Edward von Lõngus: What matters is creation | Culture


Famous Estonian graffiti artist and street artist Edward von Lõngus, also known as EvL, has remained a mystery in the art scene, as he has always kept his appearance and basic biographical details hidden from the public. Much of his work satirizes and critiques capitalism and consumer culture through historical figures, symbols and cultural codes. His guerrilla style of creating street art, use of stencil technique and his critique of socio-political issues have popularly dubbed him the “Estonian Banksy”. After about two months of trying, EvL agreed to be interviewed by email.

Let’s start with your last exhibition “Hello Mister Police Officer” in Berlin, which ended last month, June 24th. What was your experience there?

It was a collective effort by a gang of Estonian street artists who came to leave their mark on Berlin. Berlin has been a big influencer in the Estonian street art scene from the very beginning, so we came to share some of our creations in return. The mission was a great success, the exhibition in the gallery was very well received and we were able to do some great work in the streets. Even had a fun little encounter with the police. Berlin has definitely changed over the years but has kept its free spirit and proud counterculture. It was a great pleasure to be back.

Before addressing other questions on contemporary things, could you tell us about your beginnings, how everything started for you, in particular street art and graffiti? Is there an event or a moment that triggered and led you on this artistic journey?

Edward von Lõngus is a fictional character, an emergent result of the right set of cultural circumstances, created under (or out of) conditions attributable to specific coordinates in space and time. EvL emerged from the fertile conditions of the Information Age, in a place bordering many different worlds, at a time when local culture is merging with global culture, old ideas integrating with new concepts, and ancient wisdom modern technologies. EvL is a reflection of a collective unconscious desire for establishment, challenging the trickster archetype. An incorporeal, memetic being that only exists as a collection of thoughts and ideas, reproducing itself piece by piece in the minds of the audience. Like a computer virus outside computers.

So far I have noticed that you choose historical events, people and paintings from the Renaissance, for example the work of Michelangelo, and juxtapose them with a contemporary context. Would you offer some focus on your subject, how do you choose a subject for your artwork and how does it lock into your mind and become thoughts? I’m just sharing a few titles of your works that can be a clue to answer this question: “Democratos and Capitalismas”, “Esteemed Business”, “Judgement Day”, “Follow the Money”. I’m also interested in the subject choices of “Naked Emperor” and “Satan Devouring a Burger”.

The culture process works through memetic regeneration – taking old ideas and building new ones on top of them. I am at the service of these cultural processes. I just observe the cultural code and notice possible new connections. Some connections make more sense than others. I cut pieces of existing code and glued them together in new ways with new meaning.

The pertinent question is, why do you infuse your street art with comments or messages that sound anti-capitalist or anti-consumerist, or I can say there’s some sort of rebellious tone or resistance to normativity, the way conventional to see?

I am simply pointing out the absurdity of reality. It takes a lot of effort to realize that not everything ordinary is normal. This rat race is wasted in many ways and we are trying to ignore our collective problems instead of confronting them. I refuse to call this self-destructive consumerist madness normal.

You have already done two projects in which you use digital tools and techniques: “Restart Reality” and “Doomsday Cathedral”. Could you explain these two projects to us and how did you come up with the idea that street art could also be virtual?

Street art has always had a virtual dimension since the rise of the internet has been the ultimate catalyst for the rise of street art. It provided an all-encompassing support structure that allowed street artists to reach a wider audience, sparking a wave of illegal artistic activity across the world. Living these pieces online is already a virtual experience, which is totally different from having a real encounter with a work of art. Even when you encounter street art in real life, what’s the first thing they do? They pull out their phones to create a virtual version for hundreds more. The Restart Reality app used this idea to animate the virtual copy of the artwork. Going forward, I see most artwork having an augmented layer. Currently, technological solutions for good AR are still in their infancy, but in a few years augmented reality will really come into play. The idea around “Doomsday Cathedral” was to create a sacred space dedicated to human extinction , featuring works such as “Death Dance”, “Last Judgment Day” and “Doomsday Clock” among others. I had been working on it for over a year when the pandemic hit, which made it an extremely prophetic project. So that everyone could visit it in these troubled times, it was taken to a virtual level where it could be visited by anyone in the world.

Does the use of digital tools in the creation of a virtual reality have anything to do with the concept of e-Estonia, which is completely different from the idea of ​​the state under the Soviet regime?

Estonians are rather pragmatic. An e-country was the most logical tool of choice for creating an effective self-reliance system. Our advantage in building this system was to have no prior bureaucracy. In the 90s, we had to start from scratch, so we had the need to actually design our systems instead of endlessly maintaining a bunch of outdated and expensive solutions that come with the baggage of an older country. From the inside, it doesn’t seem like anything special but just the next logical step.

We believe that the use of digital tools in creating the virtual reality of street art is a kind of uniqueness of your work that opens a new door in the presentation of street art and the engagement of viewers. What is your opinion on this novelty?

Each artist uses the tools of his time. I have never limited myself to the limits of traditional street art, because the streets are not my battlefield. Spirits are. I do not work with paint, but with ideas. I’m always willing to experiment with new tools and possibilities if I can use them to engage audiences in new and effective ways. I once trained a team of wild mice to perform a choreography in front of a camera to take stock of our unsustainable forestry practices. I’ve created art using deep learning neural networks like Google’s DeepDream and used experimental spray-printing technologies to make my works in wall form. I’m also fascinated by AI-generated art. It will open up so many new possibilities. It is important to continue exploring and developing mentally, otherwise it is no longer creation, but production.

Tell us about your physical presence? How do you identify yourself? Why are you hiding ? Is there an influence from the famous Banksy? You have improvised some of Banksy’s works; What do you think of Banksy’s mysterious identity and artwork?

Our society is so attached to individuality and personal fame, but I think of these things on a much larger scale, in terms of systems and processes. Society is a complicated organism. Like any organism, a society can only survive by constantly recreating itself. An artist is a neural cell in this system: receiving and transmitting information; create a new culture out of the old culture. I cut out pieces of existing cultural code and glued them together in new ways. I like to share my ideas and I am happy that my work is known, but I have no desire for personal glory. There is nothing very special about this face or this physical body. It does not matter. What matters is creation.

Who are your favorite street artists? What makes them your favorites?

I feel connected to each artist through space and time because we are all followers of the same inner vocation. It seems that we are all participating in the realization of a big project, “the EvL master plan” as I like to call it. It gets more interesting the further back you go, so I’d say my favorite public wall art is the oldest we’ve found: I’m obsessed with ancient cave paintings and rock engravings. The prehistoric rock art wall of the Colombian Amazon (presented to Western audiences in late 2020) was a real treasure for me.

How would you describe the Estonian street art scene and what makes it so special?

Estonia, being a very unique country, has a very unique relationship with its street artists, perhaps best characterized by the fact that it might be the only country in the world that has publicly awarded a street artist street and paid him to paint all over Europe’s capitals. as a cultural representative of Estonia. I can’t really think of another country where something like this would even be significant. This appreciation of street art takes on a whole new level in Tartu, a vibrant university town of 100,000 people and home to most of the Estonian street art scene, which openly supports its street art as part of local identity and famous proudly held the annual street art festival “Stencibility” (part of which was also the Berlin exhibition). The phenomenon of street art in Tartu alone deserves a whole new article.

Are you currently working on one or more projects or are you weaving ideas for a new project? What do you have in mind for the near future?

After having visited all the European capitals, I would like to visit the local small towns for balance. Making art for unconventional rural areas, in places where you would never expect to find it. It would be quite fun.

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