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VIII World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples From the 16th to the 18th of June 2021 in Tartu


Dialogue: Mythology and Artificial Intelligence

Kärt Summatavet

SPONSORS: Kindred Peoples’ Programme, NGO Fenno-Ugria, Cultural Endowment of Estonia, Estonian National Culture Foundation, Ministry of Education and Research of the Republic of Estonia, Estonian National Museum, VIII World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples


Originals, drawings: pencil, watercolour, 2021

Digitisation, giclée print, frames, design of the virtual exhibition: Ülar Linnuste, Raimo Papper, JOON STUUDIO OÜ

Translation: Wiedemanni Tõlkebüroo, Dr. Merry Bullock


The exhibition can also be viewed and exhibited in the format of framed physical works.

Please get in touch to request an invitation.

Contact: Kärt Summatavet

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The artist’s creed:

Tradition. Inspiration? Innovation! – Delve. Explore. Evaluate and interpret. Don’t hurry.


Kärt Summatavet (PhD) is an Estonian jewellery artist, lecturer and researcher. Read more



It is a great honour and pleasure to introduce this virtual exhibition and to be able to tell you something about its creation, a perspective that is usually invisible to the audience. Yuri Lotman, the world-renowned professor of semiotics at the University of Tartu, once said that an artist creates a world of their own, and may even defy the laws of time and space, in addition to defying convention and custom. Art is a means of perceiving and knowing and, above all, a means of perceiving truths about people. Creating art is a thought experiment that combines the immensity of the universal and eternal with the artist’s own experiences and inspiration.


This exhibit was born of overlapping threads. For the 2019/2020 academic year, the University of Tartu invited me to take up the position of Professor of Liberal Arts. My professorship coincided with a number of important events – 2019 was the Year of the Mother Tongue and the 100th anniversary of the National University, and 2020 was the Year of Digital Culture. I incorporated these events into my teaching – simultaneously thinking about relations between the heritage of the past and virtual reality and artificial intelligence. I wondered how to be in the past, the present and the future at the same time, and how to relearn the wisdom of the past for the future's well-being and human happiness? The idea for the exhibition was born during my professorship and the title "Dialogues: mythology and artificial intelligence" and opportunity to make it a reality emerged from the 8th World Congress of Finno-Ugric Peoples.


This exhibition is dedicated to the linguistic and cultural thought of Finno-Ugric peoples and to the universal mythologies and cosmos that underlies their and all indigenous peoples’ appreciation of the universe we share. As an artist, I can see, on top of everything else, that the world and the different cultures of different times are still more intertwined than we might imagine. That's why I let my imagination run wild.

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I urge you to look at the artworks with an open mind, read the keys and the accompanying texts. What springs to mind from your own childhood? From your culture? From fascinatingly exotic foreign cultures? How to avoid getting lost? How to avoid arbitrary or irresponsible mixing of different cultural texts? As we learn more about the roots and stories of our own culture, we will discover important wisdom from the stories of other cultures, which can be used to build a better future and a happier life.


I hope that when you visit the exhibition, you will be able to take your time, delve into the details, read and reflect. By reading and researching the topics that fascinate me, I have freed myself of many prejudices and generic stereotypes. It seems to me that seemingly incompatible or unexpected details can, on closer inspection, turn out to be doors to happiness, opening onto stunning scenery. As a bearer of a northern culture and Finno-Ugric mythological thinking, I believe that in the future we will need the skills and wisdom of our ancestors, but we will also learn from other indigenous cultures about what makes us happy. And learn how to be happy and cherish that happiness. Read more

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1998–2005, Doctor of Arts (PhD, laudatur), University of Art and Design Helsinki/Aalto University

1982–1987, Diploma, State Art Institute of the Estonian SSR (ERKI/EKA)


The artist has presented her work in exhibitions since 1986: 40 solo exhibitions, over 100 international group exhibitions in Estonia, Finland, the UK, Sweden, Norway, Germany, Latvia, the USA, Poland, Slovenia, China, Russia, Korea, Hungary, Italy, France, and Belgium. She has contributed to exhibitions of the Estonian Association of Designers in Finland, the UK, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, and France.

Kärt Summatavet's work is dedicated to introducing viewers to the Estonian and Finno-Ugric mythological worldview and interpreting it in contemporary terms: "The signs, colours and patterns found in folk art relate to the thinking and language of our ancestors, but they can be used to convey messages – jewellery and signs are a visual mother tongue that we use to communicate timeless texts and to make important messages visible to others."


The innovative product development experiments in the artist's dissertation have been registered as an industrial design solution, one which was awarded the 2007 International European Union Innovation Prize in Berlin (Recognition Award 2007, European Union Women Inventors and Innovators Network EUWIIN), and the 2008 WIPO/KIPO Silver Medal in Seoul (Korea International Women's Invention Exposition 2008, South Korea).


Summatavet is a winner of the Kristjan Jaak Fellowship and received the primus doctor (best graduate) award from Aalto University. She has led several successful international product development and innovation projects. Summatavet is a member of the board of the Estonian Association of Designers and a pre-reviewer for a number of international scientific journals and conferences. She is a consultant at the Institute of Computer Science, University of Tartu, and runs her own design company EHEsummatavet OÜ (CEO) in Tallinn.

She has worked as a lecturer at the Estonian Academy of Arts since 1991, and as a senior research fellow (2008–2012) and Professor of Liberal Arts (2019/2020) at the University of Tartu. She has worked as a visiting research fellow at Aalto University in Helsinki (2013) and as a Foreign Professor at Guangdong University of Technology, China, Department of Industrial Design (2014–2015).


She is the leader of many EU-funded international projects, teaching young designers how to draw inspiration from tradition and how to create something valuable, new and useful from the wisdom of ancient peoples. She is also the author of the idea of the Estonian folk craft product development projects "Handicrafts for Work", and has helped people with craft skills living in small towns and villages to bring new and interesting products based on folk art to the market. She has delivered many lectures in Estonia and abroad on the roots of culture, innovation and future technologies.


Read more about her academic CV and publications from the Estonian Research Portal:

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This exhibition is a cultural THOUGHT EXPERIMENT in its own right, in which I have wandered among the spiritual sacred images that captivate humanity. I explore the cultural landscapes of the Nordic peoples, the three-layered spherical (egg-shaped) space of the Finno-Ugric mythological world image. I wander to the sources of the sacred beliefs of ancient peoples, to lakes, rivers, ancient seas and primordial oceans. I am an observer, inviting the viewer to participate in an all-encompassing symphony of mental, spiritual and physical human experiences from the perspective of a contemporary artist-observer. And I reflect on how we collectively create something for the future out of our mythological, religion-rich past full of stories. I wonder how we use these ancient guides to help develop artificial intelligence and navigate virtual reality in a smart and skilful way. What precious legacy from the past will we take with us into the future? Which values should be preserved, which ones altered or re-used? More importantly, is there anything new 'under the sun' other than a technological leap forward? My drawings speak of all these questions.


As I am drawing, I feel an urgency to pass on the key I have discovered. To show the way to the door that I have recognised as a precious treasure. The exhibition has a number of keyholes to fit my invisible magic key. On the surface, the exhibition combines Finno-Ugric symbols with those of many other cultures and religions, so viewers will find some familiar connections. But the thought experiment underlying these images asks: How do you see the invisible? How do you hear the inaudible? How do you comprehend the incomprehensible? As an artist, how do you imagine the unimaginable?


Turning a key in an invisible keyhole outside space-time opens the door to a surprising spiritual home of cultures. The doors of souls open, but also the doors to human souls, through which it is possible to take a peek inside. As an artist, I have entered these doors, walking slowly and unhurriedly, step by step, along the unfolding landscapes of the soul, learning to understand and make sense of the nature of life and happiness.


When I draw the ancient landmarks that I have discovered and interpreted, I discover time and again that everything I see in timeline of ancient symbols is still necessary today to be happy. The dreams of the ancients are still vital and relevant. They are alive and well, and to find happiness you need to find them, reflect on them and focus on them. When I am drawing, I create a whole out of details and bring out details from the whole, revealing new perspectives all over again.


It is not really difficult to find doors and ancient gateways. The folktales, sayings, songs, riddles, beliefs, customs, handicrafts, patterns and sacred sites of ancient peoples are like a compass that we can follow, listen to and trust, to begin to understand the mysteries of culture. We notice the goals that are more noble and ambitious than our dreams, the undercurrents of spirituality and the secret language hidden in signs. A secret language is incomprehensible when old customs, stories and songs are forgotten. But harmony, beauty, nobility, happiness and higher values exist even when forgotten in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.


Indeed, forgetting severs the mental ties that link us both to memory and to the future. But out of the mists of time, bright sparks flicker for the attentive observer, like stars with tails in flight, which in turn point to stars in the sky fixed firmly in place, helping the traveller to find their way in the cloudless night sky. However, the old stories, a whole starry sky of symbols from a mythological worldview, will never really be lost. Pulsating rhythmically, this feeling of certainty grows, then fades.


I must admit that to me, art is both a memory instrument and a craftsman's toolbox. Through art, over the centuries and millennia, we have visualised the wisdom and values that the subtler knowledge of life has passed down to us from generation to generation.


I would like to highlight some of the keys to understanding the Estonian and Finno-Ugric worlds – the linguistic images that are at the heart of this exhibition:



Man is born between Heaven and Earth. Under my feet is the Earth, which I can feel with my soles. When I let my imagination run wild, it seems as if, with every step I take, invisible roots grow deep into the ground, hugging me to Mother Earth. On the wing of imagination, my thoughts rise up to the sky, where I encounter noble and sublime thoughts. That's where God or Father Sky is. In Estonian, the word 'world’ – maailm – is made up of two parts – MAA (earth, land) and ILM (sky, cosmos). When I dream, I seem to rise through the clouds and fly to distances unknown. ILM is not a universe, it is a system of multilayered spheres and heavens where my imagination and my sense of happiness, my dreams, can take me. According to the Finno-Ugric mythological worldview, man is born from the unknown, from eternal realms beyond the Milky Way, from the branches of the World Tree. When his life ends, he returns to the far-away unknown, but at the same time a part of him remains with his family. Ancient peoples have always known where we came from and where we are going. What do we know about it?



I imagine myself standing up and raising my arms to shoulder height. I am like a LIVING CROSS that connects heaven and earth. At the centre of the cross are my heart and solar plexus. And now, if I spread my arms and rotate 360 degrees around my axis, my fingertips form an imaginary invisible circle around me. I am standing in the centre of this circle as the very centre of this world. I am standing in the centre of the sacred heavenly circle, the centre of an ancient sign, the eye of God, the highest cognition of knowledge. I imagine that in the centre of this cosmic circle is the centre of the World, from which grows the Tree of Life or the Pillar of the World. I climb up to heaven like a fairy-tale hero, like shamans, sages, priests, healers, oracles, Druids and other members of secret societies who are accessing divine sanctity, the secrets of eternal life and ancestral wisdom. Will we meet our gods in virtual reality one day soon?



I have been taught that the rituals and sacred practices of ancient peoples follow the cosmic laws of mythological space, and that rotation is depicted as a spiral. Ancient art uses signs to make the eternal landscapes of the soul, the source of our dreams, visible to the naked eye. A pattern, melody and harmony is created, resonating with ancient rhythms of thought and feeling. New understandings and interpretations emerge from experimenting with harmony. Just as an ancient poet uses words to visualise the mythological landscapes that people enter through their imagination, so drawings, patterns, signs, symbols, icons and ritual images make visible what can be experienced in invisible landscapes in one's mind.


The spiral is one of the most powerful and ancient 'compasses' through which spiritual experiences and processes can be described. Earthly processes rotate clockwise, following the four seasons and their alternation, as well as the continuous renewal of both living and inanimate nature. The human life cycle and the eternal, uninterrupted repetition with no beginning and no end. The light. The memory. The knowledge we inherit and receive as a gift from the generations before us. Counter-clockwise spiralling motion, however, is associated with an otherworldly, supernatural, eternal and elusive mystery. The counter-clockwise movement is an eternal and cosmic darkness, an infinite, deep, wondrous night. Counter-clockwise spiralling represents everything beyond earthly existence, everything larger than life and the earthly space, and is associated with creation and renewal, innovation and change. It is associated with something beyond the circle of life, which cannot be controlled, directed or subjugated by man. One and zero. Existence and non-existence. Life and the Otherworld? They are the end and the infinity, light and darkness, bliss and despair. Which way does virtual reality spin?



What is really interesting is that ancient peoples have always known where we came from, why we are born, what we are expected to do after we are born into this world, and how to use signs and sounds for health and happiness. Simple signs represent health and vitality. The square for home and earth? The circle for infinity and eternal heaven? The triangle, pointing up or down? Can we draw wisdom from the pyramid and find cures for diseases? How does a golden rock circle work?  Is happiness the ultimate goal of life? Not all mysteries are abstract and obscure. To what extent are mythical and religious ideas intertwined with the hypotheses and proofs of the scientific world view?



As an art student in the 1980s, I was fascinated by the mythological worldview of Finno-Ugric peoples and its rich symbolism. Like most Estonians I see my way of thinking as intertwined with the way of life and customs of ancient northern peoples. As a forest, sea and farming community going back several millennia, Estonians belong to the Viking cultural space and the ancient peoples of Europe. At the same time, as a small nation living at the intersection of trade routes between the East and the West, our roots are also those of European Christian culture. 


The exhibition has several leitmotifs: the Snake King, the dreams and phantasmagorical realities of the heavens, the sacred levels and mythological layers of memory. The mythological world of symbols of Finno-Ugric peoples and their life in harmony with nature are part of a common network of knowledge and are similar to the art and religious narratives of many other peoples. I find similarities with the sacred thoughts of the American and Australian, Chinese and Indian, Celtic and Viking, Japanese and Iranian, Syrian and Armenian, Italian and Greenlandic, Turkish and Arab tribes.


These multiple sources come together in my thought experiments. Although I am a modern city-dweller, I am passionate about our local NORDIC CULTURE, about the ancient and current indigenous values of the Finno-Ugric people of the forest and sea, and about our ancient Christian value space. This amalgam of cultures goes mostly unnoticed, hidden behind local tastes and peculiarities, but if you keep looking, you will find common elements, and tight links among them. What emerges is an extraordinary, multi-faceted and stimulating creative process.



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