The myriad of alternative or artist-run art spaces operating in the art world has to experiment with different approaches and models in order to subsist. Artists-run spaces are looking to gain relevance while creating strategies for entering into more diverse forms of contention with their particular surroundings. Through interviews and discussion with curators and artist-managers, Myymälä2 tries to examine what are their biggest challenges and difficulties that artists-run spaces and non-profits art spaces face and how they navigate, issues of financing overhead cost, fundraising, waves of gentrification, and where their function lies in relation to the crushing art market.

In this post, we present an interview with Liina Raus, founder and director of Kogo Gallery in Tartu -Estonia-, Kogo is a dynamic art venue started in 2018, due to its daring and refreshing exhibition programme Kogo has already being recognized as a remarkable and ambitious art space that is shaping the local and international art scene.

By Ramiro Camelo

Kogo galertii (foto Lisette Sein)
Liina, please tell us when you first became interested in contemporary art, and how did it lead you to the role of art gallery director here in Tartu?

For as long as I can remember art has attracted me, but another attraction was science, and I also liked literature very much. I think my interest in the arts originates from childhood experience of nature and objects. Interest in sciences was more romantic and originated from popular science books and a romantic image of scientists working in solitude focused on solving problems. Both of my parents and my uncle studied mathematics at Tartu University. But my uncle was an art lover and he gave me art books and introduced art house movies. When I went to university I still selected something more material and studied chemistry. Then during my studies when I had more freedom and no parental control, I discovered art and myself. In the early 2000s, I found myself in the pleasant and exiting company of artists and writers like Maria Arusoo, Mehis Heinsaar, Sven Vabar, Kaspar Jassa, Kiwa and others. I enjoyed events and exhibitions that took place in Tartu’s lively art scene evolving very much around Y-gallery. I think Y-gallery was the place where my connection, particularly with contemporary art, started. Then it slowly grew until I decided to move in a direction that seemed essential to me. I went through the incubation program at the Tartu Centre for Creative Industries in order to start a company that rented art for working spaces. There I soon became project manager of the Tartu Young Art Auction. For four years I organised these auctions, rented art for a few companies and took part in Gallerist Master Courses organised by the Estonian Contemporary Art Development Centre. in this time my wish to focus more on artistic production and its mediation grew. Y-gallery closed at the end of 2015, and there were no other private contemporary art galleries, so there was a gap in the Tartu gallery scene. In addition Tartu city was ready to support new art initiatives, so Tartu seemed to be the right place.

Kogo 2019_Ede Raadik. Sailin' On the Red Seal_ photo Madis Kats

Kogo 2018_Alexei Gordin. I remained Silent_photo Diana Tamane
Do you think that having a professional background unrelated to the arts gives you an advantage or leverage to carry out your managerial role at the gallery?

I very much appreciate my university studies in chemistry and my subsequent work experience in an organic synthesis chemistry lab as well as at the Estonian National Museum textile conservation lab. I think this background taught me strategic thinking, to attempt to understand things in-depth, to be systematic, consistent and achieve results. In my chemistry job, I made multistep chemical synthesis and had to make very pure chemical compounds for medical research. One project often took several months. I am very thankful to my colleagues, who taught me a lot. What I think connects art and science is the importance of noticing and being attentive.
On the other side, my interest in art and literature and the humanities in general and my alert aesthetic sense lead me to start an art gallery.

Empty Coats

Kogo 2020_Bruno Goosse_Sanatorium's Atmosphere_photo Marje Eelma
How would you describe the ethos and vision on which Kogo gallery is founded? What sets your space apart in the context of Estonia and Baltic art scene?

I think we are still trying to figure this out. I have chosen a gallery room that is relatively small and compact. My idea was that artists could use the space as they dream, but it would not be too expensive to fill it with their dream. I think we have had many exciting spatial experiences in Kogo, but also the content of the shows has been stimulating. I aim to bring people from different fields to give their contribution to the discussion that develops from an exhibition. Curate a program not only of art but also of sciences, philosophy and literature. We have made little steps toward this, for example the shows by Ede Raadik, Bita Razavi, Congregation of Chaos, Eike Eplik and others, but more efforts are needed to advance the search for synergy between arts and science.

Kogo 2020_Eike Eplik_Biomass - Ghost In the Corner_photo Marje Eelma_

Kogo 2020_Bagage Cabine_curator Elodie Bernard_photo Marje Eelma
How do you find and connect with the artists you feature in the gallery? Can you elaborate on the dynamics you establish with them during specific exhibition preparations and the curating process?

I see many of the artists before I show them in other spaces, such as those that belong to the artists’ unions, and from that experience, I decide to show them at Kogo. Now we also have some newcomers on the list of prospective discoveries and time to time we announce open calls. But in any case, the conversation starts from an attempt to understand what triggers the artist to create what he or she does. Is it convincing, exciting, stimulating? And how does it connect with the human and environmental condition today? Then after we have agreed on the show, I continuously try to understand more and more and also make sure that the text I or we (myself with the artist, with the curator) produce makes sense and is understandable. I like it if I can discuss questions rising from the show with artist.

Kogo 2020_Mari-Leen Kiipli Husa & Pail Kuimet Crystal Grid photo_Paul Kuimet

Kogo 2020_Eike Eplik_Biomass - Ghost In the Corner_photo Marje Eelma
What do you consider the biggest challenge of managing an art gallery in a small town like Tartu?

Tartu is a vital place with a rich history. The city has a strong focus on culture. It is a town of several universities and colleges that bring in many young people and attract intellectuals. The only disadvantage I see is our poor physical connection with the world. It takes more time to travel to Tartu than to capitals that have proper airports. Tartu would need a good railway connection not only with Tallinn, but also with Riga. But despite that, there is a relatively big international community in Tartu. Tartu has become a city with a great living environment and what is also important, the town is close to the beautiful landscapes of South Estonia. In 2024 Tartu together with South Estonian region will be the European Cultural Capital with the leading theme “Arts of Survival” and main themes “Tartu with Earth: Ecology Before Economy”, “Tartu with Humanity: Forward to the Roots”, “Tartu with Europe: Greater Smaller Cities”.
We are living in the middle of Covid related uncertain times. The art world is far from immune, it is an industry that has become synonymous with hypermobility, connectedness, endless social gatherings and these are now at a standstill, with a few exceptions. Galleries and non-profits are closing down, museums are laying off staff in greater or lesser numbers, art fairs are cancelled or postponed. How has this situation affected the gallery and your current and future projects?

We participate in or keep in contact and co-work with some international fairs and events such as Artissima and The Others in Turin, and Flash Show in Budapest this year. This requires us to adjust our plans every minute. Many other events have also been postponed. Luckily in Estonia and Tartu things were closed only in the spring, and we were able to keep Eike Eplik’s show Biomass – Ghost in the Corner open after lockdown because we were forced to postpone the next planned international show. Our previous exhibition was a French artists’ group show called Bagage Cabine. Its initial concept was about direct meeting with each other as well as a sense of places. Due to restrictions we together with the curator Elodie Benard completely redesigned the show. So it was as well as adapting to and talking about the situation.
Our current show is Brussels artist Bruno Goosse’s show Sanatorium’s Atmosphere, curated with Sara Bédard-Goulet, Professor of Romance Studies at the University of Tartu Faculty of Arts and Humanities. Unfortunately French artists and curators could not come to Tartu because of travel restrictions. But now regulations have changed a bit, and after having a COVID-19 test Bruno Goosse installed his show in quarantine (from which going to work is allowed). Luckily, we still receive funding from the City of Tartu, and the Estonian Cultural Endowment; some collectors have also found us, so it is challenging but we survive.

Kogo 2020_Equilibrium Delay. Curated by Kaisa Maasik and kulla Laas_photo Kaisa Maasik

Kogo 2019_Bita Razavi. Museum of Baltic Remont_photo Bita Razavi
How would you like to see your gallery in the future? Do you have any specific goals you would like to attain in the long term for Kogo and the artists with whom you work?

At the moment creating a functioning team is crucial as too much rests on my shoulders and that becomes an obstacle. I am glad that Šelda Puķīte, a curator and art critic from Riga, has moved to Tartu and now joined Kogo. But the team is intended to serve the artists, the collectors and the audience. We want to see that our artists are doing well and do our best to support them. Of course I hope that Kogo will become a world famous gallery despite the fact it is situated on the periphery. To achieve that goal, we need to continue with the exiting but the more focused program and find good opportunities to represent our artists here and abroad. The broader goal is to make even a small contribution to the transformation of the art world and the world itself.

Liina Raus 2019_photo Grete Remmel

Liina Raus is co-founder and manager of Kogo gallery located in Tartu in Widget Factory. Kogo
represents outstanding emerging and mid-career Estonian and international artists of all media. The gallery aims to help the artists with their global visibility and to create and maintain contacts with art lovers and community of collectors. Liina Raus also sees the gallery’s role as a platform for interdisciplinary discussions. As a chemist previously worked in connection with the pharmaceutical industry, Liina is convinced that art is a great mind stimulator, a drug with little side effects.

More information in the Kogo Gallery website

Photo Credits:

1, Kogo Gallery exterior, photo by Bruno Goosse

2, Kogo 2019, Ede Raadik, Sailin’ on the red seal, photo by Madis Kats

3, Kogo 2018, Alexei Gordin, I remained silent, photo by Diana Tamane

4, Kogo 2019, August Krogan-Roley, Empty Coats, photo by Madis Kats

5, Kogo 2020, Bruno Goosse, Sanatorium’s Atmosphere, photo by Marje Eelma

6, Kogo 2020, Eike Eplik Biomass – Ghost in the corner, photo by Marje Eelma

7, Kogo 2020, curator Elodie Bernard, Bagage Cabine, photo by Maarje Eelma

8, Kogo 2020, Mari-Leen Kiipli Husa & Paul Kuimet, Crystal Grid Paul Kuimet

9, Kogo 2020, Eike Eplik Biomass – Ghost in the corner, photo by Marje Eelma

10, Kogo 2020, curator Kaisa Maasik & Kulla Laas, Equilibrium Delay, photo by  Kaisa Maasik

11, Kogo 2019, Bita Ravazi, Museum of Baltic Remont, photo by Bita Razavi

Portrait of Liina Raus (2019): Grete Remmel