The goal is in eternity and the lats are in the museum
Pēteris Bankovskis, Art Critic

In the attractive publication Ls. 20. Nacionālās valūtas mākslas gadi (Ls • 20. Years of National Currency Art, compiled by Ramona Umblija. Rīga: Latvijas Banka, 2013), one can read a variety of comments, including ones like: “Fashioning coins means creating for the past” (Arvīds Priedīte), and “It’s an opportunity to get into archaeological excavations after a few thousand years”(Aigars Ozoliņš).

Both artists – Priedīte and Ozoliņš – associate the “creation” (minting) of a coins with an insufficiently explained past, respectively, with the possibility that the penny (lat) they have “designed” will find a place somewhere, in some money pot or a crack in the floor, or behind the eaves, and when, in the distant future, this treasure trove will be discovered it will tell something about the past to those looking at it and examining it. For some, the story will be about history (about political, cultural, economic history, who knows), but for others it will be, as usual, a story about greed and money. That is, of course, if money will still exist in tangible banknote and coin form, if the goods-money relationship will still dominate and the global agenda will continue to be dictated by money markets. But always, somewhere to one side, numismatics with its ups and downs of value and its odd “collector corps“ will be rustling away like mice.
Whereas, on the day that I write this (13 November), newspapers are reminding us that after the nation’s adoption of the euro on 1 January, 2014, one will be able to exchange lats to euros, for free, at the Bank of Latvia forever. This declaration, of course, also says something about history, namely, that the medium of exchange in circulation, in a specific national territorial creation and at a specific time in history (1993–2013), was, in a public declaration, given an eternal dimension.

The replacement of the lat by the euro is taking place in a set order. A special “Law on the Procedure for the Introduction of the Euro” has been adopted. Section 8 (4) of the law states: “The period of exchange at Bank of Latvia is without a time limit and without restriction on the amount to be exchanged, commencing with the introduction day of the euro. The exchange of money is without a fee.” Eternity isn’t mentioned, neither in this nor other sections of the law. You’ll agree that “eternally” and “without a time limit” isn’t exactly one and the same thing. Journalists mischievously use the concept of “eternity” in recounting the statements by ministerial officials based on the respective law, which is also understandable as eternity cannot be comprehended by the mind, but as we know, newspapers don’t have common sense. But it’s not the absence or the existence of common sense which is determinative. As we saw, artists too – though more cautiously, it’s true – tend to think ambitiously in relation to their achievements, weaving it into the fabric of the “past” and consecutive generational change, which is never completely taken off the loom by the three Parcae, goddesses of destiny – Nona, Decima and Morta.

The twenty years when the LVL served as a means of payment in Latvia will shortly end and be over. Not only the lats and santims, but also all of their creators, those who introduced them and provided them, and their users, flounder like dust in the whirlpool of time and events, which monotonously and convincingly continue to draw everything that exists closer to the “black hole” – the worm tunnel away from the here and now. One flash, and you and everything with you is already the past; something to be studied, classified, guessed at but no longer known. In that sense, of course, the lats and santims are quickly becoming eternal, just like Aigars, Juris, Hardijs...the friends of the “father” of the lats, Imants Žodžiks, who have become eternal.

In the Old Testament of the Bible one can read lines which are known, or at least the gist, by almost everybody, but which in our daily lives we don’t at all like to remember, or think about: “Meaningless, meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” / What do people gain from all their labours, at which they toil under the sun? / Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever. / The sun rises and the sun sets and hurries back to where it rises. / The wind blows to the south and turns to the north; round and round it goes, ever returning on its course. / All streams flow into the sea, and yet the sea is never full; to the place the streams come from, there they return again. / All things are wearisome, more than one can say; the eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. / What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. / Is there anything of which one can say: “Look, this is something new”? – It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. / No one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.” (Ecclesiastes 1, 2–11)

With the passing of the years, one after the other, we can all feel eternity looming ever closer: when sleep doesn’t come easily at night any more, when the memory begins to falter, when the first thing we look at in the morning newspaper is the obituary page. Depending on how deeply we are stuck in our pride, how highly we think of the micro-world we have drawn around us and our self-created idols, we build a higher or an even higher fence which separates us from the nasty realization that “no one remembers the former generations, and even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.”

The book I mentioned dedicated to the – it should now be stated, clearly and unambiguously – transitory independent currency of the restored Republic of Latvia, introduces all of the artists who have created designs and models for the lats and santims “and even those yet to come”. The touch of eternity has not brought recognition to them all. Ilze Lībiete, who did the graphic design for the commemorative coin Duke Jacob’s 400th Anniversary, admits that her most powerful creative impulse is sadness. It is possible that this is the sadness of individual existence before incomprehensible eternity, but the artist doesn’t say. She considers the coat of arms to be eternal and is creating one, for example, for Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga’s family (see p. 55 of the book mentioned). Of the many outstanding artists who have worked so that Latvia could have for a moment its own beautiful (and recognized as such everywhere) money, I name just a few here – not for their artistic achievement, but for another reason.

Latvian money is currently getting itself ready for museum display cases. It has been written about, analysed, it has been deliberated about ethno-sychologically, pathetically, symbolically, politico-economically and socio-politically and in all sorts of other ways. They’ve tried to perceive it as something wonderful and grand, creating works of art and receiving praise and awards in many places around the world, though also, quite the opposite, as something to be mocked and derided. In a moment, none of this will have significance anymore, because, as Paul wrote to Timothy: “... we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. / And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content!”. (1 Tim. 6, 7–8)

On the path to eternity, the most important thing probably is for one to be satisfied with what one has, not that which can be stuffed into one’s pocket or dug into the soil. To be satisfied with the difficulties on the road, believing that the goal is in eternity, yet being clearly conscious of the fact that we won’t be able to comprehend neither eternity, nor the goal, not for so long as we continue to breathe.

Translator into English: Uldis Brūns
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