When I am asked which Latvian artist someone should learn about, I usually reply with confidence ‘Līva Rutmane’. I see that the artist Maija Kurševa gives a similar response. However, it would be wrong to assume that Līva’s work features much in the public domain. Just like Bolderāja, the bookshop where you can have a drink and a chat or listen quietly, an idea originally conceived by Līva together with Didzis Kalniņš, her work is discreet, and can be found only by those who know about it. At the same time, despite being familiar with and fond of Līva’s work, it is very hard to say something about it, which is not helped by the fact that she gives away almost nothing about her work, as becomes evident from this interview, conducted in a typically quiet and private place, filled on this occasion with the thick murmur of a crowd. Nevertheless, I felt the interview should go ahead, because a few more people should know about this artist who lives in Riga and who should only be contacted after two o’clock in the afternoon, and if there is a chance to see her work ‘live’, it should not be missed.
And so we sat there clinking our cups of coffee, while around us the talk became louder and louder, and bits of the interview were lost somewhere among the schoolboy-like paintings and the flaky croissants; later, despite my best efforts, I still failed to decipher much of what Līva had said.
KG: How are you? What are you getting up to these days?
LR: I’m fine … I sleep until two.
KG: I searched the whole internet, and realised I couldn’t find much about you.
LR: What do you mean ‘couldn’t’? The whole internet is full. I have a blog, all my work is there. That’s exactly how little there is: I am suitably lazy.
KG: I see, Tumblr? Yes, that’s a very annoying site. Sort of broken.
LR: I really like it … I don’t intend to change it.
KG: I only found one interview, and that was with you and Didzis about Bolderāja.
LR: I don’t like interviews, there’s nothing I can say … four years later, for example, to think about some work, and to write something about it in a meaningful way, but that could take four years. I don’t know, do you have time … do you? … I promise.
KG: But do you have anything that four years later still seems like a good piece of work?
LR: Yes. I do everything very slowly … pieces of text.
KG: Where can I read them?
LR: On my computer.
KG: Ha ha.
LR: Sometimes I open them when I need to write something, and conclude that I wasn’t at all stupid back then, but now it just wouldn’t work …
KG: I’ve hardly written anything this year.
LR: How come?
KG: You won’t understand, but recently I haven’t been able to sleep until two. I try, but I can only sleep until noon.
LR: It has to be developed over time. It’s not something you can suddenly master … sleeping until two.
KG: I really like sleeping, but this year I haven’t been able to wake up and not know if it’s the beginning or the end of the month.
LR: That’s a serious undertaking. You have to devote your whole life to it.
KG: Yes, the chance to sleep, not having to rush anywhere, is very important. You wake up, have a coffee, read something, and then thoughts begin coming to you.
LR: That’s why I like … if there’s an opportunity to plan something for a whole year … to work on it. It can be even longer. But also traumatic … if there’s nothing to work towards … to quickly put on an exhibition, that’s awful.
KG: What’s your progress chart like when there’s plenty of time to prepare?
LR: Excellent. I can come up with all sorts of interesting stuff.
KG: If you wake up at two, what timea great idea comes?
LR: No, it’s one idea in four months … But just a week ago, I had a great idea. I was ecstatic … I’m still thinking about it.
KG: But do you write it down somewhere?
LR: If I don’t forget it, it’s a very good idea. That’s why it’s important to wait for about two weeks …
KG: And what happens next?
LR: I pass it on to someone else to make it … where possible.
KG: But you make everything yourself …
LR: Well, lately I can no longer make my own work.
KG: You could make some small Asian children draw your pictures for you.
LR: But they would do it too meticulously. I’m often told ‘You’ve done a bad job there.’ But I always do a bad job. But … about that plastic stuff: you need specialist equipment. And then everything needs to be done again, and modified, but I can’t do all that … wonderful. Ecologically … frankly trivial. The way I do it … it shouldn’t be done. It should not be done. Very … unnatural and bad. At first fantastic, although it sounds …
KG: But do you spend a lot of time on your pieces?
LR: I deliberate for a long time, and then quickly make it … you should see how I write: that’s when I think about each word.
KG: I was traumatised at the Art Academy: those drawings that had to be created every day for three weeks …
LR: I just absconded …
KG: But do you like the process of drawing?
LR: No. I can’t stand it.
KG: So why do you work on such time-consuming pieces then?
LR: Why not? Since it fits in with the whole set-up … then the whole set-up would have to change … I’m gradually working on it.
KG: But what is your set-up?
LR: There are a good few things. There is all that good, beautiful … those aesthetic … sort of, the history of aesthetics. I’ve invested quite a lot in it … if I start to change something now, then …
KG: Like a micro-organism that can’t be modified … If you can’t stand any of it, tough.
LR: It can be modified slowly …
KG: But your work is usually accompanied by limited textual information. The ecology of words.
LR: I think images are not envisioned as … but you’re already thinking about it. To write … I have to change gear. It’s a huge affair.
KG: Well, yes, a rather schizophrenic approach. I have many personalities that I attempt to join up. By the way, is that not something the doctors usually recommend, for those with a split personality?
LR: No, I think they suggest … just working on one thing. There’s this painter with … [split personality] … and one of them, the main one, took up painting, and the others were really into it … that was the only way these different personalities communicated, via paintings. Simply horrifying paintings … She’s a fusion of nine horrific artists. Well, no … visually no …
KG: Every now and then, there are these exhibitions of work by schizophrenic patients: they’re usually very boring. Firstly, they’ve been medicated. Secondly, someone is telling them how it should be done. And thirdly …
LR: My grandma … worked in a rehabilitation centre for a while … they drew and painted in such an excruciatingly boring way … a sort of drunkard’s delirium … like a decent first-grade pupil who has been shown everything.
KG: Do you have a formula for creating a good artwork (in your opinion)?
LR: … so it looks the least like something I’ve done.
KG: The bad news is, your work is always recognisable.
LR: Well … I haven’t created a good work of art yet. But people have certain limits … a personal event … they always notice it’s your work … it could be a cool work of art, but it wouldn’t look like mine. You clearly have some curatorial leanings, if you observe and contemplate what could be … a nice work of art.
KG: Well, that’s creating a personal art history of sorts. But, for instance, I look at work, and I sometimes try to analyse why I like something. In terms of your work, I struggle to find a rational explanation for It.
LR: Well, yes … that’s normal.
KG: But, for example, your drawings … a lot of work has gone into them.
LR: Yes, Latvians like that …
KG: But the result is also not so amazing or impressive.
LR: Exactly: impossible to photograph, looks awkward, I’m super-pleased about that.
KG: Yes, they are hard to photograph. Is that deliberate?
LR: Exactly. I used to be a photographer, after all … that’s one of the main …
KG: For example, in the White Walkers exhibition … that artwork looked nothing special in the photographs afterwards. Nowadays, in terms of exhibitions, a lot of thought goes into making sure everything looks super-nice when photographed.
LR: It’s clear: I’ll never be famous. But I thought the White Walkers piece was too photographable … but at least there was a reflection … I found that satisfying.
KG: But you no longer take photographs?
LR: Not really … it’s boring. I’d like to be a sports photographer, perhaps. But drawing: that’s just great … Firstly, it’s insanely cheap. INSANELY CHEAP. That’s a bonus. Drawing is also quite universal. Hard to photograph … a lot of work … can’t say that to anyone.
KG: But do you create your drawing on a computer first?
LR: … preferably not mine … preferably … I focus rather a lot on what people consider beautiful.
KG: What do you mean, not mine?
LR: I don’t make any of that 3D shit. I pick something that others have created. I used to before … too much effort. Now I choose what others consider nice … since they have displayed it (in public). Composition should be as central as possible, as banal as possible. That is very …
KG: Where do you find it all?
LR: The internet is seething with all these new metalheads, goths, and all the rest … DeviantArt … excellent. Although it used to be wilder, now it has become … censored … I hope not. They’re no longer quite as peculiar. But there are various forums for those who draw, various extreme sites …
KG: But why do you like amateur art?
LR: Well, they have a certain understanding … they have a view on what is good and beautiful.
KG: But you too have a view …
LR: I mainly … delve … some sort of illustrations … considering I have nothing to do, I prod around on the internet. Some sort of [outsider] galleries: everything has already been selected there. I prefer it when people themselves select what is nice and no longer want to gift it because it’s too nice. He thinks something is beautiful, and that’s good, he has a vision … lovely.
KG: I think it’s in the air: perhaps everyone is finally sick of everything predictable, nice and poetic.
LR: But they are also poetic in a classic sort of way. One has … roses that are simply dreadfully beautiful … my own ideas about what is good would be to maximally limit … I probably have my own ideas about what is good, but those should be completely eradicated. Maybe when I’m eighty I’ll make something …