Researching for, curating and producing of the exhibition A Book Designer’s Studio. Jüri Kaarma and Late Soviet Graphic Design at the Estonian Applied Art and Design Museum (17.09.2022–08.01.2023), together with Anna Kaarma (graphic design), Eve Kask (consultation & research) and Aadam Kaarma (exhibition design). The exhibition was chosen as the best temporary exhibition of 2022 at the Estonian Museum Awards, winning one of the two main prizes.
I have been researching the printing and graphic design history of Estonia since working on the exhibition Art is Design is Art at the Kumu Art Museum in 2020. At the same time, Eve Kask had proposed to donate the process archives of book designer Jüri Kaarma (1950–2011), her husband, to the design museum. In the beginning of 2021, we begun unpacking and documenting the archive at its location in Jüri’s former studio in Lasnamäe, Tallinn, where his daughter, artist and designer Anna Kaarma currently still lives. These organising sessions, as well as the accompanying research into late Soviet design and print technologies, turned into a small yet information-packed gallery exhibition at the design museum.
The gallery space, designed by graphic & exhibition designer Aadam Kaarma (Jüri’s son), was inspired and used artefacts from Jüri Kaarma’s studio, giving a lively insight into the workshop of a predigital graphic designer. The display featured a selection of his book designs from the 1970s and 80s together with their process materials and physical print files. In addition, working tools and materials were included, which helped explain the technological and socioeconomic reality of the time. Four archival film clips about the printing industry were digitised, subtitled and shown for the first time. In addition to the historical content, I invited type designer Aimur Takk and publishing duo Knock Knock Books (Else Lagerspetz, Loore Viires) for interventions from a contemporary point of view.
The exhibition was accompanied by a two-part 64-page catalogue in Estonian and English, written by me and designed & co-produced by Anna Kaarma, me, Aadam Kaarma and the Tallinn Book Printers. Aimur produced the typefaces for it using analogue photo-experimentation. The first part of the catalogue contained descriptions of the selected works while the second part gave an overview of the elaborate setup of publishing, designing and producing a book in the Soviet socialist context – history recent and overlooked enough that it hasn’t so far been uncovered almost at all.
For the public programme, we conducted a number of guided tours, the screening of the film Graphic Means and two discussions with graphic designers of the time – “Graphic design during the analogue era” with Andres Tali and Ivar Sakk, and “From Leipzig school to Dutch school: Western influences on Estonian graphic design education” with Enn Kärmas, Illimar Paul and Rein Mägar. We also conducted workshops for designing posters using collage, photography, scanning and printing, trying out technological approaches inspired by the era.
I wrote an essay about the artistic research involved in producing the exhibition to the online design magazine Leida, entitled Queer Dusting, or Contemplations from the Attic. The museum produced two informational videos: this one and this one.
Photos: Aadam Kaarma, Evert Palmets, Indrek Sirkel