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STA2340 XS foto Ansis Starks

The 36-hour performance-installation that could put Latvia on the map

14 September 2018, 15:14
Words by Vincent Morris

Vincent Morris lays witness to Unexpected Sources, a sound installation featuring performances by internationally acclaimed artists at this year’s Cēsis Art Festival in Latvia.

Some minutes passed, and then some more. A void of mystery enveloped the space underneath the wide sunset sky. The underlying anticipation came in waves, one after another multiple sensations rose up – tension, confusion, indifference, annoyance, boredom, fascination, calm. A strange kind of chaos ensued as the clock relentlessly continued. As each empirical second sounded, a multitude of subjective experiences unfolded. This experiment was perhaps one of the most rudimentary ways to illustrate this concept. It immediately reminded me of “4’33”, the infamous piece by John Cage, and seemed like a successful re-interpretation of it.

After exactly 36 minutes the clock initiated a series of glorious chimes, before the performance was terminated and the clock dismantled and removed. Initial relief was followed by a mix of apprehension, bafflement, and appreciation that could be sensed in the audience. Was that it? Krista and Reinis Dzudzilo seemed to have the last laugh - people were still talking about the performance (aptly named “36 minutes”) two days later, and it’s indeed somehow made it as the opening theme in this review – in a strange kind of way, for me this performance on the Friday evening very much explains what Tīrkultūra – Unexpected Sources was all about.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression – Tīrkultūra isn’t a hardcore avant garde festival. Its remit is more fluid and not limited to genre; everything from 80s synth pop (cue Danish duo GENTS, amazing, uplifting new-romantic pastiche) and ambient, to drone, abrasive noise and live instruments (including drummer extraordinaire Andrea Belfi) featured in the programme. As such, Tīrkultūra itself is primarily based on principles of experimentation and openness. Music was not intended to be the central focus either, with visual arts also playing a huge part in the programme. Moreover, organisers were apprehensive of using words such as ‘stage’ or ‘festival’, with the weekend billed as a ‘36-hour live installation’. This perceived lack of vocabulary formed the initial rhetoric organisers explored in the first edition of Tīrkultūra, taking place in the quaint and seemingly affluent town of Cēsis, Latvia.

Tīrkultūra originally began as a radio show airing on Latvian Classic radio. Headed by fashion designer Rolands Pēterkops, the program presents inspiring and ground-breaking music to the public, in which various artists are also interviewed about wide-ranging topics within the arts and culture. Tīrkultūra’s first live edition, named ‘Unexpected Sources’, transferred this ethos into an event format. Supported and funded by the long-running Cēsis Arts Festival and Latvian Culture Department, Unexpected Sources set out to create a physical space for honest and open dialogue within the arts.

Upon entering into the event space the gaze is immediately drawn to the two industrial cranes at the other end, suspending the stage roof in the sky. Artists perform on a platform of huge concrete blocks, and audience chairs are positioned randomly across the floor space. The ‘installation’ was designed by Latvian architect Austris Mailītis (leader of Mailitis Architects and behind the Latvian National Open-air Stage), and alongside Pēterkops’ curation made for a very unique multi-disciplinary collaboration. For a town of just 17,000 inhabitants, this display is at the very least both an impressive and intriguing one.

Berlin-based musician Andrea Belfi sees in Friday evening with a set consisting of live drums and electronics. The sound is huge yet intricate – sine tones scream out of the speakers, and trippy delays of hats and toms ripple into the distance as the sonic tapestry ebbs and flows with drama and narrative. The performance is enrapturing, and all the more impressive for its feats of stamina and physicality.

Later on Portland duo Visible Cloaks brought their plastic sounds of ambient psychedelia, played on a visual backdrop of neon-coloured patterns and rotating geometric structures in the vein of Escher’s Penrose Stairs. Splashes of processed clarinet and blissful textures were at the front of a well-executed set, and acted as the perfect preparation for Motion Graphics who played on the following day.

Interview recordings with notable artistic figures were played out in between performances. As the next acts set up, the audience enjoyed legendary talks from the likes of Bernar Venet and Colin Stenson, framing the space with rumination, philosophy, and creativity.

Makino Takashi pushed things deep with a live A/V set of heady drone music. Pulsating notes drew long arches as distortion roughened the edges of what was a fairly minimalist yet sensitive performance. A rapid flurry of granulated specks flitted through the screen behind like a blizzard, with shades of soft blues, reds, and oranges glowing through. Predominantly a filmmaker, Takashi’s performance was a similar live incarnation of his installation piece, ‘Space Noise’, which could be viewed over in the old barn across the road.

The other installation housed here was by legendary US filmmaker and artist James Benning. Reconstructing Henry David Thoreau and Ted Kczynski’s ‘cabins’, two bare, whitewashed model houses were placed inside the barn, with a backdrop of cold, snowy woodland projected onto the far wall. Two solitary angled spotlights cast beams onto the structures, creating a dramatic scene that felt remarkably heavy in such a stark and deprived setting.

FLOAT label head Sofia Ilyas got the party rolling post-2am. She glided through selections of Kiasmos and Nils Frahm before slamming out some heavier tracks to the likes of Jon Hopkins, Four Tet and Throwing Snow, where young Latvian art students flocked to the front to get their dance fix for the night. Closing things off was Parisian artist Colin Johnco who notched it up with sequences of acid, break-beat and techno, which seemed just right for the intimate, up-for-it crowd.

The second day featured some impressive A/V performances, which notably pushed the sound-system to greater limits. The solo pop-experimental project of Joe Williams, Motion Graphics’ live set played out like a sci-fi anime film, with accompanying visuals created by Culturesport. The experience was intense and dramatic, harking back to a similar kind of tension and poise found in cult-films such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell. The film follows an androgynous human hologram who appears wandering lost in the digital ether. It’s like 2070’s futuristic Japan on acid; psychedelic visions of a techno-dystopia are underpinned by the pathos and melancholy of a post-human world. Glitchy distortions and thunderous bass rumbled the ground as surreal scenes unfolded. The performance was powerful and evocative (albeit lost some pace and interest towards the end). Visionist’s experimental self-reflective A/V piece was a collaboration with visual artist Pedro Maia and featured anatomical self-portraits that explored ideas of vulnerability, overwhelmed by epic deconstructions of broken beats and strobe flashes. Elusive structure and lack of variation subdued the concluding moments, but overall it was perhaps the most aesthetic A/V performance of the weekend, and gave the subs a real work-out.

Aside from the musical offerings, Tīrkultūra featured film screenings including a short by Latvian artist Atis Jākobson’s – beautifully shot desert scenes depicting its protagonist drifting into a hallucinatory dream-state, with droning throat singing added to the intoxicating mood. Unfortunately I didn’t make it to the screening in the forest of Latvian’s first ever experimental-horror film, though heard it was amazingly terrifying. Alongside Cēsis Arts Festival, which runs for the duration of July, there was generally a wealth of things to see and do across the weekend and the whole place was alive with activity.

I was unexpectedly stunned by my weekend in Latvia. Without really knowing exactly what to expect, I was curious to see what was happening in Riga and the surrounding area. I was pleasantly surprised by the interest and willingness of the Latvian people (of all ages and dispositions) to give voice to those who have something to share. The people have a fire for music, art, and culture, and want a platform to show it to the world.

Speaking with Pēterkops and Cēsis Arts Festival director Juris Žagars, it was evident that compromises had to be made. But crucially, it felt as if Tīrkultūra had created an important space for old and new generations to reconcile their differences and begin to build a meaningful dialogue together. It’s a partnership that I very much hope will develop and evolve in the coming years.

I may not have seen performances that changed my life, but quality was all around. What’s more, the weekend’s general energy and openness had this radical spark that left me feeling inspired and refreshed. While it’s still early days for Tīrkultūra, I can’t help but feel that it might become an absolutely essential and integral organisation not just locally but across Europe.

[John Maus was due to headline on Saturday evening, however upon the sudden passing of Joseph Maus – bandmate and brother of John – their performance at Tīrkultūra and all forthcoming gigs have been cancelled. On behalf of LOBF we offer the family and all close to them our condolences. ]

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