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Latvian artists’ performances focus on disputable urban developments in Riga

While central part of Rīga, the capital of Latvia, is a renown tourist attraction with its Medieval Old Town and the largest number of Art Nouveau buildings in Northern Europe, Rīga’s suburbs are not so tidy. Only few bus stops out of downtown and cityscape becomes more confusing – post-soviet industrial legacy blending with new commercial ‘developments’, some of which causing ecological and financial disasters. For example, to provide a new building for the State Revenue Service (Valsts ieņēmumu dienests), the former government of Latvia signed a corrupt deal with private property developers and is now paying 532 thousand euros of taxpayers money in monthly rent (6,4 millions per year). And yet the same institution is asking citizens not to avoid taxes? This can happen only in Latvia.

Latvian performance artists this year decided to bring into spotlight places in Rīga which have seen many alterations during the course of history and recently are facing the inevitable consequences of profit-driven ‘development’ where just governance or sustainable and healthy environment is not a priority. In five performances called “The last picnic” (Pēdējais pikniks) starting in early spring and ending late autumn, organised by sculptor Gundega Evelone and friends, artists called participants for the last outdoor meal in various unusual places before they are completely converted for commercial of residential purpose.

I had a chance to take part and produce couple of videos from ‘the 3rd last picnic that took place between Mežaparks and Čiekurkalns districts in Rīga this July.

Photo credit: Ilona Sābera

Buildings in the background appearing in the middle of nowhere like mushrooms in the forest, the one on the right is the State Revenue Service still spending millions for taxpayers money in rent. Photo credit: Ilona Sābera.


Photo credit: Ilona Sābera

In this photo, taken from the opposite side, there are the old and the new building (blue) of TEC-1, the first heath power-plant in Latvia. The old part built in fifties is now a legacy of large scale industrialization taking place across the Soviet Union. Photo credit: Ilona Sābera.


In the first performance, Marta Elīna Martinsone is reading poetry by the famous Latvian Facebook cat Tors Traktors about a very emotional and sarcastic pet.


In the second performance, Gundega Evelone is telling a story about the sad face of a seagull with detached wing that was dying for three days alone in a harbor. The artist asked participants to make a viking burial boats to remember the heroic seagull.


Latvian proverb says: “Don’t cut the branch you are sitting on,” meaning do not damage the useful resources, such as the environment. In the third performance Alise Šaburova falls off the tree as she was sawing the branch she was sitting on. Alise falls into a swamp that was created unintentionally by engineers wanting to dry the surrounding land by closing a rill into the underground water pipes. But the rill violently broke out creating a wild sewerage swamp.


Video and photo materials from all five ‘Last picnics’ are displayed at National Library of Latvia in a retrospective exhibition organised by Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art and dedicated to one of the first Latvian multimedia artists late Hārdijs Lediņš. The exhibition, opened to public a couple of weeks ago, is available till 30th December.

Last picnics are buried in this symbolic 'summer coffin.' Photo credit: Didzis Grodzs.

Last picnics are buried in this symbolic ‘summer coffin.’ Photo credit: Didzis Grodzs.