Siim Preiman

Curator's essay

Raise your hand if you haven’t taken a peek into your neighbour’s home in that brief moment between your neighbour entering their home and closing the door behind them. Some people leave the door wide open and close it only when they have taken off their shoes, so that you can take a long exploratory look at their hall, or even their kitchen or living room. Others enter their home backwards, keeping their hand on the lock and trying to hide their home from a stranger’s gaze at any cost. What are they afraid to expose? What do I hope to see? The colour of their walls? The secretly changed floorplan? Whether they have laminate or oak parquet?

Neighbours have always compared each other. Be it the example of conflict between Pearu and Andres from Anton Hansen Tammsaare’s epic novel Truth and Justice, Disney’s Donald Duck and Mr. Jones, or the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses style reality show Better than your Neighbour on Estonia’s TV3. Rivalry excites and sells, and conflicts between neighbours often cross the news threshold. For example, at the beginning of this year, the Eesti Ekspress newspaper announced: “Two neighbours in a garden city near Saku have been engaged in full-scale war for over a year.” Indeed, as with our relatives, we cannot unfortunately choose our neighbours.

Rivalry between neighbours may often spring from an actual struggle to make ends meet. Sadly, the fruits of economic growth are not evenly distributed among the population in Estonia either. The accelerating social and spatial segregation creates an increasingly fertile ground for the emergence of envy and sense of exclusion as well as delusions. Besides all this, there are of course innumerable superficial and insignificant reasons for envy. Envy does not necessarily depend on income, and so the title of the exhibition is borrowed from the proverb, “A sparrow in the hand is better than a pigeon on the wing.“ In short, we should be content with the little that really belongs to us, and not desire the unattainable. It often happens that the latter isn’t clearly better than the former after all. Can somebody please tell me what exactly are the advantages of a pigeon over a sparrow? Or the other way round? So what if our neighbour’s walls are a different colour from ours, or their TV is a few inches bigger? Ours is still our own and good enough.

Benjamin Badock is experimenting with traditional print art techniques. Over the years, his favourite technique has been relief print with wood – both woodcut and wood type. At the joint exhibition with Teresa Lane at the HOP Gallery in Tallinn in 2006, both artists stated: “I like reality.”

In looking at Badock’s work, it is clear that he likes the space around us, the buildings erected in it and the inhabitants who live in them – both animals and humans. Therefore, he has long depicted architecture and created visual shifts in space. For example, in 2007 he covered the windows of Tallinn City Gallery with a zigzag pattern of paving stones, which used to be widespread in Tallinn and also covered the ground in front of the gallery at the time. With the help of sunlight, the pattern also spread to the interior of the gallery. Later he created human figures consisting of regularised geometric units. These modular characters seem to be perfectly designed to live in Soviet prefabricated houses and other buildings built to standards. At this exhibition, the artist displays faceless portraits with only a few abstract clues as to their identity, profession or age.

Painter Kaido Ole has been dealing with humanity in the broadest sense for much of his artistic life. He has used grey anonymous “bubble heads” as human models, but also depicted himself. With this exhibition, Ole has in a way made a full circle: in 2006, he held a solo exhibition Attention, Matches! at the Art Hall Gallery, where the paintings depicted himself being beaten by a gang of matches, as well as a paper house burning to ashes. The new paintings too feature the artist himself with different houses. Some of the works are dedicated to the friends of the artist; others started with a random sentence fragment. Many of these fantastic houses simplify and amplify the clichés of desired buildings. Thus, there is a house of logs and glass with a large swimming pool, a spaceship house and a glass egg suitable for a hermit.

The exhibition of Benjamin Badock and Kaido Ole is a simplified model of our world, with teachers, grandmothers, clowns and other characters living here. There are completely featureless cars driving around, with the exception of a few Trabants. People live in log houses, new developments and high-rises, colourful and also not-so-colourful. Sounds like Tallinn? Sounds like a city! And, of course, there is a peephole at the exhibition, so that every visitor can satisfy their eternal curiosity to find out what their neighbours are doing.