Amber in the ‘New Eye’ of Riga

Amber in the ‘New Eye’ of Riga
Mārtiņš Otto, Rīga 2014
Una Griškeviča
12-04-2013 A+ A-
‘For Latvians, amber has been always closely related to their self-perception and national identity, but now it is time to explore it, to discover it anew and to take a look at what we are used to in everyday with a new curious and scientific eye, focused by open thinking. ‘Amber Well’ is thematic line centered on scientific and cultural achievements bearing a mark of excellence and value of a world level contribution. It is what Riga and Latvia has added to the world culture and development of human creative activity,’ curator of the thematic line ‘Amber Well’ Vita Timermane-Moora says in conversation with portal 'Riga 2014.'

Turned into a symbol

‘Amber Route, which is one of the most ancient trade routes, leads away from the amber well; it took our treasure to the furthest ends of the world – not only to Europe, but to Asia and Africa as well. This thematic line has kept developing since its first conception, because we turned out not to have known too much about amber or Amber trade route or its traditions here, in Latvia, ourselves,’ – Vita admits, underlining that, today, amber has become more than just a material we all know, it is now a symbol of timeless, nations-bridging collaboration.

‘Amber is the key word in order to open conversation, as we move by the Amber Route; it is the key word to begin a dialogue in India; amber is a symbol of values, after all.’

Describing her thematic line, Vita Timmermane-Moora mentions an interesting encounter with a Belgian writer and his perspective on Latvia and Riga. ‘Speaking of Krišjānis Barons and tram lines, he said that Latvians are set in amber, in a sense, through which the scientists search for historic evidence, but Latvians are alive and testify for themselves. I was pleasantly surprised that this writer talked of amber, connecting it with the particular Latvian identity, in a side view.’

Unofficial Amber Route

In conversation, the curator of thematic line reminds a historical fact that Latvians were stripped of the rights to harvest and trade amber several centuries ago. ‘Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga has stressed that amber is very rarely mentioned in our folk-songs as it was the forbidden fruit. In the XX century, in turn, amber represented all things Latvian; amber has always been one of the main items in the travelling-bag of someone leaving Latvia; Latvians recognized each other outside Latvia by its presence. For this reason, amber is an inexhaustible well itself.’

Asked to concretize what will be offered by her thematic line, Vita Timmermane-Moora discloses that, on the one hand, it will be a story of amber as a material. Participants of this story are five museums, which is why it is legitimate to call this division of line Riga’s Amber route. And the added value will be the fact that the collection of amber will remain in our Museum of Natural History after the year of European Capital of Culture as well.

‘Collaborative project with Italians, who consider amber their stone, will bring an interesting exposition reflecting amber in the curing practices and medicine to the Museum of the History of Medicine. It is not a coincidence that Italians speak of amber-colored hair, which is considered an exceptional physical feature.’

To find our own amber – each of us

‘The National Museum of History will open a wide exposition of amber in ethnography and archeology, while September 19-20, 2014 will see an international conference held in Riga discussing archeology and modern technologies.’ The Museum of Design will offer exhibition viewing amber in Latvian traditional wisdom in the 19th and 20th centuries. It will represent amber not only as a material, but also review the use of this term in different titles. ‘The summit of the thematic line could be said to be the Egyptian exposition in the Art Museum Riga Bourse in November 2014. What is the link between Egyptians and amber? Once, in the tomb of Tutankhamun, a small piece of amber was found on his embalmed body, and this event spurred the renaissance of amber.

Egypt four or five thousand years ago was the place to engender interest in amber, Egyptians traveled to Baltic region to find it, and amber was the reason why the then territory of the Baltic States had found its place on the geographical map.’

Vita mentions the scientist of Riga Technical Universtity Inga Ļašenko and her elaboration of amber thread, accentuating that there is only one product to be derived from pulverized amber, which, in purified form, can be used in numerous industries. ‘Inga is unsurpassed in this respect in the world, and this is something, again, which singles us out!’ For this reason, ‘Amber Well’ events will honor Inga Ļašenko’s discovery – the amber thread, which is already used by textile artist Iveta Vecenāne in tapestry projects. ‘It is the new identity of our amber – we no longer speak of amber as merely a historic fact or a fossil, but perceive it with – how I like to call it – a new eye of Riga. We re-work amber in the way that it turns out to be even more valuable.’ 

Therefore, the already mentioned activities will be part of a wider range of events, where our people or their knowledge will be the symbolic amber. ‘We can speak of the Tenso Europe Chamber Quire for young professionals here or of ‘Riga Jazz Stage’ and ‘Habitus Baltija’ – these are activities of the young, which generate added value. In my view, it is a positive sign that many of these projects evolve around young people.’

Inviting people to set out in their search for amber, Vita is able to tell that there are two professional amber searchers now living in Liepāja. ‘Amber is best harvested after storms – on the second night or on the third morning after; that is the perfect time. And perhaps we should think about making amber our national brand,’ curator of ‘Amber Well’ mentions to end our conversation.

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