Scenography is a story that has been told by space

Interview with Gundega Laivina who runs New Theatre Institute of Latvia.

“Emergence fascinates me thematically – together with artists, we explore silenced stories and histories in different places and parts of Europe and, with scenography as an artistic medium, make them heard in the wider society. It’s a fascinating platform for the exchange of ideas, knowledge sharing, collective research, and creation.”


Gundega Laiviņa runs the New Theatre Institute of Latvia, a project-based organization working in the field of contemporary performing arts. Since 2009, she’s been the artistic and managing director of Homo Novus, the International Festival of Contemporary Theatre. From 2010 to 2014, Gundega was a member of the artistic board and curatorial team of Riga – European Cultural Capital 2014, where she was responsible for site-specific initiatives, projects involving communities, and decentralization of the city’s cultural life. As a curator, she’s worked on the Latvian national exposition at the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space in 2011, 2015, and 2019. Gundega has studied music, cultural theory, and social anthropology and has received several European-level diplomas and certificates in cultural policy studies and arts management.


Could you briefly introduce your activities under the Emergence project? 

The New Theatre Institute of Latvia implements two activities, both equally important and daring to me. Together with our partners from Norway and Cyprus, we’re working on a series called Our Gruesome Cultural Heritage, student gatherings that take place on the outskirts of Europe and explore the history of specific cities, sites, and locations and result in the creation of new site-specific scenographic works. I’ve been surprised, terrified, and touched by the stories we’ve shared during workshops in Norway and Cyprus, and I’ve been fascinated by the students’ artistic response to those stories. I can't wait until end the series here in Riga with the workshop in Daugavrgīva Fortress, which unfortunately was postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Another activity is an international workshop titled Memory of Place, where renowned theatre artists collaborate with a group of emerging artists from different countries and disciplines. They spend time in a specific building that’s been neglected and forgotten and create performative scenographic works in response to its history and identity. In a way, they put these buildings back on the physical and mental map of the city. 


Do you think the Emergence project is unique? Why?

The uniqueness of Emergence is related to scenography as its central subject of interest as well as to intensive collaboration with students and scenography schools across Europe and beyond. It’s also worth mentioning that Emergence offers very diverse activities – the research and creative work of small student groups is carried out next to a global scenographic event such as the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space.


What do you think its main goal is? Has this goal been met?

I’m sure that every partner and activity has its specific objectives, but the main goal of the project is to challenge the way we look at, experience, and collaborate with inherited and recently created spaces and environments, how we reimagine them through performative experience or by means of artistic intervention. I do think the project contributes to a new generation of scenographers that see scenography as an autonomous artistic field and practice a holistic approach to space. 


How did it take you to choose your topic? What aspects played a role in that decision?

Space, history, and scenography are topics that have been at the core of the project since its beginning. The structure and contents of our activities are based on those concepts accordingly.  Additionally, we’ve looked at the specifics of our city and its history, architecture, and identity. The ideas and suggestions of artists and students have been equally important. The stories and territory we’re going to explore as part of the Our Gruesome Cultural Heritage workshop incorporate ideas that deal with manmade and natural environments.


What’s the greatest benefit of the Emergence project to your institution?

As I said, for many years we’ve been working with scenography as an autonomous and very exciting practice and in a different context. The Emergence project has given us the resources to continue this work. More importantly, though, it’s helped our organization establish new alliances and long-term collaborative projects with our international partners that will have a lasting impact on the way we work.