Morning in the forest
Pēteris Bankovskis, Art Critic
Daiga Krūze un Krišs Salmanis. Time Pit
17.02.–06.03.2011. RIXC Media Space
Daiga Krūze. Sounds of the Sunrise (Saullēkta skaņas). View from the exhibition
On one of those extremely cold February days, I went to the exhibition Time Pit by Daiga Krūze and Krišs Salmanis at the RIXC Media Space. Salmanis, wearing a thick winter coat, a hat with earflaps and mittens, let me into the exhibition room before going off somewhere warmer himself. In the empty room I had to spend at least 14 minutes (the duration of Salmanis’ animation film).

I glanced around the former workshop of sculptor Lea Davidova-Medene and saw that the exhibition consists of two works and a brief explanatory text. One of the works was quite an enormous painting (5 metres wide and 6 metres high, which the high ceiling of the workshop was able to accommodate). The canvas was stretched onto a quality aluminium supporting frame affixed to the wall. On the opposite wall there was another canvas on a similar frame. This one, tiny compared with the painting, was stretched horizontally and served as a screen on which Salmanis’ work of art was projected.

Krūze’s painting was one of those expressive abstractions which the world has had in plentiful supply for at least half a century. Streaks, blobs and lots of empty spaces – something like that. Salmanis’ animation was as follows: in an empty space, which has been formed by two dividing walls “captured” in linear perspective, a floor, ceiling and end wall (which later turns out to be a kind of window), one square of “daylight” appears on the ceiling, and then another (so slowly it happens), then in a trice many squares begin lighting up rapidly, and as some of them light up a typical crackling is heard, but for others – all of this is accompanied by Jēkabs Nīmanis’ score – a humming, a buzzing, almost inaudible but with a tendency to increase in volume until finally it achieves a considerable intensity at the moment when there are no more new squares lighting up on the animated ceiling, but behind the end wall-window a circle of light slides past like the rising sun. Then everything falls silent and dies out and it can begin all over again.
Krišs Salmanis. Mendeleev's Dream. Animation still. 14 min. 2011
That’s the exhibition. In present-day Latvia, all reading materials at contemporary and probably non-contemporary art exhibitions too are in English. This is no exception. The title of the exhibition Laika bedre has been anglicised as ‘Time Pit’. The Latvian title, of course, leads one to think about something noble: cosmology and the bending of space time and other unfathomable and therefore wonderful things. For the English version I found the following definition: Something that absorbs a significant amount of time but offers little-to-no benefit (

I thought it highly unlikely that both these artists who, judging by reviews, nominations etc., are amongst the most noted and perhaps successful of the younger generation, would have organised this exhibition in a freezing place open to visitors from 5 pm on weekdays in order to absorb a significant amount of the visitors’ time and to offer little-to-no benefit in return.

The question of why an artist creates is doubtless interesting but also complex. Yes, there have been and probably still are today those who create only to praise the Creator and thank Him for the opportunity to live on this Earth and to create. However, at most periods the majority of artists, including Daiga Krūze and Krišs Salmanis, have created for other reasons. Because this is what they have been taught, because there is a cultural tradition of creative expression, because part of this tradition is that the individual’s vision, skills and talents lead them to portray or depict, present or represent or reflect with the aid of various signs and meanings, approaches and techniques. Moreover, these presentations and reflections tend to be more or less mediated. Schooling, fashion, politics or the creative subject’s individual peculiarities can all serve as mediators.

Visitors to exhibitions have no part in any of this. Their share is what is visible and explained by the artist. For instance, Krūze explains that she painted (treated the big canvas with acrylic paint) in the order of the impulses brought into the realm of her spirit by sensorily perceived forest sounds of the birds, trees and sky awakening in the morning. For his part, Salmanis says that he was inspired to create his animation film by another morning event: Russian chemist Dmitry Mendeleev (1834–1907) waking up and realising that he had seen the chemical elements forming a periodic table in his dreams.

Clearly, Krūze’s painting is only possible through abstract spontaneity, just like the unforeseeable and unrepeatable noises of awakening nature, whereas Salmanis’ work is rationally thought out, given impulse not only by a cerebrally elaborated table but also by facts and stories created and recorded in the annals of tradition even before Salmanis was born: about chemistry, its elements, the bearded Mendeleev with his 40 degree vodka standard and his two wives, and the twists and turns of the discovery of the elements, of which the Russian scientist was neither the beginning nor the end. In this sense Krūze is a realist, while Salmanis is a romantic who bases his imagery solely on tradition.

Of course, both artists are conceptualists, but this time that didn’t interest me in the least.
Krišs Salmanis. Mendeleev's Dream. Animation still. 14 min. 2011
What interested me was something completely different – the motif uniting both works. And this was morning in the forest. A real, fragrant, perhaps primeval forest and a dark, man-made, complex forest created by science, which is today considered as truth.

I recalled another morning in the forest, painted in 1889. If not elsewhere, then on sweets wrappers many will have seen the painting Morning in a pine forest by two Russian painters (and contemporaries of Mendeleev): Konstantin Savitsky (1844–1905) and Ivan Shishkin (1832–1898). There, in a canvas streaming with light, Shishkin created a forest landscape against which Savitsky painted a mother bear and her three cubs. In a similar way, Salmanis has painted into Krūze’s feeling for nature a kind of possibility of thinking about why and how the elements feature in people’s heads and conceptions of nature. In turn, the works of both living painters blend with the residual atmosphere of Davidova-Medene’s workshop, which leads the memory back to the Arsenāls exhibition hall where Davidova-Medene’s modernist stone heads were as mysterious as those fashioned by the Olmecs in the jungles of Mexico. And from Davidova-Medene it is a short hop to the constellation of artists from the golden age of Latvian modernism who studied at the Penza art school during the years of World War I. And for a time, the director of this school was Savitsky. Thinking of Savitsky, we can imagine Latvian modernism. And imagining Latvian modernism, we can imagine Latvian postmodernism and conceptualism.

Thus the circle is completed.

By the way, the newest elements in the periodic table cannot be found in nature. Instead, scientists obtain them – no, discover them for millionths of a second – by flinging particles through the electromagnetic tunnel of an accelerator. In circles.

/Translator into English: Filips Birzulis/
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