Review of the exhibition “Slash: Between Normative and Fantasy”

During the exhibition Slash: Between Normative and Fantasy, Irish voters voted for gay marriage legality and, after a month, the highest court in the United States legalized same-sex marriage in all states.

Kaspars Vanags’ exhibition invited a range of artists to participate from both Latvia and foreign countries. The first floor where a cube standing on stilts combines the work of Tom of Finland (real name Touko Laaksonen) with Latvian illustrator Edgars Ozolins whose drawings and sketches are known since Soviet times. Both artists’ works, to a certain extent, are in confrontation with each other, Ozoliņa sketches cover the cube wall on the outer edge, while Tom of Finland works are inside – they can only seen through a diagonal stripe window or by crawling under the lower part of the wall. Not only a kind of architectural game, but also a choice to connect these two artists is a quite original way considering in particular the historical contexts.


INGA MELDERE, Blaumana Room, 2015

Tom of Finland darbu vēsturiskais fons un konteksts ir cits nekā Ozoliņa ilustrācijās. Miesās uzpumpētie, ādās vai lateksā ietērptie milzu tēviņi ar uzbudinātiem locekļiem ir Touko darbu galvenā tēma. Fantāziju objekts, tāpat kā latviešu autora darbos, ir jebkurā gadījumā tāls un nepieejams, tomēr atšķirība ir tajā, kuru šīs fantāzijas uzrunā un uz ko tās vēlas iedarboties. Tātad auditorijā. Ja Touko darbi 70. gados bija zīmīga geju meinstrīma pornogrāfijas daļa, ar laiku kļūstot par šīs subkultūras neatņemamu klišeju, tad Ozoliņa ilustrācijas, īpaši Zentas Ērgles darbos, veidoja stereotipu kaudzi veselai paaudzei. Tie uzbūra ainas ar puiku un meiteņu pasaulēm un visu, kas no tā izriet – kā jāizskatās un kā jārīkojas. Šā brīža nacionāli konservatīvā spārna paaudze, kura Saeimā asi iestājas par ģimenes vērtībām un tikumības likumu, visticamāk, ir uzaugusi tieši ar šīm ilustrācijām.



The power of being who we are

kim? Contemporary Art Centre in Riga, Latvia is presenting a group exhibition, Slash: In Between the Normative and the Fantasy, which includes work from Tom of Finland, Edgars Ozoliņš and artists from around the world.

While there, I came upon three women: One from Latvia; one from Lithuania and one from Estonia.

011The three had come there to empower the Queer Latvians – to support what it takes to move their country forward. They were beaming while viewing the Tom of Finlands so I naturally asked them what it was about his work that spoke to them. They all told me that he made them proud to be Homosexual, that his drawings made them feel happy inside, full of pleasure in being themselves, enjoying life and their sexuality.

We can overcome anything when we tap into the power of being who we are.

-Durk Dehner


“Slash” | 18th June | Riga


Contemporary Art Centre
gallery 427
Janis Rozentāls and Rūdolfs Blaumanis Museum







The exhibition includes work from the archives of Tom of Finland and Edgars Ozoliņš, and by the following participants:  Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst (USA), Lucas Foletto-Celinski (Brazil, Germany), Atis Jākobsons (Latvia), Aleesa Cohene (Canada), Vladislas Nastavševs (Latvia), Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay (Canada, Germany), Armīns Ozoliņš (Latvia), Karol Radziszewski (Poland), Wolfgang Tillmans (Germany), Vilnis Vējš (Latvia).

The first time a public art institution in Latvia is turning towards “slashes” among contemporary art expression. More than 20 years had to pass since the decriminalization of homosexuality for such an exhibition, influenced by the digitalisation of personal life, to be possible – borrowing from the open-source mentality. The other, here, isn’t juxtaposed to the norm as something locked in the solitude of an individual strangeness or an impossible taboo, but as an awareness of an essentially recognizable, reachable, and modifiable aspect of personal identity.

Stuck between the norm and fantasy, the slash questions the self-explanatory about sexual orientation. It questions the difference between identity and belonging, between belonging and decency.  It does not concern only homosexuality, but a whole range of issues, which sometimes dart and zigzag through our minds. For the bent, the queer, first and foremost has to do with the right to be asexual and is unlikely to lead to pining for polyandry. The starting point here is to be found outside the context of partnership: it is the reflection of the queer on the self and an inner dialogue with the imagined possibilities aroused by the surrounding environment. Imagination is universal, therefore seductive art is meant even for the conservative. Straightness may lift one straight to heaven, but if we consider the infinite outside the Euclidian geometric framework, then the relationship between two parallel lines turns out to be less than straightforward, a little slanted, allowing for them to meet at some point.

The group exhibition consists of works that hold a friction between imagination and reality, with unexpected flickers of synergy in the place of routine sparks. The different fusion samples are of a variety of structures. There are fragments of personal stories, micro-history notes without any pretence to the status of an artwork, as well as art installations of a conceptual nature without narrative features. There are poetic subversions of the hetero-normative dominant in mass media, presented in a video format, and nearby – charcoal drawings, where the plaster casts of Roman busts, ubiquitous in the academic art education system, have seemingly lost their cast in stone identities. The stories of intimate human relations and changes brought by the changing of time are addressed by various photo series, and daily artefacts unexpectedly surfaced from the past proclaim a certain message.

Knitting together the period before the decriminalization of homosexuality in Latvia with the queer interpretations of the turn of the 21st century in contemporary art is an exercise in the tightrope walking of communication. Thus an almost atrophied form of communication, which is nevertheless crucial in any attempt to revisit the past, the letter, pops up here and there among the works included in the exhibition. Letters are placed in glass cases as documentary evidence of history, or serve as epistolary forms of social sculpture. At a time when you can officially stick a stamp with a Tom of Finland’s homoerotic drawing on an envelope, you might think that shortly before becoming extinct even the most conservative type of communication has succeeded in integrating the outsiders. How such a letter might reach its addressee in Latvia is one of the footnote questions of the Slash exhibition.

Curated by Kaspars Vanags and Gary Everett

Collaboration partners: Homotopia, ISSP, MooiMan, Tom of Finland Foundation, 427, Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, Association of Memorial Museums.

Opening: 7-9p

Exhibition shall open during EuroPride in Latvia and run through 2nd August.