Who is Mari-Liis Leis?



The first 14 years of her life Mari-Liis lived in Saku. She has also lived in Saaremaa and Tallinn, but Tartu grew closest to her heart. Mari-Liis’ grandparents’ house was situated near Põlva, in Roosna village and the memories of growing up there are dearest to her. Maybe that is the reason she likes Southern Estonia. Tartu is big enough not to get bored, but small enough to feel at home.

Mari-Liis liked to draw since she was little and she went to Saku’s after school art class for ten years. She always thought she wanted to become and artist, but when she entered Tallinn’s Art Gymnasium she understood that working as a professional artist is really hard. She joked often that all they learned there was how to die of hunger in the gutter. She decided not to continue her art education and entered University of Tartu to study pure mathematics. Her parents had always told her that getting a higher education was really important, how it will lead to lifelong friends, a husband and lots of life experience. Mari-Liis took her education seriously, focused really hard and burned out – she lasted for two or three months.

In addition to Mari-Liis looking different in school, having weird interests and listening to alternative music, she has been accompanied by depression and sleep disorders all her life. She has hypersomnia and delayed sleep phase disorder accompanied by sleep apnea. ”My sleep requirement is greater than the average person (10-12h in a 24h period) and my biological clock is not attuned to society’s default. I can’t function before noon and on some days I feel as if I hadn’t slept at all.” To a healthy person it sounds like a made-up thing – almost everyone likes to sleep until noon and stay up late, but when at the age of 18 the large amount of sleep was a requirement not a preference she participated in a sleep study and received a diagnosis. Sleep disorders and depression has disturbed her studies to such an extent that she has quit higher education about five times. Now she focuses on her mental health, attends therapy and takes medication.

When she was still residing in Tallinn, she got active at the new squat and felt for the first time that she had found her place among anarchists, animal rights activists and other “weirdos”. People from the same scene were in charge of Anarchist library in Tartu. During her time in the A-library, she learned how to organize events without a budget, design posters and flyers and also how to organize the library’s public functioning. They resided in a social center called Lille House, but had plans of expanding.

That brings us to Tartu’s first and longest lasting squat – Anna Haava. There were talks of an abandoned house on A. Haava Street whose owner had long lost interest in his property. It was revealed to be Jaan Tõnisson’s (Prime Minister during the 20s and 30s) heirs’ house which, despite being abandoned for some time, were in good condition. They decided in the autumn of 2011 to squat the place and make it an open community center. In addition to the living quarters, the A-library and the Very Free Shop also resided in the house. The squatters also wished to draw attention to the abandoned houses problem in Tartu, mainly how to revitalize them and make them useful to society. How Anna Haava became a squat and what took place there is a story for another time, but during that time she met Skeneraator’s organizers Raik and Stirru.


Mari-Liis has organized different events for about eight years and when three of her communities: Generaadio, Punk in Tartu and Vikerruum united their forces to organize Skeneraator, she saw an opportunity to help out with the festival. The first year was difficult, because nobody knew what kind of an animal Skeneraator was going to be. The first year was a learning phase, to be sure. During the second year, she helped with marketing, accounting, the home page and project proposal writing along with logistics. This year the team is bigger, so multitasking has been taken down a notch and everybody has a clear view of their task. Mari-Liis is not a festival fan herself – a two day event in tents seems like too much of an ordeal for her. Then again, just sitting back and doing nothing has never suited her. “Skeneraator, luckily, is a chance to organize something meaningful and enjoyable.”


From the book and film adaptation High Fidelity, there is a line: “What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” If we were to replace pop music with alternative rock, then this line of thought would be well suited to illustrate Mari-Liis’ ideas when reminiscing about her life. She doesn’t know if she was already a melancholic child or did the music reveal to her the inescapable burden of her existence. Anyway, the music gave an extra layer of gloomy tones to life, that’s for sure. For her, music interacts directly with emotions, without rationality or thought interception. If she doesn’t have anyone to connect with or doesn’t know how, it’s music that has kept her company.

When Mari-Liis was 14, she started attending concerts in Tartu’s Lutsu Theater House, even though the distance between Saaremaa and Tartu was a 6h bus ride. Those concerts were worth it, though. As a shy kid, she found a way to express herself in front of the stage. She thinks, she would not have made through her teenage years otherwise. She also attended Plink Plonk in 2006 (indie fest, first of its kind in Est.) and Viljandi Folk. There are a lot of artists who she doesn’t bother to listen at home and whose energy is best captured on stage. Then again, there are lots of artist who she prefers to only listen to alone, because concerts are always a collective experience, at least to some degree. Even if she attends a concert alone, there is a sort of unity with the others present. “We’re dealing with a singular moment, that moment which unites people in such a unique way. Sometimes she does not want to share music with others and likes to think it’s only for her.

Mari-Liis is also the head of programme and host a radio show called Marillhoolia, sometimes she DJ-s as marmar. Nowadays she draws rarely but she likes crafting. Lately she has learned to use the sewing machine. She prefers TV-shows to movies, reads comics from time to time and is looking for new aims to get lost into.