• Irbene Radio Telescope RT-32. Acoustic Space Laboratory (2001/2021). Rasa Šmite, Raitis Šmits, still from the upcoming VR artwork

On 7 October at 6 pm (EEST), Online discussion “Working with the Post-Cold War Heritages in the Baltics and Beyond”

Welcome to the discussion “Working with the Post-Cold War Heritages in the Baltics and Beyond” that will take place on 7 October at 6 pm EEST

Participants: Eglė Rindzevičiūtė, Hilkka Hiiop, Kati Lindström, Raitis Šmits, Linara Dovydaitytė, Ele Carpenter.

Moderators: Ieva Astahovska, Linda Kaljundi.

 Watch the presentations of the discussion here.

The visible traces of the Soviet period in the Baltic landscapes include diverse and numerous technologically political infrastructures. Remnants of abandoned, collapsed or destroyed military buildings and infrastructures, or both unusual as well as the environmentally problematic objects like the formely secret radio telescope in Irbene, Western Latvia, or the Ignalina Nuclear Reactor in Lithuania, have remained in these landscapes as relics of Soviet power. Sometimes referred to as Cold War or dissonant heritage, it not only comments on the complex colonial relations between the Soviet center and the peripheries, but also requires thinking about how to reduce the continuing degrading effect these objects have on the environment and ecosystems.

Nowadays, with the focus on the Anthropocene, planetary care and decolonisation, suggestions prevail on how to transform, rather than to ignore or erase, this heritage. How might we find new strategies for its use, adapting it to today’s technological, social and cultural contexts. How can we make it usable for local, national and international communities and contexts? These issues are addressed not only from the perspectives of such fields as geography, tourism, history and environmental and technology studies, they are also reflected through contemporary heritage conservation and art.

This is the fourth discussion of the research and exhibition project “Reflecting Post-Socialism through Post-Colonialism in the Baltics,” organised 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.




Eglė Rindzevičiūtė

Heritage and Predictability

In my contribution I want to address what can be described as the politics of futurity of infrastructures in the Baltic states. During the last two centuries (at least), the societies of the three Baltic states experienced a series of radical political and social changes as they were transformed from colonial hinterlands to modern nation states (celebrating their centennials this year), to become state socialist republics for a half century, before turning to liberal democracy. However, a closer look at the development of Baltic infrastructure tells a no-less dramatic story, where functional systems of biosphere, energy, logistics and information were assembled and disassembled by different governmental regimes, with all these assemblages leaving a scarred social tissue behind.

Infrastructures are about the future: they can be understood as a claim on what the future might hold, a claim that unfolds its meaning and materiality only incrementally, draining the presence of some options, while paving firmly—in a literal sense—pathways for others. The futures of infrastructure, I propose, can be understood as a powered affair, where power is fundamentally dispersed, plural and where no single actor has an upper hand. This does not make infrastructure futures more or less democratic—rather, one may say that infrastructures have their own kind of politics, one that demands the abolishment of a human-centered view as well as the rejection of the notions of causality and linear control.

Dr Eglė Rindzevičiūtė is an Associate Professor at the Department of Criminology and Sociology, Kingston University London, the UK. She is the author of The Power of Systems: How Policy Sciences Opened Up the Cold War World (Cornell University Press, 2016). Her next book in progress is entitled The Will to Predict: Orchestrating the Future. Dr Rindzevičiūtė is the Principal Investigator in two research projects funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council: “Nuclear Cultural Heritage: From Knowledge to Practice” (2018–21) and “Nuclear Spaces: Communities, Locations and Materialities of Nuclear Cultural Heritage (NuSPACES)” (2021–24, funded as part of the European Union’s Joint Programming Initiative for Cultural Heritage).

Kati Lindström

The Coastal Landscapes of the Cold War, East and West of the Baltic Sea

The present talk will introduce the research of the Cold War Coasts project that studies landscapes around the coastal military infrastructure in Estonia, Sweden and Latvia. Part of our mission is to look at the transnational co-production of landscapes where the Cold War sites on both sides of the Baltic are seen as two sides of the same coin, a part of the historical process of becoming where one side of the Iron Curtain influenced the other. We also look at the way locals negotiated everyday life around the military installations. While our research is far from concluded, we can say that the borders between East and West, military and civilian, nature and humans, pollution and conservation, as well as liberty and oppression, are much more fluid than implied by emotional discourses around the military heritage. Locals and military personnel negotiated all these boundaries constantly in their everyday practices. Ritual violation of the military-civilian boundaries in order to access military environments was an important part of the bicycle tours organised by the Estonian Greens at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. Given how loaded the Cold War history is for many, we believe that by making these fuzzy borders and trespassing practices visible, we can build a more inclusive history and heritage around the sites.

Dr Kati Lindström is a researcher at the Department of History of Science, Technology and Environment at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden) and KAJAK, the Estonian Centre for Environmental History at the University of Tallinn (Estonia). She is presenting some of the discussions on behalf of a research team consisting of Kadri Tüür, Kaarel Vanamölder, Tambet Muide, Denis Jatsenko, Per Högselius, Anna Storm and Kristine Krumberga. Materials have been collected by many, although the errors and and generalisations are Kati’s own, based on her previous work on heritage, semiotics and environmental history in Japan, Antarctica and Estonia.

Hilkka Hiiop

Difficult Stories of a Difficult Legacy: Research, Problems and Solutions in Conserving Art from within the Soviet Armed Forces

There were numerous objects of monumental art in the closed territories of military units that were stationed in the Estonian SSR. According to a rough estimate, 7% of the approximately 2,000 different monumental works from military territories have survived to this day. Examples of this numerous but little-known and little-valued phenomenon have survived mostly in outlying locations, two of which—murals painted of marines on Naissaar Island and Suurpea military training ground near Hara Bay—have now been partially conserved.

The restoration work conducted in 2017 to 2020 was the first attempt to raise awareness of this type of fragile heritage in Estonia. Art that is internal to the Soviet armed forces has not knowingly been preserved before, since it is a kind of heritage that is technically complex and ideologically disagreeable. At the same time, the legacy of foreign occupations is a part of our history, without which it is not possible to appreciate the recent past of Estonia as a whole. The contradictory and complicated status of Soviet military art provides the reason for considering its broader context and the places where it is found, as well as asking: If? For whom? And why?

Dr Hilkka Hiiop is Professor at the Estonian Academy of Art, Department of Cultural Heritage and Conservation. Her PhD thesis treated the conservation management of contemporary art. She has studied and worked as a conservator in Berlin, Amsterdam and Rome, supervised a number of conservation and technical investigation projects in Estonia, curated exhibitions and conducted scientific research on conservation and technical art history.

Raitis Šmits

Deep Sensing. The Ecology of Post-Soviet Military Industries

In 2001, the RT-32 radio telescope in Irbene, Western Latvia, hosted the legendary symposium on radio astronomy and sound art: “RT-32 Acoustic Space Lab.” At that time, only a few years had passed since scientists and society had learned of the existence of this secret object. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the withdrawal of its military forces from Latvia in 1994, this object was given to scientists. The gigantic 32-meter antenna was designed to receive signals from the air and depths of space and was once used for both spying and interception of artificial satellite signals.

Twenty years later, returning to the Irbene radio telescope—which now functions as Ventspils International Radio Astronomy Center, home to scientific research into deep space exploration and now open to tourists—we are launching a new art research project titled “Deep Sensing,” which focuses on socio-ecological issues. How has this isolated object of communication and the legacy of the secret Soviet military industry changed today, when some of the most urgent issues are the challenges posed by climate change and the pandemic? In “Deep Sensing,” we use new sensory perception technologies, immersive media and aesthetic practices to take a critical look at the tools of modern civilisation as a glorification of the fulfillment of intellect, imagination and desire, isolated from our sensory world, bodily experience and environment to create new visions for the future in a socio-ecological direction.

Dr Raitis Šmits is a Riga-based artist and curator. He is co-founder and artistic director of RIXC Center for New Media Culture, curator of its annual festivals and exhibitions and an editor of Acoustic Space, a peer-reviewed publication series. He is an Assistant Professor at the Latvian Academy of Arts, Visual Communication Department. In his artistic practice since the mid-1990s, he has been working together with artist Rasa Šmite at the intersection of art, science and emerging media. Their art works are long-lasting, process-based, experimental, often collaborative, networked and visionary.

Dr Linara Dovydaitytė is an Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Criticism at the Faculty of Arts, Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. Her current research interests include memory culture and museum studies, nuclear aesthetics in art and representations of industrial heritage in contemporary culture. Her recent publications include co-authored monographs: Communicating Culture: Institutions, Strategies, Audiences (VMU Press, 2015, in Lithuanian) and Learning the Nuclear: Educational Tourism in (Post)Industrial Sites (Peter Lang, 2021). Since 2021, she has been involved in two international projects: “Nuclear Spaces: Communities, Materialities and Locations of Nuclear Cultural Heritage” and “Practices and Challenges of Mnemonic Pluralism in Baltic History Museums.”

Dr Ele Carpenter is Curator of the Nuclear Culture project and convenor of the Nuclear Culture Research Group. Her curatorial research investigates nuclear aesthetics through commissioning new artwork, publishing, curating exhibitions, site visits and roundtable discussions in partnership with arts organisations and nuclear agencies. Ele Carpenter is Professor in Interdisciplinary Art & Culture at Umeå University, Sweden, and Visiting Research Fellow, Institute of the Arts, University of Cumbria. Recent curated exhibitions and roundtable discussions include: 'Splitting the Atom' CAC Vilnius, Lithuania (2020), ‘Perpetual Uncertainty’ Malmö Konstmuseum, Sweden (2018), Z33 House of Contemporary Art, Hasselt, Belgium (2017), Bildmuseet, Umeå University, Sweden (2016 / 2017); ‘Material Nuclear Culture’ KARST, Plymouth, UK (2016). Ele is editor of The Nuclear Culture Source Book (2016) available from Bildmuseet, Sweden.

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).

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).

The project is supported by the State Culture Capital Foundation.

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