Exhibition review: Latvian contemporary art

"Much Ado About Nothing on The Monitor, Or a Story about the Absence of Any Story, Since the Story is Meaningless." Review about the exhibition of Latvian contemporary art, Turmoil (Jukas) at the exhibition hall Arsenals, Riga, Latvia. April 2 — May 8, 2005.

Published in Studija 42, no. 3 (2005).

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View the article on Studija magazine online archive.

Read also the excellent critique by art historian Mara Traumane, published in the same issue of Studija magazine.


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The title Jukas - (‘turmoil' in English) - suggests that the aim was to agitate the viewer, to create incomprehension and awaken emotion. Possibly, the title is more apt as a description of the processes occurring in the young artists' heads. Thus, first of all, a few words about certain works whose presence in this exhibition did give rise to incomprehension and real confusion. Thus, Auce Biele, a very charming young artist, whom I've noticed as a painter with a tendency to work in the field begun by Kristiāna Dimitere, exhibited some of her works here. Their subdued language was stifled among the noisy and colourful video installations: the loud multimedia jamboree of Jukas was certainly not the most favourable background for exhibiting Auce's intimate paintings. Likewise, Ilze Strazdiņa's "Letter" is a text that should have appeared in a catalogue, if anywhere at all. The photography of Aigars Liepiņš, too, a collection of fairly small, classic black and white photos, literally disappeared in this exhibition. The artists themselves know best, but many would in their place have declined to participate in an exhibition that is, in terms of genre and content, such an aggressive and thankless partner for their works.

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Likewise at odds with the overall mood of Jukas seemed Ieva Jerohina's work "Moments of Happiness". Ieva is well known as an art photographer, but in Jukas she has striven to create "something more" than photography. Her work was a slideshow: while regarding a person's portrait, you hear a recording of the interview on a headset. The portraited individual tells of their moments of happiness. The idea is universal, global and breathtakingly moving, but its realization was a disappointment. The motionless photos seem actually to reduce the possible effect of the documentary, intimate revelation: the portraits appear superfluous, since the real, living story about important things is the main thing attracting attention here. Hopefully "Moments of Happiness" is only the presentation of an idea, since, as shown here, it is certainly not Ieva's best work: a powerful documentary message is devalued by combining it with an empty, mute form of expression through the medium of the static portrait.

On the other hand, there are examples where intentionally amateurish and cheap implementation only adds to the effect of the idea, rather than spoiling it. Such, in my view, is the case of Linards Kulless. With his work "Bless This House", he has continued with admirable dedication the theme he began a couple of years ago, about ethnic motifs in cosmopolitan form. This clip in home video style shows us a modern youth dancing to music, with a background film showing a route he travelled by bicycle through the streets of Riga. The "key" to the work is in the fact that the route he traces on his bike resembles a protective Auseklis (Morning Star) sign over Riga.

Acting in exactly the opposite way in terms of visual media is Miks Mitrēvics' "7 Scenes" - photographs of staged events exhibited in light boxes. Thought out carefully and even pedantically to the last detail, perfectly worked, arranged and lit. Scenography, or still life, if you please. The greatest value of this work may be sought precisely in the carefully-worked detail: there's nothing fortuitous, inept, careless or reckless. On the other hand, neither is there any readily comprehensible, topical anecdote, no light, witty idea. It's all beautiful, spatial and somewhat mystical, like the work of the superstar Jeff Wall. And that's all there is to it.

Similar is the case of Kristīne Kursiša's "Last Judgement". A baroque video replete with imagery and over-saturated with symbolism, dealing with the proximity of death: a snake crawling over a skull, a woman seeing death in the mirror and the monitor itself placed in an ornate frame decorated with woodcarvings. It's all been carefully and beautifully filmed - unhurriedly, savoring every detail and every second. It seems, we are to understand that the woman in the film "is about to die"‑- which suddenly turns this very serious venture into a childish caprice. It makes you want to ask: So what? I, too, am mortal. Whether I'm to die soon or not, that's beside the point. It's a secret that cannot be revealed, at least not by gazing at a skull and a cup of wine.

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