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Eestikeelsed artiklid



Benedict Chapman

August Künnapu

Helga Nõu

Martin Jõela

Harry Pye

Vilem Künnapu

Alexey Levchuk



Spatial Poetry in 2019

33 years ago I wrote the article “Spatial Poetry” (journal Looming 4/1986). Rereading it now, many things seem to be the same – after all, the character and essence of spaces change slowly. Perhaps I have changed myself. The article contains a lot of intellectual analysis, quotations from philosophers and poets. Today, my experience of life has given me the chance to directly contact the genius loci, and the opinions of the great and the good are no longer that important. In the following, I will try to characterise spatial experiences from recent travels.


In winter 2018/2019 my wife and I visited Cuba for the first time. The energy I immediately perceived was warm and mild. It seemed like a sweet dream, dancing, colourful, free, merry and childish. It is said that the spirits of a place, even Mother Earth, are childish, with a mind of a 12-year-old or so. You can truly feel the presence of spirits in Cuba.

The mainstream media depicts the situation in Cuba as poor, miserable, unhappy and sad. But it is not so – people have dignity, they are jolly, and what’s most important – free in their heart. Just as we were in the Soviet era and in the 1990s. Shops are empty, but people are well dressed – the black market operates faultlessly.

Havana’s grand classicist and Art Deco architecture is pleasantly careless – a bit crumbling, (still) allowing access to all courtyards and rooms, Cuban music everywhere, smells of rum and cigars.

There are seven remarkable luxury hotels, where people can go and see the rooms, stair halls, atriums and roof balconies. Piranesi-style room, rhythms of light, complicated stairs and an abundance of roof balconies (open pools, bars, roof gardens) together with enchanting city views make an unforgettable spatial impression. We are fascinated by innumerable colonnades lining the streets. Sometimes the arcades with curved arches recall Giorgio de Chirico’s paintings.

Vilen Künnapu. Somewhere in Cuba

Vilen Künnapu. Somewhere in Cuba.
Acrylic on canvas, 2019

In reality, Havana resembles a strange time machine – mainly American cars from the 1940s – 1960s, pink, yellow, blue, lilac and red. People are not dependent on Internet, which hardly exists. Facebook is replaced by communication, dance, rum, coffee and domino. Visiting art galleries and museum, dance parties and markets you can capture a magical perception of life, a mixture of life patterns of Native Americans, black and Spanish peoples. And all this is primarily expressed in Salsa – a timeless dance style, enjoyed by both young and old. This is pure magic. At a local dance party in a small town we sense its timeless power and miracle – there in no time, no socialism-capitalism, not even men and women – instead, there is a kind of new spatial-poetical dimension where we all exist. It is like a dream.

In Cuba we perceive the closeness of the sea. The undulating and rumbling Atlantic Ocean in the north, the peaceful and grand Caribbean Sea in the south. The tropical flora in the middle part of the elongated island forms the background of the settlement, empty roads are the blood vessels and the small towns with lakes and rivers constitute the vital organs.

Music is coming from every single pub, hotel and restaurant, however small. Musicians and dancers are the cooks, waitresses, dish-washers and their close relatives. Revolution has drowned in the dense brances of palm trees, Guantanamera songs, dry riverbeds and cloudless sky.

Vilen Künnapu. Havana

Vilen Künnapu. Havana.
Acrylic on canvas, 2019

Vilen Künnapu. Havana Malecon

Vilen Künnapu. Havana Malecon.
Acrylic on canvas, 2019

St Petersburg

I had not been to St Petersburg for a long time. In Leningrad during school and once when I was a student at the art institute. And now when the journal Projektbaltija invited me to contribute, as a writer, lecturer and member of the jury, I have been there several times in a row. The first impression is always the freshest. I remember coming out of my hotel and feeling a warm and happy gust of energy. Some bearded actors were standing near the theatre, and I stopped to observe them. They smiled and waved. Disco music and merry shrieks emanated from a children’s café, the shop selling erotic underwear had a sign saying: “Forbidden to under 15-year-olds“. However, a boy was just emerging, hardly 12, probably the only client at the moment.

A marvellous old woman was selling strawberries on the corner. I asked where they were from, and she said Serbia. And where are you from, she wanted to know. Estonia – she was clearly astonished. Estonia has become a distant land. Inhabitants of St Petersburg are very fond of us. They know the names of Tallinn streets, singers, architects, sculptors. Anne Veski and Jaak Joala are still like divinities.

St Petersburg, like Tartu, is slightly provincial, and thus has a special charm. Trendy cafes are open until late, art museums are full of superb modern art, bookshops abound in the best art books from around the world. Counters with esoteric literature stretch for miles.

A view from the
balcony of St Isaac’s Cathedral in
St Petersburg

A view from the balcony of St Isaac’s Cathedral in St Petersburg
Photo: August Künnapu

I like the Russian spirit – it has verve, depth and mystery. At night, the city is smartly lit up, classical architecture seems perfect namely at night. I am driving with the local architect and artist Pasha around nocturnal St Petersburg. The car radio is tuned to stylish jazz. Pasha resembles a civil war hero in Russian films in the 1960s. He is tall, moustachioed, with a melancholy eye and old-fashioned black jacket, friendly and helpful. He shows his childhood’s nooks and crannies on Vasilyevsky island; industrial constructivism, today’s architecture adorned with colonnades and chimneys. Pasha’s own works recall Lapin – respect for Estonia is supreme.

I cannot compare the Nevsky Prospect with anything – there is no such lively and powerful axis anywhere else. Remarkable Jugendstil, street bands, elegant beauties, cafes and shops. Sanctions against Russia have actually been beneficial. All that Western food in multicoloured packaging, full of chemicals, does not exist here. Various sweets and cakes, blinis – just like in olden times.

I warmly recommend restaurant “Gogol” – by far the best Russian cuisine I have ever tasted. Art gourmands should visit the reconstructed wing of the Hermitage called “Glavnõištap” (headquarters). It is hard to find such a superb collection of paintings anywhere – best works of Matisse, early Picasso and his brilliant Cubism, Bonnard, Gauguin and other favourites of mine. The paintings are well lit by natural light, and there are many of them. Or the Russian Museum and an exceptional selection of works by Tatlin, Malevich, Kandinsky, Popova and others. In addition some less known Russian artists from the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s. A terrific experience.

Peter and Paul Fortress in St

Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg
Photo: August Künnapu

The Marble Palace, part of the Russian Museum, contains an outstanding collection of new Western art. This is part of Peter and Irene Ludwig’s collection – their gift to the Russian people. All this can be enjoyed about 300 km from Tallinn. Vasilyevsky Island now has several new museums of modern art and the elegant seaside culture centre Sevkabel – a grand reconstruction of old harbour buildings. And, almost forgot to mention the island of Novaja Gollandia that belongs to Abramovich, another huge culture hub.

In sum: the dirty and squalid Leningrad is history, St Petersburg is a city of future – diverse, stylish, straightforward and honest. And a Russian is modest, polite, with rich language usage and witty humour. I like that they say what they think, just as we do.

Los Angeles

My son and I are flying towards LA. I am watching a silly film, where a devastating earthquake is about to destroy the whole California. The LA Downtown skyscrapers tumble one after the other, San Francisco’s Golden Gate collapses. Only one Rambo-like chopper driver circles above the ruins and rescues his girlfriend. Every shaman would know that such depiction is extremely dangerous – it challenges trouble. Such films should be banned.

However, the real situation in the City of Angels is calm. We lived on Venice Beach and opened a small group exhibition in the nearby Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, where August and I displayed 5 paintings. I was last in LA in 1988, when Ain Padrik, Andres Siim and myself quite successfully (we came second) took part in the West Coast Gateway architectural competition. Venice Beach is exactly the same as 30 years ago. A bit trashy, bohemian and jolly, occasionally quite smart and even wealthy. The same musicians and acrobats on Broadwalk. There are homeless people, who sleep on the beach. Among the new things is the stylish art gallery LA Louver and some trendy restaurants. Abbot Kinney Blvd is lined with LA’s finer design shops and cafes. The beach is cool, we take a dip almost every day. West Hollywood and Beverly Hills have not changed that much either. Only Downtown is almost totally new. 30 years ago it was a sparse, dusty and dangerous place. Now we see new chic skyscrapers, a grand park has been established besides the city hall.

By the
doorway of a gospel church in LA

By the doorway of a gospel church in LA

The jewel of Downtown is Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry, an expressive metal sculpture inspired by the surrounding mountains. The house is a powerful masterpiece. You could stare at it in wonderment forever. A few years ago an art museum called Broad was built near it, and they fit together superbly. Broad contains an extraordinary art collection, best in the entire LA. Gehry’s smaller buildings are scattered all across the city. Already back in 1988 I admired them most of all. Edgemar was still under construction. Now we can fully admire this little artwork (art gallery, gym, café, shop, inner courtyards). Gehry has not become old. Hs works are just as fresh and captivating as before. The same cannot be, alas, said about Richard Meier’s works – they seem a bit tired.

What about the energy of the city? Just as brisk and creative as ever. Waiters are potential film stars, administrators scriptwriters, taxi drivers, future concert organisers – millionaires. The warm wind blowing from the ocean seems to neutralise all negative and excessive. Some of our friends indeed call the ocean a god. Driving to the Getty art centre on top of a hill we see houses belonging to oligarchs, surrounded by barbed wire and high walls. Mr Trump is on his way to one of them. Because of him, the 8-lane superhighway is blocked during the rush hour starting from the airport. Something like that could perhaps only happen in North Korea. And Mr Trump indeed drives past, looking worried and thoughtful – after all, the new campaign will need a vast load of dollars.

It is quite difficult to write about LA’s energy. The seemingly carefree life of beach surfers on the one hand, vainly childish urban melee, the already mentioned highly positive and powerful architecture of Gehry; on the other hand, the mysterious gated settlements and their – demon-like rulers of the world. There is a mood of packing bags. We did not notice anything particularly new and interesting. Maybe the Estonian-Latvian joint exhibition, “Painted Architecture” was the one pleasant exception. We took part in the Sunday service in the New Bethel Baptist Church near our home in Venice. We went there to just listen to some music, but the result was one of the most powerful spiritual experiences ever. My perception of god had become a bit rusty in recent years, but the gospel choir and mighty black preachers cleaned it up magnificently. This was doubtlessly one of the best experiences of our stay. The preachers also touched upon the topic of earthquakes. We’ll see whether the gospel churches, the cleansing effect of the ocean and simple people’s pure thoughts can avoid the possible catastrophe.

Painted Architecture

Opening of the exhibition “Painted Architecture”
Venice Institute of Contemporary Art (VICA), LA

Painted Architecture

“Painted Architecture” exhibition view
Venice Institute of Contemporary Art (VICA), LA

Vilen Künnapu

Vilen Künnapu
Photo: Fred-Erik Kerner

Spaces and their poetry take shape from the character of geometry of settlements, from the state of flora and fauna, and most of all, from people’s thoughts. We live at the time of huge dimensional shifts. It is presumed that the changes in the coming decades are more radical than the previous changing of the whole humankind. This change may arrive through big natural catastrophes, but could easily be more painless – everything depends on people and their way of thinking. If people start looking after our planet and help one another, Mother Earth would abandon her quaking – everything is, after all, in the hands of someone higher. I personally think that we create our spaces ourselves, with god’s help. And we make them how we like them. If you want to be happy then be happy. If you want to be depressed, go ahead. We get to the point when spaces are in our head. My space is poetic, jolly, colourful, funny. Nothing bad can happen there, and nothing will.

Architect and artist