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Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art opens in Latvia
Mark Dion, A Tour of The Dark Museum, 2018 (detail), Site-specific installation, New commission for the 1st Riga Biennial, Courtesy of the artist and Waldburger Wouters, Brussels, Photo Andrejs Strokins.

RIGA.- Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art, a major new biennial in Riga, Latvia, opened the first edition of the biennial. Entitled Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More, the chief curator of RIBOCA1 is Kate Gregos, who has been instrumental in setting up the biennial alongside founder and Commissioner Agniya Mirgorodskaya.

The total number of artists showing work in Riga is 104, including 10 collectives. The list includes well-known names, among them: Jonas Mekas, Mark Dion, Erik Kessels, Robert Kuśmirowski, Trevor Paglen, Lynn Hershmann Leeson, Adrián Villar Rojas and Nedko Solakov; as well as a large number of young, emerging and relatively undiscovered artists from the Baltic region and beyond. Many artists will show multiple pieces across more than one venue, allowing visitors to gain a more in-depth understanding of their practice.

Major new commissions include

• The British artist Michael Landy RA produced a new installation for the biennial entitled Open for Business (2018). Landy has re-modelled a traditional Soviet Kiosk - roadside stalls which used to sell postcards, bus tickets, books, magazines and newspapers with communist propaganda – but Landy’s kiosk has been painted with a Union Jack and purvey typical British memorabilia, including miniature corgis and double-decker buses, as well as scones, shortbread biscuits, tea and British newspapers. Landy has stated about his project, “in light of Brexit, I thought I’d trade all things ‘British’, since we need some new trading partners.”

• The artist Mark Dion produced an immersive, site-specific installation, entitled A Tour of The Dark Museum (2018), inspired by the previous function and history of the former Biological Faculty of the University of Latvia, one of the biennial’s main venues. The threeroom installation brings to life forgotten or obsolete objects and artefacts, including stuffed animals that the artist borrowed from the Faculty’s Zoological Museum. The installation is immersed in the dark and has to be navigated by flashlight.

• Katrina Neiburga and Andris Eglītis, two of Latvia’s best known artists, present a monumental outdoor project called “The Nest” (2018). The husband and wife artistic duo draw inspiration from local communities and nature, as well as from the myths and traditions particular to Latvian national and cultural identity.

• Sissel Tolaas, the Norwegian olfactory artist and researcher known globally for her longterm work pursuing the forensics of identity through the sense of smell, is presenting two new installations: one for The Sensorium, a special exhibition curated by Associate Curator Solvej Ovesen in the striking Modernist Soviet Dubulti train station in Jurmala (Riga’s seaside resort), and its extension in the Chemistry Museum of the former Biological Faculty of the University of Latvia.

• The Greek artist Nikos Navridis sited an installation entitled All of old. Nothing else ever… (2018) in the former Library of the Biological Faculty building. The work sees him return books, which had previously been removed and dumped in storage to the space, creating a wall made up by inversed books.

• Sputnik Photos, an international collective founded in 2006 by documentary photographers from Belarus, Poland and Slovakia, united by their common experience of living in Central and Eastern Europe in the post-transformation period, is presenting two projects, a new commission for Morbergs apartment – another of the biennial venues - and a series of anatomical models and photographs for the former Biological Faculty of the University of Latvia. Both projects are documenting transformations in Eastern Europe in the last ten years, looking at the impact that Soviet occupation has had on the region.

• A new installation by the Colombian artist Oswaldo Macia, The Opera of Cross-Pollination (2018), translates the process of travelling to the Amazon, looking at the cross pollination of orchids and affirming the importance of insects and their symbiosis with plants for human existence and for the environment in general.

Artists showing existing works include

• Fernando Sánchez Castillo, whose monumental Guernica Syndrome (2012) features the remaining materials of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco´s yacht, alongside two videos documenting the destruction and transformation of the ship into the artwork, demonstrating the impossibility of true severance from the past.

• Jonas Mekas, the internationally renowned Lithuanian film maker, is showing the video installation Lithuania and the Collapse of the USSR (2008), in which a number of newscasts recorded by Mekas on camcorder, from his own television in the US in 1991, chronicle Lithuania’s fight for independence from the stronghold of Soviet rule.

• The American artist Lynn Hershmann Leeson is showing one of her major installation works Infinity Engine (2011-18). Occupying three spaces in the former Biological Faculty of the University of Latvia, the multi-media work consists of an interactive replica geneticstesting lab which highlights the urgent and controversial implications of DNA programming.

• Marco Montiel-Soto, whose large-scale works explore the often opposing interests and forces between indigenous communities and external influences, presents Permanent storm for a tropical constellation (2017), a wooden and bamboo stilt house built over water which looks at ecological issues in Venezuela, the Republic of El Salvador and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

• The South African artist James Beckett is showing Palace Ruin (2016), an outdoor installation inspired by the Paleis voor Volksvlijt (Palace of Popular Diligence), the Netherlands’ own Crystal Palace, which went up in flames in 1929. The smouldering sculpture recalls the moments immediately after the fire. In Riga, the sculpture also functions as a podium, hosting other artists and related sound / music, to expand associatively around the subject.

Alongside established artists a large number of young, emerging and new names, many of whom are from the Baltic and Nordic region, are showing work.

• The German artist Henrike Naumann created Eurotique (2018) an installation inspired by a trend in Latvia, following its independence from Russia, of re-modernising homes - an aesthetic still visible in the homes of many. The installation positions itself between museum, store and domestic space where visitors are able to enter and have a personal experience in the space.

• Dagestan-born female artist Taus Makhacheva created a new sound work comprised of numerous small travelling speakers each reciting a different first line of an email. The work reflects on the current condition of guilt, anxiety, and ultimately the loss of humanism, which we are experiencing in many parts of the world.

• The young Estonian installation artist and sculptor Jevgeni Zolotko is showing a new installation which makes reference to the narrow circumstances of life: a modified animal transportation trailer with a built-in automatic mechanism, invisible to the viewer, which produces intermittent physical kicks and punches that cause the trailer to shake. Zolotko’s installation engenders connotations about general and diverse states of confinement, fear and anxiety.

• The Swedish artist Kerstin Hamilton, presently working with natural scientists in the field of nanotechnology exploring the architectural, economic and human landscapes of science laboratories, is showing, amongst two other works, the newly commissioned photographic installation The Science Question in Feminism (2018). The work focuses on the prevailing gender inequality in science with a specific focus on scientists who worked in the Baltic and Nordic region in the fields of physics, chemistry and biology.

• Sandra Kosorotova, is an Estonian artist and fashion designer whose artistic practice is textile and text-based and can be located between the margins of art, design and activism. The artist uses clothes and fashion as a way to narrow the gap between politics and everyday reality and show how our bodies and our clothes are political. The artist has designed garments that invigilators will be wearing during the biennial and will present a new textile work at Zuzeum, one of the biennial venues.

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