Night vision
Solvita Krese
It seems that on the same day I was invited to write about Evelīna Deičmane, I had started to leaf through the latest issue of Texte zur Kunst. On the second page of this internationally recognised journal, based in the Berlin art scene, I noticed an advert for "Crosskick", an exhibition of work by young Latvian artists. 

The exhibition was held in one of Berlin's most important art venues, the NGBK (Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst), and Evelīna was one of the young Latvian artists represented there. Berlin has become Evelīna's second home, and in recent years she's more likely to be found there than in Riga. Once again, she's over in Berlin, so I've been communicating with her by e-mail, in an attempt to perceive how a sequence of biographical facts, coincidences and purposeful actions influences the developmental trajectory of a creative personality.

Important points of her biography

Evelīna gives an impression of being very conscientious, purposeful and hungry for knowledge. This is how she might have been described in a schoolteacher's report on her behaviour. I first noticed her as one of the most regular visitors to the library of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art. Although sometimes I confused Evelīna with her sister, who also used to visit the centre's library. Evelīna comes from what is, for Latvia, an unusually large family, and a family in which, believe it or not, all are artists. Accordingly, in asking Evelīna about the most significant points on her biography, those that have influenced her chosen path and development, it seemed that the artist's "world model" might be based on three main elements: her family, the Visual Communications Department of the Latvian Academy of Art, and Berlin. I tried to find out whether this really is so. Evelīna reports that the weather in Berlin is fine and the birds are singing. In the attachment to the e-mail are replies to my questions.

E.D.: Well, how can I describe in a few words this "problem" of my parents, namely that neither of their children works in a bank or is involved in money-making?

I come from a place called Burtnieki. I attended Burtnieki Secondary School and Valmiera Music School. Of my parents, only my father has been educated as an artist, at Liepāja School of Applied Arts. I'm not among the youngest of my family. I have an elder brother, and two sisters and a brother younger than me. I was the first to enter the Riga College of Applied Arts. I wouldn't say that anyone consciously pointed me in that direction or influenced me. My parents gave me a free choice as far as education is concerned, for which I'm most grateful to them. But, as for myself, I didn't really see any choice. At the time, I was interested in drawing lessons, where we were set the task of drawing "what we did in the holidays" - my drawing teacher's favourite subject. And that's how it started.

After me, the staff there had to put up with the whole of my family, following in succession year after year, apart from my elder brother. Only a few years ago, my elder brother has begun an artistic career as a scenographer for the Los Angeles musical stage. I have great respect for the things my brothers and sisters are doing. You might say that we began our creative activities almost simultaneously, but in different directions.

I think the time I spent in my family, before I went to Riga at the age of 15 to study and work, has influenced me greatly. I'm almost certain I can say the same about my brothers and sisters.

S.K.: Were you convinced from the start that you wished to attend the Visual Communications Department in particular, rather than some other department? Is Ojārs Pētersons a major authority for you? What is it that creates the special atmosphere of the department? What are the most important things you learned, or the convictions that you developed while at the department?

E.D.: I was full of resolve, but not really eager to do it. I didn't see the point, although it seemed I had to do it. For me, there are a couple of authorities at the department, and Ojārs is certainly one of them. Sometimes that really hampers me. I think the atmosphere at the department is created by Ojārs, Līga (Marcinkeviča - S.K.), the students and the staff of the department. It's hard for me to comment on the atmosphere there at the present day, since I rarely visit the department. We should tell Ojārs to hold parties there more often.

My convictions from attending the department? To suffer for what you're doing! But, in general, I don't burden myself with convictions. Sometimes it seems that I have understood something.

S.K.: Why did you decide to leave? Why Berlin? How is life different over there? How has your artistic development changed during your period in Berlin? Where do you feel more comfortable: here or over there? And why? What new thoughts or insights have you developed?

E.D.: In Berlin, wine is cheaper and you can lie naked in the grass, but in order to do this, you have to arrange it with a company of friends a whole week in advance.

But, seriously, my reason for leaving was restlessness. I wanted to get away from Riga. My reasons for leaving were personal. At that time, Berlin was the only place where students from the Visual Communications Department were able to go in the frame of an exchange programme.

I've been travelling back and forth for three years now. I enrolled officially in the Berlin University of the Arts, and recently, in March, I completed two years of study. I have strong and divided feelings about Berlin. I've had varied experiences here. Nowadays, I can't imagine any other place to live and work, apart from returning to Latvia. It's taken me time to settle in, and I'm thinking of spending some time longer here. It's different here. I wouldn't say that it's better or worse. I think it's more difficult to achieve something artistically in Berlin than in Latvia. It's no secret that Berlin is a place where many creative and talented artist from various countries live and work. Which means there's more competition.

Particular individuals have had a major influence on the development of my creative experience here in Berlin. In Berlin, I began to give greater attention to sound. And to the professional and technical standard of works, which is in essence the main thing they teach in the Department of Experimental Media Design at the Berlin University of the Arts. However, technical realisation of a work is more difficult for me in Berlin than in Riga, and requires more time, even though here everyone arrives for meetings on time and they're not open to changes. I have to say that what I did and learned previously in Riga has been very useful to me, and I think I've changed in many ways in Berlin, including my sense of humour.

Creative coordinates

She is one of the Latvian artists most in demand recently. She's been invited to several prestigious art events (2nd Moscow Biennale in 2007, the Biennale of Sydney in 2006) and belongs to the so-called third wave of conceptualism or the new wave of Latvian art1, mainly represented by graduates of the past decade from the Visual Communications Department.

The key to Evelīna's works might be sought in the concept of "Romantic Conceptualism", which is currently being quite widely discussed among art theoreticians in Europe2, and which might be interpreted as a tradition of conceptual art that liberates art from a narrow intellectual approach, broadening its emotional dimension. The minimalists and conceptualists reduce art to the factuality regarded as inherent in form (e.g., Donald Judd) or to an idea (Josuth Kosuth), which tends to sterilise art, removing the psychological aspect, while "Romantic Conceptualism" takes a critical stance towards instrumentalised consciousness, seeking an escape in aestheticised subjectivity.

The conceptualist stance requires that the question "What is art?" be addressed to a work of art and that a work of art be perceived as a kind of analytical proposition, or that the process of art be viewed as a chess match, where each artist is given the chance to make a few moves in the board game of history. The trend of "Romantic Conceptualism", replacing intellectual reflection with subjective emotionality, tends towards de-politicising conceptual art and distancing it from the kind of artistic praxis that is rooted in institutional critique, questions of identity, studies of place, and the social and political context.

In Evelīna's works, the conceptual approach alternates with feelings rooted in subjectivity and existential moods, which she brings about using a variety of media. Darkness is a significant element in Evelīna's works. Darkness, which halts the accustomed trajectory of one' gaze and demands a different point of view, or else forces one to change the way of looking. Darkness is more than just a prerequisite for studying the conditions of perception. Neither is this the darkness that weaves through the traditions of Romanticism - a metaphor for secret desires and violent passions. In Evelīna's works, darkness becomes a corporeal setting, in which consciousness loses its way, fear creeps up and the imagination is stimulated. Darkness as a frame and at the same time as matter that fills the conceptual shell of the work.

The crosses on graves photographed at night (the exhibition "Nature. Environment. Man. 2004" at the Arsenāls exhibition hall of the Latvian National Museum of Art in 2004) seem to radiate a mystical light. Like melancholy epitaphs, they are reminiscent of a memento mori and illustrate quite literally Roland Barthes' idea3 that every photograph is a reminder of death. In the video "As the Years Approach", a middle-aged woman approaches from the darkness, a woman who a moment before appeared to be young. The projection is framed within a structure of mirrors, which, in multiplying the image several times, breaks down the boundaries between appearances and reality, giving the viewer the illusion that he or she is a participant in the events, giving yet another reminder that "It'll happen to you too" (The Jukas exhibition at the Arsenāls exhibition hall of the Latvian National Museum of Art in 2005). Or the installation "Lost in a Dream" - the viewer is invited to enter a dark space (the Jukas exhibition), where the faint light of a bulb permits one to sense the contours of the space, with items belonging to a children's room, items that have been altered in scale: a small bed, along with an enormous teddy bear, building blocks and toy weapon. This revives memories, visions of childhood and the fear of becoming lost in the darkest labyrinths of consciousness. The artist herself says that darkness is necessary "in order to understand what it is that I'm seeing. Looking into the darkness, seeking existential coordinates. Darkness, where imagination, fear and curiosity are much more potent than the ability to make logical and sound judgements." 4 

"Breathing Forbidden".5 Possibly, this is not just the title of the work, but an instruction from the artist that she uses to freeze her models - in general, her brothers, sisters and friends, - who sit semi-naked in front of the camera. In these dark photographs, it's difficult to make out the human figures. The viewer himself is reflected in the glossy surface, thus unwittingly becoming part of the image and breaking down the viewer's traditional vantage point. One is also offered the opportunity of putting on specially prepared black costumes that hide the viewer "from the picture's gaze". In the video that augments the photographs, one can observe a transition from twilight to darkness, enhanced by the unusual, muffled sounds of dusk. These people, sitting in their accustomed setting, gaze at the camera unmoving. Darkness is a precondition of seeking and looking, which can become an existential experience, provoking the people sitting in the darkness to introspection, possibly revealing surprising psychological nuances.

In discussing "novel elements" in her work, Evelīna mentions her interest in sound, which has resulted in the installation "Diameter" (at the "Sound Forest" experimental music festival, 2006, Andrejsala). A microphone rotating around its axis "collects" the surrounding sounds and at the same time produces its own sound material, which is heard through a sound system set up in the room. This experimental sound installation seems like an attempt to explore a space using more than just vision alone, which must break through the darkness, and to study instead the characteristics of sound waves, to identify the possibilities of sound.

There is also special emphasis on sound in Evelīna's latest work "The Soup Eater" 6, where the sound of the spoon knocking against the bowl creates a rhythm of its own and enhances the sense of uneasiness that comes about from watching a video projection where a woman standing on her head struggles to get soup into her mouth. The artist says that this situation, with one's feet in the air, comments on the sometimes unnecessarily complicated way in which we tend to look at ordinary things. Essentially, all of Evelīna's works are about simple things, about looking, fear, insecurity and many hidden things that are, perhaps, more easily seen in the dark.

"The next work will be different altogether. Somewhat aggressive," announced Evelīna a few days ago, when I caught her by the hood of her jacket in the semi-darkness of a "Sound Forest" event.

1 Demakova, H. "Latvijas jaunās mākslas trešais vilnis". In: 2 show [Catalogue], Riga, 2003.

2 The March 2007 issue of Texte zur Kunst is devoted to this theme.

3 Barts, R. "Camera lucida. Piezīmes par fotogrāfiju". Rīga, 2006.

4  Text by Evelīna Deičmane in the catalogue "Elpot aizliegts". Rīga, 2006.

5 Various versions of the work "Breathing Prohibited" have been exhibited in the solo exhibition at the Noass Centre for Art and Culture  in the 2005; exhibition "(Un) dressed: The Body in Baltic Photography", Berlin, 2005; Biennale of Sydney, 2006.

6 Shown at the exhibition "Katoptron. Direction of the Mirror Glance" at the 2nd Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art in 2007 and the "Crosskick" exhibition at the NGBK exhibition hall in Berlin in 2007.

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