Marko Raat is a filmmaker, not a performance artist, and I have to admit that I don’t know much about his films, except for one, which I was able to watch at the Estonian Centre for Contemporary Art – For Aesthetic Reasons (1999). The film is so cleverly done and deals with such significant themes that it bears mentioning here.
For Aesthetic Reasons charts the journey of Estonian art historian Andres Kurg, who travel by car from Estonia, through Germany to Denmark. He announces at the Danish border that he would like to move to Denmark because he likes the architecture – he likes Danish Modernism and Danish design, and wants to be surrounded by it, for example, to live in a building or home designed by Arne Jakobson and fill it with items designed by Bang & Olufson. Bemused by this unusual request, the border agents refer him to the police, who then refer him to the criminal police, who then referr him to the immigration department. Not surprisingly, trying to go through official channels, he gets the runaround.
Andres then discusses his dilemma with a number of people, for example, a salesperson at Bang & Olufson shop, who agreed that the government should change the rules, because one should be able to move for such a positive reason. One person, for example, claims that Andres should try to claim political asylum, to which he responds that when he left Estonia, “it was peaceful there,” and comments that he really has no issue with Estonia, and even likes some of its architecture. He also discusses the issue with an art student, who suggests contacting the Danish government and proposing this type of immigration as a PR stunt – as an art and architectural historian, for example, Andres would be able to demonstrate how to live “properly” in one of the flats designed by Jakobson. They both agree that most of the people living in those flats probably don’t deserve to live there, because they don’t understand the design and its principles.
In 1999, Estonia had yet to join the EU, and Estonians did not yet benefit from its free movement legislation. The film raises the issue of borders and who has the right to cross them and for what reasons. Even legitimate reasons for migrating, such as family or work, are now being questioned. This film is particularly poignant in that it presaged massive immigration debates that were yet to take place, namely surrounding the free movement of new accession states to the EU, which were mainly from Eastern Europe. While the film examines this issue with humor and irony, the questions that it raises are quite serious – as it is stated in the film, “why can’t people move around for nice reasons, and not only the bad?”