Markus Kasemaa, an Estonian artist, is celebrated for his depiction of the human form. A graduate of art, in both painting and sculpture, from Tartu University in Estonia, Kasemaa’s work has been exhibited throughout Europe. His work has received acclaim, notably awarded the 1st award by Tampere Modern Art Museum, Finland.
Speaking with Kasemaa, I discover his thoughts on taking a hands-on approach to exhibiting and curating, his unquenchable motivations and forthcoming projects.
Elena Stanciu: What words do you use when you talk about your art?
Markus Kasemaa: When it comes to the visual style, or the world filled with all the figures, I find myself using words like: subconscious, intuitive. Discovery and interpretation emerge through semi-automatic drawing. I produce a particular kind of inkblot test, which the viewer may use to mirror, interpret and perhaps change themselves or the society. In this regard, the figures I draw infuse optimism. I would also say that what I do is conceptual experimental social art, almost self-reflective: it questions the impact and purpose of art in society, and the role of the artist.
ES: When did you realise you were an artist?
MK: I was maybe seven years old. My parents are artists, just as my grandparents were, so sometimes I think I have never had a doubt about it or any actual way out.
ES: Please describe your process, influences and sources of inspiration.
MK: I’m working on visualising and interpreting different characteristics of a person and phenomena in society through ‘figures’. Their interaction and impact, both closer personal relations (like love and friendship), and on a wider social, political, religious, scale. The mechanisms are usually the same and global processes often start as small events or isolated experiences. In general, I strive for creativity, innovation and adventure; a sense of purpose and impact of art are things that excite me.
ES: Does your work carry a political or social commentary?
MK: Yes, I frequently challenge violence, suppression, stupidity, shallowness, and everything destructive. Simultaneously, I support tolerance, freedom in general, freedom of speech, creativity, and education. But currently the most important struggle and aim for me is figuring out how to really reach and impact audiences and processes within the society - both physically and mentally.
ES: I can't help but be curious about the choice of spaces you exhibit in: offices, state and private institutions, public spaces, such as shopping malls and parking lots. What drives these choices?
MK: Place doesn’t matter much. Content matters the most, and to make sure it reaches the viewer. There are very few viewers in galleries - it’s just core statistics. I also exhibit in galleries, but I think we have to trust that audiences are capable of deciding and interpreting. I think that the role of curators and of galleries needs to be redefined, less in terms of subjective filters and logistics of 'the exhibit', and more in terms of 'translating' and 'applying'.
ES: One of the consequences of your art being placed in such unexpected locations is that people turn involuntarily into art viewers, from random pedestrians. How do you think this affects reception?
MK: By choosing what you call 'unexpected locations' I think I manage to reach audiences that either do not have the time to go into a gallery, are passively interested in art, or are simply disinterested, and there is a matter of educating taste.
ES: Visual markers associated with notions of femininity and masculinity are prevalent in your works. Do you have a particular take on matters of gender representation and gender performance?
MK: Yes, these issues, together with the basic relations between a man and a woman play a very important part in my works. But this might be too private a topic for this interview. I might say that I am a feminist pacifist depresso-optimistic romantic.
ES: That´s interesting, because I would say many of your works seek to challenge privacy and expose things that people hide. Do you ever think of your art as an instrument for a (necessary) self-voyeurism?
MK: Yes. I probably often mirror general topics through myself. I think this is typical of art and artists - the ability to visualise so it can replace thousands of words. There is a particular kind of strength to verbalising reality, and another to visualising it.
ES: Your figures have no faces. Why is that?
MK: Because, for me, these ‘figures’ are not specific individuals. They are topics, ideas, questions, solutions. I have tried to apply faces, but they become too personal and particular in a way that clouds content.
ES: What project are you working on at the moment?
MK: My main project and what always drives my work is exploring the purpose of art, its real, measurable impact - physical and mental. Connected to this is the translation of art - it seems there is a huge gap between art and the audience, and I am convinced that in most cases it is a question of very basic translation.
Figuration is a very new interdisciplinary project – a mix of process, animation, music. I have one sub-project in the United Arab Emirates, where I've been giving a talk at the Innovation Arabia 8 conference. This month, I’ll be working and exhibiting in Abu Dhabi Art Hub during Estonian Art Month with a group of Estonian artists.
What interests me is translation and visualisation of the information, while staying respectful to (other) religion(s).
Words: Elena Stanciu