INGA STEIMANE
(Latvia)

© Ilze Jaunberga 2008
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THE BAD GOOD WORLD AT ILZE JAUNBERGA'S CARNIVAL
 
 
 

     “... and there are so few paintings which are worth looking at,” Ilze Jaunberga (b.1978) always tells me when we are talking about art.  When I hear her statement, I want to take a closer look at the creature that is seen in all of her paintings. It is as if the smooth head which is similar to that of a doll can tell me a secret. Why is it wandering around as if it were ejected from a commune? What is it watching?  It would be interesting to know who is guilty for this synthetic identity, this mutation. What came before? The somnambulistic gaze of this – well, let’s guess, this non-liquid punk, model or pop diva? – looks all around and attracts attention in and of itself. People look at Ilze Jaunberga’s paintings from a distance and for a long period of time, as if her delicate architectural and bodily forms represent some surrealistically crazy professional training session, as well as a weighty responsibility in terms of carrying the skills that are provided by God in terms of engaging in duties which are difficult to understand.
     What can we do? Should we be like Münchhausen and toss ourselves into a ghostly room of paintings, where you will be even more bemused by the clear indication of “Casa di Giuletta” or Juliet’s home (2006)?  Will we be invited to go there?  Ilze Jaunberga’s theatrical nature seemed to be closed off to those who do not belong to it for a long time (2002-2009), but recently it has become more accessible and free despite the fact that the templates of images and the spatial flow of the paintings are still there, and the vortex of the composition of space threatens to swallow us up, just as has always been the case. These are essentially monochrome paintings, and the aggressive red tones that once governed their appearance have now been replaced with a tone of apricot gold.  Paintings from 2010 feature a carnival – a true carnival in Venice, a masquerade party.  People in masks represent personified groups of figures, and in this sense the paintings are different from the ones which the artist produced in the past.  These are portraits which bear words.  The words, when studied in biographies, help people to perceive paintings in a better way.*  It is the same as the story of the unhappy elephant or of cows.  The images are doubled or tripled.  They fly around, and who cares?  Surrealism of that type does not upset anyone anymore.  The smooth head of the doll fits in here with the other figures.  And yet what is under the mask?  Is anyone there?
     Leonardo (1452–1519) fully believed in the power of illusion in paintings.  He was a fanatic about this idea and was sure that paintings can offer a precise depiction of the effects of nature.  Leonardo is among those artists whose work Ilze Jaunberga recognises and considers to be sovereign studies of nature.  In 2003, for instance, she appropriated the painting “Woman With Ermine.”**  The ermine, dress and dark background were transferred to Jaunberga’s painting as a decent copy, essentially without any changes apart from the absence of the quattrocento face.  The spiritualised peace and classical beauty of Leonardo’s painting have been replaced by Jaunberga with a sign which she canonised herself – the face that has been seen in her paintings for the past nine years.
     Doll, mask, canonised sign – these are concepts which are synonyms for the face which Jaunberga constructed and without which none of her paintings could ever be imagined. Other descriptions can appear – ready-made, or design. These in particular allow us to look at the aforementioned face as a separate product.
     I am personally very interested in ready-made elements in contemporary painting.  These elements are by no means comparable to the work which the father of modern art, Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), proclaimed to be art in his day.  And yet the conceptual foundation for ready-made is to take something that is already prepared and to involve it in one’s own work.  This makes the structure and whole of the artwork more complicated, and I believe that this happens often in contemporary painting, even if the texture of the separate product flow together with the rest, as is the case with Jaunberga’s paintings.
     Jaunberga paints the product in the same way as she paints everything else in her painting – the same canvas, the same oil colours.  That is her work.  And yet there is a nuance – this special face is based on a special template, and that becomes the first true evidence that this is something that is ready-made.
     It is no accident that at first I provoked you into thinking about the biography of the wandering face – a rejected punk, a model, the hero of a video clip.  Sure, I could have thought of something better – “Alice in Cities” (Wim Wenders), perhaps, or the ethnographic travellers like Czech Honza and Latvian Sprīdītis.  Yet these culturally valuable ideas seem to be unnecessary, because Ilze Jaunberga has no complexes about the harmfulness of pop culture and subculture.  On the contrary – nothing keeps her from presenting her beautifully skilful academic talent on the canvas.  She paints while listening to various types of trance music and that of the German pop diva Sandra’s Close to Seven. The aesthetic criterion and modern industrial recognisability of the template-based face cannot be hidden.  The emphasised makeup and the dramatically large eyes, the synthetically smooth model of the skull, thoughtful as it is in terms of shadow and light, the barely noticeable compressed lips and the blind eyeballs that are as big and black as people’s eyes after a visit to the ophthalmologist.  The aesthetic of the face is ready.  It is a copy of product descriptions that are offered by industry, and Ilze Jaunberga uses this recipe to build an image.  Then she turns it into a template (“to save time”) and adds it to her paintings alongside other images to create an effect.  At the end of the day, Leonardo also chose effects.  He sought them out.  He said that it was best to paint people under a cloudy sky and when the weather was bad, not when the sun was shining.  People could be painted in the evening, too: „what softness and delicacy you may perceive in them,” Leonardo comments.
     Colour.  Here Ilze Jaunberga agrees with the quattrocento method which recognises that games of colour are not the main thing in paintings.  Of importance instead is to demonstrate form and mood which, according to the artist, “must be as beautiful and uplifting as a sunset.”  The artist has a similar view of colour as Leonardo did.  In his Tractate, he wrote „[..] but colours honour only those who manufacture them, for in them there is no cause for wonder except their beauty, and their beauty is not to the credit of the painter, but of him who has made them. A subject can be dressed in ugly colours and still astound those who contemplate it, because of the illusion of relief.”
     The use of white, which is also typical in Ilze Jaunberga's paintings, is a reference to the architect and humanist Alberti (1404–1472), who argued that one-third of each painting should be white so that the entire artwork might appear to be happy and easily perceived (comparescente).

     “There is no reason for pessimism,” Karl Popper (1902–1994) declared in 1983.  He was totally disgusted about the fact that people were being told that they were living in a world that was bad, mendacious and who knows what else.  “I see the greatest danger in pessimism, in long-lasting attempts to convince young people that they live in a bad world,” said Popper.  This reminded me of the doll-face in Ilze Jaunberga’s paintings – she is frozen and is watching the world with caution.  Perhaps she fell victim to the aforementioned conviction.  Something has to be under those masks.  Popper wants us to understand this, and he challenges our minds:  “In historical terms, we (as far as I am concerned) live in the best world that there has ever been.  Of course, it is a bad world because there is a better one, and life forces us to seek the better world.  This search for a better world is something that we must continue.”
     Evviva Carnevale! – Long live the Carnival!

     * Ilze Jaunberga's personal exhibition "Evviva Carnevale!" at the Rīga Art Space is made up of 18 paintings which were produced between 2009 and 2011. This is the artist's first personal exhibition in Rīga. Ilze earned her master's degree in painting from the Latvian Academy of Art in 2005, and each year, late in February or early in March (depending on the Lenten calendar of the church), she takes part in the carnival in Venice. The artist is close friends with one of the oldest organisations to support the tradition of the carnival in Venice – Compagnia de Calza "I Antichi." Ilze says that she loves this "hypnotic crowd, this phantasmagorical atmosphere," and she enjoys them together with Compagnia de Calza "I Antichi." Later, she produces paintings on the basis of what she has experienced. People from the company are seen in the paintings. They are, for instance, the ones who organise the most elegant ball at the carnival, "La Cavalchina." It is held at the conclusion of the carnival at the Venetian opera house, "La Fenice."
      “It is a world with its own rules of the game.  Ancient masks have individual codes of behaviour.  There are paradoxes, illusions, improvisations and theatricality.  Aesthetics at the Venice carnival are always flirting with death and engaging in infantile merriment,” says Ilze Jaunberga, adding that when she meets “the truest Venetians,” that is a fateful issue for her.  The fact is that the aesthetics of the carnival have tempted her since childhood, and once she began to travel to Italy, a childhood friend reminded her:  “You have been talking about Venice and the carnival there as long as I can remember.”
     Since 2004, Ilze Jaunberga has developed her professional career in Italy, thanks to the support and production work of art manager Enzo Rossi-Ròiss.  She mostly paints in Rīga, but in more recent times she has regularly spent time in Venice and other cities.

     **  Leonardo is by no means the only Old Master whose work Ilze Jaunberga has studied and worked with.  She has also made use of paintings by Botticelli, Raphael and Giotto.  Book of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer's masterworks is open in her studio now.

 
 
EVVIVA CARNEVALE!
Ilze Jaunberga's personal exhibition of paintings at the INTRO hall of the Rīga Art Space, 2011, October 1 – 30.

     As a good friend of fascinating people from the Compagnia de Calza "I Antichi" group, which does the most to uphold the authentic traditions of the carnival, the artist of this show paints the carnival "from the inside." Ilze Jaunberga's carnival is both authentic and autobiographic.
Three paintings in the exhibition are devoted to Latvia's most famous new building – the Castle of Light. It is not hard to notice that the castle is surrounded by carnival-like passions.
Since receiving her master's degree in painting from the Latvian Academy of Arts 2005, Ilze Jaunberga (b.1978) has each year, late in February or early in March (depending on the Lenten calendar of the church), taken part in the carnival in Venice. Ilze says that she loves the experience of this "hypnotic crowd, this phantasmagorical atmosphere," and she enjoys them together with Compagnia de Calza "I Antichi" (founded in 1981). Later, she produces paintings on the basis of what she has experienced. People from the company are seen in the paintings. They are, for instance, the ones who organise the most elegant ball at the carnival, "La Cavalchina." It is held at the conclusion of the carnival at the Venetian opera house, "La Fenice." Ilze Jaunberga meets the Carnival as the ancient culture of democratic laugh.
"It is a world with its own rules of the game. Ancient masks have individual codes of behaviour. There are paradoxes, illusions, improvisations and theatricality. Aesthetics at the Venice carnival are always flirting with death and engaging in infantile merriment," says Ilze Jaunberga, adding that when she meets "the truest Venetians," that is a fateful issue for her. The fact is that the aesthetics of the carnival have tempted her since childhood, and once she began to travel to Italy, a childhood friend reminded her: "You have been talking about Venice and the carnival there as long as I can remember."

    The title of the exhibition, “EVVIVA CARNEVALE,” means “Long Live the Carnival!” in Italian. There are eighteen recently made (2008 – 2011) oil on canvas paintings in it.  It is the first personal exhibition which Ilze Jaunberga staged in Rīga.
Criteria for Ilze Jaunberga’s oil paintings are close to an understanding of quattrocento colours, which means that the games of colour are not the main thing in paintings. Of importance instead is to demonstrate form and mood. The artist’s approach toward colour is similar to that of Leonardo (1452-1519), who wrote in his Tractate „[..] but colours honour only those who manufacture them, for in them there is no cause for wonder except their beauty, and their beauty is not to the credit of the painter, but of him who has made them. A subject can be dressed in ugly colours and still astouned those who contemplate it, because of the illusion of relief.” The use of white, which is also typical in Ilze Jaunberga’s paintings, is a reference to the architect and humanist Alberti (1404-1472), who argued that one-third of each artwork should be white so that the entire object might appear to be happy and easily perceived (comparescente).
All of the wandering dolls in Ilze Jaunberga's paintings represent her alter ego. The curator has found ready-made elements in Jaunberga's dolls, thus including her painting in the broader stylistics of contemporary art. Conceptual foundation for ready-made elements comes from the history of media – to take something that is already prepared and to involve it in one's own work. This makes the structure and whole of the artwork more complicated, even if the texture of the separate product flow together with the rest, as is the case with Jaunberga's paintings. The aesthetic of the face is ready. It is a copy of product descriptions that are offered by industry, and Ilze Jaunberga uses this recipe to build an image. Then she turns it into a template ("to save time") and adds it to her paintings alongside other images to create an effect. Image of alter ego of Jaunberga tends to become a social sign with a certain discursive background. "There is no reason for pessimism," Karl Popper (1902–1994) declared in 1983. He was totally disgusted about the fact that people were being told that they were living in a world that was bad, mendacious and who knows what else. "I see the greatest danger in pessimism, in long-lasting attempts to convince young people that they live in a bad world," said Popper. This reminded me of the doll-face in Ilze Jaunberga's paintings – she is frozen and is watching the world with caution. Perhaps she fell victim to the aforementioned conviction. Popper hopes that we live in the best world that there has ever been. "Of course, it is a bad world because there is a better one, and life forces us to seek the better world. This search for a better world is something that we must continue."

     Since 2004, Ilze Jaunberga has developed her professional career in Italy, thanks to the support and production work of art manager Enzo Rossi-Ròiss (Associazione Culturale ITALO-BALTICA).  The personal exhibition at the Rīga Art Space has been supported by the Benergo Studio arts centre in Murano, the Fondazione Museo Venanzo Crocetti in Rome, and the Compagnia de Calza “In Antichi,” which upholds the authentic traditions of the Venetian carnival.

INGA STEIMANE (1965), art critic and curator. Founder and Editor-in-chief of Latvian cultural
weekly "Kultūras Forums" (2002-2010). Head of Exhibitions of Riga Art Space since 2011.
Member of jury: Latvian contemporary art prize "Purvitis Prize" (2011),
German contemporary art prize "Ars Viva 2010/2011 - Language" (2011),
Baltic Assembly Prize (2011).