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

No99 Straw Theatre

Article on the temporary theatre hall erected in Tallinn in 2011 between the Old Town and the sea.

Published in English and Russian by Project Baltia - a quarterly review of architecture and design from NW Russia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - 2011, No. 3.

Straw Theatre is the most erotic building erected in Tallinn in 2011. Eroticism in this case is describing a space of high social activity where subversive and ludic forces act and meet hand in hand. It is the place where the city happens. One should also remember the words of Bernard Tschumi who wrote that eroticism manifests in architecture as soon as a building starts to denote the passage of time. Tschumi understands eroticism as Georges Bataille, who believed eroticism to be redundant energy, which instead of reproduction manifests in death drive. In this sense Straw Theatre – to be demolished in October 2011 – is an erotic building par excellence, a wine-dark sports car chasing its lethal destination within the walls of the bastion.

Straw Theatre was commissioned by a Tallinn-based theatre NO99. The latter has been both poetically and politically the most sparkling force in Estonian cultural scene during the past five years. In 2011 Tallinn is the European Capital of Culture. For this occasion NO99 proposed to build a temporary theatre on top of Skåne bastion, to host Europe’s best theatre performances over the four summer months.

The siting of Straw Theatre is decisive. Skåne bastion is one of the three huge earthworks around the Old Town built in the beginning of the 18th century. In 1948 a wooden Summer Theatre was built there, which burnt down in 1997. Since that this centrally located green spot has been closed to the public. During the last ten years there have been several plans of what to do with the empty space (e.g. culture and business centre [1999], new building for Estonian Academy of Arts [2001], medieval theme park [2002], new opera theatre [2003] to name a few). To avoid terrible planning mistakes the National Heritage Board designated the bastion as a cultural monument in 2005 which means that no lasting building can be erected there. In 2005 an architectural competition for giving a new use for the bastion was held. Salto AB won the competition, but for different reasons the project was not realised.

Eventually Theatre NO99 picked up all the critical ideas in the air and with the help from Salto’s architects gave presence to a witty architectural installation. Frankly it is more of an installation than a proper theatre (practically speaking it was unbearably hot inside the building during the summer). As with any other good outdoor installation its main aim is to bring about discussions on urban issues. Straw Theatre tests Tallinners take on (fake) sustainability, temporality, space being activated with culture rather than business, self-confidence etc.

Speaking more metaphorically about the looks of the building, then for me it rests on the bastion like a Black Madonna. Or maybe it is the black halo of Judas? Does the black colour suggest chaos, nothingness, the uncoscious and sorrow or could it be the “good ground” which receives the seed? Is it the soil of graveyards or soil of vineyards? Undoubtably it is all of it and a lot more. The black exterior tells everything about the interior and its function. It is the architecture of melodrama: a windowless black box built for unravelling the screams of pain, death rattles of dying people, innermost thoughts of human beings, as well as the joys of love or mysteries of eroticism. And whatever happens to people inside the building, the somewhat fetishized straw surface will wrap people inside itself as a warm bag…making it the architecture of the womb?

Acts of Refusal: Olivia Blender
Installation as Poetry

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