I was unable to meet with Raoul Kurvitz when I was in Estonia, although his presence was definitely felt. The artistic and creative group that he co-founded with Urmas Muru in 1985, Rühm T [T Group], came up in quite a few conversations. Apparently, this mutli-media group, known for its elaborate performances in the 1980s and early 1990s, created quite a sensation on the Estonian art scene in the waning days of the Soviet Union, and it is not difficult to see why. In the 1970s and early 1980s, performance in Estonia was confined to closed circles and events not widely accessible to the public. For example, Juri Okas created video performances with his friends, but these were not widely available or known about, because this type of art was not accepted as a genre. Siim-Tanel Annus’s garden actions were also known primarily to a small group of friends and acquaintances, and took place in his private home, outside of the city center. By the mid-1980s, the art world was stagnating and craved something fresh and new. The art world in Estonia found that novelty in the work of T-Group. In addition to traveling abroad with their work, their performances were staged in various prominent places such as the Tallinn City Art Hall, right in the center of town.
The name of the group gives an indication of the background of its founding members, many of whom were architects by training (the reference is to a T-square). But this work, created under the title of T Group, spans a variety of genres, including performance, painting, theater, music and poetry. Their performances are laden with symbolism, saturated with imagery and sound. They involve elaborate constructions in an operatic sense. As one observes the progression of their performances from the 1980s to the 1990s, an expansion and development in technology can be perceived. For example, the introduction of live electronic music, televisions and more complicated stage sets. Kurvitz emphasized that this was not collective work; rather, T Group was a platform under which the artists could do a particular kind of multi-media work together, and the number of participants varies from work to work. In addition to body performance, there were poetry readings and even live action painting on stage.
The group seems to have had celebrity status in Estonia, and were written about both in the popular press and by academics and art historians. One can imagine that their performances provided the type of spectacle that audiences hadn’t yet seen. In their extravagant and ostentatious approach, they provided an experience similar to that at a rock concert, with lights, smoke, fire and other effects.
Retrospectively, the place of T Group has been mytholized in Estonian art history, but that is part of its history, too. While it created a unique body of work in the 1980s, it seems to have paved the way for a vibrant decade of performance art practices in Estonia in the 1990s.