Riga Photography Biennial – NEXT 2023 outdoor project takes place at the Riga city public transport stops

June 2, 2023
Author Echo Gone Wrong

From May 29 to June 11, Riga Photography Biennial – NEXT 2023 outdoor project takes place at 10 Riga city public transport stops. The author of the series “Grandmothers on the Edge of Heaven” is the Ukrainian artist Elena Subach. It was curated by Inga Brūvere, and the exhibition text author is Aiga Dzalbe.

The project was made in cooperation with the Odesa Photo Days Festival, and is supported by State Culture Capital Foundation, Riga City Council, Rixwell Hotels, Printing house Adverts, Arterritory.com, Echo Gone Wrong, Noba.ac, and BLOK.

The photo series “Grandmothers on the Edge of Heaven” is dedicated to an ever-topical theme that takes on a special resonance in this time and situation. Its protagonists are an important social group – the older generation, or, particularly, old women in Western Ukraine. The artist Elena Subach was first surprised, then enchanted and then plunged into existential contemplation by the vitality these women possess.

Taking photos of the joyful women participating in religious festivals in Lviv, the artist was fascinated by the color and texture combinations of their costumes. Interestingly, the ladies’ dress features cheap Chinese goods bought in local markets side by side with authentic local headdresses – scarves with lace and floral patterns. Observing and documenting the women wearing the colourful costumes, the photographer came to realize that this is a subculture that has its own canon and rituals. What unites these women is their shared use of clothing as a form of social communication, and they still adhere to the tradition of their youth of using their appearance to resist the poverty prevailing after the Second World War and the grayness of the Soviet era that followed. Now they have to experience the devastation of war again, and once again their sheer unshakable faith and hope for a better life after death helps them overcome it. Along with photographs of family members, their wallets hold images of Jesus and Mary. Indeed, these women are only among us in part, because in their mind they are already waiting for the moment when they will cross the threshold of life and arrive at the gates of Heaven.

Observing their lifestyle with loving eyes, and having seen her own beloved grandmother pass away, Elena Subach has arranged the photographs she took over two years into a series called “Grandmothers on the Edge of Heaven”. Behind the vivid visual evidence, the series reveals a story that deepens and broadens the way we think and makes us reflect on our relationship with our fellow human beings who have reached the end of their lives. In many countries, they have become the most vulnerable part of society and often feel like a burden to their loved ones as well. “Not two generations, but an abyss is what separates us from our grandmothers,” the artist says. The generational gap is rapidly expanding due to technological advances and the market that requires staying up to date, which is largely of no interest to the grandmothers. In addition, as the textures specific to Ukraine are highlighted, the gap between two countries, political systems and peoples is likewise revealed very clearly.

Originally conceived as a lyrical tribute to the older generation and a call to support loved ones, the project has taken on an even sadder aspect during the war. The beauty, fragility and vulnerability of the people make one even more acutely aware of the inestimable importance of mutual support.

Elena Subach (1980) is a Ukrainian visual artist and photographer. Before turning to photography, she studied economics. She developed her own unique vision on Ukrainian visual culture in an auto-didactic way.

In her artistic practice, Elena is concerned with questioning religion, tradition, the construction of history and the consequences of soviet colonial pasts. Since 2018, Elena has developed these ideas in her project on Grandmothers on the Edge of Heaven, for which she is researching and photographing crowded religious celebrations and ceremonies in Ukraine. The urge to show this rich Ukrainian heritage through an artistic eye is present in everything she captures and the inspiration she gets from her motherland is endless.

She has received awards such as the New East Photo Prize (2016) and the Gaude Polonia Scholarship (2019) while her photographs have been published in numerous magazines including British Journal of Photography, Weltkunst, Vogue Poland, the Guardian, Süddeutsche Zeitung and many others. Her work has been shown at international exhibitions, most recently at the Willy Brandt House in Berlin, the World Bank in Washington DC, the Katarzyna Kozyra Foundation in Warsaw , Tycho Brahe Museum in Ven, Sweden (2022), Kunstforum Wien, Austria (2022) and MUZA- Eretz Israel Museum in Tel-Aviv (2022).
She participated in Odesa Photo Days Festival 2021 (UA), Circulations Festival 2018 (FR), Fotofestival Lodz 2019 (PL), Landscrona Fotofestival 2022(SW) and Noorderlicht International Photo Festival 2022.

Her project “Hidden”, which raises the theme of protecting cultural heritage in a war-torn country, was published by Besides Press in 2022.

“Grandmothers on the Edge of Heaven” is on display at the following 10 public transport stops:

  • Gustava Zemgala gatve – on the way to the city centre
    • Sporta nams “Daugava” – on the way to the city centre
    • Matīsa iela – on the way to the city centre
    • Medicīnas muzejs – on the way from the city centre
    • Esplanāde – on the way to the city centre
    • Inženieru iela – both ways
    • Merķeļa iela – on the way from the city centre
    • Centrālā stacija – on the way to the city centre
    • 13.janvāra iela – on the way from the city centre

Map: http://rpbiennial.com/programma/2023/11.html

Riga Photography Biennial – NEXT 2023 spans Riga art spaces, galleries and cityscape from April 27 and will continue until July 23 with numerous exhibitions currently open at: exhibition hall Riga Art Space, Gallery of the Artists’ Union of Latvia, Latvian Museum of Photography, ISSP Gallery, and the experimental art space of the Art Academy of Latvia “Pilot”. Find out more on www.rpbiennial.com

Images: Riga Photography Biennial – NEXT 2023 outdoor project – Elena Subach (UA) Grandmothers on the Edge of Heaven. Photo by Ingus Bajārs