In his works, Ivars Drulle often turns his attention to reflecting on ambiguous social processes, of the kind that people find it awkward to discuss in public; contemplating these through those points at which they come into contact with his own private life. This time, the essential impulses for the creation of his works were the artist’s daily life in the Vidzeme countryside, and his observations of the surrounding environment and the lives of those that populate it, which are materialised in several objects. At first, the ironic title “To My Homeland” gives rise to associations with banal postcards of idyllic landscapes or photographs from “Lauku Avīze” calendars, i.e. images of nature symbolising patriotic pride. The irony is partly concealed in the fact that the installations on view in the exhibition can also be perceived as depictions of landscapes, as well as physically direct impressions of nature, which offer the viewer the chance to consider the romance of rural life through the prism of its social reality, as opposed to via aesthetic contemplation. The cross-sections of homeland scenes created by Ivars Drulle also pose a rhetorical question about the patriotism of the average Latvian, which is so often expressed through the attitude, “I love this land, but I don’t love this country”. The differences between both are becoming ever more pronounced, just like those that set rural and urban lifestyles apart, which exist as two parallels, one constituting an exotic world for the other. The mechanisms of global economic and local political power have transformed the countryside into a landscape of ruins, but this does prevent national ideologies from presenting “the fields of the homeland” as assets integral to the Latvian self and wisdom, whose connection with real everyday rural life is tenuous in the extreme.
All of these processes can be observed and recorded through the passive view of a tourist, trying to seek sanctuary from his everyday routine amidst the landscapes of his homeland. However, Ivars Drulle has been driven by anthropological quests for local identity (which crucially should not be confused with national identity), begging the question of whether that which is most frequently designated with the trendy term of “site-specific” can actually exist under conditions of globalization? For the artist and many of us, classical Latvian rural houses, their standard proportions and scales signify a code of Latvian aesthetics, which we perceive on an imperceptible, almost unconscious, level. “To My Homeland” depicts how political and economic conditions deform this visual code. Deformations in the form of silhouettes are immortalised on iron plates, somewhat reminiscent of peculiar gravestone inscriptions, as well as in photographs – since 2013, the artist has endeavoured to photograph the abandoned houses, numbering at least 350, located within a 15 km radius of his house in Vidzeme (mentally, try to recalculate these numbers into measurement units of people’s destinies).
Even though the concept of identity is easy to manipulate by transforming it into an empty construct, comprised of words that communicate nothing; a sense of geographic affinity can also serve as psychological therapy. Particularly so in the digital era, when geographical borders now mean next to nothing when it comes to mutual communication, and no longer serve as reference points for social life. On this occasion, Ivars Drulle has engaged in cognitive mapping by incorporating topographically direct, as well as aesthetically and emotionally abstract information within the exhibition’s works. This multi-layered approach is repeated in the visual language of the installations, using materials and techniques that incorporate and emphasise the essence of process. In their slow duration, rust “paintings”, kinetic constructions and slide projections repeat the rhythm of rural life, setting them apart from digital high tech aesthetics and technologically efficient accelerations – instead, giving precedence to artisan forms of expression.
In working on his exhibition “To My Homeland”, Ivars Drulle has gravitated towards the artistic strategies, which Western art theoreticians described as the approach of “the Artist as Anthropologist” (Joseph Kosuth in the 1970s) or “the Artist as Ethnographer” (Hal Foster in the 1990s). Parallel to socio-anthropological documentation, the works in the exhibition also incorporate the direct personal experience that arises from daily life in the countryside. Accordingly, in the works on show, the artist’s rural surroundings exist not as a passive, geographically specific physical location, but rather as a mental space interwoven with various social, historical and mental processes. On a deeper level, this mutual interaction between the artist and his environment materialises in the garden, which Ivars Drulle has installed in one of the ruins, and above which a video camera has been installed, which films the dawn sky throughout the year, as a dedication to the dreams of the one-time residents of these houses.
The exhibition ‘To My Homeland’ by Ivars Drulle at ALMA gallery until 20th January, 2017