Critics’ Picks

Voldemārs Matvejs, Grave pole. Nanai people, Amur Region, Russia, 1913, photograph from the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, St. Petersburg.

Voldemārs Matvejs, Grave pole. Nanai people, Amur Region, Russia, 1913, photograph from the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, St. Petersburg.

Riga

“FAKTURA (FOR A NERVOUS SPIRIT)”

kim? Contemporary Art Centre
Sporta 2 1st floor
September 4–November 1, 2020

The term Faktura—which translates literally  to “facture” but encompasses a wider understanding of surface—traces back to Latvia’s avant-garde. In the last year of his life, the Riga-born artist and theorist Voldemārs Matvejs—then living in Saint Petersburg and writing under the name Vladimir Markov—penned an essay entitled “The Principles of Creativity in the Plastic Arts: Faktura” (1914) in which he approached materiality and texture as qualities containing endless possibility.

Matvejs’s ideas were informed by his study of the arts of Africa, Oceania, and Northern Asia; his photographs of shamanistic spirit figures, made by the Nanai peoples in Northern Siberia, now find a new audience in “Faktura (For a nervous spirit).” The group exhibition seeks to explore the agitation that lies in the fast-paced, psychically unstable, and ambiguous infrastructures of urban environments, tapping the anxiousness absorbed and manifested by materials, objects, and bodies. Sometimes this energy reveals itself openly, other times it remains beyond the visible. For example, in James Bridle’s video My Delight of A Shining Night, 2018, scores of flamingos calmly gather on a salt lake adjacent to Royal Air Force Akrotiri, a British military base that for decades broadcast messages to spies on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. A more abstract, almost topographical language is employed by young Latvian artist Elza Sīle. In units 1 – 14, 2020, she crafts intricate paintings on shiny aluminum plates, treated with bumps, etchings, and patchy gestural marks along their surfaces.

What we see—these works cumulatively suggest—is not necessarily what is there. And what is there is not something we control; it has its own life and behavior. The “nervous spirit” invoked in the exhibition’s title seems to posit the exitance of a constant vibration, a noise that wanders our cultural landscapes, collective histories, and thoughts—inhabiting lifeworlds and manifesting in materials. If the people whose objects Matvejs photographed over a century ago could still convene with their spirits in a meaningful way, most of us seem to have lost that ability. The disconnect has become our status quo, surrendering us to anxiety.