Being Good

Sculpture Quadrennial Riga 2016 central exhibition

Curators: Aigars Bikse (LV), Kirke Kangro (EE), Elona Lubyte (LT)


“Everything changes. Frighteningly, nothing changes again. Well, hopefully nothing changes.”

Change is the key idea behind both concepts – conservatism and liberalism. How do we react to change? What kind of change do we consider desirable? What change do we consider tolerable or intolerable?

Commonly, we think of liberals as those who are open to change and of conservatives as the ones who tend to resist it. For liberals, being good means constantly rethinking things and being open to possibilities. For conservatives, being good means keeping and preserving the ways, norms and forms that are constant, because with rethinking and change things might get worse. It is obvious that historically these two political attitudes have themselves been subjected to change and therefore within themselves are not homogeneous blocks at all. However, psychologists and neurobiologists have conducted several experiments to suggest that conservatism and liberalism have a genetic basis; neurotransmitters and anterior cingulate cortex come into play. If so, how do we find the common good?

Being good is crucial when living in a society and being good can do very much harm. In his short introduction to ethics British philosopher Simon Blackburn reflects on the philosophical theme of being good and living well. The co-existence and possible paradox of those two values could perhaps, shed some light on the ongoing clash between conservatism and liberalism in both – private and public sector of our society today.
Blackburn speaks about the aim of maximizing the general happiness: “Any decent ethic would want to cry out some virtue of benevolence, or altruism, or solidarity with the aim of increasing welfare and diminishing misery for everyone.” He points out the standards of “good” in liberal, Western way in the “United Nations Universal Declaration to the Human Rights”. “But are they more than just ours, just now? If we cannot see them as more than that, then who are we to impose them to others? Multiculturalism seems to block the liberalism.”
Bernard Williams has developed the concept of “moral luck”, concerning a situation where a subject is thought to have made (the right) moral judgments, although most of the circumstances that make person appear “good” are beyond one’s control. People who are doing well seem to be simply better people or at least they must have done many things “right”. It is interesting to think about the moment of luck in context of concepts that each propose a solution for better society. At the right time and at the right place one method could be “luckier” than the other.

Even if we might say that art, valued by criteria within itself, could thereby stand outside the “good-and-bad” grid, it still has been a desirable channel for political manipulations. Sculpture with its monumental qualities is perhaps the loudest voice in the social landscape of art therefore it has been abused the most.
One of the interests of the exhibition is also the development of sculpture as a medium nowadays when it is solely the artist and not an ideology that speaks through this volume. Since the first exhibition in 1972, “Sculpture Quadrennial Riga” has witnessed the change of this “supreme discipline” of fine arts throughout almost 50 years. Sculpture has become a fast facility in hands of contemporary artist – not so far behind photography, for one’s surprise. Moreover, its dialogue with the viewer might even be closer to the “present moment”. Photography traditionally brings us the image of something that has already happened while sculpture often requires being present and confronting the spatial object directly. How fast can a medium react to shifts in the sociopolitical landscape? Moreover, what is its role in the public space today? Once a medium to propagate the existing ideology or memorize the last, can it hold the power to influence the future?
“Sculpture Quadrennial Riga” 2016 central exhibition “Being good” uses the language of the spatial art to talk about the almost invisible environment of ethics – the surrounding climate of ideas on how to live that determines what we find acceptable or unacceptable, admirable or contemptible. It also determines our understanding of things going well or south and how we relate to others; it shapes our emotional responses on a daily bases.

The exhibition occupies both – open space of the city and historically notorious building it the center of old town Riga – Wagner’s Hall. We believe that it is important to not only display sculptures, typically “monumental” by size and effect but also artwork that might change ones thinking and perception of the ethical climate. Artists use the existing political and cultural landmarks in Riga, making changes or emphasizing the value and importance of them.

“Sculpture Quadrennial Riga” 2016 extends its borders more than ever this year offering international satellite project – exhibition “Terra Incognita: Familiar Infinity” featuring young sculptors and installation artists from Belgium/Holland and Baltic States that will open in June at KUMU Art Museum un Tallinn, Estonia.