New Pain. Young Estonian Design in the 1980s

The Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design hosted an exhibition about one of the most contradictory and complex decades in Estonian design – the 1980s. The exhibition focuses on the representatives of the then emerging younger generation of designers and their creative output. It is the first large exhibition focusing on that decade in Estonian design.

‘New Pain’ (Uus Vaev) is a phrase from the early 1980s that was employed to mock the increasingly commercial and apolitical New Wave movement in the West. It was also used as a device to subvert Soviet authority in Estonia during the last decade under Communist rule.

The Estonian designers who emerged from this period of ideological polarization and within a failing authoritarian system were operating in circumstances very different from their Western counterparts. In denouncing the failings and hostility of the environment in which they found themselves, young Estonian designers set out to formulate their own. They were inspired and strengthened by a collective rebelliousness, and a shared enthusiasm for popular culture and interdisciplinary experimentation.

Drawing on hybrid activities, which included performance, conceptual art, music and film among others, they expressed the identity of the new generation through projects, events and a highly visible series of exhibitions in which the ideas of the city and urban design, interior architecture and product design, furniture design and poster design were brought together.

This exhibition maps the context and strategies of this period and the network of its participants. It brings together design and art works including previously unpublished material and new research on this complex and under-explored decade.

The exhibition is the outcome of a research project initiated by Jüri Kermik and focuses on the departure points and ideas that emerged on the little-explored and complex design landscape of the last decade of the Soviet era. It considers the traceability and significance of these ideas in the transition from one political order to another, illustrating these connections in the context of the formation of the environment, and as a process of overcoming the conflicts between imagination and reality. The exhibition is supported by the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design and the Cultural Endowment of Estonia.

Further information:

Jüri Kermik

Photograph: Urban installation Vabalava(Free Stage) for Pärnu Jazz Festival. E. Jürgenson and T. Raidmets, 1987 (Photo: E. Jürgenson)