Mati Karmin has already 25 years been one of the personalities in the Estonian sculpture. His career as an artist is characterised by an intense and remarkably versatile activity.
Like many of his contemporaries, the representatives of so-called 1980s generation in the Estonian art, Karmin recived professional training in the Estonian State Art Institute, wich was thorough, yet traditional, not to say conservative according to the internationa criteria. During his tudie, Estonian sculpture was predominantly figurative and employed traditional materials like stone and bronze.
Karmin, on the other hans, has been creating almost all his independent work in rapidly charging art scene, wich is characterised by the denial of traditions, the disputation of values, and blurring of borders between the art forms as well as art and its surrounding space. The notion of sculpture itself has undergone an especially radical transformation. Karmin has reacted to the changing situation perhaps in more dynamic, yet also controversial manner than the majority of Estonian artists. Vibrant creativity, with a very professional plastic thinking and perfect material perception at its heart, has allowed him to act as a traditionalist as well an innovator, achieving outstanding results in both areas.
Besides traditional materials, primarily bronze, Karmin has taken inspiration from unconventional solutions and employed innovative materials right from the beginning of his career. Early on, he caught attention with one of his first exhibited sculptures, "Military Fox" (1981), cleverly formed of corroded scrap metal details. Scrap metal has frequently emerged as an important material and source of inspiration also in the later work of Karmin. Up to mid-1990s, he used scrap metal basically within the borders of the traditional notion of sculpture. By that we think of figures and decorative forms that communicate with space, like the conventional free sculpture, and that are meant to be placed on a platform. Having previously only tentatively touched the borders of the classical notion of sculpture, Karmin in 1994 surprised the public with an epochal conceptual installation "My Father", taking as the material the career and extensive collection of weeds of his father who was an agricultural reasearcher. Within the same period falls also the dispaly of impressive construction site cabins of corroded metal on the green area in front of Tallinn art Hall Gallery during the group exhibition of innovative sculptors.
One of the most grandiose manifestations of the exploring line of Karmin's work is the marine mine furniture project that began five years ago. Northern coast of Estonia and especially the islands, wich during the years of occupation were an almost inaccessible border zone for the common including heaps of corroded mine shells, wich are basically spheres with holes, spireks and shackles. Karmin got inspired by these mines and started to collect them. The ambiguity of large scale corroded mine shells intrigued the artist. The shape of the mine is perfest and uniform, while still clearly bearing the stamp of its intial destructive function. Being marked by its belonging to the past, it is closely connected to the complicated recent history that Karmin has always been facinated with.
Karmin's entire work has relied on various contractions. He entered the Estonian sculpture scene as an innovator and the continuty of that trait in his creative biography presists, however the notion of classical sculpture and the classical material for sculpture - bronze - is still very important to him and he has time and again returned to it whether in free sculpture or monumental sculpture.
Mine furniture, depsite its unprecedented novelty, brings together the two directions in the artist's work. It can be clearly sensed how the artist has enjoyed playing with materials and forms, having developed both its meanings and looks, creating a versatile series, based on contradictions and contrasts.
Karmin uses mines as modules. The entire furinture series is composed of only two existing basic forms of mines - the hemisphere and the cylinder. With great delight, he has concocted utility articles of diverse forms, resulting in armchairs, writing desk, bed, toilet, cupoard, bathtub, swing, fireplace...By the hand of the artist the militaristic metallic scrap has become the design furinture of remarkably modern appearance. He has added to the scrap metal the beautiful hand-treated copper details, metal mesh, perfect, leather upholstery and granite and glass surfaces, thus consciously increasing the semantic contradiction of objects. Mine furniture is by no means scrap furniture in its usual meaning; it is carefully designed and appreciated by handwork. Here we have works of art that are not just sculptures or pieces of furniture but both at the same time.
Karmin's mine-objects possess the obvious utility function, but also multifaceted interpretations. The value of minefurniture lies in its uniqueness, wit and ambiguity.
As the end of mine project the artist created a mobile sculpture out of a Soviet military truck. His vechile has instead of a rocket a gigantic phallus of mine shells towering above, with four clocks at its top, showing time in four geographic places of the world - Moscow, London, Paris and New York. This ambiguous and wonderful work still awaits a proper place in the Estonian public space.