Public Pad
Kaspars Groševs, Artist
Oļa Vasiļjeva. Cinq à sept
16.08.–29.09.2013. kim? Contemporary Art Centre
Quite some time ago (for me this usually means more than five years ago), I spotted on the murky screen at Noass, in between conversation and wine, a blue watercolour Michael Jackson sitting in a tree and teaching the birds to sing. Somewhere either in my left or right ear Mārtiņš Ratniks, with with an expressive gesture, curtly said: “ original work, an unusual approach...” or something similar. About a year later someone whispered that there was a girl from Latvia now studying at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. Soon afterwards a friend chanced to see an exhibition which was so interesting that he had to tell someone else; meanwhile I had examined on the internet pictures presented by a collective with a rather lyrical name – Ocean Academy of Arts. And recently I had the experience of Ola Vasiljeva, from being a notion long observed from afar, becoming a real life person. The exhibition Cinq à sept at kim? Contemporary Art Centre was the artist’s first solo show in Riga. It was an event in which objects had become words, and sentences had become an exhibition.

Ola advised me to write down our conversation using the internet tool PiratPad, which reveals all the mistakes, doubts and corrections of one’s conversation partner in the course of writing. One autumnal evening Oļa wrote...

Ola Vasiljeva: You can see here what we are writing! And thinking.

Kaspars Groševs: Haha. I wrote down “haha”, then I deleted it and then I saw that it hadn’t been erased. Just like when hav­ ing a conversation. Once you’ve said “haha” you can’t take it back again.

Yes, that’s why I like it here.
Oļa Vasiļjeva. 2013
Photo from the private archive of Oļa Vasiļjeva
K.G.: It’s just a pity that we can’t change the name of the doc­ ument. Perhaps at the end of it all the interview will have to be called Public Pad. I don’t know what will become of Public Pad when it’s translated into Latvian, however.

Publiskā planšete? [Literal translation, ed.]

K.G.: I think that 'pad' is a word that is also used to describe the atmospheric sounds in synthesizers. Speaking of translations, how did it come to be that your exhibition in Riga was called Cinq à sept?

Literally from the French, where Cinq à sept means “from 5 to 7”. This summer I was reading a lot about dimensions, about alternative ways of thinking about time and space. The chapter of one of the books I was reading was called “From the 5th to the 7th, Five-Memes Music and Memory”. When I told my French friend about it, she had to laugh about the double meaning of Cinq à sept in French: meaning both an easy social gathering – such as an art opening, as well as a shady visit to one’s lover in the afternoon. I liked this multi-layered translation, and on many levels it felt fitting for summarizing my ideas for an installation.

K.G.: As I understand the text of the exhibition also deals with ideas of dimensions. Where did it start?

I was interested in finding or building some alternative ways of looking at objects of art or design. To move away from the linear approach to the description of a style or categorization. So I was interested in offering a different kind of observation of an object. Maybe not based on the common ideas of material or history, but to draw a new narrative from the imagination, from intuition, fiction, absurd speculation. I was also interested in using language itself as one of the materials of the installation. To use language not as a platform to build a plot and narrative, but language as a speculative substance.

I saw recently a desk made by Pierre Chareau, a French architect. This desk had set some clear margins for a private, intimate space, it also had various levels, shelves, seemingly useless openings at different heights. It reminded me of a stutter in speech, or some other form of speech disorder. So in a way a molecular idea was becoming oracular. I thought of connecting such ideas as language and other associations to physical objects. So I started to write some of these ideas down and they took the form of a loose playful essay.

K.G.: And the works in the exhibition later came out of these words? So it seems like a way of Google­translating objects into text into objects.

Yes, I love that idea! Google-translate with all the lovely Google mistakes. For Cinq à sept I was interested in synesthesia a lot – also coming from this attempt to translate an idea from one form to another. With synesthesia people claim to hear a taste, see the colour of a sound or even intersect spatial and time-based ideas. For some people November hangs to the right, or the year 1963 stands on a green hill. So as synesthesia deals with various senses mapping into one another, these thoughts helped me to shape the installation.

K.G.: I wonder what happened to Cinq à sept after September 29th, did it turn back into a different shape? I know the coat is hanging in my temporary office. I pass by the market every day, but haven’t seen the card so far.

Yeah, it was gone already long before the 29th, the ladies working at the market decided to get rid of it. But in a way I feel Cinq à sept lives and feels much better in your temporary office than it would at any gallery space. I feel that often objects are in a better place outside of art institutions, when they relate to the interior, to the light, dust, sounds of a space. Hanging between other jackets somewhere else, having a dialogue between some furniture in a domestic environment. I like this organic fragmentation. I myself also don’t have any storage, for example, so after each show my house gets populated by all the leftovers and they sometimes seem to make more sense here.

K.G.: Haha, I have the same thing. It seems you often show your work in deconstructed settings, avoiding most “common exhibiting tools”.

Well, I just feel sometimes that the work needs to “breathe” more and the formal setting of a gallery doesn’t allow this often.

Ola Vasiljeva. View from the exhibition Francis Ponge at 1646. Hague. 2011
Publicity photo
Courtesy of the artist
Also I am more interested in creating an atmosphere rather than putting spotlights on specific pieces. So I prefer to leave it open, I like it when the space itself is part of the show, just like the light and sound – so to use plinths and formal presentation tools sometimes just doesn’t feel necessary. I also don’t like the hierarchy of objects in a space, so I like to mingle them between ordinary objects, to create this playful confusion in a way – of what is part of the interior and what becomes an art piece.

K.G.: How do you deal with the “artwork oxygen” in group ex­ hibitions? And how did the collaboration with Raimundas Mala­ šauskas go?

Usually I find group exhibitions quite challenging, for that exact reason that only a fragment of my work is used and focused on, and singled out somehow. I do realize, though, that it’s quite impossible to be an artist without group exhibitions, but it’s often quite problematic in a way. That was also one of the reasons I created the OAOA (Ocean Academy of Arts), because I felt the need to create the right setting for showing my work, without isolating it too much and without being too dependent on the specific wishes of a curator. So I do love collaborating and showing together with works that are not mine, but I felt some sort of need to direct the environment.

When Raimundas invited me to take part in Fusiform Gyrus, he simply asked me to write down my associations with this combination of words: “fusiform gyrus”. At that point I felt I could totally rely on his unorthodox way of composing exhibitions, and I felt this show was drawing just as much from intuition as I usually do myself. So it was a very easy and very enjoyable way of working together.

K.G.: Could you tell us a bit more about Ocean Academy of Arts.

I founded this “collective” about 5 years ago, and like I said, it was born partly from some sort of dissatisfaction with the way my work was exhibited or addressed in the classical curatorial way. I also grew more and more interested in observing art – as part of artistic practice, maybe. So I felt a need for a platform that would be much more immediate and less dependent. I felt that often my ideas needed to have some immediate delivery and to have some mobility. This was not often possible when dealing with the formalities of art institutions. Also I was using the internet more often to communicate the ideas and it felt like they could live there as well. So I created this website for the OAOA – which initially was so intangible – it was close to being a joke. But then quite soon a few friends of mine got very enthusiastic about this approach and we just started to create small events, shows, online shows, readings, publications etc. It slowly developed into an “approach”, maybe, rather than a solid collective with a programme. Now I see OAOA as a collaborative body that always mutates: different artists get involved, sometimes fake characters, but it gives a nice sense of freedom, anonymity and independence.

K.G.: I remember for a while your website had pictures of yachts and quite lovely music playlists. It seems that obscure music is following you (or vice versa).

Yes, I used to have a music blog, where I tried to add a song each day. In a way that was also a means of building up an atmosphere, I guess. I love in music the same things I love in the arts or anywhere – a degree of opacity, obscurity, hiddenness, some humbleness, maybe. I love hearing sounds I have never heard before and those that surprise me. Often this music stays obscure for a reason – some if it is just kind of “bad”, but it has this amazing charm to it. But if we talk about music it can go so multilayered. I guess in music as well I’m looking for some sort of fragmentation, the bad translation of something.

K.G.: In the conversation(1) between you, Raimundas and Aditya, someone mentions that you cut your own hair. I actually do that too. How do you deal with the bit at the back?

I have a trick, but you need longer hair. I found out about that trick in a Polish magazine called Bravo, around 1995. You have to put your head down and brush all your hair up front and tie it up. Then if you just cut it straight – you get nice layering.

K.G.: That sounds simpler than what I do. I just use touch, it feels like blind sculpting.

That’s cool too. Intuition cutting!

K.G.: The same conversation also mentions tales from your childhood. I’m curious to hear more about that.

Well, I will tell you straight away that Adi thinks I am some exotic fruit, so he fantasized half of the story.

But I think I did tell him once about this book I had. I think we were talking about paganism and he was asking how pagan Latvia was. So I told him about this book I had, which was called something like ‘Tales of the Grey Stone’ Do you know it?

K.G.: No, I don’t think so. What it’s about?

I just remember that it was all very grey and brown – both stories and illustrations.

K.G.: Yes, the famous Latvian brown.

But very beautiful in a way. Not the kind of stuff kids of 10 or 12 like to read. I remember all Russian books were so colourful, and this one was so humble and nice - and the stories were quite zen. It was a story about a grey stone who witnesses and observes changes in the forest. Nice and slow. There was lots of death and melancholy too. Some bride died and her groom thought about suicide, but then decided to live, because at least then he would get a chance to see the bride in his sleep... Stuff like that. Swamps, dark forests, silence. Wonderful.

K.G.: Speaking of paganism, I once witnessed an American exorcism in Pedvāle, they had read somewhere that Pedvāle is the capital of Latvian paganism and went there to observe the sacred ritual of Solstice. What’s your relationship with culture from Latvia nowadays?

Hmm, difficult, haha. I think now my relations are based only on nostalgia. Yeah, I romanticize a lot, too, I guess.

K.G.: But your work seems to be filled with some subtle sense of nostalgia, I think. Wasn’t doing an exhibition in Latvia a bit dangerous for your romantic notions? I mean, there was a risk of losing some of the romantic haze.

No, not really. I was nervous about having a show there, but I didn’t really think about losing the nostalgia, I think I even got recharged with it. But I think all my thoughts about Latvia are just really directly linked to my childhood – so in a way it’s hard to lose that nostalgia, no matter how things turn out now.

K.G.: By the way, do you remember childhood cartoons? There’s the one called ‘The Adventure of the Old Janitor’, which was particularly traumatic for me. Do you know it?

Hmm, no, I haven’t seen it. Why was it so traumatic?

K.G.: It’s about an apartment block where people live and leave around extensive amounts of trash, the old janitor tries to clean everything, but gets exhausted in the constant fight against trash. So one day the trash turns into a giant monster that starts to haunt the inhabitants. It’s a weird mixture of Soviet moral les­ son and mysticism.

And some weird psychedelics. I remember a cartoon about a block of flats – where a man tries to fall asleep and there is constant noise – lovers, kids, old women, water dripping etc. I think at the end he murders one of them. Dark, sad story.

K.G.: Sounds a lot like the work of Arnolds Burovs. He’s the author of nightmares for our generation, I think. The shapes in your work seem to be a recurring element, where do they come from?

Well, it depends, I guess. It depends a lot on the project or on the theme I’m working on, but a lot comes directly from the imagination or a particular mental state, associations, intuition.

Often I like to pose a form as some kind of pseudo important formula, so it becomes a sort of visual axis of a work; it reoccurs, repeats, mutates and suggests some sort of parallels or associations, but then I don’t like to give these punchlines to explain every form that

K.G.: People often seek for some sort of explanation behind contemporary art, more and more, it seems lately. Do you feel the pressure to “explain yourself ”?

Oh, yes! All the time! It varies from country to country as well. I must say in Holland it is very strong. In France it’s much less, and also less in the US. It’s funny to see how people view works differently. But yes, I struggle with it all the time.

I think the very core of any artwork is its enigma. I don’t mean that all of it should stay obscure, but there should definitely be space for the unknown. I believe also in some active participation by the viewer, I love leaving gaps in my work and I think it’s good when the viewer can occupy those gaps without getting a linear explanation and description. There is something very capitalistic, I feel, about the need to know everything, understand everything, possess, rationalize everything in a way. I think that’s the biggest fun of art – to leave gaps. Even if it annoys or puzzles.

I think the audience who expects a clear explanation is on the one hand confused, on the other hand – quite lazy. Confused because of the conceptual art introducing this idea of ‘narrative, concept, idea’ behind every work. So, if previously the works were appreciated basically for their visual qualities of mastery, with the coming of conceptual art – the idea became privileged. But now, in our post-conceptual times, when even those conceptual ideas are less linear and more layered, I guess people who are not too familiar with contemporary art still feel entitled to an explanation behind each piece. They become somewhat passive in creating their own associations or at least immersing themselves deeper in trying to understand the work. The personal analysis is kind of fading. I guess we also live in a culture of synopses, where everything needs to be summarized in a few short and descriptive sentences – clearly understandable for a wide audience. When it happens in art, it’s often quite sad. And it’s not about being elitist, it’s about trying to save art ideas from becoming too reduced from their full potential. Contemporary art is a huge field which has a very sophisticated history and a rapid development, and like any other field, be it quantum physics or sports, it requires study and immersion. So, in that way – I believe it’s very naïve to expect for contemporary art to become an easily explainable piece. It’s perfectly OK if it is difficult and if it’s not clear at first sight!

K.G.: It seems to be dominating the movie industry as well, some sort of realism of the imagination. Suddenly we get to know that Superman was a traumatized teenager, and we see new reasons behind his actions. I feel movies like in the 1960s and 70s had more freedom, stuff happened for no reason.

Definitely! And even earlier movies had even more freedom, I think.

K.G.: What's your favourite decade of cinema?

Oh, I don’t know, really... maybe the 1970s, the 80s? But I love the 50s too.

K.G.: I love the deep colours of the 70s. Like they’ve added some colour stimulants.

Yes, very saturated. I think everything must have been saturated then. I love the old movies also for their imperfection, in a way.

K.G.: Are mistakes important to you? To your work?

Haha, I think it is all one big mistake. I must say – I am so easily satisfied with anything that comes up. If I try to mix a certain colour and it turns out totally wrong – I will probably love it too. Or if I screw up some sculpture, I probably will think it looks better. I think I have never redone anything.

K.G.: I think I was personally very influenced by this mani­ festo of Matthew Herbert called Personal Contract for the Composition of Music (Incorporating the Manifesto of Mistakes). He decided to never save any mixer settings, never use factory pre­ sets, to allow maximum space for mistakes to happen. So every move and tweak is slightly different from the one before, and the sound is always slightly changing. I don't know why I am telling you this.

Haha, no, I totally feel it! I love this approach! Also some writers used something similar – was it Nabokov who never crossed out the wrong word? Or maybe one of his characters. So if he would type and doubt a word, he would repeat it or rewrite, but would never cross it out. So the sentence would end up as a stuttering collection of words. And I think Francis Ponge really applied it strategically to his poetry, too – he just left all the variations and all the possible versions of the poem which were going through his mind. I think it’s great when artists do that too.

K.G.: We sometimes had to put aside erasers in art high school, when drawing the busts of ancient Greeks.

Oh, yes! I did that too! Were you good at the busts?

K.G.: Well, I had to be. You can't get into the Art Academy of Latvia without being more or less good at drawing those damn busts and painting a piece of crumpled paper and bowl of fruits. In your letter to you said something that I felt was painfully true: if you had stayed in Latvia, you’d have probably never gone to the Latvian Academy of Art or been an artist.

Well, yes, I think unfortunately yes. I think it's quite sad that the academy poses such rules that hardly make any sense at all these days.

K.G.: Well, I keep switching between two thoughts: one is that it's quite ridiculous, the other is that it's a comforting feel­ ing you can draw Poseidon or whatever and then forget all about doing it. But then I think I spent many years learning to forget how to draw and I don't think I've fully succeeded. But the craft seems to be important in your work.

I think I approach craft as an outsider, maybe. Because I mostly don’t possess any craft (if we speak of craft as the ability to do something REALLY GOOD – like a master of some sort). But I like many aspects of craft. The anonymous side of it, for example - especially in design. I like those characteristics of craft much more than the characteristics of contemporary art, maybe. I mean that in craft less attention is directed to the very figure of the artist.

I guess I can say that I address craft often in my work – but more from a curiosity or admiration point of view, and less as a person who is interested in craft as a way of producing work.

K.G.: Do you know how to play an instrument?

No, I'm very untalented in making music or singing or anything. So I decided to dedicate myself only to listening.

K.G.: But I think you are very good at listening. If there were the Olympic Games of listening, you'd be in the national team.

Hahah! We should organize it! Listening Olympics!

K.G.: Yes, perhaps at the Botanical Garden in Riga where NSRD had their performances in the 1980s. Have you seen the Binocular Dances?

Yes! Yes, wonderful! We should plan some categories as well.

K.G.: What are you thinking about? Listening with the right ear? High frequency listening?

Yeah! Like you have heavyweights! Or bobsleigh.

K.G.: The king of bass.

We can have tone mastering.

K.G.: What's tone mastering?

I don’t know, I just invented it. By the way do you know of this Latvian sound scientist Konstantīns Raudive?

K.G.: Oh yes, of course, there's an event tomorrow kind of dedicated to him.

I just thought this could be one of the Olympic categories. Sounds of the dead, or some other sounds reflecting from surfaces of objects. Sound mirrors.

K.G.: Yes, definitely. It's the most patriotic category. It's like yarrow beer – the most Latvian thing ever, I think. Listening to the dead, drinking juniper & yarrow beer, and lying on a grey/ brown carpet.

Or on a grey/brown stone. Hah, here we are back to the brown mysticism.

K.G.: The circle is complete.

(1) A transcript of the conversation between Lithuanian curator Raimundas Malašauskas, artist Aditya Mandayami un Oļa Vasiļjeva about the exhibition Cinq à sept can be found on the kim? web page.

go back