Institutional Diary: LCCA #1


Reflection on LCCA’s Summer School Care of Earth, Care of People
Andris Freibergs

The annual Summer School of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art took place in Smiltene, Latvia, from 4 to 11 August. This year it was titled Care of Earth, Care of People to focus on the issues of ecology, sustainability, and inclusion in the broadest sense and to find, through creativity, connections and common solutions to these three themes on the way to a brighter future. ‘Towards a brighter future’ seems to be the most accurate notion that I could use and that I also felt long after the experience. It is no surprise that talking about climate change and discussing related topics is uncomfortable – it affects almost everything already. The prospects for the future are, of course, even less encouraging. And yet, while it is not possible to stop the change completely, it is possible to influence its direction. In addition to our scientific and objective nature, we have a very strong irrational perception, based on our personal experiences, which can influence the reasons for the emergence of new facts – facts of future reality. Art is fundamentally present in this – it can stimulate thought and action. That is why it seems so logical that LCCA put the focus on oneself, each other, the world, nature, and health at the forefront to encourage reflections, develop creativity, and engage with experts for a week, exploring the probabilities of the future from different angles.

As every year, this one was no exception – the 10th Summer School brought together around 30 participants, speakers, and mentors from all over Europe and beyond. The professional fields represented were very diverse – meeting artists, curators, poets, biologists, surgeons, historians, designers, lawyers, and photographers in one place is one of the aspects I would like to highlight. Quite often the discussion of certain issues is held only between professionals in a particular field. Of course, it is characterized by a clear and focused level of detail, but the direction is frequently homogeneous. Interdisciplinarity, on the other hand, as an alternative form of expression and cognition, has its advantages: above all, it allows us to look at a given topic from different perspectives. Diverse views were first and foremost present in discussions, though not always with unambiguous conclusions, so conversation and listening became a starting point when thinking about the ‘Big and Painful’. 

One of the memorable discussions was after Karin Vicente’s talk “High Impressions, Low Impact: Reducing the Emissions of an Art Exhibition” on whether carbon emissions should determine the value of an artwork. Participants were divided into larger groups (some in favor and some against) to argue their position. Just hearing the question does not make it easy to take a clear personal position, and it is even more difficult if a particular view is given that needs to be justified. On the one hand, of course, environmentally friendly art gains more value in the context of the climate crisis (when seen from an ecological prism), but how do we even assess the value of art? – maybe the one that produces more pollution, but is conceptually stronger, in the long run, could be seen as less-waste-producing because of its emotional timelessness and actuality. When you think about artistic freedom, the question becomes even more complicated. The discussion was long but understandably ambiguous.

Thought-provoking was the talk “Education in the Art Museum: Audiences as Co-Creators”by Eglė Nedzinskaitė. She shared her experience about the recent work with teenagers whose two-year experience in the museum saw them create an exhibition from the first idea through to cataloging the whole process. The outcome of such a project was unpredictable. As soon as a team without professional skills is brought in, the main thing is to become open-minded. Of course, the museum team was there as professional support for the young people throughout the project, but learning to trust was one of the biggest but most valuable challenges. What kept my attention is that almost always, to realize the intention of a particular project, there needs to be a clear vision of the work and outcome – financial sponsors, funders, and project application formats all require this – so how to find a way to experiment and for this experiment to be indulged in by all the collaborators involved is a question that needs to have a different approach every time.

The visit to the open homestead Zadiņi left me with two feelings – on the one hand, a “community that focuses on the promotion of sustainable living, collective intelligence and deep adaptation concerning environmental developments” sounds fantastic. A life with a constant look to the future, thoughtfulness, and sufficiency. But while the idea is fantastic, there is, of course, a lot to go through to make it happen. Permaculture is often an idealized lifestyle. Elgars Felcis and Hanuka Lohrengel shared their personal experiences of what they had to go through to get anywhere near that “ideal”. It is a years-long process, which, like any lifestyle, is faced with many difficulties. In this case, you must keep a sense of purpose all the time – what you want to achieve as a member of the community – because it won’t be easy. Understandably, a community requires much more interaction than living in an apartment block and seeing your neighbor once a month in the stairwell. But after many problems you need to go through, the “ideal” can be something very simple. Without artifice. You just must be able to see it.

A walk around the open-air exhibition Savage raised other thoughts. Savage is a place, an open-air exhibition and series of events, initiated by artist Andris Eglītis in 2020. During the Summer School, several hours spent in the meadow, and woods, surrounded by artworks, evoked the idea that art acquires timelessness in its freedom of space. I can’t think of a more perfect setting than authentic nature. A nature that is constantly changing. Art does not adapt to it – in this context, the two are always at different points of contact. The white cube, when juxtaposed, becomes only a temporal shell for the art.

The unifying element of that week’s discussions was not only through spoken language but also through visual communication. Every year, one of the most important ways of looking at a given topic in the Summer School is through the prism of culture and art as a medium. What and how can we, as creators, implement to bring to light changes that cannot be completely stopped? At the end of the Summer School, one of the central events was the presentations of the creative projects. During the week, participants with mentors reflected on topics such as social inclusion, mental health sustainability, climate and biodiversity emergency, and sufficiency. The results varied considerably in the forms of expression and chosen substantive points. The most rewarding moment is to see how theory and facts are transformed into visuality through personal encounters. The “Social Inclusion” group chose language as one of the aspects of integration. It is noteworthy that all three Baltic states were represented among the group members. When we think about gender roles, Latvian and Lithuanian languages are based on clear binarities of male and female. Estonian language, on the other hand, is a step ahead from the very beginning – the neuter gender is its foundation. It, therefore, seems important to think that the chosen focus was in the direction of freeing these three communication tools from any form of gender discrimination. The “Mental Health Sustainability” group, on the other hand, organized a separate exhibition. All participants created individual work, but each reflected on their inner state. Intimacy is the keyword, so I’m very thankful for the openness! “Climate and Biodiversity Emergency” was observed through two mediums – performance and zine. I vividly remember at the beginning of the performance; every spectator had a piece of ice in their hand. You are watching the prepared action, but at the same time, Antarctica is melting in your own hands. The final group – the “Sufficiency” one – created an installation on how to irrigate a tree (and at the same time a wider natural landscape), but just enough to always have enough. Water has become, seemingly intuitively, a conscious-unconscious symbolic element through these works. Rivers are always flowing. Language included. From place to place, from generation to generation, but the sediments of time continually give rise to a different form. The mind and the emotional world in the information age overheat every moment. Fear and insecurity, but water in the form of peace can stop them, if only for a moment. If a whole continent has melted through your palm in a matter of seconds, somewhere beneath it lies a future world that can be brought to life – you just have to look for it!

Empathy is a start, as is the care of the earth, and the care of people. A brighter future is possible! If it were not, John Donne would have lied when he said that “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” The main that unites nature. That unites ecology. That unites change. That unites reality.

Image: Summer School –⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠ Care of Earth, Care of People, credits: Klavs Vasilevskis