It seems at first like voyeurism. Watching a film of a private conversation between mother and son become public display, or an account of a father’s internal, isolated mental breakdown become a documentary of perverse scrutiny. In Tramway’s hot project space, it becomes almost Lynchian in its sense of foreboding. It soon, though, reveals itself to be an essay on communication and a treaty on the nature of close relationships.
For Estonian artist Mark Raidpere, who makes his UK solo debut here, these themes underscore the eponymous ‘Shifting Focus’ and the double screen film ‘Voiceover’.
‘Voiceover’ dominates the programme. On a projected wall Raidpere’s father voices a catalogue of poignant, hypnotic, distressing claims, stories and experiences that are the hallucinations of a man who has suffered the extremes of schizophrenia throughout his life. The audience views this extreme close-up, documentary-style head shot in his father’s native Estonian. The translation into English comes from Raidpere himself, seen on a monitor to the right of the projection. Headphones attached to the monitor allow a selection of the audience to hear Raidpere’s words, or his father’s words as a voiceover. Raidpere’s performance unlike his father’s, is featureless, indifferent, glitchy as if to say: I am not like my father. I do not accept what my father accepts. Or like the passionless translator’s voice from a documentary or news report, creates within Raidpere the sensation or mantle of the guarded onlooker, the editorially and professionally uninvolved.
The tensions within this public and private illustration is a question of what comes from our parents to us and what we choose to accept or deny. The colouring of this film, an allure of video vibrant reds, proposes a more political inference to this relationship: that of our national parenthood and our identities shaped by policy, philosophy and politics here a symbolic partition/backdrop. Raidpere emerges and flourishes within Estonia’s recently gained independence, his father a casualty of its authoritarian and oppressive past: in ‘Voiceover’ Raidpere simultaneously rejects the past and his father, representations of an order and generation experienced in distress, corruption and fantasy.
That the artist represented Estonia at the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005, articulates Estonia’s shift towards cultural and economic freedoms. Raidpere’s private revelations and personal investigations echo those of a nation mesmerized by the possibility of engaging in freedom and self-expression, which as ‘Voiceover’ suggests can be both painful and enlightening, beguiling and traumatic. It’s an interesting, controversial and pertinent choice of artist for Venice, where the assumption of representation is connected with high regard, reputation, critical weight, career success: it speaks of confidence, speculation and investment, a willingness to risk. This is a motif that Tramway is versed in. This is an installation investigating identity, isolation, and political and personal relationships. ‘Shifting focus’ is also an idea that verbalizes risk-taking, outward gaze, and autonomy. Raidpere’s work seems perfectly at home here.
Alex Hetherington is an artist