Polymer International Artist in Residency Program

During the Soviet era Polymer was a toy factory. In 1994, the company closed this branch of activities, leaving a large building in a state of abandonment. A few years later, a group of artists, intrigued by this big empty space, decided to turn it into their studio space. Step-by- step, other artists and musicians joined wishing to use these spaces for creating, for rehearsingÖ

Nowadays the factory disposes of 3000sq m of space, dedicated to creation and dissemination. Retaining the original flair of the of the building, and keeping its authenticity, concrete production facilities have been transformed to incorporate new spaces for living, artist studios and an environment for alternative cultural events.

Polymer has evolved into a place for international artist residencies and the diffusion of ideas and energy. Within the walls of the building live together about 30 artists and organizations, working in diverse artistic fields. Constituted as a non profit organization, Polymer works as a platform and as a venue for different events and activities, offering a new space for alternative culture in Tallinn. Public events take place regularly, involving resident artists and guest artists, both Estonian and International.

Polymer is an organization involved in local life and open to the exterior. Polymer leads different cultural and social actions at a local level, and has developed partnerships in Tallinn, throughout Estonia and within Europe. Polymer is a member of Trans Europe Halles, a network founded in 1983 bringing together 40 independent culture centres in Europe. Polymer International Artist in Residency program is developped in close cooperation with Art Container Gallery and Estonian Media Artists' Union, both organizations having their workspace in Polymer.

Things to know before

We believe the experience of staying at Culture Factory Polymer can be beneficial for some people. Radical changes in your lifestyle require you solve problems; this may stimulate creativity and inform fresh approaches to your work. For some it has been cathartic to stay in Polymer during the Estonian winter, October through May, to explore the limits of body; to learn what one really needs to live well and examine the things we rely on.

The physical conditions of the ruined Soviet era factory are Spartan. In some spaces you may encounter, mould, mushrooms and fungi, peeling paint, noxious dust: Strange smells; some human, some chemical, some unexplained. In winter the conditions are extreme by Nordic Baltic standards due to holes in the floor, walls and ceilings; the latter of which may leak water upon the melting of the snow and ice. The wood burning stoves and chimneys are of poor quality; smoke is commonplace, we become accustomed to the aroma of burning garbage and melted plastic. Even if you donít touch stair railings, the squalid communal toilet or sink, the rough tools or broken instruments, your hands and fingernails will smudge from the briefest visit to Polymer. The factory building can be gritty, oily, rotten and toxic; it can feel cold, lonely, depressive and creepy. Brutal stains record gruesome histories on beds and linen still in use at Polymer. The Soviet mark of quality is not scratched completely from the electric stove that electrocutes you only a little bit.

Most of the electrical appliances are at least half broken and require specialized knowledge in their use. You may experience unannounced loss of water and power. You can make as much noise as you want whenever you want so donít be surprised if people are using power tools, pounding steel or poking a hole through your wall with a hammer drill during hours you associate with quiet and sleep.

There may be a rave party in the room above yours, a rehearsing band in the room next door or a drum circle in the rooftop garden. Depending which side of the building you are on you will feel the bass music from the neighborís techno disco or from your window you may see members of the biker club, situated in Polymer, lighting the pavement of the car park on fire with spinning motorcycle wheels. On other nights you may feel like the last human on earth in darkened soundlessness.

You may encounter unwanted visitors in your studio or unexpected silence from locals who earlier pledged their support. Silence, frugal greetings and lack of cordial conversation may leave you feeling neglected or disrespected. You will likely witness; ignorance, arrogance, self destructive behavior, narcissism, self-absorption, laziness, drunkenness, obsessive patterns, temper tantrums, irritability, moodiness, neurosis, hording syndrome, hypochondria, paranoia, mental retardation, mental illness, genius and blindness. The results may range between terrifying spectacles and moments of supreme beauty. Your notions of art will be challenged. Your work will probably be criticized as boring.

You may complain, winge, cry and whimper so I stress; the artist of Polymer will show you no compassion.

Polymer is what you make it; our dysfunctional utopia. For those who want to make something you have a community to support and inspire you. Take time to look closely within the battered walls and you will find warm places and good friends, gardens, saunas, kitchens, games, galleries, workshops, open spaces to create, exhibit and perform. Local artists in Polymer help visitors with projects, lend tools and offer hospitality; not services supplied organizationally, rather individual acts of care. Your experience may vary depending on the time of year, how busy are the other artists and your social skills. Many people like it here and return to Polymer time after time, some international visitors continue to work within Polymer for years.

If this doesnít seem like the place for you; I am happy to suggest wonderful residencies in the Baltic States which are clean and friendly. We welcome proposals to make the building more accessible for people who canít climb stairs or ladders, manage in cold conditions or darkness.

Not from Europe? You may find Europe strange but you may also need a converter to handle the 220 volts wall power for any plug-in electrical devices you bring with you. Or you need an adapter for your computer which usually has its own converter box on the chord. Adapters and converters are easiest to get in the same place as where the electronics are used. Some phones wonít work with a European SIM card; will yours? What is common in the shops in your place may not be common here so bring what you need. If you come with only your hands in your pockets then Polymer is a good place to learn about improvisation, available materials and simple solutions.

All the best,
Ernest Truely
Culture Factory Polymer
AIR Coordinator


Culture Factory Polymer is situated in Kristiine district in Tallinn:

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Culture Factory Polymer
Madara 22
10613 Tallinn

AIR coordinator:
Ernest Truely

For more information about Polymer visit:
Polymer homepage (in Estonian)
Polymer Facebook - for events and photos (in English)
Polymer Flickr page - photos from visitors