Exhibitions & events: Provocations and Confrontations

Kristina Norman (b. 1979) is a video and installation artist working on the border of documentary and fiction. Coming from a mixed Estonian-Russian background, she has been able to explore in a more balanced way the tensions between the two main ethnic groups in Estonia. Norman's project After-War” that covered the riots following the removal of a II WW monument from the center of Tallinn, represented Estonia at the 53rd Venice Biennale.

The statue of the Unknown Soldier (erected in 1947), alias the Bronze Soldier, the symbol of Soviet occupation for Estonian people, was situated on top of the supposed common grave of twelve Soviet soldiers who were killed in September 1944.

The Bronze Soldier was removed from the centre of the city in the early morning hours of 27 April 2007 to a military cemetry. By then it had already been the cause of confict between Estonian ultra-nationalists and Russian-speaking defenders of the Bronze Soldier for several years.

Different communities support and spread different versions of history. Russians would traditionally gather at the monument site to celebrate victory in the Great Patriotic War – a strong basis for their Russian identity. The sacredness of these rituals was not understood by Estonias and tensions between communities grew and international relations worsened. In Russia, the embassy of the Republic of Estonia had been in trouble for several months with pickets being organized by Kremlin-supported youth organization, the Nashi (“Ours”). The mass protests evoked by the removal turned into violent riots for two consecutive nights and also resulted in one of the protesters being killed in a street fight. The polarity continued after the monument's removal and violent street protests, with each side interpreting the event in their own best interests.

Kristina Norman: “The experimental film, Monolith (Monoliit, 2007), was originally supposed to be a documentary that would give equal liberty of speech to both sides participating in the Bronze Soldier conflict. I started shooting the film in autumn 2006, when the monument drama  was just beginning. However, as the conflict escalated I understood that a situation where the “event” is being constructed and where it is getting too big to grasp should be approached from “outside” not “inside”. Monolith was born as a paraphrase of Stanley Kubrick's famous film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In my film, the Bronze Soldier is a monolith that comes from outer space and lands on Earth, more specifically Tallinn, and the society here is now forced to relate to this new alien object. Some people decide to worship this object with its cosmic origins; others choose to fight it. This process would lead to a conflict that cannot have a positive solution.”

(Kristina Norman, After-War: Catalogue of the Estonian exhibition at the 53rd International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Tallinn: Center for Contemporary Arts, 2009, p. 23)