Sunday, May 27, 2012

For the love of design and art

Tallinn, surprisingly enough, is one of those cities that doesn’t balk at exposing and promoting its local artists. It actually seems to have an extreme support structure for artists of all kinds and heavily emphasizes design and individual creativity. Because of this, handicrafts, painters, artisans of all kinds were being promoted wherever we went. All of the art you could buy was made locally and in most cases you could see the artist’s studio/exactly how it was made right where you were buying it.

Museum of Applied Art and Design

For one, their Museum of Applied Art and Design is right in the center of Old Town. I was particularly interested in seeing this museum since it seemed so different than the others – first, it was modern, and not focused on history (though they did have a surprisingly in-depth set of exhibits devoted to previous decades’ worth of student works, and you could see the design progression through the ages), but also because you never know what you’re going to see from design students across the world. And I was right:

This one had a focus on textiles and technology as their ground-floor display. Woolen pillows laced with ubiquitous wiring that allowed for interesting sensory reactions – they played music, glowed, told stories, or sometimes changed colors or patterns when exposed to heat or black light.

Silly, I know, but really cool from a design perspective. You never know how this will be used later to sell you a product you never knew you really needed to have in your life.

Other exhibits focused on the written word, such as this display of crooked tables, each table neatly laid out with different printed material, all student-created.

Needless to say I design-nerded it out for a couple of hours. There’s just so much to see and do when it comes to design, especially interactive design, and I love it all. I’ll not bore you with all the details of everything I saw, but I thought it appropriate to at least highlight this museum and its offerings.

(Hilariously this wire apron was one of my favorite pieces…you can take that to mean whatever you want).

Katariina Käik

Though I spectacularly failed to take pictures of the actual artists’ dens, Katariina Käik (translates to “Catherine’s Passage” for it is on the way to St. Catherine’s, a Dominican monastery) is actually an alleyway reserved for artisans of certain skill sets – namely millinery (that’s hat-making, in plainspeak), silversmithing, bookbinding, glaziers, and other skill sets of the olden ages. They even have trade sigils still outside their workshops, indicating what talent lies within. It is here you can see the artists while they do their work, in the exact methods passed down through generation to generation (though naturally most of them go to school for this now).

Needless to say, I thought it was awesome. Here is a picture of the passageway of the actual Catherine’s Passage, after you’ve left the artisan studios:

Dominican Monastery Basement

One of the most amazing artist studios that we encountered was surprisingly, or maybe unsurprisingly, in the basement of a monastery. Having been previously owned and taken care of by the priests of the Order of St. Catherine’s of Alessandria, it was preserved in 2001 by being turned into an artist’s studio.

Being one of the oldest buildings in Tallinn, it makes sense that a place of silent devotion would be turned into an artist’s den, and once inside, it only made more sense.

Despite being told that there would be several artists within, there was only one man when we entered. He spoke almost no English, but what we did ascertain from him, after a broken conversation, was that he worked there, and after learning his name, almost all of the artwork was his. He was a prolific painter. An incredible set of different styles and themes. Most of them focused on the monastery itself, naturally, but there were also other things.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of this as well, but I abstained more out of respect than anything else. The one thing that occurred to me while we were leaving, purchases in hand, was…how do you get an incredibly sweet gig like this? But then again, he definitely leaves an impression, so maybe it’s not that hard to imagine.

(His studio is down the lighted doorway…pretty sweet, right?).

Museum of Estonian Architecture

Similar to how I nerded out at the design museum, it was my sister’s turn to nerd out at the architecture museum. It’s only natural that we take turns on this kind of thing, so away we went.

While the ground floor mainly focused on models of buildings (either that were already built, had been previously destroyed, or were examples in current ongoing design contests), the rest of the museum was a mish mash of interesting things. The basement level was about all of the different cinema buildings in Tallinn – only cinemas though:

The second floor was actually an art gallery, filled with various pieces by art and design students. I wasn’t sure how it correlated exactly but I enjoyed several of the pieces anyway.

And the top floor was about the rise in school house building in the 1930’s. When Estonia won its independence the first time it decided that it should educate its youngest generations as best as possible, and set about building more schools per capita than any other county I’ve seen. They basically had a school house for every small town, village, or community that existed. This meant that class sizes were small, and education was very personal. They also held design contests for building design – an extremely smart idea, really, since it introduced new design and creativity, and brought local flavor to each of the school houses. Each even has their own educational garden.

But enough about that – mostly I just wanted to highlight all of the different art and design opportunities there are in Tallinn. So much local artisan flavor! And this plays straight into something that becomes relevant to my medieval nerdiness later…so stay tuned…

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