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Sirja-Liisa Eelma and Mari Kurismaa. Repeating Patterns

Curator Tamara Luuk

With greetings to Mari Kurismaa and Sirja-Liisa Eelma, thinking of the exhibition


It is completely logical that Mari Kurismaa and Sirja-Liisa Eelma have found soulmates in each other as artists. They both use the repetition of images to create an active background for a work or a rhythmic pattern that guides the entire image, and they are both fascinated by peace of mind and inner observation. Their pictorial spaces are devoid of people, yet they do not exclude anyone. Both Mari and Sirja-Liisa’s colour choices are elaborate and rich in nuances, although different. They both have their own techniques and perspectives on art, but there is more to their practice than that.

Mari: All important things are invisible – and if you manage to visualize some of them, then for me this is art. As an interior architect, I have been particularly fascinated by historical interiors. This kind of engaging in two different eras at the same time has caused a strange shift in my perception and has given me a gentle opportunity to peek somewhere in between times. Having now returned to painting, I would like to try to delve deeper into this experience.


For many years, Sirja-Liisa and I have truly had a strange mutual joy of affinity for each other. I can’t really explain it fully. Her paintings in from the series Emptying Field of Meaning felt as though they could have been painted for  by me. Her desire to do particularly unpretentious things is inherently very understandable to me; this is why I like painting tree leaves: silently observing each leaf individually takes so much time and attention. What has been put inside a painting slowly seeps out of it as well.


Sirja-Liisa: Painting is a creature; it wants you to come closer. It is not only that the viewer needs to see painting, but the painting too has to see its viewer. The artist has been breathing on it for hours, days and months, bringing it to life with gentle brush strokes. It is born out of love, which is usually the way things are born.


I have been thinking that paintings are like battery banks of time, preserving the working hours dedicated to their creation and releasing that time in the exhibition hall, so the viewer can experience a great amount of time in a single instant.


At first, the painting is wet; then it is moist. It needs time to dry. This is exactly what its splendour lies in. The painting is in no hurry; it is dignified and confident. It makes you wait, and that waiting is important. Indeed, it is the waiting that is important.


Mari too is important. She is completely her own person; there is lightness, beauty and absurdity in her; she laughs in a cool way. The bold metaphysics and emptiness of her paintings have touched something very important in me. Mari creates ideal worlds – organised pictorial fields. Her spaces and still lives consist of original shapes or organised forms[1] . I believe it is this order that brings us together. The yearning for an ideal, which may be a moment before the chaos, or all moments above all chaoses.




For an artist, and especially a painter, a painting breathing in space and light is more important than any good photo capture or a text that painstakingly strives to support the exhibition. The foretaste and promise made by the latter remain just that – a foretaste and promise, until they are finally fulfilled when looking at the actual paintings at the exhibition. As a “promise”, we will add to this text a gallery of photographs by Stanislav Stepashko. To give a “foretaste”, we add here excerpts from another text.

During the preparation of Sirja-Liisa and Mari’s exhibition last autumn, Sirja-Liisa stayed at an art residency in the French village of Grez-sur-Loing, 80 kilometres from Paris. We agreed that she would send daily “postcard” notes, photos and descriptions of her day. These postcards were frank, simple and imaginative, full of delight in beauty, peace and warmth. Even when they reveal a certain anxiety about the imperfections of this world, human fear of the lack of security and wish to keep away from the violent, the noisy and the warlike. Even then.



Grez-sur-Loing, 10.09.2019

Back home we grow ivy as a houseplant in a flower pot; here it grows in the wild. A daily glass of wine is part of French (culinary) culture; back home it is seen as a sign of slowly creeping alcoholism. The church bell tolls half and full hours, although the mass is only held twice a month, and even then not many people attend (mostly older people and a few Catholic families with a lot of children, filling the entire pew like the pipes of an organ).


Cars are old. One old man’s hobby is painting (he often comes to the river at 8 a.m. in the morning and carefully sets up his painting box and canvas to capture a motif with an old bridge). Another guy has a small store of old books, where I bought Jacques Prévert’s book of poems for three euros. And this is all so god damn natural.




Yesterday morning I wrote these lines in my diary: “Beauty. Beautiful. Stunning. Beauty is important. Here in France, away from Estonia’s skepticism and irony, I dare to admit it. First, to myself. But why not also publicly? Or is beauty a kind of category, like holiness and spirituality, which is better to keep silent about. Words are too strong for these things. It is better to remain silent about things you cannot express in words. And to know that what we are silent about is no less important than what we choose to talk about. Thus, silence and emptiness are like the twin brothers of beauty – its ambassadors to the world.”


I look at these small works on paper that I have made here. They are different, somehow light and free and more playful. Beautiful. But they lack one dimension – mystery. Perhaps this is a feature that is added to the artworks in the muggy weather of the Nordic countries. Works made here are free from this pressure, but also poorer in this sense.




As I wandered through the galleries of Paris yesterday, I also came across streets that cannot be considered beautiful. I was not informed enough to keep away from the Belleville area and its wide colour spectrum of life. I am indeed a faint-hearted, (petty) bourgeois worried about her well-being. I quickly escaped to the nearest metro station and rode back to the safety of the city centre with my heart beating fast. I would love to wrap myself in a cosy nest lined with silk, velvet and wool, dab myself with fine perfumes and read poetry, hoping to be left alone and praying for this undisturbed bliss to last forever.


20 and 21.09.2019

Morning. I am on my way to Paris. At the bus stop, three men in yellow vests are waiting with me. I remain calm. On the Fontainebleau roundabout, I see an entire bus full of “yellow vests” waving tricolours out of the window. I am getting a little anxious. At the train station, there are a few more boisterous activists on their way to the capital. I turn around and go back home.


The silence in the studio is only broken by a pencil scrabbling on the paper, the wind in tree branches and the planes flying over. The light is already low but still gentle. Sadness. The sadness over things coming to an end. Over peace coming to an end. Over this early autumn in France coming to an end for me… Everything changes and ends. Everything is transformed.


See also: Sirja-Liisa Eelma and Tõnis Jürgens. Video excerpts from Sirja-Liisa’s diary…