Until October 18, the central exhibition of the Riga Photography Biennale 2020 “Screen Age II: Landscape”, curated by Inga Brūvere and Marie Sjøvold, will be on display in the exhibition hall “Riga Art Space”.
Who will tell if living in times of change is interesting? The famous phrase attributed to either the Chinese or Confucius is spelled differently on the Internet and, when reading many versions, is not wise. “Change” is still a very central word in various conversations about what is happening in Latvia, the world or the fate of civilization. Progress, industrialization, technological development, ecological problems… We can continue to count important keywords that show dynamic change for a long time. The Chinese or Confucian expression, as far as I know, includes the extreme, extraordinary nature of the time of change – these are times that begin and pass, not last indefinitely. That’s why they are so interesting, not in a positive, but in an extreme sense.
Today is not extreme, in Europe for 70 years now, with the relatively painless collapse of the Soviet Union in between. So nothing has changed too much, except for things and circumstances that hardly irritate the daily rhythm of life – such as growing prosperity, the Internet and other news. All that remains is to conclude that the dynamism of change continues to be contemplated by the inability of “flower children” to be forgotten by incapacitated or aging young people. Life in the spring is overwhelming with dynamics and change.
These considerations explain my concern when reading the description of the central exhibition of the Photography Biennale 2020, Screen era II: Landscape. The application of the exhibition is binding – to focus on the reflection of people and the environment in the landscape. The topic is one of the best, it cannot be exhausted in terms of both historical research and contemporary topicality. At the beginning of the description, I talk about “posthumanism”, because there is no such thing – at best, the word refers to specific ideas and perceptions. This is not a big deal, given that parasitic words are not lacking in contemporary art discourses. But then the clouds are thickening – Aiga Dzalbe writes about the last 20 years, in which technological discoveries have rapidly flowed into the society, creating new features and drastically changing habits. Such a trick does not help.
The idea of the new is tied to the idea of dynamic change. When both worlds are centered, they create more problems than benefits.
Landscape is a compelling genre in which one can really read the uniqueness of man and the environment. Clearly, the landscape is changing as the relationship between man and the environment is slowly changing. What is binding is first of all the specifics of the landscape, where change is one of the quantities, not its basic feature. When visiting the exhibition, it should be taken into account that in contemporary art, the genre boundaries of the landscape are wider than might be usual.
The landscape is no longer just a view of natural or industrial buildings, but the interior design of the premises can also be seen as a landscaping of an apartment. Such vivid samples of the exhibition are offered by Santa France in four large prints. The artist works with digital imaging techniques, achieving a high impression of realism. From nature as the usual landscape environment, France’s works contain only fragmentary reminders – flower pots and greenery visible in the windows. Her work leads me to think to what extent nature is important to me today and whether it is bad to think about forests, lakes and countryside, sitting in a cozy city apartment. Moreover, if nature is no longer the primary place of the landscape, where does this tradition-rich genre look like? Take over the still life arena? Looking for nature in the city? Do you have a wide view of the living space?
The landscape suits the Internet and the digital environment. It is not for nothing that “Microsoft Windows” refers to the computer screen as a window in the imagined world, the spatiality of which is confirmed by such phenomena as the cloud, portals, social media rooms. That’s why network landscaping is an exciting topic. In the exhibition, Kristina Olleka and Kerta Vīart’s work “EXHIBIT_ONSCROLL” draws attention to it. In video installations, close-ups of “artificial” palm-like greenery or video recordings of glacier-like formations can be seen accompanied by a contemplative narrative. The story is told in a literary, not conceptually perceptible and comprehensible way; can indulge in impressions and moods.
The landscape of the digital environment is very recent; it is no wonder that alienation and the artificiality of the computing environment still determine artists’ views.
What is real about this environment? Tuomo Rainio “Data Drop” offers a realistic video landscape – a flow of numbers, because everything on the screen is based on code. For dialectical pairs of concepts, real / false, natural / artificial is the history that European thought tends to bring back to the 17th century, to the philosophy of René Descartes. In contemporary art, when studying new media, great attention is paid to these oppositions, remaining in an unsolvable circle. Unlike nature, a digitally created landscape is unnatural. Unlike direct human relationships, indirect ones are false. In art, this is often emphasized by the interference of a robot or digital “intelligence” in the midst of human efforts to maintain interconnections. The drone’s “gaze” is foreign. Mārtiņš Ratniks reminds of this in the great and aesthetically pleasing “All satellites will burn once”.
It is worth remembering from time to time the phrase “there is nothing new in this world” and shoot at those anonymous who have sent “new”, “change” and other parasitic bullets in your direction.
It becomes exciting to focus in a different direction, thinking, for example, about what you see in a modern landscape, why what you see looks like, and what the unseen landscape hides.
The “Screen Age” offers work for a well-organized set of reflections on the environment I inhabit and the immortal significance of nature. Picnic, fishing, hiking, travel…
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