Exhibition RESTART at the Riga Art Space: An Intermedial Journey into Contemporary Photography

June 17, 2016
Author Laine Kristberga
Published in Review from Latvia

RESTART, exhibition view. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis

For Restart, a key exhibition of the Riga Photography Biennial 2016, the Riga Art Space hall has become a technologically mediated space where photography has been presented as a multidisciplinary medium of art. The exhibition serves as a prime example of multimedia and the hypermedia environment. Through various forms of technology – video, audio, slide projections, Instagram performances, collages, web search engines, installations, etc. – it has provided a set of fully interactive, textual, graphical and audio elements appealing to various senses and, consequently, has ensured the engagement and immersion of its audiences. Through the complex and multi-dimensional network of all these media, the exhibition can also be interpreted as a contemporary exploration of the artistic possibilities within photography, continuously attempting to question “the role and significance of [the] image in the space of contemporary art and everyday life, striving to understand how […] appreciation of photography and its presence in work[s] of art [have] changed during the past few years”.[1]

Indeed, Restart hosts works by eighteen artists from Eastern and Western European countries, as well as Russia and the USA. Not only does Restart view photography as an equally important component of contemporary art, it also manifests photography’s potential for intermediality where two or more media come together in conversation. According to Rosemary Klich and Edward Scheer (2011), “intermediality can be both a creative and an analytic approach based on the perception that media boundaries are fluid and [recognise] the potential for interaction and exchange […] most importantly, intermediality relates to a form of audience reception enabled when a presentation is patterned across various media, creating a multidimensional experience of the spectator.”[2]

Seeing the diversity of media employed both as aesthetic and exhibition strategies, there are various approaches worth mentioning. Several artists have incorporated performative aspects in their work: Isabelle Wenzel investigates the representation of her own movements in acrobatic poses, and photographic movements using double or triple exposures, in Transformations (2016); Natasha Caruana asks numerous participants to remember the experience of “love at first sight” and restage them for the sake of photography in her work At First Sight (2014); whereas Paul Herbst employs “dream aesthetics” and a tongue-in-cheek manner, turning his photographs into visual puns in his work Dream Material (2013). However, the most outstanding artist among the group is, undoubtedly, Amalia Ulman (1989) who combines performance with photography, using the platform of Instagram to create her durational and intermedial work entitled Excellences & Perfections (2014). Using her body as another medium, Ulman appropriated imagery already existing in social networks and raised awareness to the stereotypes of how young women often choose to represent themselves in this media. This, of course, is a much broader discussion about the superficial values of contemporary society, such as the celebrity cult and TV reality show culture (through quoting Kim Kardashian), as well as social discrimination, class and gender divides, equality and consumerism. In fact, the genre which Ulman works in, similar to that of Cindy Sherman, could be termed both as performative photography and appropriation art, and as such Ulman gracefully follows the steps of Cindy Sherman.

Characteristics of multimedia aesthetics manifest themselves in the works of other artists, too. For example, Meggy Rustamova in her work Invitation to the Voyage (2014) immediately captures the attention of the spectator, since the audio can be heard at the moment the spectator enters the exhibition. In her video installation, she has combined visual and audio elements, still and moving images to tell the story of a woman – her childhood, student years and relationship. Rustamova’s work addresses the age-old tradition of storytelling, one of the reasons why her work is so alluring. It does not matter, whether the work is of fiction, integrating found images and superimposed spoken text as a parallel narrative, or whether it was a real story, presenting documentary evidence. The spectators are able to experience total immersion, “losing” themselves in the veracity of the story. It allows them to transport themselves emotionally into the depicted drama. Moreover, immersion is also achieved spatially through areas of darkened space, the charismatic voice and the video, which zooms in on the photographs. These create an effective dialogue with the spectators addressing their cognitive and sensory apparatus, raising questions about the materiality of photography. The work ends with a photograph depicting four empty chairs. The voice tells the spectators: “These chairs are not empty. Just a second ago four people were sitting here.” This seems to be a philosophical note drawing attention to the difference between the still and moving image and the question of representation in general.

The aesthetics of intermediality and immersion are very much related to the relationship between work and spectator. This relationship, or negotiation, is also the basis of interactivity. Restart does not exhibit works, wherein the spectators would have the agency to alter the work or to take active part in the creation of meaning. However, the interactivity is established through navigation as a movement in the exhibition space. For example, Jana Romanova’s book-object Shivilishvili (2013) is presented as a chain of images dealing with Romanova’s family history. The book-object, which is folded like a garmoshka, invites the spectator to engage with it by sitting on one of the numerous chairs placed around a long table to focus on each photograph individually. The spectator is allowed to touch the object and, consequently, the space between the spectator and the object dissolves. Another work, which integrates the aesthetics of installation, is Laura Prikule’s Roots of Ideas (2016). In this work she explores the notion of “roots” through a mix of objects, text and image. Prikule has arranged her work around comparisons of various structures, categories and allegories. By inviting the spectator to navigate among these objects, she ensures and establishes an interactive relationship between the spectator and her work.

The concept of navigation, movement and travelling is also incorporated in several works as a creative impulse and part of the aesthetics. For example, Camille Laurelli has navigated through web-search engines to find images elicited by the key words “child guns” in his work Lord of the Flies (2015). Referring to the book Lord of the Flies written by William Golding in 1954, where a group of British children are stuck on an uninhabited island and later find a gun, Laurelli investigates the limits of the playground through images accessible in the virtual territory. Appropriating images from the internet, she gives rise to inner monologues within her spectators making them aware of the constant and never-ending militarisation of the everyday life, as well as its consequences.  Another author, who travelled both literally and metaphorically is Uldis Briedis in his photographic series Riga-Vladivostok 1975 (1975). The series was as a result of a cycling tour from Riga to Vladivostok in 1975 which Briedis documented as a photojournalist together with musician Ingvars Leitis. The journey was officially sanctioned as a trip for the magazine Zvaigzne freelancers, butit was, in fact, an attempt to find descendants of their compatriots in former Latvian colonies. Briedis and Leitis visited somewhere in the region of thirty Latvian villages throughout the territory of the Russian Empire, during which Briedis took series of ethnographic images. These photographs revealed both their literal, physical and metaphorical journey related to the history of Latvia and the crippling fate of many Latvians affected by Soviet deportations and the Gulag labour camps.

All in all, it must be stated that as an intermedial and hypermedial exhibition, Restart has presented photography in its endless creative possibilities and has subsumed all kinds of (hyper)media to demonstrate that all of these systems of communication and media can be integrated non-hierarchically. The exhibition has become an “in-between space”, at the same time, which provides fertile grounds for instigating a productive conversation with the spectator, and appeals to the spectators’ visual and auditory faculties through immersion, navigation and interactivity.


RESTART, exhibition view. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


RESTART, exhibition view. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


RESTART, exhibition view. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


Karoliina Paappa Milavida, 2012. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


Katinka Goldberg, Bristningar (Rupture), installation view, 2013–2015. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


RESTART, exhibition view. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


Camille Laurelli Lord of the Flies, 2015, Internet picture slideshow. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


Laura Prikule, installation Roots of Ideas, 2016. Photo:Arnas Anskaitis


Eva Stenram, Hold, 2015, 35 mm slides, slide projector with screen. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


Natasha Caruana, At First Sight, 2014. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


Uldis Briedis, Riga-Vladivostoka, 1975. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


Meggy Rustamova, Invitation to the voyage, 2014, video, 12’50’’. Photo: Arnas Anskatis


Arnas Anskaitis, The Anatomy of Melancholy (fragment), 2013. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


Arnas Anskaitis, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 2013. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


Jana Romanova, Shvilishvili (fragment), 2013, book-object. Photo: Gints Ivuškāns


Jana Romanova, Shvilishvili, 2013, book-object. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


RESTART, exhibition view. Photo: Gints Ivuškāns


Paul Herbst, Dream Material, 2013 – ongoing. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


Zane Mellupe, form the series Creating Terminology? Entropy?, 2015, Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


RESTART, exhibition view. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


RESTART, exhibition view. Photo: Arnas Anskaitis


[1] The exhibition catalogue Riga Photography Biennial 2016.

[2] Klich, Rosemary; Scheer, Edward. (2011). Multimedia Performance. Palgrave Macmillan, p. 71