One of London’s great alternative exhibition spaces ‘The Old Biscuit Factory’, Bermondsey, hosted Baltica – Memory and Landscape, curated by Jude Cowan Montague, dedicated to work inspired by the Baltic Sea for a fleeting week in January. Sami Maalas’ Memory Wash (2020) played at right angles to a huge mirror giving a double projection of a man having his brain washed like a car, his memories soaped out. Perhaps he is foaming against corporate interests ruining beloved vistas, perhaps railing against his own mundane existence, MEMORY WASH –
This was followed by ‘The Forest Renovation Trailer’ by Elina Renko in a continuous loop of remembrance. Here, the cutting down of precious Finnish forest is mourned, profiteering at the expense of landscape. In a desolate clearing, where all has been removed, three fake trees are erected, along with imitation birds and taped birdsong, as an experienced woodsman questions why there is no investment in forestry? Elina Renko – Metsanuudistus / The Forest Renovation Trailer
Next: ‘Erasing a dream’ (2020) by Anne Savitie, in which a white gauzy dress flaps on a tree overlooking a frozen lake, a woman with a burning brand sets fire to it. It bursts into flames to the tinkling of bells and the mournful sound of swans: The dim white of the ice and freezing wintry air allows the blaze to bloom on film creating a troubling spectacle. The artist explains that she is revisiting a place of love and warmth in the cold dank of winter to examine a recent separation from her son’s father.
Mexican Finnish duo Alberto Reza and Veera Salmio show ACTIVISTAS, a tribute to all those who sought to preserve the cultural history of Tampere, a former industrial heartland city in the south of Finland.
All the places documented have been saved by a citizen group after they were threatened with demolition, ranging from a sauna to a brewery, shopping mall to art centre, workhouse to theatre. They build a digital visual history of the past, to enable renewal.
Natalia Jezova writes: “On 22nd of September 1941, 1159 Jewish children, women and men were killed in Veliucionys by Lithuanian Nazi collaborators.” Jezova, a Russian brought up in Lithuania, knows what it’s like to inhabit a space where overlapping identities conflict. This video looks at a location where the above atrocity took place, now forest paths and glades, there is no memorial, no trace of what happened here. But, when she went to the Lithuanian authorities to ask, she was told categorically that no single Lithuanian took part, it was all perpetrated by Germans, and to state otherwise is a criminal offence under current laws. 159, 2019
Veronika Shimanovskaya launches a St Petersburg boat through the Old Biscuit Factory with her collaborator Natalja Spigina. ‘Passing By’ 2020, involves a huge sail numbered 1845, the year the Russian Geographic Society was formed in St Petersburg and set out to study what was left of the Liv & Creving people around the Baltic. She calls this a serendipitous coincidence as she uses the floor of the factory to project watery scenes from that city today, with its canals and waterways, creating a work that is at once tangible and ineffable: Physically imposing, liquidly elusive, like walking through a film set. https://vimeo.com/386317162
Estonian sound artist Ahto Külvet created a Baltic Mixtape 2020, comprising of poetry and natural sounds, frogs, rooks, monastery bells, shaman drums, flutes, harps, songs in the Livonian and Setu languages – which hang by a thread in the Baltics -, psychedelic folk music from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Finland.