Interview with Flo Kasearu

Artist, and director of the Flo Kasearu House Museum (2013 - ), based in Tallinn, Estonia. Interview by Maarin Ektermann Estonian Academy of Arts (EKA), 11.05.2021.

“I want to be active part of the society, as an artist and as a citizen”


Flo Kasearu, artist and director of the Flo Kasearu House Museum (2013 – ) explains why she prefers working with public space and real bodies instead of virtual or technological art forms. Furthermore, Kasearu discussed the potential for artists to be employed by ministries, public offices, or private companies, cautioning that their contributions should not be seen as purely marketing or promotional. And presents her own approach to sustainability, which involves initiating her own house museum where she can store and recycle materials for her artwork and tie her international projects to that “homebase.”


Hello Flo! Could you please first introduce yourself and what do you do?

I am a freelance artist. Mostly I do different art projects, in collaboration with different institutions, but also on my own initiative. Then I teach in the Estonian Academy of Art from time to time, in different departments like fashion, interior architecture, graphic design and sculpture.

How do you see what are the most influential developments right now in society and also in the arts?

Well, in society, I feel that there is this overflow of information, which is affecting people, their mental health and their ability to focus. There is so much information everywhere, coming from offline and online sources, but people still have a certain amount that they can take in. Things happen somewhere else, but you are still getting all this information about it and quite often you don’t know what to do with this information. At the moment, when we are speaking there is of course also this fear due to COVID pandemic – nobody knows what the future brings. So anxiety and mental health issues are definitely important topics right now [2021].

Concerning the art field, one thing is this viral outburst of online exhibitions and platforms happening right now, things are switching more and more online, which I’m not so much into. But, thanks to COVID it was easy to say no to different offerings, like, I’m not coming, I’m not flying to some other country for a seminar or exhibition opening etc. This is actually a good thing COVID brought us – a very good excuse, why not to be networking and not going somewhere. Of course, it is also important for human beings to meet each other and not only talk to them through emails or Zoom, but maybe there was too much of this. Travelling. Although if you compare artists to some business people, who were flying in for just maybe a two-hour meeting… It’s a good thing that COVID turned those “flying meetings” into Zoom meetings, which makes much more sense. To be not so global, to be more local, and then through some other mediums find the ways how to run your business.

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Do you think the art world will bounce back once the pandemic is over or what remains out of that experience?

Well, this is difficult to predict. I’m so much into physical space, into art in physical space that I don’t imagine doing art for some online platform. And also, if you look at the video from the screen, it’s not the same as in the cinema. I enjoy the most art which is in public space, which is connected to the context, site-specific art. If galleries would be closed again due to pandemics, then the public space is still something that remains available, and maybe more art will happen there.

The topic of sustainability – how do you approach this in your practices, maybe in your different roles, as an artist, but also as a teacher?

I think that I already unconsciously act so that it takes this issue into account. Many of my artworks are using, for example the old roof of my house, dried plants collected from friends, pre-used film set tribune for my last exhibition etc. I am producing quite a lot of videos – I think that video art is more sustainable, because you don’t need to store it, you just pay for the renting of the camera, I don’t own any equipment myself. I don’t produce sculptures much, which also take more space and if they’re outside you need to renovate them, also these kinds of things. I think that sustainability in my practices is present, I don’t use too much, I don’t have a studio, I try to be economical so that I could continue to be a freelance artist. But I also want to think that artists are allowed to spend money on things that a normal business person would never find “normal” to do – if you want to have some aesthetic final touch or something then you spend money on this. So I think about it, but not like 100%, it’s not the first thing that I think about when I start doing something. I don’t think that I have done some really ridiculously “not sustainable” thing either. But with my teachings? Well, there I don’t have such big projects that these kinds of questions would come into play.

About the artists in society – what do you think are the roles of artists in society, outside your own discipline?

There are so many different kinds of artists, some just want to be in their studio and to produce and not to have any other roles. Some want to experiment with new technologies and new trends, which I feel I am also not that much into. I want to be active not only in the art context, but also be part of the society, still as an artist, but also as a citizen. I am very curious about different topics, this is also one of my problems!

I want to collaborate with different institutions, work with real life problems. I like when art that I do would not be only my imagination, but is connected with contemporary life that we live in. I have collaborated with a women’s shelter, which is an NGO, run by my mother and I find that it makes sense to do this as an artist. I can see that we both can benefit from that collaboration. This is a very interesting topic, a very big issue in our society, it has been in the media quite a lot too, thanks to former president of Estonia, Kersti Kaljulaid, who was an avid spokesperson for that. As an artist you are very individualistic, working with your own projects, there are very little collaborations in the art field. And if you’re just working alone as an artist you don’t have that big impact like theatres do, there are already like 100 members in the crew and they can produce bigger things and get bigger attention and bigger audience. But artists usually work alone, so it’s difficult to have this very big impact on society. So I also feel that if I collaborate with someone, as I have collaborated now with this shelter, somehow we both benefit, we amplify each other’s roles and work. So, it reaches a wider audience, more than I would be able to as a lone artist working in my studio and then having a show somewhere in the gallery.

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What artists are giving to this kind of cooperation, what are your unique capabilities as an artist?

I am not a politician, or social worker, so my aim is not to solve some kind of problem, or to make money as a businessman would do. My role as an artist is to add more layers into the topic, add things that other experts cannot give. I think that if people come to see an art exhibition, which has socially engaged topics, they don’t want to see only the bad things you read from news anyway, but artists can give another perspective, mixed with visual aesthetics, visual pleasure and emotions. And this is something that other disciplines are not giving. So there is this aesthetic and philosophical layer, mixed with real life and political layers etc.

Do you see artists could have even more roles outside their own disciplines and be more engaged in different aspects of society?

Of course! Every NGO or business could hire an artist, maybe not for a full time position, but to add an artist to their team for at least part time, just to see what happens. I have been invited by the law company to collaborate and I was invited to a hospital to make an installation there. For various reasons, those collaborations did not materialize at the end. I feel like maybe they also wanted that artist would do a bit like commercial work for them, would advertise their thing… So, these collaborations could be tricky.

Artist Pilvi Takala has done this project, “The Trainee” (2008), where she was doing an internship in an accounting firm and observing this undercover as an artist at the same time. I think that these kinds of things would be nice to do. The thing is that companies would also really want to collaborate with an artist, right now they only collaborate with designers, who give them a very practical outcome. Artists would maybe see things from a more critical angle and it might not be the way that the company wants to be presented. So, the company needs to be very open minded, interested in having some other view. Companies are still success and money oriented, but maybe if they would have an artist on board, it would also add them to some other layer, which later can give benefit in another sense. It’s not that artists’ participation guarantees quick success. Ah, and I think that companies also should have an art collection, every company. They could get artwork from the artist as a salary!

I was thinking also, for example, that there are so many governmental officials, who are paid and employed by the government. Now, maybe there could be also some kind of percentage of artists hired by the government? Maybe for all the officials in different government offices they could be also employing 10% artists? This is a bit like the artist’s salary we have in Estonia. And if they want less artists hired, they would also have to hire less officials! Maybe it could be similar to the percentage of the state budget going to the defence expenses, like 2%, you know, maybe there could be also that some percent goes to the hiring of the artists.

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I think it’s a really cool idea, to hire artists’, but I’m also thinking that maybe for this kind of cooperation we need mediators, who know the art world and how to translate it? Because implementing artists inside a totally different organisation – it can be really interesting, but then it really takes a lot of time, like a year or two years to make it work, when artists are constantly present, and everybody has time to get to know each other.

I was once invited to one company to do a painting activity for the whole personnel, it was like a team building event. So maybe first artists do these things? And later it could continue with artist talks etc. I also have heard that one of my friends was doing a painting course in the hospital, which was awesome. She was really positive about it, their vacation room was filled with their paintings, maybe this is how artists could infiltrate the institutions and businesses? As said, there needs to be readiness and willingness from both sides, from the artist and from the company.

But what skills can artists share with a company or organisation? You already mentioned that artists don’t have the responsibility to solve anything. So they can just add another layer, but maybe you can specify, how do you see it?

I don’t know what role exactly an artist would have, but maybe this is the thing that artists could invent themselves, they could also be like in this Takala’s video – first you just sit there and watch and observe; then would give feedback etc. I think that artists can think of unknown things… Also provocation is something that is important still, though it is not the main thing that artists should do. So this more critical thinking and provoking ideas, adding layers. Maybe there needs to be a translator, someone who convinces the company on the behalf of artists’ unknown ideas or artists can themselves translate their unknown idea.

About art education: What would you like to change about that in the future?

Well, my curriculum was very traditional, medium based. There were no projects working with real institutions, with real companies. I have heard that now in this interior architecture department they are doing a project with a prison, a project with a children’s home, so they have those experiences with different institutions outside of the art academy. As a Fine Art student I think we only had one public space project, otherwise all curriculum was happening inside the studio, you know, doing paintings. This one project was my eye opener – oh, there is a way I can have a dialogue with real life happening outside! I got very inspired by that and from there, my interest in public space only grew more and more.

When I did my “House Music” project in 2015, I was teaching in the KUNO network programme and KUNO students became part of this project – they could come up with an idea and perform this as a part of the festival. Of course there are these questions – am I using these students for my own art project, is it OK? But at the same time when I was a student, I would have very much wanted to be part of some real art project where there is a collaboration happening, not like doing a painting show and putting pictures up on the wall, but that there would have been a really big project, happening outside of white cube!

During my studies I also didn’t learn anything about economics, like how you put a price tag on your work and all these things. It would actually be a good thing to do an internship with a freelance artist, because then you see what it means to be an artist more closely. So art education in the future should be maybe more project based – some projects very socially engaged, some projects very commercially engaged etc., so you could already be a part of some real project. And maybe education could be more individual? That you could choose more different things that interests you.

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Do you think in the future art schools as such are even necessary because it’s so easy now to compose your own education?

I sometimes do think that the most interesting artists come from outside, that they might have learned some other discipline, but their interest towards art must then also come from somewhere… I was this good student who was 24/7 in school and doing everything correctly and only at the end of my studies I kind of found my own way. So maybe for some people these art school programmes are comfortable and necessary, but those who are really artists “at the inside”, they don’t care anyway. I had this intern recently, a high school girl actually, who came herself on a voluntary basis and I think she got to know much more about the art world than I did within my first years in art academy, just painting still lives.

But the thing that was actually very necessary for me during my studies, was being part of student government, where I got to know students from other departments. Especially, when studying in Berlin with Erasmus programme, I had this “free class”, were different disciplines collaborated and when I came back to Estonia, I also wanted to collaborate with others more. The school gives this possibility to get to know other fields and to collaborate with them. So art schools are still necessary for social networking and seeing what others are doing etc. But you do not need to go through this to become an artist, definitely not.

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How do you see the impact of art schools in society right now? Like, do they seem important or necessary also for people from outside those disciplines?

When I think about Estonian context, I guess that Estonian Academy of Arts could have a much bigger impact. It was much more visible until it lost its main building in the city center in 2010, it was like vanishing into those temporary locations then. But I’m not sure how much is visible now, although it has moved all of its departments together into its new building in 2019 – now it has somehow vanished into this hipster, gentrificated area in the Kalamaja neighborhood in Tallinn.

I have a feeling that other disciplines seem to be more in the picture than Fine Arts, as society needs design and fashion etc. EKA’s MFA programme is also focused on galleries, not on public space, not on socially-politically engaged projects. And in general, art is not that popular in Estonian society, unlike theatre. So, it is a tricky question how to make art more visible in society, with all this information overflow we talked about earlier. Maybe that artists are working individually is also why art academies are also not so visible?

For example, when theatre students are graduating, they are getting much more attention, because it’s a big group doing some big project, but artists are alone, doing one individual project, on very different topics. Maybe if all graduate student works would be on the same topic, maybe then it would get more attention, it would become this big thing? If everybody is doing just their own project, then the final show is very fragmented. And it’s also difficult to communicate.

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I have two more questions, one is about shorter and other about longer perspective. First, how do you imagine your work to change and evolve in the next few years? And what would be the main drivers of this change?

Some artists are doing the same thing for a very long time, somehow their inner core stays the same, they do the same thing with different variations. I feel I’m kind of like this and that I will not change too much. I’m not into this online thing, for example, I’d rather find different physical spaces, public spaces, and engage with situations there, find gaps to play with. Dialogues or engagements in physical spaces are quite old fashioned, but I don’t think I will go along with too many different trends.

But for the longer perspective, can you describe your work in 25 years, what will it be like?

I think it will come more to finding the balance between so-called simple things in life and with all those technologies and trends that keep on developing…How to live as a human being in the midst of information overflow etc. I think that art might be able to fill these gaps, to find that balance, but art should continue to provoke as well!


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