“Sculpture Quadrennial Riga” is an international contemporary arts festival focusing on sculpture and installation. Since the first event in 1972, festival brings together participants from different countries and backgrounds to reflect on globally important topics. In its twelfth edition, SQR explores conservatism and liberalism – the coexistence and interaction between the two leading attitudes toward current social and political situation in Europe. The festival will open on September 10 in conjunction with the Forum of Contemporary Culture “White Night”.
This year SQR will present exhibition “Being good” at Wagner Hall – historically significant building in the Old Town of Riga, and outdoors – in the city, as well as one-day conference, artist talks and workshops all taking place between September 10 and September 15 in Riga. Co-curator Kirke Kangro points out the relevance of juxtaposing the historic environment of Wagner Hall and contemporary sculpture that illustrates the conceptual core of the festival.
Some of the participating names include Markus Kahre (Finland), Kaarina Kaikkonen (Finland), Signe Johannessen (Sweden), Nikita Kadan (Ukraine), Jaanus Samma (Estonia), Terje Ojaver (Estonia), Johannes Sare (Estonia), Juozas Laivys (Lithuania), Zilvinas Landzbergas (Lithuania), Olaf Brzeski (Poland), Camille Goujon (France), Kaspar Muller (Switzerland), Hanna Stahle (Sweden), Ronny Faber Dahl (Norway), Jacob Jessen (Denmark), Denis Prosalov (Russia).
The festival is organized by non-profit organization MMIC. The curatorial team unites artists Aigars Bikse (Latvia) and Kirke Kangro (Estonia), and curator Elona Lubyte (Lithuania). Art historian Kristiana Karklina (Latvia) has been appointed the director of SQR in 2016.
“Everything changes. Frighteningly, nothing changes again. Well, hopefully nothing changes.” Change is the key idea behind both concepts – conservatism and liberalism. How do we react to change? What kind of change do we consider desirable? What change do we consider tolerable or intolerable?
Commonly, we think of liberals as those who are open to change and of conservatives as the ones who tend to resist it. For liberals, being good means constantly rethinking things and being open to possibilities. For conservatives, being good means keeping and preserving the ways, norms and forms that are constant, because with rethinking and change things might get worse. It is obvious that historically these two political attitudes have themselves been subjected to change and therefore within themselves are not homogenous blocks at all. However, psychologists and neurobiologists have conducted several experiments to suggest that conservatism and liberalism have a genetic basis; neurotransmitters and anterior singular cortex come into play. If so, how do we find the common good?
Being good is crucial when living in a society and being good can do very much harm. In his short introduction to ethics British philosopher Simon Blackburn reflects on the philosophical theme of being good and living well. The co-existence and possible paradox of those two values could perhaps, shed some light on the ongoing clash between conservatism and liberalism in both – private and public sector of our society today. Blackburn speaks about the aim of maximizing the general happiness: “Any decent ethic would want to cry out some virtue of benevolence, or altruism, or solidarity with the aim of increasing welfare and diminishing misery for everyone.” He points out the standards of “good” in liberal, Western way in the “United Nations Universal Declaration to the Human Rights”. “But are they more than just ours, just now? If we cannot see them as more than that, then who are we to impose them to others? Multiculturalism seems to block the liberalism.”
Bernard Williams has developed the concept of “moral luck”, concerning a situation where a subject is thought to have made (the right) moral judgments, although most of the circumstances that make person appear “good” are beyond one’s control. People who are doing well seem to be simply better people or at least they must have done many things “right”. It is interesting to think about the moment of luck in context of concepts that each propose a solution for better society. At the right time and at the right place one method could be “luckier” than theother.
Even if we might say that art, valued by criteria within itself, could thereby stand outside the “good-and-bad” grid, it still has been a desirable channel for political manipulations. Sculpture with its monumental qualities is perhaps the loudest voice in the social landscape of art therefore it has been abused the most.
One of the interests of the exhibition is also the development of sculpture as a medium nowadays when it is solely the artist and not an ideology that speaks through this volume. Since the first exhibition in 1972, “Sculpture Quadrennial Riga” has witnessed the change of this “supreme discipline” of fine arts throughout almost 50 years. Sculpture has become a fast facility in hands of contemporary artist – not so far behind photography, for one’s surprise. Moreover, its dialogue with the viewer might even be closer to the “present moment”. Photography traditionally brings us the image of something that has already happened while sculpture often requires being present and confronting the spatial object directly. How fast can a medium react to shifts in the sociopolitical landscape? Moreover, what is its role in the public space today? Once a medium to propagate the existing ideology or memorize the last, can it hold the power to influence the future?
“Sculpture Quadrennial Riga” 2016 central exhibition “Being good” uses the language of the spatial art to talk about the almost invisible environment of ethics – the surrounding climate of ideas on how to live that determines what we find acceptable or unacceptable, admirable or contemptible. It also determines our understanding of things going well or south and how we relate to others; it shapes our emotional responses on a daily bases.
The exhibition occupies both – open space of the city and historically notorious building it the center of old town Riga – Wagner’s Hall. We believe that it is important to not only display sculptures, typically “monumental” by size and effect but also artwork that might change ones thinking and perception of the ethical climate. Artists use the existing political and cultural landmarks in Riga, making changes or emphasizing the value and importance of them.
Supported by: State Culture Capital Foundation (VKKF); Culture Forum “White Night”; Riga City Council’s Education, Culture and Sports Department; Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia; Goethe-Institute; French Institute in Latvia; Art Academy of Latvia; “Pro Helvetia” Foundation, Embassy of Israel in Riga, Danish Arts Foundation; FRAME (Finnish Fund for Art Exchange); Flanders State of the Art; co-working space “Nordic Club House”; Embassy of Switzerland in Latvia; The Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia; Veto Magazine; Ir Magazine; Punctum Magazine; Satori Magazine; art and culture website Arterritory; visual arts magazine Studija; contemporary arts online magazine Echo Gone Wrong; Coffee Inn; artist-run space 1857.