Outhouse by the Church
curated by Eugenio Viola
27 sep 2018 – 14 dec 2018
This is the first Italian solo exhibition by Jaanus Samma after the acclaimed NSFW. A Chairman’s Tale that represented Estonia at the 56th Venice Biennale (2015).
Jaanus Samma’s practice spans across multiple media, with an active interest in archival research. In his work, he adopts a micro-historical perspective, connecting the public and collective dimensions of History with the private and narrative qualities of a chronicle. Notions of the public and private realm, often connected with queer topics, are the main subjects of Jaanus Samma’s research.
Following a long anthropological fieldwork, Outhouse by the Church is a project focused on public toilets, an ostensibly humble and sometimes underestimated subject that can teach us about hierarchy, inequality, the body, aesthetics and politics. The public toilet is a space where the border between public and private is blurred, a space which is often discreetly disregarded and for this reason, during its long history and in different social and cultural contexts, has created opportunities for a variety of social interaction.
As marginal public space, public toilets are traditionally classified according to heteronormative gender binary (male, female) and among the possible uses, sometimes serve as cruising areas, although the rise of dating apps has undeniably led to a decline in this.
Flaminio Station (2016–2018) is a series of works the Estonian artist conceived after a residency at Nomas Foundation in Rome, where he explored the geography of the city’s cruising sites. These graffiti-covered ceramic pieces are evocative of the bright yellow tiles that cover the shabby public toilet at Flaminio Station, which is one of the last unmodernised public toilets in Rome, and a popular cruising site. For these works, the artist copied the vast array of writing and graffiti he found in the Flaminio public toilet, while a curtain of rubber toilet pulls discreetly screen the drawings.
The title piece of the exhibition, Outhouse by the Church (2018), is an installation made of remnants of an old wooden outhouse, formerly located next to St Michael’s Church in the village of Kodavere in Eastern Estonia. This outhouse was used for almost a century before it was abandoned and its remnants recuperated by the artist. Kodavere church and its immediate surroundings are under heritage protection but curiously the outhouse is never mentioned in its extensive documentation reflecting on the general invisibility of these kinds of spaces.
Similarly to the Flaminio Station toilets, the Kodavere outhouse was left unsupervised to be appropriated by its public. Some well-preserved historical graffiti, dated from the 1920s, is the most surprising part of this relic. Furthermore, some comments inscribed in this old wood suggest that these facilities, which were standing next to an institution of high moral authority, were sometimes used to intertwine the sacred and the profane.
Beyond the irreverent and ironical appearance, Outhouse by the Church stages an environmental installation, which draws focus to the everyday environment of the public restroom and its related social norms, people’s movements and actions. Jaanus Samma offers here an assessment of our contemporary practices, showing us some mechanisms that reflect and sustain our cultural attitudes towards sex, class, and gender.
Jaanus Samma (Tallinn, 1982) is considered one of the most interesting artist of the Baltic area. His recent solo exhibitions include: The Aine Art Museum, Tornio, Finland (2018); Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn (2017–2018); ex-canteen factory Kalibr, Minsk (2016); Museum of Occupations, Tallinn (2016); Gotlands Konstmuseum, Gotland (2015).
His works have been featured in a number of group exhibitions including: Kiasma, Helsinki (2018–2019); Sculpture Quadrennial, Riga (2016); BWA Sokól, Nowy Sacz, Poland (2016); Den Frie Centre of Contemporary Art, Copenhagen (2016); Tartu Art Museum (2014); Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia, Tallinn (2012).
In 2015, Jaanus Samma represented Estonia at the 56th Venice Biennale with the critically acclaimed NSFW. A Chairman’s Tale, curated, like this exhibition, by Eugenio Viola. In 2013, he was awarded with the prestigious Köler Prize by the Contemporary Art Museum of Estonia.
He is currently part of the WIELS residency programme in Brussels.
Viale Somalia, 33