we see the Solaris Center instead of the sun at the end of tunnel, we don’t want to know anything about such development. We have talked about the public above. In addition, we could say that, instead of the new institutions that have developed as the result of the blurring of the boundaries of a rational bourgeois public and private and public neoliberal spheres, as well as the copulation of capital and culture, we offer the counter-public sphere as a possible operating strategy in the public space, which has been irrevocably fragmented and hijacked by capital. We believe that acquisition is an extremely important function of a contemporary art museum, while restorers and the Constitution of the Republic of Estonia deal with the conservation of culture, and we don’t have much to do with this. Communications and exhibiting suits us very well, but such haughty rhetoric about the people and their environment is not employed by a perverse art museum. We can deal with the tangible and intangible. Instead of education, we prefer the distribution of information. We feel the principle of enjoyment is more important than research, because only the former can lead to the success of the latter.
Congregation and café: we survived the summer; we will also survive the winter
Along with exhibition activities, we have also started to compile our collection. Of course, the EKKM has no budget for these acquisitions. At the same time, we did not want to operate as blackmailers in the style of the “art cadgers” in the Soviet era. Therefore, we had to invent a third method for making acquisitions. The first work was acquired for the EKKM collection by Marco Laimre from the Kunsthalle exhibition entitled New Wave: Estonian Artists of the 21st-Century” – Raul Keller’s audio installation entitled “Reflector”, which was presented in the courtyard of the Culture Cauldron and acquired for one EEK. Kiwa’s installation entitled “the motor girls perform for you” was acquired for twice as much, or for two EEK, which was pilfered from the tip cup at the Kumu buffet. Johnson and Johson’s Brillo Box was acquired for a conceptual dollar, etc. Therefore, acquisitions are made by mutual agreement, which involves the exchange of some kind of symbolic capital, if the work is not donated or deposited with the collection. For instance, all of Marco Laimre’s works that do not belong to other collections have been donated to the museum’s collection, while Johnson and Johnson’s “Sound Check” has been deposited with the museum. For instance, the foreign works of art that belong to the collection include a bottle of Superflex non-alcoholic vodka, which was donated by Hanno Soans, a former curator at Kumu.
In connection with the exhibition project in 2009, entitled “TDK” (curator Neeme Külm), a café-nightclub was opened on the first floor of the EKKM, which is currently illegal as is fitting for a squatted museum. Hopefully, once the legal status of the museum changes, the status of the bar will also change. Currently, the main entrance of the EKKM leads directly into the café. The opening of the café will hopefully enable the EKKM to operate throughout the winter by staging various events and club/music projects. The EKKM bar has already become a hot spot of alternative clubbing and we definitely hope to maintain this position in the future.