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Ringa: a migaa laboratory at kim? in Riga

09.08.2014 | Migrating Art Academies
Stanisław Lem, In the Time Loop, courtesy of the Lem estate.

Alex Davidson


Stanisław Lem’s drawing, In the Time Loop, was the image that came to represent the MigAA Ringa laboratory. In Lem’s drawing, two characters lie on their bellies, with chins on the ground, head’s back, facing each other, with bulging eyes staring into the other’s eyes. It is an expression of terror, intrigue, or complete incomprehension, a face searching for an answer in the other opposite it with the same expression being returned. Neither face seems to provide any inkling of awareness, rather simply a blank stare.


Between the 27 July and 2 August, we spent a week in Riga, contemplating jointly, among other things, what we were doing there. The workshop took its title, Ringa, from one theory of the origin of the name Riga, which claims that the city’s name is a corrupted borrowing from the Livonian word “ringa” meaning “loop,” referring to the ancient natural harbor formed in a meander of the Daugava River. In a crude attempt to translate this topographical feature into the structure of a social and artistic enquiry, the focus of the week was loosely themed around the feedback loops between writing and objects — where these two forms separate and merge — the wordiness of objects, and the objecthood of writing. The focus of the week’s explorations was the process that could be characterized as “translation between forms.” Operating parallel to this was a questioning of the process of translation between specific cultural and geographical contexts. In particular, what did the context of the city of Riga offer this particular workshop? and would we come to an understanding of the context and history of Riga as artists-cum-pseudo-ethnographers? How might one read the history of a city through the cultural and aural feedback loops inherent in the names and languages of its present?


I wouldn’t say that we came to many conclusions, but we did a lot of talking and walking. We hiked to Lucavsala with Jana Kukaine and saw a performance in the Daugava River by Anda Lace; we undertook an after-dark, “Riga-Noir” bus tour with Latvian philosopher Ainars Kamolins; we visited a Latvian open-air ethnographic museum and Didzis Pučs’ private and very far-from-official museum of things that are “the first and last of their kind” with Kaspars Groševs, Ieva Kraule, and Virginija Januškevičiūte; we watched a screening of show reels made between the 1960s and ‘80s in Soviet Riga, showcasing daily life in the city, with a commentary by film researcher Viktoria Eksta; and we were witness to presentations by Laura Preston, Alex Davidson, Stefanie Hessler, Sebastian Rozenberg, Nick Bastis, Patrick Buhr, Kris Dittel, Lina Zaveckytė, Will Pollard, Lina Albrikienė, and Elizabeth McTernan.


Perhaps the best way to conclude without any conclusions would be to speculate that in Lem’s drawing, the dread we might perceive as a glimpse of the eternal reflection in the eyes of the two characters might be a completely different feeling altogether. We can’t tell. With the illegibility of their expressions we focus instead on the contours of the curves, the lines made with the pen. There is the disappointment of a faulty feedback loop; of a call and no response (no answer); of a faulty translation; of missing the culturally-specific references in a new place. But it was good to be in a city for a week with a group of intelligent people and to trace on foot the outlines of its features.