Our Muddy Boots on Their Marble Floor

Our Muddy Boots on Their Marble Floor: Identity and Self-Fashioning in Latvian Contemporary Art,” paper presented at The Yale Conference on Baltic and Scandinavian Studies organized by the Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies (AABS), the Society for the Advancement of Scandinavian Study (SASS), and the European Studies Council at Yale University. New Haven, CT, Yale University, March 13–15 , 2014.

In this paper I address some of the challenges that contemporary art and artists from Latvia encounter in the globalized art world. The paper is based on my experience as a co-curator of North by Northeast, the Latvian national participation in the 55th International Art Exhibition of Venice Biennale, which was open to the public from June to November, 2013, in Venice, Italy. The pavilion of Latvia showcased newly commissioned works by two Latvian artists: Krišs Salmanis (b. 1977) and Kaspars Podnieks (b. 1980).

Both artists in their work engage in a dialogue with the past by evoking and also subverting concepts that have been essential for Latvian art from its beginnings in the 19th century through the interwar years as well as during the Soviet period. This dialogue questions national identity of a country whose status has been shifting, unstable, and always marginalized. Both artists Podnieks and Salmanis in their new work talk about location and dislocation, about instability, about being uprooted and removed from one’s native land, about the uncertain identity of an individual or even the whole nation.