Around the World - With Happiness and the Auseklītis. Linards Kulless
Alise Tīfentāle
Linards Kulless (born 1978) is a true showman - both in real life and in his multimedia work in art, clubs and theatres. If you really wanted to, it seems you could make a documentary about him, which might well be entitled "My carefree friend", since it seems he has no conception of depression, boredom or misery. For him, everything is playful, enjoyable and witty. But Linards' characteristic lightness does not mean he's only good at jokes: all the things in his work that elicit a smile do nevertheless mean a great deal more, and precisely for this reason it's worth looking at his creative biography even at this stage, while he's still young and supernatually energetic. Where does he get his energy? Perhaps from the holy forest of Pokaiñi, perhaps from living at a favourable junction of energy lines, or perhaps from some sacred springs that the public is not yet aware of.

  At one time, there was much discussion of the contribution by the MA1Z3 group of young artists (Voldemārs Johansons, Linards Kulless, Una Meiberga and Simona Veilande) at the NEXT 8th International Architectural Biennale in Venice, 2002, where their project "Castle of Light" was intended as an attraction, a decoration and a supplement to the presentation of the design for the new National Library, by Gunnar Birkerts. It seems nobody was really satisfied with what was presented to the international audience, although everyone did the best they could. Nevertheless, participation in the biennale can be regarded as a respectable achievement for the artist, who was 24 at the time and had just completed his bachelor's studies at the Visual Communication Department of the Latvian Academy of Art, who together with his friends had opened an alternative "fashion shop and private cinema" and who was for some reason talking about Latvianness (there's really no telling when he's being serious and when he's fooling around). As Helēna Demakova wrote about "Castle of Light" in the official Venice exhibition catalogue, "The Latvianness of MA1Z3 is not measurable in terms of the indicators that apply to citizenship. It is self-consciousness and interest in the past, not a historical past, but a mythological past, as experienced in stories, legends, folklore, objects, landscapes and images. They themselves call it "Folk Romanticism", and the "Castle of Light" project, already shown in the frame of ArtGenda in Hamburg in 2002, has been created with the aim of exploring this folk spirit." Linards' essential nature as a showman is seen in his active participation as a model in the alternative fashion events held by MA1Z3, his VJing at clubs and his involvement in theatre activities. This began in 2003-2004 with the theatre production-video installation-performance Euphoria (created at the New Riga Theatre in collaboration with Teatherhaus Weimar) and still continues: at present in the process of creation are projects at the theatre of director Galina Polishchuk. Linards manages to do everything: travel, film, photograph, engage in graffiti and stickers, participate in theatre and go out into the forest. But Linards Kulless' most salient feature, identifying him among the thousands of activists of his generation throughout Europe, is his auseklītis - the traditional eight-pointed ‘morning star' sign.

In fact, the auseklītis should be understood as including all his "Folk Romantic" expressions, from the wearing of patterned woollen socks to the tracing of the auseklītis sign across Riga in the ritual/video installation "Bless this house!" (at the Jukas exhibition and the "Surprising Latvia" festival), the reconstruction of ancient Latvian demons in the installation "Think about bright things in dark moments" (Weimar) and the search for "Signs of force" at the "Museum Time" exhibition at the National Museum of Art. "Signs of force" is a subject for a separate story: in the course of preparing this work, at Linards' invitation, the White Hall of the National Art Museum was investigated by a real diviner, noting the junctions of energy lines with traditional dowsing methods. These energy-loaded places Linards subsequently marked on the floor with signs he had selected from traditional Latvian designs. Paradoxically, at about the same time, an identical work was being created in Vilnius  at the BMW 9th Baltic Triennial of International Art (Arturas Raila, "The flow of the earth's bioenergetic currents in Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre"). Learning of this coincidence, Linards laughed at the  common ancient roots of the Latvians and Lithuanians: "See: that's what Balts do!"

The beginnings of euphoria L.K.: As a child, I took part in two theatrical society productions: in one, I played Granddad; in the other, I was a rooster... When I turned 20, I held a real initiation ceremony. This is the only birthday I've actually prepared for. I'd been reading a dictionary of symbolism and other books, and I'd become interested in cultural history... There were four female friends of mine as priests, a very long performance and a large number of guests, and there was one episode where I approached each one in turn, and they each had to tell me to my face what they most dislike about me, with complete honesty, and at one point they all got quite cross, me most of all, of course. Ouch! But then, at the end, I approached each of them in turn and told them what I like about them...

This and that about wisdom A project by MA1Z3 (this time by Linards Kulless and Una Meiberga) was held in Weimar on 3-9 June 2005, in the frame of the Schiller Festival, entitled "Wisdom Lounge: Think about bright things in dark moments". As the authors explain in the advert card for this event, the source of inspiration was "the heritage and aesthetics of ancient Latvian pagan rituals". It's possible that this project led Linards to use his own Latvianised form of the word - vizdoms - which is integrated seamlessly into his account of the ancient Latvian pagan heritage.

A.T.:  What is it, then?

L.K.: It was envisaged that there'd be great helium-filled foil balloons, those that stay in the air for a long time. The balloons would have monsters on them - ancient Latvian demons - made from eco-products. Under the influence of mummery and all that. Imagine going to the forest or the shop and seeking out everything that looks dreadful: you buy the ugliest cucumber, find the most hideous old stump in the woods... We brought home bags and bags of the stuff, until the room was full. And we got at least 90 different demons. Demons are everywhere, but if you have vizdoms, then for you, demons are no more than just balloons. It seems a banal and simple idea, but it represents what's important in life - thinking bright thoughts in dark moments. That, after all, is vizdoms. That's present in all the projects. It's important to me. It should be important. Life's better with vizdoms than without it.

A.T.: But where do you get it?

L.K.: You have to work! It's in the everyday rhythm of life... What do I mean? For example, we didn't have any success with the balloons, but we did travel to Mexico! Since, as it says on the project's advert card - "So much fun with demons when wisdom runs!" This is how it happened: in the winter, I was in Weimar and had found a place for the balloons - on the roof of the only club in Weimar. On the top floor is a flat from which you can get out onto the roof, and the balloons were intended to be put up there. There'd be a performance involving climbing the stairs to a musical accompaniment and so on, and then at the top there'd be the dreadful balloons. But in the summer, when we went to do it all, it turned out that the flat had been refurbished, and that the window, by which you could get onto the roof, had been replaced with a very small one. In the end, we arranged the balloons on the ceiling of the club. Since it'd all changed and there was no longer any possibility of a performance, we didn't really have anything to do there for those ten days. So, that same evening, we bought last-minute tickets to Mexico. We came back brown and happy, ready to take down our balloons, but they were gone. No, nobody knew anything. It turned out that the club owner, in his infernal wickedness, had pulled down our balloons and trampled them... When going to Weimar, I had a wish to take with me the black-and-white film "Lāčplēsis": the club-owner looked just like the Black Knight in the film.

Here I'll interrupt the conversation in order to explain the strain of mysticism in the art of Linards and his fellows using an analogy from Latvian literature: this is evidently a significant trend in cultural development, which has hitherto not been appreciated in visual art:  "... what is it in contemporary Latvian literature that determines the greatness of an artist's personality and the importance of his or her accomplishment? It's the ability to communicate with the forces of the world beyond, the fact that the person has been chosen to receive marks of attention and small gifts from higher powers, the ability to live "at a metaphysical level" - the realm of passions, revelations and distant connections of a kind inaccessible to the ordinary reader, or to me, the poor ordinary writer. And it's inadvisable to hide your sacred experience - let all the readers and listeners know that the writer is no dabbler, but a true junction of energy lines, black hole and mythical Blue Hill all put together, in whom energies prowl hissing and glowing, and who can at any time peer into the depths of the spirit, as in the clear mirror of the Kasta¬avots spring, to witness present, past and future all at once" (Kārlis Vērdiņš, "Mistiskā literatūra ["Mystical literature"], Forums, 28 October - 4 November 2005).

L.K.: For the opening of "Think about bright things..." we had to provide some food. This was compulsory. We were asked for something Latvian. So, what's Latvian? We had sandwiches with smoked sprats and stuffed eggs. We collected nettles for the stuffing right there in the yard of the club, and so the eggs were green in the middle. They ate the lot.

A theoretical basis for the selection of old stumps L.K.: Once "Castle of Light" took off, it's continued ever since, and I haven't gotten bored of the theme. For example, it's continuing in the "Museum Time" exhibition of recent work. At the beginning, there were all sorts of ideas for contemporary art - witty, amusing, but they don't work. I couldn't think of anything. Then I invited a diviner whom we'd interviewed back when we were doing "Castle of Light". I thought about the museum's centenary: if there are energy lines here, then they must've been here a century or a millennium ago. It turned out that the junctions of energy lines are symmetrical - in between the columns, rather than in one corner, and of course this is ideal for displaying my work... The diviner himself said: "The people who built the museum certainly knew what they were about"...

A.T.: Where do you get your ethnographic knowledge and other specific information?

L.K.: The great mass of it comes from the time of the "Castle of Light". All those healers, shamans, diviners and wizards we interviewed... And then there's Pokaiņi. Only a month ago, I visited Pokaiņi again - it's all happening over there! But we got an incredible amount of information that first time! It started quite innocently: along with Voldemārs Johansons, we decided to create a minor work of art. Then, at some point, you understand that the work is no longer of any significance: what's important is only what the whole process is doing to you. And yes, another source of information is one of my favourite websites: When I was working on the work now called "Bless this house!", I visited the site in order to find something about the auseklītis. There was nothing at all! And then, quite by accident, in searching for something else, I found this verse, and realised that it's actually about the auseklītis:

Four corners in the room
Four holy angels;
These eight together,
Help us live our lives!

A.T.: So what happened at your first visit to Pokaiņi?

L.K.: I also have a video interview with Ivars Vîks, who has studied the area together with several others, written books about it and so on. Nowadays, since Vîks has died, the interview is of historical value. The interview has never actually been shown: it's impossible to watch the material, even though it's less than an hour long: halfway through, your head starts spinning. That first time, Vîks took us along the paths and told us all the theories about each location: there are piles of stones and trackways, which don't look as if they came about by accident, and even the greatest sceptic cannot explain the phenomena witnessed there. Vîks wasn't like those esoteric ladies: he had a man's scientific approach, but in the middle of it all, psycho elements appeared. So, he suddenly says: "Yes, and Latvia was once inhabited by the Japanese. Because the name of the River Daugava comes from Japanese..."

On idealism, too L.K.: The whole story about the "Castle of Light" was not about the particular house, the library - this aspect was added only because of the Venice Biennale. At that time, we had a very difficult relationship with Birkerts, and I still think it's not really ethical to use that name. What sort of "Castle of Light" is it anyway: in architectural terms, Birkerts talked about the motif of the Glass Mountain, which is a symbol of something quite contrary, in mythological terms, it's the root of evil, rather than the Castle of Light. Of course, you can call anything by any name, but you can't talk about the Castle of Light with the attitude "well, maybe one storey more or one less, maybe like this or like that". That's a different category altogether. On the other hand, he didn't like our esoteric approach...

A.T.: In spite of it all, you've probably already come to terms with the idea that in the end this exhibition looked much worse than it could have done. But there is the fact that as a very young artist, you've represented Latvia at the Venice Biennale, which is regarded here as the most prestigious event. What else could you do in this vein?

L.K.: It's already happening... The main thing in life is vizdoms. If you have that, then the rest will fall into place. From the point of view of careerism, I suppose I haven't been very active. I prefer a way of life where I don't have to go to work, where I can stay at home instead and make stickers... While doing that, I can think up something. But in Latvia, it's hard to talk about a career at all: if I did want to do something, where are the curators? I do have ideas for big projects, too, but these require technology, people and money. They're not ideas I can put into practice in my own kitchen. It's also clear that art is not the main thing in life. You can do without it. I can cut my friends' hair, I can design trousers, I can visit Pokaiņi!

Where does wisdom start

L.K.: It's plain to see that many people worry. They worry all the time and about everything. In principle, it shouldn't be that way: why should a person be unhappy? After all, it could be different. People shouldn't even have the right to do that - to be depressed. That's bad for all living beings around you - projecting your negative energy like that. From a purely egoistic perspective, it's bad for you yourself, since it's unproductive...

Then Linards relates how, in Berlin, when he was trying to escape from some underground ticket inspectors, he ended up in an anti-globalist meeting.

I've heard about the amber computer, once envisaged as one of the elements in the "Castle of Light" project by MA1Z3. It's quite clear that such an idea contains something ironic, as well as something mystical and significant. Just one example: "Contemporary science has discovered only a very small section of all the laws of nature. The Latvian spiritual heritage and the works of our ancestors suggest that they knew more. Less than two hundred years have passed since the time when English physicist M. Faraday began studying electricity by rubbing a piece of amber with woollen cloth" (Ivars Vīks, "Trejdeviņi Latvijas brīnumi" [Three-Times-Nine Wonders of Latvia", Riga, "Geizers O", 2001). End of quote - but think about what it could all mean!

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