Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art
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The Summer School of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary titled “Communicating Difficult Pasts”, 2 – 7 August, 2019, gathered young artists, researchers and curators from the Baltic region and other European countries. The focus of the summer school was how violent pasts remain with us and how contemporary artistic research and curatorial projects have found ways to mediate their different dimensions. How do we start communicating about sensitive pasts when in public discourse they are covered by silence? What tactics can shift conversations when exclusive and selective memories are used as the only relevant departure points? In which ways can competing traumas be overcome in the Baltic region? Moreover, we asked the questions about the future of difficult memories and the role of digital technologies. The chance and challenge of this summer school was its comparative gaze and the opportunity to think through how frameworks and concepts translated from different contexts can help us deal with local erasures and help complicate the narratives of history. 

The programme of the summer school included workshops and talks, led by distinguished thinkers and experts in the fields of visual art, cultural history and theory, as well as memory, feminist and LGBTQ+ studies. The speakers included Ilya Lensky, Director of the Museum ‘Jews in Latvia’, Adi Kunstman, Senior Lecturer from the Manchester Metropolitan University, Violeta Davoliūtė, Professor at Vilnius University Institute of International Relations and Political Science, and artists Harri Pälviranta, Máret Ánne Sara, Kristina Norman, Jūratė Samulionytė and Vilma Samulionytė. The curators of the Summer School programme were Ieva Astahovska and Margaret Tali.

The summer school program started on Friday 2 August with the workshop / guided tour by Ilya Lensky Mapping the (Post-)Jewish Space of Kuldīga. During this tour participants not only visited the surviving Jewish sites, but also discussed the processes behind forgetting and remembering the Jewish community in this town. 

On Saturday 3 August Adi Kuntsman in her talk Seeing the Unseen, Researching the Unspeakable, Imagining the Unimaginable explored the conceptual, methodological and political dilemmas of researching difficult pasts and contested or culturally or politically ‘illegitimate’ memories. Her talk focused on the contexts of silence, on the one hand, and violence, on the other, where the distinctions between ‘heroes’ and ‘enemies’, ‘witnesses’ and ‘gatekeepers’ and ‘victims’ and ‘perpetrators’ can be blurred or reversed. 

On Sunday 4 August Sámi artist and writer Máret Ánne Sara talked about her work Pile o´Sápmi that aims to raise awareness and carry critical debates on indigenous rights. Her work was an installation of 200 raw reindeer heads, installed outside Inner Finnmark District Court in February 2016, as her younger brother Jovsset Ante Sara brought a case against the Norwegian government and the enforced culling of reindeer. The case sets an important precedent in terms of indigenous rights in Norway. 

On the evening of 4 August as part of public programme the screening of the documentary film Liebe Oma, Guten Tag! (What We Leave Behind) was held. It is a film, made from a need to talk of unspoken topics, to look for answers and hopefully to break taboos: two sisters from Lithuania, a filmmaker and a photographer Jūratė Samulionytė and Vilma Samulionytė, take a journey through their German grandmother’s past, which is full of unanswered questions. 

On Monday 5 August Violeta Davoliūtė analyzed the history of Lithuanian and Jewish deportations and their defaults in a talk Multidirectional Memory. Her talk explored how the ‘competition’ of traumatic memories can be addressed through the recollection of the forgotten life stories and the specific contribution of women’s testimonies. 

On Tuesday 6 August the workshop by artist Harri Pälviranta Artists in Controversy: Documentary Practice and its Ethical Challenges focused on the artist’s ethical ponderings at the event of photography in its totality; in planning, contextualising, the actual act of photographing, post-production, marketing, exhibiting and all that is included in these phases and everything that follows them. 

On Wednesday 7 August artist Kristina Norman contextualised her latest project, documentary performance titled Lighter Than Woman, in relation to her earlier work and talked about the themes and artistic strategies that recur in variations throughout her artistic practice. While being particularly interested in different aspects of personal and collective memory, she is devoted to exploring the Post-Soviet condition and migrant identities.

Summer School team

Curators: Ieva Astahovska, Margaret Tali

Project manager: Margarita Ogoļceva

Assistant: Julie Bernadac

Visual identity and design: Alexey Murashko 

Photographer: Margarita Ogoļceva

Special thanks to: Ilze Supe, Juta Kasakovska, Antra Priede

The Summer School 2019 of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art was held in cooperation with Kuldīga Artist Residency, the Art Academy of Latvia and the Estonian Academy of Arts. The project was supported by the State Culture Capital Foundation, Kuldīga District Council, The Nordic-Baltic Mobility Programme for Culture and Cultural Endowment of Estonia.