“Alice, Neeme & Jass” caught viewers off guard.
The unassuming title could not have been any more paradoxical, effectively
belying the vitality of the work created by Alice Kask, Neeme Külm,
and Jass Kaselaan, three Estonian artists. Their objects not only played off
each other, but also responded astutely to the spaces in which they were set.
The juxtaposition of Kaselaan’s Still Life and a painting by Kask was a case in point. The former consists of two nearly identical sets of gray-green objects laid out on a pair of tables, while the latter depicts a faceless and splintered male figure rendered in similar hues. Kaselaan’s methodically arranged groupings of molded forms include drive shafts, skeletal fragments, architectural embellishments, and shell-encrusted, post-like shapes. They rest side by side, linked apparently only by color, texture, and their obvious, but rather peculiar, duality. Precipitating an ongoing process of scrutiny, they fascinate and bemuse. Though color and content suggest the spoils of an undersea discovery, the lack of clarification, not to mention impressions of disjointedness and displacement (conditions shared by Kask’s figure) bolster a nagging aura of tension. The gripping presence of Still Life held the attention while enduring in the mind. Recollection rekindles its haunting essence over and over again.
Sound, Kaselaan’s other work, made a significantly different impact. With its steam-punk-inspired structure covered in dense black skin—accompanied by a dual chorus of thin, sinusoidal tones issuing from its upper echelons and guttural emissions seeping out of the twinned cones of its belly—this leviathan provoked curiosity, as well as fear and loathing. Situated in the center of the room, it commanded the space and raised questions as to its presence and function. Could it be a transmission station, some sort of craft, a mechanical abdomen, or an object of worship? Small black and white photos of livestock encircling Sound vaguely made the connection to a farm implement, but without defining any particular role. With time, the sounds began to contradict the work’s initially hostile character. Their interweaving patterns gradually became more alluring, reassuring, and even meditative. To those fully conscious of the shift, this development proved to be even more unsettling. The pacification suggested a form of control that any of us could be lulled into accepting.
Külm’s Light of Eliel not only wedged some levity into the show, but also inverted the object/space relationship between darkness and light conveyed by Sound. Reproducing the lights on the façade of Helsinki’s Central Railway Station, his forms resemble oversize marbles glowing sumptuously in an otherwise crepuscular space. Külm’s Architect’s Fingerprint proved even more poetic. A large wooden cone, which appeared to have unexpectedly detached from the skylight recess directly overhead, bears a texture that mimics the surface of that board-formed concrete shape. As a metaphor, it is an evocative reference to the designer’s touch. The recess, painted a celestial blue, propelled light into the space. Architect’s Fingerprint thus countered Sound, which could have emerged from a tar pit, by drawing attention skyward. Like each of the works here, it tendered a new set of relationships, participating in the dialogue of correlations and differences that made this a compelling and memorable show.