Maija Rudovska for Echo Gone Wrong, 2019
From the Self towards Others
Diāna Tamane’s exhibition ‘Commissions’, curated by Evita Goze, could at first sight come across as rather an unusual exhibition. Its aesthetic set-up does not bode well with the trendy examples of installations and objects in the contemporary art world, and neither does it resonate with the standards of presentations of images applied by photographers, which strive towards a detached perfectionism without unnecessary displays of emotion. The exhibition features works and images that could be considered schmaltzy or even clichéd: a photograph of a cat in the window of an old brick house, an idealistic view of Riga, a blossoming tree beside a house. But the most eye-catching object is the furthest wall of the exhibition, painted the colour of an omelette, and filled with various-sized images, paintings, framed family photographs, and even small clay articles (made by Diāna’s sister), creating an eclectic, irregular ‘wallpaper’ of impressions. Diāna’s exhibition is like a ‘diary of memories’, making us feel slightly uncomfortable while browsing its pages, because it gives the impression that she has made some highly personal memories public. A sense of unease also creeps in because the viewer quickly realises that these are not works of art that correspond to the criteria of contemporary art, but rather amateurish articles, creative attempts, and impressions from one family’s collection, the family of Diāna Tamane. Many of these pieces were made by Diāna, either just before she finished her professional art education or during the early stages. Other pieces were created or commissioned by members of her family. Many are not even artworks: there are family photographs that have been transferred from her family home to the walls of the gallery.
I would say that Diāna’s ‘Commissions’ should be, and at the same time should not be, read in the context of the language of contemporary art exhibitions. The aim of her project was not to make a good impression on members of the (very small and elitist) art world, but to create a dialogue with a certain audience, Diāna’s family. This is shown not only by how the works have been selected and the way they have been presented, but also by the comments in Russian next to many images. The exhibition was produced with the active participation of the artist’s relatives, and therefore it was intended as a dialogue specifically with them, and not with an abstract audience. For example, for some time now, Diāna has been trying to make works for members of her family. Her father wanted a view of Old Riga, with a specific request, it had to feature Akmens and Vanšu Bridge. Her grandmother, for example, wanted a photograph with a sunset; but Diāna could not quite manage it, so instead she printed one of her grandmother’s own photographs of her summer cottage in Kursīši, which was sold a few years ago, on canvas.
‘Commissions’ has turned out to be a collaboration by a small collective, bringing together memories, impressions, dreams and intentions in a visual adventure. It may resonate with any viewer’s experience, because who has not thought of making a family portrait of some sort, either more or less idealistic? However, while reflecting on the exhibition, it seemed less important to emphasise the making of this family album, and more an aesthetic adventure in the production of an exhibition as a process, in which collaborating and getting to know each other were essential. It eliminates the hierarchical relationship between the artist as an authority and the viewer, who is often anonymous and abstract.
An essential part of Diāna’s practice so far has been to involve her relatives, as she notes,[i] something that she has deliberately done since 2009. For example, in her work ‘On the Road’ (2015), she asked her mother to comment on her job on the roads while she was working as a truck driver. Another project, ‘Flower Smuggler’ (started in 2017 and ongoing), features photographs of flowers taken by her grandmother that were sent home while she was detained for smuggling flowers on the border with the Russian Federation. Until now, Diāna’s relatives have been active protagonists in her work; but only as research objects, whose presence invited the contemplation of complex issues, such as belonging, identity, memories and movement. While zooming in on personal family relationships, and shining a light on misunderstandings, life’s let-downs or deadlocks, in search of commonality and understanding through differences, the artist explores subjects such as ‘economic migration, generational differences, and the aesthetic sense and understanding of art of the working classes’.[ii] But, to me, it seems that Diāna’s focus has shifted in yet another direction with the exhibition ‘Commissions’, distancing her from the subjective and the individual (or the ego), and turning towards the collective. In particular, by concentrating her attention on a particular group, in this case her family, the artist brings to our attention issues of responsibility and participation within the wider context of contemporary art. It is a chance to witness a stepping away from the egocentric role of an artist, by shifting one’s practice towards a more socially responsible path, and thus touching on subjects that are not only essential to the contemporary art world, but which also relate to people outside it. Of course, Diāna is also reliant on the objects she explores, she is so closely entwined with them that any separation or move away in another direction could be difficult. But, and this is perhaps another interesting aspect, how can we view the artist’s practice, bearing in mind the fact that its core has always been interdependence, mechanisms that are characteristic of societal structures in general, and whose removal or attempts at breaking them up would cause profound problems with long-lasting consequences?
We often pose the question, how can art become visible beyond its boundaries? How can it become noticeable, and influence social systems? In my opinion, this exhibition provokes a contemplation of art and photography as an expanded field of perception, where the focus is not just on a certain medium, in this case a photograph, but the forms of action and communication that break free of the boundaries of this medium. In any case, an image here serves as a link between the creator and the perceiver, removing active and passive roles in this dynamic. Is Diāna’s exhibition an example of social practice? That is debatable; however, this example certainly encourages us to view it in that context. The exhibition and its production process have dared to cross the space between the one who creates and the one who consumes, the one who views and the one who partakes in the creative process. This exhibition is also like a reminder of boundaries that have historically and institutionally been constructed to separate professionally created art from unprofessional, vernacular art, where the ‘label’ of good or bad art is attached to a certain type of creative output. While wilfully reminding us of this division, ‘Commissions’, as an exhibition and a project in one, acquires a vulnerable status that is welcoming and humane to any viewer. The role of the individual, or in this case, the artist as a creator, has been deconstructed, introducing cooperation as a form of creative practice; and therefore it is not the objects (for example, the exhibited works) that acquire value, but the actual practice as such, and the context in which it emerged.
[i] Laura Brokāne, Moments of Failure. Interview with Diāna Tamane, Echo Gone Wrong, http://echogonewrong.com/interview-Diāna-tamane/?fbclid=IwAR09Qsy0Z6rO1mH01ial72ZeMY-CaBCDtvks8Q5cuQRM1ho2cPaIRsD4Muw
[ii] Inga Lāce, Diāna Tamane: Jet Lag, The Estonian Art, 2018
Inga Lace for the Estonian Art, 2018
Diana Tamane: Jet Lag
Describing the difference between how we live today and how this lived experience is represented in theoretical terms and discourses, the scholar Rosi Braidotti emphasises that there is a considerable gap between them. While the former takes place in emancipated or post-feminist, multi-ethnic globalized societies, with advanced technologies and high-speed telecommunication, as well as supposedly free borders, but increased border controls and security measures, the latter simply doesn’t fit this reality, but sometimes proves to be much more complex, chaotic and even contradictory. Braidotti then proposes to read this imaginative poverty as the “jet lag” problem of being behind one’s time, or simultaneously inhabiting different time zones.
As a physiological condition, jet lag results from alterations to the body’s circadian rhythms caused by rapid long-distance travel. The term came into use relatively recently since it was not possible to travel far and fast enough to cause desynchronizing in the body before the arrival of passenger jet aircraft. The artist Diana Tamane, born in Riga in 1986, moves around and travels regularly; she relocated from Riga to Tartu for her studies and now is again based in the Estonian city. She has also lived and studied in Ghent, Brussels and Portugal, has done residencies, and travels to take part in exhibitions. Jet lag, sometimes literally, but also metaphorically, is nowadays part of the job of being an artist living a precarious yet extraordinary life.
It is interesting though that Tamane is not the only one in her family who travels, and the daily routines, distinctiveness and reasons behind that travel have become part of her recent practice. Tamane’s work “On the Road” (2015) is about her mother, as much as it is about economic migration, generational differences and the aesthetic sense and understanding of art by the working class. After her business went bankrupt, Tamane’s mother learned to be a truck driver and started to go on long trips all over Europe to transport goods. The video starts with a monotonous view of a grey road and the constantly moving yet unchanging surrounding landscape on the way from northern to southern France, which in its dullness could just as well be the countryside scenery of Latvia. The crackling loud music in the truck is “A Sky Full of Stars” by Coldplay, which repeats its title, as well as such phrases as “Such a heavenly view”, while the road goes on ceaselessly and it rains lightly. Tamane’s mother is filming the road as an assignment from her daughter, whom she calls towards the end of the video. An explicit negotiation happens between the two, ranging from a discussion of practical matters, such as how the batteries lose their charge faster than they charge, making the non-stop documentation process impossible, to whether or not the sound of her speaking right now and discussing those matters will be included in the video and how the filmed material will later be delivered to her daughter. From working with the material that is closest to her, approaching the objects and subjects with deep sincerity but also humour, Tamane expands daily matters to more general problems, revealing symptoms of changing economic systems, the (in)ability of people to adapt to them, and the misunderstandings this creates. After ending the call, her mother mentions in a conversation with her husband who is travelling with her, that her daughter runs around too much and does not fully understand how things work.
Another work from the same series is a huge picture of Tamane’s mother in a red and white truck. Called “Mom” (2016), the picture is peculiar in its proportions, since to include the whole image of the truck, the picture needs to be extremely long, but however enlarged it is, it still leaves her mother inside it incredibly small. Her mother travels for work, but the picture suggests awkward tourist attempts to take pictures in front of monuments, where the inclusion of the whole monument is so important that it leaves the tourists themselves as tiny figures in the foreground, always striking similar poses, with almost indistinguishable facial expressions.
Diana Tamane’s father has travelled since the mid-1990s, being one of those people who go to Germany to buy cars and different goods to resell in Latvia. He would be considered entrepreneurial, which was an important status in the 1990s when state socialism was exchanged for wild capitalism. I remember that in the 1990s my father would go to Germany, too. Although it was only for himself, the ritual of going to choose a used car in Germany was repeated several times and became important both in terms of the actual acquisition of the family car, as well as the countless stories about Germans that then surrounded my childhood; planting plenty of stereotypes in my head, which I much later could only vaguely remember the origins of.
With the travel, many expectations for other goods and experiences, as well as disillusionments, followed: from foreign yoghurt to Barbie dolls, always too little or too much, or not exactly the right ones. For Tamane, pictures of the objects for resale brought back by her dad are the starting point of the work “Sold Out” (2016), where she has arranged images in countless rows and long columns and printed them as a single print. Both of Tamane’s parents cross the physically non-existent, fluid yet very real boundary between Eastern and Western Europe, taking advantage of the economic opportunities that first, the dissolution of the Soviet Union and later, Latvia’s joining the European Union created. Both of her works also hint at the stark social and economic inequalities that exist within the EU member states.
Another work on crossing borders is “Flower Smuggler”. It portrays Tamane’s grandmother, who was accused of smuggling because of crossing the Latvian-Russian border with two flower pots. She wanted to bring flowers to the grave of her father, who is buried in Abrene, a Latvian territory annexed by the USSR in 1945, which still belongs to Russia and requires a visa to get into. Images of flowers taken by her grandmother, as well as documents that were sent to her from the customs house of the Russian Federation, subtly reveal how a complex political history and presence intertwines with the desires, needs and dreams of ordinary people.
Before involving moving and migration in her work, Tamane in fact focused on quite the opposite, repeatedly taking footage of the women of her family sitting still on a sofa next to each other. “Family Portrait” (2012-ongoing) is updated with a new shot every time the artist comes back to Riga, where all of them – herself, her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother meet. The last image only contains three of them, since the artist’s great-grandmother passed away in 2016. Tamane comes from a Russian-speaking family in Latvia, a community in which the role and status changed significantly after Latvia regained its independence, marginalising the formerly dominant language, and the people speaking it; thus questions of identity and belonging have always been present in Tamane’s work. The difference between generations is also palpable; the artist represents the younger generation, who study abroad and become citizens of the world more than being members of any ethnic group. Seeing the quiet women on the sofa, the question arises as to whether those women inhabit the same time zone. Can one be jet-lagged without even having travelled?
 Braidotti, Rosi. Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary Feminist Theory, New York:Columbia University Press, 1994, p. 4
Katerina Gregos for the publication .tiff, 2016
Diana Tamane’s work centers around autobiographical elements, with her own family often constituting the point of departure for a wider exploration of identity (personal, social and cultural) and the practice of everyday working class life in post-Soviet society. Photography – in the expanded sense - is her core medium, though she also works with video, text, sound and found objects. Her interest in photography is not, however, limited to its narrative or memory-preservation potentiality. Rather, Tamane is more interested in how photography is used as a tool for recording family history and identity, and as a medium for self-representation, processes that have been accelerated and complicated since the advent of the digital camera and have reached their apotheosis with the culture of the selfie. At the same time, very often Tamane draws out the photographic process – challenging its instantaneity – by creating lingering iconic images that play out over long periods of time. Such a work is Family Portrait (2013–16) a compelling silent video portrait of the artist with her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, which makes the passage of time and the looming sense of mortality almost painfully palpable.
Other works have a less existential parameter, but nevertheless speak volumes about how work defines identity. On the Road (2015) is a 37 minutes view of a road journey undertaken by Tamane’s mother, a truck driver, accompanied by the sound track of conversations between mother and daughter; Sold Out (2016), on the other hand, is a photographic inventory of cars, electronics and other items bought by her dad in the West to resell in Latvia. Finally, Tetraptych (2015) shows details of four different wallpapers from the houses of the artist, her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother – an abstract allusion to changing taste and working class aesthetics, signifiers of seemingly insignificant things that carry cultural meaning. Though Tamane’s work might be mistaken as centering purely on the micro-cosmic, ultimately it deploys the personal sphere and family nucleus to reflect on wider, macro-cosmic issues: historical and political transformations, working class life, of changes in global production and consumption circuits and labour conditions, suggesting those momentous shifts that occurred after the so-called ‘end of history’, through a decidedly anthropocentric and highly personal narrative.
Martin Germann for the publication The Empty Foxhole, 2016
About Diana Tamane
The first time I met Diana was in Brussels, in preparation of my jury membership for examining the group of Masters students of Sint Lucas School of Art, where she was studying photography with Ana Torfs. This was in 2014. Her work at that time dealt with the notion of arriving, of how to deal with being a stranger in a new city, of her daily introspective walks, of the literal task to create perspective while — and of — being displaced. At the time I was already excited about her minimalist yet dry and humorous approach, her capacity to create an intense, multi-layered depth from something very simple, i.e. daily life, in pictures and with the sound of her own voice. At that time she told me about another, larger project she would be working on, which would be the project of her family. Hearing that one is of course a little alarmed. Photography creates ‘the family of man’, as Edward Steichen once described it, and there are many, many great historical examples of how family not only shows but essentially instates something as fragile yet stable as ‘family’ — from the Nixon Sisters to Thomas Struth, to Richard Billingham, to the great Larry Sultan (whose ‘Pictures From Home’, to me personally, remains absolutely unrivaled in this discipline until the present). Of course, the question is pressing: Could one really contribute something refreshing and innovative to a subject so loaded and burdened such as family?
Indeed, there is someone, who is in fact Diana. If we look briefly at what makes good art, it is of course to work with what is in front of us. Inventions are good, but if the point of escape into the unknown is the known, all the better. Certainly nothing is more readily available than one’s own family. It is a matrix we will never leave, and if we escape it, we inevitably escape in relation to it. Diana worked with the image material her family generated on many formal and technical layers, visually formulating such larger questions as: who sees whom in which way, and smaller questions, such as: what is one doing when the camera is turned off? To what extent is a skin really our last boundary, and what happens when one dies? Diana exploits every possible representation of (her) family, and transforms it with a sharp eye into an art that is entirely its own. She uses the whole repertoire of the contemporary photo-filmic infrastructure, from the mobile phone to the memory stick of her father’s product palette from the last 10 years, to the dashcam of her truck-driving mother, to email, also in order to fulfill yet subvert every possible cliché about the East one could imagine. We should not forget the proper art historical knowledge sleeping behind her approach, which she luckily applies in a very liberating, un-academic and free manner. You wouldn’t find a reference with the simple function of affirming the position of her work, as it is with a lot of art these days. In the end, Diana uses something as personal as family to say something public, close to a narration on something as large as the European transformations that took place during the last 30 years. The interesting question will be, of course, what can one do after this? But I am convinced it will remain beautiful, strange, and sharp.
Anti Saar for Sirp magazine, 2015
Sõnadel „puutumine“ ja „puudumine“ on etümoloogiasõnaraamatu järgi ühine tüvi. Ma ei tea, kas Diana Tamane oma näitusele pealkirja valides seda endale teadvustas, kuid mind ahvatleb see hämmastav ühtelangevus edasi mõtlema, „puudutuse“ mõiste tähendusvälja pseudosemantiliselt laiendama. Mida teeb verbile „puuduma/puutuma“ lisatud ta-liide? See muudab verbi transitiivseks (vrd: tekitama, kasvatama, istutama), aga lisab ka tegevusele korduvuse aspekti (vrd: hüpitama, plaksutama). Puudutamisest saab seega korduv puuduse tekitamine, puudutusest selle tegevuse tulem.
Foto, nagu teada, on olemuslikult puudulik, ühtaegu lähemale toov ja eemalolekut võimendav, seiskav, kangestav, surmaga seotud. Roland Barthes kirjeldab seda paratamatust tabava irooniaga: „Pole midagi naljakamat [—] kui fotograafide ponnistused selle nimel, et „panna elama“ – armetud ideed: mind seatakse istuma mu pintslite kõrvale, mind aetakse õue („väljas“ on elusam kui „sees“), mind pannakse poseerima trepi ees, sest minu selja taga mängivad mõned lapsed; märgatakse üht pinki ja kohe (missugune õnnelik juhus) sunnitakse mind sellele istuma. Hirmunud fotograaf peaks justkui pööraselt heitlema selle eest, et Foto ei oleks Surm. Mina aga, kes ma olen juba objekt, ei heitle.“*
Diana Tamane näitusel seisan ma silmitsi nelja üldjoontes sarnase fotoportreega: neli eri vanuses naist istub kõrvuti kušetil, taustaks nõukaaegne kahvaturoosa tapeet, samast ajast pärit seinalamp ja äratuntamatu maastikuga maal ülal paremal, pooleldi kaadrist väljas. Erinevalt fotograafist, kes pildistas Barthes’i, pole Tamane elususeillusiooni taga ajanud: kompositsioon on tubane ja staatiline, naised aksessuaarideta, näod emotsioonitud, lihased lõdvad, silmad pigem väsinud kui erksad.
Ühtäkki aga juhtub midagi ootamatut: üks naistest pilgutab silmi. Korraks, täpselt silmapilguks, on kaader ometi elustunud, langedes sealsamas tagasi oma ükskõiksesse tardumusse. Korraks on see inimene fotol astunud vaatajaga samasse ruumi, ühisesse ajalikku kohalolusse, mida sisendab film, foto mitte. Kuid just see eluandev hetk on – teistpidi – see, mis fotoliku eemaloleku tõeliseks kuristikuks süvendab. Mismoodi? Pilk on heidetud, silma sarvkest niisutatud, kuid see on toimunud just nimelt silmside katkemise hetkel.
Pilgutus on seega pilgu korduv katkemine, pilgu puudumine, nõnda nagu puudutus võiks olla puute puudumine või – sõnamängu jätkates, Blanchot’ vaimus – puudumise puudumine: fotole talletatud inimeselt on ühes eluga võetud surelikkus, jäägitu olematuse võimalikkus.
Niisiis, pilgutus tekitab mulle ja selle seisuvideo inimestele ühise ruumi, kuid paradoksaalselt lõikab mind nendest inimestest just selleks silmapilguks ära. Need inimesed on nüüd ühtaegu mulle lähemal ja päästmatult kaugel. Me viibime koos mingis kummalises, häirivas ja valusas vahepealsuses. Kui olen pikemalt kodust ja lähedastest eemal olnud, olen sääraseid puudutusi Skype’i- või telefonikõnede näol teadlikult vältinud: need paiskavad mind vahepealsusse, ühekorraga ei ole ma siin ega seal. Ka Tamane on kuraatori seinateksti sõnul elanud viimased üheksa aastat perekonnast eemal. Tema seeriaportreed mõjuvad kriipiva, poolelusate memorabilia’na, ent ühtlasi fotomeediumi ilmeka enesekirjeldusena. Kirjeldatud vahepealsust tajun ma ka videos, mis jookseb galerii otsaseinal portreede taustalt laenatud tapeedil, umbes maastikumaali asukohal, pooleldi „kaadrist väljas“. Siin on kiirtee, nähtuna rekkast, mida juhib kunstniku ema, üks portreteeritud naistest, taustaks telefonikõne tütrega argiseist asjust.
Ja omal moel annab seda vahepealsust edasi ka ema nahk ülivõimsalt suurendatud fotopannool galerii teises otsaseinas. Nahk on isiklik ja intiimne: kallima keha tuntakse puudutuse järgi pimesi ning kurjategijaid tuvastatakse sõrmejälgede alusel. Aga sellisena, tuhandekordses suurenduses, minetab nahk oma äratuntavuse, muutub pooltuttava või profaani pilgu ees nimetuks maastikuks. Siin on korraga lähedane, peaaegu taktiilne kontakt ning vaade kaugusest, nagu linnulennult, üle pidetu kõrbe. Perspektiivinihked tekitavad pööritust. Nahk on kõige sügavam, nagu on öelnud Paul Valéry.
„Puudutuse tüpoloogia“ on lakooniline ja läbimõeldud väljapanek, aistiliselt rikas ja kontseptuaalselt intrigeeriv. Huvitav, kuhu kunstnik siit edasi/tagasi liigub?
* Roland Barthes, La chambre claire. Note sur la photographie, Gallimard, Le Seuil, 1980, lk 30.