The description of GolfClayderman’s project Invisible Field on ‘427’ Gallery’s webpage includes a warning or perhaps even a justification: “This event, expressed in words, becomes a theoretical speculation crocheted in pseudo-philosophical theories”[i]. As an answer to this dismissive statement why besides this being a commissioned articles I’m putting together words to collect and explain GolfClayderman’s pretty campy works, I will borrow quote from Susan Sontag’s essay Notes on ‘Camp’ (1964): “[…] To talk about Camp is therefore to betray it. If the betrayal can be defended, it will be for the edification it provides, or the dignity of the conflict it resolves.”[ii] I have been eagerly following GolfClayderman’s activities for some time now, so for me personally this is a great opportunity to venture inside their thought processes, and engage in dialogue while re-visiting their varied projects – from exhibitions, performances and stage design to other design work – to convey to those readers who might be unfamiliar with the combination of ‘golf’ and ‘Clayderman’ exactly the essence of their unique collective.
The Sound of Music
“And can you feel the love tonight? It is where we are”[iii]
The unlimited liability company GolfClayderman is a music, sport and art collective from Latvia. They appreciate the significance of a good introductory song or soundtrack to accompany every situation in life, but more so in their own art projects which seem unimaginable without the best of the best pop music selections spanning various decades. In the DNS makeup of GolfClayderman, two vivid examples of music’s organic presence are present: from well-known melodies and songs in their performances, and the collective’s title which incorporates the name of French-piano-virtuoso and white-tuxedo-clad-heartthrob Richard Clayderman. The collective’s opening performance at the exhibition Lovestorm at the Golf Club / Sturm der Liebe im Golfplatz (2018)[iv] in which curator Līna Birzaka-Priekule slowly descended the monumental eighteenth-century wooden staircase of the Latvian National Museum of Art like a famous pop diva on a New Year’s TV show, while singing Elton John’s famous words “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” has become a crown jewel of their practice.
Whilst contemplating soundtracks and performances, it’s worth travelling back to the moment where ten finalists of the FK Portfolio Prize 2015 presented works as part of Riga Photomonth. Presenting as presentations should be – artists walked onto the stage and commented on their series of work projected on the wall. Amongst the finalists was one of the founding members of (the not-yet-existent collective in those days) GolfClayderman, Margrieta Griestiņa (who was still Margrieta Dreiblate back then) with her photo collection Brīnumu nakts (The Night of Wonders, 2013-16), which had been selected from a larger body of work entitled Ravers and Gamers[v]. Compared to other exhibitors, Margrieta had decided to approach this public appearance as a performative act rather than a conventional presentation of her work. A tall young man dressed in sportswear walked on stage and performed the romantically patriotic song Edelweiss on a flute, a song best known from the movie The Sound of Music (1965), as an accompaniment to the slide show of photos in the background. Meanwhile, Margrieta’s friend and later one of the participants in numerous GolfClayderman projects, Ieva Putniņa, walked around the room sporting an apron holding a tray of glasses and, to everyone’s delight, offered the audience shots. These staged actions are like art without a makeup or style consultant. Hence, this open and affectionately infantile execution has become a particularly appealing aspect of their performance and a central component running through GolfClayderman’s projects ever since.
“Now I’m completely seized by the idea of exploring the theme of a fashion show. Obviously, I have no relation to fashion or fashion photography but somehow I’d love to capture the absurdity this industry is based on.”[vi]
At the core of GolfClayderman are two artists – Margrieta Griestiņa (born 1991) and Aksels Bruks (born 1992). Both artists denote skills in different areas; Margrieta is skilled in film and editing, while Aksels in graphic design. Both artists strive to remain anonymous in the public realm. They prefer not to highlight the contribution of any one person while at other times, they’ll mention everyone involved in a project under the banner of collective (which can include performers, film actors, costume designers, florists, musicians, curators etc.). Both artists graduated from the Department of Visual Communication at the Art Academy of Latvia, which has produced many strong conceptually-driven Latvian artists knowledgeable in the latest trends coming from the western contemporary art tradition. While the Visual Communication department which is famous for being one of the most progressive departments in means of introducing contemporary thinking models about art and its execution has certainly helped to shape the art language incorporated in the practices of Margrieta and Aksels, it has failed to cast both artists in their created art mould (most popular would be refined projects grounded in the tradition of conceptualism or neomodernism). Their interest in pop culture, playfulness and desire to add a good dose of merriment to everything upturns as artists point out “the stereotype that good art cannot generate pure joy”. I would like to think this makes them camp and refreshingly different in the overall system of the Visual Communication Department and the Art Academy of Latvia in general.
Fashion shows are one of GolfClayderman’s preferred performance forms. Approbation of the tradition of apparel demonstration has not only branded GolfClayderman but also served, indirectly, as the reason for its formation in 2016, when Margrieta’s brother turned one of their communal evenings into a fashion show. The video Invisible Field (2016) depicts five models presenting garments and accessories from Ready-To-Wear and Cruise collections and contain ill-famed runway stumbles. Clayderman’s piano version of Lady in Red and Take My Breath Away provide the soundtrack. Although at first this video resembles a fashion show from the 90s fashion TV channel, its title implies that it refers to a reality the trendy and tasteful world ignores or ridicules. This is the naïve quotidian reality whose aesthetic code is inhabited by many people. GolfClayderman’s video reflects on this reality, as well as the fashion industry in general, with a sense of heartfelt humour.
Originally this material was filmed for a music video but instead served as an impulse for an extended project, resulting in a series of events at ‘427’ gallery. The early stages are relatively unknown. However, on 4 March 2016 a performance or a video restart in physical space marked the official birthday of GolfClayderman. The idea of using a golf course came about while visiting a construction and gardening megastore Depo, later becoming the collective’s trademark and one of its most significant visual characters and metaphors. In the store, they found an artificial grass carpet and laid it on a purpose-built catwalk in the gallery, reproducing the trajectory of a mini golf course. This sequence of events seems rather natural if considered in terms of the democratic do-it-yourself style, the affordability of “euro-redecoration”[vii] and the prerequisites for the calibre of banality employed in GolfClayderman’s projects.
The first public fashion show entitled Invisible Field 2016. World Premiere at gallery 427 became the altered twin of the video piece Invisible Field. It featured a purpose-built catwalk, fire show, champagne and music, and was the birthplace of the #golfclayderman tag. This instantaneous tag unites two significant elements embedded in the performance – golf as a source of inspiration for fashion show stage design and recordings of Richard Clayderman’s piano music as the soundtrack. Although initially the strange pairing of both words was intended simply as a marketing tool for social media to attract bigger audience for the planned event, its enormous popularity enabled the untitled campaign to befit the collective’s name.
The format of a fashion show or at least certain elements from it, such as the use of specially designed and tailored costumes for events, continue to be present in other projects. Creative fashion and style workshop Eva’s Style Makeover at Jurmala City Museum in 2017 resembled the simplicity and aesthetics of the first video works and involved local people selected from an open call (an approach the collective likes to employ from time to time). Moving forward, and now in a more carnival-like format involving elements of body painting while exploring the theme of “jungle”, another fashion show entitled Babilone took place at Low gallery. Similar motifs also appeared in the opening fashion show for the group exhibition of emerging artists MMXVIII[viii] at kim? Contemporary Art Centre where “middle-aged leopards” shared the catwalk with “sexy butterflies” as the audience feasted on sauerkraut and fried sausages on location. One of the most technologically-innovative fashion projects was produced in collaboration with new media artist Gints Gabrāns who used to work on stylistic “Clayderman-like” projects before. For example, in his project Starix (2001-2005)[ix], Gabrāns turned a homeless man into a media sensation. GolfClayderman and Gabrāns’ project Ms BoCa (a word play on the abbreviation RIBOCA – Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art – and Astrid Lindgren’s character Freken Bok) was laid out as a virtual mega sculpture that used RIBOCA 1 as its main resource. This project could be viewed using the augmented reality application SAN developed by Gabrāns[x] similarly used in his other art projects.
“Camping” of contemporary art
“Many examples of Camp are things which, from a ‘serious’ point of view, are either bad art or kitsch. Not all, though. Not only is Camp not necessarily bad art, but some art which can be approached as Camp (example: the major films of Louis Feuillade) merits the most serious admiration and study.”[xi]
In 2016, a series of GolfClayderman events took place at ‘427’ Gallery, which attracted the attention of a wider public. These events consisted of a beauty salon OxyMoron (11.11.2016), a blind date Sturm der Liebe (17.11.2016) and a lip-sync competition Hit Parade (30.11.2016). By imitating the consumerist nature of the beauty industry and mimicking popular TV games, artists referred to popular mainstream products and entertainment. This triptych of events also considered the nature of tagging, which was further explored in the online magazine Blok by linking selected hashtags such as #video, #music and #dream to either one of GolfClayderman’s creative projects or sources of inspiration[xii].
GolfClayderman’s as one of the most rare camping agents of the local art scene achievements cannot be measured in decades yet, although the collective’s intense activity in terms of projects, as well as on the web, has created almost a lifestyle resembling regime. Thus, it comes as no surprise that in spring 2018 a short retrospective of their creative practice called Video Salon was held as part of Riga Photography Biennial at art gallery Alma. On this occasion, many of the projects mentioned earlier together with the exhibition advertisement, could be viewed on several widescreen TVs and, of course, the gallery’s floor was turned into a golf course. Occasionally, collective ideas developed by GolfClayderman appeared in its member’s personal projects or work. Sometimes these pieces were presented as works by one author, for example Morning TV Show – a two-hour long performance that imitated early morning TV shows.
The most recent large-scale project, launched in the middle of June, was the aforementioned exhibition at ARSENĀLS Exhibition Hall of the LNMA. Besides the curator’s performance, which also featured GolfClayderman’s golf-product presenters and T-shirt sellers, the audience also saw an exhibition which, for the first time ever, displayed a film made by the collective thus replacing advertising jingles or recordings of performances. The exhibition room with its white vaults was covered in artificial grass and presenters gave each audience member a set of golf club and balls. It certainly looked surreal and effective. There was an instruction painted on one of the walls and two widescreen TVs played the film – its title and aesthetics borrowed from the German soap opera Sturm der Liebe (Lovestorm), which used to air on Latvian TV at length. But instead of scenic Bavaria, here the action had been moved to Latvia, more precisely to a golf course near Madona, a small Latvian city, with various absurd relationship dramas playing out in the middle of a golf tournament.
Akin to fashion and music, sport is also an important subject and ingredient in GolfClayderman projects. One of their essential wishes is to transform the elitist status of contemporary art, by appealing to the elitist art world (at least in theory), but also to teenagers and children, presenting their projects as something accessible rather than exclusive. A similar philosophy is encoded through their incorporation of golf with its elitist status, respectively – the association of golf as a popular form of entertainment for the rich. By attempting to democratise this sport at least symbolically, the collective set up a golf course inside a gallery and every gallery visitor (or at least those with a ticket) can pot a ball.
Although the subject matter and message of each work is not directly politically or socially engaged, GolfClayderman could also be classed as a peculiar campaign with its elements of entertainment while busying themselves with the democratisation (not to be mistaken with simplification) of art. Their eclectic practice, regularly involving various creative personalities, installations, discos, performances, campaigns etc. resembles a 21st century version of the Latvian artist collective NSRD (Restoration Workshop of Unprecedented Feelings) whose most active period was in the 80s and 90s and, similarly to GolfClayderman, consisted of two core members – Hardijs Lediņš and Juris Boiko. In the international art scene artist groups that seems to somewhat reminiscent artist group is Eva & Adel also instead of intense relationship for more than two decades using their lifes and bodies as constant subject of performance, GolfClayderman instead represent themselves as nonstop party makers. Nowadays, there are few examples of Latvians operating in groups, once again endorsing the notion of an individual farming mentality that is characteristic of Latvians. But it is quite possibly and more likely linked to the many compromises and abilities one has to forego when working in a team.
To conclude, and in my attempt to illustrate GolfClayderman’s loving, neon pink and soap bubbly attitude towards life and art, I am going to quote the recurring parting sentence by famous drag queen RuPaul from Aksel Bruks’s beloved American reality TV show “RuPaul’s Drag Race”: “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else?” “Now, sashay[xiii] away!”
[ii] Sontag, Susan. Notes On “Camp” (orig.,1964) http://www.punctummagazine.lv/2015/11/05/piezimes-par-kempu/ (in Latvian)
[iii] Lyric from Elton John’s song ‘Can You Feel the Love Tonight’ (from The Lion King: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, 1994)
[iv] GolfClayderman exhibition Lovestorm at the Golf Club / Sturm der Liebe im Golfplatz, ARSENĀLS Exhibition Hall: Creative Studio, Latvian National Museum of Art (LNMA) (15.06.-29.07.2018)
[vi] Sproģe, Elīna and Margrieta Dreiblate. Ravers and Gamers. Interview fragment. / Latvian Photography 2016. Ed. Arnis Balčus. – Rīga: Mūsdienu kultūras centrs ‘Kultkom’, 2016. – p.36. (in Latvian).
[vii] A commonly used term in Latvia to describe a certain type of decoration in post-Soviet interiors often perceived as tasteless by interior designers and architects.
[viii] The exhibition ran from 8.06.-15.07.2018 at kim Contemporary Art Centre.
[xi] Sontag, Susan. Notes On “Camp” (orig.,1964) http://www.punctummagazine.lv/2015/11/05/piezimes-par-kempu/ (in Latvian)
[xiii] The art of walking as a drag queen.