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23.04.2022 -
27.11.2022
Arsenale,
Venezia
The Latvian Pavilion at
the 59th International
Art Exhibition La
Biennale di Venezia
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Skuja Braden, an international artistic collaboration, born in 1999, between Ingūna Skuja from Latvia and Melissa D. Braden from California, USA presents a multilayered installation that maps the mental, physical, and spiritual areas within the artists’ home. The ideals and affiliations of its inhabitants are revealed, and insight is offered into different readings of the history of a region to test the readiness of its society to live up to the challenges of the present day. In the exhibition, home is echoed by images in porcelain, a material which Skuja Braden has mastered superbly. Their porcelain comes to life in everyday objects, fountains, bendy hoses, and different bodies.
Selling Water by
the River

”Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition,” wrote James Baldwin, as if to echo the idea, rooted in Zen Buddhism, of a ceaseless state of presence and enlightenment. It was a Japanese Zen master who had earlier written, “For forty years I've been selling water by the bank of a river. Ho, ho! My labours have been wholly without merit,” asking us to understand that we already have everything we need, that the river flows whether we want it to or not, and that we have to reach enlightenment on our own. In this exhibition by the artist duo Skuja Braden at the Latvian Pavilion, a home and a river are similarly metaphors, signifying states of consciousness that reflect different experiences. The borders between private and public space are blurred here, and questions are posed as to the possibility of living and being together in the modern world, shaken as it has been by shifts of a seismic scale. Now that hospitality has become a neoliberal consumer good, and with aversion to all that’s conceptually or physically different growing rapidly, social groups can be bound together as if by manifesto with aggression towards a “guest”.

Why has Skuja Braden – a symbiotic whole and an integral being that the artists Ingūna Skuja and Melissa D. Braden have created by working and living together for more than twenty years, merging two different personalities, skillsets, sets of experiences, collected knowledges, historical contexts and nationalities – chosen such a framework for their exhibition at the Latvian Pavilion? Is it because the coming-to-be of Skuja Braden’s unique selfhood has been influenced by their queer self-identity and the time that the two artists spent together at a Zen Buddhist monastery in California? Or is it that a confidence drawn from Buddhist teachings, when mixed with a Californian free spirit and experiences of post-socialist life into a singular mélange, helps when it comes to finding solutions in both everyday situations and creative practice, and when integrating into a society based on heteronormative ideas? Is the water different in California, where Melissa is from, or in the Daugava River, the Latvian body of water on the banks of which lies Aizkraukle, a town built under the auspices of Soviet industrialization, where Ingūna grew up and where the artist duo lived and worked for many years?
Expanding the concept of home, Skuja Braden’s exhibition comprises a full anatomy of the common spaces in which we live together – the bedroom, the kitchen, the studio and the guest room – as well as areas where our everyday activities assume a ritual meaning, where memory comes alive and the various dimensions of our spiritual and physical bodies are cared for. The past and present converge here, along with illusions, religions and convictions, allowing one to not only critically review different ways of reading the history of our region but also test our social readiness for weathering the challenges of the present day, including the polarisation of opinion. In the exhibition, home and the character thereof are echoed by images in porcelain, a material which Skuja Braden has mastered superbly, making it assume the most surprising shapes. Their porcelain comes to life in the form of luxuriously painted dishes, everyday objects, fountains and bendy hoses, male and female physiques and preserve the traces of nature. One spacious porcelain takes the shape of the bed and by the invisible wave is sent into the air. All the themes of Skuja Braden’s art and life meet here as if in a frantic act of cosmogony.

The water that might surround a home is here embodied materially. It is charged with new knowledge and, drawing upon ideas of hydrofeminism, signals the idea of a radical collectivity, asserting that we all are connected to our planet through the flow and continuity of different liquids. Water flows through and past any differences, offering some of the richest experiences we can have of being together. Having been a witness to global events since the beginning of the Earth, it ties together the present and the past. Just as water, in the Zen master’s koan, teaches us to recognize that we already have everything that we need, we simply have to learn to see it, Skuja Braden’s home asks us to immerse ourselves in and dissolve into the globally connected current, and to make contact and include instead of creating and consuming in excess.
Artists
Skuja Braden is an artistic collaboration, born in 1999, between Ingūna Skuja from Latvia and Melissa Braden from California. Their work is a fusion of decorative styles, touching on literary and art historical themes, grounded in the politics of now, and interpreted entirely through the experience of their shared existence.

Their solo exhibitions have been held at the Decorative Art and Design Museum in Riga, the Contemporary Craft Museum in Oregon, and the John Natsoulas Gallery in California. The duo has participated in numerous group exhibitions, the latest being held at the Latvian National Museum of Art in Riga and the Whitechapel Gallery in London as well as art fairs, including SOFA-Chicago; Ceramic Annual of America, San Francisco; Start Art Fair; Saatchi’s Gallery, London; and SCOPE Art Fair Basel. Skuja Braden’s works have been published in Contemporary Studio Porcelain, A Human Impulse, and the
Lark Books 500 series on Ceramics. They have also been featured in Ceramic Monthly, New Ceramics, and Curve Magazine. Their works appear in public and private collections including the White Memorial Medical Center in L.A., the Kellogg Art Collection in Pomona, the Museum of Contemporary Ceramics in Santo Domingo, Latvian National Museum of Art, Museé Ariana in Switzerland, World Ceramic Center in South Korea, Changchun Ceramic Center in China, ASU Art Museum in USA, Westerwald Keramike Museum in Germany, and Zuzeum in Latvia.
Curators
Andra Silapētere
Andra Silapētere is a curator and researcher at the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art (LCCA). Her field of research and interest includes the topics of exile and migration in art, and aspects of identity and belonging. She was a co-curator of the research and exhibition project Portable Landscapes, which examined the art and life of the Latvian exile and migrant communities throughout the 20th century, with exhibitions at Latvian National Art Museum, Riga (2018), District, Berlin (2019), James Gallery at CUNY, New York (2019) and an upcoming publication (K. Verlag, 2022). Other selected exhibitions include: I Remember, Therefore I Am. Not Yet Written stories: Woman Artist Archives (2020) and Unexpected Encounters (2019), both at the Latvian National Museum of Art; Unexpected Encounters at Den Frie (2019), Copenhagen; Twofold. Kaspars Groševs and Jānis Borgs at the Latvian National Museum of Art (2017); and Lost in the Archive at the Riga Art Space in Riga (2016).
Solvita Krese
Solvita Krese lives in Riga and has been directing the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art (LCCA), where she also works as a curator, since 2000. She has curated and co-curated a number of large-scale international exhibitions, most recently the public art project Together, Riga and Latvian regions (2020); the research project and exhibition Portable Landscapes, which traced and contextualized Latvian artists’ emigration and exile stories throughout the 20th century, resulting in exhibitions at the Villa Vassilieff, Paris, the Latvian National Art Museum, (2018), and James Gallery at CUNY, New York (2019); Unexpected Encounters at Den Frie Art Center, Copenhagen and the Latvian National Art Museum; Identity. Behind the curtain of uncertainty, National Gallery of Ukraine, Kiev (2016); re:visited, Riga Art Space (2014); Telling tales, National Gallery of Art, Vilnius; Kumu Art Museum, Tallinn; Centre for Contemporary Art, Centre PasquArt , Biel (2014); Alternativa, WYSPA, Gdansk (2013), etc. She was the commissioner of the Latvian Pavilion in the 56th and 58th Venice biennale (2015 and 2019). In 2009 she initiated the annual Contemporary Art Festival Survival Kit which she curated and co-curated through 2019.
Team

Artists: SKUJA BRADEN (INGŪNA SKUJA AND MELISSA D. BRADEN)

Curators: ANDRA SILAPĒTERE (LCCA) AND SOLVITA KRESE (LCCA)

Architect: LĪVA KREISLERE

Graphic designer: RŪTA JUMĪTE

Art handlers: ALEKSEJS BEĻECKIS AND PAULS JĒGERS

Commissioner: SOLVITA KRESE (LCCA)

Producer: KITIJA VASIĻJEVA (KOLEKTĪVS)
Audiovisual solutions: ALISE ZARIŅA

Project manager: IEVA KRŪMIŅA (MINISTRY OF CULTURE OF THE REPUBLIC OF LATVIA)

Communication strategy: COPYWRITER / LEVELUP (OLGA PROCEVSKA, IGORS GUBENKO, JEKATERINA FIRJANE)

Communication: SOFIJA ANNA KOZLOVA (LCCA)

International communication: ALEXIA MENIKOU

Assistants in Venice: MARIONA BALTKALNE, KETRISA PETKEVIČA, DITA MISKA, JEVGENIJA HAMUDAJEVA, AGNESE TRUŠELE, KARĪNA VOLBETA
Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art
The organiser of the Latvian Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia

Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art (LCCA) is an NGO which propels contemporary art events in Latvia since 2000, via critically and creatively approaching the processes in society.

LCCA organizes art events and exhibitions, as well as carrying out research and education projects, and creating publications addressing the most up-to-date processes in art and society and examining the histories thereof. The center's chief areas of focus are the cultural and political contexts of Latvia, the Baltics, Eastern Europe and the wider post-socialist region,
with matters concerning genders and minorities, the layers of individual and cultural memory, and perspectives on the environment and ecology at the fore. LCCA finds cooperation with local and international artists and institutions to be of particular importance, and this is reflected in the nomadic scope of the center's activities – exhibitions, education programs and other events are held variously in museums, schools, libraries, abandoned buildings and urban spaces. One such event is the international contemporary art festival Survival Kit.
More information: www.lcca.lv
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DESIGNED BY RŪTA JUMīTE