Exhibition review: Re:Public

"The Riga Fashion in Art 2003." Review of the exhibition Re:Public taking place in different venues across Riga, Latvia, September 6—21, 2003.

Published in Studija 32, no. 5 (2003).

Download the article pdf.

Read more about Re:public on the website of www.republicart.net

Excerpt from my review:

The annual exhibitions by the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art (LCCA) are always an indicator of the fashion in art at that particular time - not setting the fashion or indicating the trends, but rather like Vogue, recording the indisputable truths with the respectability of an organisation that is large and influential at the Latvian scale. Those truths that have reached Latvia from the ramp of the haute couture of art and have been accepted, adapted and integrated, are now officially declared this year's theme, just like ethnic design, asymmetry or the form of shoe heels in fashion magazines. And the centre picks up all these trends unfailingly - and indeed it would be hard to fail, since the community of those actively creating the art of today is right here in front of our eyes in Riga and does not usually hide its intentions from the curators met at cafēs and exhibition openings. And so this year, social art in the urban environment, which has previously demonstrated its vitality in the projects by Open and Kaspars Vanags, has been declared by the centre to be in vogue. The urban environment, in this case, means not the convenient and inhabited central quarters of the city, but rather the most dismal and frightening outskirts, usually discussed not in art journals, but in the crime news of the daily papers. Āgenskalns, Torņakalns, the Maskavas Street area, Iļģuciems, Pļavnieki, Imanta, Grīziņkalns, Zolitūde, Vecmīlgrāvis and Bolderāja were the venues for the "re:public" project.

Contemporary art is an elite affair - in order fully understand and enjoy it, one must be specially prepared. Latvia's artists, curators, critics and a section of intellectuals are ready for it at any place and hour of the day. For the rest, the concept of art is still connected with a nice picture in a museum or a good monument in the cemetery or the park. In order to bring a change, the European Commission's "Culture 2000" programme is supporting the international project "re_public art", emphasising the importance of public art. Within the frame of this ambitious project, exhibitions, conferences, seminars etc. are to be held in several countries, among them the "re:public" art project held in Riga. The idea is to draw the attention of artists and other creative individuals to the extensive area of Riga outside the limits of the traditional centre, and to intervene in the rhythm of everyday life in the outskirts and suburbs of Riga, placing their works of art here and inviting the involvement of local residents.

Relationships between the province or periphery and the centre are topical in the context of life in the new Europe. Our own lack of knowledge and doubts, our lack of confidence in our own coolness and the demagogic benevolence of Europe's officials in drawing attention to marginal regions at the appropriate moment. Confrontation: the centre with its prosperity, intellect, snobby customs and sense of superiority, its regular foreign trips and forgotten rural origins, against which the dormitory districts and the suburbs can offer enduring traditions, brutal life-force and not very high incomes. It even amounts to a somewhat politically-incorrect balance of power - while the centre of Riga is already living in Europe, the outskirts are in some sense still living in the Soviet Union.

Read more — download the full article pdf.

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