Fleeting, forever, fleeting, forever
Pēteris Bankovskis, Art Critic

I often happen to spend time with people who have never heard of the Studija visual arts magazine. They’ve never read a single line from my articles “about art”, nor yours either, no matter where they may have been published. I dare to admit that these people are my friends. The majority of them, it seems, never watch television and just about never use the internet, and possibly they don’t even read newspapers or listen to the radio.
You won’t encounter them among the heroes in society gossip columns of the tabloid press. You won’t see them in the crowd at season-opening concerts or at theatre prem¬ieres. You might say that you don’t know people like that. But that would be cold lies – you do know them: they’re nearly all of your relatives and acquaintances, and yes, quite often it’s you, yourselves.

It’s good to work in the field of some ideology, which has all around it a protective barrier or electric fence put in place by this ideology. Ideology, you know, can be anything. For example, it could be “self-evident” consensus about whether contemporary art is even art any longer; whether the individuals, groups and “social unions” who are creating, institutionalizing and consuming this art operate as agents of free will or are just shadows in some “video-projection” on the wall of a cave.

Look, being on the inside of an ideology, we are continually getting indoctrinated. Descriptions such as ‘venice biennale’, ‘turner (purvītis and similar) prize’, ‘basel/moscow/hicksville art fair’, or whatever, become significant. Squeezing among the crowd of adepts/victims with chaotic private lives and dressed in the clothing characteristic of gallery openings, clutching a warmish glass of white wine in an enthusiastic hand, we try to stay away as far as possible from the wires of the cunningly imperceptible electric fence, so that we don’t receive a shock.

Because we know: the shock can be powerful, painful, possibly even one that could destroy all the existing ideology in the blink of an eye. And anyone can suddenly find themselves outside the seemingly safe protective systems of ideology. In life where each new morning presents you with issues on how to feed the children; how to cope with the frightening feeling that you’ve become estranged from your parents or brothers or sisters; how to overcome a weakness of will and laziness of the spirit; how to look into your bank account without fear, even if it’s in the red, with bills that were to be paid yesterday; how to escape from the sorry real¬ization that you, with all your work and achievements, are only one of 7 billion chaotically flaring up and immediately extinguished biological facts of life.

Often I’ve been amazed at myself and about others who are sufficiently naive and short sighted to, even for a brief moment, feel the pleasure of contentment in their hearts and souls about a composed text, a completed “work of art” or the tune sounding in their ears. As if (one doesn’t have to look far) right here in the new Riga Bourse Museum there wasn’t an abundance of items under which we can read the annotation: Portrait of an unknown man, work by an anonymous 17th (?) century artist. As if everything that was held in the old Alexandria Library hadn’t disappeared without trace. As if, with the arrival of the “3rd Awakening”, I hadn’t seen, with my own eyes, respectable ladies tipping piles of books by Latvian poets – read with tears and sighs, and at one time so difficult to obtain – into the garbage truck. As if you or I, if we chanced to be at an outstandingly performed concert, with the sounding of the final chord and prior to the expected rush of applause, for a brief moment remaining in an immense all-embracing pause of silence, hadn’t felt that cold despairing metallic taste in the mouth: that there was so much of everything, and now so unfathomably much of “nothing”.

Nothing depresses like art. Because it’s a tragicomic desire to be a creator, in a world where the human being is only a creation. This desire, obviously, is admirable, without even commencing a discussion about the “aesthetic”. The banal phrase “to express yourself” is enough. Why express? How to express? Can I – a Logos derivative and object – even dream of being Logos itself – the Word? Isn’t the main temptation of the Evil One hidden specifically in this desire?

Yes, we can do something. For example, we can plant a birch or an oak. I know that on graduating from high school, together with our classmates we planted these tiny birch trees. I know that if I drove there, I’d see huge trees – unless someone had needed to cut them down. Yes, in my thoughts I can hear the songs of the wind in the branches of these birches, the same as with the others of their species which have self-seeded right there, not far away, without my help or the participation of others. The same songs. We’ve neither composed them, nor can we silence them, as much as, in order to consolidate all kinds of budgets, we would cut down and saw up our surrounding world.

And we can try to raise our children. Well, they do actually grow up themselves. Observing a twelve year old boy coming home from school, lost in thought and having already constructed his spiritual world around him, still hanging to the branch like a delicate leaf but already sensing the approaching storms that will unavoidably drag him into the unknown – seeing this and drawing such a dangerous similarity in one’s memory, the eyes want to weep from the very depths of the soul. That twelve year old boy – yes, my own son – is another Alexandria Library, ordained by fate for fame and oblivion.

We, neither he nor I, don’t know, can’t know, and mustn’t know who will burn him, turn him to ash and scatter him in the dark waters. We only know the fact that this flame, which is meant for him, is already burning and destroying me and you – his parents, his intermediaries, his mediators.

Indeed, recently most of my time has been spent with people who know nothing about Studija magazine, but try, as they understand and know how, to fulfil their intermediary, mediator role to the best of their ability. They are all different, among them there are also those who try to ideologize this consciousness of their role, to find another way of building a seemingly so primitive but effective “electric fence” around themselves. But there are others who have been given the gift of getting by without fences, to be forever open, waiting and receiving the minor as well as major daily miracles with gratitude.

There’s the Portrait of an Unknown Woman with St. Therese of Lisieux, Man with a Black Backpack and Memories of the Mountains, Girl with a Kitten and many others. And all of them – the work of some Artist who was unwanted and unaccepted by the world. To a certain extent Napoleon Bonaparte can be considered a sadly ironic image of the lord of the world – this man with so much influence, who gets mentioned and cited so often. Paradoxically, there are some similarities in the life stories of the previously mentioned Artist and Napoleon, which we can talk about some other time. This time, let’s just remember what was written on the cover of the 79th edition of Studija magazine: “Fame is fleeting. Anonymity is forever.” Yes, yes, this too is a fragment of what was stated by the First Consul: La gloire est éphémère, mais l’obscurité est éternelle.

/Translator into English: Uldis Brūns/
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