No One Says Anything, Everyone Remembers EverythingMAY 2015
Curatorial Essay by Noa Bronstein
Curatorial Essay by Noa Bronstein
There are countless devices to assist in recording memory, tools that seemingly safeguard the transient for future recall. The camera is amongst these, of course, as is the pen. It would be equally true that memories are imprinted onto the surfaces of places – onto rubble, decayed facades, murals scrubbed clean, urban revitalizations. In No One Says Anything, Everyone Remembers Everything, a photo essay project by Zile Liepins, townscapes becomes texts, documenting shifts in the social and political landscape. Liepins’s images offer a particular view of everyday life in Latvia: a country emerging from the Soviet sphere and one that is adapting to its recent EU status. The subtle moments captured by this series offer a nuanced portrait of a place, held together by a collection of personal anecdotes, cultural symbols, unmarked backdrops and blurred references.
Latvia was an independent and neutral country when it was invaded by the U.S.S.R in 1940 and by the Nazis in 1941. In 1944, the Red Army returned, unleashing a campaign of Latvian deportation and repression of opposition to sovietisation. In June of 1941, 15,000 Latvians were forcibly deported to Siberia (of these 2,400 were children).  Only half of the deportees survived this forced removal.  Thousands of Latvians were also tortured, imprisoned and murdered by the KGB. During the late 1980s anti-Soviet demonstrations and protests were held throughout the country and in August of 1991, Latvia declared its independence and was admitted to the UN shortly thereafter. In 2004, Latvia joined NATO and the European Union. Most recently, however, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a reminder, for some, that independence may be a tenuous concept. This concern is understandable, given that over a quarter of Latvia’s population is made up of a Russian speaking community, which was one of the justifications for the invasion of Ukraine. 
Liepins’ title for the exhibition references the ways in which, as she notes, individuals in small Latvian communities quietly and publicly face each other after privately reconciling the trauma of the last 50 years. In many of the images in the series individuals are pictured with their backs to the camera. A series of women, for instance, anonymously occupy public spaces; seated on a bus and on park benches their identity is masked by their positioning. This reticence speaks to Liepins’ experience of photographing individuals in Latvia over a two-year process that included several trips to her family’s homeland. Questions and cameras pointed at friends, family and strangers were often met with resistance or uncertainty. The series then becomes less evidentiary, less a matter of documentary reportage, and more of an intuitive process of locating the more immediate realities of the Baltic state.
No One Says Anything, Everyone Remembers Everything ventures beyond checkpoints on a timeline to focus in on the details that disclose quiet, daily rhythms and commonplace encounters. Ambiguous and inconspicuous snapshots meander from cityscapes to portraits. In one image, a mug with Putin’s picture sits on a car’s dashboard, while in the passenger seat someone, we aren’t sure who, reclines out of view. When looking at the image, it is difficult to know if this gesture is ironic or nationalistic, or both. Likewise, a close-up image of stickers of Disney princesses alludes to a widespread occurrence in Latvia. In Liepins’s experience capitalist markers, such as cars and as with this image, Disney characters, are often plastered onto household surfaces, in this case, onto a fridge door. Neither of these images directly point to the history of textbooks. These visual clues, however, start to migrate towards a larger narrative of fluctuating borders, of annexation and liberation.
The images in this exhibition speak to Italo Calvino’s writings about how the real and imaginary coalesce to form collective and individual conceptions of particular cities. Throughout the series, sightlines are limited. Partially exposed facades and infrastructure might reveal glimpses of specific sites, but enough details are left out to imagine these are the edifices of anyplace. Perhaps buildings are not simply physical containers but like journals or diaries recount something more about our remembrances – both factual and illusory. No One Says Anything, Everyone Remembers Everything’s invitation is not merely to a specific time and place. Liepins’s invitation extends to our own tangled and branched histories, to both the real and the imaginary of place.
Noa Bronstein is a researcher and curator based in Toronto. Recent curatorial projects include THE ANNUAL (2012) and Come Up to My Room (2012, 2013) at the Gladstone Hotel, where she was the Director of Exhibitions and Cultural Promotions, and Out of Sorts: Print Culture & Book Design (2011) at the Design Exchange, where she was the Director of Public Programs and the Acting Curator. She is also the co-curator (with Katherine Dennis) of Memories of the Future, an ongoing project that invites contemporary artists to intervene in historic house museums. The inaugural Memories of the Future opened in September 2014 at Gibson House Museum with artists Sara Angelucci, Robert Hengeveld, Eleanor King and Matt Macintosh. Noa has contributed to such publications as C Magazine, The Journal of the Inclusive Museum, esse art + criticism, Curator: The Museum Journal, and Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism. She is currently the Executive Director of Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography.
 NATO Review, “KGB, torture and Soviet terror: why Latvia worries about today’s Russia.” Accessed March 20, 2015, https://www.nato.int/docu/Review/2014/baltics-fear-russia/KGB-prison-torture-latvia-Soviet-terror/EN/index.htm
 Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities, trans. William Weaver (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1972).