International Sculpture Quadrennial

Elīna Dūce: The 2004 exhibition Eiropas telpa (‘European Space’) was organized in cooperation with partners from other countries, who recommended artists that could participate in the exhibition.

Aigars Bikše:
Yes, they made several recommendations and we chose a couple of artists.

E.D.: The works for the 2008 quadrennial Vairākuma diktatūra (‘Dictatorship of the Majority’) were selected by a people’s panel. What was the selection process for this year’s exhibition Anatomy of Integration?

Ivars Drulle
: I myself didn’t participate in the organization of the previous quadrennial, but I know that the selection of works this year was very different. This time we came up with a concept for the exhibition, which was to focus on topical sociopolitical themes. It was around the time of the language referendum [which was about Russian becoming the second official language in Latvia], 16 March, and we decided to view these topics in the light of contemporary art. Even before choosing our artists, we agreed that we were interested in the “hot spot” regions – the former Soviet republics, former Warsaw Pact countries, places where we don’t know what is going on at the moment, also the Balkan countries and Slovakia. Then I chose some artists from these regions and it became apparent that there is only a small number of people who are socially and politically active in these regions, and even fewer of those artists are sculptors.

A.B.: At first it seemed that the sociopolitical issues about integration and different groups of society would be a particular characteristic of these regions, but then we came to the conclusion that in all the large European countries there are larger or smaller groups that are in a conflict with each other. These groups identify themselves in a certain manner and try to protect that identity, for example, the Irish, the Scottish, the Basques in Spain, the Flemish and the Walloons in Belgium. Now the Catalans want to separate… It is interesting that on the one hand Europe is moving towards unification, but on the other hand there are these separatist tendencies. Anyway, in reality all three of us selected the works. Inese Baranovska was also in the curator team at the beginning of the project.

Līga Marcinkeviča: Ivar, can you be more specific about these regions, what you didn’t know about them – what has happened there historically, or what is happening on their art scene? Why did you choose these regions?

I have little knowledge of what is happening on the art scenes of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Moldova. I have a bit more of an idea about what’s going on in the Ukraine, in Belarus. We have been to the Documenta, the European biennial of contemporary art Manifesta, we know what is happening at the Tate. But as for what is happening in the former Soviet republics, what they are doing…

L.M.: But you yourself know why this is the case. It’s simpler that way. When the borders were divided differently, you could go to Georgia and to other Soviet republics. Of course, people choose to go to the countries that they haven’t been to before, and are easy to get to. But how does this exhibition show what is happening in these regions?

One of the participants, for instance, is a Kazakh artist who in 2011 represented the Central Asian Republics at the Venice Biennale. There are several artists that we know much less about. And now these artists are here.

We were interested in these regions because we all have a certain history in common. We all have once upon a time fought against the “lenins”. There were so many of them that it seemed like bad taste. Now, twenty years have passed and we thought that we could start to analyze how to work with them. That’s why we are trying to understand – whether that old man who has been around for 70 years is worth bringing out again, or is it museum material, or is it still too raw.

L.M.: But in that case I would like to understand the concept of the quadrennial, given that the title of this event is Anatomy of Integration.

Anatomy can be considered as something that gets dissected in order to look at the bones, nerves, blood vessels, muscles. Integration could be viewed in a similar way.

L.M.: Why integration specifically?

The notion of integration came up in relation to the Uzvaras [‘Victory’] park in Riga, because that is a meeting place for those Russians who should be integrating.

A.B.: We wanted a theme which would be interesting and important for our society. The society of Latvia is roughly divided into two large groups. Of course, integration could be viewed from many different aspects – the rockers could be integrating themselves among the grannies…

L.M.: But you are not speaking about social roles.

Quite so. In Latvia there is a huge absence of mutual understanding between these two groups. At the beginning of this quadrennial, we were saying that it would be important to organize an exhibition with international artists who could share their experiences of integration in the situation or place that they live in, and to talk about the relationships between opposing communities, groups, ideas and identities, and how they manage daily living side by side.

I.D.: Yes, and it all became very topical due to the referendum, 16 March, and 9 May.

L.M.: These dates will recur every year. Given that, are the works displayed here an illustration of your version that it’s the same elsewhere? Shouldn’t the exhibition be a product that you have devised? Why do these artists in particular implement your idea of the exhibition?

They cannot implement our idea, they are implementing their own ideas as artists.

L.M.: But you are the curators.

Our idea is the concept of the quadrennial. The body of participating artists as a whole.

A.B.: We are not the authors of these stories, we selected them. That is to say, if we were editors of a book of stories, then we would be the ones who select which stories to publish. We didn’t want the stories to be the same, or that the artists would represent only one form, or only one path of suffering or happiness. We wanted them to be different, and during the selection process it was important to choose artists who express these issues in their works. I don’t think that we acted as curators who must control all the processes of the exhibition completely.

I.D.: We controlled the names of the artists. For example, with regard to Latvian artists, we invited Ernests Kļaviņš and Ginters Krumholcs; they became acquainted with the concept of the exhibition and offered their works. We didn’t in any way participate in any discussions about the ideas for their works.

L.M.: The other artists you chose, did they have works already?

There were some who participated with works they had already made, but many artists created works specifically for the quadrennial – including the Greek artist Stefanos Tsivopoulos who created the work “Putin’s blue stage” (The Stage For Political Integration) (from here onwards the names of works in parenthesis are the editor’s notes), and Anna Macleod from Ireland (Building a Commons). The artists who sent in existing works fit in with our concept. For example, the work by Eugenio Merino – two soldiers in boxes (No Return Policy).

E.D.: I remember the exhibition Eiropas telpa very well. At that time it was important to get people to come to the exhibition hall at all, and to address people there were these huge banners with images of sculpture of the 1950s displayed in the city. With this quadrennial, I didn’t feel that people were being invited to come and see the exhibition at the museum.

Our cooperation with the city turned out to be not so successful while we were coordinating the works to be displayed in the city. The basic idea was that we would display ten works in urban space: starting with the green zone near the Freedom Monument, where we would place Ginters Krumholcs’ work Rozes vārdā (‘In the Name of the Rose’), up to the Victory monument where we had intended to display Draudzības arka (‘The Arch of Friendship’), a work by Ernests Kļaviņš. The idea was to display works in the city area between these two monuments, given that each of them plays the role of being a sacramental centre for one of the two groups, and also to display works at the Railway Museum. But we must say that the new ruling power, which is our City Council, tries to control everything, and, without having a full understanding about what’s happening, would rather say “no”. We also had problems with the banners. We have frames where we could install the banners, but… the Riga City Construction Board can go on forever approving and interfering. Their rhetoric as to why they were not allowed to approve our proposal included some phrase that it had to be coordinated with the owner of the land. Well, the owner of that land is the city, and the Construction Board is a direct representative of the city, and has the authority to approve an artwork to be sited in the green zone. There are no regulations for the procedure of displaying artworks in the city space. Everything depends on the civil servant, if they are ready to take some risks, then they approve, if he or she is more fearful and has been on the receiving end of a reprimand from a superior or the political leadership, then they come up with all sorts of things. The Construction Board agreed to approve only a few of the artworks, and even then they had to be displayed in places other than those we had intended, but then the whole concept would be lost.

L.M.: Why are you looking at the theme of integration through the prism of politics? What do you think makes that more interesting than looking at it from some other point of view?

The political point of view is more obvious. For example, Finland is represented at the quadrennial by an Iraqi artist, which is a political story in itself, or “Putin’s stage”...

L.M.: The name of that work of art is The Stage for Political Integration. Don’t you think that by choosing another title for the artwork you have provoked this reaction from the authorities? Because perhaps it was your doing that the artwork was banned from the Victory monument site. Artwork, which you yourselves have called the “Star of David” (the work by Polish artist Hubert Czerepok Everything is Darkness) is both a symbol and the Star of David. Why, in communication about the exhibition, are you using your own titles?

We are not speaking only about communication, which would be the next step. When trying to get something approved, people have to know about the decisions they are making, because they could approve the display of a falling star and then the following day say: “Oh, but we really had no idea it was the Star of David” – and get into trouble afterwards… I think that it is an honest approach to show things the way they are, and they can make a decision whether they are willing to get involved.

I.D.: At one point everything went astray in communications with the press, because the work was being referred to only as the Star of David, as opposed to its real name, given to it by the artist: Everything is Darkness.

L.M.: The artworks themselves, in the form they have been created, are without any obvious signs of scandal, unless they are interpreted in a certain manner, as above. The description of the work is also absolutely correct. But is it not that sometimes we try to explain other authors’ works, even though in truth we should let the works speak for themselves. Perhaps you shouldn’t tell the story from your point of view, but rely on the work itself to do the explaining?

You say that, and the Berlin Biennale comes to mind.

L.M.: That biennale was a source of continuous scandal because of the curators, but that was actually their goal. It looks like you too have presented this story the way you wanted to, and what happened is exactly what you wanted – so that you wouldn’t allowed to do something and you’d show up the powers that be.

I mentioned the Berlin Biennale, because I asked one of the curators what she would do differently if she had to organize a biennale again. She thought about it and said that she would definitely engage someone to act as intermediary or mediator between the curators and the public.

L.M.: But what about the artwork itself? For the last twenty years the curator has operated between the work of art and the viewer, as if artists were not able to communicate. And now, it turns out, we have unmasked the wrongdoer.

This is a result of the trend that the curator wants to create their own work of art by the way the artworks are displayed, so yet another intermediary is needed. But listening to you telling us about our escalation as curators, it sounds as if we were deliberately trying to create a scandal, but if so, then honestly, that wasn’t our intention. I am listening to what you are saying now and I can see certain coincidences that indicate that we had been moving towards this kind of situation. But I still think that if we had gone to get approval for displaying The Stage for Political Integration and hadn’t let the authorities know that the artist had copied Putin’s stage, and this information would surfaced after the work had been approved and installed, what do you think the official reaction would be to us in the future?

L.M.: But this means that you yourselves saw a political problem or scandal with this work. Did you not, when looking at this work, see everything as being too black? Isn’t it so that you censored yourselves precipitately, before it was time to do so?

Well, I could agree… That may be.

I.D.: I don’t agree that we would have censored ourselves in any way.

L.M.: But you, thinking one step ahead, had already come up with all the worst case scenarios. Your initial mindset was that there would be a problem.

Then that has happened unintentionally. We submitted our projects to the Construction Board in the usual way. I would assume that if the project’s title was Gaišā tāle (‘The Bright Horizon’) or Labais rudens (‘The Good Autumn’), then maybe the person who made the decision wouldn’t have said straight away: “No, I cannot approve this project, I need to consult with the political leadership”. But we can’t hide the real theme and then later on pull it out of nowhere like Alexander of Macedonia and his cavalry.

I.D.: It was written into the basic concept behind this exhibition that we intend this project to be a “hot potato” of sorts, which you try to hold in your hands, and you don’t know in which hand to hold it, from which side to look at it, because the works are the way they are.

L.M.: I agree that the concept of integration is a hot topic, a bubble conjured up by the media, but what’s your personal opinion – is it a problem? And can integration only be like a conflict that one doesn’t know how to solve?

I consider that things are not only good or bad, black or white. In my view, there’s a lot of grey. Nobody can fully delve into the implications of all those deep layers: I’m Latvian, daddy is a Russian, my mama is Latvian, my grandfather is a Jew, etc.

L.M.: But why the political aspect? So as to have a dispute?

No. The opposite, more like. The worst is that society is politically divided into two large groups, although there is nothing in this world that is not political. Both these groups each have an opinion about the other. There are no common sources of irritation which would make them both say something, exchanging their opinions. And there are no processes which would make both groups understand that identity is… well, crap, in reality it is an invented, artificial construct which makes you this or that. And because of these artificial construct people are ready to strangle someone else.

L.M.: And why did you add other genres and didn’t stay with sculpture only? There is no need go on about the borders between genres no longer being clear cut, we already know that.

If a video displays an object, it is not, of course, classical sculpture in the form that it has been regarded as being since the time of the ancient Greeks, but to us it is an indication of the scope of the genre.

L.M.: Our Latvian public is well-trained, and the exhibition was not brought to us from outer space. But the overall impression is that it’s very inconsistent. If the exhibition Anatomy of Integration is a carefully thought-out visualization of your concept, then it does not look convincing.

The lack of uniformity is conceptually related to the fact that we don’t see these issues of identity developing as a clear structure, and that this has any enormous value per se. It is a living process, where something is constantly changing. And if you don’t have that convincing structure behind you, the happier and freer you are and can accept the things happening around you. This is also what the exhibition tells us.

L.M.: In your opinion, how did European Union financing influence the form and contents of your event?

We had EU funding in the early phases of the project, and state, municipal and private financing at the final stages of the project. Speaking of EU financing – each country has its own system of values, where the resources are divided between projects which are considered more worthy and less worthy; EU financing has a more horizontal approach in providing resources and in this way it changes the local system of values.

I.D.: If you’re asking in what way European structural funds have affected our exhibition, then the answer is very short – in no way at all, because we have funding from Latvia.

A.B.: I think that the sculpture quadrennial prior to 2004 was just a small exhibition. And we’ve always received considerable support from the Ministry of Culture. We had European funding both in 2004 and 2008. This time there was no direct EU financing, but everything that had happened before made the current situation slightly different.

L.M.: I asked this question because since 2004 when European funding became available, a rather predictable structure of events has evolved in Latvia: exhibition, conference, educational programmes…

Just like in any sales strategy. It doesn’t matter if we speak about an art event or a business structure, conferences are necessary because the organizers want people to think about their event. I think that this sort of structure has proven itself, it’s nothing extraordinary.

L.M.: There is something so bureaucratic about it. Over ten years the structure has crystallized and become so predictable, but how long will it remain interesting?

When you write a grant proposal for European financing, there’s a certain number of points you have to collect.

A.B.: But if the conference has interesting speakers to listen to… Perhaps we should find a different conference format? The Cēsis Festival, which received European funding, put together an excellent exhibition and organized a conference in the style of PechaKucha. They found a way of gathering the necessary number of points and also to transform the conference into an interesting event.

L.M.: I am asking these questions because the matrix of festival organization is so set in its ways that everything has become predictable.

The feeling is that the grant application writers get some experience, become good at collecting the required amount of points, and then they work the system without any creative contribution.

L.M.: In my opinion it’s the system that restricts them.

But it is better that Europe grants those resources. Imagine how many events wouldn’t take place otherwise. That’s why, I believe, the side effects from this medicine are quite insignificant.

Material prepared by Līga Marcinkeviča and Elīna Dūce
Translator into English: Vita Limanoviča
Aigars Bikše. 2012
Photo from the private archive of Aigars Bikše
Ivars Drulle. 2012
Photo from the private archive of Ivars Drulle
In the dense mass of events this autumn, among the festivals Skaņu mežs (‘Forest of Sounds’), Dizains. Nākotne 2012 (‘Design. Future 2012’), Art+Communication and Survival Kit, it was difficult not to notice the media attention that surrounded the exhibition Anatomy of Integration which was part of the International Sculpture Quadrennial Riga. Because of the artworks that it had been planned to display in the city, a string of misunderstandings between the organizers of the exhibition and city officials sprang up, seemingly due to either the overzealous interpretation of the works or an overcautious attitude. Censorship – in discussions about art in Latvia such a loaded word had not been heard in a long time.

I have invited two representatives of the quadrennial curator team, also members of the sculptors’ guild, Ivars Drulle and the co-curator of the previous two quadrennials Aigars Bikše, to talk about the formation of the exhibition Anatomy of Integration and to try to establish the cause of the squabbles mentioned above.
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