Art as a Powerful Factor of Survival. A Talk with Solvita Krese
Recalling the very beginnings and her involvement in the creation of the “Riga 2014” Programme, Solvita Krese, the Director of the Centre for Contemporary Art and curator of the “Survival Kit” thematic line, says she was thinking a lot of how to convince prospective investors that they should invest in culture at a time the crisis was at its lowest point. “That’s when I had the idea that culture could become a “survival kit”. While working on the “Riga 2014” Programme, I organised the first festival “Survival Kit”. As I was doing it, I was looking at the empty Tallinas and Barona streets, and thinking what could be done in a situation when funding for culture had been cut 60 percent and there was practically no money. So we invited artists to fill up the empty spaces with creative things according to the DIY principle, and do something as a team, using inexpensive materials, creating something on their own.” Solvita recalls that the event was acclaimed by both art experts and members of the general public who were not frequent visitors to art events. “We realised that “Survival Kit” had to become a festival, and the main message in all the events of the festival was that art possessed great survival power, and could help overcome any crisis. That is why in organising “Survival Kit” festivals we always keep looking at what has changed in the world since the crisis, what new themes have emerged and are popular with the public – themes that, even if they do not lead us anywhere, still have profound effect on the entire society.”
Solvita Krese indicates several times during our conversation that there was a lot in the thematic line she curated that attempted to look at things which, via art and culture, help us survive: “Namely, looking back at skills we have long forgotten, or combining arts with other activities – business, crafts, science. And finally, involving residents, through the do-it-yourself principle and encouragement.”
We ask Solvita Krese for her general opinion about “Survival Kit”, and she says: “There are projects that were more successful, and then there are projects that could have done better. But the positive result is that we have assembled a kit that is ready to use.” There were several special projects, one of which was the “Black Market for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge”, organised by the New Theatre Institute of Latvia: “I’m so happy that they finally were able to bring the project to Riga, because I know that members of the New Theatre Institute had been considering the opportunity for a long time, and seen this wonderful performance staged by Hannah Hurtzig many times.
It was so fascinating that, in a place that resembled a Marrakesh marketplace, people were simply sharing their experience and knowledge! It’s quite unbelievable how exciting it was to listen a gravedigger, doctor, scientist, philosopher or entomologist tell about various things, and suddenly realise how much of it is useful specifically for you.”
Solvita, too, spent the entire evening there, listening to different people, and arriving at the conclusion that routine things can be made artefacts of art: “It is important to discover how that which you see around you or talk about every day can be seen from a completely different perspective, discovering something very unusual and creative in it, and passing it on to somebody else, to whom it may be invaluable.”
Yet another extraordinary project, in Solvita Krese’s opinion, was “En-rooters”, where young designers and artists collaborated with senior citizens and children. “Every person has an aunt, grandmother or grandfather, which you visit from time to time, and you can clearly see that they are eager to share their knowledge and are very happy if someone’s listening! It is like a cache of treasure that’s just sitting unused.
During the work with senior citizens and altering the environment so they could do gardening, bringing new quality to the project, it became an interesting, quality social and urban planning project. I was truly happy to see these people open up, and knowledge literally streaming out of them...”
As to projects that formed symbiotic relationships with other disciplines, Solvita Krese says she would like to single out the project “Fields” by RIXC – a fundamental exhibition that offered historical perspective on how art met technology, stating that everything is fields and we live at the intersections of various fields. “This is one case when you can understand the world around you differently through the language of art.”
Of the Academy of Art project “Thought and Done”, where students collaborated with craftsmen, scientists, and businesspersons, Solvita says: “Here you see that it is not just about studying, it’s something that goes beyond and is eventually put in production – via craftsmen, scientists, or businesspersons.” Likewise, Solvita is very pleased at the courtyard clean-up projects: “I believe that if a neighbouring courtyard has been cleaned up and new infrastructure has been built there, others will want to have such courtyards too! That’s a great example of how artists and creative personalities, together with local residents, radically transform courtyards – a contagious movement that has been spreading all over the city!”
In Solvita’s opinion, Riga has thoroughly changed after the European Capital of Culture year. “I can see this in residents of Riga neighbourhoods, people who are not associated with arts but, via interdisciplinary projects, have been brought closer to the world of art. I see that they, as spectators – and as participants also, have come a long way in terms of understanding art and culture.
The city is different, people have higher self-esteem and the courage to be more creative and provocative – in a good sense. The spirit of the city has changed!”
A year ago, Solvita Krese said that one of the tasks of her thematic line was to bring culture to those who do not live in the downtown and are not consumers of culture. Now she emphasises that Gundega Laiviņa’s thematic line “Road Map” also had the same focus, and both were successful at attaining this objective. “I would like to say that even the lesser activities, including those taking place in creative quarters, were able to prompt local residents to action. For example, when a small shop on Miera Street placed flowerboxes and benches out on the sidewalk, the others were soon to follow with similar initiatives. And later yet, local residents began to think of ways how to make it all more attractive. This resulted in a new identity and solidarity of the street, and residents who live on Miera Street say that they communicate in an entirely different way now, that residents, shopkeepers and people from workshops all come together for the annual Miera Street Festival, and the street has been listed in various guides as a prominent hipster community!” Solvita also mentions the “Milk” (“Piena”) district and their outings, and other activities.
“I am happy that we have been able to do very much of what we had envisioned or promised. We originally said that art would go beyond borders and reach out to people whose daily lives have little to do with art or culture. It seems to have happened – cultural activities have attracted very many people who previously had no particular interest in culture. And there was a good balance between elitist and democratic events.”
Could some of the initiatives that began in 2014 continue next year too? Solvita Krese says that “Survival Kit” will definitely continue, adding: “One of the offshoots of the festival is the “Free Riga” movement, which has by now become a completely autonomous movement of young people who are busy filling old, abandoned buildings with culture. I almost feel like a patron of this movement!” She would also like to help and encourage the “En-rooters” group – continuing the co-operation with nursing homes and involving senior citizens in the “Urban Gardening” projects. Likewise, the Academy of Art should also continue the interdisciplinary line that began this year. Furthermore, Solvita also wishes that more courtyards be cleaned up and have new infrastructure built: “I hope very much that the phenomenon will keep spreading like a virus, and residents will themselves look for help – landscape architects and designers, to bring order to their neighbourhoods and therefore change the image of the city. One of the objectives of my thematic line was to foster creativity in the individual, to encourage people, and that is a major task to convince a resident of Riga that he or she is free to be creative and should not fear anything.” Solvita goes on to say: “It is important that culture helps us survive and change the city, the urban environment around us. That is why I want to believe that many of these ideas will not disappear. Seeing the “Corner House”, the Film Festival, the “Born in Riga” concert – these are fundamental cornerstones that have to continue.”