The Charm of Cinema Utopia
Stella Pelše, Art Historian
Collection of the projected Contemporary Art Museum:
Anta Pence, Dita Pence. Uphill to Mexico. Installation. 2001
Anta Pence, Dita Pence. Uphill to Mexico. Installation - a portable film projector. 2,4x6,5x3m. Three tripods with electric engines, plastic figurines with colour light filter, screen, spotlight, two film posters (letterpress). Sound - musical medley. Work created for the exhibition 'Contemporary Utopia' (2001, Riga, Theatre Museum). Displayed: 'Riga 800' (2001, Riga, Stock Exchange building), Baltic Contemporary Art Biennial 'Sybaris' (Szczecin, Poland), 'Time will show' (2008, Flensburg, Germany), 'Collection II' (2010, Riga, Gallery VKN).
Anta Pence is a graduate of the Department of Visual Communication of the Art Academy of Latvia, meanwhile Dita Pence is graduate of the Department of Scenography of the Academy, and their creative tandem has fairly regularly enriched the scene of Latvian contemporary art with multi-media projects which are characterised by a wide range of means of expression and spontaneous inspiration from typical life situations.

“On somewhat rare occasions this generation has created works which unite both flights of fantasy and stark documentary, where humour and playfulness link up with analytic conceptualism, and where there is a view of several “eras” which exist simultaneously and in parallel in presentday Latvia.”(1) This conclusion about the jubilee event marking the anniversary of a hypothetical celebrity held in the floating gallery Noass (the creative evening ‘100th Anniversary of Old Monkey’ together with Dace Džeriņa, 2002) characterises other projects by the two sisters as well.

The stands made of plate glass which were exhibited in Torņakalns and Zasulauks railway stations within the framework of project re:publica (2003), organised by the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, addressed the common reflex of looking at oneself; Anta Pence’s work Kompozīcija ar četriem A4 dokumentiem (‘Composition with four A4 documents’, at the exhibition Vielmaiņa / ‘Metabolism’, 2009) involved the dissection of daily office routine, that is the remains of A4 sheets of paper cut in a paper shredder, while the joint work Gaisma kabeļa galā (‘Light at the End of the Cable’, Cēsis Art Festival, 2009) addressed the parallels of cable and tunnel in the context of technological and public crises. The work Uphill to Mexico (2001) was created for the exhibition Mūsdienu utopija (‘Contemporary Utopia’, 2001) and, according to the artists, it is “about emotions which arise from manipulations and triumph over the rational mind.”(2)
Anta Pence, Dita Pence. Uphill to Mexico. Installation. 2001
The world of cinema is an exemplary source of such manipulations – there is a reason why Hollywood is described as a producer of Utopias or “dream factory”, underlining its ability to salve the soul of a populace overwhelmed by everyday crises and monotony. The description of the work – “sound and light installation – a portable film projector” – reveals the use of a complicated kinetic construction which is rather uncharacteristic of Latvian contemporary art, namely, transparent silhouettes with striking images and items which resemble pop-art icons which are affixed to three conveyors.

Types familiar from Hollywood movies (a romantic couple, a cowboy with gun and vanquished enemy, a sexy beauty, the head of a clever police dog) intermingle with attractive, exotic motifs (yachts, mountains, baby elephants, birds in flight, enticing poppies etc.). The English version of the title, Uphill to Mexico, calls to mind Mexico as an asylum for persecuted persons in any number of movies, “the promised land”, which is well out of reach of the local “long arm of the law”.

As they glide past, the images reflect on the white screen forming a shadow theatre; they also reciprocally overlap and create engrossing, transparent constellations (the universal appeal of shadow theatre has been proven by, for example, the work Shadow Play by the German artist Hans Peter Feldmann, which was exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 2009 and utilised the shadows cast by casual items, small figurines and toys coming to life in the viewers’ perception).
Anta Pence, Dita Pence. Fragment of installation 'Uphill to Mexico'. 2001
The object created by Anta and Dita Pence is enhanced by appropriately energetic, entertaining background music and retro-style posters. The reflection on Hollywood-like mechanisms of manipulation is not at all actively critical, rather it is meditatively contemplative and offers the idea that that is in the nature of the world. “In the sisters’ creative work, issues about the impact of mass culture, consumerist culture and culture in general on the human mind are being addressed very delicately, without the least aggression, reproach or didactic indications as to what is right or wrong.”(3)

Traditional judgements about mass culture dispute the genuineness of emotions that it elicits, on the basis of the assumption that kitsch addressed to cheap taste cannot compete with serious art in this regard. At the same time, the distinction of the latter is also heavily under fire, as the emotional experience provided by mass culture is no less genuine than the enjoyment of high art. Uphill to Mexico causes us to doubt yet another conventional assumption, namely, that good con¬temporary art must definitely be unpleasant, provocative and debunking.

(1) Demakova, Helēna. Third wave of the new Latvian art. From: 2Show: Exhibition of new Latvian and Lithuanian artists: [Catalogue]. Riga: Pilot projects of culture, 2003, p. 30.


(3) Lejasmeijere, Ieva. Dita Pence and Anta Pence. Studija, 2002, No 22, p. 20.

/Translator into English: Jānis Aniņš/
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