For the Alternative Art Guide we selected the artists Mārtiņš Ratniks, Kaspars Podnieks and Daiga Krūze who, having left a significant mark on the Latvian art scene at a tender early age, are still well and kicking today.
Mārtiņš Ratniks (1975) works in video, media art, book design and sound. His early work within the artist group F5 can be viewed as crucial to reinvigorating the Latvian contemporary art scene of the late nineties and early noughties. Their übercool stance and club culture related output attracted a considerable following, and a number of imitators, too. After representing Latvia at the 25th Sao Paolo Biennale in Brazil (2002) and the 51st Venice Biennale (2005) the group faded somewhat, but Ratniks produced a number of solo shows.
“Fields” (RIXC Media Space, Riga, 2007) featured a wall of 30 CRT television sets stuck in a flickering pause on a single apparently abstract frame, while “Land” (kim? contemporary art centre, Riga, 2010) featured an endless glide across a terra incognita reminiscent of thermal imaging, “2001: ASpace Odissey” and a falling dream. The latest, “Projections” (kim? contemporary art centre, Riga, 2011), was exactly that – geometrically reduced projected images.
In one, a fine white line described the figure 8 on its side, chosing a slightly new path with each cycle, thus in 26 minutes filling the screen with a blinding white. On the opposite wall two projections merged into one, inviting the observer to question whether the seen is two- or three-dimensional. His idiosyncratic take on technology has found a fitting habitat in RIXC, the new media culture centre in Riga. While manipulating publicly accessible data and remixing scientific visual imagery, Ratniks is in no way your contemporary research-based artist. Instead, he creates landscapes where the spectator’s imagination has to travel in order to do its own fieldwork.
If you asked Kaspars Podnieks (1980) to expand a little beyond the title of his shows “Unusual Place” and “Communicating Vessels” (both at kim? contemporary art centre, Riga, 2010 and 2011, respectively), he would probably deny everything. Although the exhibited works are framed photographs, he would protest at being called a photographer.
He would also squirm at the sound of the word “performance”, even though the images have caught him and his kin levitating inexplicably at an indefinite height above ground. After expressing a distaste for being called an artist he would go on an agitated rant about a “special place”. Podnieks comes from a small rural settlement in a picturesque part of Latvia where his parents run a farm. He still works on it and his special relationship with Drusti is underlined by his becoming a local politician.
Building a precarious contraption to stand on a good half a dozen metres above ground, welding a slowly rotating crane for two monitors showing a cow grazing, or painting a meadow and a tractor in scarlet so that from a certain point across the lake a red square can be seen – all that is shoved under the modest cover of “things on the side”. What matters, is that it is in and about a particular location. “I come from there and I am there. There I gain the certainty that the work will be true and thus worthwhile to the others as well.”
At a time when an artist’s birthplace is the bit that comes before “lives and works in Berlin”, Podnieks’ dedication to his village is special, and so is his art.
Daiga Krūze (1980) graduated from the Art Academy of Latvia as a painter in 2004. Her works caught everyone off guard. At a time when Lavian painting seemed to be hopelessly bogged down with tired exercises in virtuosity and regurgitation of art history, the large-scale works from the series “Streets” came as a much needed breath of fresh air.
The lonely characters treading the blue perspectives feature giant heads, swollen with a mixture of half-laid philosophies, shopping lists and Mike Skinner’s lyrics. Paintings like “Street as Catwalk”, “Chicks” and “Screen Saver” betray both fascination with and questioning of contemporary urban culture, but they never degrade into criticism.
Her first show “100% Disappointment” (at a vacated car dealer’s, Riga, 2004) lasted for three days only, yet it won her the first art prize (“Debut of the Year”, Artists Union and Culture Capital Foundation).
With the rising critical acclaim, an increasing number of followers, and even an interest from our feeble art market, conditions were ripe for a new local star to be born. Instead of capitalising on it, Krūze surprised us again by turning her gaze to nature.
Having grown up in the country, she had never strayed too far from it. From glimpses of how one passes an involuntary spare hour every morning in the city parks (“At Seven o‘clock”, gallery Pedants, Riga, 2006) to quiet adventures during long walks to the woods (“You Are What You See”, gallery 21, Riga, 2009), to what must be one of the largest paintings in Latvia, a 5 by 6 metre canvas titled “Sounds of the Sunrise” (2011), Krūze’s shows are collections of evanescent, yet profound moments.