Artist. She is best recognised for her video work which has been widely exhibited in Europe and beyond since 1997. Born 1959 in Tallinn, she studied classical music at a specialist secondary school and then worked in youth theatre as a stage designer. She studied painting at Tallinn Art University from 1983-90 and continued with her postgraduate education at the Swedish Royal Academy of Arts in 1992.
In her early years as an artist she mainly worked in stained glass and as a mural painter before making her first installation in 1994. Kai states, ´this was a kind of turning point in my career, I believe, because I realised for the first time that I don´t have to choose, I can use everything I´ve got.´
Kai Kaljo´s first video work was made when she was asked to participate in a show called ´Funny versus Bizarre´ in Vilnius in 1997. She says, ´I just couldn´t imagine anything more bizarre than my own life at that moment and decided to make a video called ´A Loser´ and which is still my most popular work.´ From that point, her career as a video artist began. She received an ArtsLink Fellowship Grant to go and work at the Hallwalls Center for Contemporary Arts in Buffalo, New York State and, as she admits, ´that´s where I actually started to learn how to use the camera and how to edit´.
Kaljo´s work has been exhibited in many video festivals including Videopositive in Liverpool (2000), Central Station at Milch in London (2000), Williamsburg Brooklyn Film Festival, NY (2000), World Wide Video Festival, Amsterdam (1998,1999, 2000, 2001 and a special programme of her work in 2003), Videonale 9 in Bonn, Germany (2001), Instant Video, Manosque, France (2001). At her solo show entitled ´Heavenly´ at Tallinn Art Hall Gallery in 2001 she exhibited paintings, photographs and videos. Other solo exhibitions include ´Halfway to Venice´ at HDLU Gallery, Zagreb in 2003 and ´What do You Read, my Lord?´ (with Ly Lestberg) at Nuova Icona Gallery in Venice in 2001.
Kai Kaljo has made several of her videos on residencies abroad. ´One Way to See America´ (1998) was made in Buffalo, NY inspired by the restriction signs she noticed in the environment. ´Love Letter to Myself´ (1999) was created in the luxurious solitude of Suomenlinna in Finland at the Nordic Institute for Contemporary Arts and ´There is a God?´ was made during a short residency at Delfina Studios in London in 2000.
Critic Anders Harm in the catalogue for Open Gallery 2001 at the Foundation-Centre for Contemporary Arts in Bratislava, Slovakia, wrote, ´Kai Kaljo´s work seems to be centred and united by language in its various manifestations. When we look for parallels in literary terminology, it seems that it comes close to poetry. Kaljo´s video work could be understood as a kind of poetry - video poetry.´ Harm describes the international recognition she received with the video ´A Loser´ (1997). ´The grotesque picture she creates of the artist´s status in society is used as a metaphor to describe an East European artist. In this video which she manipulates with the techniques of comedy serial, Kaljo cites her personal data: name, age, weight, address, marital status, place of work, salary, etc., each of them accompanied by background laughter. Kaljo´s CV ends with the statement that makes the point. "I believe the most important thing about being an artist is freedom"´. Harm concludes, ´While in the 1990s, 1970s poets turned to video in an effort to seek a form of presentation for their poems, the video artist Kaljo seems to have turned to poetry.´
Kaljo has received significant awards and scholarships, including in 2002 an ArtsLink Independent Projects Grant at the University of California, San Diego Centre for Computing and the Arts. She was shortlisted for the Visiting Arts/Spike Island International Fellowship 2002 on the nomination of Jaan Toomik, video artist and Professor at the Estonian Academy of Arts.
Her work is held in collections of the Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Tartu Art Museum, Estonia and the Sprengel Museum, Hannover, Germany.
See also: Estonia#Video_art