Representations of the Baltic cities – Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius – have in the recent past concentrated on their post-socialist transformations: overcoming Soviet heritage and negotiating changes of the new capitalist modernity. Now, twenty years after the arrival of independence, after joining the European Union and free market economies, other keywords and processes have come to the forefront: managing post-industrial changes, reappearing social differentiations and the precariousness of global economic cycles, and more recently, anxiety over one’s geopolitical position.
Present Tense investigates the role of critical artistic practices vis-á-vis these changing societies and spaces. On the one hand there still exists a distrust of collective means of opposition, carrying a stigma of Soviet propaganda strategies, and on the other hand artistic work is met with the rhetoric of creative economies and entrepreneurialism, that translates oppositional gestures into productive ones. The exhibition focuses on urban and public spaces, where the conflicts and contrasts are made visible but where also interventions to the existing order of things could gain wider significance. Also – have we now moved on to a new point in history? The fact that Soviet society which was directed at constructing a different future, merely spawned an aftermath that has to deal with leftover ruins, seems to suggest that.
By engaging also works from the 1970s, Present Tense aims to build a different kind of genealogy for these interventions in the present, showing how several young artists in the Baltics took an active stance towards the changing urban environment already in the early 1970s.
Along a row of video works, interventions, sculptures, actions and performances integrated in the exhibition display is a reading corner, where diverse material such as documentation and publications introduces the audience to the work of urban activists in the Baltic countries, that often have borrowed artistic strategies for community organisation and activation.
Some works presented here could even mirror another part of the Baltic – namely the city of Kalmar where this exhibition takes place. Also this city is experiencing a post industrial recession, with many local industries in decline while social costs soar, resulting in a decrease in the population. Kalmar is no stranger to radical ideas, which can be seen in Ronja Yu’s film “The Chinese Are Coming”, also featured in the exhibition.