ASTE has proposed an initiative to create an archive of the development of new media art in Liepaja – a website and a database that would bring together art events, projects, performances, workshops, exhibitions and art objects created from 2000 to 2010. The initiative has received support from the program “Creating the future cultural offer in all cultural sectors” administered by the State Culture Capital Fund.
A website has been created for the project implementation – archive.aste.gallery. Project manager and main initiator Anna Priedola believes:
It is necessary to create a digitized archive of Liepāja’s new media art events in order to fill in the white pages in the history of Latvian art and facilitate media art research, making it easily accessible to anyone interested. Facilitating the acquisition of research materials will promote the discourse of the interaction between art and technology, while comments by art scholars and media theorists on works of art will promote understanding of media art in the wider community.
The aim of the archive is to compile, categorize, publish and analyze local and international media art events that took place in Liepaja in articles of media art researchers. The archive materials will be compiled by doctoral candidate Paula Vītols, MPLab manager Anna Priedola, and Diana Bočkova, analytical articles will be created by the researchers themselves and invited media and art scientists, Ilva Skulte, Maija Demitere, etc., using the collected archive materials.
Since the beginning of the 2000s, an international media art center and a community of local young artists have been established in Liepāja under the leadership of Kristīne Briede and Kalle Bjorshmark, including Aija Druvaskalne-Urdzis with her students, Rasa Šmite and Raitis Šmits in Karosta. This was a real cultural phenomenon and one of the earliest examples of community-oriented social art activism in Latvia, which initially introduced the latest media technologies to the locals in an area that was built for military purposes, isolated in Soviet times and later neglected in the 1990s. This art center hosted many innovative contemporary art forms and events with the participation of foreign and local artists, such as Transit Zero (2000), in which Rasa and Raitis Šmits started working with RFID and GPS technologies (which later brought them the prestigious ARS ELECTRONICA award for international food transit mapping and digital data visualization “the MILK project” in cooperation with Ieva Auziņa and Ester Polak).
The media art events hosted by the K@2 Media Culture Center also attracted the attention of media theorists and art scientists, which resulted in the research institution of the University of Liepaja – Art Research Laboratory (2006) and the academic study program “New Media Art” (2007), that offers a full-cycle art education, based on international and interdisciplinary cooperation and research. The study program was imagined to be the alternative of the classic art education that promotes the “artist-genius” approach.
In 2008, the cultural center K@2 was closed because it couldn’t maintain the infrastructure without the support of the municipality. However multiple international and annual art as research festivals were established in Latvia and Liepaja, for example, the international new media art week iWeek (2010 – 2019) with creative workshops and exhibitions, electronic and experimental music concerts and seminars in Liepaja and RIXC “Art and Communication” festival in Riga (in cooperation with Liepaja University), where internationally recognized media art experts participated and still participate in the conferences.
This background of creative education has prepared a new generation of Latvian media artists with a particularly strong community in Liepaja, where not only one, but several regular, international media art festivals are organised – Sound Days, Update and Open Lab – as well as exhibitions and concerts, creating cultural activities of national importance (and also by attracting international cooperation partners, publicity and funding). Liepāja has long been recognized as an internationally important media art center, as evidenced by the invitation of the curators of the most important media art festival ARS ELECTRONICA to participate in the online program of the 2020 festival.
Due to the physical distance and lack of cultural journalists, Liepāja media art activities are little analyzed in the context of art science and their documentation in the media is rather modest (mostly Liepāja University Art Research Laboratory and Electronic Art and Media Center E-LAB, and recently ASTE. Art, Science, Technology, Education – online sites and galleries). Information on the course of various art events is available, but there is a lack of reviews and analysis of specific works of art and directions. Liepāja media artists focus on researching various specific topics in art, such as sustainability and eco-art (Maija Demitere, Rihards Vītols, Anna Priedola), media archeology (Paula Vītola, Pēters Riekstiņš), sound art (Krista Dintere, Artis Kuprišs), virtual and augmented art (VR, AR, Ieva Vīksne, Līga Vēliņa), art generated by artificial intelligence (Kristaps Biters, Andrejs Poikāns), tomics that are relevant not only in national but also global context, but there is very little interest and media coverage on these examples in the art media and research.
The creation of a digital media art archive is also very necessary in the study process, especially until the Latvian Museum of Contemporary Art is established. Without a clear example of what has already been done in Latvian art, students often have a desire to “reinvent the wheel”, as well as they lack references and sources of inspiration to contextualize their artistic activity.