Knowledge for One Euro. The First “Black Market for Knowledge” in Riga
It is safe to say that nothing like this has ever happened in Latvia. The interdisciplinary project brings together professionals from sixty different areas – popular personalities and experts who are ready to meet any of the visitors to the event for a thirty-minute one-to-one dialogue on a given subject. Speaking of which, the theme for the Riga event is “90 Talks on an Enhanced, Repaired and Dead Body”. This encompasses everything that can or cannot happen to the human body from the moment it is brought to this world, is being taken care of, treated, enhanced and rejoiced at – to the moment life leaves this earthly frame.
“For a long time, Hannah Hurtzig has been interested in finding a way to make various scientific discoveries understandable and accessible to a broader audience. Furthermore, at the core of every scientific achievement is the idea of serving a useful purpose, to make life better, easier and longer. Secondly, education – a stable system in itself – often lags behind developments in science. One of the objectives of the project is to accelerate the pace at which new knowledge reaches society,” Zane Kreicberga from the New Theatre Institute of Latvia, the Manager of the project for the Latvian side, explains the concept of the event. The idea of the “Black Market for Useful Knowledge” in Riga has been nurtured since 2010 because, for the event to work according to a precise scheme, all the parties involved must be thoroughly prepared, adds Kreicberga.
At the end of the 1990s, Hannah Hurtzig established the “Mobile Academy Berlin” – a travelling institution that organised temporary academies in various locations. The academy unites experts, intellectuals, artists from multiple fields who are willing to share their knowledge and experience on a subject addressed by a given event. The goal of the academy is to accelerate knowledge exchange and create a new platform. The “Black Market for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge” goes one step further – it is an event open to the general public, where everyone is welcome with their questions and willingness to learn and listen.
Each time the “Black Market for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge” visits a city, a special theme is chosen for the event, and the city’s most knowledgeable minds come together. Riga will host the sixteenth such event, which has so far, taken place in several European and Middle Eastern cities.
The topic of the Riga “Black Market” addresses the problem of the coexistence of man and rapid technological developments in medicine and other areas that have had an impact on the human lifespan and attitudes to life and death.
In essence, the unique market’s concept is very simple, but visitors – as do visitors in any other marketplace – will have to invest some effort and be alert in order to obtain the “product” they covet. And just as with any other marketplace, visitors may simply stand by and enjoy the hustle and bustle of the market. In brief: there are thirty tables at which the speakers sit, and other visitors can go to the information and registration section to “buy” a thirty-minute individual discussion with some of the professionals – for one euro. The gong sounds and the talks may begin. After two rounds of talks, thirty experts rise and leave to give their place to the next thirty experts.
A word of warning from Zane Kreicberga – according to the concept of the event, a market visitor cannot book discussions for the entire evening. Each round of talks goes “on sale” only after the preceding round is sold out. Also, the market is run according to the “first come, first served” principle. That is why Kreicberga recommends visitors to carefully read the experts’ programme and the subjects they want to talk about, which is already available at the LJTI website. The list is also available in print in various places all over the city – cafes, cultural establishments, creative quarters, etc.
For example, one of the experts is a cardiac surgeon Aris Lācis who is ready to talk about his highest achievement – he was the first surgeon to perform a successful stem cell treatment for idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy in a terminally ill three-month old patient, saving the baby’s life. Likewise, the Head of the Latvian Transplant Centre, Rafails Rozentāls will talk about various transplants and achievements in the transplant industry, the specifics and also the downsides. Folk musician Ilga Reizniece will talk about funeral traditions in Latvia and give a practical class on singing funeral songs, whereas the Head of the Latvian Transhumanist Association, Arets Paeglis, will present some examples of life extension technologies.
One of the experts is the ex-President Valdis Zatlers who will talk about his experience as a doctor. Visitors will have an opportunity to “buy” a conversation with artist Kristians Brekte, sculptor Ivars Drulle, stage director Māra Ķimele, poet Ieva Melgalve, author Jānis Joņevs, biotechnology researcher Inese Čakstiņa, doula and birth educator Katrīna Puriņa, homeopath Edgars Mednis, strongman Raimonds Bergmanis and many others.
All talks prepared by the experts deal with the subject of the next “Black Market” – An Enhanced, Repaired and Dead Body.
In a sense, visitors to the event will be pitted against each other as they will strive to pursue their interests, they are therefore advised to study the schedule of talks and themes carefully. However, one should not call it quits even if his or her favourite has been “bought” by someone else. Staff posted at the information desk will be trained to offer other, similar experts or themes to choose from. Besides, the “Black Market Radio” will be broadcasting some of the conversations live on six channels.
The “Black Market for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge” in Riga has a special added value. A feature rarely seen at other venues – live radio commentary, will be provided during the event by molecular biologist and TV3 show “Bez Tabu” host Juris Šteinbergs. He has already had an experience of moderating a popular science talk at another “Riga 2014” Programme event, “The Science Café”
Zane Kreicberga also notes that even if a visitor does not want to ask any questions or discuss anything, each expert is prepared to give a half-hour talk on his or her theme, not expecting any particular encouragement from the interlocutor. Visitors are also requested not to mistake the event for something else and not bring their medical records or x-ray images along or try to strike up a conversation about irrelevant matters. All the speakers are open for discussion within the scope of the subject given.
“To draw a comparison, I could say that, on the one hand, this may be considered an encyclopaedia of knowledge. It’s not a coincidence that the list of experts and themes is arranged alphabetically, as in an encyclopaedia. On the other hand – this ensures the exploration of the theme in a broader spectrum, with a good deal of paradox and humour and involvement of live experts, hence it may be considered as an interactive installation.”
In order to acquire the necessary experience and see firsthand what it really means to “buy” knowledge, Zane has attended the “Black Market for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge” in Turku (Finland) and Dresden (Germany). “There is a peculiar and encouraging mood at the event. The tables at which the interlocutors sit are placed next to one another, with the experts sitting on one side and visitors on the other. Once the signal is given, the discussions begin, while in the meantime the next portion of prospective talkers are lining up at the registration desk. It’s really interesting to see all that from the sidelines. There’s intense communication going on, the murmur of voices everywhere, which evokes a really fascinating atmosphere. Even those who don’t get the chance to have an individual conversation will have a good time.”
Parallel to the conversations, two film projects will be screened – film/installation “The Realm of the Dead” and “Forty-Two”, a film by Laila Pakalniņa, one of the experts at the event, about her first marathon. There will also inevitably be discussions taking place between the visitors to the event. “The event is frequently followed by the next event – visitors’ discussions in the café,” Zane recalls her experiences in Turku and Dresden.
The Riga event will also include a special “Place for Complaints”, where dissatisfied visitors will be heard out by Varis Klausītājs (the Almighty Listener), who will also try to help them if possible.
The “Black Market for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge” will run for three hours in total. The event will be open to visitors throughout these three hours. Part of the experts will also be prepared to speak in Russian and English, and some also in German. The price of an individual conversation is EUR 1. Visiting the event, listening to the “Black Market Radio”, seeing the films etc. is free of charge. For the list of experts, click this link!
The “Market for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge” is an event included in the “Survival Kit” thematic line of the “Riga 2014” Programme.