Within the framework of the Riga Photography Biennial 2018, the exhibition Screen Age I: Self-Portrait will be on view in Riga Art Space.
It’s a story about us – the representatives of civilisation in the 21st century – who steadily endeavour to order everything in digital systems and prefer to partake in information wars only. The fulfilment of dreams that until recently was exclusively confined to the science fiction genre is making modern humans more and more accustomed to previously unparalleled levels of comfort. The dizzying development of new technologies imperceptibly and yet at a steady pace has been altering our habits, followed by changes in perception and awareness. Life is lived inside screens, networks and bubbles where it’s not that hard to construe your own identity – one or several – according to personal whims, professional requirements and the tastes of a self-selected group of friends. In a virtual environment we meet people, make friends and separate without ever meeting each other in real life.
The exhibition Screen Age I: Self-Portrait brings together 12 artists and their thoughts on how technologies influence and change us. In just a few decades, life inside various screens has drastically changed people’s preconceptions that have been formed over many centuries - about the self, personal relationships, about our attitude towards nature and the world of machines.
The authors of this exhibition share a common interest and aspiration to delve deeper into these societal changes. Their creative method is investigative and reflexive. Despite different personalities, experience and background, the participating artists have all arrived at the same focus of enquiry: the quest for their own human essence as it encounters, strays off, or even irreversibly merges with technocratic systems and constructions invented and activated by other humans.
The range of issues covered in the exhibition includes several aspects of identity – body, gender, social and historical identity. In their work artists have approached the same question from many angles: how do our emotional responses such as feelings, pain and empathy adjust to the technological space of today?
Scandinavian artists provide a rather direct riposte. Charlotte Thiis-Evensen has focused on children and teenagers who are still forming their identity. A slow, tranquil, meditative movement; a touch; a hug; water being poured onto a naked body can all be perceived as a primer teaching physical communication to those who have learned and adopted digital communication from an early childhood. Scenes played out by young people of mixed ethnic backgrounds and different genders, inside a white space or on a neutral natural background, symbolically embody the idea of equality, respect and reconciliation. Elina Vainio’s video examines yet another peculiarity of our contemporary society – a lonely man’s obsession with comfort gadgets, which further increase the gulf between him and the surrounding environment.
German photographer Hannes Wiedemann has chosen a completely different approach, working in the genre of documentary photography: he has followed the activities of a bodyhacking community in a rural American town. Members of this community illegally develop and implant devices into their own bodies to artificially improve their human capacities, thus becoming a cyborg of sorts. Meanwhile British artist Kate Cooper explores the human body inside virtual reality which is governed by the principles of production and annihilation familiar to capitalism. In her video installation, the three bodies - sculpturally perfect, wounded and damaged - force us to look for a shelter within ourselves.
German artist Anna Zett strives to access the essence of human relationships through symbolic thought. Her video depicts the symbol of a magical ring, a boxing ring and zoetrope, inside which the girls’ boxing match fuses with the visualisation of neurons in an optical cable net. The artist simultaneously abstracts and criticises the ideology of contemporary natural sciences, compares palaeontology and neuroscience, and anticipates destructive changes to our civilisation in the nearest future. The video by Dutch authors Juuke Schoorl and Frank Kolkman, on the other hand, sensitively reveals visual analogies between the digital world and the physical world, and poetically likens the touch-sensitive screen to human skin.
Lithuanian photographer Paul Paper has also devoted himself to contemplating how technologies affect our everyday life. His interpretation is filled with optimism, irony and humour, and he has found unlimited potential for his creative practice in the gap between human vision and artificial intelligence. While analysing the visual recognition system developed by Microsoft which, for example, can recognise students’ faces in China, he has concluded that it can easily mistake a lonely dog in the savannah for a dazzle of zebras.
It would seem that French artist Antoine Catala has virtually moved in inside his mobile phone and his work, like a digital doll house, depicts scenes from his childhood – loops of wittily animated psychological traumas in which, by assuming the roles of actor and director, he solves relationship problems to understand the thoughts and feelings of other people. The work is based on his dual personal experience as a Frenchman living in New York and an ordinary person subjected to contemporary digital communication habits.
British artist Juno Calypso is represented by a series of provocatively ironical self-portraits taken from a feminist point of view, demonstrating the feminine beauty rituals in an attractive and visually compelling way. Polish artist Aneta Grzeszykowska’s work is in sharp contrast and firmly demonstrates how a female character (image) is de-constructed in erotically enthralling details by the male androcentric gaze.
The video installation by Estonian artist Kristina Õllek touches on the currently trending subject on how to make the old new and exciting again, since now everything can age or appear old within a few hours. Her work explores the simulation of antique art in today’s world: archaeology, restoration using 3D printers, tourism with VR headsets, souvenir culture etc., whilst also questioning the meaningfulness of art objects that have endured to this day even though the space, environment and context in which they were originally created no longer exists.
Cybertrump by Latvian artist Līga Spunde joins the collective conversation by contemplating information chaos and our data usage habits. For over a year the author gathered data discarded in the recycle bins of publicly available computers, acquiring a rather interesting collection that truthfully highlights our society from a rather unusual viewpoint.
The selected photo and video works in this exhibition reflect the current situation in all its diversity and strive to engage with new patterns of thought about the evolution and the self whilst at the same time pursuing stability.
Riga Photography Biennial, an international contemporary art event, will take place from 5 April in Riga, Liepāja, Cēsis, Daugavpils and Tartu (Estonia) as part of a wider programme celebrating the centenary of the Republic of Latvia, offering a varied programme of exhibitions, performances, symposium, discussions and masterclasses.
The theme of this year’s Biennial is self-awareness – who we are and who we chose to become in times when social, political and cultural dynamics afford us continuous and new transformation opportunities. The title of the Biennial ‘I Like Your Face’ using face as a metaphor highlights the complex processes involved in the formation of identity and meaning.
Many thanks to exhibition supporters and partners: State Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia, Riga City Council, Education, Culture and Sports Department of Riga City Council, LG Electronics Latvia, British Council, French Institute in Latvia, Hibnerstudio, AS “Antalis”, Rixwell Hotel Konventa Sēta, Lux Express, Valmiermuiža Brewery, Gardu muti drinks, DSV - Global Transport and Logistics, arterritory.com un lsm.lv, Latvijas Radio 1, Radio NABA, magazine Ir, Punctum, Satori.
Participants: Juno Calypso (UK), Antoine Catala (FR/US), Kate Cooper (UK/NL), Aneta Grzeszykowska (PL), Kristina Ollek (EE) & Kert Viiart (EE), Paul Paper (LT), Juuke Schoorl (NL) & Frank Kolkman (NL), Līga Spunde (LV), Charlote Thiis-Evensen (NO), Elina Vainio (FI), Hannes Widemann (DE), Anna Zett (DE)
Curators: Inga Brūvere (LV) in cooperation with Aiga Dzalbe (LV), Marie Sjovold (NO)
Text: Aiga Dzalbe
Image: Kate Cooper. We Need Sanctuary, 2016
For information regarding event accessibility for people with disabilities contact the event organiser.