Exhibition 'The Weak Fins of My Few Skills' at Automat Artspace in Saabrücken, Germany

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

Most of his life, if he wasn’t occupied with working for the king, his cat or busy managing his estate, Michel de Montaigne wrote about anything that happened to capture his interest. These little inquiries into life, which he simply called “attempts”, deal with various subjects ranging from the necessity of big toes to the cruelty of humans. This probably made the French philosopher the first blogger or content provider in modern terms according to his biographer Sarah Bakewell in How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer.

Similarly to Montaigne, the group exhibition The Weak Fins of My Few Skills doesn’t seek to give an exhaustive answer to the question of how to live. Rather, it tries its best not to sink while exercising empathy towards its favorite subject – the “water”. According to David Foster Wallace’s famous speech This Is Water, the “water” in the parable above means nothing more than the most obvious and important realities of our existence, which are nonetheless the hardest to see and talk about. To avoid becoming a living corpse in the daily grind, one must manage the hard-wired human setting of seeing oneself as the center of the world and actively choose to think differently. To choose to look at the “water” anew.

The Weak Fins of My Few Skills applies both of these approaches on artistic research to highlight the particular fragility of retrieving knowledge from the world in this way. Equipped with the tools of contemporary art, the artist is left with a rather puny set of fins to swim in the “water”. Compared to the goal-oriented and practical-minded everyday life, the artistic practices usually fall short in producing anything but subjective truths. What artist hasn’t felt stupid at some point when the two worlds collide? Or trapped even in some Ahabian quest to catch the improbable whale? Because artistic research is often just that: excessive, intuitive, counter-productive, mimicking and deconstructing life at the same time with humble success and a great love for posing questions.

But the upsides of artistic research are just as well known. As unreliable as it may be, the atypical research methods can lead to deeper understanding of the world in all its complexity. Looking at the world differently also produces different knowledge, thus making the world we live in richer. How else can one compress contradictory elements of a long-lived life into one apt visual without relying on intuition? Or how to establish a feeling of connectedness, a flow in all the things that surround us, with only apartment walls under discussion? Or how to bring attention to left-over spaces and their meaning without the meticulous reconstructing of a space that will, perhaps, contain left-over spaces?

The list goes on and with much empathy, as The Weak Fins of My Few Skills showcases just that: the round-about ways to kill a whale.

The group exhibition brings together six artists Johannes Luik, Laura De Jaeger,  Kaisa Maasik, Joosep Kivimäe, Mathias Väärsi and Eva Mustonen from Tallinn,  Estonia, whose working methods are often led by process, with interests like  domestic space, personal and/or material history and social critique being recurring themes in their works.

Text by Eva Mustonen

Automat Artspace
Martin Luther str. 7-9

24.09.2022 – 12.10.2022

With the support of Ministerium für Bildung und Kultur and Eesti Kultuurkapital

Photography: Joosep Kivimäe