Tallinn Photomonth


Tallinn Photomonth is an international biennial of contemporary art, which features work that spans all disciplines and looks at developments in art and society.

Contemporary art biennial

Satellite: Kristina Õllek

Satellite: Waters of Hypoxic and Once Tropic

Tütar Gallery (Vesilennuki 24, Tallinn)

Tütar Gallery (Vesilennuki 24, Tallinn)
Open: Thu–Fri 13.00–19.00, Sat–Sun 14.00–18.00
Free entrance
Accessible by wheelchair


Standing in the sea, with rolling waves caressing our feet, carrying sand back and forth between the shoreline and the murky waters, we are standing in the deep past. A past that wasn’t divided into years, days, hours and minutes by calendars and clocks, but flowed in an endless multitemporal current. A past that witnessed abundant and long-gone life forms and materials that have become the fuel for the present and the catastrophes of the future.

Through photographic works and installations combining limestone, sea salt, clay and bioplastics, Õllek has created a bridge between the present moment and the biodiverse equatorial and tropical past of the local seabed. She has exposed the geological time of the Baltic Sea – the stories of which are narrated by crinoids, tabulata, trilobites, brachiopods, cephalopods, cyanobacteria and other fossilised ghosts of the ancient marine life. While we mostly associate cyanobacteria with the toxic blue-green algae that keeps us from having a swim in bodies of water, these bacteria have witnessed the billions of years of evolution and progress while remaining almost unchanged themselves. The sea remembers.

Õllek is thinking with the sea: its past, present and future, marine life, bacteria and minerals, to tell the story of how cyanobacteria, while so integral to the oxygen cycle, have transformed into suffocating toxicity through intensive agriculture, fertiliser runoff and pollution, as well as due to the slow water exchange in the Baltic Sea and rising sea temperatures. This all leads to hypoxic zones where oxygen is depleted and biodiversity is lost. The slow violence, almost invisible to the eye, which first affects the weakest life forms, has escalated to the point where it can no longer be ignored. The sea is suffocating.

The underlying research on marine ecology and anthropocentric influences, both in the context of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, is rooted in Õllek’s interest in the relationship between new technologies and extractivist thinking, including the controversial issue of deep-sea mining. The sea echoes humanity’s desires and fears: standing in the sea, we are simultaneously standing in the deep past of tropical waters once teeming with life and in the deep future of waters asphyxiated by toxic capitalism.

Text by Annika Toots.

Kristina Õllek (b.1989) is a visual artist based in Tallinn, Estonia. She is working in the field of photography, video and installation, with a focus on investigating representational processes, geological matter, aquatic ecosystems, and the human-made environment. In her practice, she uses a research-based approach, but within she also incorporates her own fictitious and speculative perspectives. With her work, she raises questions around the relationship between natural and synthetic, original and copy, and understandings of materiality by obtaining a new and reconsidered meaning. She is interested in stretching out the boundaries of what we can see and use as an image and space, especially now in the age of rapidly developing and highly manipulative technology. Within her recent projects she has been focusing on marine habitat and the notion of new technologies, including the geopolitical and ecological conditions associated with them. Her work is often site-sensitive and analyses the location and the format of exhibition-making, questioning the display and the politics of installation in a perspective of a historical museum to an online space and future archeology.

Kristina Õllek graduated from the Estonian Academy of Arts (BA degree in 2013, MA degree in 2016; in the Photography Department, Fine Arts). She has complemented her studies in Berlin at Kunsthochschule Berlin-Weissensee (2012) and in Rotterdam at Piet Zwart Institute (2016). Õllek has won the Estonian Academy of Arts Young Artist Prize 2013 (BA) and 2016 (MA). Between 2013-2018 she was the co-founder and member of artist-run space Rundum. In 2019, she received the Art Proof Production Grant.

Kristina Õllek’s works have been shown in various international group and solo exhibitions; including at Henie Onstad Kunstsenter (Oslo), Zeppelin Museum (Friedrichshafen), A Tale of A Tub (Rotterdam), Laurel Project Space (Amsterdam), Le Lieu Unique (Nantes), Screen City Biennial (Stavanger), Fotomuseum Winterthur, Titanic gallery (Turku), KUMU (Tallinn), EKKM (Tallinn), Tallinn Art Hall, Draakoni & Hobusepea gallery (Tallinn), ISSP gallery (Riga), Riga Photography Biennial,  Zuzeum (Riga), Benaki Museum (Athens), Snehta Residency (Athens), Coherent (Brussels). Her works belong to several collections (e.g Estonian Art Museum, Estonia; Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland; European Central Bank art collection, Germany; private collections).