Question 1. (Manca Bajec and Isobel Wohl) Ralph Rugoff writes that this year’s exhibition, entitled May You Live in Interesting Times,‘will no doubt include artworks that reflect upon precarious aspects of existence today, including different threats to key traditions, institutions and relationships of the “post-war order.”’ How do you feel that the work that you are presenting as part of your curated project responds to this set of concerns? (Or, for curators, how do the curatorial choices you have made respond to this set of concerns?)
Valentinas Klimašauskas: The notion of ‘post-war order’ has different meanings for someone like me who comes from Lithuania where contemporary art, strictly speaking, arrived together with the collapse of the USSR and the Iron Curtain, and where most of the institutions as organisations and customs are still fresh, emerging and shifting. The ‘war’ here has never ended; it is permanent and, at least for me, it continues to have the connotation of breaking empires and institutions. Or, talking more abstractly and in a more relevant sense, the world calls for changes and this, in our case of small Baltic countries, means openness, equality, overstepping nationalism etc.
I believe Daiga Grantina’s work is based on these values but is also trying to invent new decentralised and powerful sculptural landscapes that, on their own, contain this ability of shifting, changing, opening new possibilities.
Inga Lāce: Daiga Grantina has created an installation that reminds the viewer of landscapes full of joy and the creation of new worlds, and of slow post-catastrophic contamination, but does not necessarily have to be either of those. On a subconscious level it mirrors our state of mind, torn between a constant hope that everything is going to be alright and the looming understanding that the ecological catastrophe and/or the police state enforced by right-wing governments, will get us sooner or later.
Question 2. (MB and IW) What does it mean for you as an artist, a curator, or a curatorial team to represent your country? How does the structure of the Venice Biennial, with its individual national pavilions, influence your choices as a participant? What does it mean, in terms of the current state of European and world politics, for us to emphasise national representation in the arts sector?
Klimašauskas: For the first time Baltic countries are represented by young emerging artists, in particular, powerful women who have lived, studied and carried out extraordinary projects both internationally and locally. Culture and the arts are more often perceived via tradition in this region, through historical and local discourse, so this is already a great achievement, an extraordinary message. The same goes for curating the pavilions. All three Latvian projects involve international curators: thus the national representations become small examples of how any contemporary society should function with the world—cooperatively, openly, transparently.
Lāce: The Latvian Pavilion is a lot about working together and overcoming boundaries both institutional and national. There are two local institutions collaborating on the production process: The Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, where I am curator, and the Kim? Contemporary Art Centre, which has involved a large section of the local contemporary art scene in the process of the making of the pavilion. Working with Valentinas Klimašauskas, who is based in Vilnius and Daiga Grantina, who is currently living and working in Paris means a lot to me, a Latvian-based curator. The more diverse the backgrounds of the team, the better in my opinion. Also, a certain kind of diversity in the teams all over Venice represents the present, and future, we imagine for Europe and the world, regardless of the rising anti-immigration movements. Opening up even more, instead of closing in around national borders, should be the response.
Question 3. (MB and IW) How do the choices you’ve made in your national pavilion relate to recent developments in your artistic or curatorial practice? What do you hope that your creative decisions in this project will contribute to your work going forward?
Klimašauskas: Working for the national pavilion is a huge responsibility and a long term collaboration. It definitely affects other curatorial projects [laughs].On a serious note, I really see working with artists coming from smaller regions as some semi-permanent duty. As curators have become jetsetters, living in different continents every few months, let’s not forget that it is valuable to have first-hand experience of smaller scene contexts. I like to think how the past and the future should be redistributed in more balanced ways and find it important to find ways in which to interconnect what is happening in Berlin or Paris with smaller scenes.
The relationship is reciprocal. For example, as Daiga studied in Hamburg and Vienna and lives in Paris, the sculptural work she is doing may be seen as international but also strongly suggests very Latvian or regional attributes. As a foreigner in Riga I instantly noticed how the local contemporary art scene somehow subconsciously uses the botanic, linear and floral motifs that are abundant in the Art Nouveau decor of city architecture.
This tension between global and local counterbalances what may be described as non-authentic, overly self-referential work produced while sipping coffee in one of over 30,000 Starbucks branches [laughs]. On second thoughts, coffee does miracles, so maybe I should take this back!
Lāce: I am inspired to think about ‘Baltic’ through my collaboration with Daiga and Valentinas. It has made me think that healthy region-building, one that is not built to colonise or reinstate imperial powers as in the case of the Baltic states, can offer a viable ‘new’ energy to tired ‘old’ Europe. I have also been thinking about how notions of self and others play out in such small insular art scenes as the Baltic ones; how on the one hand we are still the poorer, more marginal part of Europe, while on the other, we are the ‘mainstream’ living with ‘aliens’ or people with non-citizen status since the 1990s, and are now having a hard time opening up to the new waves of migration.
I find a lot of joy in observing the unique language and approach Daiga works with—it is beyond reproducing the traditional nation-building narratives, or criticising them as so often is the case in Venice. That inspires future projects.
Manca Bajec is an artist and researcher living and working in London, UK and Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Isobel Wohl is a visual artist and writer. She lives and works in London, UK and Brooklyn, NY.
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