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REVIEW | Castle in the Air: RÕHULOSS

RÕHULOSS | Presented by Castle in the Air: Kadri Mälk, Tanel Veenre, Piret Hirv, Eve Margus-Villems, Kristiina Laurits, and Villu Plink Maarjamäe Castle | Tallinn, Estonia

Before I reach its threshold, I can hear the exhibition RÕHULOSS. Nondescript guttural tones coax me up a small set of wooden stairs – preparing me for passage into ephemera, the conjured realm beyond language. Inside I find an enormous silver tunnel that curves and writhes in a vexing cyclone that overwhelms the entire room. Circular openings filled with soft glows of light protrude outwards, each containing unexpected pieces of jewelry that serve as invitations of incredible power and substance. As I move from one portal to the next, I am lost in an elusive ethos of sophisticated contradictions: decadence and minimalism, density and lightness, temporality and permanence. Indulgences beget illusions, reality breeds fantasy – just as the very name of the presenting group of artists suggests.

Although they present as a collective, Castle in the Air retains a dedication to the individual; so, it is easy to connect with particular works from different artists without having to make a connection between them, although complimentary sentiments are apparent. An initial standout is the work of Kristiina Laurits, which is full of venerable unpredictability and satisfies my desire for decadence, my belief that anything worth having is worth having in abundance. Her audacious use of un-conventional materials is splayed across the chest in necklaces made of bread covered in silver leaf such as There is one, or Thunder II made from black salt, resin, horn, and precious stones. Opulence is on full display in Too much tenderness, a brooch made from a goose egg, gemstones, silver, and a goose feather that is hard to imagine on the body, but I am fascinated by the clever absurdity it presents. Laurits confidently defies traditional notions of what jewelry should be made of, and in doing so, each work becomes a bold statement of what jewelry is.

Also questioning the limits of both scale and material, Villu Plink distills stolen moments from his life to create metaphorical commentaries in his series of elongated brooches titled Short Stories. Made from finely hand cut silver, small creatures and figures rest precariously on the tips of black paint brushes that stretch from the shoulder to the stomach. Two other works, Up and Down, feature a torso made in painted iron that is cleaved in half, each fragment falling into or out of a circle of deep black or stark white. At first glance, they appear as a whimsical self-portrait, but yet I can’t escape the feeling that Plink is suggesting something far more serious: that if we are not careful, we all may just become a souvenir of our own lives.

The quietest works are those by Piret Hirv, gently folded sheets of silver whisper a definitive corporeal salience – a belief that life is meaningful, a belief that each of us is significant. Every piece beckon me to come closer, to discover the mystery of what lies beneath the veil of what I think I see, of what I can actually touch. Each brooch or earring feels like a private conversation, as if Hirv has a secret to share and is only willing to do so with me. But it is in Gaze, a pair of brooches depicting both hands gently rising from delicate, satin, silver sheets that I find my deepest connection. Blurring the boundaries between the senses of touch and sight, Hirv suggests that to be worthy of such an intimate embrace, I must be willing to truly look with a scrutiny that involves far more than just my eyes. Her exquisite subtlety, her delicate manipulation of surface and form are a reflection of a gentle soul that is longing to see and be seen, longing for sincerity in touches both given and received – just as am I. Graciously, Hirv’s work fulfills the wants of us both.

The abyss of sadness is a compelling source for inspiration, its weight and darkness unavoidable but almost always impossible to sincerely convey. The intricate and sensitive works by Kadri Mälk, however, prove that depiction of this complex emotion is not only possible; but that her ability to masterfully do so is simply unrivaled. In her work, she resides here, bearing the brunt of the heavy ache caused by grief and loss. By being willing to live in it, and perhaps in spite of it, Mälk has reached a unique state of intimacy between herself and the materials she utilizes. Natural furs become surrogates of the physical self, dark sapphires serve as vessels for great burdens, glossy paint smeared across the surface of black stones are final concessions: all of which suggest innate acceptance of and a personal understanding that there is a price to be paid for everything. The necklace titled Who made your blood red and her brooches titled Sapateiras and Melancholy dare me to concede that maybe it all won’t just work out, maybe I won’t be ok in the end. That to be truly alive is to truly hurt, that it matters that I genuinely experience the pain of things in life that are difficult to bear. That sadness is an important, if not critical, emotion to examine to really understand myself; and just maybe, the one worth risking it all for.

Not to be given wholly to the dark depths of my heart, new works by Tanel Veenre remind me, in earnest and with light, that for all that feels hopeless, there is always the rosy opposite. The bulbous crosses of How beautiful you dare to be? or the sweet valentine of The blushing heart, pendants hand carved from reconstructed stone, beg for the kind of forgiveness that comes from the humbling nature of breaking my own heart. The translucent materials, the gentle curves, the velvet surfaces: each designed to soften the burden of heartbreak and ready my spirit for the next beautiful onslaught. Veenre sympathetically nudges me to believe, if in nothing else, at least in the splendor that can only be found in the promise of hope.

But the one piece that lingers most in my mind is Adam’s Side Wound by Eve Margus-Villems, a cast iron square with brutal edges and a slight gaping gash in the center to infer the painful origin of the sexes, the slicing open of man in order to create the beginnings of our collective existence. As is a singular rib, it is a small but stoic object that carries profound significance and expresses raw vulnerability: qualities magnified by her choice to leave the wound open and that it is cast in iron, a corporeal and connotative material. As is prominent in many of her works, Margus-Villems is unconfined by the perimeters and limitations of time and with the power often attributed to relics or historic artifacts, she intelligently conveys the differences and influences of gender without judgement or holistic conclusion. For example, a primal and minimal pair of rings titled Prime and Pristine, carved from gabbro and marble, portray clinical reductions of what it is that quintessentially defines us biologically: making the anatomy of the sexes into seductive monuments for the hand. I am innately drawn to both the literal depictions of and inferred references to the body found throughout her oeuvre: slices in surfaces that become wounds, delicately carved hands open in mid-grasp, horn that is splintered and curving back upon itself, genitals laid bare. Margus-Villems confidently dissects the essence, the very core of what is it to be human in all its egregious simplicity. And in doing so, she is able to offer gentle reconciliations between the mind and the body, between the beginning and the end.

As I exit the exhibition, I pause at the six round frames, individual introductions of each artist that display jewelry made in the beginning, in 1999. It is a notable glimpse of where it all began, each piece as commanding as the works made years later found within the metal twisting and turning in the adjacent room. In looking back, I see the wake they have left as a glimmering and formidable trace; and in looking forward an unmarked passageway with infinite expectations and unknown possibilities. It is poignantly clear that over the course of twenty years, these artists have created their own aesthetic utopia, a mythological place of and for the soul. A journey that began with only a heading, merely a direction, and in conversation with the elements of nature, of material, of life, and of time. And, it is here, in the somewhere unknown and in-between, that I will patiently wait for their return.

The members of Castle in the Air celebrate twenty years of exhibiting together in their current exhibition RÕHULOSS – on view until 21 January 2019 at in Maarjamäe Castle located at Pirita tee 56, Tallinn.

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Images (from top to bottom): RÕHULOSS, Presented by Castle in the Air: Kadri Mälk, Tanel Veenre, Piret Hirv, Eve Margus-Villems, Kristiina Laurits, and Villu Plink, photo by Villu Plink; Kristiina Laurits: Snowy III, necklace, 2018, egg shells, wood, silver, paint, gold leaf, citrine, old file; Villu Plink: Short Stories (second) and Short Stories (third), brooches, 2018, silver and paintbrush; Piret Hirv: The Gaze, brooches, 2016, silver, photo by Kristo Pachel; Kadri Mälk: Blue Flower, brooch, 2018, black quartz, white gold, silver, blue Cambodian zircon, paint, photo by Tiit Rammul; Tanel Veenre: The Blushing Heart, brooch, 2018, reconstructed stone and silver, photo by Tanel Veenre; Eve Margus-Villems: Adam's Side Wound, object, 2018, cast iron; Kristiina Laurits: Too much tenderness, brooch, 2017, goose egg, ready-made, gold leaf, silver, tourmaline, alexandrite, goose feather, photo by Villu Plink

This article was originally published in Sirp in Tallinn, on Friday, November 30 and online. To view translation in Estonian, please visit:

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