Jaanus Samma

Not Suitable For Work. A Chairman’s Tale

May – November 2015 / April - July 2016
Estonian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennial.Palazzo Malipiero, Venice, Italy / Museum of the Occupations, Tallinn, Estonia  


Not Suitable For Work. A Chairman’s Tale is the critical acclaimed 10th Estonian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale. It is a complex multimedia site-specific installation conceived by Jaanus Samma, which short-circuits archive materials from Soviet Estonia and the evocative aesthetics of opera. 

Not Suitable for Work. A Chairman’s Tale draws from the life events of a man, known as the Chairman because he was a successful chairman of a “kolkhoz” (collective farm). In 1964 he was arrested and then expelled from the Communist Party due to involvement in pederasty. A degrading trial was followed by a sentence of one and a half year of hard labour. After having lost his social status as well as his dignity, family and job, he was forced to move to a different town where he could hold only humble positions. However, he found status elsewhere, becoming notorious in the local gay community for his outrageous behaviour. In the end, he was murdered by an alleged Russian male prostitute, a year before Estonia regained independence and homosexuality was decriminalised.

The project connects the public and collective dimension of History with the private and biographical qualities of the chronicle. It investigates memory and images, documents and their theatrical representation, to restore a fresco of a period governed by an authoritarian regime. The link between these two level, the real and the fictive, is assured by the Loge (2013), an enigmatic empty box overlooked on an empty stage, animated by a sound installation that in this case announces the opera, staged in three different video-reenactment of Ojaste’s life, realized in collaboration with film director Marko Raat.

The connection with the present is subtly pointed out by the title Not Suitable For Work taken from internet slang and applied to Chairman’s tale to refer the precarious professional and social position of all individuals subjected to the scrutiny of power. Moreover, the computer terminology refers to the pervading nature of the media society which turns us into passive witnesses of history and its discriminations, discords and contradictions.

The social debate upon LGBTQI+ rights intercepts the broader issue of the violation of fundamental human rights, so prevalent in the past and the current day alike. In this sense, the “Chairman’s Tale” becomes the tip of the iceberg for a broader denouncement addressed at all kinds of discrimination: cultural, social, political, religious, sexual, and racial. Thus, once again, to remind us that art is always for the co-existence of differences.

The second iteration of the project, reopened on 14 April 2016 at the Museum of the Occupations in Tallinn, was listed by American Hyperallergic amongst the top 15 exhibitions around the world in 2016.