I didn’t have time to write another entry during the residency as there was so much going on. So this is a retrospective collection of thoughts, experiences and things that I encountered.

It would have been good to have more time at SERDE as the 2 weeks went really quickly. It is possible to stay for much longer periods, but 2 weeks was the most I could accommodate. However the 2 weeks were very busy and there was some great company!

Its safe to say that I think that I’ve managed to gather enough footage for making some kind of video work. When I went to Latvia a few weeks ago, I didn’t know too much about the country. My knowledge of the Baltic states was a bit sketchy. This was in part a reason for wanting to do this project, it has been driven by curiosity. One of the main areas to explore was the Latvia’s borders, it’s relationship with it’s neighbouring countries and how this has affected and influenced identity.

Above: Exploring Latvia’s Soviet legacy

Its outwith the scope of this update to give a general history lesson on Latvia, but in short it reveals a fascinating, but turbulent past. This year is the 100th anniversary of the Independence of Latvia. In the aftermath of World War One, it broke away and declared independence from Russia on 18th November 1918. The countries independence was interrupted with the onset of World War Two, when the country was forced into the Soviet Union, followed by invasion and occupation by the Nazi’s. It was re-occupied again by the Soviet’s in 1944 and the creation of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) followed and lasted until 1991 when independence was reestablished.

A country that has went from independence, to dependence and then back to independence I discovered common identity threads that have spanned through the different epochs. These strong associations have guided the people through it’s journey and road towards independence. These are mainly: a strong connection with the land; music and poetry; traditional dance, textiles and dress.

Above: The folk and song tradition and other monuments
An interesting find that I picked up to lend credence to this, was a publication from 1986 that I found in a second hand shop in Leipaja. The book is a folio of about 65 maps

Above: Cover of ‘Historical Ethnographic Atlas of the Baltic’


The title in Russian is:

‘историко зтнографическнн атлас прибалтикн’

which translates as: Historical Ethnographic Atlas of the Baltic

The maps show the location and spread of traditional dress in the Baltic countries. The publication was produced in Riga Academy of Science.

Info from Ebay:
Book Title Istoriko-Etnografitskii Atlas Pribaltiki: Odezhda
Translation Ethnographic Atlas of the Baltics: Clothing
Author L.N. Terenteva
Language Russian
Published Riga, Latvia – 1986
Condition Good Condition – scrapes to front cover along spine of main volume
Format & Size Hardcover – 9″ x 11.75″; 174 pages (vol. 1) + 66 maps (vol. 2)
Description Excellent, rare book set about the traditional folk costumes of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Includes illustrations and photos of complete costumes as well as individual elements such as sashes, skirts, blouses, gloves, mittens, shawls, bonnets, shirts, socks, and more. The second volume has 66 maps showing the distribution of costume types and specific clothing elements throughout the Baltic region. The complete list of maps is shown in the last photo below. An exceptional thorough survey of the regional costumes of the Baltic countries. Hard to find and highly recommended.

More on traditions and identity will follow in a later update. There is so much to cover and I obviously don’t want to put it to a slow death by writing about it word for word in one article.

Above: Filming around Western Latvia and documenting books in SERDE library
The film work I did looked at these areas in particular :

  • Monuments and public art
  • Traditions & Culture
  • The Land and the People
  • The Occupation
  • The Legacy of occupation

There are a lot of subjects there to explore. I visited and filmed several sites and although I might not actually use any of the footage – it was incredibly important to visit these places. It gave a sense of the place through the presence of the past. There were traces of the past, discarded objects, abandoned places. Thinking about Tacita Dean’s work and her approach, I’m not looking to make a documentary where a historical time line is presented along side a literal representation of the subject. This is film, theatre and the visual. The rules and boundaries are there to be explored.

Above: Iron casting symposium at SERDE

While at SERDE I got to witness something very amazing – the Iron casting symposium. The symposium as held earlier on in the year during the summer, however at the end of the week someone (maybe local, who knows) had stolen the iron. So the casting had to be postponed to allow sufficient time to build up a stock of iron, which is collected from old radiators, etc. It was a real pleasure to see this process. Too much process to describe!

The plan now is to work with the clips that I have and think about a narrative / approach. I will produce some quick edits that work as sketches to test out ideas. I would like to include a link to them in the next update, to encourage feedback and comments. So that will be the next journal update.


My aim is to write 3 blog updates during the residency in Latvia. One at the beginning, an interim update and a final one before leaving. So this is the first update upon arrival. The questions I was asking were such as where is Latvia, what is it’s history and what are it’s current social and geo-political relations with it’s neighbours? Curiosity drives the ambition of an artist. The best way to answer these questions is to visit a place and find out. The Baltic countries were the eastern border of the Soviet Union. The coastline was the final frontier of the Soviet Union and also of communism. Beyond this lay the world of capitalism. The Baltic states themselves formed a kind of buffer zone between these two worlds and in a sense they were the border line between two very different ideologies. The reason for this residency is to explore the legacy of the cold war and it’s heritage. This is borne through an interest in borders, frontiers, un-recognised states and frozen conflicts. On the lead up to the residency, I had researched Latvia and was interested to learn that this year it celebrates 100 years since it became an independent state in November 1918. On this basis alone it would seem a good time to visit.

The building is amazing. I was instantly thinking that it reminded me of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London. The building is about 300 years old and you can smell the oldness! There are so many fascinating objects in the place and it would be a good project to draw them. It is definitely a bonus if the building and accommodation is an inspiring place. It has facilities such as a dark room and a ceramics room. Most of the artists here on the residency are working in either video / film, ceramics and music. A truly inspiring building that is proving to be a continual source of fascination. During the few days that I’ve been here, some of the artists have organised performances and showings of their work. It is a rewarding experience to witness other artists working on their projects and then presenting their work during the residency.

The First Site Visits
The fist day of the residency was spent looking at information on the Cold War sites that are in Latvia and placing them on a map. Once I had a list of the sites, I then went for a walk around the town of Aizpute. It is important to absorb the surroundings, the place, the environment and let it flow through the mind and body.

The first site visit was made to Liepaja and an area to the north called Karosta. This area was a military port that was first established by the Russian Tsars and has many impressive (but now derelict) red brick buildings. It was then taken over by the Nazis during the war and then the Soviet Union who built Soviet style accommodation blocks that are much in the form of the brutalist style. After the collapse of the USSR, the Russian’s eventually left in 1994 and Karosta spiralled into a darkness and decay. There is an ex-Military prison in Karosta and the tour is interesting. The guide showed me a Russian army rules and regulations book. She flicked through the pages and dropped the book on the table and I found the open pages interesting. There was a Dada randomness about the selection process of this image and I am looking to incorporate it into my work:

I also came across a documentary that was made in 2008 about Karosta which documents the decline after the withdrawal of the Russians:

Karosta: Life After The USSR (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OY-vUKlRrfU&t=2405s)

I plan on returning to Karosta to do some more filming. In the film one of interviewees states that after the fall of the USSR, Gorbachov effectively said ‘Take as much sovereignty as you can digest’. The story of Karosta is like the tale of place going from Utopia to Dystopia.

Something that I came across on rough land next at Karosta either resembled standing stones or plinths. It was ambiguous if these structures were realised or not. Either way, they are in a state of entropy. It would be interesting to re-appropriate these abandoned structures and utilize them for the purpose of art.


Northern Costal Batteries
The second site visit was to see the ruins of the costal defence batteries. These were built to defend the port of Leipaja and access to these military zones was forbidden. It is a strange feeling walking around in places that were for many years out of bounds. What I found most haunting about the place was that I was actually standing on the ‘idealogical’ border line (as I like to call it) between East and West. Thinking about this border line makes me realise how it was imposed upon a country and it’s people, so was it actually a real border line? There is a strange presence at these places, a connection is made with the people who must have been there year after year staring out to see, waiting for an enemy that never came. It seems now tboth the sea, nature and the people who live there have once again reclaimed this place as theirs.

Finally one additional piece of research was listening to a documentary on BBC Radio 4 titled ‘Cold Art’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09yfplt)

The documentary is about artists who make art works about the Cold War and it features:

Stephen Fellmingham (http://land2.leeds.ac.uk/people/felmingham/), Dr Kathrine Sandys, Louise K Wilson, Teufelsberg and Deirdre Stewart