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Kilometre of culture in lockdown

TALLINN winter 2021 walkable exhibition

As more and more shops fall victim to the current economic downturn, the Old Town of Tallinn is looking increasingly like its former days at the end of the Soviet era, when there weren’t so many shops in the first place and those that existed were struggling to put anything on their shelves. There are those that are hoping this current crisis could inspire us all to re-think where the so-called free market of capitalism has led us, and that we might consider a new direction, while there are others that simply see an opportunity.

Since just before Christmas, more and more shop windows in the Old Town have been going through a transformation. Instead of being the carefully and artfully presented face of restaurants, cafes, bars and boutiques, wherever the former tenants have departed, their shop windows have been turned into galleries, or at least the shallow space of the windowsill has been used to display art.

The first examples went up in late December on Pikk Street, as displays by young artists under the auspices of the Hopneri maja filled a handful of windows between the A Galerii jewellery shop and the pub Hell Hunt, using a range of materials to give these commercial spaces a new face.

The next to emerge was at the other end of the Old Town in Väike Karja tn, where a team of young curators convened the 1st of March Gallery (1. märtsi galerii), referring back to a similar pop-up gallery called 1st of May Gallery that made use of the last economic downturn at the end of the last decade. This gallery initiative even has a programme published on the shopfront detailing a number of short exhibitions by artists over the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, established galleries have also decided to make their displays more visible than usual from the street, thereby turning themselves into huge dioramas viewable through their street-front windows.

The result of all this activity is that it is now possible to go for a walk in the Old Town and enjoy displays that seem to be mushrooming as we speak.

But to get the best of this array, I advise you to time your walk for the evening hours, but since it starts to get dark around 3.30 pm any time after 4 pm should work just fine. This is especially worthwhile for those galleries displaying video works (1st of March Gallery and HOP gallery), since during the day the reflections off the video screens and the shop window itself make it almost impossible to see the artists’ work. Although, unfortunately for 1st of March Gallery, there is almost no good time to view the work there, as this gallery has to compete with an extremely bright window display directly opposite.

At HOP Gallery where Sirja-Liisa Eelma is displaying video works from her recent residency in Paris, they have left the video screen on the back wall of the small gallery space, making it much easier to see the work as if in its own private cinema space. If there is any light pollution around, viewers can shade their eyes with their hands to peer through into the space. Perhaps the organisers at the 1st of March Gallery, could adjust the positioning of their works to achieve the same effect, allowing viewers a chance to overcome the excessive light pollution at that venue.

To help you plan your evening culture walks below is a map showing the windows worth visiting at time of writing.

Written by Michael Haagensen


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