The Two C-s of Liina Siib

Giedre Bartelt

Like any other intelligent work of art, the art of Liina Siib also consist of different planes. A less demanding contemporary would probably happily contemplate the perfectly composed large-format colour photographs – ‘well done’, he would perhaps say, using the popular term in gastronomy. The traces of (digital) treatment are skilfully concealed so that the viewer suddenly finds himself like Alice in Wonderland: man-sized toy animals all around, huge trees, troops consisting of tiny soldiers… A more conscientious contemporary, on the other hand, can not believe his eyes and tries to find some sort of concept. The first impression can be a bit deceptive: every one of us considers himself an expert in the subject of childhood and cinema, which runs through Liina Siib’s works.

1. Cinema
We have all seen hundreds of films. Already Vladimir Ilich – (Lenin) talked about cinema as art belonging to the people (“Film is the highest form of art”). Ever since the bothers Lumière, films have been a constant topic of conversation, they have evoked tears and laughter, the directors have been revered as saints, viewers imagine marrying or divorcing film actors and keenly follow the increasingly colourful gossip columns in the press. But how many of us could actually talk about, say, Nouvelle Vague, one of the most significant wave of film movement of the 20th century, or count the most successful American film studios or the major films of truly great actors, or perhaps Orson Welles?! It could be that even Liina Siib does not know quite everything. However, this is not what really matters, because she knows what every film watcher has dreamed at least once: instead of passive watching she prefers the hands-on approach. For Liina who has grown up among the generation of decent and seemly soviet youth, the newly emerged opportunities certainly have a certain psychotherapeutic effect. The underage and morally impeccable citizens of the late Brezhnev era all fervently wished that the protagonist of the most famous animated cartoon of the time, Nu pogodi! (Just You Wait!), the charismatic and charming, albeit degenerate Wolf who represented the un-soviet elements, would capture his opponent, the politically correct Rabbit, the young pioneer. Despite the obligatory communist moral code, the status of the film could be compared with that of today’s ‘cult’ films.

Liina Siib has produced a series of film posters, perhaps subconsciously inspired by the unfortunate Wolf and his fate in the soviet era. This constitutes homage to all those mistreated tomcats, witches, young lovers and other similar good-for-nothings, morally condemned on screen, who despite their appeal and intelligence always end up losers, or are simply taken for a ride. Liina’s posters could be a compensation game for the fantasising adults, just like playing with the Lego. For example one can fall in love with the pretty Kitty Dove (aficionados of cartoons try that with Zukini Hazushi or Shikki Sabi), marry her, or let her suffer amorous torment as a punishment for her beauty, or even let her die. In the world of beautiful actresses, the inevitable types of supporting male roles, such as Herbert Hummer or Galeazzo Musso, can now despise Kitty, rape her, lose sight of her or kill her … Such ‘personal creative company’ offers endless possibilities to invent various combinations, in addition the choice of music and costumes, with which one can play around and come up with several solutions.

2. Childhood
Unlike the topic of cinema, with which Liina Siib has so far been engaged in such a direct form in only one series of posters, childhood has been a concurrent subject in her works. This is not merely a depiction of interesting motifs. Siib construes and watches autonomous, closed worlds. These worlds exist without adults and function, like the topic of cinema, according to rules set by themselves. Because of their fragmentary nature, they linearly differ from the illusory depiction of childhood. There is not just one childhood, but several. The ‘childhoods’ are supplemented by means of rules regulating life cycles, they have a beginning and an end that might not denote merely the transition into the next stage of life, but also death. (Toys, 2002).

In some narrative principles in Siib’s childhood series, certain similarities can be found with late medieval art, especially concerning the serialisation and restrictions of some persons, attributes or descriptions of rooms. Similar elements can also be seen in altar paintings. (The artist grew up in town that possesses one of the most beautiful artworks in the northern region of the Baltic Sea, Hermen Rode’s main altar in the Tallinn St Nicholas Church).

Liina Siib’s extensive narratives are less revealed in single series of pictures. What are more important are their mutual connections. The series starts with Presumed Innocence II (1997), one of the key works regarding the topic of the artist’s childhood. Six large-format pictures show swimming children. The composition is not built upon linear perspective, but instead the surface is used as a tension-building field, typical of medieval art. The dominating motif of water recalls Christian iconography where water symbolises creative work and is a component of baptism. Children are taking their ‘first steps’. They learn with seriousness and devotion, but as the title of the cycle alludes, innocence is doubted from the very start. Doubts momentarily fade in the ancient cycle Pastoral (1998), which journeys back to the times of ancient Arcadia: far away from any kind of civilisation, children are patiently and unpretentiously engrossed in playing shepherds.

Shift (2000) constitutes a kind of consolidation phase from ‘adulthood’ to childhood. Children are on their own, but seem to need no support. They travel their own paths and mind their own business. Like the Three Kings, children are of different nationalities and cultures as well, but despite that they have something in common – their childhood that unites the whole humankind.

However, Pastoral-type idyllic pictorial worlds are quite exceptional in Siib’s work. In the works Scratch Drive (1997), Hypnosis (1999) and (name changed) (2000) the perspectives of time and narration change. Now there is also sin, and innocence is no longer doubted, it is observed from aside and deposed. Thus Scratch Drive seems like contemporary Pastoral image typology? Arcadia has vanished and play for the sake of playing has gone with it. Children are now playing adults or the plays of adults. (name changed) for the first time reveals the autonomy of childhood, and along with violence, the outer world forces its way in as well. The moving pictures and their Lolitas send their regards!

The text is written for the catalogue eye strip Liina Siib. Liina Siib 2006.