I was invited for a project by the Rael Artel Gallery in Pärnu, an Estonian seaside resort and a tourist destination renown for its many sanatoria and mud baths. I decided to work directly with mud. I was interested both in the material, its healing and artistic qualities, and in the place, the Pärnu Mudaravila, the first sanatorium and grand neo-classical building opened in 1838. The health programme developed in Pärnu has, over the years, mutated from a trade union health centre for workers during the soviet occupation to become, since Estonian independence, a liberalised post soviet event space. Today, the sanatorium also houses a wax museum, sharing the original treatment facilities with an exhibition of wax celebrity look-alikes, which includes, in an amazing feat of time-space compression, side-by-side simulacras of Stalin, Princess Diana and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Before travelling to Pärnu, I found out that the local weather report was available online via a webcam that feeds live video from the main street's tourism office. This webcam was part of a global network of surveillance cameras: the Axis 2100 Webcam (made in Sweden), is a pre-programmable device with its own server, which sends images from weather stations, shopping malls, university libraries and nature resorts all over the world. To address the relationship between tourism and surveillance and post 9/11 anti-terror legislation that make it illegal to wear face coverings such as masks and face paint in public space, I tried to obtain Pärnu mud to build a mud mask. This proved impossible as the local mud is not available for sale and can only be experienced as part of the sanatorium treatment. Furthermore, the Pärnu mud is only used on the body, facial treatment being excluded from the current mud treatment practice.
I visited the sanatorium and negotiated my own special treatment, which consisted of a unique blend of mud to cover my head and face. When I finished the treatment I took away enough mud to be bottled as a small series of mud d’artiste (artist’s mud) multiples. The multiples are accompanied by a video juxtaposing the images of the mud mask treatment with the wax look-alikes, both filmed at the sanatorium. The project will be finalised the day I make a wax look-alike of myself with the mud mask.