Ilze Martinsone. On Rainis, the Popular Front and Baku Oil. Dd studio [conversation with J.Mitrēvics] // Dizaina Studija. – pg. 28-31.

Almost 20 years ago Latvia was rocked by the upsurge of new technologies. At that time it was an economically profitable field, which made a number of market players into millionaires – remember the Software House Empire, for example. Information technology is still in the chrysalis stage, and nevertheless it continues to swallow the more traditional media at an insatiable speed: what will hatch in the future? But it is doubtful whether the internet generation can remember a time in the more distant past – about 25 years ago. At that time, in the 1980s, being only students, an artistically powerful group of painters asserted itself: Sandra Krastiņa, Edgars Vērpe, Ieva Iltnere, Jānis Mitrēvics, Aija Zariņa and Ģirts Muižnieks, known as the gang associated with the exhibition Maigās svārstības (‘Gentle Fluctuations’) and other events, and these artists undoubtedly dominated Latvian painting over the next 15 years. Their authority was genuine and did not suffer from overblown PR, part of the group members have now proven themselves as personalities in other fields.

Information technologies will always require a visual form. Jānis Mitrēvics was a clever strategist, to look for and find his niche in technologies, while others picked their noses and pontificated about the falseness of technology over “real” art. Digitālā darbnīca, now Dd studio is a company that knows its worth and also earns it, being one of the leaders of the digital design market in Latvia, with an impressive list of distinctions and awards (including a successful entry into F@imp.2002, International Audiovisual Festival of the Ventspils Museum and the Gold Prize at FIAMP 2006, the International Heritage Audiovisual & Multimedia Festival in Paris for the multimedia disc in the category CD-ROM/DVD-ROM). Clients of the company include local municipalities, government institutions and enterprises, while a large majority of the work is cultural projects: the presence of Dd studio in the digital exhibitions of Latvian museums is almost constant: the “revived” characters from Russia’s revolutionary art scene in Pēteris Krilovs’ film about Gustavs Klucis “The Deconstruction of an Artist” (2007, using motion design) proved fundamental to the success of the film and were an event in themselves. Jānis Mitrēvics is the father of Dd studio, its manager and think tank.

Ilze Martinsone: How did you, being a recognized painter, turn to technologies and digital design? 

Jānis Mitrēvics: Our education system trains painters, graphic artists and sculptors, but in the end they don’t graduate as artists – in reality they are craftsmen, who have partially acquired the skills of a trade. I am not interested in manufacturing, but in crisis management, for example, because it is a creative process. Art has always been moved forward by the development of technology; my critics who saw new media as a threat to “live” art, sat down at a computer ten years later – this is just a normal, conservative reaction of self-preservation. In my art projects (the installation Jānis Mitrēvics izstāda Vilhelmu Purvīti… Ivars Runkovskis (‘Jānis Mitrēvics exhibits Vilhelms Purvītis... Ivars Runkovskis’) and the installation Speķis visai valstij (‘Bacon for the Whole Nation’) for the exhibition “State”, both in 1994 – I.M) I have worked with grain drying kilns and the Jelgava meat processing plant – and that’s project management.

I. M.: You mentioned the crisis. What are the opportunities for digital technology in the national economy and what is Dd studio doing during the time of the global financial crisis? 

J. M.: 15 – 20 years ago the national economic vision was clear – we don’t have any great natural resources, and if we chop down the trees, the resources will be used up anyway. We should base our future in science and technology. In comparison to other fields, information technology does not demand great material investment, the resource base for digital things is minimal, and all you need is just knowledge. There is a high level of cultural experience in Latvia, and by linking this with modern technologies, we gain a competitive product. We can be a nation of advanced technology. Unfortunately it has turned out that the intellectual potential of the powers that be is lower. The “try hards” who have ended up at the steering wheel are trying to steer the country in order to satisfy their own interests, could consider linking these to the interests of the nation; but they have no further thoughts. Democracy is not effective in the post-Soviet space, and post-Soviet nations are returning to dictatorships. I am not holding out hope that soon something will change, time has to pass for us to reach democracy. If we do not think intensively about the long-term, the provinces will become more entrenched. Technology does not have geographical boundaries; you can sit in the jungle, or just as well sit in the Latvian countryside and create products meant for the civilization. We have expanded the geographical space of our activities, we work with clients in Baku, Kaliningrad, and we have also found collaborative partners and opportunities in America – the company Interpretive Solutions, which creates concepts and content for the digital projects of museums, nature parks, cultural heritage agencies, municipalities and non-profit organisations. From an elementary business standpoint we could loosen up and satisfy the current demand; however the opportunities and the requirements of the local market are too basic. We want to work in a way so that we can gain something from it ourselves.

I. M.: But what about competition? Is it fierce in the international market!

J. M.: All of the activities in the field of digital design are creative. In terms of visual culture, our level continues to be high: placed on the platform of technology, it becomes competitive. The inhibitions and shortcomings of the Soviet era developed a creative spirit, the Soviet citizen was forced to invent and solve a variety of problems. This spirit still has not been lost, but intellectual potential is leaving Latvia as it cannot find job opportunities here. As soon as there is a job offer, people are ready to return and work, even if it is only for a period of time.

I. M.: We just established that digital technologies do not have geographical boundaries - so do you need the physical presence of employees? 

J. M.: Direct communication without mediation has still not lost its meaning; internet communication is only a translation of a live conversation.

I. M.: How do you work, and what do clients expect of you? 

J. M.: In essence, the digital field is an interdisciplinary one. Except for the internet, digital media works in a real environment (for example, digital museum exhibitions must be divided amongst media in the very beginning, with the knowledge that the virtual space will interact with the physical, touchable, objectified environment; the presentations of businesses must be integrated within a real environment), and is associated with graphic design – clients often need a corporate identity, style, logos, etc. as well as virtual programmes, web pages, and presentations. Earlier this niche was filled by advertising agencies, now advertising fills only one function in these projects. We also work on graphic and environmental design projects, but, as it is not possible to be a universal professional, we collaborate with specialists from all fields.

I. M.: In which fields have you been educated? 

J. M.: The team is important, it makes up the backbone, and we have programmers, artists and designers working for us. The chief programmer, for example, has been educated as an architect. The skills of a programmer are important in the visual field – although the digital world is rationally built, it must be seen with your own eyes.

I. M.: For the novice, the digital field is very complicated. I assume that the client cannot even imagine the possibilities that you could offer. 

J. M.: Andris Vilks once expressed it precisely: the accessibility of information does not guarantee its usability – we make information useable. In reality, lack of knowledge on the part of the client is not a hurdle: the more the content of the product being created is “raw”, the easier it is for us to work. Our collaboration with big clients is the best, because they trust us. There is no point in making a digital programme contain an encyclopaedia – the content has to be reworked in the given medium to have a digestible volume and form, and we help to select the information. For example, in the case of the digital exhibition of the Ventspils Museum, we were too passive in terms of resisting the volume of information and flood of content; however we managed to resist the visual effects of that time. We found an adequate alternative form and the exhibition has not yet morally aged.

I. M.: Do you have enough skills and knowledge to not sink in the mass of information? How are such complicated projects put together? 

J. M.: In order to fully understand the content, we invite editors to work with us on specific programmes, and in complicated projects (for example, the multimedia programme of the Museum of the Popular Front “The Popular Front of Latvia: Living History”, 2009) the group of editors and experts can reach up to 20 people. We have devised our own manufacturing scheme: timelines and plans are created; it is a huge planning process - we work out a conceptual project and a technical project, putting each on its own “grid”. The closest experience to creating multimedia programmes is the film industry. We also use elements of film, combining them with the methods of programming. There nevertheless are hurdles which slow us down, for example, the disproportionate price of copyright is bothersome: for the use of one minute of the rock opera “Lāčplēsis” you have to pay almost one thousand, although in reality it is an advertisement for the rock opera. In this way development is slowed. Copyright is sacred, but it should not be absurd.

I. M.: What are the next big projects?

J. M.: We are creating an exhibition dedicated to the development of the Baku oil industry, beneath this is a whole story about how Nobel and his sons travelled to Baku to look for a particular type of wood for rifle stocks, but instead discovered opportunities for establishing an oil business. The supporters of the project are the oil companies StatoilHydro and SOCAR, and the exhibition will be opened in Baku and after that presented in Norway and Sweden. The completion of the project is planned for November.

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