The new season is already on the screens! Wait for it!
Santa Mičule, Student, Art Academy of Latvia
Maija Kurševa. Series
09.10.–17.11.2013. kim? Contemporary Art Centre
For most viewers the associations elicited by the works of Maija Kurševa could be fairly similar and connected with the image of the artist – hooligan, the art language of subcultures and free- thinking subject matter. These characteristics are the reason why a fair amount of attention was focussed on her at the beginning of her career, allowing her to take the previously vacant place of “bad girl” in the local art context. Nowadays, it seems, the array of associations mentioned has become too narrow to perceive the works of Maija Kurševa more or less objectively, and they rather operate as a convenient cliché. In this respect I’ve always had a rhetorically foolish question in mind: how many medals for provocation would Maija’s works have lost if they’d been created by a male hand and mind? In the relatively patriarchal art milieu it still tends to be the case that what is allowed for Jupiter, is not allowed for the bull. I hope that one day gender studies, as yet non-existent in Latvia, will provide exhaustive answers to this question which, at least in my opinion, is focussed more on the re-examination of our consumer perception mechanisms rather than giving a vote of confidence to the significance of the Kurševa phenomenon. On the other hand, one part of the answer can be found in Maija’s more recent works which no longer breach the taboo of good behaviour so brazenly, adopting more peaceable positions, but are able to maintain the interest of the viewer at the same time. The mild obscenities and vulgarity are gradually disappearing, or rather, are being replaced with a more considered, less direct manner of expression which could also be observed in the Series exhibition, and is a logical continuation of the artist’s achievements that have been seen in group exhibitions of recent months. We shouldn’t forget also Maija Kurševa’s artistic and organizational contribution to the emancipation of various marginal genres of visual culture, allowing examples of comics, illustration and similar art forms to enter into the cultural mainstream as permanent, standalone values. The tension between the language of commercial and non-commercial art as being incompatible principles has lessened in Maija’s works, and this is natural, bearing in mind that she has already previously confirmed the charm of the coexistence of both in her works.
Maija Kurševa. 2013
Photo from the private archive of Maija Kurševa
In Kurševa’s latest exhibition, Series, the fluidity of the artist’s style is revealed, though a dark humour and proof of the potential of drawings to create topical contemporary art flouting the conventions of two dimensional portrayal continue to be at the core of her work. On entering the exhibition hall, the viewer encountered the multi-media installation format typical of expositions in the kim? first floor exhibition hall, corresponding also with Maija Kurševa’s customary amalgamation and blending of art styles. The objects in the exposition were arranged in an almost heraldically symmetrical blue and white composition – this manner of organizing the space conformed with the recommendation expressed in the exhibition’s “user guide”: “to disperse the gaze and to perceive in their totality all of the space and objects at once”. As a consequence, in the first moments of the visit the exposition enters (only if one has been able to properly disperse one’s gaze) into the viewer’s consciousness as a spatial drawing, not as individual objects. In interviews Maija has often explained her involvement in the arts as a need for a therapeutical process – it could be noticed in Series that her stream of consciousness-like expression has become more conceptual and considered, replacing the effect of spontaneous randomness which had dominated previously. In place of the methods of free association and automatism, the motif of reproduction has appeared, also incorporated imaginatively in the title of the exhibition as a serial, or serial-type production and propagation. Reproduction as mechanical repetition also dominated in the techniques of the works: porcelain casting, letterpress, and laser-cut veneer. The exhibition was inhabited by hobgoblin-like images of people and references to the figurative , especially hands, which appeared as serial ornaments illustrating various processes associated with handiwork. In attempting to define more accurately what is portrayed in the works, the only thing that becomes clear is the concern with quite absurd imagery which is considered to be Kurševa’s “signature style” and is also present in Series. The absurd of Kurševa is based not on a denial of rationality, but is expressed as a toying around with the clichés of domestic genres, comprehensibility and art perception: little porcelain hands holding oval pieces of veneer, little porcelain heads with silly facial expressions, and so on.

The contrast between the main materials of the works in the exhibition – veneer and porcelain – is significant. Individually, each is related to a different end product – porcelain is associated with art and refinement, whereas veneer belongs to simpler, rougher spheres of life. Knowing that the distinctions between commercial and non-commercial, and “elite” and “democratic” art are quite often featured in Maija Kurševa’s works, one wants to perceive the porcelain and the veneer also as symbols of both of the extremes previously mentioned, which in the context of the exhibition comment ironically on hierarchical thinking as such. The craftsmanship is of equal value to the artistic, similarly as in earlier works, where elements of street art were synthesized with more traditional art forms. One cannot assert that the Series works marked out boundaries between both groups or didactically took one position or the other; rather, they brought up the issue of why such divisions continue to exist and are considered important when looking at works of art. From being a secondary instrument of art creation, the material and technique were made into the main accent of the exhibition, wittily emphasized by the log pile created from porcelain and hung up on one of the exhibition hall’s blue walls. Materiality in the exhibition was used not as a sensual or visual phenomenon, but as a playing around with the perception of the viewer, and it could at the same time be interpreted as an interesting example of procedural art.
Maija Kurševa. View from the exhibition Series. 2013
Photo: Ansis Starks
Publicity photo
Courtesy of the artist and kim? Contemporary Art Centre
This impression was also reinforced by the exhibition’s audio accompaniment which, unfortunately, could only be heard on the evening of its opening. The essay ‘Teaching aid for the appreciation and perceptual impact of items of art made from veneer, porcelain and other materials’ which was written by artist Edgars Jurjāns and read in the Russian language by poet Aleksandrs Zapoļs in the recording, was of considerable importance in setting the mood for the exhibition – the alien voice, in the manner of a work instruction recording, spoke ironically about verbal texts as an inseparable component of contemporary art exhibitions. The seriousness of the voice contrasted with the triviality of the spoken contents, leading the viewer into a meditative perception of the objects in the exhibition and making one focus attention directly on the materiality and the process of the creation of the art works, and not on some sort of narrative message.

In summing up, I’d like to emphasize that Series was a visually concentrated exhibition which didn’t dissipate into excessive detail or unnecessary digressions. The change in the artist’s style is a minor challenge to the viewer, making one look at Kurševa’s works in a different way than one is accustomed to. In comparison to previous exhibitions, the role of the visually effective has grown, although it cannot be denied that Maija Kurševa’s works have also had this characteristic previously. Series is the result of an original artist’s current self-development which has integrated fairly successfully into the overall perspective of Latvian art. However, after the visit to the exhibition it didn’t really become completely clear what can be expected from the artist in the future, and whether the epithets applied to rebels should continue to be applicable to her. Maybe this is a purging of the labels once attached to her which, in time, will pave the way to even more unfettered forms of expression and horizons of fantasy.

Translator into English: Uldis Brūns
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