Writing, Curating and Lecturing on Visual Arts, Public Space and Architecture

The Bridges of Content and Form

Article on Anu Vahtra's exhibition at Artishok Biennale.

Gregor Taul x Anu Vahtra


The Bridges of Content and Form



The office of the head of Bauhaus was located in a skyway because it was functional. In the Batja shoe factory they went even further in the name of practicality – the director’s office was in an elevator. The purpose of the shaft in Tallinn’s power plant was not transporting people, but it is safe to say that the 17.9º inclination was probably the most effective way of getting the shale into the kettles.


For geographical reasons, Tallinn is not rich in bridges or skyways. Examples of the latter can be seen near Viru Keskus, Balti Jaam and Tallinn University of Technology. Why were they built? Probably in order to not make the people cross the street in a cold weather. Thus the streets will become empty: cars, buses and the homeless will take over.


I was stiff and cold, I was a bridge over a ravine. My toes on one side, my fingers clutching the other, I had clamped myself fast into the crumbling clay. The tails of my coat fluttered at my sides. Far below brawled the icy trout stream. No tourist strayed to this impassable height, the bridge was not yet traced on any map. So I lay and waited; I could only wait. Without falling, no bridge, once spanned, can cease being a bridge.

It was toward the evening of one day – was it the first, was it the thousandth? I cannot tell – my thoughts were always in confusion and perpetually moving in circles. The summer evening was approaching, the roar of the stream had grown deeper, when I heard the steps of a human! To me, to me. Straighten yourself, bridge; make ready, railless beams, to hold up the passenger entrusted to you. If his steps are uncertain, steady them unobtrusively, but if he stumbles show what you are made of and like a mountain god hurl him across to land.

He came, he tapped me with the iron point of his stick, then lifted my coattails with it and put them in order upon me. He plunged the point of his stick into my bushy hair and let it lie there for a long time. No doubt forgetting me while he wildly gazed around him. But then – I was just following him in thought over mountain and valley – he jumped with both feet on the middle of my body. I shuddered with wild pain, not knowing what was happening. Who was it? A child? A dream? A highwayman? A suicide? A tempter? A destroyer? And I turned so as to see him. A bridge to turn around! I had not yet finished the turn when I already began to fall. I fell and in a moment I was torn and pierced by the sharp rocks which had always gazed up at me so peacefully from the rushing water. (Franz Kafka – The Bridge)


Or: the bridges have been turned into the ravine, the street, the river. And: The bridge exists before one steps onto it. Or: you can imagine skyways everywhere. Why then are not all houses standing next to each other also joined together? We have little faith in the success of this project: safety measures, heating bills, etc. Still: the bridge is an opportunity, a possibility, and, first and foremost, a hope.


The Museum of Contemporary art of Estonia (EKKM) is the hope of a proper museum and acceptable art institution. Anu Vahtra understands that having an exhibition here is chiefly a battle with the existing space. Constructing an exhibition at the EKKM is creating (the space of) the EKKM: the artist installing her work is a partner in the never-ending renovation and construction work at the museum.


The complex of the Kultuurikatel (Creative Hub) and the EKKM: O – o – … A visually decreasing verse that starts with a stress and ends unstressed. The bridges are the spaces in the verse, pauses between words. Why is a space/skyway so disproportionally long compared to a word/building? For the same reason that the space bar is the longest key on the keyboard: the question of content and form.


Anu Vahtra’s work is creating content based on form. It reminds me of creating poetry based on metrics which very few do today and most don’t even know the terminology. The questions asked by Vahtra are thus especially relevant from the point of view of the EKKM’s content and form: from the outside it looks like some dump, on the inside you can find the mainstream of contemporary art. Is content in accordance with form here? The relationship between content and form is a question of freedom: to which degree is it possible to push the limits of content within the given limits of form? If in some of the more decent spaces of the EKKM you might get the feeling that there is nothing else to be done here than white cube art, then Vahtra’s installation questions this possibility, showing that form-wise it is still too early for the works at the EKKM to be just works.

Analogue Case
On the East-Mentality of Dwarves

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