Riga Photography Biennial 2024 Central Event - Exhibition ‘Human Computer’

19.04.-16.06.2024. 11.00-18.00

The exhibition Human Computer is devoted to the group of eternal existential questions whose answers have to be re-evaluated from time to time. At its centre is the naive question: “Who am I?”, followed by a flood of similar attempts at self-understanding: “Who are we? Where do we come from and where are we going? Why is this happening? Why do we act like this? What do I feel? How do you feel?” 

We live in hurried, interesting times, which constantly surprise and entice us with new technological means of improving the quality of our lives. We quickly adapt them to our daily rituals until we realise that these technical assistants are already pretending to become part of our personalities (thus, without a smartphone the individual is left helpless). Hence the era  requires a new understanding of the essence of being human, a redefinition of the very idea of the human, a change in the existing perceptions of the self and the borders of one's personality. We are by now very close to the state predicted by Donna Haraway's A Cyborg Manifesto, published in 1985, predicting an era in which “people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines”. 

Attempting to grasp and analyse what is going on around us, thinkers operate with familiar words in new combinations: the digital era, screen-based culture, post-internet, networking, global village, posthumanism, transhumanism etc. Among these, the broadest term is “posthumanism”, which means the rejection of the dominant idea of humanism, in particular dismissing the anthropocentrism it postulates, referring to the selfish conceit that humans are the centre of Universe, with the word “human” mostly understood to apply only to white males. The roots of posthumanism as a theory are to be found after World War II, when the evil and destruction wrought on the world in the name of humanism was plain to see. Subsequent decades saw the rapid development of cybernetics, raising hope of giving back to humans their lost sense of security, to improve them, make them harder to wound. At the same time, the human machine poses a threat to human autonomy, namely, the man as conceived during the enlightenment as a creature endowed with consciousness and concisely defined by French philosopher and scientist René Descartes' credo cogito, ergo sum – “I think, therefore I am”. 

Both our thinking and the growing interaction between humans and technology is also affected by changes in image culture. Photography, canonically understood as an aesthetical and documentary image, has turned into one of the primary means of communication, which functions predominantly in the virtual realm. Already in the very first Riga Photography Biennial in 2016, Lithuanian artist and theoretician Paulius Petraitis drew attention to these transformations: “What has recently been termed ‘the screen-based culture’, marred with Internet platforms, offers radically new ways for the sharing and viewing of images. This networked condition expands photography, enabling its functionality as a key participant in digital culture. The network empowered images are endlessly re-usable in various contexts – even simultaneously. This radical potentiality shifts the cultural positioning of the medium. A photograph is no longer (or rather, not only) an image of a fixed “that has been” anchored in an aura of authorial meaning. It is now part of a mouldable and un-ceasing stream of data” (from the article “Curating Photography in the Digital Age: New Challenges and Blog Re-Blog” in the catalogue of RPB 2016). 

These vitally important themes have also often been considered by the participants of subsequent Riga Photography Biennials.  Human Computer, the central exhibition of the fifth biennial, likewise reflects on subjects that touch on several aspects of identity – body, gender, and social and historical identity. From different perspectives, the artists have turned to the following question: how do the emotional manifestations inherent in human nature – feelings, pain, compassion – adapt to today's digital world? 

Participants: Stephanie Dinkins (USA), Andreas Refsgaard (DK), Synnøve Sizou G. Wetten (NO), Victoria Durnak (NO), Cloe Jancis (EE), Nastja Säde Rönkkö (FI), Ieva Vīksne (LV), Zane Zelmene (LV) 

Curators: Inga Brūvere (LV), Marie Sjøvold (NO) 

Text by: Aiga Dzalbe (LV) 

Scenography: Inga Brūvere 

Partners:State Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia, Riga State City Council, Association of Cultural Institutions of Riga State City Council Exhibition Hall "Riga Art Space”, Office for Contemporary Art Norway (OKA), Nordic Council of Ministers’ Office in Latvia, Royal Norwegian Embassy in Riga, Danish Cultural Institute, Embassy of Finland in Riga, Estonian Embassy in Riga, printing house “Adverts”, Valmiermuiža Craft Brewery, “Rixwell Hotels”, Arterritory.com, Echo Gone Wrong, NOBA. 

Image: Stephanie Dinkins ‘’Conversations with Bina48’’, video still, 2018 

Riga Photography Biennial 2024 Central Event - exhibition ‘Vamp(yre) Reality’ by Lindsay Seers and Keith Sargent

19.04.-02.06.2024. 11.00-18.00

“To experience Seers’ and Sargents’ work is to experience snapshots, rumours, doubtful information – fascinating fragments that refuse to add up to a neat, narratively satisfying whole. To experience one’s memory of their work is something else entirely. Recall a work on a Monday morning, and it’s a story of childhood and exile. Recall it on a Tuesday night, and it’s a meditation on Platonic optics and 19th-century methods of indexing and surveillance. Memory does its work, generating different readings, different histories, and different shapes for the viewer’s future self to adopt.” 

Tom Morton (Frieze)

S&S’ principle concerns are the nature of consciousness and how it shapes human life. The work of Henri Bergson pervades their practice as a method. 

According to contemporary thought, there is no singular consciousness but a flux of thoughts and emotions that are framed in every given moment. (It is likely that Virginia Woolf had read Bergson. She mentions, in her novel Orlando, that every person has at least 2,052 selves). 

The works unfold in the making as in an act of performance. One thing leads to another. It is only realised fully in the exhibition hall, a punctuation in the continuity of the works' evolution.  

The stories we tell ourselves are not truths but frameworks to justify our actions post events. Human action as such (if Benjamin Libet is correct) comes before thought. We act spontaneously and then we create a plausible narrative for that action. The narrative is a work of fiction, a justification from a hidden impulse. 

S&S have developed a language of blending objects, environments, light, sound, VR and CGI in a search for hidden 'truths'. Their work often references human, animal and plant life with an ultimate desire to create a new philosophy of 'metaphysical thought' that can chime with the current science it evokes. 

S&S seek out the random events that may seem connected and causal but are not. Taking a cue from Vilém Flusser’s Towards a Philosophy of Photography, S&S push the photographic programs to their limits, searching towards innovations both in their forms and processes.  

The state of photography seems to be most interested in 'the mass of photography' rather than its singular content (its 'likes' and redistribution). This runs against S&S' fascination for the agency of individuals and the specificity of their narratives; their uniqueness. In this work the portraits from an album found in a hidden bookshop in Riga speak from the dead.  

Research on the subject of consciousness has been sustained over many years by the artists through dialogues with eminent scientists such as Chris Frith, FRS FBA, professor emeritus at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuro-imaging at University College London; Anil Seth, professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex; Paul Fletcher, Bernard Wolfe Professor of Health Neuroscience, University of Cambridge; and science writer Philip Ball. 

Participants: Lindsay Seers and Keith Sargent (UK) 

Partners: State Culture Capital Foundation of Latvia, Riga State City Council, Association of Cultural Institutions of Riga State City Council Exhibition Hall "Riga Art Space”, British Council representation in Latvia, printing house “Adverts”, Valmiermuiža Craft Brewery, “Rixwell Hotels”, Arterritory.com, Echo Gone Wrong, NOBA. 

Image: Lindsay Seers and Keith Sargent (UK), ‘Vamp(yre) Reality’, video still, 2024 

Lecture by Adam Mazur Atrocity Exhibition. New Modes of Representing Violence, War, and Trauma in Central and Eastern European Photography

30.05.2024. 18.00-19.00

 In this part of the world, photography is saturated with blood and pain. Just when things seem to be getting a bit better, war or conflict breaks out again, or some psychopath organizes an ethnic cleansing. Also in the 21st century, artists using photography commemorate, warn and empathize with victims, accuse perpetrators and document crimes. Even if in Central and Eastern Europe we are "accustomed" to cruelty and images of trauma that stay with us for generations, we still have no theory of this type of representation. Ever since the landmark publication Picturing Atrocity. Photography in Crisis (edited by Geoffrey Batchen et. al.), we know how to question our role as a photographic voyeur, but what we do not know is how to cope with the condition of a bystander. The theory of images of cruelty derived from Susan Sontag's essays by such outstanding thinkers as Rebecca Solnit, T. J. Demos, Alfredo Jaar, Ariella Azoulay, John Lucaites, Robert Hariman, and Susan Meiselas should be used, but also critically analyzed, here, in a place where we are almost constantly dealing with the production of violence and violence of images. The lecture will present some of the most important artists dealing with the topic of war and trauma today. In addition to artists, changes in the representation apparatus, mechanics of creation and methods of image distribution will also be discussed. This applies not only to the war in Ukraine, but also to the on-going migration crisis. What is specific about war images from Central and Eastern Europe? In the era of manipulation and AI, can we still trust images taken by reporters working on the front? What impact do photos have on the course of the war and public opinion? Do the images of violence coming to us from the front and the border desensitize us, or, as Susan Sontag wrote, can they constitute a form of resistance, support and strengthen empathy for the victims of the conflict? How are photos from the current war, hopefully not the next world war that started in Central and Eastern Europe, embedded – and how do they go down in the history of photography? 

Image: Sasha Kurmaz, Untitled, 2022

Workshop for kids with artist Līga Spunde

01.06.2024. 12.00-16.00

The creative workshop together with artist Līga Spunde is suitable for children aged 5 to 12 years. Necessary materials will be provided on site. Families are welcome to come at any time convenient for them throughout the duration of the workshop from 12:00 to 16:00.

Entrance fee 4 euros.

Image: from the workshop, 2023

Discussion Identity Caught in the Net of Visual Pleasure

14.06.2024. 18.00-19.00

The idea that the fiercest competition in today's economy is the competition for consumers' attention has long become a truism. Social media is a space where not only international corporations but also private individuals are engaged in such competition, and for most of us, audience attention does not translate to direct monetary gain. 

At least since the 1990s, when the explosion of digital technologies launched a visual turn in global culture, the visual image has remained the most powerful medium for communication and attracting attention. Over the last fifteen years, the circulation of visual images has been dramatically intensified and democratised by the rise of social networks. The monopoly of cultural professionals is over: anyone with a smartphone can create public content.

While there are no limits to the variety of content on social media, every single post is also an act of self-presentation that seeks to create a positive emotional connection with the audience. In other words, it is impossible to imagine a piece of content that does not simultaneously contribute to constructing its author's identity.

The discussion Identity Caught in the Net of Visual Pleasure aims to open an interdisciplinary space to analyse the pleasure we derive in the visual construction of identity on social media. Although often overlooked in studies dealing with social media as platforms for information exchange, the pleasure perspective allows for a comprehensive exploration of the psychological, aesthetic and economic dimensions of visual identity formations.

By bringing together perspectives from psychoanalysis, visual semiotics, critical theory, social media marketing and creative practice, the discussion will unravel the link between identity and visual pleasure, whose impact on social media users often reaches addictive proportions, locking us in a dopamine loop.

How has the role of visual images in identity construction practices been transformed by social media? Is the pleasure provided by social media beneficial to our psychic well-being? What creative perspectives in photography are opened up by the dizzying circulation of visual identities on social media? What challenges does the expansion of generative artificial intelligence pose to the dominance of non-generated photography and video? 

By addressing these questions in dialogue with the Biennale's exhibition programme, the discussion will seek to stimulate interdisciplinary critical reflection on the current state of the photographic medium.

Participantsi: Jānis Gailis (FR), Ivars Ījabs (LV), Daina Teters (LV), Anna Dzērve (LV), Deniss A. Ševeļovs (LV)

Curator and moderator: Igors Gubenko (LV)

Entrance fee 4 euros.

Image: Anna Dzērve, ‘Selfportrait’, 2021