To show how fundamentally, in essence, we are similar

Sergej Timofejev


A conversation with curator Tīna Pētersone about the exhibition Field of Vision and art as a translation tool

The exhibition Field of Vision, which opened on September 8 at the Zuzeum Art Centre, has earned the interest of viewers, especially the younger generation. The key to its success lies not only in the displayed art. An equally significant role is played by the curator’s concept, realized through the selection of specific works and the arrangement of the exhibition — a thoughtful and logical positioning of art in space. This, of course, is the commendable result of teamwork, but it is crucial that this team had its visionary leader — 29-year-old curator Tīna Pētersone.

Exhibition view. "Field of Vision", at the Zuzeum Art Centre, 2023

Her professional CV is quite impressive. She obtained a master’s degree in curatorial studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. Currently, she is studying in the public art curator program at the University of Gothenburg and works as a guest curator at the Zuzeum art centre and ETC. Magazine (Ljubljana). In 2020, Tīna Petersone received the first Riga Photography Biennial “Young Curator!” prize. In 2021, she co-founded the contemporary art space TUR in Riga and developed its exhibition program (two of which were nominated for the Purvītis Prize).

We contacted Tīna to learn more about her work on the Field of Vision exhibition, which focuses on “blind spots” — issues and themes that tend to slip outside the public’s field of vision but capture the attention of artists (of various generations and nationalities). The collective work of these artists creates a complex yet convincing narrative of the exhibition.

The starting point of the Field of Vision exhibition is the art collection of Jānis Zuzāns. How would you describe this collection? What do you find most interesting in it, and what might be missing?

In creating the exhibition, I delved into a collection that includes more than thirty-two thousand art artefacts, ranging from works by world-famous authors and local masterpieces to coins, letters, and posters. It is challenging to define a conceptual framework for such a broad spectrum of objects. However, while studying the collection, individual artists whose activities Jānis Zuzāns has particularly explored quickly emerged in the overall picture. With great interest, I examined retrospectives of Latvian authors such as Visvaldis Ziediņš, Zenta Logina, Jurs Dimiters, Auseklis Baušķenieks, and other Latvian artists, measured in hundreds and perhaps even thousands. I used the privilege to inspect a part of the works in person, aiming to delve into the artistic language development of these authors, search for references to the currents of thought of that time, and explore the versatility of their talent through experiments with material and form. Likewise, I was intrigued by various Latvian photographers’ observations about society, such as Jānis Deinats’ scenes of everyday life in Latvia in the shadow of the 2009 economic crisis. Or, for example, documentation of Andris Grīnbergs’ happenings from the 1970s, executed by Māra Bušmane, Andrejs Grants, Atis Ievinš, and other photographers, which would likely be embedded in personal photo albums if they had not ended up in the Zuzāns collection. However, alongside the extensive painting collection, audiovisual media or digital art is minimally represented in the collection. From a curator’s perspective, I think it would be valuable to explore these areas, thereby mastering a broader spectrum of contemporary artists and diversifying the visitor experience at exhibitions.

The foundation of the collection is Latvian art, but the international part is also significant. According to what principle did you create local and foreign dialogues in the Field of Vision exhibition? Can it be said that they are mutual commentaries to some extent?

I did not approach this as a separation between local and foreign; I evaluated works primarily through the prism of the message. However, it was essential to highlight the connection between local issues and global processes, encouraging the viewers to recognise patterns. For example, dialogues between Latvian, Ukrainian, and Russian artists illustrate how local events are related to developments in neighbouring countries and distant regions worldwide. Or, for example, in the area dedicated to the individual’s relationship with oneself, most are works by foreign authors, emphasizing different contexts in which artists shape their views.

In your curator’s text, you write: “Artworks are testimonies of the time, shaped by the influences of various political regimes, cultural currents, and social norms. Each work invites the exhibition visitor to contemplate how an individual’s relationship with oneself affects their ability to form healthy connections with other members of society, from romantic relationships to political alliances and the coexistence of humans and other beings.” In your opinion, does the audience perceive this exhibition as a unified whole, a message, or is it more or less a series of inspiring works?

Since I will be outside Latvia for the entire period the exhibition is open to the public, I can receive feedback from the audience only indirectly. Therefore, I can answer this question more specifically by explaining the intention. Contemplating works as testimonies of the time, I wanted to draw attention to presentism, the tendency to evaluate past events based on contemporary views. In the exhibition notes, there is a sentence (I don’t remember who said it) that “instead of chronologically arranged history, scattered places and individuals of historical memory emerge in time, and instead of classes, political elites, the focus of history shifts to witnesses of these events.” With this, I mean that the art included in the exhibition functions more as visual metaphors, creating associations with past events, people, places, etc. Transforming the message into the exhibition form was a lengthy and nuanced process during which I modelled various combinations of works countless times to reach a point where, in mathematical analogies, I could prove that 1+1=3. In other words, adjacent works complement each other, encouraging the perception of meanings that become visible precisely in this interaction.

What are the “blind spots” that you personally see? Those you describe in the text as “problems that, for various reasons, we do not realize, understand, or ignore”...

In my daily life, I analyze people’s behaviour, trying to understand the motives behind their actions. I believe I have scrutinized many of my observations during the process of creating the exhibition. This theme sparked reflections on the visible and invisible in society, and how the inclusion or exclusion of certain issues is implemented. I often think about various “logs” and “specks” that I have observed in myself and others, and about the assertion that once you see it, it is impossible to unsee it. In my opinion, many “blind spots” can be discovered by dissecting where lie the roots of cognitive dissonance, fake morals, double standards, “double-edged swords”, etc.

The spectrum of issues I wish to draw attention to is remarkably broad. Let me delve into a few of them. The violence we inflict upon ourselves by failing to draw “red lines”, normalizing the unacceptable and ignoring the wrongdoings. The authoritarian methods employed by representatives of past generations in positions of power, aiming to preserve their fading authority. Dysfunctional relationships, are often rooted in non-transparent communication and intertwined with self-destructive habits (though, ironically, these habits sometimes serve to connect people, making them feel a sense of belonging and inclusion). Equally, the pivotal role of the physical body in shaping our experience of the world often slips outside the field of vision. Namely, how different our lives and perspectives would be if they were experienced in a different body defined by a different skin colour, various genetically inherited factors, gender, ethnic identity... I strive to question the seemingly obvious.

The exhibition features some direct references. For instance, in Otto Zitmanis’ work How Latvians Love, a man is depicted leaning over the edge of a bathtub, drowning a woman. With this, I direct the attention of exhibition visitors to one of the most alarming problems in Latvian society — high rates of domestic violence. This act of violence, cynically titled by the artist, vividly embodies the prevalent belief in our society that “conflicts should stay within the family.” Statistics indicate that one in four women in our country faces this issue, yet those in power, by refusing to ratify the Istanbul Convention, persistently push it off the parliamentary agenda. Alongside this, Boris Berzins’ work Incompatible Marriage portrays a man forcing a bottle of strong drink into a girl’s mouth, highlighting the destructive nature of alcoholism — Latvia has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates globally.

The exhibition Field of Vision successfully works with the space; the instruments used in the arrangement, including mirror objects, assist it in “expanding”, and “multiplying”. What were your priorities in creating the spatial dramaturgy? Did you find it important to surprise the audience? With the help of exhibition architecture, were you aiming to broaden the viewer’s perception?

From the very beginning of shaping the exhibition, it was clear to me that the exhibition design would play a fundamental role in presenting the theme. It was developed in close collaboration with architects Kristiana Erta and Arturs Tols (Studio SIJA), and their involvement was crucial not only in design matters but also in conceptual development. The spatial thinking of the architects, their attention to detail, and technical acumen proved to be valuable contributions to many fruitful discussions, the results of which are visible in the exhibition hall.

It was essential for the exhibition architecture to embody phenomena related to vision, such as periphery, focus, viewpoint, farsightedness/nearsightedness, perspective, field of vision, blind spot, etc., with the explicit aim of visualizing how information is processed in the mind. The works of the exhibition were arranged in thematic zones, but it was important to emphasize the chain of causation, where one association leads to the next. Therefore, architecture played a significant role in highlighting this idea, for example, through mirrors reflecting other artworks, partially transparent curtains restricting visibility, and texts weaving through the exhibition, serving as conceptual links. In summary, the element of surprise may not have been the guiding motive, but a certain unpredictability was intended.

The exhibition also features works created by some Russian artists, including those who moved to Latvia after February 2022. In your opinion, what significance do their creative voices have in the current geopolitical situation? Should they be listened to, and can they be heard?

The non-conformist artists featured in the exhibition express criticism of the political system in Russia. After carefully considering the artists’ previous practice and the message of their specific works, I was convinced that their perspective could broaden the view on the themes explored in the exhibition. In my opinion, it would be hypocritical to proclaim that the exhibition aims to illuminate our blind spots but deliberately exclude artists solely because they represent a specific nationality. Isolating artists from public discourse only enables marginalization and societal division. I believe that these voices deserve to be heard if placed in the right context.

What role does contemporary art play today, and what can we learn from it? At a time when it seems that contemporaneity is succumbing to the pressure of archaic traditionalism?

I would define contemporary art as a tool of translation. Through artworks, we can often gain insight into how others think, what their values are, and what they consider important. One could draw parallels with various optical tools. Sometimes a magnifying glass, other times a telescope. Both characterize the function of art as either intensifying the highlighting of a question or, conversely, placing it in a broader perspective. I also believe that contemporary art reminds us of how crucial it is not to take everything too seriously. The burden of responsibility steals much joy from life. Contemporary art is like a playground where weary adults can, for a change, ignore the rules, indulge in experimentation, and spend time not measured by productivity metrics.

Tīna Pētersone. Photo from personal archive

Is there such a community as the “new generation of curators” to which you feel you belong? Is the significance and tasks of this profession changing at the moment?

Honestly, I probably don’t think in such categories. In general, it seems to me that belonging to this generation is an honourable title because it allows us to feel noticed, but perhaps it also slightly exaggerates our importance. We simply do it because it is our calling. I, of course, want my work to gain recognition because, in that way, it can reach more attentive ears and eyes, but I want to think that such validations are not an end in themselves.

Executing projects in a country as small as Latvia, one can more clearly recognize oneself as a shaper of the art scene. I particularly observe this when my work has succeeded in promoting the recognition of an artist or finding new collaboration opportunities. On the other hand, working on international projects inevitably involves taking on a role akin to Latvia’s ambassador. However, considering that Latvia does not have its cultural attaché, I think every art professional from Latvia does this to some extent abroad.

When outlining the trajectory of my activities, I primarily assess whether it aligns with my values as an individual. Especially with the increasing polarization in society, I believe it is crucial, through art experiences, to unite, to show how fundamentally similar we are in essence, regardless of origin, skin colour, or nationality.

However, in responding to the question about the role of a curator in the Latvian context, I think we are the generation that forms an idea of the curator profession, educates about its necessity, and introduces an interdisciplinary perspective. I am pleased to see promising curators in Latvia who have emerged in recent years. Currently, the growth opportunities for a curator’s career globally are more abundant than ever, so maximizing those opportunities is perhaps the main task for our generation at this moment!

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