Just like the exhibition Omega 3 is devoted to something that is dying out and past its ‘use-by’ date (it could be a certain form of agriculture, or a type of work organisation with the instrument and interiors that are particular to it, and even the linseed sorting factory building itself), it so happened that I got to see the exhibition at the last stage of its life, that is, shortly before it closed. Now, when looking over the photographs of the opening, I can see that the exhibition has dated. The wonderful little altar by Ilze Vanaga, which she created for her daughter, has become permeated by damp and dust, the flowers long since faded and withered, the strawberries covered in a layer of mould. The factory has devoured this refuge, all the beauty has gone with the wind (quite literally) – a cold draught blows through these premises, one that is especially noticeable at the entrance where the paintings Pārsāts (Oversatiated) by Anda Lāce are on display and where I lingered awhile, seeking to figure out in which direction (from left to right, or from the smallest to the largest) it should be ‘read’.
This time I wish to discover the correlation between Lāce’s works and their titles, which seem to be important, for example, Ģimenes māja meža vidū (Family Home in the Middle of the Forest) (this is most pleasant after the many Untitled that are so characteristic of paintings of the last half century). Likewise, the large-format photo print Māja Mēnikuno purvā (House in Menikuno Marsh) by Kaspars Lielgalvis, which has been hung up on the outside wall of the factory and which at the time of our visit looked quite distressed; however, on examining the pictures from the opening, I come to the conclusion that I am mistaken in my assumptions about the origins of this aestheticised raggedness – it was done not by the artist’s hand, but by his unpredictable helpers: the wind and the rain of the Mooste plains, thus allowing Lielgalvis to fulfil the conception of his work and to observe the ‘overlapping of the past with the future’. Nevertheless, a consciousness of the ‘dying breaths’ of the exhibition elicits not only a mood of melancholy, but also another vector of meaning which, quite possibly, nobody (including myself) has taken into account.
Reminders of the factory and linseed can be found here just about all over the place – you could say that to a greater or lesser extent the majority of works refer to this, including the name of the exhibition and its visual design. In this case, the context of the exhibition (from the social, economic and historical aspects) has perhaps been assigned too great an importance, at least as far as the artworks are concerned it has few rivals. The nostalgia for the lost freshness of wild strawberries or a refreshing swim in the sea that chimes in the work by Laura Prikule, for instance, is perhaps the only revelation, yet understandably these few moments of epiphany are not enough. As for the rest – the shut-down manufacturing plants, problems associated with agriculture, subsistence and other matters – much is already known or can be gleaned from news reports, statistics or the pages of history books. After all, the task of art is neither to carry out this function that belongs to other disciplines, nor to compete with them, although it must be conceded that in the successful cases, by changing the rules of the game slightly, it manages to be far superior to them. Appealing to the memory as a contradictory function (the photographic installation To Fade Away by Inga Erdmane), or the ‘haze’ of memory that begets something new (as in the installation We are not Afraid of Ruins by Amanda Priebe), are variations on a theme, but that is not enough to ‘pull through’ the exhibition as a whole to a triumphal finale. All in all, the thematic (and sometimes the media used as well) concordance of the exhibition seemed to me to be exaggerated. Thus, for example, it was not clear why in the title of Daiga Krūze’s series of paintings Journey of a Linseed there had to be the word ‘linseed’. The small-format works had developed from point A to point B (in this case – from Riga to the small village of Nina on the edge of Lake Peipus); however, an explanation as to why precisely these coordinates had been chosen (however spontaneously this may have occurred) was absent. The works have been marvellously ‘in-composed’ (integrated) among the labyrinth-like interior, yet it is surprising that the central role in the series of paintings is not given to the fixing of impressions from the journey, but rather the self-portrait – are these to be regarded as travel notes in the era of the selfie?
A refreshing gesture in this obsession with linseed was the brilliant irony of artist Timo Toots inherent in the installation Flaxmat. On pressing a button, a mysterious prophet-like voice sounded out, and after its brief announcement some of the magical tiny seeds burst into the viewer’s hand (one becoming vaguely aware of the phallic connotations of this process), the value of which has suddenly increased at least thrice over. This work, on the one hand, reflects the heightened interest in healthy foods, various diets and wonder potions which will save nations from dire illnesses. On the other hand, it demonstrates the confusion of the present-day person in the face of these tiny seeds, because what are we really meant to do with them? Their shiny, hard cover, it seems, hides an impenetrable secret which we cannot get to, neither by crushing the seed in our fingers, nor by chewing it between our teeth.
The course of the life of the factory and its decline, the internal and external environment, as well as its ‘moral features’, are the second great pillar of the exhibition, which inter alia offers material for several sound installations. Their trrr-peek-peek sound pattern is not only a legitimate inhabitant of the industrial space, but also of contemporary art (for example, Experimental Research of Flax Diseases by Villem Jahu and Sound Collection by Voldemārs Johansons). On this occasion, however, it is more impressive and interesting to listen to the sounds that are dissonant with their surroundings and not organically intrinsic to it, such as, for instance, the soundtrack for the video Inverse by Eva Vēvere, which with its gentle bubbling provides a refreshing contrast to the ‘harsh’ aesthetic of the factory and the industrial sounds. This video is also one of the most successful homages to the factory – avoiding banalities, it examines the complicated ‘dynamics of love’ between the artist and the factory, calling to mind Roland Barthes’ A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. The medium of language here is a woman’s body in movement, which is projected onto an object that I found difficult to identify (for the sake of simplicity, I will call it a cement block), and in this way the ‘cold’ texture of the stone surface becomes a stage for episodes of human passion, dreams and disappointment.
Another participant in the exhibition was a fictional artist named Pinksy, whose installation entitled Tube No.3 still remains one of my favourites. I viewed it almost as the last, already oversaturated with the social-economic-historical allusions and dust of the exhibition, and the fear that I or my child will fall into some manhole or cascade down the steep stairs (the layout of the exhibition is yet another element that, although not artistic in itself, nevertheless determines the perception of the art and meaning of the works). The installation is simple, laconic and direct – both in terms of its verbal expression and also visually. It seems that it expresses precisely the unsettledness of culture that flickers in the conception of the exhibition Omega 3; moreover, it has been enhanced by a flirtation with femininity (as we know, there is an irrational force of attraction between the colour pink and feminism). Reminiscent of the pink plastic articles that over recent years have begun to fill my house, this colour accent in the industrial building seems more than appropriate, at the same time marking in a hint of critique of capitalism and the consumer society.
In conclusion, I would like to add that the electric blue circle on the rusty doors of the factory is one of the most beautiful industrial flowers of the season. At the Mooste information centre we shared a plate of lentil soup. And yes, we didn’t get to Munamägi, yet the moment when that may have been topical had long since passed.