By Kristina Pauksens, RIGA
After two years of painstaking restoration, the 1896-vintage granary at the Dikli Manor complex is open to the public. The granary hosted an opening ceremony Friday, Sept. 26, filling the historic building with captivating works of contemporary Latvian art.
The granary proves to be a fascinating venue for the display of postmodern works. Massive original wooden beams line the ceiling of the long rectangular room, testimony to the former function of this building as a storage space for grains. With its idyllic countryside setting, this venue is a surprising and somewhat incongruous location for artwork that explores contemporary themes.
Perhaps the most attention-grabbing work of art is Anna Baklane's "Family Portrait" (2008), a commentary on postmodern concepts of the family. The glossy canvas portrays a couple in their early 20s, garbed in street clothing (a skull t-shirt and a childish strawberry-adorned bracelet) standing amidst a frenzied swirl of random images. Red-capped mushrooms, a gremlin, and a Hello Kitty doll wearing a deer costume are just a few of the characters in this family. A hedgehog wearing a bandage, as though it suffers from a toothache, sits inexplicably in the upper left hand corner of the canvas. This colorful painting also contains a small relic of days gone by: a tiny inset bubble that, upon closer inspection, reveals a medieval outdoor brain surgery scene, taking place outdoors. Baklane's painting also features textual elements in a mixture of English and Latvian languages. Perhaps most fitting is the scribbled question, "How long have I already lived?"
While Baklane's colorful work jumps out immediately, several other paintings have deeper levels of subtlety and transience, inviting viewers to delve into their own memories to form their interpretations. For example, Juris Jurjans's "Balta Diena" (2002) shows a metallic silver and bone-white forest scene, with two pale white figures in the foreground. The almost naked trees, with only a few remaining leaves, reflect the semi-nudity of the human figures, caught unaware and partly undressed in a moment of playful passion in the early winter forest.
Liene Baklane's "Sisters" (2008) is another outstanding work currently on display at the Dikli granary. In this work, painted magnolias, deconstructed in subtle shades of magenta, peach and cotton-candy pink, jump out from their branches, capturing the viewer's attention. Two lovingly rendered black crows stand in the blossoming tree's branches. It is only on second glance that the sisters themselves are noticed 's two small children of indeterminate gender, playing in the corner, gazing up at the magnolia tree, and at a tube kite blowing in the wind. "Sisters" is hauntingly evocative and even nostalgic, with rough gold paint applied in places to give a tarnished effect to the dreamlike scene.
Dita Luse's "Inheritance" (2008) moves away from the postmodern portraiture so popular in this collection, using boldly contrasting colors to recreate an architectural work in two-dimensional canvas form. This work shows medieval Italian-style cathedral architecture, with a row of gargoyles and a striped black and white bell tower. Reminiscent of Siena's Duomo church, it is hard to say with certainty whether Luse has recreated a real-life building or a building of dreams. The bright, whitewashed architecture contrasts boldly with the deep blue, opaque sky 's not a realistic sky, but rather a backdrop, like a solidly painted wall, deliberately giving a level of artifice to the work. "Inheritance" is aesthetically pleasing, while at the same time raising questions about history, modernity and the role of ancient buildings in a modern context. Are they still relevant today? In the context of the Dikli Manor complex, itself a historic building site, the question is especially pertinent.
Leaving the granary, I took a walk along the forested pathways of the Dikli Manor house, breathing in the autumn air. This place feels worlds away from Riga, not unlike the many manor house complexes throughout Latvia, which evoke a similar feeling of history, nostalgia and decay.
The rebirth of the granary as a venue for visual art gives a fresh reason for Latvians and tourists alike to visit the Dikli Manor complex. For those who love contemporary Latvian art and who would appreciate its installation in a surprising context, it's worth the drive to Dikli 's especially if it's a sunny day and the trip can be combined with a walk in the countryside.