martedì 14 aprile 2015

The Latvian Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale

Katrīna Neiburga and Andris Eglītis are bringing to Italy quotidian marginalia with local character. Their installation is constructed of spatial compositions and video stories inspired by two rather primitive samples of vernacular architecture – woodsheds and the private garages of Soviet era cooperatives whose owners have adapted them for the hybrid use as workshops-cum-dachas. 

In the Baltic countries that are sandwiched between Russia and Poland, there is much talk about the creative industries and references are made to Scandinavian design. Yet the bulk of exports consists of raw lumber resulting in mass deforestation.

To work as a lumberjack is one of the few opportunities available in the countryside for not joining the unemployed. City life, of course, is more extravagant and a case in point here is the denizens of the «tuned up» garages. Tending to their hobby, on the sidelines of the shadow economy, they have inadvertently formed a branch of a maker movement characterized by brutal techno-romanticism.

The story of garage men inhabiting the periphery of Europe is a pastoral of the digital age. The ability to take apart and put together a car engine is about the same as it was in 1845 for Henry David Thoreau to «borrow and ax, go to the forest, and begin to fell some rather young, tall and slender pine-trees» with an aim to build a hermit’s shack for himself. Owing to his journal, we have got to know a lumberjack by the name of Alek Therien. This simple and natural man for whom vice and disease had hardly an existence, fed chickadees from his hand and swung his ax with the élan of an artist. He still lives in our memories as an animal man of unalloyed mirth whose physical endurance and contentment made him cousin to the pine and rock. 

Last summer, Andris Eglītis and I sat on a pile of boards in the shed of his country studio, having a long discussion about the materiality of the contemporary living space as one synthesized in laboratories and regulated by bureaucracy. I told him about my high-school chemistry teacher who used to say: «I am a state employee and in my classes there is no such thing as miracles.»

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