MILAN - Le fragole del Baltico (“Baltic strawberries”) provides a fascinating insight into Latvian contemporary art. The plan was for the exhibition to complement the Latvian pavilion at EXPO 2015. But even the best plans often come to naught: government funds for the Latvian pavilion disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving the Latvian pavilion space to be taken up by the nestle-owned, Italian-themed chocolatiers “Baci”. Luckily, the le fragole del Baltico survived the calamitous cancellation of the pavilion, and is housed at the cutting edge exhibition space Careof in central Milan.
Le fragole del Baltico presents a selection of ten artists, for the most part born around 1980, who are mostly being exhibited in Italy for the first time: Eriks Apalais, Janis Avotins, Ieva Epnere, Kaspars Grosevs, Ieva Kraule, Inga Meldere, Daria Melnikova, Ieva Rubeze, Kriss Salmanis and Ola Vasiljeva.
The exhibition doesn’t seek its unity in a medium or in a concept; instead it largely forms itself in the practice of its selected artists. Its overall framework is a display of Latvian artists’ works, both existing and new commissions especially created for the exhibition, that in its curation uninterruptedly embraces distinct artistic personalities and individual works in a wide range of media, encompassing: painting and sculpture, applied art and video, and photography and sound.
The title, whose ambition is to be poetic and simultaneously ironic, was inspired by the perception in Southern Europe of the Baltic countries as cold and hard lands, under whose grey skies a fruit such as a strawberry could never grow. In fact, strawberries and other berries regularly find themselves on Latvian dinner tables, starting from the first months of summer right through to the rich autumn season; and contemporary art, which is flourishing in Latvia, despite its existence being scarcely known among Italians.
While the exhibition has no overarching concept or medium, it is somewhat compact, and not just in terms of age. It mirrors a taste: the taste of the curators, but also a taste much more elusive and difficult to pinpoint, shared by this particular generation of artists. Here, some elements tend to reappear, although in very different shapes: a slant to revisit the past, be it personal and familiar or historical, as in Inga Meldere’s paintings and plaster miniatures evoking expressive short stories, or in Ieva Epnere’s series of photographs of Latvian students bringing flowers to their teachers on 1st September, a ceremony originated in Soviet times; a sense for the landscape, the weather, the change of the seasons, that can be found in some of the witty, ingenuous, poetic videos of Kriss Salmanis; a diffuse melancholy, haunting Eriks Apalais’ sparse, meditative paintings, as well as Janis Avotins’ series of drawings - anonymous postcards of mysterious locations - paired with a painting of a ghostly couple; a quite peculiar brand of humor, deadpan and slightly nonsensical, an example of which is Ieva Rubeze’s video compilation of Latvian “TV healers” from the 90s set to a white noise soundtrack, which is supposed to manipulate and improve one’s spiritual energetics; a taste for decoration, applied arts and all kinds of hand-made objects, typified by Kaspars Grosevs’ knitted tracksuit, an outfit for an opening event, or by Ieva Kraule’s setting for a fairy tale feast - ceramic plates bearing cartoonish eaters’ faces, and fabric painted with pastry motifs -, or by Daria Melnikova’s literal take on measurements and (de)composition through burned images, a smashed bowl or hand-drawn graph paper; and last but not least, a certain, elusive idea of domesticity, as framed in Ola Vasiljeva’s pun-filled constellation of objects - a woolen rug, a door turned into a blackboard on one side and a bulletin board on the other, and two dada-esque assemblages including glass shoes.
Aiming at amplifying the aspect of domesticity and to develop the show as an interior of sorts, the curators have gone for a display whose taste is closer to the 19th century Salon or to the artists’ studio / houses-turned-museums, like that of Riga’s modernist couple Romans Suta and Alexandra Belcova, than to the Anglo-Saxon 20th century white cube. A display that includes colored walls and curtains, a sofa and armchair, potted plants - a regular feature of homes, artists’ studios or even exhibition spaces; - helps to record the relation between the various artistic elements – the berries in this basket – linked by a peculiar setting where artworks recall and replace and exchange a wide range of physical ephemera - furniture and other items of our daily life.
The exhibition is curated by Simone Menegoi and Zane Onckule and opens on on June 9 at 6.30pm, accompanied by a performance by Kaspars Grosevs.
Venue: Careof, Fabbrica del Vapore, via Procaccini 4, Milan
It will run from June 9 - July 19, 2015