Riga’s First Art Biennial Aims to ‘Take Root and Make Roots’ in the Latvian Capital

Running until October 28, the first-ever Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art will take over various spaces throughout the Latvian capital.

2018 Riga International Biennial Contemporary Art
The Agency of Singular Investigations’s (ASI) The Flower Power Archive (2018), Multimedia installation detail. Courtesy the artist

Another art biennial joins the international cultural calendar this month, this time in Riga, the capital city of Latvia. Having curated eight others, the biennial’s chief curator, Katerina Gregos, is well aware of the criticism surrounding such events—their tendency, for example, to speak to a global audience rather than engaging the local context. But at least in this regard, the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (RIBOCA) aims to be different.

“Rather than parachuting in from the outside, it’s based on a working process that starts from the local, expanding to the national and the regional, and finally to the transnational,” Gregos says.

Crucial to this approach is a dialogue with the city’s built fabric, which bears the traces of a tumultuous past that includes successive waves of German, Swedish, Russian, and Soviet rule. The months-long biennial makes use of several buildings that embody slices of the city’s history. Among them: a former university faculty, which was among the region’s most advanced centers of scientific research at the turn of the last century; a pre–World War I apartment building that overlooks the main city square; and warehouses in its port, which held significance for the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union.

In turn, many artworks grapple with the city’s history: “Eurotique,” an installation by German artist Henrike Naumann, looks at Eiroremonts (“Euro-repair” in English), a local style of interior renovation that was popular in the 1990s and is said to reflect the era’s appreciation for Western European aesthetics. Meanwhile, a thrice-weekly guided tour of Riga explores sites and events that contributed to Latvia’s periods of national awakening.

“The biennial aims to take root and make roots in the place where it is situated,” says Gregos. “This is a long-term process, but RIBOCA1 is taking the first steps.”

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