Triin Jerlei: conceptualization of the local material culture

 

Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design
“Kitchen. Changing room, design and applied art in Estonia”
Exhibition is open until 15.05.2016. 

While a unique canonical history is already emerging in Estonian visual arts due to the decades-long work by Estonian Art Museum and numerous researchers, the conceptualization of the local material culture is still an ongoing process – the number of themes, authors and problems is endless and the field itself is still relatively young. The exhibition in question, “Kitchen. Changing room, design and applied art in Estonia”, steps onto uncharted territory as well, exploring the emergence and development of modern kitchen in Estonia. The journey through the exhibition hall starts in the 1930s, continues through the Soviet period into modern times, and runs, on the other end of the hall, symbolically back into the past, to the beginning. The wooden constructions and light tones used in the design create an association with general local Nordic space language.

The choice of exhibits unites several different aspects: in addition to the actual situation of Estonian kitchen through the history, there are also the ideals and layouts of the kitchen. Due to this, many less-known individual items or prototypes, which never made it to production, are displayed to the public, for example, Silvia Raudvee’s beautiful sets of glass, which offer an exciting contrast to the familiar objects of Tarbeklaas. In addition to objects, a large amount of archive materials and publications is displayed. As many other exhibitions of material culture, “Kitchen” offers plenty of moments of recognition. How many visitors would remember, for example, the series of Estonian Television, “Look in the Kitchen” (1971-92)? Although the focus is on the development of the kitchen in the local Estonian context, there are references to global tendencies to provide background. A symbolic model of the Frankfurt kitchen is represented as the basis of the idea of modern kitchen.

It is precisely through the changing of the medium that makes it interesting to follow the paradigms of Estonian kitchen through different eras. The period of the first republic is characterised, in addition to the objects, by layouts and designs, demonstrating the discussions revolving around the kitchen of the era and the indistinctness of practical solutions. Reaching the Soviet era, the conflicts between mass production, prototypes and ideal blueprints, discord and harmony, become the central theme of the exhibition. In modern times, the mass production practically disappears, and objects of art, experiments by the younger generation of designers, and brave prototypes like the outdoor kitchen by Raul Tiitus and Kaido Kivi from 2013 start to dominate.

A reminder for future visitors: you must definitely climb up the stairs as well, as in the Stair Gallery you will find a mini-exhibition-installation of the design of Norma’s kitchen jars throughout the history. The exhibition can be viewed as the development of graphic design in Soviet Estonia, presented in three-dimensional form, how social-realistic city views evolved into the pop-style red-and-white dotted pattern that has assumed a status of a design icon by today. I believe many will be surprised, how many different designs made it into production: the general impression is best summed up by an accidentally overheard sentence uttered by two ladies: “My lord, how many there are!”.

The exhibition also includes a small interactive part: every visitor can send a photo of their kitchen at the e-mail address pilt@etdm.ee and thereby help to conceptualization the modern kitchen in all its nuances and variations.

Photo: Paul Kuimet