Art that cuts to the very heart of the matter

  • 2004-02-19
  • By Tim Ochser
RIGA - Nobody stands on ceremony quite like Latvians do. At the opening of Solveiga Vasiljeva's new solo exhibition at the State Museum of Art, the assorted guests stood solemnly around while the exhibition's curator, the museum's director and the artist herself gave lengthy speeches in oh-so-serious voices.

Everybody assumed their most formal pose, hands clasped behind backs, nodding and chuckling in all the right places.
After the speeches, poor Miss Vasiljeva was given so many bouquets of flowers that she probably needed to borrow vases from every one of her neighbors to accommodate them all. Yes, Latvians can be a very formal lot when it comes to any kind of social gathering.
It was therefore a pleasant shock to contrast Vasiljeva's work with all the pomp surrounding the exhibition's opening. Her work is exhilarating compared with so many of her contemporaries, dark, dangerous, fearless. As I knocked back the wine, I enjoyed looking at people looking at the works not looking back at them.
A series of pictures entitled "Ko tu gribi mani pateikt? Neko" (What do you want to tell me? Nothing) is particularly impressive. Using only white pencil on painted black backgrounds, the artist probes the idea of essence, and the impossibility of realizing it in art. Each picture is different but essentially the same. One resembles an X-ray, another a swirling cloud of smoke. This is art as confrontation. Vasiljeva fills space in order to expose it.
But the most striking works on display are a series of photographic montages called "The Tongue's Feeling." The pictures dangle from the ceiling, laminated on one side, bare on the other. The images are grotesque juxtapositions: a tongue sticks out of a skull, a man kisses a skinned fish. The pictures are mesmerizing and disturbing, their brutality beautifully deflected through the sheen of their laminated veneers.
Fifty-year-old Vasiljeva began her career as a sculptor and this is apparent in the way she carefully constructs her images out of forms and notions. The video installation on show grew out of an idea she had to undergo a tomographic scan of her body. A central image throbs and pulsates in a kaleidoscopic flux of changes. This is her way of exploring the impulses that form the basis of our sensory perceptions. She is intrigued by the way that we are forever behind thought, that the rational is always a post facto act. Vasiljeva's art is a pleasure to experience. She has more subtlety and guile than many a younger artist in trying to catch her own ideas.

Until March 21
The State Museum of Art
10A Krisjana Valdemara St.
Open: 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.,
closed Tuesdays