The Latvian Pavilion opens 'Selling Water by the River' by Skuja Braden
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The Latvian Pavilion opens 'Selling Water by the River' by Skuja Braden
Skuja Braden, Selling Water by the River, 2022. Porcelain, mixed media. Various dimensions. Photo: Ēriks Božis © courtesy: Skuja Braden (Ingūna Skuja and Melissa D. Braden).

VENICE.- For ‘Selling Water by the River’ Skuja Braden, an international artist collaboration born in 1999, between Ingūna Skuja from Latvia and Melissa D. Braden from California, have created a multilayered installation that maps the mental, physical, and spiritual areas of their home. In doing so they hope to offer insight into different readings of the history of the Baltic region and to test the readiness of its current society to live up to the challenges of the present day, including the growing polarization of opinion. In the exhibition, home thereof is echoed by deeply personal images in porcelain, a material that the artists have mastered.

What shapes our understanding of public and private space, and what is our role in constructing these views? How can we fashion our surroundings to be as inclusive and open as possible? Where disagreements and conflicts often arise is where private and public spaces meet; a place where different values intersect. For example, the presence of the LGBTQIA+ community is still a sensitive topic in the Baltic and the broader region of Eastern Europe. Although times are changing, even within these regions, that which is different from heteronormativity has often clashed with conservative worldviews linked to a nationalist discourse within the framework of a tradition of a patriarchal society.

Co-curators Solvita Krese and Andra Silapētere say, “Skuja Braden have chosen such a framework for their exhibition at the Latvian Pavilion, because of the coming-to-be of their unique selfhood and their queer self-identity and the time that they spent together at a Zen Buddhist monastery in California that has influenced it. Their confidence drawn from Buddhist teachings, when mixed with a Californian free spirit and experiences of post-socialist life into a singular mélange, helps when it comes to finding solutions in these areas of conflict both everyday situations and creative practice. Is the water different in California, where Melissa is from, to the Daugava River, the Latvian body of water on the banks of which lies Aizkraukle, a town built under the auspices of Soviet industrialization, where Ingūna grew up and where the artist duo lived and worked for many years?”

The Latvian Pavilion is commissioned by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia, commissioner Solvita Krese (LCCA), organised by the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art (LCCA) and executed by the creative team: artists Skuja Braden (Ingūna Skuja, Melissa D. Braden), curators Andra Silapētere and Solvita Krese (LCCA), producer Kitija Vasiļjeva, architect Līva Kreislere, graphic designer Rūta Jumīte, art handlers Aleksejs Beļeckis and Pauls Jēgers, and the communications team of Copywriter/Levelup (Olga Procevska, Igors Gubenko, Jekaterina Firfjane), Sofija Anna Kozlova (LCCA) and Alexia Menikou.

Skuja Braden is an artistic collaboration, born in 1999, between Ingūna Skuja from Latvia and Melissa Braden from California, USA. Their work is a fusion of decorative styles, touching on literary and art historical themes, grounded in the politics of now, and interpreted entirely through the experience of their shared existence, which expresses itself stylistically as Cartoon Realism in porcelain.

Their solo exhibitions have been held at the Decorative Art and Design Museum in Riga, the Contemporary Craft Museum in Oregon, and the John Natsoulas Gallery in California. The duo has participated in numerous group exhibitions, the latest being held at Whitechapel Gallery in London as well as art fairs, including SOFA-Chicago; Ceramic Annual of America, San Francisco; Start Art Fair; Saatchi’s Gallery, London; and SCOPE Art Fair Basel. Skuja Braden’s works have been published in Contemporary Studio Porcelain, A Human Impulse, and the Lark Books 500 series on Ceramics. They have also been featured in Ceramic Monthly, New Ceramics, and Curve Magazine. Their works appear in public and private collections including the White Memorial Medical Center in L.A., the Kellogg Art Collection in Pomona, the Museum of Contemporary Ceramics in Santo Domingo, Latvian National Museum of Art, Museé Ariana in Switzerland, World Ceramic Center in South Korea, Changchun Ceramic Center in China, ASU Art Museum in USA, Westerwald Keramike Museum in Germany, and Zuzeum in Latvia.

The city of Aizkraukle, built in 1967 - the place where Skuja Braden has lived and worked for several years - and its futuristic visions in the context of socialism, play a hugely important role is the artists’ exploration of these conflictual borders between public and private space. Like in many parts of the Soviet Union, private property was destroyed, and new shared urban and social realities were created. The introduction of communal housing brought with it the deconstruction of said boundaries, as if laying the foundations for a 'new' and open society (commune).

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