In this series of exhibitions and related events I want to create a platform for public discussion on issues that have a direct impact on women's lives and therefore an impact on wider society. Public speech and male power have been interrelated since Ancient Greece and Rome. In her short book Women & Power (2017) author Mary Beard says of Ancient Rome and Greece, where our Western structures for speech originate, that '...to become a man (or at least an elite man) was to claim the right to speak. Public speech was a -if not the- defining attribute of maleness. ...A woman speaking in public was, in most circumstances, by definition not a woman."
I've been in conversation with Sandra Jogeva since we met in Tallinn in 2009. We spent many hours drinking black tea and discussing the world, art, society, politics, history and culture on my first visit to Polymer Culture Factory. We spent most of our time at the office of Art Container, a collective with Eirk Alooga, Tanel Saar and Sandra Jogeva. The office was dark and smokey. A homemade stove kept it warm for the handful of artists who lived in makeshift rooms off the main space. On a raised platform among metal assemblages and life-size plaster cast and fiber glass figures was a communal PC that whirred and binged and was cursed at and gathered around throughout the day and night.
I'd first entered here to use the communal kitchen, a tiny space which consisted of a sink, gas stove, fridge a basket of dried herbs and spices and a collection of crockery and utensils acquired for food preparation as well as art making from the market as it was needed. I'd arrived in summer but there had been a sudden rainstorm. I woke up on my first day in the factory menstruating heavily in a foreign country. I found some wellingtons and headed out in the rain to find a shop for supplies. When I returned drenched and culture shocked I stood guiltily as the boots owner glared at my sorry state. The kettle was boiled and we began to talk.
Sandra seemed to know everybody in Tallinn and she had an opinion on everyone and everything. She was the host of a TV program, a writer, curator and had rose to fame for her career as a dominatrix and artist. She was fearless and I loved being in her company. Her presence made me brave.
In 2016 Sandra told me that a mutual acquaintance who we had been concerned about for a while had stabbed her boyfriend and was in court. We were worried for her. This was a very serious matter and she could end up in jail. We both knew that she needed professional support for her metal health and not imprisonment. Sandra decided to make her first documentary film about Veronika.
In the meantime I had a baby and our conversation quietened as Sandra worked out how to be a film director and worked out how to be a mother. In early 2017 Sandra quietly send me a link to the finished film. On headphones through my smartphone as I breastfed my infant I watched it in segments over a few days. Then I watched it again. I was stunned. This wasn't just a document of Veronika's struggle it was much more. There were so many questions; why did nobody listen when she showed signs of serious mental health problems? why does she hate men so much? did her education awake something in her that she could see her family life was far from perfect? why is domestic violence when perpetrated by a women not taken seriously? why are we drawn to the people that we are? what binds us and what tears us apart? what is the impact on children who are unwanted? is prison the best solution? how does free expression through self directed art making impact the individual? should we only act when things are physically violent? who does incarceration benefit? should we punish those citizens who are victims of a lack of mental health services?
In June 2018 I was selected as one of four curators on the New Spaces project and I saw this as my opportunity to screen this controversial yet award winning film along with several other artists (Léann Herlihy, Emma Hirsk, Hiroko Matsushita) who's strong female voices need to be heard. In this way I could become an interlocutor to the conversations about transgenerational abuse and the silencing of women that these artworks address.