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This work of art by Berlin-based Danish artist Lise Harlev is currently getting a lot of exposure due to its location and Estonia’s centenary. It’s on the Tallinna Kunsti/hoone (Art Hall) fassaad facing Vabaduse väljak (Freedom Square). The message: “LET’S / WE THINK IN OUR MOTHER TONGUE EVEN IF / WHEN WE’RE NOT SPEAKING IT”. Or what could be implied is: IF WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO SPEAK IT... Photo: Riina Kindlam


This huge thought-provoking message was put up on the Tallinn Art Hall facade facing Vabaduse väljak weeks ago. At first it made people ponder... is it a friendly reminder of sorts, in light of Estonia’s centenary? Texts erected above the Art Hall entrance usually always feature the names and dates of current exhibitions. This 12,5 x 12 metre fabric banner is also an advertisement of sorts – part of the current international group exhibition inside the building entitled “Riik ei ole kunsti/teos”, “The State is Not a Work of Art”, curated by Katerina Gregos from Belgia. It’s a critical exhibition looking at state and nationalism, and part of the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of Estonian independence. 


So what is the message? Is it stating a fact, offering a suggestion or being ironic? As is usually the case with art, there are no doubt many interpretations, and the answer, at least to why it was erected, is hopefully within the exhibition, which runs until 29.04. Not the answer to what you or I might think or be provoked to feel regarding this statement, but what the artist was thinking... Since I’m an optimist and always rooting for the underdog, which in the greater global scheme of things is definitely my/our mother tongue, I know how I instinctively interpret this message. To paraphrase Endel Ruberg of Jõekääru summer camp of yore: „Eestlane, MÕTLE eesti keeles!” ((If you’re an) Estonian, THINK in Estonian!) Thinking is thankfully the land of no grammar.


But do you think in a language or just think? Do you dream in a language or simply dream? I have a feeling “Use it or lose it” inevitably requires speech or tongue wagging so to speak, but one must start somewhere. Regardless of what the artist may think. Estonian proverbs: Enne mõtle, siis ütle – First think, then speak. Rääkimine hõbe, vaikimine kuld – Speaking is silver, being silent is gold(en). And then there’s the ancient Estonian saying: “Just do it!”. Happy anniversary, kallis mother/father tongue!


Riina Kindlam,



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