• Installation view with works by Zenta Logina, “Unexpected Encounters”, organized by the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art at the Arsenals Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Museum of Art, 2019.

>> Discussion “Environmentalising Baltic Art Histories—Experience From Research and Curatorship"

The Online discussion “Environmentalising Baltic Art Histories—Experience From Research and Curatorship" took place on 2 November on Facebook.

Participants: Bart Pushaw, Inga Lace, Eda Tuulberg, Nomeda and Gediminas Urbonas, Maja and Reuben Fowkes.

Moderators: Linda Kaljundi, Ieva Astahovska.

Organised by the LCCA and Kumu Art Museum in the framework of the Second Baltic Conference on the Environmental Humanities and Social Sciences (BALTEHUMS) held online from Tallinn University.

Attempts to write and curate art histories from ecocritical and environmental perspectives appear emblematic of the contemporary art and museum scene. While these efforts are also characterised by an increasing awareness about the importance of approaching art history from global, comparative and transnational perspectives, they are also facing an already existing and well-established tradition of ecocritical art history that has been produced from the perspective of the West. The same holds true for the history of environmentalism, which has also been written and defined by the Western experiences.

This context places re-writing and re-curating ecocritical art history into the very centre of provincialising the West in global history. Deprovincialising environmental histories hidden in the peripheries of Eastern European art history can also be viewed as part of this larger project. To paraphrase Piotr Piotrowsky, we should not concentrate our attention on just simply inscribing the environmental practices and interests of the Eastern European art into the canonical frameworks of Western ecocritical art histories. Instead, we should look for the local experiences, while also revising and deconstructing the relations between the West and the East (as well as with the global South), and to take the non-Western experiences and developments seriously. This would enable to construct a more heterogeneous, pluralistic histories of environmental art, which would include the diversity of non-Western practices and entanglements between art and environment.

The discussion invites researchers and curators dealing with the Baltic region to talk about these challenges based on their own experiences of writing and curating Baltic art history from ecocritical and environmental perspectives. What are the specifics of environmental practices and ideas that reveal themselves in the histories of Baltic visual arts and culture? What transnational entanglements do these reflect, and how can rereading the Baltic art contribute to reconceptualising the global art history in a way that would challenge the Western-orientated model? How do such attempts resonate with the contemporary art and exhibition scene in the Baltic region and beyond?

This is the fifth discussion of the research and exhibition project “Reflecting Post-Socialism through Post-Colonialism in the Baltics”, organized by the Latvian Center for Contemporary Art in Riga in collaboration with Kumu Art Museum and the research project “Estonian Environmentalism in the 20th Century” (both Tallinn). The project analyses the imprints of post-socialism and post-colonialism in the Baltic region, here exploring them through the prism of environmental history and the current ecological crisis.




>> Bart Pushaw <<

Racializing Landscape as Ecocritical Art History

Discourse about the Anthropocene makes frequent use of the terms “more-than-human” and “other-than-human” to restore parity to our subjects of inquiry. To that end, the idea of race as constitutive of an ecocritical art history—how visual culture may enact a certain racialization of the landscape—might seem to be counterproductive to the aims of an environmental history of Baltic art. In my talk, I want to draw attention to how the colonial logics of race were essential to environmental discourse in the Baltic region, particularly from the eighteenth century onwards. From the Enlightenment justification of serfdom through the valorization of the peasant in the nascent interwar republics, land became intertwined with labor to a degree that determined the conditions under which Baltic nature and conservation politics appeared in visual culture. By centering race as a category of ecocritical inquiry, indigeneity—and its connections to environment—emerges as a key framework through which to understand how Baltic artists deployed nature in order to make distinctive claims about their history, heritage, and homeland.

Bart Pushaw is an art historian at the University of Copenhagen, where he works as a postdoctoral fellow with the international research project “The Art of Nordic Colonialism”. His research and curatorial work focus on the intersections of race, gender and colonialism in global modernism, with particular emphasis on the Baltic and Nordic countries.

>>Inga Lāce <<

Unexpected Encounters: Science, Technology and Nature in Soviet Latvian Artists’ Works

The presentation will closer examine some of the artists and works featured in the international exhibition “Unexpected Encounters” that took place in the “Arsenāls” Exhibition Hall of the Latvian National Museum of Art in 2019. The exhibition’s starting point was the graphic artists’ exhibition series “Science and Science Fiction” that ran from 1975 to 1982 in Riga. Now revisited and shown next to contemporary artists, as well as peers like painter and textile artist Zenta Logina, the historical exhibits reflected on the genealogy of science fiction and utopian imagination. Alongside the connection with science and technology, many of these works dealt with issues connected to environmental consequences created by technology and extractive attitude towards nature in the Soviet Union. A truly planetary scale of those issues is represented in the three-dimensional cosmos-themed abstract compositions of Zenta Logina, many of which were first exhibited only in her posthumous solo exhibition in 1987. What were the political and thematic entanglements surrounding representation of nature and ecology related issues? What does revisiting those works from the perspective of environmentalist critique mean for art and environmental histories of the region, and what–for our present and future?

Inga Lāce is currently C-MAP Central and Eastern Europe Fellow at MoMA, New York. She has been curator at the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art since 2012 and curator of the Latvian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2019 with the artist Daiga Grantiņa (co-curated with Valentinas Klimašauskas).

>> Eda Tuulberg <<

Art is Design is Art

In her presentation, Eda Tuulberg will elaborate on her last curatorial project “Art is Design is Art” (co-curator Karin Vicente) which explored the interconnections between art and design in the late Soviet period. The exhibition raised questions on how a designer’s approach and method manifested itself in conceptual artworks and how art was used to raise awareness of, and seek solutions to, design-related problems. Although these artworks were created in a very different political and economic context, the questions they evoke—who has designed the environment that surrounds us?, what role is played by everyday objects in our lives? and how do we feel in different rooms?—continue to have relevance today. One subtopic of the exhibition was the relationship between the natural and the artificial, addressing the different ways how artists started to visualise processes taking place in the surrounding environment in the 1970s. In her presentation Tuulberg will elaborate on the problematics of reading several artworks at the show through a new, ecocritical perspective.

Eda Tuulberg is an art historian based in Tallinn. She is a curator at the Kumu Art Museum and doctoral student at the Estonian Academy of Arts. Her field of research is Soviet and contemporary art, with a focus on the work of women artists and the problematics of gender issues. She is currently working on a research and curatorial project exploring the legacy of the late Soviet Estonian women graphic artists.

>> Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas <<

Amphibian Pedagogy: building climatic commons

In this contribution we will discuss some of the key concepts including Amphibian Pedagogy that unfolds in the programmatic artworks of our research-based practice. Informed by the ecological movements that fostered social and political transition this practice argues for an art agency in forging the environmental citizenship as a new form of resilience and belonging. Experimenting with diverse ecology of discursive formats such as labs, schools, learning environments and artistic production, our practice probes forms of poetic engagement with human knowledge and other forms of life. By inquiring interspecies communication and social relationships that expand human community this practice probes the usefulness of the concept “sympoiesis” as a habit of thought for the current period of environmental crisis.

Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas are artists, educators, and co-founders of the Urbonas Studio, a transdisciplinary research practice that facilitates exchange amongst diverse nodes of knowledge production and artistic practice in pursuit of projects that transform civic spaces and collective imaginaries. Urbonas have exhibited internationally at the São Paulo, Berlin, Moscow, Lyon, Gwangju, Busan, Taipei Biennales, Folkestone Triennial, Manifesta and Documenta exhibitions, including a solo show at the Venice Biennale and MACBA in Barcelona. Their book “Swamps and the New Imagination” is forthcoming in 2022 (Sternberg, MIT Press). Gediminas is Associate Professor at MIT’s Program in Art, Culture and Technology, and Nomeda is Research Affiliate at MIT.

>> Maja and Reuben Fowkes are founders of the Translocal Institute for Contemporary Art and co-directors of the Postsocialist Art Centre (PACT) at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London. They are the authors of Art and Climate Change (Thames & Hudson, 2022), Central and Eastern European Art Since 1950 (Thames & Hudson, 2020) and editors of Ilona Németh: Eastern Sugar (Sternberg Press, 2021). Their curatorial projects include the exhibition Potential Agrarianisms at Kunsthalle Bratislava, the multi-year programs of the Anthropocene Reading Room and the Danube River School, the group shows Walking without Footprints, Like a Bird and Loophole to Happiness, and a trilogy of exhibitions on the revolutions of 1956, 1968 and 1989. They have written numerous chapters and journal articles, including in the Routledge Companion to Art and Climate Change, contributed to the exhibition publications of major museums, such as Ludwig Museum for Contemporary Art Vienna, ZKM Karlsruhe and Muzeum Sztuki Lodz, and given lectures and led workshops in prominent contemporary art venues, including MoMA New York, ICA London, Whitechapel Gallery and Pérez Art Museum Miami.

>> Linda Kaljundi is a Professor of Cultural History at the Estonian Academy of Arts and a Senior Research Fellow at Tallinn University. Specialising on Baltic history, historiography and cultural memory, as well as environmental history, she is first and foremost interested in finding new, transnational and entangled perspectives on the region’s history and heritage. Kaljundi has published and edited collections on history and history writing, historical fiction and images. At the Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn, she has co-curated the exhibitions “History in Image—Image in History: The National and Transnational Past in Estonian Art” (2018), “Conqueror’s Eye: Lisa Reihana’s In Pursuit of Venus” (2019–20) and the new permanent exhibition “Landscapes of Identity: Estonian Art 1700–1945” (2021).

>> Ieva Astahovska is an art scholar, critic and curator. She works at the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, where she leads research projects related to art and culture in the socialist and post-socialist period in the Baltic states and Eastern Europe, and entanglements between post-socialist and postcolonial perspectives on this region’s history. She has curated a number of exhibitions and has edited research-based publications, including “Valdis Āboliņš. The Avant-Garde, Mailart, the New Left, and Cultural Relations during the Cold War” (Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, 2019).

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