Reading Workshops

In collaboration with Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art
Curators Ieva Astahovska and Zane Zajančkauska

#1 Reading Workshop
28. 05. 2018.
Contemporaneity landmarks in the art of today

Contemporary art today can be characterized by a controversial state of affairs – on the one hand, its openness to social and political reality, democratic, educational practices oriented towards changing the social reality we live in; on the other hand – its inability to change the matters of concern outside the autonomous zone of art, a zone that can also neutralize problems, conflicts or weaken social engagement. This ambivalence – the involvement of art in matters of public interest, political or environmental criticism, at the same time coexisting with the radically different neoliberal reality, raise questions concerning both ethics and aesthetics.


Keti Chukhrov, “On the False Democracy of Contemporary Art”. E-flux Journal #57. September 2014.

Pascal Gielen, “The Biennial a Post-Institution for Immaterial Labour”. Open, No.16. Art Biennial as a Global Phenomenon. Strategies in Neo-Political Times. Ed. Jorinde Seijdelthe. 2009, pp. 8–17.

*  *  *

#2 Reading Workshop
20. 06. 2018.

Crisis in the European vision. A view from Central and Eastern Europe

After the end of the Cold War, the liberal democracy model seemed to be the only "normal" system: the West, which lacked any serious opponents, tried to reform the rest of the world. The "rest", on its part, imitated the West in its economic, social and everyday life. Yet the vision of western civilization as the natural order of the modern world is disintegrating before our very eyes: Brexit, the election of extreme nationalist and populist governments in several European countries are but a couple of examples that support this observation. The migration crisis has also damaged the European vision of the world whose borders are open: instead, we are experiencing a clash of solidarities and readiness to restore walls in the same places where they were dismantled three decades ago.


Ivan Krastev, “The Unraveling of the Post-1989 Order”. Journal of Democracy. October 2016, Volume 27, Number 4, pp. 5–15.

Magdalena Moskalewicz, “Vanguard of the Future: Mobility, Nationalism and the Postsocialist Condition”. The Travellers: Voyage and Migration in New Art from Central and Eastern Europe. Ed. M. Moskalewicz. 2018, pp. 132–164.

*  *  *

#3 Reading Workshop
04. 07. 2018.

Anthropocene: the change of perspective and search for new alliances

The Anthropocene is said to be the era in which human impact or rather – an impact of certain forms of human existence - has become so forceful that we are seeing shifting seas, changes in climate and the disappearance of innumerable species. The global nature of climate change, capital, toxicity have motivated theoreticians across fields to search for new disciplinary combinations and alliances that are necessary for a world in which humans and nonhumans alike thrive. Anthropocene has meant also a radical change in the conditions of visuality and the transformation of the world into images. How do images now participate in the forming of worlds? How do images become forms of thought constituting a new kind of knowledge?


Elizabeth A. Povinelli, “Geontologies: The Figures and the Tactics”. E-flux Journal #78 — December 2016.

Irmgard Emmelheinz, “Images Do Not Show: The Desire to See in the Anthropocene”. Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies. Ed. H. Davis and E.Turpin, 2015, p.131-142.

*  *  *

#4 Reading Workshop
25. 07. 2018.

Sensory as the aesthetic: the experience of senses and perceptions in art

Visual experience has the dominant role in art. Yet in contemporary art many other sensory experiences – scent, taste, sound, touch etc. – are becoming increasingly important and working synesthetically. In this context, the “sensual turn” or “sensual return” are often mentioned, highlighting various senses and sensory perception as part of the experience of art and emphasizing their role in actively contributing to meaning. As W. J. T. Mitchell wrote, this alternative approach to the conventional differentiation between rationalism and sensualism invites a critical review of our “sensory hygiene”, which has fetishized visuality as a goal in art as well as of the general validity of the notion of visual culture.


Patrizia Di Bello and Gabriel Koureas, “Introduction. Other than the Visual”. Art, History and the Senses. 1830 to the Present. 2010, p. 1–17.

Caroline A. Jones, “Sensorium: New media complexities for embodied experience”. Parachute, 2006, No 121, pp. 81–97.

*  *  *

#5 Reading Workshop
15. 08. 2018.

Feminism as everyday strategies

Having announced itself vociferously in the 1970s, the feminist movement in recent years seems to be more vibrant than in the previous decades. It is most obvious through feminist protests in different countries throughout the world where the participants insist on the reproductive and economic rights of women or begin to voice problems, which have been kept silent before, achieving considerable response. Feminists insist that in the various aspects of political, social, economic and cultural life, substantial changes are necessary in order to change the hitherto existing normative system, which is still largely based on gender issues. Polish philosopher and feminist Ewa Majewska notes that “there was to be a revolution, but there was not. And this is not a failure, but it does reveal weaknesses. It proves that patriarchal, heteronormative habits cultivated over centuries, generously backed by religious myths, silence, and economic domination over women, have not evaporated.”
Feminism is therefore not a one-sided position even today: it is still being formed, including different requirements and choices.


Ewa Majewska, “Feminism Will Not Be Televised”. E-flux Journal #92, June 2018.

Silvia Federici, “Feminism and the Politics of the Common in and Era of Primitive Accumulation”. The Commoner, 2011.

*  *  *

#6 Reading Workshop
30. 08. 2018.

Populism and artistic tactics

Either nationalist right-wing or left-wing populism no longer characterizes some particular political position or ideology. Just the opposite: populism flexes its power at the confluence of different, seemingly opposite political forces and manipulates with a constructed image of the majority of society. The question about the relationship between art and populism is also topical: populist tendencies are also evident in both critical works and those reflecting reality in uncritical ways.
Similar worries relate to the truthfulness of information in today’s media environment when news often becomes its own surrogate and it becomes ever more difficult to distinguish truthful information from manipulated facts. In this regard art, which functions as a reflection of reality different from that of mass media, becomes ever more important in grasping reality. It poses questions about the topicality of individual social political issues and also motivates viewers themselves to ask questions instead of uncritically accepting the presented information, which is often manipulated. Art becomes an extension of the media – not just an aesthetic experience but a way of exploring the world.


Marco Baravalle, “Art Populism and the Alter-Institutional Turn”. E-flux Journal #89, March 2018.

Alfredo Cramerotti, “WHAT is Aesthetic Journalism?”. Aesthetic Journalism: How to Inform Without Informing, Chicago: Intellect, The University of Chicago Press, 2009, pp. 20–34.

*  *  *

#7 Reading Workshop
12. 09. 2018.

Chronological systems between future, past and historical memory

Chronotope, the time-space relationship is one of the fundamental structures of culture. It could be metaphorically described as the thermometer of culture. The time of cultures embedded in tradition is often characterised as cyclical, where as contemporary culture is described as elapsing lineary which explains the feeling of acceleration we all are experiencing. Science fiction, inspired by relativity theory and quantum mechanics has come up with many other inventive possibilities for the course of time and first of all for the altering of it. American science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin presents in the “The Shobies’ Story” one of such possibilities, which intermingles traditional storytelling - the essential method of every creation myth - with problems science will presumably face in the future when trying to breech the speed of light. But as Le Guin says herself: science fiction is just a metaphor for the present. This becomes apparent in Pierre Nora's article "Between Memory and History", where the French historian argues, that the emergence of historiography, the history of history is proof for a gap that has developed between the memory that used to carry our collective values and the new consciousness of the historicized memory that is set out to archive everything rather than to remember what’s important.


Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Shobies’ Story”. A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. Harper Prism. 1994.

Pierre Nora, "Between Memory and History". Les Lieux de Mémoire. Representations, Vol. 26 Spring, 1989, pp. 7-24.

* * *

#8 Reading Workshop
27. 09. 2018.

Participation and the relational antagonism in art

A whole variety of issues regarding contemporary reality – related to the economy, civil rights, climate change, etc. – require public involvement. The American writer Rebecca Solnit sees hope in this – not a naïve belief that everything will be better in the future but a broader perspective, based on critical thinking, which lets us see possibilities that require action. Change can be brought about not only by social activists but also artists, writers, scientists, public intellectuals and social media by making particular problems visible and public – a first step in the direction of change.
Participation, involvement, exchange, communal and cooperative practices in art are related to the so-called aesthetic turning point. Its most influential approaches are the “aesthetic of relationships” defined by Nicolas Bourriaud where, instead of making objects, art creates a social ‘interspace’ and ‘relational antagonism’ analyzed by Claire Bishop, which chooses confrontation as its tactic. Both of these put aesthetic values in the foreground where social, political, ethical and aesthetic aspects interact in complex ways.


Rebecca Solnit, “Hope is an Embrace of the Unknown”. Hope in the Dark. Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities. 2016.

Jason Miller, “Activism vs. Antagonism: Socially Engaged Art from Bourriaud to Bishop and Beyond”. FIELD: A Journal of Socially-Engaged Art Criticism. Issue 3, Winter 2016.

*  *  *

#9 Reading Workshop
24. 10. 2018.

The turning-point of visible and invisible images

In the analysis of art and visual culture, references are often made to the so-called pictorial turn, which highlights the role of the visual in today’s social reality. According to W. J. T. Mitchell, images have power; they become involved in ideological manipulations. Explaining how they exercise that power, he invites to pose the question not what images do but what they want, because what images want is not at all what they express or the effect they create.

But today we can talk about a new pictorial turn: they no longer represent but affect our everyday life, they watch us and direct our actions, says the artist Trevor Paglen. Created and perceived mechanically, through the applications of digital technologies, images allow the visible reality to be automated on an unprecedented scale. Today’s world is cluttered with invisible visual culture and mechanically produced images: from police cars to buildings, bridges, highways; in shopping-centres, advertisements, industry etc. Posting images in social media feeds the massive system of artificial intelligence and produces information about how people can be identified and how places, objects, habits etc., etc. can be recognized. Since the mechanized image actions do not depend on the subject of human vision, it is more difficult to recognize them for what they are: powerful gears for social regulation that serve the powers that be and are used to control our everyday lives.


W. J. T. Mitchell, "What Do Pictures Want?”. What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images. 2005. The University of Chicago Press. 2005, pp. 28–48.

Trevor Paglen, “Invisible Images (Your Pictures Are Looking at You)”. The New Inquiry. 2016

Read more