Exhibition "Trespassers. Contemporary Art of the 1980s"

The first look back at a decade that saw the arrival of a young generation of artists.


This exhibition is the first look back at a decade that saw the arrival of a young generation of artists described by their contemporaries as "trespassers", "active art", "the new art", "Latvian avant-garde". This generation changed the language of art by denying the boundaries laid down by hierarchy and genre, ironising on the postulates of ideology and overcoming the limitations imposed by the ideology. The period under review coincides with a significant and dynamic stage in history – the final decade of the USSR, the process of perestroika and the renewal of Latvia’s statehood. The works on show resonate with the processes of the day. By reflecting the topical issues in the 80s – the environment, ecology and changes of identity, and referring to architectural and musical influences – these works are now classics of Latvian art.

The exhibition can be regarded as an opening of the theme – the first attempt to cover the phenomena of this new art and its desire to cross the borders of tradition, to explore new media and to forge links with the viewer. The exhibition looks at the new forms of expression in art – actions, video, installations and large-format graphics. We have deliberately excluded the important yet more traditional genres of poster art, painting and photography.
The "Trespassers" generation worked independently yet they were united by the art scene of the 1980s, group shows and events; almost all of the artists in this exhibition also took part in the 1988/1989 exhibition "Riga – Latvian Avant-garde". We have tried to outline this common chain of events in the descriptions of the works. In reflecting the sources of influence in the 80s and the conclusion of projects at the end of the 80s, the exposition slightly oversteps the boundaries of the decade.

The exhibition is arranged in two sections: "Processes" looks at the impulses, ideas and impressions that influence art and which often come from other creative fields – architecture, music, literature. The section examines the art of actions and performances. This hall also outlines the scale of the imperial thinking and its collapse at the end of the decade. "Myths" is more concerned with art in exhibition halls, installations, objects, forms of graphic art and their messages. These works are saturated with allegories, metaphors and rich layers of undertones often revealed in themes of searches for identity and independence, which have been interpreted in both a personal and political context.

Today, some 20 years separate us from the past of the 1980s – the time-span of a generation. Up till now there has not been a comprehensive evaluation of the development of art in the 80s and a systematic collection of Latvian contemporary art has yet to be formed. Many of the works on show were last exhibited in the mid-80s or early 90s. Symptomatically, most of the works are in their authors’ possession and private collections; some have only survived by a chance. Therefore we hope that this exhibition has come at the right time and that it will be followed by other interpretations of this extraordinary decade, maybe, in the form of exhibitions and publications.

An independent supplement to the exhibition is the first publication of "ZUN", the novel written by Juris Boiko and Hardijs Lediņš in 1977/1978. (In Latvian. Available in bookshops and the "Arsenāls" exhibition hall.)

Curators: Māra Traumane, Solvita Krese

Exhibition is organised by: Centre for Contemporary Art
Exhibition is supported by: Sate Culture Capital foundation, Cultural department of Riga City Council, Soros foundation, Latvia, Latvian museum of architecture, culture and art centre "Noah" www. noass.lv, "Lufthansa", editions "Rīgas Laiks", "Studija", "Māksla Plus", "Diena", publishing house "Jumava".

Ivars and Inese Mailītis

During the 1980s Ivars Mailītis worked in graphic and poster art. One of his seminal works in the poster genre at this time is the triptych "C’est la vie" or "Rats jumping from a sinking ship – the Soviet Union" of 1981. Ivars and Inese Mailītis’ first joint project was the "Orange Helicopter Action" for children at the 1983 Art Days. This was repeated in the 1984 exhibition "Nature. Environment. Man" but with the title of "Transformable Environment for Children".

An important stage in the artists’ activities began in 1988 with the solo exhibition "Black sculptures – Banners" in Riga’s "Jāņa sēta" gallery featuring, for the first time, their large-format anthropomorphic textile sculptures. These works contain the idea of people, packed and bound in the shape of a five-pointed star, and raised, like banners on the spear of power. The theme of the restricted freedom of Soviet times is further developed in the form of video installations and performances in the city space as well as exhibition halls. There is a twofold symbolism in the "People-Banners" theme – political repression and man’s inner captivity represented by the black figures-cocoons.

Both these aspects drew attention at the 1988 and 1989 exhibition "Riga – Lettische Avantgarde" in West Germany where the people-banners theme was widely reported in the mass media. Their black sculptures and photoactions in the city became the visiting card of the new Latvian art. The artists were laureates at the 14th International Textile Art Biennale in Lausanne in 1989 and works from the "People-Banners" series went on show in many other exhibitions abroad. The artists took part in the 1990 exhibition "Latvia – XX Century Somersault. 1940–1990" in the "Latvija" exhibition hall with their large-format sculptures "Balls of Wool" and a video performance that interpreted the themes of the sculptures – motifs on the thread of life, winding as a form-shaping process, laying bare and covering up.

Alongside their work in installations and performance, at the end of the 80s Ivars and Inese Mailitis also took part in several competitions for ideas for international exhibitions and events: In 1988 there was the competition for the USSR pavilion at EXPO ’92 in Spain (together with Aigars Sparāns and Juris Poga). In 1992 Ivars Mailītis and the New Projectile group worked out the "Empire Fatal Bomb" project for Latvia’


The process zone marks out the impulses, ideas, impressions and the changing phenomena of art and culture that reflect the dynamics of the art and society of the 1980s. Using documentations, sketches, video films and artworks, "Processes" outlines the merging of boundaries between various creative fields and examines interdisciplinary phenomena. The exposition is also a vivid depiction of the rise and fall of the once mighty visual symbols of the Soviet empire. "Processes" emphasises the changing social background that influences the formation of creative thought. This section reveals how the art of the 80s was actively directed at the viewer and its expansion in space, the media, in actions, sound and video objects. In chronological terms, the projects included in this section are often a precursor to the imagery and reflection of the works on show in the next, the "Myths" hall. The processes hall is arranged in several content connected areas.

The exhibition is introduced by copies of the "Avots" magazines, a medium for independent thought, new art and literature. In uniting the exhibition’s artists, "Avots" publications reveal the significance of critical art and writing in the social processes and everyday life of the 1980s.

The question of environment became topical in the 80s and raised issues concerning the aesthetics of the residential environment, architecture, urbanism and ecology. The Architecture segment reflects several points of intersection in the art, city space and architecture of the 1980s: the centralised and unified city planning mechanisms of the Riga metro and housing estate building projects; the discussions between young architects and artists and their attempt to transform the anonymity of housing estate and town planning schemes into a research platform. Alongside the urbanism of the 80s, there are themes of the home, ambience and atmosphere that acquire importance. They are reflected in the exhibition through quotations, video and the painting "The Metaphysical Interior".
Symptomatic of the Soviet ere is the so-called "paper architecture". Knowing full well their inevitable fate and utopian nature, innovative visions were nevertheless carefully realised on drawing tables and in spatial models. Examples of this practice are the kinetic sculptures the "Kinetic sculpture - Lighthouse" project and the visions of Valdis Celms’ kinetic objects. The project by Latvian artists for the USSR pavilion at EXPO 92 reveals the rapid process of disintegration within the codes of an empire and its ideology. In an already dismantled and non-functioning form, the relics of USSR armament serve as inspiration for the visions of the "New Projectile" group.

Miervaldis Polis’ and the "Art Days" actions view the city space as a playground, social space and material full of sub-texts. These actions reveal a desire to evoke social reflection either by adding an ironic commentary or by participation in the social events itself.

A separate and outstanding phenomenon in the music, art and literature of the 1980s is the activities of the Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Feelings (NSRD). Some of the group’s theories can already be seen in Hardijs Lediņš’ architectural analyses and his concepts of "Zeitgeist and the atmosphere of the place". NSRD was concerned with contemplative and experimental activities in various media – actions, video art, photography, music etc. and theory. The group widened the boundaries of what we understand to be art and reached the merger of the rhythms of life and art.

"Avots" magazines

"Avots" ("The Source") was a "literary artistic and socio-political magazine for youth" published by the Young Communists’ League and the Writers’ Union from 1987 until 1992. It also had a Russian language edition under the title of "Rodnik". With its first issues, "Avots" already showed itself to be a platform for the new "sharp" art, literature and critical thought. Its publication was possible due to the mood of the time of perestroika and the declarations of freedom of speech. Alongside the articles and translations dealing with poetry and the cultural and political processes, "Avots" also published the graphics, illustrations, collages and photographs of the 1980s generation of like-minded artists. Sarmīte Māliņa was art editor of all the issues. As the first free medium for art and public opinion of the 80s, and an important public document of art and literature, "Avots" can still be found on the bookshelves of many homes.
The covers of "Avots" were also designed by the young generation of artists: Andris Breže (1987), Sarmīte Māliņa and Sergejs Davidovs (1988), Ojārs Pētersons (1989), Kristaps Ģelzis (1990) and Sarmīte Māliņa again in 1991.

The circulation in 1987 was 83,000, in 1988 and in 1989 – 140,000 reaching a peak of 145,000 copies in 1990. With the collapse of the old infrastructure in 1991 and because of organisational and financial difficulties, the magazine was printed by several different printers and circulation shrank to 20,200 but in 1992 it sank to a low of 14,000 copies.
At the beginning of the 90s, the intellectual line begun by "Avots" was carried on by the periodicals "Grāmata" ("The Book") and "Kentaurs XXI" ("Centaur XXI").

The Riga Metro

The plan of development for the city of Riga, approved in the mid-80s, envisaged the completion by 2005 of "one of the most cardinal innovations" – the metro. According to the assumptions of Soviet town planning in those days, every city with a population that has reached 1 million inhabitants had to build a metro system. In Riga construction was to have started in 1990 and the first phase would have been a line from Zasulauks to the VEF electronics factory with stops at Āgenskalns, Uzvaras boulevard, the Central station, the Vidzemes market and the Oškalna station.
In its way, the Riga metro became the 1980s quintessence of contradictory visions of the city brought about by the clash of the Soviet empire’s plans with public protest against construction of the metro during the time of perestroika. During the debate over the metro, the social and political aspects became intertwined and found unprecedented resonance in society as a whole.

Because the metro project was not realised, the proposals of the artists and architects joined the family of projects that were utopian, unrealised and did not happen.


  • 1970s. Work begins on planning the metro
  • 1983. Closed tender for the best proposals for the 8 stations of the first phase
  • 1983. Closed tender for the architectonic design of the metro stations. Latvia’s architects and artists invited to participate.
  • 1986. Riga city development plan until 2005 approved. The plan includes the metro project.
  • 1987. First public objections to the construction of a metro
  • 1988. Mass demonstration and other forms of protest
    At the end of the 80s there was a popular slogan referring to Alfrēds Rubiks, the mayor of Riga: "Rubikam – metropolitēnu, grāmatām – polietilēnu!" An awkward translation might be "Métropolitain for Rubiks – polythene for books!" The slogan demonstrates the public’s interest and desire to influence not only the construction of the metro but also the fate of the national library.


  • Plan of the Riga metro (1986).
  • Detailed plan for the undergroung urbanisation of the Riga centre designed by a collective of authors headed by G. Melbergs. Metro station at Uzvaras boulevard (1981).
  • Competition project by architects A. Purviņš and A. Ģelzis for the interior of the "Zasulauks" station (1983).
  • Competition project by architects A. Purviņš and M. Gundars and artist Dace Lielā for the "Centrs" station interior (1983).

Kinetic sculpture – Lighthouse. 1978

"Kinetic sculpture – Lighthouse" was a 1978 project by Anda Ārgale, Māris Ārgalis and Valdis Celms for the Audiovisual Art Centre and it also went on show at the exhibition of monumental decorative art "For my city". The object was the suggestion of Valdis Celms for Anda Ārgale and Māris Ārgalis to create a spatial kinetic sculpture on the motifs of Gustavs Klucis’ 1919-1920 photomontage "The Dynamic City" and his 1921-1922 series of graphics "Graphic Construction". The kinetic sculpture was intended to be located on the left bank of the River Daugava on the AB breakwater thus connecting both parts of the city and creating a visually dominating element on the otherwise architecturally monotonous bank of the river. In the artists’ version, the object would be supplemented by a programmable, rotating video screen for the showing changing electronic graphic designs as well as video transmissions of cultural events. The projects consisted of several sheets with detail of the concept of the object. In 1979 the then Museum of the Revolution (now the War Museum) commissioned a three-dimensional model of "Kinetic sculpture – Lighthouse".

The project bears the hallmarks of several late 1970s tendencies – the influence of kinetic design and the desire to find innovative solutions to the urban environment influenced by the traditions of the architecture of modernism and the avant-garde. Because of their utopian nature they were more than likely to remain in project or model form. This project came about as the result of co-operation between artist, designer and architect thus marking out a common space for the exchange of ideas. Although this project differs from the works of the "paper architecture" of the 80s, we wanted to complement it with quotations commenting on the possibilities for expressing innovative architectural ideas at the time.

1978 also saw an exhibition of drawings by Māris Ārgalis "Models". Being the earliest work in this exhibition, in its way "Kinetic sculpture – Lighthouse" reflects the influence on the 1980s generation of artists left by the creative work and the active artists of the 1970s such as Māris Ārgalis, Jānis Borgs, Valdis Celms and others.
We also wanted to highlight the idea of a kinetic, spatial screen, which can be compared to the programmable screen area in the 1992 project realised by Ivars Mailītis, Aigars Sparāns and Juris Poga for the USSR pavilion at EXPO ’92.

The EXPO ’92 pavilion and Empire Fatal Bomb

The USSR pavilion for EXPO ’92 became a metaphor for the collapse of an empire and the development process of the project outlined the dynamics of the disintegration of the Soviet state. This is poignantly illustrated by the EXPO ’92 authors’ pictograms in which a flag becomes a mausoleum.
The EXPO ’92 pavilion was one of the most ambitious and utopian environmental projects by Latvian artists. The pavilion was envisaged as an object densely packed with metaphors and was to form the world’s largest screen. The authors borrowed the motto of the American pavilion "Man discovers the world to become happy" for their own work rephrasing it according to the tenets of Soviet ideology: "Man discovers himself to make the world happy". With the collapse of the Soviet state and the changes in the political and economic situation, the project was realised in a reduced form as the Russian pavilion and it became a kind of mausoleum – a symbol of the collapse of a mighty empire.

Expo ’92 chronology:

  • 1988. Competition announced for the best sketches for the USSR pavilion at the EXPO World Exposition in Seville, Spain. The EXPO theme was "The Era of Discovery".
  • 1989. In February the first prize among 164 rival projects went to the project with the reference number of 00000 Ы. Its authors were Aigars Sparāns, Ivars Mailītis and Juris Poga.
  • 1989. In April a new closed competition was organised that partly ignored the results of the first competition. Only the winners of the first competition and the most powerful and largest architecture and design institutions in Moscow were invited.
  • 1992. The envisaged pavilion is built albeit in a reduced form. The Soviet state is collapsing and the previous title of U.R.S.S. is replaced by the English abbreviation of the new state U.S.S.R.
  • 1992. Ivars Mailītis and the New Projectile group worked out the "Empire Fatal Bomb" project for Latvia’s participation at EXPO ’92. The project envisages converting a huge SS20 nuclear missile into a mobile multimedia centre that would cross Europe on its way to Seville.

The Art Days and Film Days Actions of 1986, 1987 and 1988

Continuing the tradition of monumental propaganda that began with the Soviet era, the Art Days festivals of the 80s became important because they provided a platform where artists could express themselves far more freely than in the exhibition halls and organised events. The carnival atmosphere and temporary nature of the Art Days made it possible to avoid the strictures of censorship and to demonstrate innovate formal explorations as well as more direct critical messages.
Staging the Art Days events in the city space gave artists broadened scope for their activities and offered a new environmental context as well as the opportunity to address the viewer more directly. 1986 also the Film Days festival and artists were also active participants in the festival organisation and its events.

During the Film Days festival of 1986 artists turned their attention to the problems of the environment and the socio-political context and this was the first time they also used the video format to express their ideas. Viewers saw Kristaps Ģelzis’ video work "The Wall", which supplemented his performance in St. Peter’s church. Ojārs Pētersons created a video installation "The Orange Teletype". St. Peter’s church also saw Indulis Gailāns’ performance and video installation "How to find Kaščejs’ egg".

1986 was also the starting point for one of the most noticeable events of the Art Days festivals – the exhibition-action in the pedestrian underpass of the Central railway station. The idea for the event came from Andris Breže who was also responsible for the posters for this and all the subsequent Underpass exhibitions. Artists participating include Ojārs Pētersons, Juris Putrāms, Kristaps Ģelzis and others. The Underpass exhibitions featured supergraphics and installations from objets trouvés and ephemeral materials whereas Ģelzis demonstrated a graffiti action.

The 1987 Art Days saw a surprising turn in that there were also events in other parts of the city as well as the pedestrian underpass of the Central railway station. Kristaps Ģelzis created his installation "Shoots" by the Vanšu Bridge and performed an action that involved burning a supergraphic with the title of "Aggression". In the same location Aija Zariņa formed stylised figures of a man and a woman from planks and plywood. The installations and the action drew attention to environmental issues, ill-considered town planning and the political context. One of the most significant events of the festival was the action "Cages" in the Filharmonijas square organised by Oļegs Tillbergs, Sergejs Davidovs and Sarmīte Māliņa. The participants lay in cages until the action was ended by the unexpected involvement of the militia. This only served to intensify the message the artists had staged. The same year the NSRD group (Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Feelings) organised the "Approximate Art" exhibition in the House of Knowledge, which introduced viewers to the concept and expressions of approximate art.

The 1988 actions in the pedestrian underpass saw the participation of the LPSR Z group (Normunds Lācis, Vilnis Putrāms, Māris Subačs, Artis Rutks, Vilnis Zābers) and other artists. Activities included silkscreen printing and exposition as well as the creation of installations. Sarmīte Māliņa, Oļegs Tillbergs and Sergejs Davidovs produced an action "Children of Staburags" in which they endeavoured to highlight the conflict of the individual with the mechanisms of power, the brutality of the surroundings and ecological issues. The actions together with the artists’ exhibition worked as a "distorting mirror of reality" that was a relatively direct criticism of the current socio-political situation and an ironic comment on the place of the individual within it.

Miervaldis Polis

To examine and challenge the "unified view of an individual and healthy person".* The actions and performances in the city space of Miervaldis Polis’s Egocentre and its accompanying image of the Bronze Man ironically accented the changes in society and the ideological symbols of the time. Polis began the activities of his Egocentre in 1986 during the time of the Art Days and Film Days festivals with the publication of the Egocentre manifesto and the slogan "Know yourself". There were also witty installations dealing with egocentrism in the form of life-sized "Alter Ego" models of the artist. The same year there was a live Egocentre performance directed by Polis, A. Ieviņš and I. Zariņš – "Boxing match in folk gloves". Polis explains his involvement with the performance genre through a long-standing interest in this form – a show that, beginning with the artist’s body, emotions and self-written script, allows him to manipulate with the surroundings while at the same time testing the viewer’s reaction.

From 1987 – 1991, the self-image and individualism themes of the "Bronze Man" actions took on a more pronounced social intonation and they often transformed into a commentary on political events. Working in various social roles and situations, the bronze phantom revealed the grotesqueness of these poses and activities.

The first "Bronze Man" action was in 1987, during the Art Days festival. After a stroll around the centre of Riga, the bronze man came to the empty pedestal of a statue and took up various "eternal poses". These activities always drew great attention from the mass media. The most noticeable actions were: the synchronised performance "Bronze people’s collective begging" or "Latvia’s Gold" (1989) together with artists from the LPSR-Z group (Riga) and NSRD (Bremen). LPSR-Z artists in the form of bronze people marched to the Dom square and began begging as a group, interpreted by some as collecting for Latvia’s independence.
1990 – Latvia’s Bronze Man and Finland’s White Man (Roy Varra) meet at the internation summit of phantoms in Helsinki. The International Association of Phantoms was founded at this meeting.
1991 – During the public action "Road of fire" on 23rd August there was the "Burning a Russian tank" performance where the Bronze Man burned a plastic toy tank by the Freedom Monument.
1991 – action together with Vilnis Zābers "Selling sunflower seeds by the Laima clock". This was an ironic comment on the free market coming to Latvia. Zābers sold ordinary seeds whereas the Bronze Man sold gold sunflower seeds.
1992 – The day after Lenin’s statute was taken down, the "Bronze Statue" action temporarily filled the empty space.
1992 – the "Bronze Man becomes the White Man" concludes the series of "Bronze Man" performances.

In the early 90s the Egocentre idea was replaced by Polis’s canon of "The Nobility Restored" and the performance genre loses its significance.

* Polis, M. "Miervaldis interviews Polis", Māksla, 1988, No.1.

Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Feelings (NSRD)

In creating an alternative to the professional art scene of the 1980s and broadening the horizons of the understanding of art, NSRD was responsible for introducing several significant innovations-experiments to the Latvian environment in various media and branches of art such as performance art, actions, video art, photography, music and so on. NSRD also influenced the development of the music scene and the culture of experimental demo recordings.

The first creative experiments by NSRD founders Juris Boiko and Hardijs Lediņš at the beginning of the 70s were in the field of samizdat (self-published) literature. In 1974 Hardijs Lediņš’ interest in the serious music of the likes of Webern, Stockhausen, Pärt and Cage as well as contemporary world pop music, led him to organise the so-called discotheques-lecturehalls. Lediņš founded the "Seque" sound studio and from 1976 artists came to the studio to record their own experimental compositions, experimenting with the structures of melody and rhythm. Juris Boiko wrote many of the songs for the group "Yellow Postmen" and later for NSRD. Music influences Boiko’s and Lediņš’ wider understanding of sound as ritual, as a dimension in time and leads them to transport the ideas from their music into the surrounding reality as actions. At the beginning of the 80s a like-minded group with Hardijs Lediņš and Imants Žodžiks at the centre and joined on occasion by Juris Boiko and Leonards Laganovskis, carry out several actions: annual painting actions on/by transport highways; the actions "Hole 1X1X1", "Crossing" and "Line in Kurzeme"1.

The Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Feelings was founded in 1982. Its composition changes over time and has included artists, architects, musicians, fashion designers and actors. Group activities have resulted in performances, actions, video installations, video art, music, photography and song lyrics. At some stage all the following have been involved in NSRD activities Hardijs Lediņš, Juris Boiko, Imants Žodžiks, Inguna Černova, Mārtiņš Rutkis, Aigars Sparāns, Dace Šēnberga, Indulis Bilzēns, Leonards Laganovskis. Alongside practical work NSRD has also made a signification contribution to explaining the theoretical aspects of art in a postmodernist understanding. The group also developed their independent concept of "Approximate Art" that first appeared in 1987 in an exhibition at the House of Knowledge during the Art Days festival.
At the end of the 80s NSRD is joined by Micky Reman, Indulis Bilzēns as well as the godfather of Latvia’s tape art movement, Maximillian Lenz aka Westbam and others. In 1989 NSRD takes part in the exhibition "Riga – Latvian avant-garde" in West Germany. Soon after NSRD ceases to exist.

NSRD actions and exhibitions (selection):

1982-87 annual walks to Bolderāja
1984 Project-poem "The Secret Gardner", Architects House, Riga
1985 "Journey to Italy calling in at Sweden on the way", Piebalga
1986 Exhibition "Wind in the Willows" Art Days ’86, Architects House, Riga
1987 Performance in the "Ziemeļblāzma" club, Rīga
Performance "Dr. Eneser’s binocular dance courses", palm house of Salaspils Botanical Gardens
Action "Spring grindstone"
Action "Iceberg longings, volcano dreams"
First exhibition of Approximate Art, House of Knowledge, Riga
1988 Second exhibition of Approximate Art "Mole in the cave", Vault Room, Museum of Foreign Art, Riga
2nd international telephone concert, Riga. Taking part: Kathmandu, Damascus, Frankfurt am Main, San Francisco, the Gambia, Riga, Moscow
1989 Action "A date in Ogre", OTK house of culture, Ogre

1986 - Transwelt/Transzeit
1987 - Iceberg longings/Volcano dreams
- Spring grindstone
- Dr. Eneser’s binocular dance courses
- Walk to Bolderāju (postpr. 1991)
1988 - Spring sequences (postpr. 1991)
1989 - Appleblossoms (V.Poikāns, M.Ķimele, Māris Martinsons)

1983 - Invalid Tram
1984 - Kuntsendorf and Osendovsky
1985 - Medicine and Art
1986 - Wind in the Willows
1987 - There are no facts anyway - Dr. Eneser’s Binocular Dance Courses
1988 - 30/15 - Don’t Look!
1999 - Kuntsendorf and Osendovsky - Medicine and Art
2000 - NSRD and Ieva Akurātere
2002 - Best of NSRD (dedicated to J.Boiko)


This section reflects the clash of "myths" and messages that is central to the imagery of the new art of the 1980s. The works are saturated with allegories, metaphors, and rich layers of sub-texts that offer a wide range of interpretations. From today’s point of view the artists’ works reveal several directions in their imagery: resistance against the repressions of the Soviet regime and censorship – this line is often manifested through irony and the grotesque. Then allegories of power and strength borrowed from European cultural history and generalisations of personal experience in the language of art. The main themes are searches for identity and independence, which are interpreted in both a personal and political context. Contemporary criticism tends to describe this art as "aggressive" or "active" reflecting the directness, effectiveness and topicality of these installations, objects and graphics.

One of the key works in this section is Aija Zariņa’s "The Rape of Europe". While carrying a personal message, the symbolism of this transformed ancient myth is universal nevertheless. From another perspective the story of "The Rape of Europe" is a reminder that the artists in this exhibition are the first post-war generation of Latvian artists to have gained recognition in Europe and elsewhere in the world. Seemingly impossible from the 80s viewpoint, many artists of the Latvian "avant-garde" became part of the international art scene in the 1990s.

In his installation "Burtnieku Castle", Kristaps Ģelzis uses motifs from folklore and romanticism to draw attention to the topics of the day. He interprets the image of the sunken castle of knowledge as a symbol of a library and the national reawakening. Leonards Laganovskis ironically demystifies icons of ideology whereas Oļegs Tillbergs transforms the image of battleship "Aurora", a symbol of Soviet power, into the icon of a crumbling empire. He places a huge whale bone on fragile flags, the struts of ideology. In a similar way, Andris Breže captures the rough materiality of everyday life and converts it into charged images. By the subtext-rich images of hybrid-creatures Juris Putrāms intertwines the existential tension of the individual with the context of social changes (Chameleon, Fire Toad's Child, Kamikaze).

The changes marking the decade are also reflected in the chronology of exhibitions. 1984 saw "Nature. Environment. Man", which is regarded by many artists and contemporaries as a turning point in the development of the "new" art. "Riga – Latvian avant-garde" (West Germany 1988, 1989) was the first large-scale manifestation of Latvian artists abroad. Exhibition "Latvia – XX Century Somersault. 1940-1990" marked the end of the decade and signalled a transition from the explosive expressiveness of the decade of changes to searches for more sophisticated forms and messages.

Large-format screen prints

The large-format screen prints, often called "supergraphics" were created in a workshop of the former Kuznetsov porcelain factory in Riga. At the beginning of the 80s Ojārs Pētersons, Andris Breže, Juris Putrāms and Henrihs Vorkals were invited to work on the regular renewal of the USSR Ministry of Metallurgy exposition at the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy of the USSR (VDNH). To do their work the artist were given large permanent workshop space in Riga as well as free access to materials including paints and 1.44m wide paper sheets that determined the dimensions of their graphics.
Kristaps Ģelzis and Indulis Gailāns joined the group in the mid-80s. They were later joined episodically by Normunds Lācis, Vilnis Zābers and Vilnis Putrāms who were later to become members of the LPSR Z group. In its five years of existence, the VDNH exposition renewal studio led by Henrihs Vorkals provided temporary employment in Riga and Moscow for many creative people – Leonīds Mauriņš, Pits Andersons, Laimonis Šēnbergs and others.

The expressiveness of the graphics, usually through the contrast of a single colour on the background surface of the paper, gave rise to contemporary descriptions of "neoexpressionist", "aggressive" or, borrowing from the terminology of Soviet criticism, the "new harsh style" and to comments on the similarities of the languages of supergraphics and paintings. The artists too mention the German neoexpressionism of the 80s they have seen in such magazines as Sztuka, Projekt and Neue Bildende Kunst as well as their impressions of the painting of Germany’s Neue Wilde group. Graphics and poster art served as an intermediate stage that allowed graduates from the applied art department of the Academy of Art to participate in exhibitions of design graphics and easel art thus overstepping the strict demarcation of genres. The status of "young artists" ensured their possibility to experiment in the fields of installations, video and performance and they were also able to organise actions during the 1986–1987 Art Days in the pedestrian subway of the Central railway station.

Supergraphics are characterised by dynamic compositions, an abstract, disproportional depiction of the human figure and they often had motifs from fragments of the world of technology and metaphorical titles – "Messenger", "Trespasser", "Endless Choice" and so on. In the mid-80s supergraphics went on show in numerous graphics and "young artists" exhibitions in Latvia and other Soviet republics. Works by Andris Breže, Juris Putrāms, Ojārs Pētersons and Kristaps Ģelzis were also part of the actions in the above mentioned Art Days. In 1988 they were included in the exhibition "Riga – Lettische Avantgarde" in West Germany and at the beginning of the 90s other works by individual authors were exhibited abroad.

Andris Breže

In the 1980s Andris Breže was active in poster art, graphics and book illustration. He was a regular participant in graphics and poster exhibitions (Tallinn Print Triennial, "The Baltic Poster", Lahti Poster Biennial and others). Breže’s posters took the shape of metaphorical and paradoxical visual puzzles drawing attention to environmental protection and the socio-political context. In 1989 he was responsible for the graphic design of the cover of "Avots" (The Source) magazine.
He mentions participation in the exhibition "Nature. Environment. Man" (1984) as a turning point in his creative career. Together with Anda Neiburga and Valdis Osiņš, they produced the installation "Trip Into the Greenery".
In the mid-80s Breže, working together with Ojārs Pētersons and Juris Putrāms, produced supergraphics where elements of photocollage were combined with expressive drawings to form grotesque compositions.
Another notable event was the exhibition in the Theatre Museum in 1988 together with Ojārs Pētersons, Juris Putrāms, Kristaps Ģelzis and Oļegs Tillbergs. This was the first showing of the installation "Masters of the Earth". The work’s robust figures were later to become the symbol of the exhibition "Riga – Lettische Avantgarde", (West Germany, 1988 and 1989). In the 1980s Breže took part in several exhibitions abroad using for his installations found materials giving them a metaphorical meaning in a contrived context. At that time Breže began to use bread boxes supplemented by various, usually found materials to deliver his message to the viewer.
Breže was also active in the Art Days exhibitions from 1986 to 1988, which took place in the pedestrian subway of the Riga Central railway station.
The collision of poetic metaphors and rough materiality in Breže’s works were seen not only in installations such as "Nest of the Wind" in the 1990 exhibition "Latvia – XX Century Somersault. 1940–1990" but also in his poetry published under the pseudonym of Andris Žebers.
In the 1990s the artist continued create installations using objets trouvés and natural materials such as wood and coal as well as creating kinetic mechanisms.

Oļegs Tillbergs

In the mid-1980s Oļegs Tillbergs began to create installations and took pat in several performances. The artist included objets trouvés in his installations to create poetic metaphors or critical commentaries. In Tillbergs’ works these found objects do not become ready-mades where the context gives a new meaning but they supplement the artist’s message with their own particular history. We can sense parallels with the language of imagery used by Joseph Beuys in the materiality of Tillbergs’ installations.
The artist has used the symbols of Soviet ideology in several of his works to create a critical commentary on the Soviet regime fore example, "Benchmark No.5", an installation consisting of a pile of Soviet army boots upon which the Latvian flag has been raised; he fashioned the battleship "Aurora" from whale bones to illustrate the collapse of the Soviet state – a huge dead organism on struts of lamentably feeble flags, the wobbly legs of ideology. The necrophilic motifs of the fall of an empire can also be seen in the installation "Points" where the placement of coffins in the city space created a public uproar. We can also see a critical intonation in the 1987 action "Cages" together with Sarmīte Māliņa and Sergejs Davidovs in the Filharmonijas square as well as the performance "Children of Staburags" during the 1988 Art Days festival in the pedestrian underpass of the Central railway station.

Several works of 1988 demonstrate the artist’s characteristic use of associative images and materials; the untitled installation for the exhibition in the Theatre Museum together with Ojārs Pētersons, Kristaps Ģelzis, Andris Breže and Juris Putrāms and the "Dried-up rivers" installation for the ""Riga – Latvian avant-garde" exhibition (West Germany, 1988 and 1989), where he used rusted metal plates, oil, piles of stones and other materials. The clash of the power and texture of the industrial environment with the self-sufficiency of natural objects can be observed in Tillbergs’ work "Uniting with the Universe" for the 1990 exhibition "Latvia – XX Century Somersault. 1940-1990".

During the 90s Tillbergs’ work was often on show abroad and in 1994 he won the prestige
ARS FENNICA prize. This period saw Tillbergs continuing with his use of the rough materiality of found materials and the dynamics of fragments of the industrial environment (hydraulic pumps, electric motors, airplanes and their parts etc.).

Ojārs Pētersons

During the 80s Pētersons was mainly associated with large-format graphics and installations. His most significant series of supergraphics "Endless Choice" was begun in the early 80s and the individual works have appeared in many exhibitions at home and abroad. The works are characterised by expressive and abstract figural compositions whose titles indicate metaphorically coded messages.

Pushing back the boundaries of the art of the time and turning his attention to environmental problems, for the 1984 exhibition "Nature. Environment. Man" Pētersons created the installation "Tree Planter". The spatial figure of the tree planter was supplemented by visual effects using mirrors. "The Blue Sea" was created for an exhibition in the Gustavs Šķilters museum from sheets of graphic paper, spatial objects and projections as an environmental installation. Also taking part in the exhibition were Andris Breže and Juris Putrāms. The opening of the exhibition was banned by the Ministry of Culture of the Latvian SSR.

From 1986 to 1988 Pētersons took part in the Art Days exhibitions in the pedestrian underpass of the Riga Central railway station with large-format screen prints as well as installations. For the 1986 Film Days he created a video installation "The Orange Telebridge" using the colour orange for the first time. Orange subsequently became the artist’s "trademark".

Pētersons continued to use orange in his solo exhibition "Telephone Conversations". Orange spatial elements and supergraphics formed his video installation for the exhibition "Riga – Lettische Avantgarde" (West Germany 1988, 1989). As part of the RADAR project, the artist placed the orange ends of a bridge in Kotka and Riga and also created a video installation "Bridge over the Sea".

In the 90s Pētersons worked on orange coloured installations in various formats thus emphasising the artist’s distanced and ironic position. Many works were created, which interacted with nature or the city space.

Kristaps Ģelzis

At the end of the 80s Ģelzis was an active participant in exhibitions of graphic art (Tallinn Print Triennial, exhibitions of easel and miniature graphics in Riga and elsewhere). This period saw the emergence of Ģelzis’ own style characterised by the use of collage, a labyrinth of drawing in the stylistic of Keith Haring. For the 1986 republic wide exhibition of graphics Ģelzis created a spatial installation, the triptych "The Orator" and several graphic interpretations on the theme. His 1988 "Sunset Madonna" in a similar stylistic is one of his most emotionally charged works and was later realised in both painting and graphic formats. In the mid-80s he worked together with Ojārs Pētersons, Juris Putrāms and Andris Breže to produce large-format graphics. Ģelzis has also been responsible for the graphic design of the cover of the magazine Avots ("The Source").
In 1986, 1987 and 1988 Ģelzis participated in the Art Days exhibitions, which took place in the pedestrian subway of the Riga Central railway station. During the 1987 exhibition the artist placed a video installation "Shoots" by the Vanšu bridge, which he complemented by the symbolic burning of the supergraphic work "Aggression". The 1986 Film Days saw one of the first video works by a Latvian artist: his video "The Wall" was used as an element of the artist’s performance. Ģelzis continued the theme of a wall as an ideological symbol in his video installation "Demolishing the Wall" for the exhibition "Riga – Lettische Avantgarde" (West Germany, 1988, 1989).
An important event was the exhibition in the Theatre Museum in 1988 together with Ojārs Pētersons, Andris Breže and Oļegs Tillbergs. Ģelzis’s installation for the exhibition was "Burtnieku Castle", which used motifs from Latvian folklore to draw attention to a topical theme, the need for a new library. The artist continued to employ mythological images to highlight contemporary issues in his solo exhibition "The Ark". He revealed a sarcastic, ironic streak, which was later to become a characteristic feature of his work, in the installation "Washing Day" for the 1990 exhibition "Latvia – XX Century Somersault. 1940–1990".

In the 1990s Ģelzis continued to participate in exhibitions in Latvia and abroad creating objects and installations. He drew greater attention to the aspect of materiality as well as using the symbols of mass culture and photopgraphy.

Leonards Laganovskis

At the beginning of the 80s Leonards Laganovskis worked in stage design and graphics. From 1979 he joined forces with Hardijs Lediņš and Imants Žodžiks (later NSRD) to organise their now legendary discotheques-lecture rooms "Kosmoss". They were also involved in actions such as "Transportation" – transporting specially made polystyrene figures from the town of Sigulda to Old Riga (by the Anglican church), as well as "Line in Kurzeme" and "Line in Jūrmala" where the artists rolled out a paper line in the landscape. For the 1984 thematic exhibition "Nature. Environment. Man" Lediņš, Žodžiks and Laganovskis created the installation "The Metaphysical Interior" after the motifs of a Laganovskis painting.

His paintings, graphics, photographs and objects of the late 80s were marked by themes, motifs and conceptual treatments that were also characteristic of the artists work over a longer period of time. In criticising the mechanisms of power, the artist would frame texts or images and/or exaggerate their fragments ironically paraphrasing the symbols and linguistic clichés of political power to reveal their absurdity. For example he painted the caption Filmas beigas ("End of the film") on a gray background as a comment on the sunset of the Soviet empire, or he would use the aesthetics of 1950s propaganda to stylise the phrase "The USSR – homeland of the computer" as a paraphrase on the popular saying "The USSR – homeland of elephants".

Laganovskis often uses recognisable fragments of reality and clichés, commenting on them with captions or titles. Paraphrases on the symbols and slogans of ideology caused some critics to point out this period’s closeness to Soviet "sotsart" (socialist art). On the other hand, the importance given to the interplay between text and image is reminiscent of the traits of conceptualism. His paintings of the late 80s consistently feature motifs associated with notions of power and populism such as the television screen and the podium.

In 1988 and 1989 Laganovskis participated in the first group exhibition of Latvian contemporary art abroad "Riga – Lettische Avantgarde" in West Germany. In 1990-1991 he was a joint curator of a large-scale exhibition in Riga "Interferences. The art of West Berlin 1960–1990". At the beginning of the 90s Laganovskis was mainly in Berlin working with the leading German galleries and art institutions.

Juris Putrāms

Juris Putrāms graduated from the graphics department of the Latvian Academy of Art in 1981 and in the years following he took part in many graphics and posters exhibitions including the Baltic young artists triennial in Vilnius (several times), the Baltic Poster Triennial and the Baltic Print Triennial in Tallinn. In 1984 he worked together with Zaiga Putrāma and Mārtiņš Bikše on "Object with five marked exits" for the "Nature. Environment. Man" exhibition. In 1985 he joined forces with Henrihs Vorkals, Ojārs Pētersons and Andris Breže and they began to produce large-format screen prints in the workshops of the former Kuznetsov porcelain factory.

The artist’s style becomes more distinct in the mid-80s and finds expression in large-format graphics, posters and illustrations for various periodicals. During this time his chameleon-man image became a poignant and recognisable sign of the times. Graphics from Putrāms’ Chameleon series were also used for his object "Passer-by" in the 1985 group exhibition together with Andris Breže and Ojārs Pētersons in the Gustavs Šķilters Memorial Museum. A decision by the Ministry of Culture of the Latvian SSR prevented the exhibition from opening.

Among the expressive works of supergraphics, Putrāms’ graphics and installations stand out with their emotional saturation and fragility; his images and even the titles of the works often display a frozen inner tension. Putrāms’ work has less of the irony popular with his contemporaries. In the Art Days of 1986–1988 Putrāms and his like-minded peers organised exhibitions in the pedestrian underpass of the Riga Central railway station and confronted the viewer with new art forms. In 1987 and 1988 his exhibitions in the Theatre and Foreign Art museums featured painted wooden objects (the "Periods" series) and installations ("The humiliated on the path to rebirth") alongside graphic works. At the end of the 80s the metaphors in his works are supplemented by powerful literary content. As the author says himself, "The Kamikaze-propagandist" carries a message of self-destruction, whereas "The Fire toad’s Child" tells of the birth of a new form. Precursors of these works appeared in 1988 and 1989 in large expressive paintings such as "Fire Toad", "Boat of the Dead Souls", "Pastorale with Periscope" and others. In the early 90s Putrāms continued to develop his existential and personal "border situation" motifs, which we see for example, in "The man listening to channel No. 3".

Aija Zariņa

Aija Zariņa’s painting has often been described as categorical, radical, direct, pronouncedly individual and feminist. At the end of the 80s the artist transgresses the traditional canon of painting by reducing painting to the contours of a drawing, the contrast between colours or the basic surface and she expanded painting into the space.
At the beginning of the 80s, Aija Zariņa’s canvases, landscapes and still-lifes still show the influence of the masters of modernism – Braque, Matisse, Klee and others. However, in 1986 Zariņa’s solo exhibition attracts attention and radically opposite opinions. The artist paints large format works on board, primitivising the drawing and rejecting perspective but emphasising the plane and the contours. This reduced language of painting allows her to accent the emotional background of the works, the drama of the subject and the various moods in the one series of works. Characteristic of the time, the subjects in the artist’s paintings are overlaid with motifs from mythology, existential experience, relationships, power and sexuality. These are developed as universal signs in her series of paintings "The Rape of Europa", "Destiny", "Carmen", "Processes" and others.
During the Art Days of 1987, Zariņa created a spatial object by the Vanšu Bridge marking her turn to a monumentally expressive form and her interest in three-dimensional space. Alongside the paintings on the walls in her 1989 solo exhibition in the "Arsenāls" museum, the artist also covered the exhibition hall floor with painted boards. In subsequent exhibitions by Latvian artists in West Germany, New York and Stockholm she crosses the boundaries of a painting by filling the space with paint and drawing. In the 1991 exhibition "Princess Gundega’s black room" in Riga’s Jāņa Sēta hall, Zariņa subjugates the whole space by covering it with black paper on which we see a drawing of the princess Gundega.

In 1990, together with a group of her like-minded peers and former fellow students – Ieva Iltnere, Jānis Mitrēvics, Sandra Krastiņa, Edgars Vērpe un Ģirts Muižnieks – the artist took part in the exhibition-process "Gentle Fluctuations" during which paintings were created in the exhibition hall in front of the viewers. The same year, for the exhibition "Latvia – XX Century Somersault. 1940-1990", Zariņa made an object from planks titled "The Rape of Europa" on which she painted the caption "I love you, Latvia".
In the early 90s the artist’s works show less desire to subjugate the space with the help of paint. Her paintings "fit in" with formats, becoming more fragile and paint is often applied only as the line of a drawing. This tendency is reflected in her 1993 solo exhibition "Centaur, Bird and Elephant" in the exhibition hall "Latvija".


Contemporary Art Centre.


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