Luisa Greta Vilo

University of Tartu Museum opens ‘Lifesaver’ installation on Toomemägi

‘Lifesaver’ is an outdoor artwork on Toomemägi introducing various aspects of genetics. The installation aims to explore an important field in modern science – genetics – in the symbiosis of art and science. 


To introduce the topic, artist Valdek Laur will place four different instruments, each playing four distinct notes, on Toomemägi. Each note represents one DNA amino acid. Each instrument has a small piece of sheet music attached that represents a DNA combination and is easy to play following the colours. Besides the physical ‘genetic instruments’ on Toomemägi, you can listen to how digital synthesizers have interpreted the same genetic melody using the QR code attached to the instrument. The display stand introducing the artwork is situated by the towers of the Tartu Cathedral on Toomemägi and the instruments of genetic music are placed in different locations: on the foot of Musumägi and near the K.J. Peterson’s and K. E. v. Baer’s monuments and by Rotund café.

The artist of the ‘Lifesaver’ project is Valdek Laur, who works in the fields of digital media, jewellery and metal art and is interested in scientific communication and the complex paradoxes of the world. His team includes metal artist Fred Truus and musician Silver Sepp. Together, they crafted the instruments for playing genetic music. 


The artist demonstrates through the artwork that life in all its lushness, all-embracing nature and diversity is incomprehensible to us. "This makes it all the more strange to consider that all this richness is based on different combinations of four chemical compounds," said Laur. "Out of small syntheses, the world-shaping phenomena can bloom. And all this does not require the intervention of a man with a white beard sitting in the clouds – it is a matter of constantly playing by the simple rules. All ‘Lifesaver’s’ instruments have four notes and are made of metal. Despite these similarities, each of them sounds different, just like the life around us."

According to art researcher and freelance curator Mary-Ann Talvistu, who was on the jury of the idea competition organised to find the artist, Valdek Laur's interest in science communication, popular science and science fiction is evident in his artwork: “To complete the installation, Laur has collaborated with geneticists and school students, who proved to be one of the sharpest focus groups in the whole process.”


The installation’s playful solution was created thanks to the preliminary project involving the students of Tartu Kivilinna School. They collaborated within the framework of the project week organised by the University of Tartu Museum in April 2023, when the students of the Tartu Kivilinna School went to the University of Tartu Estonian Biobank and the University of Tartu Museum to gather knowledge. In collaboration with Valdek Laur, the students created fantasy projects fusing science and art, which were exhibited in the temporary exhibition hall of the University of Tartu Museum in the summer of 2023.

The ‘Lifesaver’ installation was open on 18 May  and will remain on Toomemägi until the end of September 2024.

Elupäästja projekt

The ‘Lifesaver’ installation is part of the ‘Toomemägi Revisited’ project, included in the main programme of the European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024, which brings the historical heart of Tartu to life with the help of light, culture and science. The opening of the outdoor installation on Toomemägi will take place on Museum Night together with the Tartu [pre]opinion Festival, University of Tartu Alumni Day and the ‘Kissing Tartu’ programme. The project is supported by the Estonian Research Coucil.


Tartu (eel)arvamusfestival

Learner of Estonian as a second language: we cannot learn without you


What are different aspects of the sixth mass extinction?

"Mälupüüdja" detail

The exhibition "Poetics of Survival" brings us the Umwelten of animals