Where inspiration meets industry

If it’s true that crises make opportunities, there must be many chances floating around this year. And few people are seizing them with more passion than a bunch of young Riga artists who have conjured up an extraordinary exhibition from practically nothing.

The “Točka” culture space.

Running until 21 October, “Točka” brings contemporary art, dance, theatre and other media to Sarkandaugava, a down-at-heel district north of Riga’s city centre. It breathes life into an enormous derelict factory building, paralleling a desire to show that young artists are still around after the Covid lockdown, and their voices need to be heard.

This is just part of a burst of creativity sweeping Riga right now, with no less than four contemporary art exhibitions running simultaneously.

“A lot of ideas were dreamed up in lockdown, and now we’re seething with energy to bring them to life,” says Pamela Butāne, who dreamed up “Točka” in partnership with her friend, Beatrise Zaķe.

Culture factory

Before the First World War, the Provodņiks factory employed 6,000 people to churn out rubber galoshes, hoses and tyres in its 50,000 square metre building. In the Soviet era, the lathes were adapted to make washing machines, but for many years now the cavernous space has been silent.

Butāne and Zaķe approached Realto, the managers of the building, to see if they could move in for a few months. Perhaps surprisingly, the firm agreed, as it wants to use cultural events to boost the image of the venue and eventually put luxury apartments on the top floor. The rent swallowed the project’s entire budget, a 1500-euro grant from Riga City Council, so the organisers set about doing everything themselves, from heavy lifting to electrical work.

In Latvian and Russian slang, a “točka” is a speakeasy or shebeen, i.e. a joint which illegally sells alcohol. Pamela agrees that this sums up the spirit of the venture, gesturing toward the dusty halls and laughing that, “this place is pretty scruffy.” But in Russian, the word originally means “a point,” somewhere people from diverse fields can meet, and the organisers also hope the linguistic duality will build bridges with the multi-ethnic community of Sarkandaugava.

Potential unlimited

Aged 26, Pamela is a stage designer and theatre director and is studying curating at the Latvian Academy of Culture. As if there’s not enough on her plate, she is also the curator of the art section of “Točka,” which covers two floors and features works by 82 young local artists. When you visit, wear comfortable shoes, as there’s a lot of ground to cover.

Pamela Butane Riga contemporary art at Tocka culture centre

Pamela Butāne and her “10 tons of potential.”

In conjunction with artist Klāvs Priedītis, Pamela is also the creator of one of the works in the show, which consists of a large pile of rubble poured on the floor, with shovels sticking out of the dirt and a smoke machine belching out atmosphere. Its title, “Ten Tons of Potential,” sums up the never-say-die attitude of this woman, who emits an aura of both exhaustion and steely determination.

Describing all the other works in “Točka” would go far beyond the scope of this blog. But for this reviewer, two installations by Svetlana Saveljeva really stand out.

Allegory of Evolution Riga contemporary art at Tocka

“Allegory of Evolution” by Svetlana Saveljeva.

“Allegory of Evolution” is a beautifully plastic, blue female figure floating over the exhibition hall on a LED-light bow, described as “a young person’s story of rapid life changes which stimulate personal growth.”

Tocka Riga contemporary art Depression

“Depression” by Svetlana Saveljeva.

“Depression” comprises a darkened room, where one encounters an almost melting silicon figure embodying the pain and loneliness of the condition. But it also radiates an inner light, representing our innate capacity for renewal. While it burns, there is hope.

That message probably strikes a chord with many people in this bewildering year.

For more information, see www.tocka.lv/

Philip Birzulis, 09.09.2020