Interview with Astrīda Riņķe, founder of the gallery Alma in Riga
With its first Biennial in 2018, Riga has become an essential city when thinking about contemporary art. Alma, as one of the most significant galleries for contemporary art in the Latvian capital, was one of the participating galleries. In 2005 Astrīda Riņķe opened her gallery with Ilva Krišane. Since then the gallery has focused on Latvian artists working in diverse media.
Tell us a bit about the origins of your gallery. What led you to open your gallery?
We both worked at Rīgas Galerija, which was one of the first contemporary art galleries in Latvia to open after the country regained its independence.
I had graduated from the Art Academy of Latvia’s Painting Department and had a job working in the gallery. Ilva studied art history. There, we nurtured the dream of opening our own gallery, which we eventually succeeded in doing in 2005. After a collaboration of three years, Ilva moved to Sorento, Italy. And after that I continued to develop the gallery on my own.
What brought you into contemporary art in the first place? What is your background?
I grew up in a very artistic environment. My dad was a graphic designer and my mum was an art historian.
What does the name of your gallery come from?
The name was inspired by the name of the heroine of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s 1989 surreal horror film Santa Sangre. It is the story of a circus troupe in Mexico. The narrative is interwoven with visual metaphors from psychoanalysis, and links audacious aesthetic criteria, the shockingly grotesque, poetry, psychological trials and tribulations, and black humour.
The girlfriend of the leading character, the boy wizard Fenix, is Alma, a deaf-mute girl and mime artist. Her only protection and powers lie in love, intuition and courage. Etymologically, the name has various definitions, but essentially it is synonymous with the soul, nurturing, nourishing and spiritual support.
The first Riga Biennial took place this year. How would you describe the influence of the Biennial on Riga’s art scene?
I think that it was a valuable event, which promises to have positive long-term consequences. Our art scene is quite close-knit and not particularly welcoming to newcomers. In my opinion, the Riboca (Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art) team has succeeded in melting the cool northerly disposition that Latvians typically initially display when confronted with something new.
Your gallery is located in a modernist building. Why have you chosen this place?
Originally, we opened the gallery in an Art Nouveau building bell button next at the door in the so-called Quiet Centre with a. At that same time, we chose to be reserved, with the result that we came across as being standoffish. Over the course of time, a lot has changed.
We are now located in a small space, completely surrounded by glass, in this modernist building in Riga’s historical centre. As a result, our exhibitions are fully exposed to the eyes of the city 24 hours a day.
How would you characterize the artists you work with? How are the artists you represent connected?
The contemporary art world has become saturated with artificial and theoretically inspired cleverness and calculated works with a clear fidelity to design. I find this boring and predictable, which is why I like art that is inherently eclectic and surprising.
All the artists represented by the gallery are Latvian. For us, the local discourse is of primary importance. Personally speaking, globally, the most interesting artists are those whose individual talent is linked to their national identity.
Despite the fact that I always keep track of the latest developments, it is still quite a rare occasion and invariably slow process that leads me to decide that I want to represent an artist. Therefore, I’m delighted when I encounter an artist or work that inspires me. This is my main preoccupation and passion.
What has been the biggest challenge in opening and running your own gallery?
Challenges inevitably arise from time to time. These mainly relate to the financial side of things. I summon the courage to take risks if I believe in the artist.
Is there someone who influenced you in a particular way?
Many different people have inspired me, therefore I don’t want to highlight anybody in particular.
How do you see the role of a gallery today?
I see it as being that which is classically accepted; that is, to devise and plan programmes that increase the artist’s prestige and income. However, I consider it to be very important to inspire artists, to be there for them, and to recognise and highlight the potential that artists have to evolve through joint collaboration.
What exhibitions or projects do you have planned in the months to come?
On November 23, we’ll open Sarmīte Māliņa’s exhibition TEARS. This title not only alludes to her personal experiences, but also to universal human feelings.
The overall mood of the exhibition will flirt with ideas that are naive in the extreme. It will comment on the distance from raw emotions and melancholic contemplation that one frequently observes in contemporary art. Sarmīte Māliņa will dare to behave in a manner more associated with musicians, singing songs about love, romanticising her experiences, and meditating upon her feelings and the events that have shaped her perception of life.
64 Terbatas Street