Tamara Luuk

Curator’s introduction

Born in 1941 and garnering numerous international awards since the 1970s, Raul Meel discovered his identity as an artist in the late 1960s. Since then, he has been actively involved in creating both images and texts, functioning as both a performance and installation artist. His working methods and image development have been likened to the composition of music. In the exhibition at Tallinn Art Hall, Meel presents two series of images representing concrete poetry: a selection of word-images from The Song of Solomon and a work titled They Are Ours, also known as Prayers. In the first series he presents visual interpretations of the Old Testament’s Song of Solomon, while in the second, he selects names of forced labour camps mentioned in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, transforming them into silent witnesses that prompt reflection on the contradictions of the human condition. Both series, spanning 2008-2010 and 1987-2018 respectively, have appeared in multiple versions, including bound formats.

“I believe that as the viewer and reader peruse the texts and images within my prayer book, they can, under their influence, keenly grasp the insane and senseless enormity of the Gulag once again – the still haunting, timeless culpability of this boundless sin. The responsibility to redeem the injustice and torment endured by those who suffered there falls upon the compassionate individuals of today. Evil deeds were not confined to the Gulag. All tribulations, suffering and redemption are intertwined with us, us, us…”, Raul Meel says in the text accompanying his Gulag-themed work. Now an elderly and wise artist, he sums up the current exhibition with the words of Paul the Apostle: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love!” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Krzysztof Piętka, born in Oświęcim in 1990 and a graduate of the Art Academy in Katowice with a degree in painting, mirrors Raul Meel’s relentless creativity through his obsessive exploration of the Holocaust. “I was greatly influenced in my perception of reality by the specific area where I lived as a child and continue to live today. /…/ Once we went to the field in Brzezinka, which is located about 200 meters from the Death Gate in Birkenau, and only about 15 meters from an SS watchtower and the barbed wire of the camp. That was the first time I saw the Birkenau camp up close,” he recounts. To a little boy, the buildings of the former camp resembled a castle. /…/ I didn’t understand the place I was living in. It wasn’t until I turned 20 in 2010 that I began regularly visiting the area of the former Birkenau. I explored the former camp area based on Allied photographs taken from an airplane in 1944. These images revealed the entire infrastructure of extermination, including my home. It was a tremendous shock for me.”

Krzysztof’s paintings, characterised by their laconic, mostly well-defined forms and vibrant colours, may appear deceptively simple. However, every single hue undergoes blending, and the paint’s intensity seems to flow ceaselessly, like a lively spring, inundating the numerous flowers in this exhibition. At times, this dynamic overflow evokes the likeness of living flesh and bones. Krzysztof’s staggering productivity adds another layer to his artistic journey. “Painting is a kind of therapy for me. It is my entire life. I have painted more than 800 paintings over 13 years,”  Krzysztof writes in his portfolio.

The essence of the Song of Songs exhibition lies in the shared exploration by Raul Meel and Krzysztof Piętka, despite their differences in age, recognition and artistic approach, into the coexistence and interweaving of good and evil, beauty and ugliness, horror and sublimity.