The embodiment of shame
Sniedze Sofija Kāle, Art Historian
Dārta Hofmane. Uncomfortable
09.08.–02.09.2011. Cultural platform Nabaklab
The cultural platform Nabaklab was the venue for the first solo exhibition Neērti [‘Uncomfortable’] by Dārta Hofmane (born 1986). Up till now the artist has taken part in several group exhibitions and has been working in graphic design.

Hofmane graduated from the Latvian Art Academy in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Art. She is now continuing her studies for a master’s. Thanks to the Erasmus student exchange programme, the previous academic year 2010/2011 was spent at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Hamburg. The experience she gained there encouraged her to turn to book design, and her use of a creative approach resulted in a story-linking book and a calendar for cheating time. The appealing children’s book Aizrocis un aunu koks. Aunu koks un Aizrocis was created together with her three year old son Aksels; it is designed to be looked at and read from both ends of the book until the two stories meet in the middle. To alleviate the ruthless flow of time, Hofmane created an original calendar for the year 2011, where the page of each following month is longer than the previous one and the days are counted from the bottom to the top, thus “the sensation of the dwindling away of the days is mitigated”, in the words of the artist.
Dārta Hofmane. Neērti ['Uncomfortable']. Charcoal on wood. 2011
To be precise it should also be mentioned that Dārta Hofmane has undergone professional development abroad previously – in 2007, when she took part in the photopolymer master workshop of Lars Goran Malmquist in Sweden.

Working not only in book design, but also in two-dimensional graphic art, Hofmane experiments with various techniques and strategies of image creation. The graphic works for her bachelor’s degree work Pirmsnomods [‘Before Wakefulness’] were drawn shortly before waking up, when the body was already up, but the spirit was still wafting in the tunnels of unconsciousness.

In her first solo exhibition the young graphic artist continues with the project Neērti, which she had already started in Hamburg. Attempting to run away from the seemingly inevitable, the artist wanted to create works not about herself, but rather about other people. Several of her acquaintances and friends were asked to contribute those past memories which still make them feel embarrassed and uncomfortable. Given that “shared sorrow is half a sorrow”, a considerable number of people responded. Hofmane used their reminiscences as creative impulses for her work, as if illustrating as yet unwritten pages of each acquaintance’s life story.

The cultural platform Nabaklab has hosted several personal and group exhibitions, but this one seems to be the only one which has been able to fit in so perfectly with the intensively inhabited premises. The rooms which are intended for nightlife do not see any sunlight, and even when the artificial lighting is switched on, visibility is dim, as if trying to cast a veil on perception. The walls of the cellar, saturated with water, now and then push off the artworks attached, but not always is there someone present to notice and prevent it from happening. These are exactly the kinds of conditions, I imagine, where my feelings of discomfort and shame live. Having crept into a cellar they are glad that I pretend to not see them, waiting for a chance to sneak out and take me by surprise.

But first of all, we should try to establish what is associated with the feeling of discomfort. The artist asked her acquaintances to relate memories “which, when suddenly remembered, still bring on discomfort and embarrassment, or are in some way unbearable”. So all the people involved in the project told her about the experiences that had been traumatic for them; ones that, for various reasons, they had not been able to come to terms with. The words “discomfort and embarrassment” are more associated with the feeling of shame that is instilled during childhood. This odd experience begins in the family, at kindergarten and with the class teacher who didactically shakes a finger and makes you stand in the corner, and continues on into adulthood with state institutions which keep an eye on ethics and moral norms, by now with the force of the law. By playing on “shame”, it is possible to keep the moral principles of society alive, but at the same time to cause individuals to have unnecessary complexes when the moral “I” refuses to accept the natural.
Dārta Hofmane. Neērti ['Uncomfortable']. Charcoal on wall. 2011
At Dārta Hofmane’s solo exhibition the utilised space seems to have created the absolute personification of the feeling of discomfort. As if trying to get out, shame has made chaotic scratches along the walls, leaving behind the unarticulated expressions typical of children. Impossible to control, shame is wilful and unpredictable, and that explains why it has nervously and erratically scribbled over the walls outside the frames of the artworks. Having found the tiniest opening (read – the artist has even successfully played upon the wall socket), it will use it to escape. Shame, just like the feeling of discomfort in general, possesses a characteristic uncertainty or evasiveness. Because of consciousness, which wants to avoid this unwanted meeting, shame has an enigmatic appearance and mysterious ways of expression. It uses abbreviations, odd letter combinations, or vague, hazy images, done in the mixed media of charcoal, ink and white chalk. When faced with it, the only thing that we can register concretely is our own discomfort. It’s the feeling as if an unknown hand has grabbed your control mechanism (one of the rare details of images in the exhibition which was recognizable resembled a huge paw, unexpectedly sticking out of the window sill) and suddenly you, the grown-up, become helpless as a child.

Assessing the exhibition from the aspect of the means of expression used, it is not an exception to the norm, because Hofmane habitually uses an aesthetic approaching children’s drawings. Unlike authentic children’s doodles, however, her compositions are very expressive and meaningful. Is it possible to imagine the feeling of discomfort without a childish, yet serious and distorted facial expression? Such were evident in the majority of the anthropomorphosed and zoomorphosed images, depicted with ballooning heads and awkward little bodies.

Artists these days often try to use the life stories and experiences of other people, whether more familiar or less so, in their works. In this way processes in society are studied and explored, although sometimes this results in a simple chronicling of events. Often in their narrative artists bring into play the method of documentation used by historians, scientists and archivists – by displaying diaries and photographs, which, if there are too many of them, tend to exhaust the viewer. Looking at these things at an exhibition without some kind of interpretation is the same as reading the footnotes of a book without the body text – not the most engaging activity. Dārta Hofmane, on the contrary, had chosen a different strategy: the stories she heard served as impulses, when every personal recollection and experience of discomfort was fused into a united summation and a very lively artistic style of expression. As a result, the exhibition did not offer stories about disparate events limited by time and space, but rather presented universal and recognizable feelings with which the viewer could easily identify.

/Translator into English: Vita Limanoviča/
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