The first edition of Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (RIBOCA1) will open to the public in the Latvian capital on the 2nd of June. The theme of the biennial, Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More, will reflect on the phenomenon of change – how it is anticipated, experienced, grasped, assimilated and dealt with in this age of accelerated transitions. The biennial focuses on artists from or based in the Baltic region, including several Finnish and Finland-based artists.
Founded in 2016, the edition includes several international artists yet maintains a European focus with a strong regional profile. Taking the rich history of Riga and the Baltic states as its underlying framework, the biennial highlights the artistic landscape of the wider region and creates opportunities for artists to enter into dialogue with the cultural, historical and socio-political context of the city and its geographical surroundings.
The Chief Curator of the biennial is Brussels-based Katerina Gregos. In addition to a series of critically acclaimed large-scale exhibitions and biennials, Gregos served as a member of the jury for the Finnish Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale.
Gregos first visited Finland in 2016 as a part of Frame’s expert visitor programme; most of the relationships with the Finnish artists to exhibit at RIBOCA1 were principally a result of this visit.
One of the artists Gregos met on her visit, Teemu Korpela, creates paintings that often take spatial and three-dimensional forms. For RIBOCA1, the artist has created an installation that takes the vast botanical collection of the former Biological Faculty at the University of Latvia, the building now defunct, as its starting point.
First featured at 8. Turku Biennaali in They Came in Crowded Boats and Trains, artists Minna Rainio and Mark Roberts interweave the stories of Finnish refugees during the World War II with the journeys of present day refugees from Iraq who have travelled to Finland. The divisions between us and them, the past and the present, become blurred.
The artist duo’s other featured work, How Everything Turns Away, surrounds the viewer with panoramic seascapes. The work highlights the ocean as an indicator of climate change, of rising sea levels, as well as a site of struggle for thousands of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean to seek a better life in Europe.
Finnish artist Hans Rosenström exhibits three works at the biennial. The first, So Far By Now is a looping sound installation explicitly made for the empty library room of the Biological Faculty, the main venue of the biennial.“The work for me is a spiralling meditation over our uncertain times”, states Rosenström.
The second work, A House Divided, is a sound installation which explores the mechanisms of words and their delivery. The piece is written in dialogue with professional hypnotherapist Charles Montagu, and it looks into the quality of the voice as being a transcending tool—each time we speak we are not just making a sound for others to hear, but we simultaneously also invade another person’s body.
Sasha Huber’s and Petri Saarikko’s Dziedināšana Remedies presents Latvian sauna culture as a form of commonly shared healing remedy. Pirts is the old Latvian traditional cleansing space, corresponding to that of a Finnish sauna or a Russian banya. The pirts-related cleansing ceremony is considered to have both physical and mental benefits.
Artist Jani Ruscica is interested in intermediary spaces, in which what is performed and how it is performed either question each other or reveal gaps, layers, or knots between meanings. In addition to the video Ring Tone (en plein air), Ruscica will exhibit performative piece entitled Flatlands, produced with Lönnström Art Museum in Rauma.
“Flatlands is based on imagined musical instruments appropriated by visual sources. The materiality of the instruments as well as the materia and related associations are highlighted” says Ruscica. The piece will be performed by musicians Linda Fredriksson, Matias Häkkinen and Sara Milazzo.
IC-98, currently exhibiting at Kunsthalle Helsinki, invited Kustaa Saksi to collaborate on a contemporary millefleurs tapestry. The tapestry imagines a site on the island of Spitsbergen in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, where the Svalbard Global Seed Vault once stood.
The tapestry was produced on the basis of research with the Finnish Meteorological Institute, Natural Resources Institute Finland and Tromsø Arctic-Alpine Botanic Garden in Norway, and depicts a selection of the stored plants most likely to thrive on the site in 4017.
The actual seeds of the plants were woven into the fabric of the tapestry., making the work a potentially self-fulfilling prophecy waiting to rot and sprout.
The biennial is based on a working process that starts from the local, expanding to the national and the regional, and finally to the transnational. The biennial aims to take root and make roots in the place where it is situated.
A significant proportion of the commissioned and selected artists either live, work, or were born in the Baltic region, , a reflection of the biennial’s global outlook, and mission to increase artistic engagement between the Baltic region and the rest of the world. The territory remains relatively unexplored despite its prolific artistic production – for now, that is.
The 1st edition of the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art runs from 2 June – 28 October 2018 in several locations in Riga, Latvia.
Text: Sara Järvi
Banner: Jani Ruscica, Ring Tone (en plein air), 2016, installation view
Images from top to bottom:
Teemu Korpela, Deposition 2018
Minna Rainio and Mark Roberts, They Came in Crowded Boats and Trains, 2017
Hans Rosenström, A House Divided, 2015
Sasha Huber with Petri Saarikko, Dziedināšana Remedies. 2018
Jani Ruscica, Flatlands, 2018, installation view
IC-98 and Kustaa Saksi, A World in Waiting, 2017