The exhibition is accompanied by a publication Dawn of the Swarm, which includes Estna’s works from the last three years (including essays by Andrew Berardini and Maria Arusoo, designed by Ott Metusala, published by Lugemik).
“The work of Merike Estna is largely invested in the processes of painting, as a way of approaching the artwork as an integral part of life rather than about life. In her process-based work, Estna is embedding patterns and colour combinations from the crafts and applied arts, vocabularies which have not traditionally been accepted in the visual language of painting. Thus, her work challenges the masculine territory of painting and questions the strict visual separation between painting and craft discourses.
Dawn of the Swarm is a painting installation, incorporating branches, tree stumps, beeswax sculptures that burn like candles, tiles and vessels; these perform as paintings do, and are set alongside a series of canvases and, at times, a serene male nude, a human body. Painting takes whatever form the artist desires and Estna always frames through the medium of painting, whether as a stage, floor, curtain, carpet, clothing, drinks, ceramic tiles.
Nostalgia and a certain romanticism have been fixtures in Estna’s oeuvre since her first works, but now we can see more distinctly the emergence of specific contrasts and oppositions. Her work echos contemporary social concerns with allusions to the digital, the nostalgic and a romantic reverence for the parts of human existence that are currently mutating, melting and slipping away. Estna’s work evokes a playful techno-romanticism that on the one hand raises questions about the ever increasing dominant role, and constant acceleration, of technological progress, which Estna counterbalances with traditional manual and time-consuming techniques.
Technical perfection has always been very evident in Estna’s works. She is not satisfied by simple solutions; rather, with each new series she seeks out new challenges. In the last three years, her painting technique has been characterised by layers and masking. She composes her paintings in great detail as sketches and the execution involves layering various paint and patterns on top of each other and then unmasking various tonalities. The layered technique is also conceptually important for Estna, because she uses it to create a timeline, and the different past layers, the history, is visible through the holes left by the peeled-off layers. The painting does not evince a single time-space but rather, many phases in the form of layers. It isn’t possible to keep on erasing so that the point of origin is removed – it remains, radiating through.
Estna’s visual idiom has become blazingly colourful and this evokes traditional handicraft patterns in which there was no reticence about using pure strong colours. Her work evokes a playful techno- romanticism that on the one hand raises questions about the ever increasing and dominant role and constant acceleration of technological progress, which she counterbalances with traditional manual and time-consuming techniques.
Estna makes reference to tenets of Estonian mythology, where many creatures, even lower forms, have been given an animalistic role and it is believed that the spirits of our forebears live on in animal form. Her paintings are populated by slithering snakes that have been linked to folk religions since time immemorial. Snakes are, after all, symbols of rebirth, transformation, immortality and healing. Bees – life-giving, supportive – and ticks, viewed as negative protagonists as they suck themselves under your skin and communicate deadly viruses that can take over your body completely. This is also the avenue by which the idea of host body has been introduced into Estna’s works.
Performative painting is one of the constants in Merike Estna’s work. The performance aspect in Estna’s work is in a state of fluidity – the mobility and fluidity of the boundaries of the medium that she uses in creating her works. Painting can take whatever form the artist desires, but she always
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frames it through the medium of painting, whether as a stage, floor, curtain, carpet, clothing, drinks, ceramic tiles, etc. Estna, as a transformer, sees painting as a living object. For Estna, painting is a platform that lays the possibility for communication.”
Maria Arusoo (Centre for Contemporary Arts, Estonia), extract from an essay for the publication Dawn of the Swarm published in conjunction with the exhibition.