OCULA: ACAW Dubai - Insight - 01.02.19

ARTNET: by Lisa Le Feuvre, executive director, Holt/Smithson Foundation: “Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More” at the Riga Biennial

Thinking of the best exhibition I saw this summer is a hard task—the filing cabinet of my brain is bursting with possibilities. More easy is to answer with the one I remember with greatest clarity. Without a doubt that is the first Riga Biennial: “Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More.” Curated by Katarina Gregos, the exhibition took over the Latvian capital with works by more than 100 artists, nearly 50 of which were new commissions. Erudite and timely, it studied the ways change creeps up on us slowly, then suddenly it is all too late to go back. Without exception, the selected artworks asked urgent questions for the present. There were many fantastic works—the one burned into my mind is Alexis Destoop’s film Phantom Sun (2017), a study of the Norwegian-Russian border. It looks to future utopian economic projections in the light of dystopian Cold War fears and the facts of climate change.

ELEPHANT: by Holly Black - 07.06.18

Art, Weetabix and a Zombie Apocalypse in Latvia

The remarkable architecture of an abandoned biology faculty lends itself well to installations that question human behaviour within the natural world, as the new Riga Biennial of Contemporary Art welcomes more than one hundred artists to the Latvian capital. Words by Holly Black

…The far more utilitarian set-up at Andrejsala (an industrial port area) focuses on Riga’s history as a trading post and the connection with (and occupation by) the Soviet Union. A reclaimed boat forms the prominent exhibition space, but the real gems are found in the vicinity of a (badly signposted) warehouse. On the approach, a sinister livestock trailer appears abandoned, until you hear a booming and crashing from within. Is someone trapped? Are we in danger? Is this the beginning of the zombie apocalypse? In fact, it’s a sound installation by Estonian artist Jevgeni Zolotko, known for his ability to ignite an emotional response through simple cues that evoke a collective fear of an impending doomsday.

Another Armageddon seems feasible in Alex Destoop’s documentary film Phantom Sun. The piece presents parallel narratives that tell of abandoned industrial sites and even whole villages along the Norwegian-Russian border. Heavy snowfall envelops buildings that never technically existed, and mounds of discarded gas masks tell of forgotten fears of mass poisoning. It marries together the bitter reality of conflict and commerce, as present-day container ships roll into harbours, before the narrative switches to old battlefields.

The film is enthralling, and the chill of the Norwegian winter seems more real than the baking sun outside. This immersion is as much a testament to the film as it is to the incredibly attentive installation process (the exceptional sound and epic proportions of the screen truly envelop you), which is of an impressively high standard throughout the biennial.