Gints Grūbe: ‘Culture will be our guide into history’

Gints Grūbe: ‘Culture will be our guide into history’
Kaspars Garda, Rīga 2014
Una Griškeviča
10-04-2013 A+ A-
One of the widest 'Riga 2014' thematic lines is ‘Freedom Street’ curated by Gints Grūbe, which comprises events as various as premiere of opera ‘Valentina,’ the exhibition focusing WWI ‘1914,’ the Freedom Run, and the opening of the Museum of Personal Things Touching on Fate in the Corner House. Talking to portal 'Riga 2014,' Gints Grūbe accentuates that, observing how easily is the heavy heritage of the XX century overcome by Germans, he has thought that, within the space opened by the program of Riga – European Capital of Culture, it can be done in Latvia as well, since this status allows for a civilized discussion of the fate of the city and its inhabitants immersed in the cultural process, including – in the film ‘Melanie’s Chronicle,’ which he produces.

To free the environment from anonymity

‘We are not speaking of Freedom street as a concrete geographical axis; this street is more than just a street. The essence is encoded in the sentence: as soon as a foreign power enters the city, its name is changed, assuming that entire political system or political culture is transformed by this feat. But it does not happen by changing the names of streets!’ concludes Gints Grūbe reminding us about the history of Brīvības street: we can see how in half-a-century the street has changed names from Alexander Boulevard, in honor of then Tsar of Russia, to Petrograd Road and Vidzeme Road, to Revolution street (which is how it was called for a certain time in 1919), to Lenin street and to Adolph Hitler Straße, while it has been and continues to be Freedom or Brīvības street.

‘With the change of the name of the central axis of Riga, the power has been very tangibly forming its relationship with this city. And then there is the question: how to make this environment non-anonymous by cultural process?

There is too much anonymity everywhere around when we walk through Riga at the moment. We did not know (maybe some of us did) that the fountains of Esplanade were placed there in 1950s where the monument of Stalin had been planned to raise. We have accepted them as a beautiful urban feature, which has always been there,’ G. Grūbe summarizes, underlining that the Corner House has remained invisible, and, actually, we pretend that it is not even there. ‘It is the same with many things and issues, which we imagine to not exist, precisely because of these historic reasons, but we cannot get free of them. History is this dangerous chemical substance pursuing us in the dark of our nightmares, generation by generation, in the stories told and re-told, in disillusionments we still have to struggle with on political and non-political level alike.’

And positive provocations as well

This is why this thematic line more or less relates to engendering of discussion around the over-all range of the force majeure issues – they are insurmountable circumstances when you cannot realize your contractual relationships in a civilized way. Culture is one of the civilized modes of thinking and talking about it. By the same principle, this program is created, from the exhibition ‘1914,’ which will be seen in the museum of art ‘Arsenāls’ and where the spectrum of the painting of that era will be presented, to opera ‘Valentina’ authored by Arturs Maskats and Liāna Langa, based on the life story of our outstanding film historian and critic Valentīna Freimane, to the battling statues of Aigars Bikše in the project ‘Monument Wars,’ – Gints Grūbe enumerates, adding that this project could mean a positive provocation; how can you turn the pedestal once holding the statue of Lenin into a positive provocation, to make us think why do we perceive it so sensitively? The project organized together with Writers’ Union, ‘The Neighbors Are Noisy’ will bring to Riga literary people from the world’s conflict zones.

The programs will urge discussion of taboo themes

 The axis of Brīvības street is planned to be marked out by twelve show-windows, which will evoke periods in Riga’s history in the context of the century. ‘The route could conclude in front of the Corner House with a question: how to provoke discussion, while the building receives a new content, of – what should be done with this place? As for more than ten years since it was left by the State Police, which had functioned there after taking it over from the State Security Committee, this question has not been solved. Which is why we thought that such historic buildings and places deserve public discussion of their fate,’ states Gints Grūbe, mentioning also that advice to turn it into museum came from former head of the Cultural Center of France in Riga.

Therefore, it was decided that this house will host the Museum of Personal Things Touching on Fate, which would be assembled from objects contributed by volunteers, and an exposition of naïve art, since this genre of art was one of the prominent forms of protest in its era; another feature will be photo exhibition focusing the Cold War, and collaboration with the Museum of Occupation will bring about the KGB division of the building. ‘This house has not been opened since the Fatal Year (Baigais gads, 1941). And it is clear that it is historically heavily charged even without the content we are to add, which is why it is important to endow it with aura and status by expositions and making it open to the public. Because, when we call something a museum, we change the way we relate to it,’ Gints is convinced. The question of how to dissolve the negative aura surrounding the house, he answers – aura is in the heads, the building itself does not posses any.
‘Therefore, the question arises – what do we do with these auras and what do we think of them. Our objective is to make people think about and discuss the taboo themes, which we would wish to pretend don’t exist anymore or – have dissolved. But, as I already said – they don’t change by changing the name of the street.’
The Freedom Run, planned to take place next year, also could be one of the program divisions, drawing the historic axis, bringing to light the fact that, while on the distance, we don’t notice what is on the left and what is on the right from us.

‘Melanie’s Chronicle’ – history from woman’s perspective

Although Gints’ head is full of the projects of his thematic line, he combines this work with creative partnership with director Viesturs Kairišs on new feature film ‘Melanie’s Chronicle.’ ‘We hope to finish this work by the end of 2014 and to be able to show it.’ Presently, the team works with co-producers, since the project has been also noticed elsewhere in Europe.

‘This work, written by Melānija Vanaga, is unique – a singular tragedy for Latvia and Latvians, the effects of which many generations, including mine, are unable to shed. The older we get, the more questions arise. Talking about it in Berlin Film Festival and in Tallinn – with our potential co-producers, we came to conclusion that it is not just Latvian story alone. As Melānija Vanaga writes, in those Siberian villages, which took in Latvians in 1941 and 1949, Karelian Finns and Germans from Volga already lived, having been moved there from the bordering regions to prevent their collaboration with German army, and more. And, in 1941, many Hebrew people were deported to Siberia as well. This tragedy saved their lives or they would have been shot here, in Latvia.

‘Taken from this view-point, our film-script acquires context of our unique history, which resonates with the projects of European Capital of Culture.’

Gints Grūbe says that events of this kind are reduced, in art and literature, to ‘male theme,’ while the Finns have indicated that it is unique that this story is told through the female prism and female strength to survive.

‘I don’t want anything personal, but, thinking of my own family, I know that it survived in Siberia only thanks to the fact that my grandmother decided to turn to stealing at some point, for she understood: her family would not survive if she didn’t. The men of the family weren’t ready to do that; it was a woman who made this choice… But the most complicated is the question – what happens after you have survived all those horrors, how are you to continue to live? I think it is the most complicated question, which is impossible to answer. We can relate it to entire stretch of Latvia’s history in the XX century: yes, all that has happened. But what comes next? How are you to live with it?’



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