Surviving in Downshifting Mode

October 2, 2012
Author Anna Veilande Kustikova
Published in Review from Latvia

This September  have pitched the consistency of cultural events in Riga. As every year, the culture forum White Nights offers a diverse and intensive program, which actually  cannot be seen in a one night. However, assuming that each of us has our own range of interests, the offer was just  enough. Overall, nearly 60 events, each lasting for at least 3 hours.

Trying to find a golden middle between organization profile and attractive event for a  random viewer, the institutions depart from their main practice and step outside their usual boundaries by switching from  didactic to entertaining. In this situation, we might expect the quality to remit, but the last years of White Nights are proving the opposite. By participating in the White Night, cultural organizations have the chance to inveigle thousands of new visitors who may also return some other day. The desire to attract public faces the reality as it sometimes is in state of intoxication, and thus unable to perceive the subtle vibrations of artwork itself, or even worse – by being a moving mass in rush it threatens with total miscommunication.  Funny as it may be, this September 8th natural forces where in favor as the rain made the culture lovers decide which event to terminate at. Nothing else remained but to stay up at the chosen venue and scrutinize the featured piece till the last drop.

Every year during the White Nights the main contemporary art organizations offer something that can be consumed in short time and can leave a long lasting mark. The most popular among them are events organized by Skaņu Mežs (Sound forest), LCCA, RIXC, and KIM?.

The headline  of contemporary art events in September was  International Contemporary Art Festival Survival Kitwith it’s fourth edition this year. The  theme of Survival Kit 4 – downshifting – sharply contrasts with the White Nights intensive program.

This year  Survival Kit festival holds the finger on pulse of current trends in art and society continuing it’s tradition to stick to a particular topic at each edition. Last year it brought up ideas on  future perspectives, then  #2- creative quarters, and the first edition of Survival Kit dealt with the consequences of crisis.

Survival Kit 4 is the only major international contemporary art festival in Latvia that offers “fresh” art, most of it created specially for his festival, others  selected from recently completed projects. The Festival is usually supplemented with different types of events, performances, workshops, lectures and discussions. This edition includes  over 80 artists among which Latvian artists Krišs Salmanis, Arnis Balčus, Artūrs Bērziņš, Ēriks Božis, Inga Brūvere, Izolde Cēsiniece, Dace Džeriņa, Andris Eglītis, Ivars Grāvlejs, Krists Pudzens, Artūrs Punte, Kārlis Vītols, Kristīne Želve, Maija Mackus, Liene Mackus, Atis Jakobsons, Kate Krolle, etc., as well as representatives from Turkey, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Italy, France, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Poland, Romania, Israel, Iraq and the United States[1].

Downshifting – changing from high speed to slow rhythm of life, or returning to nature, qualitative free time, self-reflection, ecological thinking etc. According to this theme the festival team made a successful selection of works and events, and as a result the viewer can really get into downshifting pace by taking the observers position and meditatively enjoying the works of art, reflect on seemingly simple everyday life themes within conceptual and thought stimulating context. By taking up  this topic, Survival Kit 4 feeds our hunger for  clear information flow of simple thought forms.

In the first pages of Survival Kit 4 catalog the festival director Solvita Krese discuss downshifting topic through  her own experiences. Then follows the downshifting dictionary, or other authors’ thoughts on this and other topics, but almost every art work description ends with the artists themselves briefly giving their  thoughts on downshifting.  What is surprising is that almost all the artists, consider downshifting as a positive and necessary for the world, but in the same time they say that they are not practicing it. To justify themselves they give great amount of reasons, starting with time consuming artist lifestyle. We as observers at this point can ask – whether the artists themselves can reflect on ideas witch they have not brought in life? However, this reasoning has to stop here, because downshifting practices are much closer to artist way of working or living, than any other citizen. Both have lack of time, but in one case the artist stops to look at the sky, because that is his way existing and being productive, but in other, the average city dweller chooses to blur reality with continuous flow of information in  the most common way – passive reception of simply consumable information on the Internet, TV or pop culture products cinema and music. Survival Kit 4 with its participation in the events of White Night reach out  these two different social types to interface, offering a number of events: Performative lecture Reloading Images (DE / IT / IS), where, as promised in catalog, downshifting would be played out as a disagreement practice; PerformanceZipper Suit Johanne Blixt (SE) presentation in which the artist offers to open her second skin made of zippers, derived from the older women who take the zippers of before disposing worn out clothes with the idea that they might be useful later; Lumpish Band (LV) concert;  Kristina Želve (LV) Menu, fed the hungry readers with tasty pieces from Latvian classical prose.

The exhibition of Survival Kit 4 gives  a chance to downshift for as long as one  is present  wondering around the exhibition space[2] as the spending time qualitatively includes consuming intellectual food and enjoyment. It is this one main theme made the exhibition easy to understand for unprepared visitors as it adopted the idea on macro level, but the same theme confused those who really tried to see the downshifting in each work. Talking to the viewers in exposition space I heard both opinions and the third – one of the  artists.

The artists who did not struggle with the downshifting theme have  brought me back to the festival exhibition space more than once.  Here are the few I would like to mention.

Atis Jakobsons and  Kate Kraule featured their video installation Truth is simple which is a tricky piece of art as the smoky and dark image does not reveal its true nature of being not a still but moving image. The smoke seems to be coming out of the image and gets  trapped in the glass frame. After this I  start to look at the whole construction and think about it as a representation of some bio hybrid plant which has framed projections instead of leaves. After all settles down  the core idea comes to the front. The artists themselves claim that this installation: “shows the experience of our thoughts on the stage provided by nature, where every action is beautiful and necessary.” I must say this description is a nice way to keep focus on the physical experience, because the idea is too elusive.

Video installation In between things Latvian artist Ginta Tinte Vasermane based in Netherlands, functions as a growing object, which sometimes can consist of two or three and even up to five videos. All of them capture an absurd movement in a monotonous environment such as library, archive or greenhouse. This work is not  to be seen as criticism of office work or bureaucracy, but rather breaking the routine with unexpected  decision. The artist uses movement and intervention with the environment as means of artistic expression in this way  capturing beauty in chaos.

In her sculpture-animation Jump in to the cold water, Liene Mackus  makes the two  so to say opposite media to collide: still and cold sculpture starts to move and animation becomes tangible. The movement in Lienes Mackus animation is simple, still fluent and soft  in this way it corresponds to the characters or sculptures features. In the exposition you can see both the sculpture and the animation, with this the sculptor gives us emphasizes the importance of sculpture in this moving image artwork. Downshifting as practice can be seen in both in the story the artist tells us, and the form of it, which is simple and clear: lets enjoy the nature and have no fear to give this process more time. And I would say, by choosing those two of most time consuming media, she is not only giving more important message, the artist is also downshifting for a better quality.

Mickael Marshand is working with curators Maya Mikelsine and artist Ivars Grāvlejs (artist’s project in Survival Kit 4) in creation of the  Superstructure. This was ought to become one of the most easygoing and “downshifting” projects, but all the plans of this trio quoted[3] in the catalog ended up with something more serious and in both cases questioning the art practice. In conversation with Mickael, I am trying to reflect on his work by trowing in some terms of art history minimalism, suprematism, both with question mark. The artist remained silent and smiling. Mickeal usually is working with rapidly disappearing constructions in city environment. This time structures are made of wood and laces, the constructions have simple geometrical shapes. The most important here is the tension you get when you understand that these are heavy wooden blocks that are balancing on their own weight. The mentioned dialogue between venue and this installation for me seems like a really European point of view on old building, that I guess for this artist did not seem safe, then again I can go further and say that this might represent the former Soviet Union that was an unstable structure, still as far as I can go there is no sight of downshifting in this works conceptual space.

Iliana Veinberga un Ainārs Kamoliņš Slow Revolution conspiracy flat, 2012 (incl. text readings, writing workshops and discussions).The problem of a potential contemporary art consumer to become a consumer, is the inability to read works that are dealing with values that are not understandable for the viewer and works that demand thinking or  art that are using brain and your thoughts as the space where they function. The couple/artists Iliana Veinberga un Ainārs Kamoliņš will always have some incontrovertible truth to offer, and the combination of art theoretic and philosopher can only be enviable in terms of conception. The Slow Revolution, consists of several events that can serve as a boost of conceptual thinking for artists and brain workout experience for anyone. The context of downshifting in this project can be explained by using artists words in the catalog “The aim of the project Slow Revolution is to discard the interpretation of slow life of bourgeoisie and to find an answer to the question: is it possible to take part in a revolution from a safe distance, actively creating focal practices and simultaneously discovering the possibility of different models?”[4] Feedback on this project can divide in those who say this is an event where you can take part of, hear some thoughts, try out new ideas, but I think, to get the most of this, we should consider it as one art piece scattered in time and space.

When art becomes ideological, or invites us to look at the world differently, there is always a chance of loosing artistic value and letting the competition take the paramount role.  In this case,  by devoting the entire festival to one social phenomena, Survival Kit 4 is risking to loose the value of individual works of art. This risk has been successfully neutralized in Survival Kit 4 framework, where works themselves mostly do not talk about downshifting, but make the spectator to actually downshift life tempo, and think about everyday in a different way – trough the prism that is offered by artists.

[1] Member listing involuntarily compares this festival to product packaging, where the ingredients are listed beginning with the ones taking most percent. Starting with Estonia, there is one representative artist from the country.
[2] Tabakas Fabrika – Riga, Miera 58, The former Tobacco Fabric, now part of Riga’s Creative quarters. During the festival most of the complex parts where open giving art  hundreds of square meters of space.
[3] From conversation in Skype: Michkael Marshand “We understood that we shouldn’t go to Riga, but to downshift to Georgia and send faxes to the festival” (Ed. Zane Zajančauska, Survival Kit 4 Contemporary Art festival, Exhibition catalog, 6.09.-16.09.2012., Tabakas Fabrika, Riga, Latvia, – LCCA, 2012- p22.)
[4] Ed. Zane Zajančauska, Survival Kit 4 Contemporary Art festival, Exhibition catalog, 6.09.-16.09.2012., Tabakas Fabrika, Riga, Latvia, – LCCA, 2012- p 29.

The program and list of artists along with photos from events and exhibition can be found at

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Photographs by Didzis Grods and Raitis Zeiferts