ART AND GENERATIONS: A CONVERSATION WITH TOMASS PARUPS

Born in 2000, the indigo child Tomass Pārups is already an established art critic, author and curator in Latvia. He began his career at the young age of 14 by studying Latvian artists and embarking on a journey to explore and contribute to the Latvian cultural scene. Self-disciplined, intelligent and curious, his progression only shows what a proactive young man can achieve and proves that when someone puts their mind to something, everything becomes possible. However, beyond the name and the work is the man himself, whom the Honeymoon High team were lucky to meet and chat with about topics ranging from the beginnings of his career and to exchanging anecdotes about the Soviet politics:



Agnija: During my childhood I wanted to be Britney Spears, I basically wanted to be famous like her. Later on my desire turned to becoming a micro-surgeon, but I turned out to become the editor-in-chief of Honeymoon High. What did you want to be, what interested you and how did you get to where you are now?
Tomass: Dear God, I obscurely remember that I wanted to be an architect, but then I quickly realised that further mathematics wasn’t the field in which I could progress in. It was at the age of 12 when I started writing down thoughts I had about films I’d seen, but that moment when my interests turned towards art, I don’t even remember.
Zane: Was it a specific movie director that inspired you to make the jump to visual art?
Tomass: I think the jump from film to art happened very naturally, because when I started writing I realised that I don’t want to write in Latvian about Latvian cinema. Once I started writing about art I decided to take a school project approach to it. The first artist I interviewed was Aigars Bikše, and the next one was Helēna Heinrihsone and afterwards was Ģirts Muižnieks. At the time I sent it to the Mākslai Vajag Telpu (Art Needs Room) and they liked the interview, then step by step it lead to the portal Satori asking me to publish the interview with them. It was afterwards that I asked Ilmārs Šlāpins if I could write an article and then slowly writing became a regular thing.
Agnija: Going from film to art, did you already have interests in art and history during school? Or did your parents inspire these subjects within you?
Tomass: I think a disconnect took place in my head. I also understood that the artistic community was the one in which I wanted to be in and felt at home in. The strictness of school and the people there bored me, and the artistic community doesn’t think in the categories that academia does.
Agnija: And then you educated yourself at home through art history books?
Tomass: At one point yes, but that happened when I started communicating with the artists, meeting them, becoming friends and seeing them at events and parties. Through this interaction did I end up being a part of the Golf Clayderman exhibition, Arterritory and then my job as a curator developed.
Zane: What do you think about academic art training, and how important is it in your field?
Tomass: It, of course, can benefit you a lot and it would never hurt, for example if an artist decided that he wanted to build an instillation, then a background in painting would be beneficial. However there are many cases where an artist does not have any academic training or knowledge of art history, but I would never make the degree a prerequisite. You just have to look at their works, what they’re trying to say and what they are thinking. I don’t even have formal training in this field.
Zane: What does the word “art” mean to you?
Tomass: I don’t know, I think art is anything that humans create by putting it in the right context like an exhibition room. What is good art? That is the hardest question that I don’t think anyone before us has been able to answer.
Zane: I remember when I almost went to university in England to study History of Art, during university interviews they would always ask this question and my answer was always that, “It can mean anything.”
Tomass: Exactly. That’s the thing, as I mentioned the artistic community does not have set categories; only one’s own established ones, so I couldn’t even possibly make a correct definition.
Zane: Because definitions always change, like when Marcel Duchamp in 1917 presented a toilet but called it Fountain to challenge what is considered art and its boundaries. The meaning of art has its own historic repertoire.
Tomass: There’s academic art which takes places within its own set boundaries, but I don’t know, I think through writing each article, I learn more about art. I hope that through writing, it will lead me to my own personal and subjective understanding and an answer to that question.
Agnija: You’re part of the Gen Z group. How did you start doing that which to many is incomprehensible especially since you don’t have any contemporaries?
Tomass: I’ll begin by saying that I don’t think any generation is hopeless, but it’s interesting because there are many who went through Jānis Rozentāls Art School to academia, many of whom had great potential but decided to live abroad.
Agnija: I’m not trying to criticise Gen Z except to say that they are very specific, they have not grown up with books, but with Wikipedia and all the information that the internet can provide.
Tomass: Well yes, and when they use a typewriter they think it’s something extremely exotic.
Zane: So how do you perceive the generational differences?
Tomass: I think that this generational understanding is in fact very specific. But so are the millennials who hail from the ’90s with whom there is such a gap with everyone else. I think it’s because we are much more Western. Because we had a much bigger exposure to the so-called western values, and the older generations were forced to adapt and adopt them unlike us, who grew up with it. I think now it’s harder for the older generations than for the younger ones.
Zane: The older ones lived in a time when nationalism and socialism were much stronger whereas now its globalisation and capitalism.
Tomass: Thank God for capitalism, I’m a big fan.
Zane: I really like the joke about two men sitting at a table, one of them says, “I’m a socialist,” and the other one replies, “Yeah, I don’t understand finance either.”
Tomass: There was a joke from the Reagan era about what life was like during the Soviet Union; so a guy calls a car factory and says, “I want a car.” the guy from the factory responds, “call back in 10 years! We have no more cars!” The guy then asks, “morning or evening?”, “why does it matter, it’s in 10 years!” To which the guy responds, “Well it matters because I have the plumber coming on that morning.”
Zane: Speaking of business, the generational differences can be felt there more because the millennials are beginning to take over the global workplace and are drastically different from Generation X and the Baby Boomers. Shifts are taking place everywhere and the older generations are more frightened and no one really understands what the years ahead are going to look like.
Tomass: If you don’t understand them then it would be even worse to be patronising towards them. Of course you should pass on what you know but I hate the patronising tone. When you tell an artist what he could have done better, that’s fine, but to tell what he should have said instead and what he should have depicted, now that’s awful. Some think that art should be socially responsible, I disagree. It should be the viewer who’s responsible. They need to make adequate questions regarding the work because the work gives the viewer back more than it gives the artist.
Agnija: What do you think are the biggest differences in the art that millennials make versus the older generations, what issues do they raise?
Tomass: It’s not like there’s a huge difference, every artist at one point comments on matters that everyone at that age would comment on. Then there are those who go the opposite direction.
Agnija: The same goes for GolfClayderman. They have that specificity where they talk about Latvian pop culture.
Tomass: In my opinion there are many who do just that, and that’s because our generations are more exposed to pop culture. It’s everywhere around them so, I think, it is very interesting to add value to something that is quite meaningless.
Zane: I suppose the older generations who grew up in the Soviet era and were surrounded by much stricter protocols and rules when it came to art.
Tomass: Yes, but people then continuously found their space for freedom and created it. Because the Soviet Union had a wonderful underground scene. Performance art took place in Latvia during the 1960s along with the Free Love movement. Artists like Andris Grīnbergs performed his pieces, obviously in locations that weren’t sanctioned. Now there is total freedom and it’s very possible that that is why there’s so much mediocrity. Because everyone’s free. There’s nothing to fight against really, for if there was, then interesting comments would be made and reactions would be received.
Zane: Who inspires you?
Tomass: The GolfClayderman Collective inspires me because I work closely with them. I don’t know if there’s someone specific, but rather there is the types who create work that inspires me, and in this case I’m inspired by many. Speaking of specific people, those would be Aksels Bruks and Margrieta Griestiņa who inspire me and whom I trust. Vilnis Vējš is someone who I look up to and aspire to write like some day. These people are some whom I’m closely aligned with aesthetically and I believe they’re very important in Latvia’s current cultural scene. Generally people who inspire me usually possess two specific qualities; intelligence and wit. Not only in the artistic circles, but  in any person. Largely I look for wit within art, not jokes but a sharp way to illustrate a solution almost. To me wit, is the highest form of intelligence amongst artists.
Zane: Also politicians.
Tomass: Exactly, they’re very charismatic.
Zane: Is there an artistic movement which inspires you the most?
Tomass: That which is the closest to my heart at the moment is probably that which has come after Modernism, we still currently live in its tail. All that is conceptual which currently dwells in Latvia, but I’m mostly interested in that which is taking place now. Perhaps in a few years when we look back we’ll be able to categorise the different movements. But even historically, I can’t pick one movement over another because they couldn’t exist without that which came before or after them. That to which I feel closest is perhaps Conceptualism, Postmodernism, and Neo-Conceptualist multimedia pieces of art which I currently write about.
Zane: Have you ever begun writing a review in which your opinion of an exhibition has completely changed after the writing process?
Tomass: There have been occasions when I’ve written about an exhibition before attending it. But then after going to it my opinion changed and I was forced to begin my article anew.
Zane: Do you think critique also refers to an assessment?
Tomass: Critique wanting or not is a type of an assessment, you inescapably assess something because without it you can’t arrive to a critique.  
Zane: You’re also a curator, explain this profession to someone who doesn’t completely understand it. What are the responsibilities, what do you do and how did you begin?
Tomass: Being in this community, curation seemed like the next logical step. The artistic practice demands for creation. A curator position demands also the production of texts and an intense communication with various people. I am rather good at these, and me helping my friends, who I believe are talented, (but as artists, usually do not like to engage with others) I express my creativity as a curator. I also think that a curator can barter like an artist, because his work is the conception of the idea for which he visualises the end product. In a sense, I have to explain and sell a concept that the artist has imagined, execute it, and bring it to a performable reality.
Zane: From abstraction to form.
Tomass: Exactly.
Agnija: Are there reviews that have caused hysteria?
Tomass: You already know which ones, but it is true that people don’t respond well to critique.
Agnija: There’s subjective critique which everyone is a fan of, but if it’s objective then people fall apart.
Tomass: All critique is subjective because the writer is an individual and and cannot escape his view of the work.
Agnija: However with social media the subjective and negative is expressed more, so I believe that art critique is more objective.
Tomass: But what happens in social media is no longer critique, that’s just spitting in someone’s face.
Zane: Social media is judgment.
Tomass: Just judgement, or insult. However, Latvia doesn’t perceive criticism as constructive or take heed from it as to how to do better next time, instead they perceive it as an insult.
Agnija: They’ll delete you off their friend list, ignore you at events and stare in their phone meanwhile…
Tomass: But art criticism in Latvia is more passive, stroking everyone’s fur after every negative sentence.
Zane: Stroking it while it grows…
Agnija: For example, previously you wrote your reviews relatively calmly when you were younger, what made you make them harsher?
Tomass: I was no longer afraid, I became more confident in the field I was working in, about myself and my judgement. So I permitted myself to do so and I acknowledged that I have nothing to lose.
Zane: Do you have a method when it comes to writing?
Tomass: No, each piece is a new challenge.
Agnija: Speaking of the future, what are your plans and goals?
Tomass: I would like to stay in Latvia because I think Latvia needs young people who want to create and develop something. I would like to study abroad but live here in Riga.
Agnija: That’s good but that’s also rare.
Tomass: I think if for example you leave for Berlin then you become one of the millions who live there, blending in and becoming anonymous. Here in Riga it’s much easier to know the field and if you have contacts and take your work abroad, then that can popularise Latvia’s current art. If you return to Latvia with a foreign education then that will also make you immediately more interesting.
Zane: Do you view Latvian art as part of the world’s art history? In the sense if we are making something original to contribute rather than just copying?
Tomass: I think everyone copies, especially with globalisation. Because all current artistic trends travel like lightning everywhere and then everyone starts doing it. We all live in one informational room, perhaps not one, but we’re all connected, and with all that information it’s easy to compare and find our connections. We still can’t get rid of our national romanticism and it’s hard to rid that sentiment because those artists still think that that is what separates them from everyone else, and therefore they hold on to it, protect it, and keep their Lielvārdes belts tied around themselves.
Agnija: Do you think that after social media people have developed a larger interest in current art?
Tomass: Sure, but they don’t explore it’s depth and for them it’s important for as long as it’s pretty.
Zane: What would you say to someone who wishes to do what you do?
Tomass: Explore something more rational, like becoming a doctor instead. I think this profession is for those people whose minds are slightly disconnected.
 

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1 Comment

  • Reply Laine 15th June 2018 at 7:22 am

    Ak, mini kuratoriņš <3

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