How do we prepare for the future?


The opinion of Agniya Mirgorodskaya, Founder & Commissioner of the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (RIBOCA)

In the last month, ‘cancelled’ and ‘postponed’ were the two primary words found in most public announcements issued by art institutions and structures. A little over four weeks ago, e-mails with those words began to arrive in inboxes from all over the world, at first creating uneasy feelings of confusion, sadness and futility. Yet time has come to show that life cannot be cancelled: despite the deserted city streets, despite the museums, galleries, and other art institutions closed to visitors, despite the unrealised projects and events that had been meticulously scheduled to take place in a specific physical space and time – the art organism continues to thrive. It is mobilising all of its internal energy reserves and launching new initiatives that have been adapted to this period of self-isolation. There is acute awareness that after this moment of confusion brought upon by the crisis, we all yearn for two things: the ability to act and the need to support one another. We must become partners who have moved beyond competition, leaving all rivalry in the past.

In this regard, turns to the heads and managers of art institutions and structures with the request to share their thoughts and ideas of how this time can be weathered while, at the same time, preparing for the future – a future which will most likely have a plot-line drastically different than that of the pre-pandemic world. In the following express-interview, Founder and Commissioner of the Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art (RIBOCA) Agniya Mirgorodskaya shares her opinions.

How does RIBOCA live and work in this time of crisis? What does it mean to be on lockdown for the art biennial?

There is plenty of work to do now – we are completely restructuring the biennial’s format. From the very beginning, when the scale of the crisis became evident, we knew that we had to do everything possible to think of another format for it to still take place this year. Our main priority has been to do everything possible to keep our commitment to the artists and to secure all our employees. Even though we are as shocked as anyone by everything that is happening around us, we have to do our best to stay positive in the given situation and never let ourselves fall into despair. We realize that the key now lays in being flexible and open-minded in finding alternative solutions. We conduct daily Zoom meetings, so work hasn’t really stopped and everyone feels part of the common process. It is extremely important to maintain this feeling of togetherness so that no one feels isolated and lost in the process. In my opinion, times of crisis force us to be extra thoughtful and considerate towards each other and the world around us.

As the world has been shaken and shown its fragility, I also see the relevance of artists being as important as never before.

There is an opinion that the situation ‘after’ this is going to be almost like the postwar scene. What will be the biggest challenge for art institutions in the post-pandemic future?

In my opinion, this pandemic will without a doubt drastically change the art world. It is already evident that many art institutions will have to close or drastically rethink their modus operandi, and many artists, art journalists, curators, educators, and writers will struggle. Coronavirus is also a clear warning sign of the climate crisis we are all facing; the extent to which we depend on travel as well as our ways of exhibition-making will have to be rethought. The art world’s synergism with global interconnectedness and blockbuster exhibitions will have to change. On the brighter side, I think we have been granted time and opportunity to reflect and reinvent ourselves. There will need to be more focus on knowledge production and in-depth research. As the world has been shaken and shown its fragility, I also see the relevance of artists being as important as never before. This period may serve as a moment of reflection for everyone, and there are no better agents to guide us on this path than artists.

Cooperation between art institutions will become increasingly more important.

In a call to save the art world, curator Hans Ulrich Obrist in London mentioned Roosevelt's Federal Art Project, while Manuel Borja-Villel, the Director of Museo Reina Sofia, has called for a ‘new’ Marshall Plan etc. What are tools that could help artists and the art world survive?

I couldn’t agree more with Manuel Borja-Villel, who says that things shouldn’t be the way they were but rather, we will have ‘to imagine new worlds in which caring for other people and other species should be central’. We will have to slow down and become very attentive towards the needs of individual artists as well as the public. It is not the speed and the amount of activities that will prevail but rather a thoughtful and selective approach. Cooperation between art institutions will become increasingly more important. By discussing between ourselves optimal dates for the opening days of our events, we can make it easy for visitors to see a few art events in one go that are just a train-ride away; by engaging in co-production of artistic projects, we can optimize the use of resources, as well as make sure the art work is shown on multiple platforms. In the end, it all comes to more attentive human interaction and listening to each other – to other art institutions, to the artists, to the public, and to the environment around us.

We can live without buying new things, but it is hard to survive without the arts in our daily lives.

Do you have a vision of what the art scene will look like? What will be the main shifts and to which direction will they shift?

It seems that the current crisis has shown us the crucial importance of culture, as well as what it means to be caring for others. We can live without buying new things, but it is hard to survive without the arts in our daily lives. Certain cravings for cultural content have certainly revealed themselves. The huge demand and popularity of live-streaming concerts, as well as digital art exhibitions, are a good indication of that. People will not cease to attend international exhibitions, but they will probably become more cautious and selective in their travels and what exhibitions they choose to see. There will be a larger presence of online content, related to public programmes and education. Digital exhibitions might rise in popularity, with video works being available to be seen online. Most importantly, there will be a continuation of the trend that already started prior to the coronavirus, which is attention paid not only to the content but also towards the process of how the exhibition is made. I believe it will become increasingly more challenging and crucial to justify the existence of international art events such as art biennials due to requirements that may arise relating to sustainable ways of exhibition-making and travelling. Only those that are able to meet those requirements will survive and thrive. We are proud to know that we are already conducting our efforts to meet many of these standards.

Photo: Karlīna Vītoliņa

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