Latvian Pavilion Biennale Arte 2015

Katrīna Neiburga and Andris Eglītis 
have built a spatial monument to marginal everyday creativity with local character. It was inspired by a rather primitive sample of vernacular architecture – the Soviet era co-ops of private garages whose owners have adapted them for the hybrid use as workshops-cum-dachas. In the Baltic countries that are sandwiched between Russia and Poland, there is much talk about the creative industries and references are usually made to Scandinavian design. Yet the bulk of exports consists of raw lumber resulting in mass deforestation. To work as a lumberjack is one of the few opportunities available in the countryside for not joining the unemployed. City life, of course, is more extravagant and a case in point here is the inhabitants of the «tuned up» garages. Tending to their hobby, on the sidelines of the shadow economy, these men have inadvertently formed a branch of a maker movement characterized by brutal techno-romanticism. The story about garage men inhabiting the periphery of Europe is a pastoral of the digital age. The ability to take apart and put together a car engine is about the same as it was in 1845 for Henry David Thoreau to «borrow an ax, go to the forest, and begin to fell some rather young, tall and slender pine-trees» with an aim to build a hermit’s shack for himself. Owing to his journal, we have got to know a lumberjack by the name of Alek Therien. This simple and natural man for whom “vice and disease had hardly an existence”, fed chickadees from his hand and swung his ax with the élan of an artist. For carrying out their idea, both artists focused on gender-related stereotypes that are still alive in the periphery of Eastern Europe. The art installation is the embodiment of a normal male world – with emphasis on «normal». Hence the architectural fragments here are made with a circular saw and crowbar, not shunning personal physical effort, and the spatial ambience is reminiscent of the boyhood war games played in tree houses or in the labyrinths of backyard woodsheds. The closed microcosm of garage co-ops, where the socio-economic environment has blended with personal space, provides a step back in time. Men are still boys, but their tinkering is both the trade and hobby of individual entrepreneurs, since self-exploitation as leisure time activity is a time capsule where neoliberalism has enclosed the postindustrial proletariat.
A walk through the installation 

"Armpit. Initial visuals are of a hairy, possibly sweaty, mal armpit. The Latvian Pavilion truly is a male world, delving into the daily creativity of post-Soviet space and time."
/Ieva Astahovska/

"Some of the garages have been adapted for living. Others serve as hobby workshops. In some, cars are still kept. It is a closed male commune. A convent for retired blue collars from Soviet economy and engineers from factories closed in the course of neo-liberal reforms. With the enthusiasm of alchemists they are continuing to occupy themselves with inventing new mechanical devices or re-soldering microcircuits pulled out of second-hand gadgets."
/Kaspars Vanags/

"The story of garage men inhabiting the periphery of Europe is a pastoral of the digital age. The ability to take apart and put together a car engine is about the same as it was in 1845 for Henry David Thoreau to “borrow an ax, go to the forest, and begin to fell some rather young, tall and slender pine-trees” with an aim to build a hermit’s shack for himself."
/Kaspars Vanags/

"[...] I remember the feeling of running my fingers over the ends of a bundle or stack of wooden sticks. The feeling is very strong and very old, certainly prelinguistic, and extremely intimate and charged."
/David Levi Strauss, From Head to Hand: Art and the Manual/

"The emergence of Soviet garages was a part of the process of privatization of private life in the country. [...] Garages were usually located relatively far from owners' houses, so from the very beginning the garages demanded the role of a "second home""
/Kirill Kobrin/

"The workshops set up in the cooperative garages represent a closed microcosm where the socio-economic environment has blended with personal space. The creative activities of the particular community are both the trade and hobby of the individual entrepreneurs. Self-exploitation as a leisure time activity is a time capsule where neoliberalism has enclosed the postindustrial proletariat."
/Kaspars Vanags/

"The philosophy of production becomes atheistic, orphan, and inhuman. In the technocosmos nothing is given, everything is produced."
/Nick Land, Fanged Noumena/

"Technology discloses man’s mode of dealing with
Nature, the process of production by which he sustains his life."
/Karl Marx, a socialist/

"How does a man create? He creates a different reality, another world with its own rules. A man creates an instruction for a different reality and, while creating it, is guided by it. Skyscrapers, typewriters, convertibles, trumpets, football, chess etc."
/Marts Pujāts, a poet/

"A man is simply a dreamer. He has to imagine, fantasize and invent."
/Marts Pujāts, a poet/

"When these men are busy doing their thing and you look at their faces, it is not really clear whether they are jerking off or filing something. Their faces are tense, their breathing is irregular, droplets of sweat are covering their foreheads, their movements are rhythmical and monotonous."
/Oksana, a high-school teacher/

"They [Soviet garages] are just empty spaces that can be filled with nostalgia, fear, joy, hatred, disgust; with anything you want."
/Kirill Kobrin/

The story of garage men
From the artist’s notebook

"Well, get into an argument with your wife. Where are you going to run to? If you’re a regular fellow, who doesn’t go to a café, salivating over his glass of beer? To the garage!"

"Diagnosis is what matters in repairs."

"I’m an instrument mechanic. And a plumber. And a lorryloader boss. I do everything. I can do it all. Very slowly. Got golden hands!"

"See – either you have golden hands or you don’t?"

"Depression sets in for me in October. Nothing upsets me like migrating birds. That’s the most difficult time of all, when the birds fly off."

"I really respect the Commandments. Don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t envy. And man hasn’t evolved from monkeys."

"About a hundred years ago, all musical instruments were tuned half a tone higher than God’s frequency, so that there would be a discord with the human organism and therefore a better market for pharmacists. We were all tuned off God’s frequency."

"This is a home-made arbalest. We thought it up right here. And the beauty of it is hidden where – you draw it back with your whole strength, but, when it’s drawn, you can hold it with one finger, the whole secret is in the sprocket wheel! It can be aimed easily."

"For them the main thing was not what you’d invented, but whether there was an analogue around the world. See, that’s the most horrible job – to find out, whether there’s been a previous analogue. We searched for a year."

"The Masons rule over the world, everyone knows that! The destruction of humanity, that’s where it’s leading. Prostitution, pornography, and so on."

"If people have arrived here from Mars, then the question arises – how did they evolve there on Mars? Someone has created the human. Genetic engineering. Successfully or unsuccessfully? Unsuccessfully, I think, as people kill each other, and that’s not right."

"I built my garage myself. With my own little hands. I was the builder and the electrician. Everything, with my own little hands."

"This is a place to spend some time. To think. When it’s warm, one can even go for a swim. There are no women here. Very few women."

Artists
Katrīna Neiburga & Andris Eglītis

Katrīna Neiburga (1978) holds an MA from the Latvian Academy of Art in visual communications. She has been exhibiting since 2000 and has participated in the Sydney and Moscow biennales. In 2008, she was short-listed for the Ars Fennica Award and recieved the highest Latvian award in fine arts. A sizeable investigative video story "The Printing House“ (2012) about an abandoned high-rise attracted attention in Riga, Helsinki (Cable Factory Gallery), Budapest (Trafo Gallery), Tallinn (KUMU), Vilnius (National Gallery of Art), and elsewhere. Katrīna Neiburga has often closely collaborated with sound artist Andris Indāns. She has also worked on set designs for the Latvian National Opera, the Perm Opera and Ballet Theatre and elsewhere, collaborating on the staging of various plays. In 2015, as a video scenic designer she was offered to collaborate on the staging of the opera "La Damnation de Faust" at the Opera Bastille in Paris.

Andris Eglītis (1981) has studied fine arts at Latvian Academy of Art, I.E.Repin Saint Petersburg Institute of Art, Russia, as well as at HISK in Gent, Belgium. Although oil-painting prevails in his artistic practice over other forms of media, there are also sculptures he has done in collaboration with the beaver community at his country-house artist studio, and novel architectural installations usually built as narrative prototypes for his figurative paintings. In 2013 he won Purvītis prize, the highest award in fine arts in Latvia.

Credits: Story

Armpit
Latvian Pavilion
The 56th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia
Arsenale, Venice
09.05. – 22.11.2015

Artists: Katrīna Neiburga, Andris Eglītis
Curator: Kaspars Vanags
Commissioner: Solvita Krese
Deputy Commissioner: Kitija Vasiļjeva
Architect: Austris Mailītis
Graphic designer: Edgars Zvirgzdiņš, Associates, Partners et Sons
Sound artists: Andris Indāns & Jānis Šipkēvics (aka Shipsi)
Lighting designer: Māris Važa
Cameraman: Aigars Sērmukšs
Project coordinator in Venice: Michele Perna
Technical crew: Jānis Noviks, Mikus Bēvalds
Audio-visual technician:
Vladislavs Gončarovs
Special effects and stage machinery: Forma Machinery
PR specialist: Marta Krivade
Google Cultural Institute exhibition: Ilze Rušmane

Photo Credits: Katrīna Neiburga, Andris Eglītis, Ansis Starks, Andrejs Strokins, Karlīna Vītoliņa, Edgars Zvirgzdiņš

Commissioned by: Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Latvia
Organised by: Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions (listed below) who have supplied the content.
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