The Cosmological Process
Daiga Grantina’s Saules Suns at the Latvian Pavillion of the 2019 Venice Bienale confronts a number of challenges concerning materiality and process. This is an exhibition that functions more like an experience in its positioning and processing of materials ranging from faux fur and cotton to steel conduits and paper. At play here in this cosmology is the notion of world-building and world-destruction.
Descending upon the installation I had the sensation that I came upon a strangely magical structure, a studio or playroom perhaps, where people are making mysterious things out of even more mysterious materials. In this playroom, one imagines children from another planet, another species and another intelligence…
Looking up the term “saules” I read two interesting definitions. The first, defines “saules” as the plural form of “soul” in a now obsolete Scottish terminology. In the other definition, perhaps the artist’s intended usage, “Saule” is the solar goddess found in numerous Latvian and Lithuanian mythological tales.
Perhaps it is more accurate to describe Saules Suns as the atelier of this secret Solar Goddes who has descended on the Earth in the year 2019, to find the planet apoplectic with its contradictions and the wars within its spirit.
Venice may be the perfect city for this descent.
I have read many critics describe this installation as a series of suns. I’m not sure this is the pathway I would take in explaining my experience. Saules Suns defies structure in the way Grantina has utilized space, light and shadow to counter predictability and predication. It is this total exploration of every corner, structural element, wall and floor that makes Grantina’s work so very memorable and somehow so appealing. There is a strong commitment to taking things to a level of excess in a way that never strays from the elegant and the provocative.
The Production of Disappearance
Saules Suns may be considered a test of wills at war: the war between sensuality and rationality, the conflict between the soul and the brain (assuming there is even a distinction, and the cataclysm between the creation of a thing and its extinction, or more accurately its violent disappearance.
Indeed Ms. Grantina’s work here appears to speak to many central phenomenon of our age: the process of industry and the cost it heaps upon our natural world. The Latvian sculptress poses questions about origins and destinations concerning the relationship between handcraft and production.
This question, on how things are made, may be the foremost inquiry of our time.
This relationship is one with many forebears in contemporary art, be it Joseph Beuys or Carl Andre, One can even explore the Latvian Pavillion within the framework of Arte Povera and view Saules Suns as the grandchild of work by such figures as Eva Hesse and Allan Kaprow by way of Lucian Fabro. That the materials at play here vary from they synthetic to the naturalistic is only one of the most prominent features but it is a phenomenon that rewards further study.
This distinction may be viewed as a product of this trajectory.
This is a work, an environment and a phenomenon beyond logic and beyond classification, thought it does offer traces, or perhaps more appropriately, tracks from prior teachers and inspirations. One sees Sara Sze’s scatterings and the frightful fetishisms of Isa Genzken.
There are moments of desperation and traces of optimism found in the nascent gathering of the materials that can either be viewed as one large sculptural installation or individual pieces, each with an identity its own. Ms. Grantina’s offering here appears to come as propulsive event, as if she blew up a pile of mysterious materials, things out of which one might build a spacecraft or a giant stuffed panda bear. It doesn’t really matter.
It’s the “thingness” that provokes. It’s the meditation on confluence and meeting points between fiber and metal, between linearity and metamorphosis that makes this a memorable work of sculpture, a phenomenological experience best apprehended perhaps with a fewcritical faculties studying the blue skies and labyrinths of Venice and the rest contemplating the architecture of fantasy and apocalypse.
On the Precipice of Anti-Art
Saules Suns offers visitors perhaps the most immersive experience at this Bienale. By “immersive” I don’t mean anything like a literal step into a pool of images or sound. I am suggesting rather, that Saules Suns seduces you into a state of vision and thought that travels beyond the pre-determined borders of most contemporary sculpture today.
Ms. Grantina is building a cosmos with this work.
The immersion takes place emotionally as much as visually and this is the strength of the work, particularly within the context of other sculptures in the Bienale, many of which flirt so ferociously with irony and cynicism of the visual kind, or, in other words, anti-art.
Judging by this Bienale the garish and the kitsch appear to be the new borders of style among many younger artists across the world, as if they all adopted the ideology or language of contemporary art from the same textbook, each with his or her own foreign conceptual accent. Kitsch has become so pervasive in art today that its very presence is no longer a shock but a stylistic utterance as casual and mindless as artificially-torn designer jeans.
What distinguishes Saules Suns from kitsch and hence anti-art, is its commitment to material discovery and its openness to multidimensional exposition from the point of view of length, width and height. This is a very phenomenologically geometric work of art, one that defies measurement and survey.
Ms. Grantina’s work it is not a discourse on negative theology and hence, carefully evades the allure of trends and the comfort of conformism found among so many artists these days.
This is a work of affirmation, perhaps even outright proclamation, the type of utterance one speaks after a traumatic experience in the sub-tropics of the careworn spirit. There is hope here. There is serious meditation. There is a positive approach to re-imagining aesthetics here that does not necessitate a decadent relationship to art history. Curated (how one can curate this piece I have no idea!) by Valentinas Klimašauskas and Inga Lāce, Saules Suns beckoned passersby and curious art tourists to remain and reflect.
During my visit I saw women and men of all ages stay longer than usual in their course of travel through and within the Arsenale. I was able to view many pauses and many little discussions among the travelers.
Considering the scale of the buildings at the Bienale and the number of works to encounter, this is perhaps the greatest praise one can bestow on an artist: the energy for careful contemplation.