First Tallinn Print Triennial took place in 1968 under the name “Present Day and Graphic Form” where three Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania took part. Initially it was meant to be a biennial but in practice the exhibitions appear as triennials. At that time Estonia was still under the annexation of the Soviet Union where monumental art, sculpture and painting were much favoured. This gave birth to an urge among Estonian printmakers, to create a forum for demonstrating their identity. Mental support from colleagues from Latvia and Lithuania was got easily.
Prints, which are easily multiplied and distributed, became an important medium for the innovative artistic ideas and alternative relations. But it was not possible to organize such big events only for 3 Baltic States as it indicated too strongly the unity of the Baltic States versus the Soviet Union. For years it was not possible to continue without “guest” artists from Moscow, Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Minsk (in 1971); in 1974 it was a step forward already and in addition to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Minsk, Kharkov and Yakutsk it was possible to invite guests also from “sister” towns as Schwerin (German Democratic Republic) and Szolnok (Hungary). For the second Triennial in 1971, Alfred Saldre created the general logo for Tallinn Print Triennials.
The 8th Tallinn Print Triennial in 1989 was held in the conditions of first bigger changes in the political system. In addition to 3 Baltic countries, and Leningrad it was already possible to invite artists from Finland, Poland, Canada and Hungary.
Further searches for partners from abroad concluded in special exhibitions from Belgium, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark in 1992 and from Great Britain, Italy, Japan and Germany in 1995.
All these years, from the very first triennial till today there has been one peculiarity that preserves a special place for Tallinn Print Triennials among other printmaking exhibitions – a special, guaranteed presentation of prints from three Baltic countries.
Crucial year for Tallinn Print Triennials was 1998. For the first time, the 11th Tallinn Print Triennial called “Touch”, was open to the whole world and more than 1000 regulations were sent out. We received from around 560 artists almost 2000 slides from 51 different countries to go through with international jury for selecting the participants. Finally the jury selected 123 artists from 36 countries.
The structure of the Tallinn Print Triennial was changed and it got 3 layers:
- Baltic exhibition
- international competition
- curated part
The artists taking part in the two firstly mentioned divisions compete also for the prizes of the Triennial: grand prix, 3 equal prizes, diplomas and several special prizes.
Especially the last mentioned feature and the themes of the curated exhibitions give Tallinn Print Triennials since the 11th exhibition a different meaning and a broader approach to the essence of a print and printmaking in the context of contemporary art world.
The Baltic part (20 artists from Estonia, 9 from Latvia and 10 from Lithuania) was put together by printmaking organizations in each country and they reflected actually brilliantly the understandings of the selectors. This was the most traditional part.
The second layer – international exhibition (selection was made according to slides), where also artists from Baltic countries not selected for their national representation could compete, was the real demonstration of contemporary high-level, professional printmaking. The range of prints has never been so wide and different in Estonia. The fact that only works of 123 artists were selected for the exhibition, proves the quality of the result. The idea was not to show as much as possible but to show a crème a la crème. 3-dimentional objects and spacious projects didn’t compete with technical virtuosity of prints but explicated the possibilities of graphic art’s development.
Three curated exhibitions dealt with phenomena crossing the borders of traditional printmaking. “Tangents”, “Reincarnation – Book” and “Reincarnation – Paper” were more a step aside than a step forward. The curator, Prof. Ando Keskküla wrote:
“It is not another attempt at the “expansion of boundaries”, it is the marking of tangents on the traditional territory of graphic art, the translation of graphic memory from the environment of one memory technology into another, without any discussion of the potential of the artistic strategy of the new environment. Tangents are associated with the print by multiplication, but printing itself is an ambivalent metaphor”.
What is the role of print in the picture of today’s quickly changing cultural world? Can we specify the tangents that help us to determine the cultural-historical background of prints and create them signification? The means differed here from most ephemeral copying techniques to video- and digital technologies that all were represented at the exhibition. “Tangents” was the most radical part of the Triennial.
On the other hand graphic art seems to analyze its genetic background, dividing the book to book and paper, and dealing with each of them as a separate subject. Printing as technology is by birth connected with book and paper but for today they are all living separate lives, they can be dealt as different kinds of arts and they create different meanings. It is like a deconstruction of a medium. Print has left its real home – book and is hanging on the wall. Book is searching new areas and has become a separate object.
So has the paper.
This phenomenon could be seen at the exhibitions “Reincarnation – Book” and “Reincarnation – Paper”. At the same – prints, books and paper can exists and of course are existing together and create a wonderful integral world.
11th Tallinn Print Triennial was a complex of events that raised the question of tradition of printmaking not so much from the technical but from the technological aspect. Printmaking was investigated as a memory technology in the context of other media technologies. The same theme was dealt at the one-day conference where the key-speaker, Prof. Bruce Brown (Great Britain) spoke about “Graphic Memory”.
In addition to main exhibitions several accompanying exhibitions took place: prize-winners from previous Triennial, students’ exhibition, children’s prints exhibition, international bookbinding and book-object exhibition.
12th Tallinn Print Triennial “Mutating Image” that almost followed the structure worked out for the previous Triennial, took place from September 14th till October 21st, 2001 and investigated “image” in its multi-layered essence. The new principle that lasts since this Triennial is that the grand prix winner of previous Triennial gets the possibility to make a solo exhibition in one of the galleries in Tallinn. In 2001 Sang-Gon Chung had an exhibition at Tallinn City Gallery.
The international jury selected to the exhibition according to slides sent by 466 artists from 52 countries, 107 printmakers’ works from 31 countries. The number of participants decreased due to bigger formats and variability in works’ structure.
Again a special space was reserved for Estonia (10 artists), Latvia (10 artists) and Lithuania (9 artists). Only this time the partners were different who put the country’s collections together. They were not Artists’ Associations but Centers for Contemporary Arts, but in Estonia the partner was the Association of Estonian Printmakers. The change brought along more radical and untraditional selection from Latvia and Lithuania.
Johannes Saar, the curator of the third part “Event. Image. Clone” of the Triennial wrote:
“…the conceptual threads unravel themselves, in contemporary culture as well as my proposed curatorial project. Everything is repeatable in terms of image though not events. Graphics, that is, printing and mechanical reproduction have, according to Walter Benjamin, played a critical revolutionary role. The revelation that original proofs from the press may be repeated results in genetical cloning throughout our culture. I think that this development from the perspective of graphics can be set out as Event-Image-Clone. The first should be an original and the second a copy, on afterthought, however, we find that the difference is only chronological, the original is reproducible without loss and also, in the digital environment it is possible to do so endlessly. Clones are born.”
14 artists expressed their ideas on the theme, among them e.g. Saverio Lucarello from France / USA, Marina Koldobskaya from St. Petersburg, Hanna Weselius from Finland, Leonards Laganovskis from Latvia etc.
A half-day conference was held on September 15th (speakers: David Bate from University of Westminster, London; Peeter Laurits – an artist from Estonia and Rein Raud – professor of the University of Helsinki and the Estonian Institute of Humanities). A panel discussion followed the conference. And a number of accompanying exhibitions took place in Tallinn and smaller towns in Estonia.
13th Tallinn Print Triennial “Maapagu / inExile” took place from September 10th to October 31st, 2004.
14th Tallinn Print Triennial „Political / Poetical” was held from October 17th to November 25th 2007.
15th Tallinn Print Triennial „For love not money” was held from January 20th to May 8th 2011.
16th Tallinn Print Triennial “Literacy – Illiteracy” was held from February 7th to June 1st 2014.