Kristina Norman, Bita Razavi
Curated by Corina L. Apostol
Based on the life and works of Emilie Rosalie Saal
The Estonian Pavilion at the 59th International
La Biennale di Venezia
Commissioner: Estonian Centre for Contemporary Art
Rietveld Pavilion, Giardini di Castello Biennale
Date: 23 April –27 November 2022
From 23 April to 25 September, 11 am - 7 pm
From 27 September to 27 November, 10 am - 6 pm
For Estonia’s exhibition for the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, Kristina Norman and Bita Razavi will present, in close collaboration with curator Corina L. Apostol, Orchidelirium: An Appetite for Abundance. A multi-layered ecocritical display within the Rietveld Pavilion in the Giardini di Castello Biennale.
A flowering orchid is a sensation. There is something fairytale-like about the term orchid. Awesome characteristics are attributed to the flower. The positive aspect about these fairy tales is that orchids have become desirable (…) When an orchid flowers, it is discussed in newspapers. These words, written over a century ago, belong to the Estonian writer, photographer, and topographer, Andres Saal who, together with his partner Emilie Rosalie Saal, lived on the Island of Java, then part of the Dutch East Indies. Today orchids have become so commonplace, yet still widely cultivated and collected, that it requires a stretch of the imagination to fathom the Orchidelirium or orchid fever that gripped Europe so long ago. Yet, behind the allure and beauty of tropical orchids, lies a complex and dark story of colonial ecological exploitation with lasting repercussions. In a carefully crafted interplay between the scientific, historical, and aesthetic, Kristina Norman and Bita Razavi in dialogue with curator Corina L. Apostol critically explore the landscapes in pre-independence Estonia and in Indonesia during the late colonial period, and the ecological impact it continues to have to this day.
The artists will produce an immersive environment, featuring a film trilogy by Kristina Norman and a performative spatial intervention by Bita Razavi. Norman and Razavi’s research-based practices will closely examine the historical experience of serfdom in Estonia from which the Saals emerged, their lived experiences in Indonesia, and the important role they played in Dutch colonial history. Orchidelirium reflects on the difficulties of entangled histories and the relationships between “perpetrators” and “victims” in a botanical pavilion where the viewer encounters different characters of the colonial past and present. It offers an in-depth and multifaceted perspective on how the botanical history shared by the Netherlands, Estonia, and Indonesia, is closely linked to their colonial relationship. As Estonia was then part of the Russian Empire, the story of Emilie Saal (1871–1954) is one of a colonized subject becoming and passing as a white coloniser in a foreign land, thus her work plays an integral role in unraveling the threads of these entangled histories.
“While botany has received little systematic attention within art history, its visibility and significance have grown in relation to the threats of environmental exploitation and destruction. By engaging contemporary artists’ visual and political engagement with botanical legacies and environmental conditions globally and highlighting political, and cultural developments—this exhibition offers a significant contribution to the intersecting fields of botany, visual culture, decoloniality, and environmental politics, during a time when such cultural strategies and proposals are urgently needed,” says curator, Corina L. Apostol.
KRISTINA NORMAN (1979) is a Tallinn-based artist whose interdisciplinary practice includes video installations, sculptural objects, urban interventions, as well as documentary films and performances.
BITA RAZAVI (1983) lives and works between Helsinki and countryside Estonia. They graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Music performance from Tehran Art University and holds a Masters in Fine Art from the Finnish Academy of Fine Arts, Helsinki.
EMILIE ROSALIE SAAL (1871–1954) was born in Tartu (then part of the Russian Empire), studied art in Petrograd (St. Petersburg), then joined Andes Saal in Java between 1899 and 1920. In many ways her story is similar to that of other European noblewomen who pursued botanical art as a pastime and occupation.
CORINA L. APOSTOL (1984) is a curator at the Tallinn Art Hall and the curator of the Estonian Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale. She curated the Shelter Festival: “Cosmopolitics, Comradeship, and the Commons,” at the Space for Free Arts in Helsinki (2019).
Estonia has participated in La Biennale di Venezia since 1997 with pavilions at various locations in the city of Venice. For the upcoming biennale, the Mondriaan Fund has invited Estonia to exhibit as guests in their historical Rietveld pavilion in the heart of the Giardini. Estonia’s participation in the Venice Biennale is commissioned and produced by the Estonian Centre for Contemporary Art, co-produced with the Tallinn Art Hall and Rühm Pluss Null and funded by the Estonian Ministry of Culture.
Estonian Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) is the oldest centre of expertise for contemporary art in Estonia. Creating opportunities and collaborations for Estonian artists and the Estonian art scene since 1992, CCA is also the commissioning organisation of the Estonian pavilion at the Venice Biennale since 1999. CCA is one of the main facilitators of international collaborations in the Estonian art scene through connecting artists, curators, critics and institutions. CCA also curates and organises exhibitions and other art events and publishes Estonian art news for our international network. CCA is a non-profit non-governmental organisation that is mostly supported by public resources. The main funder of CCA is the Estonian Ministry of Culture.
Artists: Kristina Norman and Bita Razavi
Based on the life and works of Emilie Rosalie Saal
Curator: Corina L. Apostol, Tallinn Art Hall (TAH)
Commissioner: Maria Arusoo, Estonian Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA)
Graphic Designer: Laura Pappa
Orchid typeface: Jungmyung Lee & Laura Pappa
Website programming: Eva Rank
Architects: Aet Ader and Arvi Anderson, b210
Technical Director: Tõnu Narro with a team of Mihkel Lember, Villem Säre, Aleksander Meresaar, Erik Liiv
Head of production: Sten Ojavee, CCA
Head of Communication: Kaarin Kivirähk, CCA
International PR Advisor: Alexia Menikou
Exhibition assistant: Simona Šulnyté
Creative collaborators and advisors to the project: Kristaps Ancāns, Sadiah Boonstra, Linda Kaljundi, Maija Karhunen, David Kozma, Saku Kämäräinen and Pietu Pietiäinen (Post Theatre Collective), Märt-Matis Lill, Àngels Miralda, Meelis Muhu, Mari Mägi, Behzad Khosravi Noori, Erik Norkroos (Rühm Pluss Null), Tammo Sumera, Iris Oja, Cärol Ott, Tuuliki Peil, Ulrike Plath, Karolin Poska, Teresa Silva, Eko Supriyanto
Commissioned and produced by Estonian Centre for Contemporary Art
Co-Producers: Tallinn Art Hall, Rühm Pluss Null, Post Theatre Collective