VISIONARY STRUCTURES: from Ioganson to Johansons

This interview with Ieva Astahovska, curator of the exhibition Visionary Structures: From Ioganson to Johansons was originally published by Government Gazette here (16.03.15)

As Latvia assumes the 2015 rotating EU Presidency, the Bozar Expo gallery in Brussels is showcasing some evolving structures of a very different nature. In collaboration with the Latvian National Museum of Art, Visionary Structures presents the spatial constructions and futuristic technologies of the Latvian avant-garde. The exhibition is coming to Brussels after a stint in the Riga 2014 European Capital of Culture programme. The exhibition spans the 20th and 21st centuries and features the works of seven Latvian artists; Karl Iognason, Gustav Klucis, Valdis Celms, Jānis Krievs, Artūrs Riņķis, Gints Gabrāns and Voldemārs Johansons. The exhibition offers a exploration of utopia, perceptions of artistic reality and the common currents between the generations of the avant-garde. It is also a reminder of the importance of the sometimes maligned Lativan element of the Soviet avant-garde.

Gustavs Klucis Oppressed Peoples of the Whole World (...) (1924)  Latvian National Museum of Art
Gustavs Klucis
Oppressed Peoples of the Whole World (…) (1924)
Latvian National Museum of Art

One of the key themes, as curator Ieva Astahovka outlines, ‘is the relation between imagination and reality, and how artists from different generations imagine these ‘possible worlds’. This imagination, or visionary thinking, is driven by the linkage of art, technology and science, the socio-political context, the subjective and collective perception. With each generation this vision transforms quite radically. For the Constructivists, Gustavs Klucis and  Kārlis Johansons, this is the utopia of the new world with idealistic structures; in the art works of the 1970s these are creative explorations in the framework of “technical aesthetics” and in contemporary works these are complex structures of the micro-worlds, allowing us to see the phenomena which normally are not visible to us.’

Valdis Celms, Architectural proposal Kinetic light object ‘Balloon’ (1978), Collection of the Latvian Artists' Union
Valdis Celms,
Architectural proposal Kinetic light object ‘Balloon’ (1978), Collection of the Latvian Artists’ Union

The exhibition spans a wide chronology, featuring the work of artists belonging to significantly different generations and eras.  So what can the Constructivists Gustavs Klucis and Kārlis Johansons possibly have in common with postmodern artists? For Astahovska, the dialogue between the artists is indirect, but connections undoubtedly exist. Separated by time, they are also divided by perceptions of utopia and reality.

The early avant-garde was galvanised by the possibility of new, ideal worlds different from the existing one. The driving force of Klucis and Johansons was the political realisation of revolutionary art. However, ‘in the 70s, one can still see the traces of utopia but in rather an escapist, poetic or in some cases ironic manner. Artists propose heterotopic visions, embodying poetic escapism rather than a socially or politically active position. Today’s artists are not imagining utopias anymore; they are fascinated by the possibilities of exploring reality itself’.

A striking difference hence emerges in the level of politicisation within the art works. In the works of Constructivists Gustavs Klucis in particular, as Astahovska elucidates, ‘there are political images, symbols and messages of Communist ideology, which manifest the desire of building a new state. In contrast, the works from the 70s are completely apolitical. But this erasure of ideology shows the mismatch between Soviet rhetoric and real life in the 60s, 70s and 80s. These works are still embedded in the socialist and cold war circumstances with their ideals of technical aesthetics and science-fiction esque imagination’.

This exhibition exposes the power of utopianism and idealism within the avant-garde enduring across generations, while responding to differing socio-political stimuli. Its curator Ieva Astahovka has skilfully explored the complex nature of these connections. Sustaining itself through time and space, the dialogue between avant-garde artists over new visionary structures and new (im)possible worlds remains perennially captivating.

Visionary Structures runs from 13th February to 31st May 2015 at Bozar Expo, Brussels. 

Arturs Rinkis (1942) Still from the video film - kinetic painting EMU. 1978. Courtesy of the artist
Arturs Rinkis (1942) Still from the video film – kinetic painting EMU. 1978. Courtesy of the artist
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