Kai Kaljo


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Medium/Dimensions Video 1' 24"
CreditsCourtesy of the artist

Kai Kaljo made Loser during the first decade of a de-Sovietised Estonia. In this short video, the protagonist (the artist herself) recites the numbers that sum her up as a social failure: her monthly income, her weight and so on. She weighs too much and earns too little. No doubt she can be laughed at. As a lecturer at an Estonian art school, she earns as little as 150 Euros per month. She can only afford to live with her parents.

By 2013 Loser’s storyline has become alarmingly familiar to art tutors, cultural workers and many graduates well beyond Estonian society. The reference to the precarious position of the arts professional that structures the work is certainly no longer limited to post-socialist states. Nor is it limited to arts professionals. The protagonist’s failure as ‘a woman’ and ‘an artist’ is intertwined with the new (capitalist) system’s failure to support independent citizens. This removal of independence from the life prospect of the working subject has emerged as a more general condition of the 21st century.

Ultimately, the position of the woman artist, as described by Kaljo in 1997, prefigured developments in the European workforce, which around 2003 witnessed the rise of the ‘precarity movement’ – a movement where job insecurity was acknowledged as the core of one’s existence. Yet even then few foresaw capital’s attack on wages and pensions by means of ‘austerity’ policies in the wake of the 2007/08 global crisis. The once post-Soviet condition of cheap labour and depressed salaries is becoming normalised across Europe, especially affecting what used to be ‘the middle class’.