Artists: JURGA BARILAITĖ (Lithuania), THOMAS BEHLING (Germany), MARGRÉT H. BLÖNDAL (Iceland), ELINA BROTHERUS (Finland, France), MERIKE ESTNA (Estonia, GB), MIĶELIS FIŠERS (Latvia), ANE GRAFF (Norway), MAIJA HIRVANEN (Finland), SOFIA HULTÉN (Sweden, Germany), STEN ARE SANDBECK (Norway), BOLATTA SILIS-HØEGH (Denmark, Grenland), EMILIJA ŠKARNULYTĖ (Lithuania, Norway), MARGUS TAMM, MARTA STRATSKAS (Estonia), ARTURS VIRTMANIS (Latvia, USA)
Curator: Inga Šteimane
AVOIDING NATURALISATION OF THE DISTANT MOODS
Distant Moods on a Blue Evening – it is a colourful title, the programme of the exhibition and also a sort of password, an allusion to Rainis, who was a great Latvian poet, contributor to the development of Latvian literary language, a social democratic publicist and politician. While the choice of the title (borrowed from his first collection of poems) is, in a way, a nod to the Year of Rainis and Aspazija, his wife and fellow-poet, marked in Latvia with grand scope in honour of the 150th anniversary of birth of the two authors, the exhibition actually pursues its own independent goals and makes no attempt to illustrate Rainis. And yet Distant Moods on a Blue Evening is by no means just a poetic phrase chosen simply by virtue of sounding pleasing to the ear. The title is transformed by the topicality of contemporary issues into a specific sign. All of the artists featured at the exhibition are representatives of the Age of Discourse – each with their own initiative of interpreting the world and their own
contribution to accumulation of knowledge. Without an insulating desire to find the ‘final vocabulary’ (Richard Rorty). With the use of readymades, grammatically significant for contemporary art, in the shape of a huge variety of materials. With an individual narrative and form. At the current moment, which sees the rebirth of a desire to return to ideological doctrines and transparency, both in realpolitik and theoretical discussions, the Age of Discourse, which came to flourish in the 1980s, particularly after the 1989 collapse of ideological confrontations, acquires a new, previously unseen platform of detachment – a vantage point based in a hypothetical ideologized future. The Age of Discourse has been much questioned from the inside – for toying with small anecdotes and private, non-consistent knowledge; for being non-representable and variable; for illusory intensity, exoticism and irony; for abandoning beauty, intellect and the classical dominance of man. By all means, the noise and inconsistency of discourses, the uniqueness of individual vantage points and diversity of experience can be found bewildering in this exhibition like many others. However, there is a direct connection between discursive (dis)orientation and meaningful environment because the discursive and the contemporary social can be described as interchangeable – with the caveat that the environment has the potential of reproducing the diversity of discourses, tolerating it and generating individual knowledge and initiatives that does not overwhelm and threaten the environment itself (there is no reason to view art separately, outside the general environment).
But what if it does not? Then the question arises regarding the environment, its mentality and quality of discursive experiences: has the diversity actually been but a transformation of ideological rhetoric, a synonym to affluence, freedom of choice within a consumeristically limited framework or a media-created myth? What has been the geography and topography of the diversity? Does the diversity and tolerance peel off like old paint, revealing beneath the cheerful and friendly top layer the steely gloom of a non-communicative structure? In the art world, the discursive experience has been passionate and all-inclusive. Although so much has been done since the beginnings of modern art, the last twenty years have seen everything put at stake once again, from the denaturalisation of fixed meanings in art, denaturalisation of identity (what art could be?), to universal dematerialisation, throwing to the wind (as literally demonstrated in 2012 by dOCUMENTA (13), the exhibition that serves as a barometer of contemporary culture and art, by opening its main show with Kai Althoff’s letter of refusal to take part in the exhibition because ‘life’ is more important, and Ryan Gander’s installation – draught blowing in an empty room). The discursive experience has been meaningful and rich in inferences, as shown by the art practice. For this reason, the art world – for instance, this exhibition – reacts sensitively to injections of ideological doctrines in media, cultural policy and development visions. Official discussions that ponder the making of history that has not come to pass yet and conclusions regarding the necessity for universal stories or meta-narratives are sure signals that the powers that be crave for ideology and security.
For argument’s sake, let us imagine a history-making process that would demand naturalisation for every discursive right and freedom in this exhibition – for the Faustian melancholy of Arturs Virtmanis and Thomas Behling; the hybrids of Ane Graff and Sten Are Sandbeck; the conspiratorial journalism of Miķelis Fišers and Jurga Barilaitė; the indefinite fragmented accusations of Maija Hirvanen, Margus Tamm, Marta Stratskas and Bolatta Silis-Høegh; the non-literary (vernacular) stages of Margrét H. Blöndal and Merike Estna; the lyrical demons of Elina Brotherus and Emilija Škarnulytė; the emphatic anarchy of Sofia Hulten. What would this sort of naturalisation look like? As likely as not, quite tragicomically insensitive. ‘It is still a kind of primeval communism or barbarity,’ – this is how Rainis described our people who ‘do not respect and recognise personal boundaries’ in a letter to actress and poet Biruta Skujeniece a hundred years ago (in 1913). In this letter Rainis speaks of his dream that ‘a time will come when there will be subtle cordiality; there will be a good individual who will not turn away from others that need help for their souls and togetherness; there will be such a good and strong heart that not even the heaviest of boots will be able to crush it. Perhaps there will even come a time when no-one will walk around in heavy boots – but that could only be expected at a much later time’. Regardless of what was made of the strictness of Rainis’ socialist convictions an his scientific materialism during the Soviet times, his idealism was so much more subtle and non-materialistic than the dictatorship of proletariat. Today, it resonates with the quest of contemporary art for ‘equilibrium’ and ‘weightlessness’ in a diversity of ways. Fourteen artists from Northern Europe – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, Iceland and Germany – were invited to participate in the exhibition. Distant moods on a blue evening.
Inga Šteimane, Curator
1. Ane Graff NO
2. Jurga Barilaite LT
3. Margret H. Blondal IC
4. Merike Estna EST
5. Thomas Behling DE
6. Sofia Hulten SWE/DE
7. Miķelis Fišers LV
8. Sten Are Sandbeck NO
9. Elina Brotherus FI
The Black Bay Sequence (2010) and My Happiness is Round (2004)
10. Bolatta Silis-Hoegh DK/Greenland
11. Margus Tamm EST
12. Arturs Virtmanis LV
13. Maija Hirvanen FI
14. Emilija Škarnulytė LT