In a Subway Tunnel with an Artificial Escort

“Underground” group exhibition at the kim? Contemporary Art Centre



I must begin with the fact that, in this case, it wouldn’t be correct to use the term “group exhibition”, bearing in mind the intention of the artists involved. There’s no information about the titles of the specific works or their authors, either next to the works themselves, or in the exhibition’s annotation, let alone – such luxury as a description of an artist’s intention (or interests, if you so wish). The enigmatic silence, which, by the way, is not a rare thing at exhibitions held by the kim? art centre, places the viewer in the unenviable and quite tiring role of a clairvoyant or telepathist. The official reason behind this, from the point of view of the artists, is without doubt different and, to my mind, to a large degree inadequate. Taking into account contemporary art trends, I would say – even anachronistic. Namely, not wanting to restrict the visitor’s flow of thoughts, or to take away his/her “creative” freedom in any way, the artist chooses the position “let my works speak for me”.

Thus far, everything would be just fine and such a gesture could truly be permitted; only – not always and not by everybody. It works better in those situations, where the viewer and the artist, or exhibition curator, largely have a joint understanding about the context, content and goal of the artwork, and especially – if this understanding is based in a formal, decorative or explicitly representative approach. There is no shortage of exhibitions of such a bent here in Latvia – in actual fact they make up the largest part of the group exhibitions provided by the various art galleries, as well as the Latvian National Museum of Art. As an example, I could mention the current exhibition “Impressions and Parallels” at the Art Museum Rīga Bourse.

In this respect, the kim? art centre has always found itself manifestly on the periphery. The “Underground” exhibition, too, makes one search for distinctive reference points, urging to look in the direction of conceptual art (or rather, its post-conceptual legacy). Here the influence is expressed in the pretty unworthy visual quality and the technical execution of the artworks, which coincides with the broader concept of dematerialization of art. Just to remind – the notion that the idea behind a work is more important than its implementation is one of conceptual art’s contributions to general art history. It is true, in the “Underground” exhibition this dematerialization has gone another step ahead – without overplaying it, one can say that here, it’s not just the physical material of the artwork that has vanished, but also its conceptual content, and for me it is fairly difficult to describe the way this exhibition was created as particularly successful. Of course, imagination and linguistic intuition allow us to formulate various aesthetic categories, which could possibly describe the end result seen at the exhibition. These could be – “stingy”, “modest”, “DIY and home party type”, “naïve”, “everyday trivia”, “overly theatrical” combined with “ascetically paradoxical”, and some other, not so peculiar, ways of looking at it. In two statements which go with the exhibition “a sound, which isn’t even a sound” is mentioned, and, if we continue the metaphor, let’s accept that the aural fabric of the art works is truly similar to encrypted, but self-sufficient messages, which can be freely interpreted. But before we rejoice over the stunning “freedom”, let’s take into account that, by opening up the possibility of untold numbers of such interpretations, it’s not hard to imagine that a clear result approximates zero. In other words, if something can mean just about anything, then in the end it means nothing.

Usually in such situations, as I am apriori positively disposed to various expressions of contemporary art, I am forced to use a detective’s strategy, inconspicuously engaging in conversation with the artist or the curator, during which I am, at times, able to find out this or that. I’ve also noticed that generally artists are willing to talk with their friends about behind the scenes stuff relating to the creation of their work, but are reluctant to reveal it to the wider public. Let me try to presume the reasons for such an uncanny attitude. It’s possible that, at its core, there is a certain view about the role of the artist, which isn’t far from the romantic “the misunderstood” and “the inaccessible”. Moreover, in this case it can be seen that, puzzlingly, the artist is not interested in dispelling this isolation, but quite the opposite – increasing it. The second possible reason is a distaste of the “concept” idea itself. I can only guess if this allergy has been caused by the headaches involved in fighting for funding in project competitions, where the “justification” and a “description” of the work is usually required. Or if it’s hidden concerns about what the artist says, possibly not sounding sufficiently “clever”?

Returning to the question about the “group exhibition” – as I already mentioned, after the “strategic move” that I made, one of the participants of the group, artist Gintaras Didžiapetris, became my escort in the viewing of the exhibition. Gintaras stressed that everything which could be seen had to be perceived as a whole, since each artist’s achievement had inseparably grown together with the works of the other artists, without singling anyone out individually (that’s why, with one exception, I won’t either). I must admit that I was still unable to identify, either these points of accretion, or to find a common denominator, which could allow me to think about the exhibition as a whole, with the exception of the possibility that, in reality, this “whole” was the sum of casual facts, and the anonymous collective character of the works – hollow coquetry.

In the exhibition, we encounter the appropriation of the Art Nouveau style of Paris Metro (in collaboration with the Daile Theatre, which has allowed to use its costume collection), research about fishing which, I suppose, is rather close to our mindset, nightclub life through the eyes of a corrupt politician (unfortunately I was unable to hear the soundtrack of this video, as something akin to an art discothèque was taking place at the exhibition opening), as well as a rainy day in a town on the edges of Europe. The artists in the exhibition too, have not remained indifferent to the obviously absurd, having constructed a ceramic object, which reminds one of an asymmetrical case in appearance, but is “meant” to be a train’s spoiler1. In addition, Gintaras revealed a touching detail – at the end of the exhibition, the plan is for the object to be a gift to the American Embassy, though I’m not truly sure if I can believe everything that Gintaras told me that evening.

Of course, there’s still the question – what to do with the “underground” mentioned in the title, this mega-concept? It, in all seriousness, is understood as “alternative culture” (citing Gintaras), but it’s not clear – an alternative to what and why? The “Underground” group has, though, developed something akin to a manifest, but it’s rather bombastic and unclear. One can find there both a call for everyone to unite in a joint digging action, as well as, for example, such lines: “I have no time for those not willing to turn the world upside down, and to set that in the bottom which others make the top of the building”. Most probably the naïve pathos of this exhibition can be well revealed in this statement, and its almost revolutionary commitment doesn’t bring disappointment, but only because, at no time was it possible to take it seriously.

If there was something in this exhibition that caught my attention, without leaving a slightly bitter taste in my mouth, then it was three paintings. As I found out, they’d come about, from an assistant  in Vilnius carrying out instructions put together by Swedish artist Helge Halvorsen – the paintings had been created through a number of attempts, as Halvorsen had been quite a demanding “supervisor”. Looking at the works, which leave a pleasant impression of being unfinished, an evident interest in finding out what was in the instructions themselves arose, to see, how one can linguistically manage, for example, smudgy, abstract fields of colour or seemingly slipshod lines. Unfortunately, as specified by my escort, to see these instructions “in no circumstances would be possible”. However, later I came across another version about what happened, according to which no such instructions even existed.

All of what I’ve just written has already marked certain reference geography. It can be perceived as, for example, points in the dark, which provide evidence of inhabited places. With regret I have to conclude, that it wasn’t possible to find out more about the semantic relationships of these settlements, which exhibit signs of life (read: sense), and I could make a resigned self-ironic conclusion – if it hasn’t been given, maybe it’s not even needed. I could also add that this exhibition is a continuation of a project “A Thing Spins a Leaf by the Wind”, which the group of artists mentioned, but with a slightly different line-up, created at the kim? centre in the summer of 2010. Furthermore, four artists from the current programme represented Lithuania in the 55th International Venice Art Biennale in 2013.

The text was orginally published at Satori online magazine on 11th December 2013:

The “Underground” group exhibition was on show until 26th January 2014 at the kim? Contemporary Art Centre. The participants were: Liudvikas Buklys, Gintaras Didžiapetris, Antanas Gerlikas, Helge Halvorsen, Nicolas Matranga, Elena Narbutaitė and Tomas Požemis.

For more information on the exhibition see here.

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Photographs by Ansis Starks
©kim? Contemporary Art Centre

  1. The part of the construction which reduces air turbulence.  
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Jana Kukaine
January 29, 2014
Published in Review from Latvia
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