“I cannot deny myself”
Vilnis Vējš, Art Critic
A conversation with artist Dace Džeriņa
“What the hell is it?” cries out the lyric heroine of Dace Džeriņa’s new video work Vilinājums (‘Temptation’), whilst looking over samples of beautiful fabrics. ““Phew!” Relieved sigh – it’s a skirt. “But what is that?” A leg falls out of the skirt.” (From the description of the work.)
The same question probably bothered more than one viewer whilst watching the promising artist’s first extended video work Epidēmija (‘Epidemic’) in exhibition Cilpa (‘Loop’) which took place under the expansive vaulting of the gallery Arsenāls exactly ten years ago. The video work featured beautiful people in white garments (linen had just become fashionable, in visual communication substituting the glitter and Lycra fetishism of the 1990s) inside a modern interior with an overgrown park visible through the glass walls. This stylish company wasn’t doing anything in particular, just lazing about. As if resting or waiting. Not a single dissected body part appeared, yet the work created an atmosphere of increasing tension and approaching trouble. Every now and then one of the beautiful idle people yawned, as if the company had been affected by some dangerous virus which would cause them to fall asleep, never to wake up gain.
Dace Džeriņa. Temptation. Video. 2010. Publicity photo
Vilnis Vējš: Did it only seem like that to me, or did this film carry a coded message about the beginning of a glamorous world which was characteristic of the last decade, and its sad end which was provoked by the global crisis?

Dace Džeriņa: Possibly it was like that. At the time I wanted the people in the film and the viewers to relax, I consulted a psychotherapist on how to achieve it, yet it was not an easy task whilst shooting the film. The models didn’t yawn when they were supposed to. As always, the work was created on the basis of what I saw all around – white garments, beautiful apartments and observations about developments in my friends’ lives, it all “correlated”. And I wanted to assign a clinical name to the work: ‘Epidemic’. This work was preceded by works related to instability and dizziness, for example, in the exhibition Ventspils. Tranzīts. Termināls (‘Ventspils. Transit. Terminal’). Perhaps because I am the type who always gets ill. So at the time I focused on concrete bodily reactions and wanted to initiate interactivity in order to make the viewer feel likewise.
Dace Džeriņa. Temptation. Video. 2010. Publicity photo
As regards the years preceded by Dace Džeriņa’s graduation from the Department of Visual Communication of the Art Academy of Latvia (2000) and attainment of Master’s degree (2001), she hasn’t been a productive artist, yet she has been noticed numerous times. Džeriņa received the award “For innovative creative achievements” in 2002 for the exhibition presented together with Anta and Dita Pence, Radošais vakars. Vecajam mērkaķim – 100 (‘Creative Evening: 100th Anniversary of Old Monkey’). As far as I recall, this lively, student-like happening was not much more than witty satire, yet obviously it was sufficient to attract the attention of decision makers in the sphere of art. Džeriņa has participated in nearly all the “export projects” of the Department of Visual Communication, namely in exhibitions held in Milan, Vilnius, Flensburg and elsewhere. At the same time she worked as a set designer and costume designer in theatre, where a good collaboration with director Baņuta Rubess has been established. Now Džeriņa is ready for the next solo exhibition where new works, along with an earlier video film Laimīgā zeme (‘The Land of Happiness’, 2008), which has already been added to the collection of Latvian Contemporary Art Museum, are to be seen. I address a question – how has her career been developing since ‘Old Monkey’ and what was the reason for such a long gap since the previous personal exhibition?
Dace Džeriņa. Temptation. Video. 2010. Publicity photo
D.Dž.: Plans for my own works coincided with offers of work in the theatre, and the latter “ate up” my art projects. Moreover, Mark was born – he is already five years old now. Naturally, it hindered the concentration on creative work, but brought great happiness from the personal point of view. I have never perceived of the theatre as hack-work, both realms complement each other reciprocally. There is a creative process in both of them. I was enticed into the theatre by Kristaps Ģelzis, who was creating the theatre performance ‘Rondo’ (2000) together with Baņuta [Rubesa]. In addition, for me as an artist Baņuta is an ideal theatre director. She trusts me, defines her vision and subsequently allows ideas to evolve freely.

V.V.: Baņuta Rubess has “in her baggage” the experience of working with various kinds of performances. Different education and experience – does that have an influence?

D.Dž.: Perhaps the influence of theatre can be noticed in my new work Vilinājums (‘Temptation’). Quite humanly I have absorbed certain things, unconsciously. The process, maybe. It’s the creative process itself that makes working worthwhile. That’s why I don’t work for advertising agencies. I tried doing it for one year, but the process made me dissatisfied – you are being constantly wrung out, to the last drop, and nothing is given in return. Creative work also takes a lot out of you, but the new information learnt, books read and time spent in library compensate for it. There is a result in the end. In ‘Temptation’ I look over various fabrics as if turning the pages of a book, information that speaks to me. The motive of delusion in the work has come from the theatre – for instance, the appearance of a leg which is a beginning of something new, possibly a dance.

V.V.: You’ve had a work involving process – Ceļojošais deju skolotājs (‘The travelling dance teacher’) in the exhibition re:publica – where people were taught to dance in various parks of Rīga.

D.Dž.: I like dancing. It’s a way of getting rid of emotions. I also had a video work where a girl “throws out” her emotions in various ways (Atbrīvošanās (‘Liberation’), 2002). It’s necessary from time to time. There’s not much left from ‘Dance teacher’ – there were beautiful moments which are gone, it is no more, and that’s it.
Dace Džeriņa. Temptation. Video. 2010. Publicity photo
V.V.: From 2007 until 2009 you were engaged by the State Culture Capital Foundation as the chair of the board of experts. How has this enriched your experience?

D.Dž.: To a certain extent that is why my creative projects were held back, as experts cannot ask for funding for themselves. However, I got acquainted with the situation in Latvian art in general and the processes therein, and also saw what artists want to do. Among other observations, I came to realise that artists occasionally have not defined to themselves what they want to pursue – art or design. Maybe something must be changed in the education, especially in applied arts, yet maybe – in the artists’ minds. I also got to know what happens outside Rīga – I must say, not much. When our “convocation” of experts began work, we decided to change the existing practice where a small share of the available funding was granted to every applicant. We selected fewer beneficiaries and granted larger sums, which allow the achievement of a significant result. When we began our work, the funding for art was generous, yet at the end there wasn’t much, due to the crisis.

V.V.: In this regard, I once expressed my surprise in the press about the fact that participation in the Venice Biennale was deemed to be the sole project of national importance in 2009. This was subsequently quoted by Stella Pelše.

D.Dž.: It was a tactic of the experts’ commission to promote only one visual arts project to be assigned status of national importance, so that it would receive sufficient funds. Musicians do it differently: they promote, for example, five projects and relatively small amounts are granted to each of them. Given the current circumstances whereby funding for culture has been reduced many times, I would expect the organiser of the project – the Ministry of Culture – to try to establish a different mechanism of raising funds for Venice, thus allowing the distribution of funds of the State Culture Capital Foundation to several local projects. In any case, I am a supporter of participation in the Venice Biennale and I do hope to see the occasion when Kristaps Ģelzis goes to Venice.

V.V.: What opportunities do you see for an artist to live and create in Latvia at the moment – for you, for instance?

D.Dž.: Of course, there aren’t any opportunities to earn a living with art. There is an opportunity in theatre in this regard – at least there is a fee and, if you’re lucky, copyright payments. An artist devotes to a work his own time and effort, and help is asked only for the acquisition of materials and technical expenses. No sensible musician would perform without a fee.

V.V.: Are you inspired by opportunities to exhibit abroad, to conquer the art market, or perhaps even to emigrate?

D.Dž.: Everybody has their own individual strategy. Artists cannot cosset themselves and do only what he or she likes. What happens further depends on curators. Of course, there are artists who sign every piece of paper and put it into a folder. I am not one of them. If I am the only one to organise an exhibition, often some things get lost and are not documented. It would be great if curators from abroad, on hearing the word “Latvia”, knew at least one name or group from here. Little by little, somebody manages to enter at international level – the more, the better. Then Latvia won’t be a nowhere land any more.

V.V.: What currently motivates you to work, to create works and bring an exhibition into being?

D.Dž.: That’s what I want to do. I cannot deny myself. I want to finish the current creative period for myself with this exhibition, so that my head is clear.

Dace Džeriņa’s video film Laimīgā zeme (‘The Land of Happiness’) is a visually picturesque story about a fragile girl who settles in an aban-doned country house, thoroughly scrubbing the dirty floor and washing the dusty windows until it resembles “a holiday house in Tuscany ”. The interior is not nearly as chic as in ‘Epidemic’, but the ending seems to be more optimistic.

/Translator into English: Jānis Aniņš/
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