Interview with Viestarts Gailītis, founder of „Skan II” exhibition

Interview with Viestarts Gailītis, founder of „Skan II” exhibition
Kaspars Garda, Rīga 2014
08-10-2013 A+ A-
Autumn in Riga is the time when bohemian days of summer are over, instead, an active culture life emerges again. If you're still keeping your dusty sneakers from summer rock festivals, it's about time to throw them out and search for new musical adventures in the best Riga venues. „Skaņu Mežs” festival goes on. Besides, an international sound art symposium is held in Riga these days running as a warm-up event for the next year's sound art exhibition „Skan II” which is a part of The European Capital of Culture programme. Viestarts Gailītis, one of the organizers, also a journalist, music reviewer and long-time meloman, works actively on all those projects.

We meet Viestarts at the entry of Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music on a break between „Skaņu māksla:  pārveidojot telpu par vietu” lectures and discussions. The symposium is an introduction and a serious preparation for the next year's „Skan II” exhibition. Viestarts says that for professionals it is an opportunity to gain new experience and also it's the way how to make sound art more recognizable in Latvia where this art field is relatively poorly known.

„Essentially, we don't have to call it sound art. People might think of those works as environment objects too,” explains Gailītis. Families with children might as well visit The Botanical Garden next year and explore some central events of this exhibition, and not even know that it's sound art they are looking at. For now, it's important to tell that- yes, there is such art field as sound art, and people might find this unusual at the first time. Besides, the genre itself is relatively new in arts, so, there are not many academic researches or, for example, professional authorities who had taken risk and dedicated their career for it.

„People who are especially actively working in sound art field will present their researches and works at this symposium. Those will be professionals from the academic field, journalists who are particularly interested in sound arts, also people who teach this discipline at universities and the practising artists, as well. So, in that way, we might ”clear away the fog„ from what sound art is about, and present next year's ”Skan II" exhibition. 


Basically, sound art is an interdiscipilnary genre as well as other modern art forms emerging less than fifty years ago. „It's something between music and visual arts,” explains Viestarts Gailītis.

„To be able to work on this genre, a visual art professional has to be strong in audiovisual field as well, but for a musician, it requires an ability to cover the whole space rather than just think of  consecutive compositions. So, special knowledges and spatial thinking are highly required.”

Sound art in Latvia is rarely covered. Actually, sound artists often avoid to set up a definition for what they do. Viestarts Gailītis mentions Evelīna Deičmane who uses sound in her art pieces more and more. Also Voldemārs Johansons works that way, he is mainly interested in various sound and space connections. Both artists are participating at this week's symposium and next year's exhibition „Skan II”.

In 2007, „Skan” exhibition was organized for the first time at Cigoriņu fabrika (Chicory factory) next to Arkādija. „Back then, we asked artists to work with sound and visual arts by offering Riga city as their source of inspiration. But this time, we mainly concentrate on Pārdaugava wooden architecture which is at The Botanical Garden and its surroundings.” The former idea was to inhabit the old wodden estates of Pārdaugava, however, the chosen objects were either on an emergency situation, or the ownership was pretty unclear. But then the architect and expert in wooden architecture Pēteris Blūms helped us and recommended Wolfschmidt's manor house at The Botanical Garden. So, this is gonna be the place where works from „Skan II” will be exhibited through the whole summer, 2014. 


„People would visit The Botanical Garden in any case. We'll also try and do something with Pārdaugava wooden architecture where at least one exhibition project will be held. It's also planned to exhibit two works at the popular Kalnciems Quarter. But mainly The Botanical Garden will be the epicentre of ”Skan II„ where the events will be divided in three parts operating in June, July and August.”

However, not every artwork will be directly related to wooden architecture or manor houses. The purpose of artworks will be to emphasize the vulnerability of those territories as well as to inform about them to a wider audience. The exhibition will mark another way how to speak of environmental problems in Riga.

„Now, when I see what happens in Riga with the old architecture, and I'm not even mentioning wooden houses or Art Nouveau, we might also draw attention towards architecture in the city centre. Because now, a dreadful suburbanization with all those horrible, poor quality villages is developed in Riga surroundings. That's why infractructure in the city centre suffers. Old houses are managed by speculators and are practically ”drowning„. Architects and builders also are ready to talk about this, it's not just artists. I doubt that it will be so bad that the city centre becomes full of slums. But, if so, what to expect in the nearest future? Sooner or later, we will be forced to think of those unoccupied houses.”

But, still, it's just a social background, an additional reminder, sound and art stays the top priority. Can artists solve at least some of those problems? Probably not, says Viestarts Gailītis, but they can pay attention to them or make some resonance in the society. 


As every autumn, „Skaņu Mežs” festival is the one that resonates within Riga music lovers too. „The festival celebrates its 11th anniversary this year starting from 10 September with a concert evening at ”Splendid Palace„. Viestarts Gailītis organizes ”Skaņu Mežs„ from the early beginnings and basically has founded the festival. However, it's not the best and most easiest occupation in the world, he admits. ”I, for example, have become an accountant who also writes reports and applications." But it's worth it as soon as the festival goes on and fulfills the expectations. However, the festival should not be organized just by the inertia. Probably that explains the never-ending virtuosity of the festival and ability to offer new venues and new artists every time.

„The Wire” journalists coming to Riga and giving lectures is a good success for this year's festival, an event with great value. This British magazine covers mostly contemporary music and avant-garde themes, and their work is highly rated within the professionals.

They were happy to take our offer, we just sent a simple invitation. Journalists asked for a programme and then decided they'd come. Mostly these journalists travel around Western Europe, so it's not that people invite them to Latvia all the time. For them, it's important to remind about „The Wire” as much as possible. As the printed press sales goes down, they need to survive, just like everyone else in this field."

Music lovers already know what they want to hear at „Skaņu Mežs”. But what would Viestarts Gailītis recommend to „the new ones in town”? „We don't book big artists. There are no superstars, rather the music that touches you.” On Thursday, 10 October, nu-jazz orchestra from Norway „Jaga Jazzist” will perform. They're the lucky ones who got recognized with their new experimental voice and gained attention around the world. Definitely, „Shackleton” and Andy Stott might be interesting for those who like electronic dance music. Also a concert by conductor Normunds Šnē and Marta Spārniņa will be great, music by a French composer Pierre Boulez will be performed. Julia Holter plays at „Ziemeļblāzma” culture palace on 26 September, and it's a very special occasion. Listeners will be lucky to catch an artist's performance when she's just starting her musical career.

By the way, we have been pieneers in discovering new talents before. For example, this year's „Positivus Festival” booked artists who had already played at „Skaņu Mežs”. "It's an adventure, to be able to find new talents when they're in their early careers. Clearly, we would not be able to afford big names, besides, it's not our goal either.

„Our mission is to give Riga the sharpness, the spice rather than just to organize the festival. After all, we are melomans..”

This year's „Skaņu Mežs” is partly dedicated to „Atmiņu Daugava” issue („Koknesei”, 2013), it's said in „Skaņu Mežs” brochure. This book is a collection of photographies, publications and other evidences where Daugava sightseeing from Pļaviņas to Aizkraukle appears before the river was flooded. Those are the views we probably won't see ever again. However, the book has no direct impact on the festival programme, but it has made a great impression on the organizers. The book reminds of the vanishing values of our history, and how important it is to bear in mind what's lost already or might get lost in the nearest future.

„Skan II” exhibition and „Skaņu Mežs” Festival is inluded in the thematic line „Thirst for the Ocean” from „Rīga 2014” programme. First festival performances- this week on 10, 11 and 12 October. To find more about the programme and artists, click here!



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