Contemporary Art Information Centre
of the Lithuanian Art Museum,
Kumu Art Museum,
Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art

Mark Raidpere is currently one of the best known contemporary Estonian artists, and in 2005 he received the Hansabank Group art award. For a long time Raidpere has been acclaimed in Estonia primarily as a fashion photographer whose cover photos and fashion series are much sought after. He started as an artist in 1997 when the Tallinn Vaal Gallery presented his personal exhibition ‘Io’. Since then he has continued to participate in exhibitions both at home and abroad, with the decisive breakthrough into the art world occurring last year when Mark Raidpere represented his country at the Venice Art Biennial with ‘Isolator’, which attracted attention from international art critics.

Mark Raidpere‘s art is simultaneously discreet and aesthetic as well as acutely painful and revealing. The Venice exhibition ‘Isolator’ was in a sense a summary of Raidpere‘s work, displaying photographs and videos from between 1997 and 2005, although this was by no means a comprehensive ‘overview’ exhibition. In co-operation with curator Hanno Soans, the flat-like rooms of the Estonian pavilion offered a choice of sign works that were all saying the same – the story of separation, isolation and being trapped; the frame of the narrative was either human body or spirit, home or prison, and the characters were Mark, his father and mother. It could be said that throughout his work Raidpere has been searching for his personal identity, his own world, both directly via himself, his parents and via a ‘third’ party.

Many of Raidpere‘s works are like self-portraits but first of all they are allusive. Not one work is Raidpere‘s narcissistic reflection, each is rather a painful self-analysis – this stands true for his 1997 photographic series Io, showing the author‘s post-crisis documentation of his tortured body full of cigarette burn marks, as well as for his 2003 photo series Good Boys and video 10 Men, where the author photographs /films anonymous tattooed male prisoners who pose for him. In the work titled Shifting focus (2005) the artist poses to the video camera together with his mother – both are aware of the camera, and seem to perform a heart-to-heart chat between mother and son, the scene appears artificial, but is nevertheless sincere and real. At the kitchen table, the mother‘s forgiving, understanding love clashes with the son‘s burden of guilt, regret, which cannot be mollified by forgiveness.

Reality and documentality are categories that tend to slip through the fingers of anyone trying to analyse Raidpere‘s art – his oeuvre seems to move along the border of being staged or documented, as if depicting real events but still speaking of something much more general. In his work Raidpere unravels, discreetly but mercilessly, issues about the vulnerability, isolation and rejection of the human body, sexuality, mental health and family relations, a dialogue about the impossible, and the cruelty of isolation. They constitute an experience that many probably never have to go through. However, being open and making an effort, this kind of tragedy can be understood even on ‘this side’ of the border, and thus also understand the essence of ‘normality’ that establishes isolation. Raidpere tells us his very private stories, or rather alludes to his personal tragedies and torments of identity, spreads out before the viewer his real, unique pain and suffering, doing all this in a way that becomes the suffering of ‘everybody’; in Raidpere‘s work the viewer recognises his own, perhaps totally different anxiety and torments.

Raidpere‘s works have also been regarded as a painful commentary on today‘s life and society that can certainly be found there, although he is by no means a consciously ‘social’ artist. The guarded gay-identity in his oeuvre is simply the reality that he shapes into art as direct experience, into works that are not aggressive or political but instead make you feel and think at the same time. Namely this kind of uncompromising honesty is the reason why Raidpere‘s art addresses so many, reaches people‘s deepest soul, moves the exhibition audiences to tears. Humanity and honesty with which the artist tackles the relations between an individual and the society, was decisive also in electing Mark Raidpere as a worthy recipient of the Hansabank annual award.

Maria-Kristiina Soomre
Translated from Estonian by Tiina Randviir