University of Tartu Museum and project “Artists in Collections” present:

Artist Taavi Suisalu in collaboration with physicist Siim Pikker


At the University of Tartu Art Museum, 27.01–27.03.2020

The project “Artist and Researcher in Collections” is a further development of “Artists in Collections”, an exhibition series that took place in 2018 and was one of the highlights of the 100th anniversary celebrations of the Republic of Estonia. The University of Tartu Museum (UTM) wanted to invite an artist to research its collection with the aim of creating an exhibition in the university’s art museum, but with an important twist of adding to this dialogue also a scientist from the University of Tartu. The project managers of “Artists in Collections”, Maarin Ektermann and Mary-Ann Talvistu, selected the artist Taavi Suisalu who works with technology, sound and performance.

In autumn 2019, Suisalu visited many of the museum’s collections and found the starting point of the exhibition. On the one hand, this was based on the museum’s collection of 19th century measuring instruments, and, on the other hand, by the galleries of the University of Tartu Art Museum (UTAM) where the exhibition was to take place and where the walls are covered by Pompeii-style murals. After preliminary research, Suisalu decided to travel to Italy to collect additional data and material for the exhibition. He constructed a portable seismometer that he could use to listen and register the subterranean vibrations of the Vesuvius volcano.

Instead of the tragic story associated with the town of Pompeii, Suisalu was more interested in the processes that are currently carried out in the ruins using new technologies. In addition to scanning, the town is re-created in both digital and physical form in an attempt to display the former reality. A tiny granule of the soil of Pompeii travelled with Suisalu to the laboratory of the University of Tartu Institute of Physics where the physicist Siim Pikker became involved. Using an electronic microscope, a 3D-model was created of the granule and thus the microscopic particle gained a perceptible volume. This “unusual object that influences reality”, as the artist himself has called it, also makes us ask questions about the ruins of Pompeii: When does the reality become a model? At what point more has been restored than was originally present? How does this affect our experience?

By using his art to analyse the effect that a physical location that has been mediated by contemporary technology has on the sensibilities of people, Suisalu wants to create models or instruments that make the world visible and understandable for us. New technologies create new ways of acquiring data so that we constantly feel that we are getting closer. But to what?

Taavi Suisalu uses technology, sound and performance to create art that transforms the periphery into uncanny encounters. His oeuvre is based on the relationship that the contemporary society has with technology and the effect that this has on the behaviour, perception and cognition of social beings. In his works, Suisalu brings together cultural phenomena with contemporary cultural practices and traditional mentality.

Besides Estonia, Suisalu has exhibited and participated in performances in Germany, England, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Russia, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Poland and the Baltic States. His 2014 MA thesis “Project of Non-existent Villages” received the Young Estonian Artist Prize at the graduate works exhibition of the Estonian Academy of Arts. His work “Distant Self-Portrait” was awarded the 2nd prize at the Riga Photography Biennial. In 2018, he was one of the artists selected to participate in the European Media Art Platform.

Siim Pikker, PhD, is a young physicist who defended his dissertation in 2014. His main interest is the optics of very tiny objects and micro and nano structures. Since 2005, he has also been actively popularising science. In his everyday work, he often employs the scanning electron microscope (Tescan Vega 2) that was also used to create the 3D-model of the particle for the present exhibition. Pikker was infected with an interest in photography in primary school and continues to “photograph” scientific images that he hasn’t thus far exhibited. Collaboration with Taavi Suisalu is his first public artistic project.

“Artists in Collections” was one of the highlights of the artistic programme that was used to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Estonia. It brought together contemporary artists and (small) museums all over Estonia to emphasise our cultural heritage and to offer new ways of interpreting it and creating associations with the present day. The documentation of the ten exhibitions that took place and the discussions around them have been collected in a catalogue that offers an overview of the project. The present collaboration with the University of Tartu Museum is the first step in continuing and developing the format. The project has been managed by art historians and educators Maarin Ektermann and Mary-Ann Talvistu. The graphic designer of the project is Viktor Gurov.

Project managers: Maarin Ektermann, Mary-Ann Talvistu

Graphic designer: Viktor Gurov

Translator: Peeter Talvistu

Exhibition team: Jaanika Anderson, Karoliina Kalda, Taavi Suisalu, Siim Pikker, Piret Tamm, Maris Tuuling, Tiina Vint

Thanks: Stefano Carlino and Anna Tramelli from the Vesuvius Observatory, Heidi Soosalu, Mihkel Säre, Villem Säre, Mirko Pavleski, Priit Pajusalu, Marko Nõmmik, Tanel Nõmmik, Agu Vilu, University of Tartu Institute of Physics

We thank for the support


Crime and Punishment: University Lock-up

The attic of the Main Building of the University, from 19 April 2018

In the attic of the University of Tartu main building is a small, mysterious room that bears witness to the time when the university had its own separate legal system. In the 19th Century, minor offences committed by university employees and students were in the jurisdiction of the university’s court. For the more serious ones, student offenders could be punished by having to spend time at the lock-up in the attic of the main building.

In 2018 the University of Tartu Art Museum supplemented its lock-up cell with a new exhibition that tells stories of the misdeeds of the 19th Century students. The exhibition explains the main reasons why students were punished in the last decades of the 19th Century, and how severe the punishments may have been. The visitors will also see what kind of messages the students in lock-up left behind in the form of writings and drawings on the walls.

Only one of the historic lock-ups has survived, the rest were destroyed in the main building fire of 1965. Access to the surviving lock-up and the attic of the main building is available with a museum ticket from the University of Tartu Art Museum.