Viewing single post of blog SERDE, Latvia Residency 2018

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