“Survival Kit 9”

Andris Eglītis, Laboratory of Poetic Research, 2017. Image: Jacquelyn Davis.

The 9th edition of Survival Kit is orchestrated by a small team of Baltic and Scandinavian curators: Jonatan Habib Engqvist, Solvita Krese and Inga Lāce. All possess a background in organizing independently and within the confines of institutions, which may be their strong point—their fluidity. They have experience working outside and around structured settings and institutions. As an event, Survival Kit works in collaboration and communication with seemingly unassuming Rīga spaces which are either abandoned or need renovation; the project enlivens parts of the city which usually go unnoticed or unrealized while drawing attention to changing socio-political dynamics which affect city planning and emerging architecture from a historical perspective.

This year, the festival takes place in the former faculty building of the University of Latvia, exhibiting works from twenty-four international artists. The building is nothing less than an eccentricity—with libraries, laboratories, auditoriums and museums of chemistry, botany and zoology on four floors. Omit the artworks, one might spend hours in the building examining remnants of specimens, contraptions, charts, graphs, unexpected objects and tools. The venue can be viewed as a complimentary exhibition in-and-of-itself.

This year’s theme revolves around interrelated links between three ecologies (environmental, social and mental), otherwise known as ecosophy—coined by Félix Guattari. Instead of simply existing in one category, the argument is that one should aim to move transversally between these spheres, to be under constant negotiation and rebuilding, in an attempt to communicate via intensities rather than depending upon an elementary rapport between speaker and listener. Weight is additionally given to process rather than to a system or structure; the curators remark that process coupled with intensity of exchange stands as catalyst for this year’s festival. Survival Kit 9 is interested in transformation and becoming—using well-delivered articulation of ethics, politics and aesthetics via art as medium.

Multiple works are strong, and they have the capacity to stand alone yet also fit within the show’s context. Occasionally, one attends such co-curated events, and it becomes apparent that its curators did not reach equilibrium; in this instance, energies are balanced. The exhibition appears as one curatorial voice, instead of three. It is not clear what their exact curatorial process was, gauging from supplemental texts alone, but if their curatorial process mirrors the show’s intent, then one might assume that it validated the importance of process and intensity. The idea that the senses are directly connected to thought prevails—that it helps to become anything or even everything else besides ourselves to determine where one stands. This quest must not be confused with seeking “alternative facts,” otherwise known as one leading to nowhere.

On the first floor, one encounters the captivating video O Peixe (The Fish) (2016) of Brazilian artist Jonathas de Andrade. The viewer observes fisherman catching fish in a simplistic manner; once pulled from the water, they embrace each fish as if they are interspecies lovers. Gernot Wieland’s tragicomic film Thievery and Songs (2016) is eccentric and multilayered. The Austrian artist shares a super 8 collage of drawings, claymation and watercolor fueled by psychological undercurrents of a private therapy session; the narrator is being psychoanalyzed and, in turn, analyzing the situation with irony and meta-awareness of one who knows their flaws well.

Christine Ödlund’s musical score and video Stress Call of the Stinging Nettle (2008) is located in the chemistry museum on the second floor. The piece investigates communication between plants— specifically, stinging nettles, when they are being attacked by butterfly larvae who feed off of them. The project draws attention to existing barriers between plants and humans, as well as possibilities to dissolve them. On the same floor, one discovers the artist book series-as-installation Book of Nineteen Nocturnes (2017) by Montréal-based draftsman and writer Jim Holyoak. Each book is fragile yet emits a gothic presence; pages include watercolors, prints, drawings, text collage and ink paintings. The nineteen chapters as separate books illustrate a nocturnal world littered with monsters—inspired by graphic novel and fairytale aesthetics.

On the third floor, Latvian artist Andris Eglītis presents his Laboratory of Poetic Research (2017) consisting of paintings and sculptures. The artist utilizes organic materials; he incorporates mould, soil and traces left behind by the sun, swamps or insects—he deposits each canvas in an outdoor experimental setting. Paintings are caked with soil and stained; they entice in the same way that any temporal work would. Earth flakes off and falls to the floor. Most of his work will not withstand even a short test of time. One must appreciate them as they are—in the moment. Down the hall, Lithuanian artists Gediminas & Nomeda Urbonas exhibit The Psychotropic House: Zooetics Pavilion of Ballardian Technologies (2017). Following their trajectory of interdisciplinary and technologically aware artistic research, they present a curious installation attempting to articulate their concept of ’Zooetics’: an idea underway. The artist group explores ways that human knowledge can engage with other life forms via designs and prototypes for future ecologies including ranging species. The displayed Zooetics pavilion is inspired by J. G. Ballard’s Vermilion Sands (1971) where the technology of a future house is in sync—sensitive to the emotions of its inhabitants. Stemming from this relationship, the artist group maps emerging relations between life and non-life—imagination serving as guiding light.

On the top floor, Swedish Sámi artist Britta Marakatt-Labba presents the installation The Move, The Door, Fireplace Stones (2017) inspired by the Kiruna Municipality where she lives. Offering three works devoted to Kiruna’s movement—textile on sailcloth, fireplace stones, a suspended hanging door of a Sámi home—she draws attention to the significance of indigenous identities and nature as influenced by Scandinavian colonialism. It is suggested that one watch the entire film Heart of a Dog (2015) by American artist Laurie Anderson; the artist expresses reverence for her deceased rat terrier Lolabelle and fragmented childhood memories—weaving sentiments on everything from data collection to Buddhism to art—in a collage of poetic philosophic inquiry.

These are only a fraction of the artists worth investigating. The event requires that attendants take ample time to interact with its subject matter. Aside: complimenting this event, the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art (LCCA) will soon launch a Latvian exile and immigrant art project with future exhibitions in Rīga, New York, Paris, Berlin and Sweden highlighting artistic processes within Latvian exiles and immigrant communities from the 20th century onward. In addition to Survival Kit 9, Latvia is celebrating its centenary.

To see a version of the review in context (Norwegian), click here.

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