Mihkel Ilus + A.H. Tammsaare Museum in Vargamäe


Since 03.11.2018

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 was intentionally and almost entirely built in the 1970s to function as a museum true to its era.

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 programmes also end up taking the visitors to the well, where the historical, literary and contemporary meet.

As part of the Artists in Collections project, Mihkel Ilus carried 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 many decorations but is instead quite functional. The two battens with their roots reaching towards the sky point to the well as a slightly mystical gate between two different worlds.

In addition, in the spring of 2019, the wellhead was re-deepened to the aquifer, which means that after a hundred years there is again 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 Tammsaare’s 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, a freeing of tensions and frustrations. Perhaps the well can also symbolize a moment with oneself, composing oneself? 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 white cube and black box environment. Ilus has received the Lembit Räni Scholarship (2009), Eduard Wiiralt Scholarship (2012), Silver Star of Amandus Adamson (2015) and best MA graduate award in EAA (2015).

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 neighbours 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, and 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 19th century farm life in Järva County. Tammsaare museum is also known for summer theatre.

Mihkel Ilus's residency took place at the museum during 03.–14.05.2018.
The residency was supported by the Cultural Endowment's Järvamaa expert group.

Public programme

03.11.2018 Art Bus from Tallinn
15:15–16:15 Introduction to the project and artist’s talk by Mihkel Ilus
16:30–17:30 Summary of the Artists in Collections project by Maarin Ektermann and Mary-Ann Talvistu
17:30 Long-table dinner party celebrating the last instalment of the Artists in Colltions series with sombre music picked by Mihkel Ilus, Aigar Vals’s live and Marika Agu’s (Center for Contemporary Arts, Estonia) DJ set.
18.05.2019 Museum Night
16:00 Opening of The Sun Knows Its Time for Setting, an exhibition by Mihkel Ilus at Järva-Madise Church
18:00 Cleaning the well and unclogging the water stream. A discussion with the artist and well-makers

Thank you: Tammsaare Museum’s staff, Random Solutions OÜ, Cultural Endowment’s Järvamaa expert group


Photos of the visit to the museum in late fall:

In English