The artist, curator of creative quarters Kaspars Lielgalvis, has landed in the 6000 m2 wide quarter of Tallinas Street for the last three years, where the territory of the Sanitary Transport Motorway used to be. During these three years, the quarter of Tallinas Street has acquired its identity from an abandoned corner at the end of Miera Street and has become a popular stop for enjoying the culture and meeting of citizens and also foreign guests.
However, the searchers and explorers of abandoned areas do not have to cling to one building or territory, because cultural events are created for people and not for real estate. The next plans of Kaspars Lielgalvis and the association “Free Riga” he represents for a longer period of time – 25 years. They intend to create a new cultural place in Čiekurkalns, on the shore of Lake Ķīšezers, at the former RTU Faculty of Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics.
Interview with artist Kaspars LielgalvisLinda Zalane00:00 / 16:29
Land for a short time
The artist Kaspars Lielgalvis is the discoverer, developer and inhabitant of abandoned territories, who has been dealing with it since 2007.
His first project was in the territory of VEF, where he set up a workshop in an abandoned, half-empty building, because at that time he worked with scenography, decorated various events.
“Friends started coming. We started organizing events. The first was in the spring as part of the Art Days, which will eventually be considered as a small art festival with several exhibitions, ”the artist recalls.
Lielgalvis left the heated VEF premises in 2013 and then for four years more intensive wandering from place to place began, looking for long-term activity, until three years ago he arrived in the quarter of Tallinas Street. “The period from 2013 to 2017 was very interesting. In the first summer we worked in the printing house of the Press House. Then the road led to Estonia, where we created a wonderful exhibition in a functioning grain and seed factory. Then we reached the customs house in Liepaja and the Karosta water tower. In the middle of Spain, we have built a creative workshop, ”recalls Lielgalvis.
He is aware that every time he starts a project, being in a specific place is temporary.
It is given to instill identity in a new place with great energy and then move on. “It helps to remember that it’s all not for the house, but for the people. You can work with an approach that you do in one house and for a long time, but you can also work with an approach that makes the house change, but basically the events are for people. I even really enjoyed nomadic wandering and organizing events, each time in different rooms, ”admits Lielgalvis.
Of course, organizing an event in an abandoned area is not so easy.
The invisible part of the iceberg is the efforts that the organizers of the event have made before, cleaning and tidying up the premises.
“Over time, we realized that organizing events in abandoned buildings is not just about cleaning and tidying up the premises, but it is necessary to follow different types of security rules and create basic comfort conditions for visitors, which is difficult to do in empty homes,” he admits.
Is the Tallinn Street block the end?
The contract of the association “Free Riga” with the owner of the Tallinas Street quarter will expire in December this year. It has been three years since this quarter grew from an abandoned territory into a popular stop for the culture and meeting of the citizens and also foreign guests.
“Of course, we have been negotiating with the owner from the very beginning, thinking about long-term cooperation. And somehow this cooperation will continue for us. But we have just signed an agreement with Riga Technical University for the use of the former Faculties of Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautics for 25 years. It is located in Čiekurkalns, on the shores of Lake Ķīšezers. And this is the first long-term agreement that will enable us to slowly, thoroughly and hopefully also qualitatively prepare the premises and we will be able to work there for a longer period of time, ”reveals Lielgalvis.
According to him, creative quarters can be created anywhere in the city, because wherever there are people such places are needed.
“Free Riga” is a two-year cooperation project with the Riga Development Department.
“We are trying to understand what is happening culturally in the vicinity of Sarkandaugava. Would there be a demand from the population for such a place and where to build it? This is a challenge, because there is not really a place in Sarkandaugava to create such a creative place, ”says Lielgalvis.
In total, Free Riga in 2013, creating a website where everyone could mark abandoned buildings, realized that there are about 300 of them in the center of Riga. Not to mention the neighborhood.
“Since then, we have not kept track of empty buildings, because the property department is doing well. It was simply important for us to understand the field in which we would be working. The number of abandoned buildings is growing. New houses are being built, people are moving to Pieriga. The center is getting empty. Riga is a vivid example of such a “donate effect”, “says Lielgalvis.
A moment of vacuum is used in metropolises
The use of empty buildings and territories in Riga has a long history. The first vivid example was Andrejsala, which, according to Lielgalvis, bloomed like a flower for three years. Colorful. To others, it may have seemed even too uncontrollable. After that, the creative people worked in Spīķeri until the renovation of the quarter. In parallel, the bustle took place at VEF. For a moment, it broke down on Gaujas Street “Brasalona”. At some point, the Kalnciems quarter began to develop.
“It’s history, but if you look at, for example, Berlin and other major metropolises, where the population is growing, we see that the situation there is different,” he says. There are also many different types of empty buildings in London. It seems where then the empty buildings in London? In any metropolis, there are some periods when entire neighborhoods experience peace and quiet before they are rebuilt. Namely, there is a period while development projects are developed, investments are attracted. They are usually three to five years old.
In this moment of vacuum, these places are either used spontaneously for various creative things, or the developers of the territory purposefully attract the creators to warm up the place, create an identity for it.
People would be accustomed, especially to those development projects located outside the center, that it is not so far away.
“Honestly, when we started the Tallinn Street block, we were worried that it was far from the center, at the end of Miera Street. Who will come there then? Now it seems that it is here. It is already a center. By blowing in the creative life, the identity of the place can be changed in two or three seasons and people forget that there used to be a dark and insecure corner. ”
How to patch temporarily
The winners of the transfer of abandoned buildings and territories are all – the owner of the territory, the city, the people and the creative people who are temporarily working in a particular place.
“The landlord’s benefit then is the visibility of the place and the potential increase in rents. For us as the creators of such places, first of all, recognition. We show that such sites can and do work very well.
Society, the surrounding residents benefit from having such places in the city. The municipality sees and appreciates it.
We have established various cooperation with Riga municipal departments and various neighborhood associations. We attract funding from various programs – Riga City Council and the Cultural Capital Fund. Creative people, on the other hand, have a field of work where they can work, earn money with what they do. It is the operation of the engine of the cultural sector, ”explains Lielgalvis.
According to him, not all industrial abandoned buildings are worth renovating. It is also necessary to assess what was previously safe in an industrial building, how safe they are for health.
“We like to work in old buildings. Of course, there have been industrial buildings with pollution. At first we were not aware of this, but as we work longer, we begin to assess whether we want to risk our health. We had this situation. For example, VEF cleaned the premises and found that they contained mercury in their dust. After researching what this means, we realized that it is very dangerous to health if you stay in such premises for a long time. It is an experience that is difficult to predict, ”says Lielgalvis.
He is convinced that people are interested in the unknown, in looking at buildings that would otherwise be denied entry.
“For example, when we were working in the Karosta water tower in Liepāja, there were people in the area who came not to see the exhibition, but to walk around the tower. I read that there is a group of young people in St. Petersburg who hold open days not only in empty but also in populated office buildings. Thousands of people go to see various office buildings, both newly built and old, for a fee. Who wouldn’t want to walk around the Z towers? ”The artist asks rhetorically.