In March earlier this year, in the building at Ģertrūdes iela 115, in Riga, the doors in the basement space – now known as LOW Gallery – opened with Unasked-for Truth (“Neprasītā patiesība”), an exhibition by two young artists, Brenda Jansone and Rūdolfs Štamers. Several months later in May I met up with Maija Kurševa to talk about LOW gallery in a way that “would be clear to everyone”. Our conversation turned out to be a ‘what and how’ of the new gallery which you can follow and find all of their events through Facebook at www.facebook.com/lowgallery.
In our conversation, I forgot to ask, and Kurševa forgot to talk about how in less than a year, a cold damp, unrenovated semi-basement space became a creative work space with the potential (much of it still unexplored) to develop and change its local art environment and context. Some people may know Kurševa as an artist whose practice combines drawings, silkscreen prints, videos and various mobile and immobile objects. Others will exclaim that she’s the same Kurševa who helped to begin the zine movement, or self-publishing movement in Riga several years ago by founding Popper Publishing, which regularly offer readers offset printed books and Risograph printed zines as well as exhibitions. The first zine festival took place in May last year. One questions if there is anything Kurševa does not do?! She even manages to teach at the Art Academy of Latvia. Kurševa’s previous artworks and projects often redefine the next without repeating what has been done before. In this way, Kurševa continues to develop and expand the scope of her creative ventures, her newest being LOW Gallery.
Līga Marcinkeviča: What is this new project, the artist-led LOW Gallery?
Maija Kurševa: It’s hard for me to imagine who will be reading this and whether anything from our conversation will really help anyone else. The two of us, we have such a specific type of knowledge, there are many things that seem self-evident to us. So it’s hard to just cite them all now; in this moment, I can’t speak or think in the abstract.
I think the biggest push for taking on the gallery as the next step in an unending process of development, and for actually going through with it, was the things associated with Popper. I had to work at putting out a publication, assembling a group of people. But the question arose of where to physically meet? Where to work and put on exhibitions? Popper has a Riso printer, and we have had to deal with printing Risograph stuff and so on… So we had to find a solution, because the people I live with forbade me from doing that work at home.
LM: Could you tell is more about Popper?
MK: Popper Publishing is a platform that was founded by artists and is led by artists. We publish illustrated books that focus on contemporary and graphic art as well as drawing, illustration and also some graffiti. An exhibition is organised every time a book is published. The first Popper publication was in 2012.
LM: Could you tell us in short what to expect when visiting LOW Gallery?
MK: Nothing is artificially designed or given too much thought. However, as you look at the schedule of things we’ve done and what’s planned for the future, you can deduce a few things: this is a place where artists can do what they want to do; they can allow themselves to experiment; they can test their ideas in various physical materials; no one tells them what and how to do things; there’s no concept that’s imposed on them. The gallery does not have a unified theme, for example, this year we’re going to talk about peace, or this year we’re going to focus on some aspect of art like ceramics. Mainly, this place is here to support artists. We have a good, well-lit space, various kinds of tools, equipment and materials, and also a Riso printer. I also help out wherever I can, either setting up, or keeping an eye on exhibitions, or with printing work.
LOW Gallery is not a commercial gallery. Everything is put into the artists’ hands, with no artificially created constructs or concepts. The artists do everything themselves. This is a process that’s based on enthusiasm, and no one makes a profit out of it. I noticed that this year’s programme leans towards collaboration between artists. My own project, Much Better (“Daudz labāk”), will take place in June [conversation took place in May]. It will be a series of duets – an artist and an author – and for three days each duet will be able to do whatever they want in the gallery’s space. At the end, we’ll publish a Risograph-printed book in which ten spreads will be devoted to each duet. The main idea is collaboration, process and thoughts about art.
Rūdolfs Štamers and Brenda Jansone’s exhibition began it all. Oskars Veilands and his exhibition Dot Under the “i” (“Punkts zem “i””) will take place from the 9th of June to the 16th of June. Then, after the creative tandems project, it’ll be the “3/8” artists association, a collaborative project between Katrīna Čemme and Ieva Putniņa, and solo exhibitions by Agate Lielpētere, Jānis Filipovičs and Līva Rutmane. Young artists are one of my main points of focus. By young, I mean artists no one has even heard of yet. It’s very important to be given the opportunity to create one’s work in an appropriate space, to experience the whole process from beginning with an idea through to its development, to the setting up and opening of the exhibition and hearing the viewers’ comments. My work at the academy lets me meet young talents before the wider public gets to know them.
LM: Experimentation and freedom – it’s like an open ‘workshop’ for any artist. You let everyone experiment and show their newest themes and questions. It sounds like there’s an educational touch to it. Viewers are given wonderful opportunities to be present at the moment new artists are forming, and to see how crazy the world is through their eyes, in a crazy, positive way.
MK: It’s up to the artists themselves to explore what they can learn from their experience. For the viewers, it is indeed an opportunity to experience a live process.
LM: An open workshop…
MK: I don’t really want to call it a workshop. For me, that word is associated with something unfinished, unpolished. I think that, in spite of our minimal funding, the exhibitions we put on are of a really good quality and standard. They are professionally organised and arranged.
LM: Can you talk a bit more about Much Better? How will the three days of freedom for the author-artist duets take place? What will viewers see?
MK: I have a ‘skeleton’ in mind about how it might happen. But no one knows exactly what’s going to happen during those three days. Maybe some of the participants will lock the gallery door and not let anyone inside. The overarching theme is about a sort of boundary: a work of art that no longer exists is viewed from the other side; where there was no art, now there is! It is about how one and the same piece can change its status and how the environment influences it. In any case, it’s a construct like that.
LM: So, a constructed construct after all!
MK: But this construct is like a little splinter that you can trip over and then crawl ahead in any direction. It could be anything in the end. So, the idea is that by the time the duet begins its three days at Ģertrūdes iela, they’ve already spoken about and decided on some things that might take place during that one day when it’s open to the public. Then, beginning in late June, everything will change every couple of days: the duets will change; the atmosphere in the gallery will change. All of this will be documented. In July, the material will be processed and layouts made, and when it’s all done we’ll print it.
LM: Who will these artist-author pairs be?
MK: On June the 19th, it’ll be Līva Rutmane and Elīna Bākule-Veira. On June the 21st it’ll be Līga Spunde and Klāvs Mellis. On June the 26th it’ll be Kaspars Groševs and Marta Trektere, and on June the 29th there will be Maija Kurševa and Vents Vīnbergs.
LM: Can you tell us about the gallery’s name?
MK: It took a long time to find a name, but there was no hurry, either. [Kurševa opens a notebook to a full spread of potential gallery names, all carefully written in columns]. Oskars Veilands and I talked a lot about it, and as soon as a name popped into our heads, we wrote it down. The name LOW is somewhere in the middle of the list. It was one of the ideas that came to mind and was written down. It seemed that the word embodied the essence of the gallery – it’s simple, it’s a semi-basement, a little below street level. Another layer to the name is that it is not an exclusive, prestigious, arrogant, polished or glamorous space. Instead, LOW Gallery is a low-budget project, often even a no-budget event space. It sounds a little bit like the thread here is leading to a division between “high” and “low” art, but this isn’t really an issue in our context, because there isn’t an active art market here.
This is a place for spontaneous ideas, for collaborations between artists, and… OH MY GOD! I almost forgot to mention the most important thing – Popper zines, which cannot be found anywhere else, are always available at LOW Gallery.
LM: So, viewers and passers-by will never have to make the trip to LOW in vain. If you happen to stop by at a time when the art does not speak to you, there will always be the Popper books.
Our conversation ended here as we both thought we seemed to have covered the important things, and already a student was waiting impatiently at the door. In her own words, SOME KIND OF SPLOTCH had shown up as she was pulling the squeegee over her silk screen. Kurševa hurried to lessen her student’s suffering over the mishap.
You never know what role that so-called splotch might play in the composition as a whole.
Photography: Courtesy of LOW gallery