Normal Art From Latvia

In the ’90s Balcus was known for his ambiguous and theatrical black & white and colour self-portraits, full of questions of identity and borders of desire, which continued with the staged series Temporary Images at the 2nd Ars Baltica Triennial of Photographic Art, where Balcus addressed the issues of stereotypes of sexuality, identity and male/female roles. In recent years, he has been reflecting his own world in colour and black & white photographs of himself, his friends, acquaintances, passers-by, objects, interiors, still lives etc. He has a new role in his works – he’s not the director of his works anymore, but just a man, friend, member, in such a way demolishing the border between the photographer and photographed subject/object. Balcus’ current work talks about human qualities, not photographic. The works still could be seen as self-portraits, but they also talk about his whole generation, culture and society. Balcus’ works has been exhibited and published around Europe and the USA.

What do you understand by normality?

It’s like the glass in the window – it has a defined size, ’cos if it’s too big or small, it’s wrong; it always has four corners, and it’s also very fragile and we throw it away when it breaks… But the frames are different… I mean, if you are normal, you are in the frame (of society, of a community). It is like a measurement level.

Is normality in Latvia different from normality in Germany, for example, or Western Europe?

I think we have a difference in the semiotic meaning of the word ‘normal’. In the Latvian language, there is no word ‘normality/normalitŠt’. We use the word ‘normal’ to express how we feel. I know you don’t do this. And the word ‘normal’ for us has a more positive meaning, for example, the taste of a drink could be ‘normal’ for us, which actually means it was quite okay. I think for Germans ‘normality’ is more close to ‘alles in ordnung’ – everything must be in order, especially the outer world (the visible surroundings). But it doesn’t mean their inner life is as well. But actually Latvia is not so far from Western Europe as you might think.

Aren’t you afraid of showing too much of them?

I am afraid a little, ’cos many photos have been taken in an intimate atmosphere like snapshots that are usually meant for personal use. I have already had reactions from a few friends, ’cos of some publications in magazines. Most friends would take it with understanding and about others I don’t care very much, but the main problem is that, I guess it would be hard later to continue making photos freely, ’cos everyone then will see me as a photographer who invades their privacy.

What do you want the public to see in your pictures?

I think people perceive my works differently and I don’t like to steal the moment of imagination and interpretation. But I can talk about feeling. In my self-portraits I am trying to create an atmosphere as if somebody else had taken the photos, some very very close person. In the series "Warm" you find no human, but you could feel somebody’s presence. Actually all my work is about simple and natural things, sometimes too simple and natural that we don’t pay attention to them in everyday life, although these are very important parts of our lives.

What do you think about it, when people don’t see your pictures as art, but say things like

Well, these are only snapshots like from my last party, I could do the same and so on?
That’s normal and I don’t mind. Nowadays everyone could be a photographer and the border between art and non-art is very fragile.

Who are you?

Human, man, boy, personality, artist, photographer, journalist, friend, dreamer, consumer, lover, psychologist, pen-friend, good guy, traveller, poet, arsehole, animal, son, copywriter, webmaster, party man, observer, star, smarty, passenger, alien, loser, genius, idiot, idealist, stranger and whatever…. but usually just a common person, just like you, perhaps.

Who are your examples, idols in photography, art? What inspires you?

The time of having idols is over for me. I am inspired by everything around and inside me, it could be an art show, it could be people on the streets, also a porn mag, dream or noise from my stomach. Everything.

arnis(at)re-lab.net   Arnis Balcus Photography: re-lab.net/arnis

Anna Voswinkel

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