A Utopian Capital City. Festival “Survival Kit 6” in Riga

A Utopian Capital City. Festival “Survival Kit 6” in Riga
Mārtiņš Otto, Riga 2014
From shredded banknotes that generate new energy to ambitious urban planning models, from documentary evidence to crocheted miniature multi-storey buildings – this is just a glimpse into one of the exhibitions at the contemporary art festival “Survival Kit 6” that is on show in the former textiles factory “Boļševička” from Thursday, the 5th of September.

Another exhibition is on show in downtown Riga – in the abandoned Wagner Hall. Both venues are closely associated with the theme for this year’s festival – “Utopian City”. During a press conference one day before the opening of the exhibition, speakers noted several times that Riga as the European Capital of Culture was also almost a utopian, improbable city – a cultural metropolis of the region as compared to other years with much less extensive cultural programmes.

The festival “Survival Kit” has a close historical connection with the idea of Riga as the European Capital of Culture. The theme for the festival this year, “Utopian City”, also appeared almost at the same time as Riga applied for the title of the cultural capital.

The event has since developed into a full-scale international festival, just as it should have in a city that is the European Capital of Culture 2014, says Solvita Krese, the curator of “Survival Kit”, member of the “Riga 2014” Artistic Council, and Head of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.

“The festival started in 2009 in response to the economic crisis. We were seeing a lot of empty shops in the downtown and realised that we had to do something. We invited artists to move into the vacant premises, fill them with new content and various activities. We were not even thinking then that this would eventually become an independent festival. Back then we thought that culture was a powerful tool to deal with the crisis. It was happening at a time I was invited to work on the programme for the European Capital of Culture. After a few meetings, we decided that the theme of a survival kit should be further developed into an individual thematic line of the “Riga 2014” Programme.”

“Even when Riga’s application for the status of the Capital of Culture was being drawn up we were thinking a lot about the right way to tell people that money had to be invested in culture – at a time jobs and properties were being lost, and the problems were completely different. I believe we have succeeded, and the festival has by now become a tradition.”

“Every year we look for new themes, something in the air that people think and talk about. The “Survival Kit” festival has laid the emphasis on creative initiatives, future visions, downshifting, and – inspired by the Occupy movement – popularisation of the slow revolution.”

“We knew already four or even five years ago that the theme for this year’s festival would be “Utopian City”. During the European Capital of Culture year, we wanted to discuss what this place is that does not exist, and what we would like it to be. I think that this year has given people the feeling of a utopian city – at least I, as a cultural worker involved in a variety of events, do feel it. Right now Riga is just the type of city where I would want to live, and it is a little regrettable that it will be so for just one year. But I do hope that it could continue in the future!”

“Each year the festival is organised in a new place, we breathe life in an empty building, always looking for rooms that, in our opinion, have the potential to become something else and perform a new function. This year’s choice is no coincidence either – the former textiles factory “Boļševička” and Wagner Hall.

This is a symbolic gesture on our part. A utopian, ideal city is unimaginable without a contemporary art museum and acoustic concert hall.

We’ve been trying to look for the respective references at both these venues, as the factory building is one of the possible places where a contemporary art museum could be located in the future. Whereas Wagner Hall may be seen as a silent reproach – empty, unused acoustic concert hall in the very heart of Riga,” notes Solvita Krese.

For the first time, Aneta Szylak, the head of the “Wyspa” art centre in Gdansk, Poland, has helped create the programme of the festival. According to Solvita Krese, the Gdansk art centre is located in the territory of an old shipyard and, thanks to its activity, it became part of the international contemporary art scene a long time ago.

“In her work, she often touches upon urban utopias. Some of the artists whose works are on view at several of the festival’s exhibitions this year were handpicked specifically by Aneta Szylak,” says the head of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art.

The main event at the festival is the exhibition that this year presents works by over seventy artists from 25 countries.

Parallel Programme

But the exhibition is not the only noteworthy event during the festival. In addition to the exhibition, the festival’s programme includes a broad variety of other events. One of such events will be the symposium “Urban Utopia: Art and Culture as a Tool for Exploring and Researching a City” that will run from the 12th to 14th of September. The symposium will analyse utopian ideas from the scientific and theoretical standpoints. According to representatives of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, this programme will be as interdisciplinary as possible. Foreign lecturers together with local experts will focus on a variety of areas that concern urban environment and its planning – anthropology, sociology, the practices of art and architecture, philosophy and others. Jonas Büchel, Director of Urban Institute Riga, is the co-curator of the symposium.

The symposium will also include several creative workshops. The first such workshop, “Art in Public Places: Theory and Practice” by TOK curators, took place at the creative centre “Brasalona”, Gaujas iela 5, on the 5th of September.

Lithuanian artist Jekaterina Lavrinec’s creative workshop “Street Komoda” will see the artist together with Riga residents create a piece of urban furniture that will be placed in one of the streets of Riga.

Creative workshop by German artist and director Konstanze Schmitt will run from the 17th to 21st of September. Konstanze Schmitt will encourage discussion about the possibility of a social utopia today, including in Latvia, by analyzing the futurist visions of the Soviet avant-garde. The goal of the workshop is to stimulate discussion between different generations, talking about real life experiences and avant-garde utopias, bearing in mind that people’s biographies will always contain experiences that are at odds with ideologies and perceptions.

Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda’s audio visual concert “datamatics [ver.2.0]” will be at the “Splendid Palace” cinema on the 7th September. In his works, Ikeda, one of Japan’s most famous electronic music authors, focuses not only on the most characteristic basic features of sound,  but uses light as a substance and mathematics as a method just as successfully. The “datamatics” project is a long-term one, and consists of a number of parts – moving image, sculptural elements, sound and new media technology. The visionarism of artist’s works stimulates one’s imagination about a future model of the utopian city. Tickets to the concert are available from “Biļešu serviss” outlets.

Events in Creative Quarters

In addition to the official programme of the festival, there will be a lot of satellite events taking place in Riga creative quarters. Solvita Krese emphasises that the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art took no part in organisation of these activities: “It will be the quarters’ version of what the “Survival Kit” and “Utopian City” are. This programme has been organised by the creative quarters themselves.

The Republic of Miera Iela, Kalnciema Quarter, Spīķeri, Sarkandaugava Society, VEF Quarter and I-dejas māja participate in this “Survival Kit 6” programme.

“Form the very beginning, the Programme of the European Capital of Culture has been trying to support everything that is happening at the creative quarters of Riga,” adds Diāna Čivle, the Head of the “Riga 2014” foundation. “It is a vital part of culture in the city, and very important for the development of Riga. That is why we invited applications and, as a result, the creative quarters can, to a greater or lesser degree, pursue their programmes as part of the “Survival Kit” festival this year. So I do advise you to follow the programme and not miss the activities taking place in the creative quarters of Riga.”

“Survival Kit” During the White Night

Every year the “Survival Kit” festival prepares a special programme for the “White Night” contemporary culture forum, which this year will take place on the 6th of September. Both exhibitions in Wagner Hall and at “Boļševička” will be on show, with individual programmes for both venues.

The Wagner Hall will host an audiovisual concert. Participants: “Visible Solutions” (Estonia), Mārtiņš Roķis (Latvia), “Ruben Patino” (Spain/Germany), Lee Gamble & Dave Gaskarth (Great Britain).

The former textiles factory “Boļševička”, on the other hand, will be the venue for a ten-hour performance titled “I-X”, which will start already at 2 p.m. Participants: Kabir Carter (the United States), whose project transcends the boundaries of architecture and sound, physical and acoustic body. Kabir Carter is a performance, installation and sound artist from New York, who creates lengthy performances studying the physical and emotional effects of the architecture and acoustics of private and public places. At 8 p.m., “Lattelecom” Film Programme will begin at “Boļševička”, this time with the emphasis on utopia and dystopia. The audience will have the opportunity to watch Georgiy Daneliya’s legendary film “Kin-dza-dza!” (1986) and Spike Jonze’s film “Her” (2013).

A full programme of the festival is available at the website of “Survival Kit 6”.

“Survival Kit” is the largest contemporary art festival in Latvia. Every year the festival’s events attract up to 15,000 visitors and participants. This year the festival will run from the 5th to 27th of September.

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