During the 5th International Contemporary Art Festival “Survival Kit” produced by the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, the UK based artist Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad in collaboration with Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) curators Maija Rudovska (LV) and Juste Kostikovaite (LT) as part of a “Lose&Find” workshop proposed to embark on an expedition to one of Riga’s neighbourhoods – Sarkandaugava. In the workshop a game format was used to discover the locality and invent models of alternative action, collaboration and communication.
Can creation of games and rules act as a research tool that aids in acquiring knowledge? Can one learn the new by becoming a teacher rather than a student? We met with the artist Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad and curators Maija Rudovska and Juste Kostikovaite to talk about games, spatial qualities, public interventions and learning strategies that we can adapt to our everyday life.
Festival “Survival Kit” was conceived in 2009 as a reaction to the economic crisis in Latvia. Since then every year the festival has been inviting artists and public to engage with the most current and socially important issues. This autumn “Survival Kit” focuses on slow revolution, which emphasizes the importance of margins and aims to overturn positions of power. Why are you using “game” format as a strategy to look at today’s situation from a different, alternative angle?
Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad: For us the idea of free play is very important. If you think in terms of children’s play, it is absolutely non-instructive and mostly self-led. Having no boundaries, in a game, children can be imaginative and interpretive of space. They have completely different approach to gaining knowledge. Adults are less predisposed to a free play, therefore to a different, alternative model of looking and interpreting things. In “Lose&Find” workshop we proposed a parallel engagement with the city and defined it as a site of experimentation. Participating in a game we were overlaying new rules and flexing the existing ones that govern public space.
Juste Kostikovaite: For us it was a double curatorial gesture. We were responding to the brief and thinking in terms of marginal tactics that can initiate impulses for social change. But also we wanted to introduce a new format that has not been used in “Survival Kit” festival before. At the beginning we were in conversation with curator Janna Graham who initiated The Serpentine Gallery’s (UK) Edgware Road Project. She has a very interesting approach to art practice and looks at how grassroots or social movements can accommodate and develop certain ideas.
In Bahbak’s workshop a “game” format is used as a strategy to transgress social and spatial barriers which we encounter in our everyday life. For instance, we embarked on an expedition in Sarkandaugava as complete outsiders who had a very short encounter with the area. I have never been to Sarkandaugava, although I have been to Riga many times. Maija never visits the neighborhood, although she lives in Riga. Bahbak has never been to Riga and Latvia. To some extent the local people from Sarkandaugava can also be described as outsiders – they live in this district but for instance, many have never been to the beautiful Dauderi museum next door. Could we all be referred to as outsiders of the same locality? Participating in a game as a group, we erase these barriers that are imposed by spatial, geographical, social, economic or political topicalities.
Many of your projects focus on interventions and interactions with different localities from London to Tokyo. Now you have also added Riga to this map. How do you approach new unfamiliar space? Can your projects be re-enacted across the globe?
Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad: I initiate projects that are not only culturally or historically specific, but also spatially engaging. I usually start with observations. I have a very personal approach and always ask myself what can I do for this space? What knowledge can I share?
For me learning is very much a self-led process, it is an attitude or a way of thinking, rather than action. In “Lose&Find” workshop we created our own instructions, learning strategies and performed them in public space. This format can be re-enacted in any locality, by any group of people and the result will always bring new understanding of spatial politics, create new layers of information.
Maija Rudovska: When we decide to make a public intervention as an artistic practice, we should focus on a locality we work in, its needs and specific characteristics. Instead of occupying the so called “marginal” space or transgressing the borders between “centre” and “periphery” by bringing art to the people, we should think in terms of being here and now, asking what do people in this particular locality need.
You work a lot within social space. Do you see “Lose&Find” workshop as part of slow revolution movement that has a power to increase activity in mass community?
Bahbak Hashemi-Nezhad: In my opinion searching for direct signs of slow revolution is misguiding. I would describe it as an alternative way of looking, thinking and producing knowledge. An impact of slow revolution allows you to have a critical distance to your immediate environment.
My projects in general don’t look for strong answers and are not intended to change the system. At least not immediately. I am more interested in byproduct of interventions. “Lose&Find” was a temporary situation, in and out kind of project. However, I do believe that it has a potential to leave a trace, create a system which can be adopted after we leave. The work we did in Sarkandaugava can create an alternative way of looking at space, interpreting from it and switch to the parallel view of peoples current situation.
What are the future scenarios of slow revolution?
Juste Kostikovaite: I think with the time the discourse of centre versus periphery will evolve into something else. For me this is no longer a topic I want to escalate so much, because every centre is a margin of another centre. One could argue with Terry Smith for example if New York is still the site of production and centre of contemporary art discourse. I haven’t read his new book ‘What is contemporary art” yet, but maybe he gives a new view on this question. At the moment I am more thinking about the marginalities as spatial and living conditions, something that we construct within ourselves. I would agree with Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman, who describes our current conditions as “liquid modernity”. Bauman argues that the only thing that is certain is that everything is uncertain. ‘Liquid modernity” also means that in the neoliberal conditions there are no margins and no centre anymore. Apart, maybe, the capital, that relentlessly feeds on the liquid state of relationships: social, economic and political.
“Lose&Find” is on view at the Latvian Culture Museum “Dauderi” (Sarkandaugavas street 30, Riga LV-1005) through 14.09. – 31.10.2013. Open from Wed – Sun 11.00 – 17.00, Closed on Mon, Tue.
Interview by Viktorija Kasperoviča
Photographs by Andrejs Strokins