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Kaspars Podnieks: Rommel’s dairy / Rommeļa pienotava
Two (2x) mounted C-print photographs
60 × 37 in each
Courtesy of the artist
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These two works are from a larger series that were exhibitted at North by Northeast, the Latvian Pavilion for the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. Art in General co-curated North by Northeast, with long-time partner kim? Contemporary Art Centre in Riga, Latvia. The Biennale exhibition, titled North by Northeast, presented new site-specific works by Latvian artists Kaspars Podnieks and Krišs Salmanis. Through the exploration of the artists’ relationship to the natural and ever shifting man-made world – including perceived borders and centers in Europe – Podnieks and Salmanis investigated and highlighted the concepts and conditions of identity, uncertainty, and in-betweeness.
In Kaspars Podnieks’ photographs from the Rommel’s dairy / Rommeļa pienotava series, we meet the residents of Drusti parish, a small rural community. A sudden rupture invalidates our expectations for the genre – as people of Drusti are being displaced, uprooted from their land, physically lifted high above the route they walk and the landscape they see day by day.
“Podnieks’s photographs might suggest the notorious Victorian post mortem portraits where the recently deceased were carefully propped up in order to capture their presence amidst the living one last time. Postures of these figures often appear unnatural, not unlike the ones in Podnieks’s photographs, after all it is highly unnatural (and physically uncomfortable) for people to find themselves balancing on a tiny platform more than five meters above the ground for their picture to be taken. Rather the somehow unnatural and restrained pose is determined by the setup, leaving little room for self expression of poses. This extraordinary bodily experience leads to an altered state of consciousness and a certain tension reflected in the faces and bodies of the farmers, an air of intensified concentration that contributes to the overall uncanny effect of the photographs.” (Alise Tifentale, Just what is it that makes Latvian art so different, so Latvian? North by Northeast catalogue, p.18.)
Kaspars Podnieks (b. 1980, Latvia) has devoted his practice, points of reference, and artistic research to his native village of Drusti, Latvia, where he still resides. In fact, he feels so strongly about Drusti that he is also active in the social and political activities as a member of its town council. Podnieks, who exhibited for the first time in 1998, has produced photographs, videos, installations, and performance-based pieces. In his most famous works, Podnieks photographs himself against various landscapes in Drusti, from industrial vistas to the undeveloped forests. In looking at these, it takes a moment to realize that the perspective of the image is askew, and that Podnieks is floating motionlessly above the landscape. He achieves this effect by standing on a small gangway above the ground—in such a way that his body obscures the support structure.