Tenth intervention of the project Artists in Collections — Mihkel Ilus in A.H. Tammsaare Museum at Vargamäe

The Tammsaare Museum is, historically speaking, located at the right place (by the way, the descendants of Pearu’s prototype live in the farm next door to this day, the farm can be seen from the Vargamäe premises) but the building complex is intentionally and almost entirely built in the 1970s to function as a museum true to its era.

But there is a well. Not the one next to the barn that looks exactly like any normal soviet era well would look like; and not the one next to the farmhand’s house, but the one further away. The well of the North Tammsaare Farm that has been there since the time of Tammsaare himself. Among the mighty landscape of the museum this rather humble exhibit is in a sense the most authentic object of them all because the wellhead dates back a century and a half. The museum tours and educational programs also end up taking the visitors to the well, where the historical, literary and contemporary meet.

As part of the project Artists in Collections Mihkel Ilus carries out a lot of work on the well, resulting in the well’s new form. The part of the well that is above ground doesn’t boast with many decorations but is instead quite functional. The two battens with their roots reaching toward the sky point to the well as a slightly mystical gate between two different worlds.

In addition, in spring of 2019 the wellhead will be re-deepened until the aquifer, which means that after a hundred years there will again be water that can be carried with the help of shoulder poles to the buildings – the opportunity to experience the everyday inevitabilities of the 19th century brings Tammsaare’s work closer to this environment in a new way. It’s a tribute to hard work and everyday efforts that are well established in our collective consciousness as the archetype of Vargamäe and our past. Here we come, with shoulder poles and two buckets full of water and we’ll see how far we have the strength to go. But go we must!

Why Weeping Well? Trees with roots upwards are also said to be known as a symbol of grief (we can think about Vargamäe Krõõt’s hard life). Wikipedia says the following about the novel Truth and Justice: “Truth and Justice is a serious work of art full of tears. There’s crying, being on the verge of crying, swallowing one’s tears etc almost every ten pages”. But to have a good cry can be cleansing, freeing of tensions and frustrations. Perhaps the well can symbolize also a moment with oneself, composing onself? And of course the social aspect: expected and unexpected meetings – that help to deal with the everyday.

Mihkel Ilus (1987)

... holds a BA in Painting from the University of Tartu as well as a master’s degree in Fine Arts from the Estonian Academy of Arts. Mihkel Ilus often works with big-scale installations and performative practices, where a scenic approach plays an important role. In his recent works he has focused on emphasizing the scenic experience in the conditions of a white cube and black box.


A. H. Tammsaare Museum in Vargamäe

A. H. Tammsaare Museum in Vargamäe is the writer’s birthplace that inspired him to write the novel Truth and Justice. It’s the place where two stern neighbors Andres and Pearu battled with the swamp, dug a ditch together and revealed their Estonian stubbornness. In the museum the visitor can learn about the writer’s cultural and literary legacy, search for and find parallels between the novel and the farm where the writer was born. In addition the visitor gets an overview of the life in a farm during the 19th century in Järva county. The Tammsaare museum is also known for summer theater.


Mihkel Ilus did his museum residency during 3–14 May 2018. The residency was supported by Cultural Endowment's Järvamaa expert group.

Photos of the visit to the museum in late fall: