by Aarthi MohanAug 12, 2023
Surrounded by Art Nouveau façades and a pleasant climate, this UNESCO heritage site is a beautiful city with its architecture and ever-growing art scene. As the jewellery of the Baltics, Riga is a shining city carrying the traces of Soviet culture and art once and reborn as a vibrant location with a National Museum, independent art spaces, private foundations, galleries, and an ongoing biennial. Over the years, Baltics have experienced dramatic geopolitical upheavals and shifts in power. The first show I visited was at the Kim? contemporary art centre titled Betweenness, which took its title from the animated video work of Oliver Laric (2018) curated by Riga Technoculture Research Unit (Zane Onckule and Elizaveta Shneyderman), focusing on how humans and technology intertwined through concept, material, and productive way. Even though small and large-scale art pieces are installed dispersedly, the maze-like exhibition space seems even more spacious. It is an inevitable fact that humans have become inherently technological entities. Whether using it as a tool for enhancing our lives or compulsorily, it affected how we practice art and how post-human sciences become ever-increasing topics to discuss. The art exhibition explores production and technicity through a gathering of artists based in the Baltic and elsewhere.
Art, as an outcome of various processes, is tooled as a mediator and bridges new and old through intergenerational and operating across mediums. As the highlights of Betweenness, I’d like to mention Adriana Ramic, an inspiring artist based in Berlin, combining special computer software and interpreting randomly selected images as texts installed on her large-scale image. However, it is unsurprising that she developed this intermediary practice from her Bosnian and Polish roots. Since she was a little child, she has been trying to find multiple ways to shift between both cultures and languages. Overall, Betweenness possesses a particular link between the artistic and technical possibilities that can emerge from cultural aftershocks.
Talking about aftershocks, this might conjure up the ongoing Biennial of Riga. Some might say that Riga is an entirely peaceful city pioneering the Art Nouveau style in the Baltics and probably have nothing to worry about at all, but Russia's attack on Ukraine and the results of the war are inevitable, and you can even feel it in the atmosphere of the city.
In the middle of these ongoing attacks, RIBOCA’s 3rd edition opened partially. This edition is curated by the chief curator René Block, who is familiar with the region. He curated one of the past Istanbul Biennials as well, and the legendary exhibition Trilogy of the Balkans was quite influential to me, consisting of artists based in the area. In this edition, artists such as Halil Altındere, Mehtap Baydu, Sarkis, Nevin Aladağ, and Ayşe Erkmen are striking through Block’s long-term endeavours from those years. The 3rd edition- RIBOCA3, was shown as a target from day one because the Biennial was backed-up in Russian. So, as a controversial project, postponed more than once, it finally opened with a mission of triggering the audience and questioning them through being the “Exercises in Respect.” This time without Russian funding.
The director Agniya Mirgorodskaya, the founder of the Riga Biennial Foundation and the commissioner of RIBOCA, indicated that “that is why they need an extra year to build up a new funding structure.” RIBOCA3 is increased by “the artist’s vision as its conceptual starting point, positioning exhibition-making as a space for experimental expression that can be free of preconceived ideas,” indicates the official website. The initial program, “Exercises in Respect,” was designed by Block a year ago; however, it strictly shifted its discourse after the invasion and aimed to create a discussion for a common ground, a centre for Ukrainian refugees to gather, socialize, and work. Block collaborated with the socially minded collective SUPERFLEX this May, founded in 1993 and known for large-scale participatory works. They have produced the Biennial’s major ongoing project, There is the elephant in the room, staged across multiple venues, inviting 25 women artists to address the current problematics.
Closer to the downtown, another context-wise deliberately curated retrospective exhibition was of Waclaw Szpakowski, who spent his teenage years in Riga and was educated as an architect. Riga Notebooks is organized by the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art in collaboration with the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in Warsaw and the Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, is presented in the 4th Floor Exhibition Halls of the main building of the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga. I might say that I am impressed by the museum’s permanent collection as well. Latvian history was presented with a poetic narrative, mostly paintings focusing on the heroes of every period, such as soldiers, farmers, and ordinary people, painted in a poetic way using dark colours and big-scale canvases.
Moving on with Szpakowski’s geometric abstract drawings, which were inspired by meteorology and researched atmospheric phenomena such as hurricanes, cyclones, storms and observations of nature, proposing a way to interact with what is happening around us.
Human: The living and inanimate structures existing in the world maintain their boundaries by using the order of the damaged connections of the facilities, such as points, lines, angles, surfaces, and the ratios they place in their subconscious before they arrive. Szpakowski decoded the process of marching on with this systematic within his personal development, braced up from his talent.
He wrote down facts and observations in his notebooks, but the obstacles changed when moving to the drawing phase of his mind. The notes and sketches gave the feeling that you can almost trace the lines, which are endless and impossible to follow. To see the world through his deliberately planned perspective was inspiring in many ways. Complex patterns emerge from the rhythmic lines following one another to find a way to understand the world that we’re living in. To interpret art, geometric shapes are indispensable in the creative process of theory, concept, principle, and shaping elements. This exhibition also provides an insight into the methodology of his lifelong project Rhythmical Lines. The visual motifs that Szpakowski observed in nature (human faces, plants, animals) and in artificial forms (architectural elements), in sounds heard in spirit and musical compositions, preoccupied his mind. By communicating his emotional expressions with the audience, the freedom of various options by creating different impressions, emotions, and forms from different perspectives creates awareness in other lights.