Why did you start curatorial practice?
My first incentive was being close to the artists, the art field and all the processes around it, in one way or another, because it radiates a certain kind of freedom, creativity and aesthetics that I could associate myself with in my late teens and early twenties. Later, I realized that I could learn so much through artists and their work politically and intellectually. For example, when I lived in Paris, I visited many exhibitions, and I especially remember some that took place at the art space Betonsalon, which were undeniably very informative for my understanding of colonialism and post-colonial condition, which was something that was not part of the agenda in Latvia where I came from. When I think that it has been and still is a learning tool for myself I really believe that it can work like this for a much broader part of society, that it can provide alternative stories of our complex present and past and provide radical future scenarios, and really prepare grounds for certain changes in society.
Do you remember your first curating experience? Did your attitude to art or the field in general change somehow?
My very first curating experience was in my early twenties when I organized an exhibition as part of a youth project promoting the Millennium Development goals which were basically a political declaration signed with concrete goals to eradicate poverty, fight with inequality and likewise. The exhibition where we commissioned works to around ten artists, was part of the project that included a lot of activism, hitchhiking through Europe, street actions all over European cities, with many youth organizations and artists involved, all to raise awareness of different kind of inequalities that exist in the world – economic, ecological etc. where Europe is still in the most privileged position. Since then there have been many different leaps in my practice, but I still like to start with themes or concerns that are interesting and urgent to me and also to the broader world and then see whether and where there are artists who have already been working with those themes and how we could have a conversation and bring those issues to the foreground. Another way though, which happens more and more recently is that a lot of my projects start from particular conversation with artists or artworks I’ve experienced, or from a historic artist’s practice..
What is your favourite topic/problem to work with?
Besides the issues and themes that I draw from the surroundings, the society I Iive in, I am really passionate about archives and collections. Recently I was looking at the history of international exhibitions in the Latvian Art Museum “Riga Bourse” that holds the collections that belonged to the Baltic German aristocracy, from European paintings from the 17th to 20th century to artefacts from the Far East. During the Soviet era the museum was renamed the Museum of Foreign Art and held art exhibitions from India, Congo as part of the Soviet Union’s cultural diplomacy program. It’s a totally neglected exhibition history because of the cultural diplomacy stamp, however, it opens up an interesting way to look at international exhibition histories. For instance, we have learned that the truly global international art exhibitions started with the ‘Magiciens de La Terre’, and in a completely motivated contemporary Western desire for an overview (which already was problematic in many ways), it could be seen like that, however, it is interesting that if one looks at the Soviet Union – there were a lot of exhibitions happening much earlier that had artworks and whole exhibitions presented from countries in Africa, Asia, South America etc. The question of artist’s agency of course is no less important there, because the works were treated a lot like ideologic weapons there.
Another recent historical interest and fascination that I see as very important and which relates to my interest in ecology is the environmental movement that preceded the independence movement in Latvia. Similar concerns were raised in other Baltic countries, too. I am currently looking at the images of some of the protests at the Riga Bay, and thinking about the ideologies that they had back then, and the inspiring protests – together with protesting the ecologic wrongs they were also protesting the system of the Soviet Union that was pressing those wrongs upon society, for instance, damming certain rivers or having utterly polluting industrial activity. It was also essentially an anti-imperialist move. So, there is something emancipatory that we could draw from there.
Curatorial work today is forming the alternative way of history, it is. But don’t you think that subjective opinion of the curator also does so?
Of course, the process of writing history is very subjective, based on interpretations, but that’s the idea. It actually should be a process with many voices, instead of a single narrative.
How do you construct your attitude during the process of realisation of a new project?
It’s usually a process that starts with one thesis or idea or even an assumption and then while digging deeper there are usually discoveries that complicate the narrative and may lead it in another way. That shows it’s a good project to work on.
As I know, you are also the curator of an art institution. Do you divide your personal curatorial position and the institutional one?
The Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art is essentially an NGO, so we can retain an independent and critical position. This position – to support and talk about issues that are perceived as problematic in our society – migration, inequality, colonialism, ecology for instance, are both in my personal as well as in the institutional curatorial agendas. Where the real political processes take more time and are usually based on compromises, art institutions can take up more radical ideas. When I curate outside of the institution, I carry opinions and some of the themes with me, which I think is inevitable.
How would you describe the condition of contemporary art in Latvia?
The art scene is still young. There is a lot of space to still do things, because some institutions or solutions are simply non-existent yet and are structurally needed. Also, there are so many areas for research, art and historical material that should be recontextualized and placed within the context of contemporary concerns. Questions like what is the narrative that we want to tell people about Latvia, Latvian art scene, how we speak about our region – is it Baltic, Eastern or Northern European (and what do those terms mean), what the networks of colonial relationships there are – are very interesting and need a fresh look. In terms or artistic and curatorial work, it is diverse and not uniform, sometimes still spilling out anachronistic ideas or ideologies that can drive me crazy. Also, in many of thematic or ideologic or even management fields you have from just one to merely a few practitioners. It’s good to have one amazing feminism theoretician but I also think it can be exhausting when you are looking for peers and discussion partners. I am also thinking how I could encourage young artists here to get more interested in the world around them, in research, in issues, problems that are going beyond analyzing their own position as young artists.
Also, it’s interesting to see that similar issues are part of many younger and smaller art scenes around the world, so, it’s a question of finding ways for collaboration, sharing, empowering each other on different levels across the national borders.
As a curator, who do you think is the contemporary Latvian artist we should be watching out for and why?
Daiga Grantina, the artist that I worked with in Venice, for her hybrid bodies choreographed in space constantly look for new physical languages, beyond words, the physicality so relevant in the time when technology takes over and actually interweaves our bodies and minds. Her project ‘Saules Suns’ in Venice came about thinking of light as material and a metaphor at the same time, trying to embody openness and new beginnings, births, and myriads of possibilities that an installation as such is a representation of.
Ieva Epnere who is a brilliant researcher, critical mind and a vivid storyteller through mediums of video, photography and installation. Also, Diana Tamane, who treats issues of family, migration and borders with great care, serious attitude and humor at the same time.
Do you have your favourite curators for now or in history?
I love and admire people who build and sustain institutions, sometimes they don’t even call themselves curators, like Josien Pietersee who manages Framer Framed in Amsterdam, Maria Lind who took care of Tensta Konsthall, and recently the team behind the newly built Kai centre in Tallinn. In Latvia it’s the director of the institution that I work in Solvita Krese whose work extends beyond the curatorial, involving enabling generations of others to learn, curate and work using the institutional platform she has created. In Estonia I just met a legend, curator at KUMU Art Museum and a profound researcher of Eastern European art, Eha Komissarov. And I also admire and learn from my friends and peers, that’s the most fulfilling, I like working in duo’s or teams.
As I know, you were in Minsk that summer… what are your impressions?
I was on vacation with my friends, but of course I could not restrain myself from visiting art institutions like Y gallery in Minsk, which does amazing work with archives, research and speaking about problematic issues, serving as a platform for marginalized issues etc.; or following the traces of Marc Chagall and the short flash of avant-garde in Vitebsk.
It was incredible to see a former Soviet country where the process of decommunization hasn’t taken place, and statues of Lenin are found in almost all the cities creating a sense of uneasiness even though I’ve only lived during the Soviet Union for several years. Also, overwhelming to see how one particular narrative of the WWII (that of the victory over Nazism) is so present everywhere with the commemoration of the war heroes with large memorials and military equipment; whereas, in Latvia, for instance, that same narrative is overshadowed by the fact of the following “occupation” by the Soviet Union.
The status of Belarussian language in Belarus was also a surprise, and the fact that mostly Russian is used not only in everyday communication, but also as the primary language at schools.
What should a young artist have in their own practice to be noticed by you? Or to become a participant of your curatorial project?
Interest in the world outside of the art world, passion and willingness to work seriously.
How could you describe the curator-work-spectrum? What’s professional obligation/ethic for nowaday curator?
It’s a lot of juggling between themes and ideas and research in your own head, the artists and their work and institutions and support structures. It involves a lot of communication and imagination of how to connect those things in viable networks. And then always remembering and consciously thinking whether through this project we are supporting our values enough, embodying the different kinds of equalities, ecologic sustainability and sharing space; are we changing the world enough.
What do you think about the future of curator in condition that digital art and online has changed perception of viewers?
We still have a lot of (museum, institution) buildings and a lot of physical heritage to work with, to take care. But of course, the means of communication and public perception has changed, and I think we could look at the younger generation of artists who are doing experiments within the realm of the virtual or inspired by the virtual and actually talk and connect to the younger generation. I think it’s interesting why in the age of digital there is so much return towards the body, the live performance, isn’t it symptomatic, as some kind of reconnection. Also, it’s just interesting to see what the digital, the virtual can be used for, where it can be really useful – like in mediation, in discussing, in sharing information, in gathering people, and then using it, and then also acknowledge where it still cannot replace the spatial presence, the book or the live body.