Culture, Society, and Life. Gundega Laiviņa’s “Road Map”

Culture, Society, and Life. Gundega Laiviņa’s “Road Map”
Mārtiņš Otto, Riga 2014 . Gundega Laiviņa at the premiere of the film “Over the Roads, Over the River”
“We started out at the Central Market, in the Meat Pavilion with 30 salespeople, workers and butchers, and we’ll end the project with 100 Rigans on the stage of the VEF Culture Centre,” says Gundega Laiviņa, the Director of the New Theatre Institute of Latvia and curator of the “Road Map” thematic line of the “Riga 2014” Programme. This particular thematic line was looking for culture beyond the centre of Riga, organising cultural events in Riga neighbourhoods, and treating each and every resident of Bolderāja, Sarkandaugava, Ziepniekkalns and other neighbourhoods as a unique work of art.

The performance “100% Riga”, staged by the New Theatre Institute of Latvia in collaboration with Berlin’s “Rimini Protokoll”, will close the contemporary theatre programme “forte forte” in December. In addition to the performance, there will also be the “100% City” international forum organised in Riga. We meet Gundega Laiviņa as the last preparations for the performance are taking place, and ahead of several major events in the “Riga 2014” Programme planned for December – the Riga International Film Festival and the European Film Awards Ceremony.

What are your first conclusions about the Capital of Culture period shortly before the turn of the year?

It’s hard to say right now whether it has happened, but I would consider this year to have a meaning if society started to value culture more. If they stopped to talk about culture in such terms as whether we can or cannot do without it. That, I believe, we’ll be able to see quite a while later. Bringing values back to life takes time.

The overall rhetoric about the uselessness and meaninglessness of culture, in my opinion, has gone down. There was a time I was seeing such statements again and again, and it was very depressing. When I say culture, I mean not only cultural events, but also the culture of life and relations.

Can you already appraise what has been done, and what has not been done?

If we are looking at what has been done and what hasn’t, what pains me the most is the cultural space, infrastructure, which has not been developing during these years. There are many different reasons for this, not just finances alone. We have opened a new cultural venue, the Corner House, but that is a very specific venue, and in a very poor condition. It cannot be considered an investment in the development of cultural infrastructure.

We know well the instances when the status of a Capital of Culture served as a catalyst for the construction of new cultural and multifunctional buildings. We had no such option due to limited funds, we had no choice in the matter, but the venues for cultural events should have been considered in a strategic and timely fashion, and on the political level!

It is remarkable that the physical boundaries of culture have expanded if we look at it from geographical standpoint – the city centre is no longer the only place for culture and art. However, due to reasons I mentioned earlier, culture and art are still of seasonal character. This year, too, most of the events in the neighbourhoods were taking place in the summer, when people can spend a long time outdoors. But that also had a positive aspect, as this year brought new quality to environmental art, art in public spaces, the public space itself. The winter has come and there is less activity in the neighbourhoods now, but I don’t believe that people have lost appetite.

The good news is that everyone had the opportunity to attend some event of truly high quality on almost a daily basis in 2014. Riga had not seen anything like this before! There was active work taking place on all levels, and, at one point, the DIY level and the so-called high art came together, merged into something that I would call the quality of urban environment and life. Things were no longer happening in two parallel worlds, which previously seemed unable to communicate with one another.

It is impossible not to notice that Riga has changed this year. It is beginning to look like a normal European capital city, with adequate cultural and artistic life. That is something new for Riga. It is important for us to maintain this level.

What will it depend on, in your opinion?

It is, to a very great extent, a question of money. But just as well, our will. We usually pull ourselves together when we have to prove something to somebody. If not for the honour – and burden – of the Capital of Culture, would we be willing to work with as great responsibility? This was not an ordinary choice. But we succeeded, because our sense of responsibility “kicked in”, we wanted to prove ourselves, and we had access to comparatively large resources. I hope that this will become a daily need, a natural and ongoing sense of responsibility that will not depend on external circumstances or statuses.

You said at the beginning of the year, while presenting your thematic line, that you wished to generate a new portrait of Riga – modern, intimate and masterful. What does the portrait of Riga look like now, how much there is of what you originally wanted to achieve?

To me, the portrait of Riga has certainly acquired new features. The original idea has been implemented. But it depends on every individual. I believe there were plenty of opportunities for everyone to go see more and explore the city. There is a woman from Daugavgrīva neighbourhood participating in the “Rimini Protokoll” project “100% Riga”. She told us that she had gone on guided tours of several Riga suburbs this year, and to her it has been the most emotional experience of the year. The “Road Map” events have definitely resulted in meetings with new people. The “Milk Fest” in Ziemeļblāzma is one such example, where residents of Vecmīlgrāvis had a chance to meet the “golden youth” from the downtown. And the film series “Over the Roads, Over the River” featured ordinary Riga residents – very interesting and multifaceted people.

The other thematic lines included events organised by your New Theatre Institute of Latvia: guest performances that were part of the contemporary theatre programme “forte forte”, the projects “Dance Moves Cities” and “Dance Day in Your Nosebag”, “Black Market for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge”. What has this season been like for the New Theatre Institute of Latvia, during the European Capital of Culture year?

This past season was busy, intense, and very good. We realised how much we could do if we have money – sufficient and steady financing, and the possibility to plan when a particular event is to happen. The “Black Market for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge” in April, or “100% Riga” in December are events that take at least a year to organise. It means a huge amount of work, but the feeling of satisfaction is also unmatched. These are valuable projects, as they completely revamp the relationship between the viewer and the artist, they present a new way to experience art.

The other professional cultural and art organisations will certainly say the same. Museums, for example, were given the opportunity to timely plan and organise a number of excellent exhibitions.

What was it in the European Capital of Culture year that delighted you the most, and spoke to you as a member of the audience and a resident of Riga?

Of the major events, it was probably the concert by Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. I am very grateful for having the chance to experience something like this. But the minor and almost unnoticeable events are far more important to me – meetings with artists, various lectures, conversations. The opportunity to meet such talented and generous people from all over the world in Riga, who were ready to share their experience and understanding of the world. It was happening both during the “Riga Photomonth”, exhibition by Vija Celmins, the “Riga Self | Portraits” project, the conference on Alvis Hermanis’ theatre, and elsewhere. To me, meeting the film directors and anthropologists before the premiere of the film “Over the Roads, Over the River” was even more valuable than the film itself.

You mentioned that these meetings and events were of rather low profile. Perhaps this kind of conversations with artists is something we are yet to learn. Maybe that is a question of mentality, maybe we are not used to have a direct conversation with an artist?

In France, for example, it sometimes seems that a particular work of art is of less interest to the public than the opportunity to express their opinion. There is full house after an exhibition opens, and everybody has something to say. We have a different mentality, but that has been slowly changing. On the other hand, I perfectly understand every person who wants to have a little silence and time for him or herself after watching a play, concert or film.

When Alen Platel and his dancers were in Riga, we were talking a lot about how he was supposed to meet the audience after the performance. I said it would not work in Riga, but we nevertheless decided to give it a try. Several dozen people stayed on after the performance, the conversation continued for well over an hour, and it became a very interesting, emotional and meaningful event. The artists were happy, too, and they wrote on the poster for the performance, which we later hung on the wall in our office, that they were very pleased to have begun the culture of communication in Riga.

Have you noticed that there are processes under way, independently from the “Road Map”, that explore the diversity of Riga? From special magazine supplements to various local organisations being set up in neighbourhoods to pursue all kinds of activities?

I consider this a snowball effect. I don’t know what came first, the “Riga 2014” Programme or something else, but the neighbourhood movement is well under way now. To be frank, the fact that this is happening is far more important to me than whether some event in a neighbourhood is, or is not, in the official “Riga 2014” Programme.

There are a lot of new things happening. Will the process continue? Will the system, which subsidises culture, be flexible enough to react the right way? Or, in the end, will it be the said feeling of responsibility that will disappear once there is no more need for us to be the best European Capital of Culture in history? I very much hope that everything will continue. And I have every confidence in some of the neighbourhoods, because there are people there who will not stop now!

A number of various projects were implemented as part of the “Riga 2014” Programme’s thematic line “Road Map” in 2014. The “Long Walk” project featured exhibitions “The Ideal Old Age” and “Kidsroomzoom” that presented design solutions for senior citizens and children, and outdoor gyms were built in a number of Riga neighbourhoods, open for all members of the public. Projects “Riga Photomonth” and “Riga Self | Portraits” included a broad range of photography-related activities and offered the participants opportunity to learn the art of photography as well as have their portraits taken for an exhibition. Artists participating in the “Blank Canvas” festival created new street artworks to stay on after the festival. A broad range of activities were taking place in the neighbourhoods of Riga – new amenities were built as part of the “Development Campaign for Good Locations”, and popular artists created new works of art in and at several Riga schools during “The Power Jab” project. Several internationally-acclaimed choreographers helped Riga residents stage contemporary dance performances as part of the projects “Dance Day in Your Nosebag” and “Dance Moves Cities”, and the “Riga Films” project included year-long workshops in Riga neighbourhoods where participants were learning the art of filmmaking under the supervision of professionals. The new Riga “Poetry Map” was created by artists from Riga and other European cities, six European documentary film directors shot short films about Riga neighbourhoods – six episodes for the “Over the Roads, Over the River” project, whereas “Milk Fest” moved from the Centre of Riga to bring two excellent festivals to the residents of Ziemeļblāzma and Lucavsala neighbourhoods. More information about these and other “Road Map” events is available here!


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