May 31, 2024

“A map of trails to youths’ world” – Gundega Evelone at Riga’s Bolderāja New Primary School

As part of the project, seven Latvian artists visited six schools throughout Latvia where they took part in art residencies with students. Read and get to know what Gundega Evelone did in Bolderāja and Daugavgrīva!

Who? The artist Gundega Evelone and Grade 8 students
When? From February until May 2023, for 4 months
Where? At Bolderāja New Primary School, with meetings held both at the school and in the artist’s Gundega Evelone’s studio at her home
Other people involved? Lolita Maderniece, teacher of Design and Technology, and the art mediator Lana Zujeva

Watch here: Gundega Evelone’s residency at Bolderāja New Primary School

Adolescence is a very special time. You have an overwhelming desire to move further and further away from your familiar starting point. You passionately discover new places and together with your friends endow them with special meaning. Sometimes, in the abundance of fresh impressions, you happen to forget the routes you have known since childhood, and this causes confusion. In the company of those who understand you the best in this moment – your peers – wandering around your neighborhood/district/territory, you experience the first meetings with both your most loved ones and most loathed ones, and, in a strange way, this local map will stay in your memory more permanently than all the future trips you will take already as an adult. The artist Gundega Evelone chose to do her residency at Bolderāja New Primary School for two reasons.

First of all: this is a very interesting border zone between the city and nature – here, next to blocks of Soviet high-rise buildings and old wooden buildings, there are dunes, the River Daugava, the River Buļļupe, and the sea as well very close by. Even though Bolderāja officially is very much a part of Riga, its geographical separation from the capital and its ancient port history involving merchants, pilots, shipmen, smugglers, large-scale industrialists, buccaneers and other adventurers create a peculiar, self-sufficient and also harsh local community. This attracted Gundega as an artist interested in different social formats and invisible but felt behaviors, in territorial boundaries and their overlap.

Gundega Evelone is an interdisciplinary artist. She obtained a Master’s degree in Sculpture from the Art Academy of Latvia, but works freely in various art media and combines them as necessary in order to create the most comprehensive staged reality possible, which would more fully include and influence the viewer. In her creative practice, the artist moves in two distinctly opposite directions, focusing on human-centered research in various social and historical situations, as well as creating works in which she deals with such fundamental concepts as “space,” “matter,” “existence-nonexistence.”

Secondly: Gundega herself settled in the nearby Daugavgrīva neighbourhood a few years ago, where she is developing her Centre for Strange Art. The Bolderāja New Primary School is only fifteen minutes away, and it is natural to give into such a great coincidence of circumstances.

The first meeting with Bolderāja’s Grade 8 students youth takes place at the end of February, accompanied by the Design and Technology teacher Lolita Maderniece. During this meeting, Gundega is just getting to know her future colleagues-teenagers, assessing their mood and interests, to then develop a proposal for a project together. It is decided to collaborate with those students who are interested in creative activity on their own initiative, and the teacher Lolita, who knows her group of students the best, selects a working group of eight youths. Then, to gradually encourage the students to think in terms of art, Gundega together with the students and with the art mediator Lana visit the exhibition “Sneakers: eco x ego,” dedicated to young people and appreciated by the public, at the Pauls Stradiņš Medicine History Museum.

Lolita Maderniece says about the participation in “The Artist Is Present” project: “The learning process can take place not only at school. Through this the students see that we need an idea, then a sketch, and then little by little we get to the result.” Gundega decides to create an artwork dedicated to the surroundings of Bolderāja/Daugavgrīva, because from the very first meeting it becomes clear how strongly the youths identify with their place of residence. The artist is interested in how they see it themselves and how to give importance to the worldview of teenagers – what seems particularly valuable and noteworthy to a young person at the age of 14-15. Over the course of ten meetings, step by step, they create a work of art. At first they engage in conversations, then they are followed by sketches, then hands-on practice. The teenagers select the most significant sites to them in Bolderāja – their school itself, a meeting spot under the bridge, and the forest – and take Gundega on an expedition there. Once they are there, they tell others why this place is special.

Many students’ favorite territories overlap. After this excursion, Gundega sets the next task – the question of what would the students like to say to future students? What message would they want to convey, and how would those who will live a hundred and more years from now be able to understand it? It may be that then the languages ​​and technologies which we know will no longer exist. Using the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs as an example, students develop a universally understandable pictograph code in which they encode the values ​​that are most important to them at the moment – signs that deal with family, entertainment, friends and broader world events. With the onset of warmer spring, the “The Artist Is Present” Bolderāja team goes to work outside the school – in the courtyard of the Centre for Strange Art in Daugavgrīva, where they cast concrete blocks in self-created forms – thereby making timeproof messages for future generations. Later, they are displayed at “The Artist Is Present” exhibition at the festival Survival Kit 14; after the festival ends, they are placed at each student’s chosen site in Bolderāja.

LCCA art mediator Lana Zujeva also plays an active role throughout the entire “The Artist Is Present” Bolderāja residency. She becomes an active and equally important driver of the creative process. Lana gets involved in the practical work sessions, by providing explanations and demonstrations, and paying extra attention to the youths when Gundega is busy at work. The mediator records what is happening and carries out surveys to understand the mood of the students and what needs to be improved. Lana also translates the ongoing activities and involves a student from Ukraine. She assumes the role of a mediator in the communication between the school as an institution which has its own internal rules, the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art with its instructions for the exact fulfillment of the project’s requirements, and the artist herself. Thanks to this, Gundega can fully devote herself specifically to the creative, artistic collaboration with the youths.

In parallel with the conversations and work in Bolderāja, Gundega herself participates in Zoom support sessions led by the Norwegian artist group Tenthaus. Tenthaus is an artist collective which has been running similar artist residencies in various Norwegian schools for more than ten years. In collaboration with the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art, the Norwegian colleagues share their experience and recommend various work models. Although the education systems in Latvia and Norway differ from each other, the influence of the artist on the students is universally similar. This is something new and unusual in the school system, and children and youths, in the presence of an outsider, get to know a completely different way of thinking that is rooted in creative work.

Initially, the participating youths from the Bolderāja New Primary School were a little skeptical about “The Artist Is Present” project, because they encountered something like this for the first time and did not understand the motives of what was happening. But little by little, as the teacher Lolita includes “The Artist Is Present” in the curriculum and, together with Gundega, develops the idea of the ​​”Hieroglyphs of Bolderāja”, the students become more and more

more interested and excited. The turning point seems to be going on an expedition together, because here the youths themselves have the opportunity to lead the process. Whereas practical work, creating concrete forms, is already a real adventure. In the middle of August, the core of the group of Bolderāja’s students – Amēlija, Samanta and Emīlija – together with Gundega attend the contemporary art camp “The Artist Is Present,” organized by LCCA in Valmiera. Over the course of five saturated days, during which it is possible to experience a real youth summer camp atmosphere, the girls create the second part of the artwork “Hieroglyphs of Bolderāja” – a 30-square-meter map of Bolderāja and Daugavgrīva. Its land contours (because these Riga neighborhoods are surrounded by water) are cut out of thin plywood. The team, which also includes girls from other schools, gradually transfers the topographical information of Google Maps from small phone screens to a much larger scale map laid out on the floor.

For each territory of the map, the participants find different symbolic colors, as well as invent new symbols. At the end of the mapping, the girls in Bolderāja and Daugavgrīva mark and describe other group members and the places that are of personal importance to them. In the beginning of September, the construction of the exhibition “The Artist Is Present” takes place in the Vidzeme Market – in front of the historical milk and meat pavilion. Unlike the works of other artists and youths, “Hieroglyphs of Bolderāja” are not to be found in the small kiosks, but are located in front of them. Gundega gradually assembles and screws the map of Bolderāja and Daugavgrīva onto specially built platforms. Then, she tightens the concrete blocks with marks at the right points. In an unplanned way, this map-installation becomes a gathering place and a conversation site for the exhibition visitors, because it provides a wonderful view onto all the other “The Artist Is Present” works.

After half a year of working together, during which there was a careful process of getting to know each other, then an expedition, then a fast-paced, practical activity in Riga and Valmiera, and then again a friendly meeting in the Vidzeme Market yard of Survival Kit 14, where the installation “Hieroglyphs of Bolderāja” has been created. This is what was written next to the 8.5 x 3.5 m map of Bolderāja and Daugavgrīva with messages for the future, cast in concrete:

“Hieroglyphs of Bolderāja”, 2023
Topographic installation
Concrete, veneer, paint

In the work “Hieroglyphs of Bolderāja” the youths of this neighborhood created a message about their present and a message for the future. Bolderāja, endowed with a peculiar fame, and its neighboring Daugavgrīva, although remote, are home to more than twenty thousand people. Among them are several thousand teenagers, who in their rebellious heads have a completely different map than the topographically accurate one from Google Maps. There exist places, not officially marked anywhere, which are best for going on dates, as well as areas which are better to not wander into. There are spots where to meet up with friends or hideaways where to get away from everyone else. This teenage geography of the neighborhood is constructed in a completely different way than we, adults, see it, and the markers of cultural and historical objects should be moved to completely different positions here. The teenagers of Bolderāja have created their own map – a more subjective one, with self-invented topographic designations and scale to their liking. For their most beloved places, they have created special, small, but durable concrete monuments with symbolic, universal signs, to be deciphered by youths in the distant future – when the known Bolderāja and Daugavgrīva will have already been washed away by the sea right next to them.

Gundega’s insights:

  • It makes more sense to work with those young people who really want to be creative. Others may have other interests, and it is perfectly understandable that not everyone is interested in art. However, the first class session, where the whole class is involved, is necessary – so that the student understands what he could get from the upcoming project, according to the principle that if you don’t try, you won’t know.
  • It is important to know the project’s total budget from the very beginning. Unfortunately, financial constraints affect thorough implementation of creative ideas. But, on the other hand, original and unusual technical solutions can be born out of the need to fit in the expected figure.
  • It’s important to try to work outside the classroom and school as well, as much as possible – the usual narrowness of indoor spaces and their saturation with objects limits students’ movements and creativity. Outdoor spaces offer the opportunity to expand and develop ideas on a much larger scale.
  • Each discussion, conversation, theory must be affirmed by its embodiment in practical work. This makes the process more interesting as well as more meaningful in the eyes of young people. They want to experience art directly themselves.