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Interview with Solvita Krese, LCCA Director and founder and creative director of the Survival Kit

Once again this year, in September, the remarkable cultural event Survival Kit is set to captivate Riga. It started as a response to economic challenges and has grown into a yearly celebration of contemporary art. This event transforms vacant buildings into art spaces, inviting artists from around the world to share their perspectives on modern society.

In this blog post, we'll take you behind the scenes of Survival Kit 14. We'll dive into the curator's choices, the themes explored, and the venues that play a pivotal role in bringing this event to life.

Could you provide some insight into the origins and inspiration behind the Survival Kit exhibition? How has it evolved since its inception in 2009?

When we experienced the economic crisis in the first decade of the 2000s, the budget of the cultural sector was cut and many vacant storefronts - shops, cafés and other businesses that had not survived the crisis - appeared in Riga. The Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art came up with a spontaneous idea - to fill this void with creative energy, with exhibitions. Our plan was not to create a festival, at first it was just a reaction to the economic and social situation in the country and the world.

But the idea appealed to artists and visitors alike. We received suggestions from all sides to organise something similar again and again. So Survival Kit became a festival and, now I would like to say, a tradition, because in September our visitors are looking forward to it - both from Riga and from other Latvian cities and from abroad.

And here we are - this is the 14th festival. It has grown in every sense over the years. At the beginning, it was just a week-long programme of events. Now we are open for a month. We've worked with emerging artists and with the greats of the contemporary art world. We have curators who are world-class professionals and this year we have opened up an international perspective by working closely with the 14th Kaunas Biennial. Survival Kit is not only a festival, but for us at the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art it is also a constant process of growing and learning.

Jeanne Kamptchouang, “Abattis (Giblets)”. Installation with chairs, 2019

Each year, the festival explores different themes related to survival and alternative scenarios. How does the team come up with these themes, and what kind of brainstorming or research is involved in their selection?

Yes, the theme of the festival's exhibitions and public programme is always about how to survive, how to adapt, how to prepare for the future and what are the possible future scenarios in general. We have asked ourselves many times: is this topic still relevant? But life and world events show that yes - it is changing, but it is still relevant.

This year, the festival's central exhibition, Long-distance Friendships, addresses these very questions - by exploring the past, the curators and artists try to get to answers about the future. The idea for the exhibition stems from the processes of the emergence, maintenance and disappearance of international historical ties in the 1960s and 1970s, when the Soviet Union and other socialist bloc countries purposefully cooperated with countries in Africa, both by participating in their decolonisation and by attempting to colonise them from their own side and imposing socialist ideology on them - from economic and military aid to educational and cultural exchange programmes. In exploring these processes, the show's curators, Inga Lāce and Alicia Knock, asked the question: in the era of geopolitical fragmentation that we are living in today, is it possible to build and sustain international alliances based on friendship and solidarity rather than power and market dynamics? This, too, is most directly linked to survival and adaptability.

Anda Lāce, “Caterpillar Crawling”, Installation, performance, 2023

Can you describe the creative process behind arriving at this theme “Long-distance Friendships”?

Curators Inga Lāce and Alicia Knock have emphasised to us that from their point of view it is not even a theme, but a description of their creative process, because friendship is at the heart of everything they do. They work dynamically - travelling a lot, researching, talking and also befriending artists, and it is in these friendships that this exhibition was created. This distance is also a transnational dimension, which we in Riga are embracing in our exhibition, as well as the twinning biennial in Kaunas, and the Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Art in Slovenia, where our curators are part of the curatorial team that is putting the biennial together. The exhibition shows the complexity of friendship, its diversity. And at the same time, historical experiences - both national histories and micro-histories, in which international political developments are reflected in the everyday lives of ordinary people - in student exchange programmes, the organisation of artists' exhibitions and other seemingly mundane, but at the time ideologically charged and power-controlled processes. And in these relations between countries and people across time and space, the threads of long-distance encounters, break-ups and friendships are reflected.

Inga Erdmane, “Imprints”. Photography, print on dibond, text, archival materials (photography), video: 1h 46 min 51 sec, 2023

Can you provide more information about the challenges and benefits of using vacant buildings as exhibition spaces, particularly in the context of Riga's urban landscape?

Since we started the festival in empty spaces, this has become our signature - we are constantly following the development of the city, observing and trying to guess which spaces and buildings have the potential to become cultural spaces. In this sense, we also aim to be involved in cultural policy-making, to offer the city our vision for the occupation of empty buildings. Of course, the challenge is often the infrastructure in the buildings, which is not always adapted to art events and cultural activities

After the Survival Kit festival, the buildings we have been using have indeed been transformed into venues for cultural events, for example, the former Faculty of Biology on Kronvalda Boulevard, which now houses several departments of the Art Academy of Latvia; the New Riga Theatre is making a temporary home in the Tobacco Factory; and Zeļļu Street, where one of the faculties of the University of Latvia used to be, is now home to a theatre and a circus school.

Adéla Součková, “One for Birth, two for a Place, three for Struggle, four for Shape, five for Leisure, six for Pleasure, seven for Death”. Installation, 2017–2023

What were the factors that made the Vidzeme Market space appealing for Survival Kit? How do you hope to see Vidzeme Market being used in the future, especially considering Riga's abundance of such spaces?

The market has always been a place and a space not only for trade, but also for encounters, exchanges of experiences and ideas, and both exhibitions - Long-Distance friendships and The Artist is Present - and the public programme of the festival are really about encounters - between people, communities, generations. This Vidzeme Market Pavilion belongs to the City of Riga, which plans to turn it into a cultural space, but at the same time to preserve its market function. Metaphorically, the market is also in line with the theme of relations between Eastern Europe and Africa. When buying exotic fruit at the market, few people think about the growers several thousand kilometres away. When thinking about our public programme, which this year is working with different communities, it is important to bear in mind that the market is a place where all kinds of people meet and lives, which often run parallel in everyday life, intersect at the market.

We sincerely hope that Survival Kit 14 at the market will be a good stimulus for the future development of this place. We feel supported by both the city and the market operators, and they are also interested in seeing how art and the market interact. The exhibitions have only been running for a short while, but we are already seeing that visitors are also looking for traders and shopping locally after they have seen it, which is important because it encourages us to support local producers and traders.

Angela Ferreira, “Klucis goes to Algeria”. Installation with sound, 2023 and Šejla Kamerić, “Frei, Letters from the Frontiers, Nostradamus on the Market, Behind the Scenes”. 2004–2023

What was the most exciting part of making this year's Survival Kit 14?

The process and the teamwork from the idea to the launch event. I am really proud that the team of the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art is able to organise and produce an event of this scale, and every year. So the production of the festival is always the most exciting part of our work.

This year's contemporary art festival Survival Kit 14 will feature two exhibitions – the festival's central exhibition Long-distance Friendships, curated by Inga Lāce and Alicia Knock, and the final exhibition of the inspiring project The Artist is Present. The event is happening from September 7th to October 8th, 2023 at Vidzeme Market (Brivibas street 90, Riga).

Don't miss the opportunity to experience this unique event!

Questions answered by Solvita Krese, LCCA Director and founder and creative director of the Survival Kit festival.

Photos by: Andrejs Strokins


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