In early May a former KGB house opened to public for the first time. Set up alongside the display of historical collection the “(Re)construction of Friendship” exhibition presented a different way of looking at the past events. Inese Baranovska, one of the curators, reveals the backstage of curatorial process of the exhibition and the role of its location.
How did the cooperation between the curators go?
Firstly, the process of making “(Re)construction of Friendship” should be discussed. We came up with the idea for the exhibitiontogether with my colleague Aesu Sigurjonsdotiru, whom I had met at the International Conference in Ireland in 2008. Aesa visited Riga, while researching material in the Nordic countries and the Baltic States about Cold War photo documentation, which has become artefacts showing how small countries had to stay „friendly ” to endure the greater powers. Latvia was chosen for this study because I could provide the access to the material. Research work was completed, but there were still a lot of „white spots” and more possibilities still to discover – as a result the idea of the exhibition was born, which was initially called „The Immanence of Friendship „. When applying for the exhibition theme for Riga 2014 „Freedom Street ” we thought of proposing the Corner House as the exhibition venue, and as it turns out, a similar idea had long been contemplated by the Occupation Museum.
After approval of the project we decided to to expand the project’s boundaries by involving the younger generation of curators and researchers – Latvians Inga Lāce and Karlis Vērpe. I think that this collaboration has been very fruitful, because each of us made a unique contribution. During the work process the title of the exhibition changed to “(Re)construction of Friendship” which is more accurate and easier to understand. This also expanded the geographic range of the exhibition’s authors. It happened very naturally and freely as we just wanted to discover a broader spectre of recent historical „readings” using contemporary art language.
What did come first: the concept or the location?
We thought of the idea for the exhibition and suitable environment to set it simultaniously, since the association “Art Space” has no exhibition space of it’s own.
Is the organization planning to settle down in one place in the future?
The Society is a small organization where everybody has a parallel job which enables a certain freedom and therefore as independent art projects are not going to be tied up with a particular location in the future . Also, our Latvian title, “Art t-breath”,is stressing on “what” rather then “where” or “when”.
Which of the works were created specifically for this exhibition and which ones were ‘modified’?
Nikita Kadan’s “Procedure cabinet”, Albana Mujas’ “My name, their city,” Johan Waerndt & Monika Marklinger’s “The politics of Colour” and Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas’ “Druzba” have been selected as an independent unit, while all the other authors’ works were specially adapted to a particular scenario though I wouldn’t like to call it “adaptation” because they were in a very creative dialogue with this unusual and powerful space. All the Latvian artists created brand new work. German artist duo, Daniel & Geo Fuchs, made a special slide collection for this exhibition – “Diptych”, with a new sound installation.
The Swedish artist Helena Wikström created her installation “Authority D-0” specially for the Corner House and its association to the Tito’s bunker, built entirely in secret, something the artist explores in her work – and this is very relevant to the Corner House, now open to public after a long time. Estonian artist Tanel Rander has complemented his existing works – a series of photographs “Without Borders” and the video work “Identity” with a manifesto that directly refers to the change in the geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe in 2014 regarding the crisis in Ukraine. Icelander Spessi and Swedish artist Eric Pauser has set up a work called “Base” remixed especially for this exhibition after a study tour in Latvia.
Both, post-Soviet countries’ artists and those who lived outside the Soviet Union, are presented at the exhibition. What does work of these artists share and how they differ from one another?
All pieces in the exhibition are based on a story or specific research material re-interpreted by artists, creating their own stories, their own „reading” or interpretation of the facts. And I don’t see the difference between Eastern and Western block artists. Speaking about Latvian works, I think that ORBITA’s, Sandra Krastina’s and Kristaps Epners’ works have a poetic nature rather than a documental/historical one.
Could you tell us about the creative process artists went through in the spaces?
The artists in these spaces acted as a sensitive agent, each one looking for their culmination points, their genuine contact with the space to find a new quality while blending into the whole.
This is not an exhibition in a white cube. While planning the exhibition were you not bothered by the identity of the building itself?
We deliberately did not want to make any obvious improvements to the space to maximize its authenticity. Only a few areas were tailored to the artists’ work – Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas’ “Druzba” and Johan Waerndt & Monika Marklinger’s “Color Politics”. The rest of the artists worked very sensitively with the space. As noted by German artists Daniel and Geo Fuchs, it was the specificity of the halls that prompted them to develop a new concept.
What added value is produced in a work of art that is displayed in such an active space?
The additional value is a reciprocal interplay or dialogue, “space + work of art”, and if it is successful it’s like as a good jazz improvisation, where a new strong emotional energy is created, received like the oscillations on a seismograph.
Can this research-exhibition be continued?
Perhaps the exhibition “Friendship (re) construction” in the future may be exhibited in another country, but of course, this loses the specific Corner House context. In a white cube this exhibition would look completely different.
This exhibition space has a great impact, perhaps even add a depressing feel to it. How much importance do you give to the space as a curator in general?
For me as a curator it is always interesting to work in such non-traditional areas. This is a greater risk and a challenge. There is simply more coordinating involved with an exhibition of ten projects. The artists from so many different countries with various technical requirements for construction work mean greater complexity. Being able to put this all together is like “playing in the orchestra” – it is a challenge and if successfully managed giveemotional satisfaction appealing to the viewers.
The rooms of the Corner House have their own heavy karma, but I think that the language of contemporary art is able to „fight” with the ghosts of the past and bring a new perspective.
In the current aggravated political situation, do you think that this exhibition is capable of changing the political process, or at least encourage audiences to critically evaluate available information making them aware of the particular situation in Riga?
The thoughtful viewer of our exhibition hopefully will pause and see the current political events from a different perspective. Creative people react more sensitively to real historical events and interpret them differently, not as objectively, leaving the possibility for the viewer ‘s reflection and mental as well as emotional envolvement. This differs from the clinical narrative in history books or monotone “hot news” all over any possible media. The question is how many sensitive viewers are reached by the artists’ message.
I would like to mention the special exhibition catalogue which is not quite traditional: not only does it have information about the artists and explain their work plans, but it is also a readable book with texts, written art historian Aesa Sigurjonsdotira, Doctor of Philosophy Karlis Vērpe, Professor of History at University of Iceland Valurs Ingimundarsons, literary critic and poet Artis Ostups and Andrew Ļevkins, editor of magazine “Rodnik” (“Source” in Russian), journalist and writer. The aim of the book is to invite to think about the friendship as such more broadly and deeply and to be more morally accountable. The book was designed by Kristaps Epners, one of the artists in the exhibition, who has, in my opinion, very concisely and accurately translated the main essence of our project into a graphic language.
Photographs by Didzis Grodzs