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Temnikova & Kasela
May 30th – July 1st


Welcome to the jet lag edition of 52 Reviews. This column comes from Tallinn, Estonia, where I spent the past week. -Hunter

The only commercial contemporary art gallery in Tallinn is located in the boiler room of a large Stalinist-era apartment building a ten minute walk from the Medieval city center. It’s not one of those brutalist apartment blocks that one finds wherever the sun is apt to be covered by clouds. Rather, it is an ornate cake of a building: stately in every way except for the peeling paint, topped by a Soviet star. Walk into the courtyard and enter under the wind-lapped red flag that reads Stallinnism. The doubling of interior consonants in both the flag and the exhibition title puns on the location of the gallery, emerging from twentieth-century ideology.

Stallinnism First, Second and Third

Inside, the exhibition unevenly teeters between two halves. On the left hand side are three photo-portraits of the London-based artist photoshopped as Stalin. The satirical portraits are framed and hung high on the wall (a location similar to that of a portrait of Mao, or Fidel) directly above three glass vases of white roses. Then things get real garish. Wrapping around the remaining gallery walls is a double-row of tourettic posters pairing color-saturated stock imagery with unmoored language. They are pirate hi-res—crisp, but a crispness that is misleading. Signification spills and slurs.
Stallinnism Posters 5

The echo between form and function and image and text is sometimes tight and controlled. A woman doing lines off a mirror is marked YOUNG ARTISTS, CAREER HIGHS and placed next to one of those Hans Namuth photos of Jackson Pollock mid-drip. But instead of an all-over composition, the splatters of paint form the logo of Roche, the pharmaceutical company that produces Valium. But then Spiderman rappels through the city and all you read is GLOOMY MASTURBATION.

The photos have all been touched with Photoshop. Text swirls and radiates. Designed to emote, not to promote, they cast their references wide. Illegal flyposting in London is a definite. Viewers across the Atlantic might recall the confusion they felt as teenagers in Barnes & Noble, handling an Adbusters for the first time, wondering what exactly was going on.

One of Ballard’s advertisements

But there are earlier precedents. I’m not talking about Rodchenko proto-shopping the faces of workers to make them little gulag emoticons, but J.G. Ballard, who in the ‘60s expanded literature to advertising, saying that it was an “unknown continent as far as writers [were] concerned.” Ballard designed ads and which didn’t sell an erotic and psychotic grievance, and then paid commercial advertising rates for them to appear in magazines. One of his most famous appeared in Ambit in 1967. Above a somewhat distorted black and white image of a woman masturbating, it asked “Does the angle between two walls have a happy ending?” The question expands into a typical Ballardian trope: atmospheric paraphilia. That is, how do our minds process the world around us, in ways both rational and erotic? This exhibition not only suspends the viewer between desire and fear, but between two historical periods. In this uneasy interstice, one can perhaps reflect upon all four.